fitness · swimming · training

Thanks, Coach! Thoughts on Drills, Good Form and the Importance of Mixing it Up (Guest Post)

Image description: Headshot of Jennifer, medium length blond hair, blue eyes, smiling at the poolside, outdoor pool with lines on the bottom, deck with deck chairs, and trees in the background on an overcast day.
Image description: Headshot of Jennifer, medium length blond hair, blue eyes, smiling at the poolside, outdoor pool with lines on the bottom, deck with deck chairs, and trees in the background on an overcast day.

I had an epiphany in the pool last week. I finally figured out what was wrong with my kick! And as anyone who has struggled with mastering an athletic or other skill knows, nothing beats the sweet satisfaction that comes when you suddenly get it and never look back.

This underscored for me why regular technique check-ups are an essential part of a good training regimen and highlighted the critical role that coaches can play in that process.

Spring is a time of renewal for me. After the relentless pace of the academic year, I need time to recover, to recharge and then to reflect on the big picture and set goals for the coming year. Part of this process is to take a look at those things that tend to turn over year on year unless we think consciously about them, such as course content, teaching methods, service activities, volunteering, kids’ activities, finances and … fitness and health!

Over the years, I have found the refreshing change of format from indoor to outdoor swimming is a great time to check in with where I am at with my training.

First, in addition to being outside, I also go from swimming at night to swimming at sunrise. There is something about the early light of a summer morning (I swim at 6 am), with its promise of day ahead that fills me with inspiration.

Next, unlike the rest of the year where, aside from open Sunday practices, we swim twice a week at a set time with the same swimmers, we can swim as often as we like in the summer and choose from 15 different practice times. Since lane composition on any given day or time is rarely the same, this adds an element of spontaneity and fun to practice. Training with different swimmers gives us a chance to break out of old patterns and habits (like who leads the lane, who is “best” at this or that stroke etc). I also love being able to reconnect with friends who swim at other times during the year and to meet new people.

Finally, our canny coaches take advantage of the more relaxed summer mood and the different swimmer combinations to mix it up in our workouts too.

The switch in training focus was obvious last week when the theme was “Skills and Drills”. Not everyone was thrilled, however. Many Masters swimmers swim to stay fit and it is natural to focus on speed and endurance. But as we grind through thousands of meters a year, even the best technique degrades. These slippages are subtle but over time they have an effect. For older swimmers particularly, bad habits can increase the risk of injury, but attention to technique is also an important element of performance improvement. Getting faster or stronger is not just about pushing the heart and lungs, it is about moving as efficiently as possible in the water.

Since swimming movements are complex, it is impossible to think of everything at once. Working on technique usually requires breaking a stroke down into its components (kick, pull, catch, breathing, rotation, turns and so on) and focusing on one element at a time, often in a progression of connected steps that are brought together at the end.

For my part, I love doing drills because I always learn (or re-learn) something and I enjoy sensing the subtle variations in movement that typically ensue. Most of the time drills are useful to reign in sloppy form or to undo entrenched habits. But every now and then, a drill brings about a shift that transforms your technique. And that is what happened to me last week as we worked on flutter kick, the weakest component of my freestyle and backstroke.

Though I am very good swimmer, the relative ineffectiveness of my kick has been an endless source of frustration. As a runner, I have a lot of leg muscle and power on the pavement but in the water my torso, shoulders and arms do most of the work. Kick sets are my nightmare – moving my legs faster and harder never seems to make a difference to my speed while exhausting the muscles after a very short time. Given this, I was not relishing last Tuesday’s workout focused on kick and flip turns. My lack of enthusiasm however, was no match for my amazing coach.

Our primary coach this summer is one of the founders of our club who was, until a few years ago, the head coach of our youth competitive teams. This shows in her style of coaching, which is very relaxed and understated. Rather than emphasizing straight up effort (something kids hate, but which many Masters swimmers delight in), she keeps you busy with sets that integrate unusual drills (with names like alligator breath), designed to work on correct form in the water.

