Thursday, January 27, 2011

Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortenson

This was the book club pick for January... picked and announced in November (since we don't read in December so we can get together for a holiday party instead)... and totally hyped by my dear friend Melissa, the newest addition to my beloved book club, who picked it.  Before I tell you what I thought, let me tell you why the deck was stacked against me from the beginning.  First, I had two months to read this - procrastinators and crazy do-it-all's take note.  So while I bought it right away, I didn't pick it up right away.  Second, I'd been hearing about how AMAZING this book was from Melissa since she'd read it over a year ago - so I ASSUMED it would also be a quick and fascinating read.  These two facts actually combined to create a perfect storm for me.  A storm who's consequence was not having it finished before the discussion.

The full title of this book is "Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace... One School at a Time" and is a non-fiction account of an American climber who gets lost in Pakistan after a failed attempt at climbing K2.  He is taken in by a local village and in order to pay them back promises to return to build them a school.  The village becomes his second family in the decade to follow and he goes on to build many more schools and do extremely amazing things for the remote villages of Pakistan and, eventually, Afghanistan.  The story itself is amazing with all the things this man who basically lives out of his car in order to scrape enough money together to fulfill his promise goes through.  And it is very eye opening about the Muslim religion and how very different it is from the picture of fear and extremism we are fed by the media.  The whole "theme" of the story is how education is the key to peace and how we all should be promoting the education of our children no matter what or how.  We had an amazing book club discussion - although because of the subject matter it was very easy to get sidetracked off of the book and onto current events with all the fervor a political discussion can get with 20 women in the room.

While this book IS amazing, it is hard to get into in the beginning which most people who voiced an opinion at the discussion agreed with.  For me, the writing style was way too dry - it read more like a newspaper story than a novel - and jumped around with little sense of why which made it hard to get lost in the story and easy to put down.  Which, since I had two months to read before the deadline, I did too often.  As a result, I had just gotten to the good part - halfway through the book - when it becomes harder to put down when it was time for book club.  I subsequently finished the book and am glad I read it.  If it weren't for my expectations and assumptions of it being a quick read I would have had it finished in time...

The How-To-Do-It-All Guide for Overachievers and Crazy People

Life and all the things I'm trying to cram into it has been hitting me in the face this week - HARD.  It is the first big production for Big Sister's dance team also known as the Winter Revue which includes dress rehearsals and extra practices; it is Baby Sister's first birthday which of course requires a party to celebrate properly; it is the official start of Ragnar training and six-day a week running schedule; and I'm excited about writing again thanks to my amazing writer's group.  Yes, ALL of that is happening THIS week.  Oh, and don't forget that Book Club Retreat is in two weeks so I have an entire book to read before then - luckily it looks like a fast and easy read.  And these are all just extra things on top of my nine to five job, cleaning my house occasionally and spending time with my Hubby and friends and family.  And I'm expected to do all these things and NOT become a raving lunatic.

So, it's no surprise that I find myself wondering how the hell I'm going to do it all!  Granted - I can't complain too much since this is all my own doing.  I have always been an over-achiever after all...

Last night was a writer's group meeting - squeezed in after a full day of work, a dress rehearsal at dance, and a run.  One of the greatest insights I've had in a while came from a question posed by my most-inspiring fellow writer when she said "why do you write?".  Which in turn led to an examination of why I do anything and general wondering on my part if there was a better way to cope since bottom line I really WANT to do it all and not get overwhelmed.  I can't give up being mom or wife; nor would I want to in either case.  Same goes for daughter or sister.  I can't give up my job; unless I want to drastically change my lifestyle and considering the first thing to go would be my mecca of a gym and our amazing nanny, I say hell no.  No way I can give up running and my commitment to being healthy and getting fit - especially not when I spent the money I did to register for the Ragnar Relay.  Plus, I deserve to be fit and healthy, as everyone does.  Which leaves my two luxuries and the only other things I really do: reading and writing.  At the time I was reluctantly but realistically - or so I thought - feeling like I needed to give one or the other up and since I haven't worked on my novel since the close of NaNoWriMo in November I thought it had already kind of been decided and said as much to the group while expressing my frustration that I just don't have the time to write, much as I want to.

