Category Archives: Reviews
I’m plucking along in the 5th week of my half marathon training plan and almost half-way to my goal for a Mother’s Day race. Though my training keeps getting progressively more challenging (UGH), I’m still sticking with it, and my performance and dedication are keeping me quite encouraged. I don’t necessarily notice much change in my performance on shorter runs; but I certainly notice that I’m getting much more fit when I’m running as frequently as I am, and I definitely notice better performance on longer runs. Because of my training, so far I’ve knocked 15 minutes off my long run times in comparison with what I was doing training on my own, and I’ve maintained a steady weekly mileage increase without any injuries. As if that weren’t enough encouragement, I got a little note from Knoxville Endurance today, and it included help with an upcoming race registration!
Competing in races is actually part of the training plan, partially because it’s good to participate in events to keep you focused, but also because practicing a race routine is an important part of training. When I first met Bobby of KE, I really wanted to do the Covenant Health Half Marathon on April 7th as my goal event, but we both knew I was very quickly approaching the training deadline for that event. So, he asked me to think about other events that would give me 12-14 weeks to train. That’s when I found the Mountain Mommas ½ Marathon on Mother’s Day, and I chose that as my goal event. This whole time, though, I’ve still been toying with the idea of doing the Covenant Health Half Marathon even if it’s only as a training run; but that’s quite an expense just for training, which explains my waffling. Now, because the fine folks at Knoxville Endurance are so kind and encouraging, I’m registered for the Covenant Health Half Marathon!
I’m very grateful to KE for working with me…even though I’m not a professional runner or endurance athlete like the rest of them are. I’m really a very ordinary person (mediocre most of the time and even sub-par sometimes!), but I’m pushing myself to do something I think is extraordinary. Knoxville Endurance is helping me do exactly that with training tailored specifically to where I am; and now they’re helping me participate in events just so I can be better prepared to meet my goals.
If you live around Knoxville and want to come out and support me (and the rest of the runners), I’d absolutely love it if you were there cheering me on! In the meantime, I’m also running next Saturday at the Chasing Snakes 10K in Johnson City. This will be my first 10K as well as my longest race to date. This event benefits the Johnson City Interfaith Hospitality Network, which is a network of churches and other groups that provide support and temporary housing for homeless families. I look forward to seeing some of my Johnson City friends next Saturday, and I hope I run into some of you out there while I’m racing!
Running is essentially a minimalist sport. As long as you have properly fitted shoes, you’re good. But if you’re running several times a week, long distances, or in extreme weather conditions, then you might benefit from perusing the list I’ve assembled here. I’ve saved the blush-worthy stuff for last.
When I began running last spring, I was wearing tennis shoes I’d had for at least a decade. Not only were the soles worn down before I logged my first mile, but the foot bed was actually separating from the sole. The condition of my shoes was embarrassing, but more than that, it made me prone to some typical beginner injuries. Because the shoes were not providing any cushion to my feet, my joints (ankles, knees, hips) along with all the bones in between were absorbing the shock of pounding my feet against pavement. In just a week I had developed shin splints, partially from starting out doing too much, but mostly from the piss poor condition of my shoes and what I was putting myself through running in them.
As smart as I am, it took me much too long to wise up and be fitted for new shoes, and I can’t believe all the difference it’s made. I’m running in Brooks Ghost 5’s, and I think that’s a good fit for me as a beginner. Though I’m learning that it’s not preferable to run with your mid-foot or heel striking the ground, it’s common for beginners, so having a shoe with a strong and cushioned mid-foot/heel makes it much easier. Also, I really like the mesh tops; they may not be ideal for running in the rain, but the mesh is fabulous for giving your feet some air to breathe.
When I was doing my online research in preparation for spending $100-150 on running shoes, I really thought I’d go for Mizunos, but when I was actually fitted, Brooks were better for me. So, don’t rely solely on an online review (like this one) to make your choice. Go to a local running store (not just Foot Locker or an athletics store, go to an actual running store), and have them properly fit you. They’ll likely make you walk around in your socks or barefeet, and they may even have you run a bit for them. When you try on the shoes, they should let you run around in them (and not just in the store), so you can get a good feel for them. You don’t need to run a mile or anything, but a quick jog around the parking lot will let you know if they’re the right fit or not.
