Friday, April 17, 2015

The uphill climb

My next marathon (Vancouver, WA) is actually my 4th marathon, but in training for it, I feel unsure about myself all over again. I have not yet reached that point where everything is just lock-step for me, and plus, training through the winter was a brand new experience, since usually I don't get much mileage during January, February, and March.

Hashtag: story of my life
It's been really hard not to compare myself right now to how I was doing at this point in my training for CIM a few months ago, especially since my tendency has been to focus on the highlights of my training from back then, rather than to remember the everyday ups and downs. For example, during my taper period, I managed to run ten miles at an overall 11:30 pace, which was waaaaaay fast even for me. (I normally go 12:30-13:30.) I remember being shocked... and pleased.

That's what goes through my head as I run now. I ran ten miles at an 11:30 pace. So when I fall short of that, which has been pretty much every long run these days, I get really bummed out. And I question myself. Why am I so slow? Why do I feel so sluggish all the time?

Nevermind that that run happened during my taper period, which was at the peak end of my program, and right now I'm just barely halfway through this current training period.

Nevermind that I had put in a solid 2+ months of consistent running to get to that point, whereas right now, I'm coming off a winter full of interruptions due to death plagues, nerve inflammation, and blisters from hell.

Nevermind that that particular run had me doing a 5/1 interval, and right now I'm still only doing 3/1 and 4/1 (so my pace is slower right now because my training program actually specifies it).

Nevermind all of those logic-filled reasons. The irrational part of my brain is dead-set on focusing on my shortcomings, even though they're not really shortcomings.

Even though I am the same person (inside), and I'm using the same training program, things are not the same, and I have to keep reminding myself NOT to compare, because it really won't turn out in my favor. My body really isn't the same - the changes in my muscle and fat composition are quite visibly different, thanks to a more solid background in weight training, and I'm more tired because I'm working out waaaaay harder, week by week, than I was before. The conditions I'm running in are not the same: it's April right now, and the weather is getting warmer all the time. My 20-miler is scheduled for the end of May, which is far different from the middle of November, which is when I last ran a 20-miler. And this time, my actual race is at the end of June instead of the beginning of December, and considering how I run better in colder weather, I can't necessarily expect that I'll get similar results from my training when the big day comes.

It's not fair to myself to compare my performances, because I'm not even training for the same race. But it's a hard habit to shake - I felt like I achieved a certain level of greatness (for me, anyway), and I'm so eager to get back to that point. And I feel like my body is not cooperating with me, when in reality, it IS cooperating with me, but I'm failing to remember that I'm asking it to do something quite different this time around (3 days a week of heavy weight training in addition to 4 days a week of training for a marathon in spring climate).

I'm not giving up - not even close - but it would do me some good to hit the pause button and get some perspective on the situation. And to stop beating myself up about it mentally and just enjoy the journey.

Friday, April 10, 2015

The lasting legacy of roller derby

I've recently started deciding to get more serious about my strength training and fitness, and in doing so, I'm actually digging up a lot of old feelings or habits that were once really problematic in my life. There was a period of time when I was obsessive about perfectly tracking every calorie I consumed and when; where I was spending a ton of money at GNC buying protein powder (without really knowing why I needed it, or if I really did) and fat burners that I consumed like candy; when I would sit there sweating and feeling my heart pound as a result of all the stimulants and feel afraid that I was doing something bad to my body, but then I would go home and lift my shirt up in the mirror and imagine the barest hint of an outline of an ab muscle, and convince myself that everything would be okay as soon as I lost 10, 20, 50 pounds, maybe more. "Some girls who are my height are even under a hundred pounds," I mused to myself. "Maybe if I work hard enough, I'll get there." Of course, I never got there. And day in, day out, my life thrummed with a constant undercurrent of self-loathing for not being thin and pretty.

I've come a long way since then. I don't hate my body anymore, and I have learned to care far more about what it can do than what it looks like, but right now it kinda feels like hiking in the woods and knowing the cliff's edge is somewhere nearby, but you're not sure how close you are to it. I feel like my mind is walking that fine line between being serious and being obsessive, and I find myself constantly having to talk myself down. I'm tracking my meals again, but it's not to lose a ton of weight drastically; it's to make sure my body performs the best that it can when I run or lift. I'm taking supplements again, including a (stimulant-free) fat burner, because building muscle and losing some of the fat will help me run faster or lift heavier. I'm looking at my counter-top full of powder-filled jars and shaker bottles, and I'm seeing a version of me that looks remarkably similar to the old me, and it worries me quite a bit.