Funny how it had to be pointed out to me that I am constantly writing since I am a regular blogger here and have been for several years.  Yeah, yeah, I know that's probably quite obvious but hey, I have been talking about and toiling over and dreaming about this novel for - count them - THREE years with not even a completed first draft to show for it.  Somehow I equated "writing" to working on the novel and haven't considered that I have never stopped writing since I'm constantly doing it, just in a different form.  *Light bulb*  And it didn't even take a therapist, just a friend who knows me pretty well!  So, now I can quit getting down on myself about not writing and will continue to write in whatever form I can whenever I can with a new goal of at least once a week working on the novel.  To be a writer, you must live like one which means, above all - writing.

But that epiphany doesn't really solve my overwhelming feelings of failing at being able to do everything.

Which brings us to reading.  The luxury I have loved and cherished since I was a child reading Nancy Drew Mysteries and progressing to Stephen King and everything I could get my hands on - even my Mom's trashy romances when I could successfully sneak them away unnoticed.  It is no secret that the last two years my reading has diminished and if it weren't for Book Club I probably wouldn't have read even as much as I have done.  But there are only twenty four hours in a day and I still don't know where I'm going to find more time for reading.  *sigh*

At the end of the discussion with the writer's group, we all found ourselves either committing to writing more, declaring that we were on hiatus for a while or somewhere in between so we could structure the group for this year.  And that's when it suddenly came to me.  Well, truth be told it was actually sparked by a sarcastic and bitchy comment about why couldn't I multi-task more things so I really could do it all. 

Wait for it...

"Why don't you listen to audio books WHILE you run?"

Are you fucking kidding me?  Why didn't I think of this sooner?  (Hell, let's be honest, I DIDN'T think of it!)  I log miles and miles a week constantly searching for just the right song or play list to entertain me while I'm at it.  All the while bitching because there's not enough hours in the day to read anymore.  I blame the one and only time I ever listened to a book on tape and missed the deadline for the Book Club discussion "because I can read a hell of a lot faster than a person can enunciate all those words".  After that one experience - years ago mind you - I declared that audio books were not for me.  Well, no longer can that be true - since I clearly can't read faster than I could listen to a book WHEN I HAVE NO TIME TO READ.

Now I just need to find the perfect way to get audio books onto my iPod so I don't have to give up anything I want to do and then look out - that list of titles I've wanted to read will start dwindling instead of merely growing.  (Luckily I'm a gadget-savvy problem solver so it shouldn't take too long.)  I've found my secret to doing literally everything and still staying sane - the proverbial have my cake and eat it too - and I'm so excited!  Somehow I also need to find time to shop for new tights and dance shoes for the recital on Saturday plus buy birthday presents and bake cupcakes before Sunday!  Somehow I'll figure that all out, too - I hope!

On a side note, if I haven't said it enough - okay, have I even said it at all? - thank you for reading what I write!  And if you're not a follower, please consider it?  I am a narcissist who'd love to see who's reading besides my handful of friends I see all the time.  Here's to everyone being able to find a way to make life work and get everything YOU want in the coming year, too since we all deserve it...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Birth of a gym rat and Ragnar training

It's official... I'm a regular at the gym.  I'm in love with running so much that I've gone and made it a habit that has me working out six days a week - every week!  I have a personal trainer who has helped me incorporate strength training and I found a yoga class that I love.  With Ragnar training just around the corner, which will be even more challenging than my half marathon training program I did last fall, this is very good news.  And with my new heart rate monitor - which I obsess about now way too much - I can be scientifically sure of exactly what my efforts are providing.  If I decide to run fast and not care what my heart rate is doing, then I know I have to refuel mid-run because I'm not burning fat - but I'm building cardio endurance instead.  If I decide to be disciplined and stay within my fat-burning zones I can go longer without refueling but it is more frustrating to run slower so I hate it.  (Nothing ever makes me happy I guess!)