This sounds like a no brainer, but you need water to run, and you need it stored up over time. I haven’t figured out my running hydration schedule just yet, but I have increased my overall water intake. To do this, I set an alarm on my phone. It goes off every single day at 10:00, 12:00, 2:00, 4:00, and 8:00, and I drink a red SOLO cup full of water each time it goes off. I try to pace myself so I’m not downing 16 oz of water, but sometimes that happens. This is all in addition to any water I drink while I’m working out (which is usually between the 4pm-8pm water alarms, or it’s at 5AM).
In drinking this much water, I’ve noticed that my muscles are not as sore both immediately after exercising and hours/days afterward. I’ve also noticed that I don’t get tired as soon into my workouts as I was before. I’m not certain about the myths of eating less because of drinking more, but I will say that I’m less likely to put food in my mouth when I’m drinking this much water. However, I think that has more to do with a psychological oral fixation than it does with calories or a physiological sense of “feeling full.”
The one side effect of this much water is that I pee all the time. I am now the cliché chick who has to pee almost every hour. It’s a pain when I’m working and have to be outside as well as when the urge strikes me in the middle of a long run. I know for a fact I won’t be able to pull off driving from Johnson City, TN to Lansing, Michigan with only stopping once in Cincinnati, Ohio ever again as long as I’m drinking water like I am now, but that’s why astronauts wear diapers when they’re driving long distances to stalk their unrequited loved ones, isn’t it?
As with the water intake, building up a good storage of nutritious food helps me make it to and through my runs. I’ve noticed that when I eat crappy food and then run, I feel absolutely horrible. My stomach cramps; I don’t have the energy to run the intervals I’m supposed to run; and when I’ve eaten poorly, it usually means I also haven’t had enough water because somehow those things tend to go hand-in-hand. On the flip side, if I eat meals that sustain me and release energy over a long period of time (fish and avocados are just a couple items!), then I have the energy I need to make it through my day AND through my workouts. Variety in a diet is nice, but as it happens with most people, I have developed a bit of a diet rut, and I like it that way. After experiencing so many digestive issues, I don’t mind having a limited diet if it means everything I eat agrees with me and sustains me. Some of the things I eat on a regular basis are:
Oatmeal—I LOVE the Banana Bread flavored oatmeal, and I want to learn to make it on my own, cheaper than the pre-packaged kind that I can only get when my husband decides to go to the hell that is Wal-Mart, which is rare.)
Nutri-grain fruit cereal bars & Nature Valley Chewy Protein Granola Bars
Cinnamon Raisin Bagels (with 1 tbsp of peanut butter)—this with a banana is my PERFECT post-workout recovery meal.
Chocolate Milk—I’ve decided to write Weigel’s a letter asking them why they put crack cocaine in their chocolate milk because that has to be what they’re doing. There is absolutely NO comparison to Weigel’s milk. Mayfield’s chocolate milk is too thick, and Kroger brand chocolate milk is very clearly regular milk with knock-off Hershey’s syrup added. Weigel’s Chocolate Milk is where it’s at. And if you’re not from Knoxville, I’d consider moving to the area. I’m telling you it has to have crack in it.
Bananas—not only is this a catchy Gwen Stefani song, but it’s a great fruit to eat right after a run. I’m considering putting the chocolate milk, bananas, and peanut butter together and just ingesting it in shake-form for my post-workout recovery because those are three of my top favorite things to eat right now.
Any type of berry—Berries in season are best because they’re cheapest and taste the best, so I only eat these as I can get them. Blackberries might be my favorite, but I think that’s only childhood nostalgia from picking them and eating them wild. Strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries come in as a close second to blackberries.
Pomegranates—Yes, they’re messy, but they’re so tasty it’s worth it. I don’t eat these too frequently, but they are a nice treat.
Lean Protein—I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian for almost a decade. After a whole host of digestive problems, from which I’ll spare you the gory details, I have abandoned my reliance on soy and beans as my sole sources of protein. I started eating fish first, and this year I’ve added chicken and (occasionally some turkey) back into my diet. I had to start with slow and small increments, and I still don’t eat meat every week; but I’m at the point that I do crave it now. That progress aside, I’m fairly certain I’ll never eat beef or pork (yuck!), and I still love veggie burgers when they’re made right and they’re gluten/soy free!