One thing is different though: the self-loathing is gone. I know without a doubt that, before, I was trying to beat my body into submission, and hating myself when I failed. Now, I'm trying to treat it with care, to honor my body and its limitations, to not see all my actions as "pass" or "fail," but to see each step as an achievement in itself on my journey to... something. I don't have an end goal, like a specific weight, but just a general plan to feel good physically, mentally, and emotionally.

What changed? If I could pinpoint one time in my life where things really started to turn around, I would have to say that it was when I started getting involved in roller derby.

My first bootcamp with SVRG in 2010
I stopped over a year ago, officially, but I feel the impact that roller derby made on my life every single day, and maybe that's why I constantly miss it and I still haven't really let go of my derby name/identity. Why I still feel like I'm a part of it, even though my skates are collecting dust in my garage.

As much as roller derby has grown since its inception, it's still very much a niche sport. There are still many who think it's just about lipstick and fishnets and fake fights. It's still a sport where most of the time, when it comes up in casual conversation, people require an explanation of the rules. (No one ever needs to explain the point of soccer or basketball, right? Although, I still don't understand football.) As a sport that exists on the fringes of the sports world, it also attracts people who tend to exist on the fringes of life, in the sense that you rarely ever see a sports team that is such a large collection of punk girls, rockabilly girls, goth girls, fat girls, genderqueer girls, transgender girls, pansexual girls, poly girls, etc. I met "types" of people I'd never met before. I use the word "types" with bunny-ear quotation marks because no person should be reduced to a type, of course. What I mean to say is, my world expanded exponentially when I joined a roller derby league.

Of course, the roller derby community is as diverse as the world is, but there must be something special about it that draws us all together. It wasn't just a workout or a random hobby - it was a universe. There's a saying that goes "The derby monster ate my life," and we all affectionately chuckle at it because it's true. You don't just play roller derby; you live roller derby. It consumes you. And it never wants to let you go.

I found a home in the roller derby community, and it was there that the broken parts of me started to heal. For the first time in a long time, I was learning how to train, rather than just exercise. For the first time in a long time, I was focusing on my body's performance, rather than its appearance. I wasn't just a girl trying to lose weight anymore; I was an athlete. And it's amazing what a difference that change in terminology makes. I'm not saying that athletes are immune to self-esteem and body image problems, but I'm saying that becoming an athlete gave my body a purpose other than to look pretty.

And roller derby nurtured those feelings of positivity. Derby chicks are fierce. They're badass. They hit hard, and they don't take crap from anyone, on the track or off.

I had found one of the few pockets of society where it was okay to be larger, where it was actually helpful to be a big girl, and I learned how to exercise and eat healthily and how to appreciate my body rather than beat it up all the time. (Well, there was a fair amount of beating up too, but of a different sort.) I lost weight without actually trying to lose weight, and moreover, I didn't really care that I had lost weight. All I cared about was spending my time skating with some of the most amazing, empowering people I had ever met, and I was happy with myself and my body.

Practicing with Peninsula Roller Girls as Viva Glam, #R3D
Roller derby helped me find my feminism, which is still an on-going journey for me, but this eventually helped me learn about things like the prevalence of Photoshopping in the media, which made me hate myself less when I looked at magazines. (Actually, I stopped reading magazines altogether, except for ones about running, knitting, and feminism. That really helped a lot.) Also, it was roller derby that led me to Crossfit and Paleo, which taught me about functional strength and finding the right way of eating for my body. While I don't do either of those anymore, I will be forever grateful for the positive impact they both had on my life, because they both made me healthier and happier about my body.

I don't play roller derby anymore, but I feel its presence in my life every day. Roller derby changed the way I look, and it also changed the way I look at myself. My large body that I resented for so long is now an asset rather than a burden, and as I embark on this next phase of my athletic life, I will never forget that time in my life when I finally learned that I was capable of being awesome and that it had nothing to do with the numbers on my scale or the tags in my clothing. I pretty much still carry a bit of Viva Glam with me everywhere I go because she was powerful and unafraid, and when I feel my strength slipping, I call upon her. It's her strong legs pushing out of the bottom of a back squat and finishing strong at the end of a 20-miler. You can take the girl out of derby, but you can't take derby out of the girl. I owe my body and my sanity to roller derby, and I'm thankful for it every day.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

So... THIS happened today.