So, here's my gym schedule:

Monday - Rest
Tuesday - short run (2-3 miles) or cross train plus weights
Wednesday - mid-range run (4-5 miles)
Thursday - short run plus weights
Friday - mid-range run
Saturday - short run plus yoga
Sunday - long run - at least 8 miles

As Ragnar training ramps up, the distances will increase but the schedule will remain the same.  Since Ragnar is a relay race where each runner has to run three times over the course of two days, towards the middle there will be days where my long run is split into three separate runs of shorter distances so you get used to having to run multiple times in a day.  The Ragnar slogan is: Run, Drive, Sleep, Repeat. 

I am so excited and so committed to being successful at Rangar I'm not doing a half marathon before like I had originally planned.  Okay, and I couldn't find one that didn't conflict with Big Sister's dance competition schedule this spring. Grrrrr Who knew that I'd have a sport that competed with my kid's sport but I love it!  Hubby started running yesterday - something he thought he couldn't do again after a back injury and an ACL replacement - and is also gearing up for Ragnar.  I'm so excited to be doing it together!

I can't lie... Amidst all this excitement and commitment, I'm a little intimidated about Ragnar, too.  Because I like downhill WAY more than uphill, I selected a spot that has more downhill but that means I have longer distances.  When it is all said and done, I will have run 21 miles in the 48 hours of the race.  Practically a full marathon!  So, time to get the game face on and start training strong. I'm proof that anyone can be a runner - since I'm still a bit on the heavier side of my ideal weight (I could stand to lose about 30 more pounds) but I can run 10 miles on any given Sunday!  Just pick a goal and stick with it, right?  RIGHT!

Race Archive 2010

And new to the OCD tendencies... here's a recap of all the races I ran in 2010.  My first year of official racing where my goals were simply to finish.  Here's to years and years of more racing where I can eventually be a competitor rather than a finisher!

Dash for Donation - 5K
August 14, 2010

CHHS Community and Alumni - 5K
September 18, 2010

SoJo Marathon 5K
September 25, 2010

Wasatch Woman Love Your Body - 10K
October 9, 2010

Halloween Half Marathon
October 30, 2010

Book List Archive 2010

Time once again to placate my OCD tendencies and convert my side-panel list of books I've read into a posting for safekeeping.  This list is as dismally short as it was last year but I was also doing a lot more running than reading this past year so who is really complaining?  Instead, I'm thanking my book club for keeping me committed to reading at least a book a month!  And here's to more time for reading in 2011!

  • The Unit, Ninni Holmqvist  (book club)
  • The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, Katherine Howe  (book club)
  • Mockingjay, Suzanne Collins
  • Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins
  • The House at Riverton, Kate Morton  (book club)
  • Mr Monster, Dan Wells
  • Pillars of the Earth, Ken Follett  (book club)
  • I Am Not A Serial Killer, Dan Wells  (book club)
  • Life of Pi, Yann Martel  (book club)
  • Oceans Apart, Karen Kingsbury  (book club)
  • Water for Elephants, Sara Gruen  (book club)
  • Pavilion of Women, Pearl S. Buck  (book club)
  • Change of Heart, Jodi Picoult  (book club)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Public Service Announcement

It's been a while since I got on my soap box about society here in America.  Today that ends, if just for a moment.  Several years ago we banned High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) from our diet after I read the book "The Omnivore's Dilema" and learned the real nature of our "food" here in the States.  I was such a vocal bitch that all my friends and family heard about it and eventually hopped on the band wagon if only half-heartedly; well, most of them anyway.  Apparently I wasn't the only one.  Now, enough people in general have started reading labels that the food industry is having to change their tactics.  I heard the other day that they are going to relabel HFCS as "corn sugar".  Doesn't that sound so much more appealing and so much less harmful?  Yeah, I think that's the point.  What enrages me the most of late are the commercials where people are talking about how "they've done studies and, cane sugar or corn sugar, you're body doesn't know the difference".  Every time the variations of this commercial come on I literally yell "BULLSHIT" at the television at the top of my lungs.  Yes, I know they can't hear me but it sure makes me feel better.