Avocadoes—I’m not sure I buy into the marketing of “superfoods,” but if there is such a thing in reality, avocadoes would be at the top of my list. Aside from just being yummy (on their own in salads, topping sandwiches/wraps, as a mayo substitute, in tacos, or in guacamole, etc.), I think they are awesome at sustaining me. I’ve always like them, but I fell in love with them last year when I was doing Yogic Lent, and only eating once a day, in the evenings. I would routinely eat sushi with avocado, and the combination of the fish/rice/avocado seriously kept me going through that whole process. Now that I’m running, I rely on avocados in my regular diet either at breakfast or lunch to sustain me through my busy day and into my workouts.
Greek Yogurt—I tried regular yogurt and just couldn’t get past the sliminess of it. The taste wasn’t really bad, but the texture killed me. So, I tried the Greek version instead. It’s thicker because it’s strained, and that removes the slimy factor. I’ve tried Oikos and Yoplait brands, and I like them both just fine. I prefer the ones that come with granola because I like the texture even more, but they’re good on their own, too.
Soups—I eat a variety of soups for lunch several times a week. They are a great, easy meal that can be prepped well in advance, and soups have as many nutritious benefits as they do variety in taste. I prefer chicken broth based soups, and will not eat soups with beef broth or a cream base. I like lentil soup, too, but I tend to stay away from frequent fiber intake, so I eat it sparingly. The soups I eat tend to serve as a nutritious, yet light meal, as I prefer not eating too much in one sitting.
Steamed Veggies & Rice—I love pairing a lean protein with these sides! I generally don’t need a sauce or much seasoning to flavor because I actually enjoy the taste of steamed vegetables as they are, but every now and then I’ll buy a bag of pre-seasoned vegetables for steaming, or I’ll season up some olive oil and bake the veggies instead of steaming them.
On a normal day, I’ll eat oatmeal for breakfast with a banana. I’ll have either a nutri-grain bar or a Greek yogurt at mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack, and sometimes I’ll have both snacks if I’m hungry enough. For lunch, I’ll have either a soup or a salad (The Chopped Chicken Cobb with Avocadoes and no Bacon is my favorite thing from Panera!). The one meal I typically skimp on is dinner for several reasons. Dinner is usually my post-workout meal, and I’m more likely to eat a bagel with peanut butter and chocolate milk than anything else, though sometimes I’ll eat steamed rice, veggies, and a lean protein. I never turn down dinner on taco night, though. I love having breakfast foods for dinner, and if I don’t limit myself to my post-workout meal, then I might have cereal or even waffles for dinner. I also like to keep dinner light because I generally eat it very close to my bedtime, and I just don’t need a lot of food on my stomach at that time of my day.
Of course, I have weaknesses just like any other person. My particular weakness is pretty much anything candy related. I like sour, gummy candy as well as rich, chocolate/caramel candy. It’s all bad for me, but I’ve found a few ways to make healthier substitutes. First, Unreal candy is amazing. It’s made with all-natural ingredients and without preservatives. It’s not healthy for you, but it’s nowhere near as bad for you as regular candy. I highly recommend it for die hard sugar fiends as a healthier alternative. Also, substituting other foods for the type of flavor I’m craving tends to work for me. When I crave something sour and gummy, I’ll eat blackberries, blueberries, or raspberries. When I crave something sweet, I’ll eat trail mix with dried fruit in it instead of chocolate. And sometimes I go for the gusto and eat the chocolate because that’s just how life goes. Nutella is a household staple for these occasions.
Clothes don’t really “make the man,” but sometimes they really help the running experience. Last year I wasn’t running at all, so the only experience I have with running clothing has been what I’ve acquired since last fall. Because I hate going shopping and because I started running in the spring/summer, I just wore my yoga pants and a cotton t-shirt or tank top just starting out. It really didn’t make much difference to me, and I don’t have much to report on summer running attire.
Because I loathe running on the treadmill, I knew I’d need some kind of winter running clothing to get me through even our mild winters here in TN. I purchased a Nike brand Dri-Fit top very similar to this one, though without the hoodie. It has thumb holes, which I like, and it has retro-reflective striping on the wrists and along the sides in case the fluorescent yellowish green isn’t visible enough. I like that it keeps me dry because sweating in cold weather is about the most uncomfortable thing I have experienced while running this winter. It’s rather thin, and I tend to be hot, so I’ll wear this when it’s between 30-50°F outside. If it’s warmer than 50°F, then I’ll just wear my t-shirt/tank and yoga pant combo. If it’s colder than 30°F, I wear my Champion brand fleece-lined hoodie. It’s bright orange, so again very visible, and it’s thicker than my Nike shirt. I wore it this morning when it was right around 30°F and snowing outside, and I was just fine.