Do not get me wrong, many of these drills are in fact very hard work, but not in the usual “grind it out” way that we typically associate with effort. Rather, this kind of focus on form is taxing because isolating weak or difficult parts of the stroke takes us out of our comfort zone and requires concentration, something that is hard to sustain as physical exertion increases.

Great coaches know that to get swimmers to make changes to their strokes, they have to be creative – and sly. Under the guise of working one item, say, kick, they will design a drill that passively works on another skill, like body position in the water. Done well, leaving some of the drill work to occur naturally, without drawing attention to it directly, allows swimmers to approach the drill without preconceived ideas about what should happen. This creates the mental space for them to just experience the water, something that provides invaluable physical feedback on what the body is – or is not – doing.

So what happened last Tuesday? We did a lot of kick, but the focus was on tightening the glutes, not on leg movement. Using the large muscles of the glutes is essential for a strong kick, but it is easier said than done. Part of the problem is getting the amount of muscle engagement right. At first, I tightened the muscles as hard as I could, with little noticeable effect. When I mentioned this to my coach, she said: “Relax. You’re trying too hard. Let up a bit. Experiment with it.” I persevered, but the sweet spot remained elusive.

Then we worked on flip turns and my mind focused on hitting the wall correctly with my toes. What my coach did not mention is that turns help your kick because you must release the glutes to initiate the turn. It provides a break in the muscle effort that also allows for subtle recalibration before reengaging the muscle after the turn. Midway through the set I came off the wall and – bingo! – felt a surge of power as my glutes engaged at the just the right level.

All of a sudden the kicking felt, well, not pleasant, but like it was making a difference, not just to the forward motion of my stroke but also to keeping my body horizontal at the surface of the water. I was astounded at the change – I have been swimming since I was a toddler, and noticeable improvements are pretty rare.

It goes without saying that I will need to continue to focus on my glutes for a while until it becomes an unconscious part of my stroke – practice makes permanent, as they say. I am also curious to see whether the perception of fluidity I have now will translate into faster times.

Even if it does not, however, with each practice my kick feels easier and more natural, which is reward enough.

Thanks, Coach!

Bio: An avid runner and swimmer who also enjoys cycling, cross-country skiing, and yoga, Jennifer is a mother of three and a professor in the Civil Law Section of the Faculty of Law of the University of Ottawa.

fitness · running · training

Don’t forget to hydrate properly on a long hot run (and some tips for how)

Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short blond hair, sunglasses, earbuds, sweating, leaning up against a white brick wall. Not smiling.
Image description: Head shot of Tracy, short blond hair, sunglasses, earbuds, sweating, leaning up against a white brick wall. Not smiling.

This is going to be a totally practical post where I talk about a badly planned very hot run and how I (and you!) can avoid doing that again.

I went for a really long hot and humid run on Sunday and it just about undid me. I came back feeling worse than I can ever remember feeling after a run. It’s a rare day that I feel worse for running. I had a splitting headache for the rest of the day and even had to nap, which I’ve not experienced from running since I first started to add distance six years ago. I can’t say I regret having gone out on Sunday, but I definitely could have done it better.

What went wrong? First, we had a heat warning that was well-publicized for days leading up to Sunday. Mid-30s (Celsius) with a humidex reading of 40C (that’s the “feels like” temperature). For those who work in F, that’s super hot–“feels like” 112F. My original plan had been to go out at 7 a.m.  because obviously it’s more bearable earlier when the sun isn’t high in the sky. But that didn’t materialize and I found myself heading out at 8:30 instead.

My second mistake was to bring only a small bottle of water, the kind that snaps into my fuel belt. It holds three, but I really don’t like when it’s full and I was only going out for 8K and I rarely need much water on 8K. One small bottle seemed like enough. And for ordinary conditions it may have been. But Sunday wasn’t ordinary.

Add to the late start and the inadequate water supply that I read my training plan wrong. After a 15 minute easy run I was supposed to 5x 1 minute intervals at my 10K pace with 1:30 easy in between. But instead I read it as 5x 1K intervals at my 10K pace with 1:30 minutes easy in between. That’s a big difference. By the third one they were kicking my butt.