I'm like... I seriously can't even brain right now. I was shaking for a while after I did it. Still unable to wrap my mind around what I did.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Hi, my name is Thu, and I'm in love with my gym.

While I have a Yelp account, I'm not really a Yelper, and I'm well aware that there are certain problematic elements of putting too much stock in the opnions of random people on the internet. But sometimes I feel so strongly about certain places that I really want to shout it from the rooftops. So here I am. I've alluded to my strength training a bit over the last few months here, but I haven't really talked much about it. Let me give you a fuller picture of what I've been up to, and why I'm penning this ode to my gym.

I started training at Anchored Strength & Conditioning in November in preparation for the California International Marathon (which I ran in December on my birthday). At the time, I hadn't done any strength training or cross-training for quite a while (aside from the random yoga or Crossfit class), and I was eager to build on the good work I had been doing with my runs - I wanted to be strong enough to finish under 6 hours, which meant dropping at least 30 minutes off my previous best time, and I didn't want to feel like I was (totally) dying by the end. 

I was doing Crossfit for a while (which I have mentioned on my blog at times as well), but I'm going to be honest and say that it wasn't working out for me. (Haha... pun not intended.) Don't get me wrong - I adore the coaches at my local box, and everyone I met was so nice and positive. It wasn't the people; it was Crossfit itself, Crossfit-style workouts, that just weren't quite what I needed. I really wanted cross-training that would support my running, and I kinda feel like Crossfit is a sport unto itself. Every time I did a WOD, it always took more out of me than I wanted, and I would feel too drained to run. There were also just a lot of movements that I wasn't really good at, and since one of the tenets of Crossfit is randomized programming, the opportunities for me to really work at some of them were... random. And I'm someone who needs repetition to learn/improve. (I mean, that's a lot of people, right?) 

Plus, I really only like lifting. I found myself only wanting to show up on days when there were deadlifts or squats in the program, and skipping pretty much everything else. I'm awful at pushups and burpees, and hell no can I do a pull-up or double-unders. I found myself thinking, "Why can't I just do the stuff that I'm good at right now on a consistent basis - lifting - and then slowly build upon the other stuff as my fitness level improves?" 

Well, it turns out that I can. I remembered that one of my Crossfit coaches, Steve, had opened up his own gym nearby, and after some research (aka, stalking his website) and some emails about my goals and interests, I decided to check out Anchored. 

A bit about how Anchored works: there is a workout programmed for every day, but the workouts build upon each other week to week, and at the end of each cycle, we test our 1-rep max weight for specific movements. There are two levels of workouts programmed, so not everyone is doing the same thing, and on top of that, depending on your goals/situation, Steve will modify the workout to suit you. For example, when I first joined, I was kind of back to square one with strength training (in that I hadn't done it for a long time) and I was looking to support my marathon training rather than make lifting the main focus of my fitness. So, for a while, I was doing something slightly different from the regular programming that the others were doing - movements that were specifically good for runners, that weren't too heavy or difficult that I couldn't run the next morning, and that kept me balanced and injury-free. One of the other gym members I had met was a woman who was in her third trimester of pregnancy - her workouts were modified as well. And everything is supervised - Steve makes sure that we have the correct technique, the appropriate weight, etc.