Additional apparel I wear as needed are my earmuff band and gloves. I would like to get some leggings just for running, but I’ve yet to find any that come in my size that aren’t also about a foot too long for me. I would also like to get a water-resistant shell/outer layer so I’m not immediately forced to use the treadmill on the cold/rainy days. I’m not sure I’d be bothered with rain running in July or August because the heat and humidity here in TN is the reason Southern Debutantes take afternoon siestas, but I’ll let you know how I actually feel about that after doing it a few times.
Other things that I haven’t purchased yet are new sports bras and socks. Quality sports bras are incredibly expensive, and they’re worth it, especially for large breasted women. I’ve yet to be satisfied with any of the types I’ve tried, and they’re just too expensive (for me) to justify buying more without having lost more weight/size. Sports bras are way important, and I do need some good ones, but I’m kind of at the end of my rope and budget right now when it comes to this undergarment; so I’ll make do with what I currently have. Also underrated are socks. If your socks are too thick or too thin, you’ll have issues with blisters and discomfort while running. It’s important to try out different types, but again, that can be a costly trial and error, especially if you get socks specifically designed for running.
As I’ve increased my mileage according to the training plan, my running coach has asked me to start working on my nutrient replenishment while running. Other than drinking water whenever I’m thirsty, I don’t have a set hydration plan. My nutrient replenishment plan is to use a Gu-Gel at 3 miles and then every 30 minutes thereafter. I’ve only tried Gu-Gel once so far, though I have a long run tomorrow which will likely use up the rest of my Gu wares. The one I tried was the Vanilla Bean flavored gel, and it wasn’t bad. I definitely needed to swish with water afterward because it’s essentially gel based sugar, so it’s very sticky. For tomorrow’s long run, I’ll be using blueberry flavored Gu Chomps and the Just Plain Gu-Gel pack, and I’ll let you know how those taste.
The purpose of replenishing nutrients in the middle of an endurance workout is to replace the glycogen that’s been burned off so you can keep going. Though I don’t do it (yet), some athletes carbo-load to build up their supply of stored carbohydrates. I think most people are probably doing this wrong because I typically see them eating a huge portion of carbs (usually pasta) the night before a big event. It seems that they’d probably be better served by slowly increasing their carbs throughout the entire week or 10 days prior to the event, but I’m not a nutritionist or kinesiology specialist, and I have no experience on which to base that opinion. It’s just a hunch, and an unverified one at that because I need to keep my carbs low and restricted to very specific carbs for digestive purposes.
As a self-proclaimed technophile, I love most gadgets. But as a person on a budget, I can’t afford them. Before I won my Garmin 210 (which was awesome, thank you Autumnfest 8K!), I just used the GPS on my phone with the Runtastic app. I already had a smartphone, so there was no extra expense there, and the Runtastic app is free. Map My Run is also a good app to use with your smartphone. But, I love my Garmin. It’s not clunky like a lot of the GPS fitness watches are, and it doesn’t have a lot of buttons or settings to confuse the novice runner/gadgeteer.
I would like to get the foot-pod that goes with the Garmin so I can measure my cadence and also use it when I run on the treadmill, but that’s about $60 that I think could be better invested elsewhere currently. Garmin also makes a heart rate monitor strap thing, but I think that’s just too many bells and whistles even for me.
Because I’m not a “real runner,” I rely on music to keep me going, but I also need to be safe and aware of my surroundings. So, I use Yurbuds because they really do stay in while I’m running and because I don’t have to turn the music up very loud at all to hear, which allows me to still hear ambient noises around me; and this is my current running playlist, but you’ll need Spotify to play it. I do pay for Spotify Premium so I can download my playlist to my phone and not have to rely on a data signal to stream the music. I love every song on my running playlist, but if I had to pick my top three songs right now, they’d be Alicia Keys’ Girl on Fire (because I am), Mumford & Sons Hopeless Wanderer (because I’m that, too) and Arctic Monkeys’ I Bet You Look Good on the Dancefloor (because everyone should listen to British neo-garage/punk, especially while running).