I’ve been trying for continuous running and haven’t done too badly, but I absolutely had to take walk breaks on Sunday because I was DYING! I do an out and back into Springbank Park from where I live downtown. I don’t mind the out and back aspect of it because it’s a pleasant route along the river. And though there is one especially relentless bit with no shade (we like to call it Death Valley), there are lots of trees along most of the way.

Anyway, I decided to do a little bit extra before turning around because there is a misting thing on the path (they call it a “cooling station”). That was a bad decision because much to my dismay when I got there, it was all bolted up. No mist.  And now I had actually added some distance to my 8K, and it had become more like 9K. And my water was running low.

So as much for my own sake as anyone else’s, I’m going to crib from a great article I found that gives the pros and cons of various ways you can stay hydrated during a long run. 

The article promises five but actually only talks about four. You can click on the link to see their pros and cons. I’ve added my own two cents to the suggestions on their list:

  1. single handheld bottle–if you’re doing this go with one that is ergonomically designed to fit comfortably in your hand. I’ve got a couple of these and they’re okay for short runs but liquid weighs a lot, and it can feel heavy after awhile. A small bottle if you’re on a route where you can refill it might be fine if you don’t find it too hard on your body. Switching it between hands is a good idea.
  2. multiple bottle belt–I have two different belts. One holds three small bottles and the other holds two slightly larger bottles. They’re okay, but you do feel the weight of the bottles around your waist, and they bounce a bit (with the belt) when they’re full. That’s why even though my belt holds three bottles, I rarely ever take more than two, and on the fateful Sunday I’m talking about here, I took only one. I do like the belts though. And both of the ones I have also have a zippered section where you can stuff some nutrition.
  3. hydration pack or vest–I’ve seen people with these but never used one myself. The article speaks of them as a comfortable and effective no-bounce way to carry a lot of water with you when you won’t have a chance for refills. Weight can be an issue of course, because liquid weighs a lot. But if the water is on your back that’s not the worst place for it as long as the pack doesn’t bounce.
  4. DIY aid station–I’ve had something like this when I used to train with a run club. When we did our half marathon training one of the group leaders set up a van at the half way point of long runs filled with water, electrolyte drinks, fruit, gummies, and I can’t remember what all else (maybe band-aids and sunscreen). It was a great solution for the very long runs when it would have been a hassle to pack all that we needed.

I would add my own fifth, which is to choose a route that has water fountains along the way. Despite that the misting thing wasn’t working, if I had gone still further before turning around I would have hit an actual drinking fountain, and then another not too much further than that. And I could have grabbed more from each of these on my way back. Had a planned for 12K instead of 8K, that would have been ideal AND I could have filled up my one belt bottle before the last stretch that had so very little water.

It’s only June, which means there are a few more hot days ahead of me, where even if I get out at 7 a.m. it’ll be humid and I’ll need to do better than I did on Sunday if I want to feel good, not awful, when I get home.

What’s your go-to hydration system for hot summer training?

body image · equality · fitness · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings · stereotypes · training · weight stigma

Weight bias and obesity interventions: no easy answers

IMG_4443
A person wearing a black swim dress and pink flip flops gets ready to swim.

By MarthaFitat55

A while ago I had reason to consult with an anaesthetist. We went through the risk assessment and had a chat. The clinic nurse had told me the team might have some questions because of my weight.

Fair enough. I could hardly fault them given what’s involved in going under, so to speak. But I was cautious because context is so often missing when numbers are thrown around, especially numbers relating to the Body Mass Index (BMI).

According to that scale, one originally developed by insurance companies, I am obese. Anaesthetists aren’t fond of having to deal with obese people. So we had a chat and it was actually quite good.

Here’s the thing: I eat reasonably well, with almost all the required fruits and veggies, high fibre foods, lower fat choices, more fish and legumes, and less red meat and alcohol, our health system deems the better diet to follow.

I’m also pretty active. At the time of the chat, I was weight training twice a week, swimming two to three times a week, taking a trail walk lasting more than an hour weekly, and looking to get my steps in on a daily basis.