Here's the truth in a nutshell for those of you who haven't read all the studies.  Yes, your body DOES know the difference and here's where it gets freaky.  Your stomach is not able to handle the digestion of HFCS, your liver has to do it.  And your liver can only process so much of it.  The excess the liver can't handle gets converted directly into triglycerides in your blood stream.  You know, that part of "bad" cholesterol that clogs your arteries and gives you heart disease?  Yeah, that.  Told you it was bad!  And even worse is the fact that HFCS is in everything - and I do mean everything - so you eat a ton of it without even knowing if you aren't paying attention..  Your yogurt that you think is healthy?  Check the label and chances are you'll find HFCS!  Your bread - yes, even the wheat variety.  Your milk can even have it in it!  So people please, start reading the ingredient lists on your labels and take control of your own health because trust me, the food industry isn't going to do it for you.  They are the ones feeding you propaganda on the television after all!  You can find practically everything - even soda - with real old fashioned natural cane sugar if you're willing to read every label before buying something.  Trust me, your arteries will thank you for your vigilance!

This past weekend I came across something even more frightening.  An article in the magazine put out by our gym was talking about how in one study they had taken cancer cells and fed them different forms of sugar to see how the cancer responded.  Apparently it was already well known that cancer cells thrive on all kinds of sugar but what they found is that high fructose corn syrup not only fed them but increased how fast they metabolized and split to multiply and MAKE. MORE. CANCER. 

HOLY SHIT!  I might just go to a diet of 100% whole and natural after reading that article!  If only it wasn't so expensive to eat "real" food in this country...

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Hard work proof and a roller-coaster ride

Day six of HCG included a trip to the gym for a cardiovascular metabolic test and a mild trip into the realm of insanity.  I strapped a freaky looking mask on my face connected to a computer to measure the amount of air I took in and analyze the gases I exhaled and ran on the treadmill for a few minutes.  Coupled with my heart rate monitor it tested exactly how MY body burns fat as well as my recovery heart rate and lung's oxygen capacity.  I was excited and - let's be honest - a little amazed at the results.  My body burns fat longer than the average person, I have a phenomenal recovery heart rate and an awesome lung capacity.  The tester said "I can tell you're a runner and you've been working hard" which totally vindicated me and made me almost tear up.  There it was, scientific and personal proof that I am in the best shape of my entire life.

So what the fuck am I doing HCG for?

I had already been struggling with the thoughts of putting my gym time on hold for three weeks while I took shots and ate like I was a starving Ethiopian.  And now I find out exactly how to work out more efficiently for MY BODY to burn more fat yet can't do it?  I had a serious melt-down.

You see, based on the few runs I had done with my new handy dandy heart-rate monitor I know exactly what heart-rate range I typically run in.  And it turns out it isn't in the fat burning zone.  Which on the one had was an exciting discovery because it explained why I was averaging 20 miles a week and yet not really losing any weight.  On the other hand, it means I have to change the way I run if I want to see the results in my body that I started running for.  Either way, though, there's that damn HCG which means no running at all for me for weeks.

Hubby came home that night and I came clean with him that I was thinking about stopping the shots early.  This was my third round of HCG and I was only losing about a pound a day in the first week which was less than half what I was used to doing with the other two rounds.  I remembered the frustration of the diet without weight loss from the 40-day round in 2010 and I didn't want to relive that pain.  Hubby talked me off the ledge reminding me how long it would take at the gym to lose even 5 pounds a week and I went to bed feeling like an alcoholic must feel - I'd gotten through the day and I could go on if I just took it one day at a time.