Maybe it’s my inner-Batman dying to get out, but I seriously need a utility belt for running, and I think this will be my next purchase. I need a place to store my water and Gu, keys, ID/debit card, and possible shank/pepper spray personal safety device. Running while holding a water bottle has gotten way old, way quick on my long runs, so a place to store my water bottle would be awesome. I’d also be interested in using a CamelBak because I do require a LOT of water. (You wouldn’t believe how much I sweat and thus need to replenish.)
So far, most of my list has been pretty tame and even predictable. But there are some things that people just don’t talk about, unless it’s a weird fetish chat room on the Internet. I’m breaking down that barrier right here and now. Hide yo’ kids, and hide yo’ wife, ‘cause it’s about to get real.
Gold Bond Powder—for me, this is a must. Not only am I a person with bags of flesh hanging off the front of my chest, but my bags of flesh are of the larger variety. And when sweat accumulates in these areas, things like heat rash, skin irritation, and breakouts happen, all of which are unbelievably uncomfortable; but to add a bit of fear factor, if these things are left untreated, it can lead to a staph bacterial infection, which is just horrendous (no personal experience, thank you gods). I’m sure if I wore a better sports bra, my lady bits wouldn’t be moving around as much, and there likely wouldn’t be as much skin-on-skin contact/irritation, but that’s not the case. So, I powder up. It’s messy, and it smells weird, but it protects my skin and lady parts, so I deem it very worth it.
Some people use liquid/gel products that roll on for chafing, and I think I might try that for the mild chafing I get from wearing my arm band. Right now, wearing yoga pants, I don’t have an issue with chafing on my inner-thighs, but I can totally see that as a possibility when it warms up and I have to switch to shorts. (FYI, the mere thought of running in shorts scares me. People really don’t need to be exposed to that, and I particularly don’t want to be the one inspiring all the cottage cheese-related catcalls. But, if I’m out there literally busting my ass in a TN summer, then fear be damned; I’ll wear the shorts.)
The Foam Roller—in the right crowd, this could be marketed as a marital aid. But for the running crowd, this is how you target the knots at the tops of the hips, the tightness in the quads and shins, and the tension in the upper mid-back. As anti-consumerist as I try to be, I was super skeptical about paying $30 for what’s essentially a hard pool noodle. But after using it, I swear by it. Every single time I’m finished running, I use the foam roller, and you wouldn’t believe the groans and grunts I make in the process. The first 5 seconds hurts, but then you settle in, and it somehow releases all this tension; clouds part and angels sing. 30 seconds of targeted pressure is really all you need. I’m not sure if you can “over do it” with a foam roller, but I wouldn’t want to spend a whole lot of time. And that’s why it’s so amazing; with very little effort and time, and after stretching, you can seriously help reduce your recovery time by using this glorified pool noodle. Well worth the $30. Also, immature spouses and children can get hours of merriment out of playing with it. My husband has been walking around the house using it as a light saber against my dog, Moose for the last three weeks. Little does he know, Moose is a Jedi Master. He better tread lightly with that foam roller.
Massage—There are benefits to having a touchy-feely partner, and this is one of them. Since I’ve started working out with Knoxville Endurance, (a.k.a. for the last four weeks), my husband has given me a leg and back massage once a week. He would do it on occasion before, but now it’s a weekly treat that I always look forward to. He’s not certified as a massage therapist, but he knows my body. I love this little indulgence, and it keeps me going more than you’d imagine. I have to give my beloved all the credit here, but I would recommend regular sports massages as often as you can afford it. I may break down and actually support one of the many local massage therapists I know at the yoga studio, but until then, my husband will have his hands full.
I think that covers all the typical and awkward things I’ve currently experienced, but as I live and breathe, I’m certain I’ll add to this particular part of the list with more logged miles, so I’ll keep it updated regularly. Are there any tips (or awkward stories) you’d like to share? Feel as free as lady bits flapping in the wind and comment below!
Last night my friend, Lauren, posted this article from MomLogic on my Facebook page. I am writing this post as a response for her, for myself, and for all Americans, though I am not in any way suggesting that I speak for all of us with this response. Reading this article, as well as several other responding articles, has confirmed for me that we in America are currently suffering from a cultural epidemic of utter disconnection. Our disconnection is widespread, and because it is rooted so deeply in our culture, it’s hard to see where we lost our way. However, it’s relatively easy to see the symptoms of this disconnection.