Two things you should know about Steve (hi Steve!): 1) He is gloriously nerdy in his fitness knowledge, and that is so awesome. Sometimes when he tries to explain the mechanics of something to me, I kinda get lost because my brain cannot science at that level. He stays current on all the lastest research, fads, and everything, and it's obvious within ten minutes of meeting him that he really knows what he's doing. 2) It's not just that he's super friendly, but it's really clear how much he loves each and every one of us and how proud he is of us. I'm a very introverted person, and it's not easy to pull me out of my shell. Even so, it was hard to resist the warmth and openness of Anchored. Every time I came in, he introduced me personally to every member I hadn't met yet (well, he still does that, since we have new people joining all the time), and he always has something to share about each of us, which tells you that he actually cares about us as people and not just names on his client list. He gets really excited about our accomplishments, and he is always sharing how we are doing in our training with the other members in the gym (as well as on Anchored's Instagram and FB pages), so we get excited for each other too. And here's something that I personally appreciated: you know how, sometimes when you're with a group of people, and a couple other people in the group start talking loudly about whatever inside joke they have or they start referencing a previous conversation, and everyone else who's listening kinda gets lost and starts feeling really awkward? This happens to me constantly, even among my closest friends sometimes. I'm already introverted to begin with, and this just adds another layer of awkwardness to interacting with other people in large groups. Anyway, I've noticed that Steve totally takes the time to include everyone and fully explain the inside jokes. I've never felt left out or out of place while at Anchored.

I feel really comfortable being there, so much so that I will sometimes hang around a bit just to chat with people instead of leaving right away. Because it feels good just to BE there. And when I'm not there (like, during my recent bouts of death plague this winter), I really miss being there. It's kind of an intangible thing, but it's important. We can talk about weightlifting numbers and weight loss success and PRs and goals until we're blue in the face, but members feeling happy and comfortable and actually wanting to be there really is a sign that someone is doing things right. I'm not saying I don't have days when I just want to stay home and take a nap. But when I'm feeling well and generally happy, there's no question that that's where I want to be. Kinda like how I feel about running.

So, obviously, I love my gym. But two things happened recently that actually inspired me to write this blog post, one small and one big. They made me realize just how great I have it at Anchored, and I really wanted to write about them.

1) I follow a lot of feminist fitness pages on Facebook, and one of them recently put out a call for body positive trainers, coaches, and facilities to list in a directory, and they gave specific criteria:
Core Principles of a Body Positive Professional/Community Training Group
1. A recognition of the physical diversity of fitness and athleticism
2. A focus on helping the client achieve fitness and athletic goals and not a focus on weight and weight loss
3. A desire to see healthy body image promoted to younger athletes in order to reduce the incidence of eating disorders and poor body image in our younger generations
4. A preference to discuss our bodies from a functional perspective and not aesthetic
5. A refusal to recommend any extreme dieting or unhealthy eating habits
In reading over this list, I realized that Anchored is absolutely a body positive gym, and that is a beautiful thing. I've never felt pressured to lose weight or shamed for not making weight loss one of my goals. I know that that is not the case for other people at other gyms. And this is not the sort of place where I feel like I already have to meet society's standard of beauty in order to fit in with everyone else. I'm not saying there aren't beautiful people at Anchored; I'm saying that it really just doesn't matter. That's not what we're there for.

2) I got injured last week, lifting, actually. I know - what a weird thing to include when you're reviewing your gym. It was my fault - I was on the third rep of an 80% back squat and I didn't check my form and tension before I initiated the rep. I felt it right away, told Steve, and he immediately had me stop. He also knew right away what the problem was (nerve inflammation, not a strained muscle). Usually when I get injured or whatever, it means that I have to take a long time off (at least, if I'm following medical advice), which is a major bummer for me. While I'm wallowing in my dismay, I'm also losing whatever gains I'd made in my fitness in the meantime. I did end up taking it easy on my running last week, but I still went to the gym. Steve gave me a different workout to do that included some rehab - stretching and strength that would help ease the pressure on that nerve. I didn't do the regular programming with everyone else, but you know what? It was still difficult. It wasn't a lighter workout - I was working just as hard, but in a way that kept me safe and did not exacerbate my injury. And to me, that means a lot. Even though I wasn't at 100%, I didn't feel "lesser." I still got in some quality workouts under Steve's guidance, and yesterday, I was able to show up and do this:

When I say I couldn't have done this without Steve, I'm not just talking about achieving a 315 backsquat. I'm talking about backsquatting anything remotely heavy just a week after dealing with some tremendous pain. I knew we were testing this week, and especially yesterday, I was nervous the entire day. And the question on my mind wasn't "Will I manage to PR?"; it was "Will my body hold up today? Or will I go home a second Monday in a row feeling hurt and broken?" And as you can see, things went well. Through the last five attempts, Steve was there, doing the math for me, reassuring me, checking up on me about any discomfort, helping me with my belt, etc. He pretty much took care of me! I feel so grateful not just because of the PR (which felt great and I still cannot process that I did that!), but also because I did it safely.