Until the very next night when Hubby came home on the weak side of the roller coaster and instead of me taking the opposing role and telling him "we could do it" and "look at how much it is going to be worth it", I said "you're right let's quit!"  We discussed and schemed and went back and forth trying to figure out the best thing to do and in the end we both caved.  Hubby had already lost the15 pounds he wanted to (yes, I hated him just a little for that number in a week but he's a man so whatever!) and I knew I didn't have it in me to give up running for that long.  We didn't want to waste the money we'd spent on the HCG so we found a new home for what was left - a fellow HCG'er I knew who was in a frame of mind to start the shots right away before they lost their potency - and we handed what was left over to her.  And promptly started dreaming of all the things we could eat three days later when we entered the maintenance phase and got back everything except starch and sugar.  Those were the hardest three days ever but just because we stopped early doesn't mean we aren't going to follow the protocol.

I never thought it would feel so good to be a quitter!

I ran four and a half miles today in my new-found fat-burning zone, not caring that it was like 4-minutes per mile slower than I'm used to running, did yoga yesterday and am never looking back.  Seriously, I am at the gym six days a week between our new gym and the fitness center at work which is a habit I am not anticipating breaking anytime in the near future.  Hubby and I both chalked up our one week trip into insanity as proof that we have certainly changed our lifestyle and are choosing the slow and steady wins the race approach to losing the last little bit of fat we want to rid ourselves of - and boy did we relish those eggs this morning!

So while I still sing the praises of HCG and recommend it to anyone interested in it, I no longer personally need it as a jump start to a healthy lifestyle - it served it's purpose and I'm happy to never look back.  In the course of two and a half years I have completely changed my life and I couldn't have done it without HCG.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A glutton for punishment kicks off 2011

Bet you never thought you'd hear this from me again.... I just started another round of HCG.  This time with Hubby in tow.  I kicked it off with a goodbye run of eight miles on the treadmills at our amazing gym - did I mention they go DOWNHILL?!? - since I can't run for three weeks (remind me to tell you about that later!).  I've been working out with weight training added to my running program but the holidays are always a struggle with my sweet tooth.  Once I give in and sample the delectable baked goods from my sister's kitchen, it's all over and I can't get enough - like a ravenous monkey desperately foraging for mites on every surface I can find.  You get the picture.

I want to say that putting on a few pounds over the holidays was my motivating factor for embarking again on this journey but I've been planning on it for several months now.  I solely blame my need for instant gratification.  Seeing the pounds and inches melt off of me in the three-weeks of hell doing this protocol makes it SO worth it.  And having to wait the months it would take to see the same results at the gym would just suck.  So, I'm squeezing in a three-week bout in hell between New Years and Jan 28th when the official start of Ragnar training begins for the insanity I have scheduled in June.

Except that might not have been the case and now it is totally a bittersweet journey!

You see, the first thing you do is take measurements for "before" and "after" kinds of comparisons.  I really like measurements as a guideline of how well you're doing on weight loss or maintenance because the scale is unreliable once you start building muscle and so I do measurements about once a quarter.  (Does this make me obsessive?  It sure sounds like it when I put it down in writing!)  So on "Day One" I faithfully pulled out the measuring tape and dutifully recorded my measurements.  And then, as is my nature, I promptly plugged them into my nifty spreadsheet which compares the current data to the previous measurement and overall from the first set of recorded measurements.  I know, I'm a total geek but I've accepted it by now and so should you!

And that's when things got interesting.  You see, my last set of measurements were from the first of December - at the end of a 90-day challenge I'd participated in with a group of friends intended to keep each other motivated to work out and make good food choices.  I kind of slacked off a bit  toward the end and it was only the ending measurements compared to the beginning ones that made it worth doing since even though I had been a bit of a slacker I had still lost overall inches - but the scale read higher at the end.  (Another piece of evidence supporting the claim that people should just throw the scale away and never step on it!)  Anyway...  the number on the scale had continued to slowly creep up - like 4 pounds - over the course of December compliments of all the sweets I just ate and ate for like two weeks.  This was exactly why I was looking forward to the fresh, whole foods of the HCG diet being forced on myself.  I knew I'd gotten off track so I just recorded the numbers, not letting them mean anything, and forgot about it.  But when I was plugging them into the spreadsheet, guess what?!?  I might have gained "weight" according to the scale but according to the measurements I had actually lost - in all the right places like my hips and thighs and bust (which for me includes a bit of "back fat" I haven't rid myself of yet).  WTF?!  You mean I ate and ate sweets and because I was going to the gym regularly I was still thinner?  But I didn't know and now I've started HCG and I can't run and can only do light weights?!?  For THREE WEEKS?!