#1 Symptom of Disconnect: Common courtesy within dialogue has disappeared.
Throughout her article, MILF Mommy personally attacks and devalues people who are, apparently unlike her, size 12 and up. I think it is beneficial at this point to refer MILF Mommy (and everyone else on the Internet) to the Wikipedia page on Rhetoric for both definition and illustration of effective and courteous discourse. As long as we see ourselves as one (right, justified, whatever) and others, well as “other,” (wrong, stupid, whatever), we fundamentally have a conversation rooted in disconnection. I certainly take issue with MILF Mommy’s expression of her opinion and her actual opinion, but for me to debase and devalue her as a person makes me no better than she is. In the all the responses to MILF Mommy, I cringed at how embarrassing Internet Trolls are to the human race; and let’s face it: we’ve ALL been an Internet Troll at some point or another. We’ve all found ourselves caught up in some such debate, whether on the Internet or not. But there is a difference between arguing, debating, or attacking a “point,” and attacking a person.
My Courteous Response to MILF Mommy
When trying to communicate with people, it’s not ideal to begin with attacking the physical aesthetic of your audience as MILF Mommy did with her first point. Firstly, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What MILF Mommy specifically says about women size 12 and up being unattractive is simply untrue. In some cultures, having a more rotund physique is a sign of wealth, and therefore desirable.
MILF Mommy’s second point about people lying to themselves may not necessarily be untrue, but the way she expresses it certainly doesn’t do her argument any favors. I agree that we as Americans are not actually “in touch” with how we really feel. If we were, then all those times we became winded walking from our car to the mall would actually motivate us to not have the meal or sweet treat offered in the food court. That MILF Mommy focuses on the size of the clothing as an indicator of health is where I think she went wrong in her second point. Just because a woman may be a size 12 (or higher), doesn’t mean she doesn’t have “toned arms,” or that she does have a “muffin top belly and huge thighs.” Depending on a woman’s height, a size 12 may, in fact, be the perfect size for her. Consider the women on this page. They are all so tall they put Amazon women to shame, but none of them have a “muffin top belly and huge thighs,” and I can guarantee you all of them wear greater than a size 12. Essentially, healthy size proportion is a crucial point that MILF Mommy missed when she based her entire argument on something as arbitrary as a clothing size. I wonder if it would freak her out to know that a size 12 in America is something completely different to clothing designers who typically use European sizing guidelines?
MILF Mommy’s last three points are all different iterations of the same argument; so I will address them together. There is no such thing as “one diet to rule them all.” Every person is different and has different dietary needs and restrictions. So, the simple caloric intake/burn method of dieting and exercising isn’t always accurate. It even changes depending on exactly what type of exercising you’re doing. I am a perfect example of this. When my physical activity was fairly limited to yoga only, I noticed that I ate things that were lighter and fresher, more organic and less likely to be cooked. As I have added running to my active life, I’ve noticed I need more dense foods, but less fibrous than with yoga-only activity. I need more cooked, full meals instead of frequent small ones. My daily caloric intake has definitely increased just so it can fuel my running activities. And the scale hasn’t changed one iota, but my size has gone down. I am living proof that MILF Mommy’s sweeping generalizations about diet and exercise are wrong.
Because every person’s needs are different, it’s false that skinny people “work harder” than larger people, or that they are healthier somehow, and a lot of it is directly connected with genetic makeup, contrary to MILF Mommy’s personal, unsubstantiated opinion. While Type II Diabetes is linked to lifestyle and obesity, conditions like Heart Disease and problems with cholesterol are deceptively stealthy killers because people generally think like MILF Mommy in that if they “look good” they’re healthy. Even if you’re under a size 12, you need to get your blood work checked to make sure you’re healthy. And anyone who’s suffered with juvenile/Type I Diabetes knows it has nothing to do with your size and everything to do with how your body produces insulin.
#2 Symptom of Disconnect: We use comparison to define our self-worth.
Probably the most destructive thing we can do to ourselves is create our self-image and find our self-worth by comparing ourselves to others. Here in America, we see life in linear and ladder form. We are born; we live; and we die; and that’s linear. We spend our whole lives working to get the best grade, graduate from the best college or university, get the best job, and make the most money so we can have the best house and car and clothes and so we can send our kids to the best schools to continue this cycle; and that’s the ladder.