And I also couldn't have done it without everyone else who was there, believing in me. By now, thanks to Steve, I think everyone at Anchored who knows me expects big things from me, but in a very supportive way. I wanted to show up for them too and make them proud. (PS - It was also thanks to people I met at Anchored that I completed my first triathlon. So yeah. As a group, they are now a big part of my life, even if we only see each other three times a week.)

So what is the point of this post? I'm not here to try to persuade you to join Anchored (ALTHOUGH...), but I did want to write a lengthy review/reflection about my experiences thus far. And I wanted to show you that working out doesn't have to be a miserable experience. You can, like, love going to the gym, if you find the right place and people to nurture you and strike just the right balance between indulging your whining and pushing you to be your best. For me, that place is Anchored Strength & Conditioning.

If you are local to me and interested in checking out Anchored, here are the website, Facebook, and Instagram.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Unboxing and first impressions: the Hoka Bondi 3

Hoka One One shoes are kind of a big thing in running right now - it seems to me (and you can correct me if I'm wrong) that they are the opposite of the minimalist/barefoot running movement. I myself have never tried minimalist running (does it count that I would do Crossfit running workouts in my Chucks?), and I understand the concept that primal man ran barefoot and didn't need stability shoes to correct his form, but honey... I doubt there's been a single minute of my life that I've lived like primal man, and after 32 years of being raised a modern woman (on modern, most-likely-genetically-modified, highly-processed food), I'm pretty sure that trying to run even a mile on little-to-no cushioning would be a bad idea.

So my curiosity was definitely piqued when I first heard about Hokas, which have a lot of cushioning and look realllllly ridiculous. When Active GearUP recently had a bunch of Hoka styles on sale, I jumped at the chance, and ordered myself a pair of (women's) Bondi 3 shoes, which are the widest model they have in a road shoe. (I know they have since released the Bondi 4 model, but you can't beat 50% off sometimes.) I know, I know, I shouldn't buy running shoes sight unseen, but I just couldn't pass up the opportunity. And look, they're cute and purple! After running in men's shoes for the last few years, I really wanted cute running shoes. I figured the cute colors would balance out that ginormous sole. IDK.

Straight out of the box, they come with additional, thinner insoles for people with wider feet and a set of regular laces, in case you want to replace the speed laces that they come pre-laced with. The upper is mostly a fine mesh on top of a larger mesh, so it's very breathable, and the tongue is thin, compared to most running shoes I've tried. I suppose that has its ups and downs. There are two elastic straps that run across the top of the shoe, presumably for holding the slack/cinchpiece for the speed laces.

I put them on as is, and they were... pretty snug. I could probably live with it as a street shoe, but definitely not for running. I switched out the insoles to the thinner ones they provided, and that helped a lot, but of course, I knew that I would not be able to get the fit I wanted until I made some modifications: you cannot remove the speed laces without cutting them, so I snipped those, and I snipped off the the elastic straps too, since they were no longer needed, and I wanted more wiggle room.

That's more like it!
So... and here's where you can start telling me "I told you so"... I have plenty of room in the toe box for all my toes except for my little toe, on the outside of the shoe. My little toes were comfortable, but without much excess room, which probably doesn't bode well for super long runs. We'll just have to see. If I buy these shoes again, I will go up an additional half size.

Here they are (pre-modification) next to my current shoe of choice, the ASICS GT-2000, and at first glance, they look similar width-wise, but my ASICS definitely have more room (considering how they are a size 2E width). (But look how much cuter the Hokas are.) (Men's shoes, step up your cuteness game! Or women's shoes, step up your size game!)

So let's talk about the cushioning. They look WAY higher than they actually are. Below are VERY scientific pictures of my investigation:

Where the tip of my thumb is,  that's where the bottom of the shoe is inside.

And where the tips of my fingers are, that's where the inside of the shoe starts to curve up, that's like, the edge of the flat bottom of the shoe.

I know, highly scientific. But the point is that, that ginormous-looking sole is actually built to cradle your feet, and it means that you don't feel like you're running on platform shoes. So they're not as bad for your feet as they look :) (And trust me, I used to have those "fitness" Skechers, so I know about that.)