The doctor asked me about the weight training, and I ran through the numbers: bench was around 48kg, deadlift was around 105kg, and squat was 97.5 kg. So those numbers tipped the deal. If I could do all that, then I wouldn’t have any trouble, they concluded.

It made me think though. For the past ten years, I have acted on the guideline about eating less junk and focusing more on whole foods while being more more mindful about how active I am.

Truth is, I’m not prepared to starve nor am I prepared to add any more hours of activity (in fact I am at or past the threshold for the recommended 150 to 300 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per week already).

At the back of my mind, I always believe I should be able to do more, and yet I can’t. It bugs me when I hear facile comments repeated in every weight loss inspiration story shared by the media. We all make choices, but some times even the good choices don’t make that much difference.

When SamB shared an article about how such tag lines like “Eat less, move more” contribute to weight bias, I was intrigued.

And I felt vindicated. Despite all my efforts in the gym, in the kitchen and yes, in my own mind, when I ran up against health professionals, who looked at numbers like BMI as reliable indicators of health, I felt my work was not enough, nor good enough, to make the difference society expected in my body shape.

Nor am I the only one. Canadian Obesity Network researcher Ximena Ramos Salas looked at obesity prevention policies and messages. She tested the messages with people living with obesity and what she heard was illuminating.

The short form is those messages don’t work. They are neither helpful nor accurate.

“Saying obesity is simply an issue of diet and exercise trivializes the disease. It makes those living with obesity feel like it is a lifestyle or behavioural choice, and therefore their fault. This causes them to feel judged and shamed, and to internalize the stigma of weight bias.”

Ramos Salas also reported “People told me that the public health messages were not relevant to their experiences. They didn’t relate to the messaging, they felt it didn’t consider other factors that contribute to their obesity that are unique to them, like genetics, mental health, medications and so on. It did not reflect the challenges that they faced while trying to manage their weight on a daily basis.”

I think these are two useful insights that should get more attention. But the best message arising from the research Ramos Salas is engaged in is this: “Not everyone who is big has obesity. People come in different shapes and sizes, so the idea that we categorize people based on their size as ‘healthy’ or ‘unhealthy’ is not accurate.”

I was fortunate I met with a health professional who was open to hearing about my numbers intead of relying on a flawed indicator to make a decision about my health status. Too many people though do not and some actually close that door themselves because they are not confident they will get the care they need.

For me, my conversation with the anaesthetist helped validate my choices about the fitness path I am on even though assumptions about weight and health by others may have forced the issue. I may never meet the biased image for health and fitness such weight stigma imposes, but I know I am doing the best I can given my circumstances. To suggest otherwise is limiting and dismissive.

— Martha is a writer and powerlifter in St. John’s.

fitness · race report · racing · running · training · traveling

A beautiful day for the Guelph Lake 10K (group report)

Image description: Left to right Violetta (black cap, red t-shirt, fine chain with pendant), Ellen (blond hair tied back, bangs, white tank), and Tracy (blue cap and sunglasses, purple and pink tank), all smiling.
Image description: Left to right Violetta (black cap, red t-shirt, fine chain with pendant), Ellen (blond hair tied back, bangs, white tank), and Tracy (blue cap and sunglasses, purple and pink tank), all smiling.

As I reported last week, I’ve been prepping for the Guelph Lake 10K and I recruited Violetta and Ellen to do it with me. It was a gorgeous day for a Sunday run, not too hot, sunny with a bit of cloud cover, a light breeze that felt just right at least some of the time.

As I like to do when there’s a group of us doing an event, I asked Ellen and Violetta to write a bit about their experience. We were all in different places with the 10K. I had been prepping. Just a few weeks before, Ellen had never run that distance before. And Violetta has been sporadic in her training and didn’t feel she had time to prep as she would have liked.

Ellen

So today I did my first 10 k in my life! At 54! Actually, it was my first running race of any sort! No 3Ks, or 5Ks to start out with ….But then again, I have always been the kind of person to “go big or go home” in all areas of life. This has got me into some troubles in the past, such as excessive smoking and imbibing for many years, but I digress.  For the past 6 and a half years or so, I have tried to confine this mentality to more healthy pursuits ☺.