The only thing that perspective has done for our society is establish a class of generational wealthy elite who are so far removed from the average person that it seems impossible to find a sense of connection because there seems to be so many ladder rungs between “us” and “them.” When we’re always comparing ourselves to the people higher up on the ladder, we’re constantly devaluing ourselves in the process. Conversely, when we’re always comparing ourselves to the people below us on the ladder, we’re constantly devaluing others.
We would benefit from a more circular perspective on life. We all live TOGETHER. We have success only because someone else made it possible, and therefore we rejoice in our success TOGETHER. When we fail, we fall back on all the others around us, and we mourn and recoup TOGETHER. The saying, “it takes a village to raise a child,” really should extend throughout all of life, and we’d all be better off for it.
#3 Symptom of Disconnect: We have allowed our consumerism to turn us into zombies.
Because we are a culture of consumers, we have bought, eaten, and satisfied ourselves into a zombified stupor to such an extent that we don’t even realize how broken and disconnected we are as an entire culture. We are a society of generally overweight, unhealthy, unhappy people weighed down by our “pursuit of happiness” in which we willingly accept the debt, weight, disease, and mental illness that comes with the American, capitalist, consumerist culture. Because we think we can buy and/or own the means to our happiness, we think this is the only way to live. But, young padawans, there is another way to live happily, and it doesn’t involve the pursuit of anything at all.
A Cure for All that Ails Us
I know I’ve referred to mindfulness as the approach to fix a plethora of ailments, and I’ll reiterate it again. We’re all looking for a panacea to fix all our problems, but most people assume it’s something they can buy (like a pill or a diet book or a gym membership). I think the panacea for our cultural epidemic IS mindfulness, and you can’t price it because you can’t buy it. It isn’t a thing; it’s an action. It can’t be owned; it has to be done. Mindfulness may be a noun but its function is more accurately aligned with the verb class of words.
As it pertains to this post’s focus on dieting, in his most recent post, “The Meditation Diet: How I Lost 60+ lbs. by Savoring,” Leo Babauta from zen habits offers up mindfulness as a realistic, long-lasting approach to dieting. And really what he’s doing here is outlining the “lifestyle change” we constantly hear about from our family doctors as well as famous doctors like Dr. Oz and the coaches on shows like The Biggest Loser with specific and small examples.
When you start paying attention to all the minutia of your life, you’ll see how eating the #1 combo at any fast food restaurant hurts you as well as the local and global community. Likewise, when you start being mindful of your purchases, you find that you really do have the power of the almighty dollar to change the world. Are you going to buy this kind of chocolate that is only available to you in its condition and at its price because it was farmed for by the hands of child slaves in Africa? Or, will you spend a little more, thus requiring that you have the treat a little less frequently, and instead buy this chocolate that’s likely better quality, likely better for you, but definitely better for our world because you bought it from a certified fair trade farmer?
Taking a mindful approach to life will un-do all the damage of our epidemic of disconnect. It will help you with your diet, your domestic budget, your road rage, your marital relationship, your work-life….the list goes on and on.
Suggested Reading for Reconnecting
The book and PBS documentary, Affluenza explains our cultural epidemic of disconnect much better than I do and with better references that I have here, and it is what inspired me to take an “epidemic” and “symptomatic” approach with this post. We read the book as part of our required Biblical studies senior-capstone course (Christ & Culture) in college, and it challenged us to enter the world as recent college grads with the knowledge that we were about to enter an all-devouring machine, but only if we let ourselves be consumed by it.
David Korten, an American economist wrote, Agenda for a New Economy: From Phantom Wealth to Real Wealth-A Declaration of Independence from Wall Street in which he proposes an alternative culture to the current Wall Street economy. His suggested culture is based on the Main Street economy of locally owned, community connected enterprise in which success has more than just a monetary or consumerist value. We read this book during our congregation-wide focus on economic justice at Church of the Savior in the fall, and we were charged with passing it along to other interested persons to continue the work of economic justice. So, if any of you locals want to read this book, let me know and I’ll GIVE you my copy!
Suggested Practices for Reconnecting
Breathing. Yup, that’s all I’ve got. Really, you can do lots of things to try to reconnect, but breathing is the easiest, cheapest, best way to get started. Just breathe. In and out. Slowly, or quickly doesn’t matter as much as paying attention to what it does in your body.