I took them for a test run this weekend - I mostly walked (but ran some too - still recovering from a lifting injury) a 6-miler this weekend, and it felt great. I didn't ever feel like I was in danger of rolling my ankle or anything. The only ouch factor I experienced was that I developed a blister on the back of my foot (like, where my Achilles is), but that was a combination of the back of the shoe as well as the dust/debris that had found its way into my sock. Hopefully with a little creative bending, that won't be a problem. My toes all felt fine.

Since they passed the shorter test, I will take these out for a more intensive 10-miler next weekend. So far, so good, Hokas. You will live to see another day.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

New blogs!

I decided to start a separate blog for all things books: book reviews, book-to-movie adaptations, and other book-inspired fun! Check it out here.

I also decided to start a separate blog for all things beauty: product reviews, makeup looks, swatches, etc. Check it out here.

Everything that was already posted on this blog will remain here, for archival purposes.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

ColourPop Hyper Glossy Lippie Stix

I'll tell you how behind I am on my beauty blogging... ColourPop released a second type of Lippie Stix before I ever blogged about the first type! Ah, I've some ground to cover.

Over the past couple of months, I purchased their Forget the Fruit Cake holiday box set as well as a handful of other colors individually. Initially they just had matte Lippies, but with this box set they introduced their new hyper glossy finish. (They've released a few more shades since the box set.) I'm actually going to share the hyper glossy shades I have first, since I have fewer of them, and I'll share the mattes I have in a different post :)

So, all their Lippie Stix come in these sturdy plastic cases that are long and slim, and the endcaps as well as the top part of the inside tube matches the lip shade. The bullet is very narrow, but I like how much easier it is to control when I apply.

The hyper glossy Lippies are, as you can guess, very glossy and slick, though suuuuuuuper pigmented. I found that I had trouble making them look good straight from the tube, since I would wind up with too much product on my mouth. (Which was fine with the basic red, but not so great with the brighter/lighter shades.) I didn't have this issue so much with the mattes, which are obviously drier (not in a bad way).

In the photos on the left below, I just applied them how I always apply lipstick (from the tube). In the photos on the right, I blotted them gently. You can see that blotting made them significantly less glossy, but they looked more natural on me.

This is Corset, "a true pink lavender lilac." I really like this color, but I needed to blot it to make it look a little less Easter-y. (Or I should apply any one of these with a brush.) Corset is available individually.

Juicy is also available individually and is a "bright strawberry pink." I feel like blotting muted it quite a bit, and it's a gorgeous color as-is, but again, in order to make it wearable for me, I needed to tone it down.

Tuxedo came in the Forget the Fruit Cake gift set, and is a "cool toned neon pink." It reminds me a lot of NARS Schiap and Urban Decay Anarchy (the full-finish one). I think the glossy finish amplified the neon quite a bit. It's quite shockingly pink, like the lipstick equivalent of Sugarpill's Dollipop. Beautiful, but not for the faint of heart :)

Confetti is the other hyper glossy Lippie included in the gift set, and it's my favorite for obvious reasons - you just can't beat a good red lipstick :) It looked better and applied better straight from the tube as-is than the other three shades, though obviously it's such a great shade of red ("true blue red") that it doesn't take much to make it look good. (You just can't say the same about neon pink or pale lavender, which don't look good on everyone unaltered.) It also changed the least when I blotted it.

So, I like what I'm seeing from the formula so far - the shine and softness of a gloss, but the pigmentation of a lipstick - and I didn't have them on long, but as I progressed through my testing, the stain left behind got progressively brighter and brighter. I'll have to test these for staying power at some point, but I think I can say that I have high hopes in that department.

As with (almost) everything on the ColourPop site, Lippie Stix are $5 each, and you get free shipping on orders of $30 or more. I'm pretty sure that's cheaper than the drugstore brand lipsticks these days (or, at least, comparable). ColourPop is very quickly becoming one of my favorite brands, and it's thanks to their low price points and high-quality products.

PS - I bought their Lippie Stix primer too, and it's really awesome. It really fills in the fine lines and softens my lips without making them greasy. I think I'm in love. I'm find it especially useful to wear under the mattes, and I will probably stock up on a few tubes of this one now to wear with all my other lipsticks and not just the ColourPop ones.