I really didn’t know if I could do it.  I have been running for a little while and not tracking any distances, but then one day about a month ago, I actually tracked myself doing 8.5K, and my friend Tracy, said no problem, you can do it!

My high school memories are filled with shame of being the last pick for teams, and being next to the end when it came to any sort of running.  But, I am a grown up now, and I have met many other personal challenges, so I summed up my courage and tried it out today.

What a feeling of accomplishment! And what fun to share the love of this sport with other like-minded folks!  I am grateful to Tracy for encouraging me to overcome the fear and just go out and do my best.

Who knows… maybe a half marathon is now in sight. I never thought I would say that! So, to all the readers out there, I am at my fittest ever at 54…And sky is the limit! I challenge you all to go after your fitness dreams and be your best ever, at any age.

Violetta

I’ve really let my running slide over the cold, cold winter.  So when Tracy let me know about the Guelph Lake 10k, I thought it would be the perfect thing to get me back into running regularly.  It didn’t quite work out that way because I wasn’t feeling very well the last couple of weeks.  Since I couldn’t prepare physically, I spent a lot of time trying to work on the psychological aspect, telling myself that I can do this and re-reading Tracy’s blog posts about running without prep and quickly regaining confidence.

I’m not going to lie.  I was certainly questioning myself.  Could I do this?  Was I risking injury given my lack of training?  Well, I did it! I now know, for myself, that it is possible to complete a 10k without much prep, not much at all.  I haven’t run more than 5k in many, many months.  I’m not saying it’s advisable or even preferable.  And it certainly wasn’t easy. But I was very lucky—the weather was perfect, the atmosphere was casual and laid back and I was running with a friend I don’t get a chance to spend much time with.

I will say I didn’t love the repeated rolling hills (well, I didn’t mind going down them) or the repeated loop.  In the end, the race served the function I needed it to, to get back into running, to remind me how much I love it.  It’s too easy to lose your rhythm and get out of good habits.  This was my first step back.

Thanks Tracy for inviting me to come along and for encouraging me when things got difficult.  And what a treat it was to have Sam cheering us on!  I’ve taken my first step and now I’m planning my next ones.  Maybe another 10k … maybe another half?  I’ll let you know.

Tracy

The race has that local event feel that you get in the smaller cities and towns. I enjoy traveling for events because you get a change of scenery and a slightly different vibe wherever you go.  This one was at Guelph Lake Conservation Area, with the course taking us along the lake for awhile, then through the camp ground, and park. It’s not a bad course but any race that involves two loops is always a bit psychologically tough (in my view). There could also have been more water.

I ran with Violetta, and we had committed to keep each other moving forward. She was worried she wouldn’t make it the full distance (I knew she could) and I was worried I wouldn’t be able to make it without a walk break (I wasn’t so sure). Ellen didn’t want to run with us because, according to her, she’s really slow. She of course came in 26 seconds earlier than we did.

My main goal for this one was to do a continuous 10K, no walk breaks. I did it! Other than a very brief walk through an aid station where I was so thirsty I had to drink a cup of water properly, not letting it fly out of the cup while running, I kept a steady pace throughout the race, averaging 7:00/K for a 1:10:01 finish. That’s slower than my 10K without prep! But I think part of the reason for that is that Violetta and I spent quite a bit of the first 8K chatting, and I can’t push quite as hard when I’m chatting. (not that it wasn’t nice to catch up!)

I would have liked to come in under 1:10. But one second over is alright with me. Linda told me recently that I am not aware of my athletic potential. This may be true — I still feel a rush of skepticism when I think about getting measurably faster. Like I’ll always hover around the same speed no matter what I do. But that is a topic for another post. I mention it now because the doubt sets in most acutely on race days.

Image description: Tracy and Violetta running side by side, smiling, trees in the background.
Image description: Tracy and Violetta running side by side, smiling, trees in the background.

But the day had many bonuses: Besides getting to do something with Violetta and Ellen, Sarah and Sam rode their bikes to the park to cheer us on and take great action shots!  And then, when all was said and done, we went out for a fancy brunch at a lovely shaded patio in Guelph.