So the rationalizing queen inside of me started thinking of all the ways I could still work out even while on this crazy protocol.  I can't run, but I CAN walk.  I can't do strenuous weight lifting, but I COULD do a little circuit of weights slowly, three times a week.  Right?  We'll see how much energy I have for the weights but I'm for sure walking every chance I get!  Maybe combining the two things that work will get me even more amazing results?!?  We'll see!

The other crazy part of embarking on this journey again is that my carnivorous hubby is doing it with me.  He's a hottie - I won't lie - with the body of a Greek god and most people who know him will be shocked.  But, he injured his back ten years ago and blew out is ACL a couple of years ago and it all adds up to slowing down for him which means he's getting a little thick around the waist.  I'm not one to judge - you say you want to slim down and you know it works because you've watched me do it, then great! It will be way easier to do it together than cooking two meals for dinner, that's for sure!  But then there's the part you don't know - he eats a lot.  And he's a meat and potatoes kind of a guy.  But potatoes are forbidden for the next six weeks in any form.  And red meat is a no-no for the next three.  Yes, he can have chicken but only a single serving - which is 3.5 ounces, not pounds.  And the rest of his diet will consist of things that as he puts it "food eats".  As in, "that's not food, that's what food eats" while looking down his nose disdainfully at my pseudo-vegetarian fare.  It should be fun to watch.  Although he has iron-strong will power and will stick to the program like glue, it might be even more miserable for him than for most.

Last time I did this back in April of 2010, I did a 40-day protocol which I swore I would never ever ever do again.  I'm back to the 23-day with the mentality that I can do anything for three weeks.  I'm getting to be an old hat at it, not stressing about the food choices or what I can and can't eat and even waited until the last day to stock up on the required food items in the refrigerator.  I remember the first time when everything was new and I didn't know how to eat right and I stressed and obsessed the first couple of days about what I could and couldn't have.  Not this time, now I'm just impatient for it to be the end so I can hit the road for another run.  Or even the gym! I guess that's what they mean when they say a lifestyle change:  when you eat pretty much the way you're supposed to in order to maintain your health even when you're not on a diet!

Speaking of the gym... running 8 miles on a treadmill is only enjoyable with a good running playlist on the iPod and interesting people to watch.  Yes, I'm a people watcher in addition to my sarcasm who rarely filters what I think from coming out my mouth.  It makes for some interesting times usually.  The gym is no exception and when you're on a treadmill for almost two hours there are lots of people who come and go.  I thought it was fun to watch the obsessive couple with their print-outs from what I assume was some kind of training program fiddling with the intervals - uphill, downhill, fast, slow and do it all over again.  Then there was the entertainment factor of those tiny women with their perfect hair and spiffy workout clothes who walked but not fast enough to actually need to pull their hair up or produce any sweat to mar their perfect outfit;  the guy who ran a long time dripping sweat; the hard body chick who didn't bother with a shirt over her sports bra so she could prove without a doubt how little body fat there was jiggling around and all the people in between.  It even made the irritation of the treadmill automatically going into cool down after an hour easier to bear.  I thought passing two hours on a treadmill would suck but it didn't - and I'm sure my facial expressions as I watched the people around me provided some entertainment for other people watchers if they were looking.

So, here's to the craziest beginning of a new year I have recollection of.  And here's to it going fast so I can get back to "normal" again with at least another twenty pounds gone forever!  Happy New Year!