It was a great time with friends and it’s got me now thinking of my next goal — 10K continuous AND shave some minutes off of my time. I’m working with Linda again and I’m feeling revved up and ready to go.

 

Here are the three of us at the finish line, after re-hydrating:

Image description: Full body shot of Tracy (tank top, shorts, cap and sunglasses, bib 219), Violetta (t-shirt, capris, cap, bib 216), and Ellen (tank and shorts, bib 189), standing on grass, trees and people in background.
Image description: Full body shot of Tracy (tank top, shorts, cap and sunglasses, bib 219), Violetta (t-shirt, capris, cap, bib 216), and Ellen (tank and shorts, bib 189), standing on grass, trees and people in background.
fitness · swimming · training

Bettina has a new swim team – finally!

I owe my passion for swimming to my mother. She never learned how to swim as a child (though she did when she was in her late 40s and became quite an avid swimmer), so made sure I learned at the tender age of about five. I was terrified of water getting in my ears. When it came to having to jump in, I always stood at the back of the queue hoping that my turn would never come. But I did learn, and eventually the water in my ears didn’t bother me any more.

SwimKitBettina
Bettina’s kit – swim suit, goggles, cap and pull buoy.

Then, in primary school, my mum realised I had rather poor posture, so she stuck me in the local swimming club to make sure I got back strengthening exercise. Since then, on and off, I’ve been swimming regularly. I was a competitive swimmer until I was about 14 (though I was never super fast), which was when our coach quit. In the small town I grew up in, they didn’t find a new person to replace him, and that was when I made my first contact with lifesaving, because we had the option to join a local team, and some of us did. I took my first lifeguard qualification when I was 15 and even “worked” at a local open air pool one summer. Our payment was a season ticket in exchange for the hours we put in, and a bit of pocket money. I was hooked. I loved the idea of combining sports with something socially meaningful.

At 17, I moved to the UK. My school had an intense social service programme, and one option was lifeguarding. I qualified as a beach lifeguard. We spent an amazing August patrolling a beach – who knew Wales could be so sunny! After high school, I didn’t join a team for many years. At university, I swam with the university life saving club a few times, but somehow never managed to requalify. I kept on swimming more or less regularly though.

LifesavingCertBettina
Bettina’s lifesaving certificate.

Fast forward about 15 years – one day I was doing my laps at the local open air pool when I noticed a bunch of people in swim caps of the German Lifesaving Association (sorry, no English website) in the lane next to me. Something clicked – I suddenly wished I was with them and part of a team again. They really looked like they were having fun. I approached the coach and asked if I could do a trial session. I loved it! I requalified as a lifeguard and over time even swam a couple of competitions with my team.

If you’re now wondering what a lifesaving competition looks like, let me tell you that it is very, very cool and direct you to the following video of the 2014 world championships:

Then, just over a year ago, I moved to a different city. I tried the local lifesaving club once and it wasn’t a good fit for me. They do fantastic work with swimming classes and lifesaving training for kids, but the adults hardly swim (how much swimming a team will do depends a lot on their local focus and demographic). So I was on my own again.

Then we bought a car. And a colleague had told me that her daughter swam with the lifesaving club in a neighbouring town – with my own four wheels, this was suddenly within reach. On Tuesday, I decided to give it a shot – and it was brilliant! They train in a primary school pool, so it’s tiny (16m lanes are a fun thing when trying to calculate distances), but the team is exactly my jam! It’s a gender and age group mix I like, they seem very nice, and they swim decent distances. On Tuesday we did 3,500m and on Friday, 2,600m – there were lots of drills in the Friday session.

I couldn’t be more happy I gave this a shot. Before I went, I’d been worried I wouldn’t be able to keep up – I’m not all that fast and thought they might be super hard core. In true impostor syndrome fashion, I can really get up in my head about things like this. But it was perfect! So I have a new team and will be training with them about twice a week. Watch this space for more!

fitness · running · training

How to get excited about your workouts again

Image description: Headshot of Tracy in foreground, short hair, sunglasses, earbuds, smiling. Background is trees, partial view of park bench, distance marker and pavement.
Image description: Headshot of Tracy in foreground, short hair, sunglasses, earbuds, smiling. Background is trees, partial view of park bench, distance marker and pavement.

Last week I was talking to my friend Violetta about how amazing it feels to get back on track with my running. Not too long ago I was complaining about a winter of being thrown off my game by travel and illness. But now, after a few short weeks of regular training, I feel that familiar pull that gets me out the door for my runs most days.

The thing is, it doesn’t take all that long to feel good about it again. Sometimes it’s easier than other times, but with a bit of consistent effort, you can start feeling pretty motivated again after a couple of weeks.

Here’s what I did this time:

  1. I set a goal — my summer goal is to get faster at the 10K distance. I’ve already done one race to set the bar. See my race report here. Next up: Guelph Lake 10K on Sunday.
  2. I enlisted some friends to make events more fun. I blogged about that too.
  3. I like to plan my running schedule and make sure each training session has a purpose. There are all sorts of running apps and training programs online that can help you with that. This is an area where I treat myself by working with Linda (from Master the Moments). I find her to be incredibly motivational and she gives me a new training plan every two weeks. She assigns me a lot of easy runs, but also intervals at specific paces that challenge me and tempo runs.
  4. I’ve found it useful to have something specific that I’m working toward. Yes, I want a faster 10K. That’s my main goal. But I’m also working on continuous running. I realize that there are all sorts of arguments for 10-1 intervals (See Aimee’s post about how they got her through the Ottawa Half Marathon). I’ve used them successfully for quite awhile. But I’ve also got friends who say that once they start walking they lose momentum. So for me, at this time, I’m working on continuous running. You might experiment with 10-1 intervals. Changing it up keeps it fresh.
  5. It helps me when I’m accountable to someone for my workouts. I check in with Linda after each workout and tell her how it went. But I also check in pretty regularly with Anita. It doesn’t need to be a coach. A running buddy for mutual support is great.
  6. Some days, especially a couple of weeks ago when I was still not quite back in the habit, I make plans to run with people. In the past two weeks I’ve had an early morning run with Linda, and an evening run with Julie, in addition to my solo efforts.
  7.  Not everyone does this and I don’t do it all the time, but lately I’ve gotten into the habit of posting about my workouts on Instagram. I get that some people find this annoying (so far no one has said anything about it), but I mostly post to the blog’s Instagram account, and if you can’t post about workouts on a fitness blog’s Instagram account, where can you post about them!?  What I like about that is that people give you positive reinforcement and encouragement. I’ve also had a few people comment that they feel motivated by seeing me so motivated. That’s kind of how it works, too.
  8. I think for me it’s easiest to get excited again when the weather turns beautiful, as it has lately. Not only am I running regularly, I’m also walking and riding my bike to work. It’s a lot easier to get that momentum going when you actually want to be outside again.
  9. Besides being accountable to someone, it’s fun just to share your successes and good feelings about training with friends. Anita is in the UK for the year (back August 1!) , but we love letting each other know that we just got out for a run. And if it feels difficult, we share that too and help nudge each other out the door with some encouragement.
  10. Though not perfect at it, I’ve done my best not to skip my morning running. There is no better time of day and I have never once regretted having gone out running once I’m out the door.
  11. I got a great tip from Linda today, which is not to try making up for missed workout. Just move on to the next scheduled workout. I was out of town this past weekend and only had time for a shorter run on Sunday, not the regularly scheduled longer run.  I reported that to Linda, and she said not to worry about it. Just move on (and a few more words of encouragement, which is one of the things I love about her).

And that’s how I got back on track this time. It really only took a couple of weeks. I’ve got my 10K on Sunday and I’m feeling reasonably good about it. I don’t think it’s going to be the best race of my life or anything, but I’m looking forward to getting out there with friends.

How do you get back into it when you’ve lost your drive and/or momentum?

 

martial arts · motivation · training

A Challenge Not a Chore: Christine Delays Her 3rd Degree Test

I recently decided to delay taking my 3rd degree black belt test.

 

Phrasing it like that makes it sound like a simple decision but it took a lot of emotionally-fraught consideration on my part, and a consultation with my instructors to come to that conclusion.*

 

It is really hard for me to back down (or at least sidestep) an important plan I had made for myself – especially when there is a established timeline to follow. However, as Master D reminded me this week, for black belt testing the suggested timeline is a minimum, not a maximum. With that in mind, taking an extra 6-8 months (depending on scheduling) is not a big deal.

 

Here’s my thought process that led to my decision…

 

My wrist, broken or not, has been troublesome.

 

Even though I practiced in a modified way while my wrist was in a brace, the restrictions on my movements prevented me from learning the flow of my new patterns. I order to maintain my balance,  I wasn’t even supposed to do any kicking while I had my brace on. 

Since ‘TaeKwonDo’ essentially means ‘the art of kicking and punching’, you can imagine how much of my patterns I had to just make a mental note for instead of doing the movement.

 This video is of someone demonstrating ‘Juche’ one of my newest patterns. Imagine trying to learn this without being able to move your right hand, and without being able to kick or jump. It was tricky, to say the least.

Also, I wasn’t expecting that my movements would still be somewhat restricted when my brace came off. I had sort of thought I could throw myself back into everything once I was brace-free. Instead, I had to take a break from sparring, or any movements where my wrist might strike something.

So, I have spent the past three months being extremely conscious of every movement, which puts me in the overthinking zone. That’s not a good place for me to learn effectively and definitely not a good place for me to build confidence in my movements.

 

My time has not felt like my own.

 

In the past few months, I have had a variety of new obligations – a new freelance gig, some family-related things, and some time-consuming volunteer work- that have resulted in a new schedule every week.

 

All of those things have been fun and worthwhile, but the changing schedules have wreaked havoc on my ADHD brain. My sense of time has gone right out the window.

 

That means that I haven’t always had the focus I needed for the other aspects of test preparation – studying theory, ensuring that I understood the purpose and methods behind the movements, and practicing my board breaks.

 

It’s not that I didn’t have the time to do those things, it’s that my perception of my time has been inaccurate.

 

My heart was not in it.

 

Normally, the time before a belt test is nerve-wracking, but exciting. Even when the work ahead of me has been hard, I still felt drawn to it. This time, it felt like I was preparing to test just for the sake of taking the test. It seemed like I was doing it because I said I would.

 

That’s not how I want to approach my tests. I want them to feel like a challenge, not a chore.

 

I want to feel up to the challenge, I want to feel ready for the work.

 

Instead, I just felt kind of tired. I knew that I *could* do the work in time, but I didn’t feel like I wanted to. And I didn’t feel prepared to sacrifice other things to make more room for the extra work I needed to do.

 

It was my own attitude that made me decide that I didn’t want to test in June. I wasn’t in the right headspace for meeting a challenge. I wasn’t feeling any joy in the process.

 

Once I had acknowledged where I was, I began thinking about what it would be like to test at another time. That’s when I realized that delaying my test meant I would have all summer to practice (I love practicing outside) and I would get to train and test with some of the highest ranking students in my school.

 

Something clicked for me then.

The author's tools for preparing for her test - a yellow rectangular plastic board for kicking, a gold notebook for recording her progress, and two white books printed with black type that include training theory and lists of patterns.
Some of my resources for the next six months – my theory book, my patterns book, my shiny gold notebook for recording my training notes, and my rebreakable board for practicing.

 

I felt excited about that future testing. I felt a power in the idea of training with that group, of being challenged to match their skill levels.

 

I could see the next six months or so laid out in front of me, training in one area and then another. It didn’t feel like I had to know everything at once. And it wasn’t just that the time had expanded that gave me that feeling, it was knowing who would be with me on that journey.  I could clearly imagine that test day and I smiled at the thought.

 

And since I made that decision, every exercise I have done has a type of ease in it.

 

KIYA!

 

*Just to be clear, even if I had decided that I was ready, my instructors have the final word. I don’t know what their final word would have been but I know they were concerned about whether I was ready.