Last month, Firdaus from Delirious Daddy commented on a movie review I did on the Guy Ritchie film, Revolver, over two years ago. He asked for more on the topic of letting go of the ego. His comment led me to the statistics section of the site, where I found that this post is my most popular post…ever. Over 20% of my total audience in the history of the site goes to it. Most people are finding my post after Google searching for clarification on Freud’s model of the psyche. So, I have a follow up post to the original Let Go of My Ego post. Hopefully it will answer some of Mr. Firdaus’ questions and also provide readers with more of what they very clearly want in terms of content on this blog.
I originally planned to post this right away, but it was the same week as the Sandyhook shooting, and I thought it might be insensitive to put up, considering the title of the film is Revolver, and considering I’m essentially recommending this film for personal development knowing it is chock full of gun violence. I do have opinions about gun violence, but this post is not about any of that.
This post will most definitely contain plot spoilers, but as I mentioned in the first post, it’s such a deep film, you could watch it several times, and still miss important details. I know; I’ve watched it several times in the writing of this second post, and I’m still not covering everything. Reading these posts should not spoil watching the film, but if you like getting the details fresh, it’s best not to read either post until after watching for yourself. Also, it’s best if you read the first post, well…first, because it provides brief/basic plot and character description.
What is the Ego?
In one of Jake’s first interactions with Avi and Zack, Zack’s character tells Jake, “Wake up, Mr. Green.” I think it’s important to note that he says this to Jake several times throughout the film. In this way Zack is being clear and honest from the absolute beginning as to what he and Avi are doing for him. Their ensuing dialogue is as follows:
Avi to Jake: “You can’t see what’s right in front of you.”
Zack: “Wake up, Mr. Green.”
Once the driving forces of the plot are going, and Jake Green begins to notice his role in the bigger picture, he narrates the following:
“There is something about yourself that you don’t know. Something that you will deny even exists until it’s too late to do anything about it. It’s the only reason you get up in the morning, the only reason you suffer the shitty boss, the blood, the sweat and the tears. This is because you want people to know how good, attractive, generous, funny, wild and clever you really are. “Fear or revere me, but please think I’m special.” We share an addiction. We’re approval junkies. We’re all in it for the slap on the back and the gold watch. The “hip, hip, hoo-fucking-rah.” Look at the clever boy with the badge, polishing his trophy. Shine on, you crazy diamond. Cause we’re just monkeys wrapped in suits, begging for the approval of others.”
This, friends, is the ego, balancing the base desires of the id, while also meeting the social mores of the superego. It is what tells us we’re special, and we do it in so many ways. As students, we attribute our self worth to our GPA. In the corporate world, we find our self worth in how many people we’re managing or how close we are to the CEO’s position. Culturally because we’re capitalists and ultimate consumers, we define our self worth by how much stuff we have or how successful we are, typically defined by someone else equally obsessed with the same pursuit. Keeping up with the Jones’ (or the Kardashians, or the Real Housewives, or Honey Boo Boo) gets at the heart of what the ego is.
But none of this answers the question, “Who am I?” You are not your GPA, and what does that matter anyway? I’ve met salt of the earth people who may never make it into college, as well as scoundrels with advanced degrees. You are also not your career, though that’s typically one of the FIRST things we use to categorize and judge/compare others, isn’t it? Maybe instead of our first question to someone being, “So, what do you do?” it should be, “So, who are you?”
Practice: Can you answer that question for yourself? Who am I? Give it a try. Maybe make a list. I’ve got mine on my bathroom mirror so I can confront it often. See how your answers change over time with greater reflection and introspection. See how many of those definitions you can remove.
Distinguishing the “ego” from the “self”
After reflecting on “Who am I?” you might find that your definitions of “self” usually fall into some type of ego fulfillment. If that is so, then what is the “self”? Typical Western psychology would suggest that a healthy sense of self is one that can successfully function in the midst of challenge; one that can create; and one that can be both autonomous and altruistic. By this definition, the healthy sense of self is indeed the ego that successfully negotiates the balance between desire and socialization. But this definition comes from within a culture that is ego-driven, so doesn’t that make it circuitous?
A Buddhist perspective of the “self” seems to be one more aligned negatively with self-absorption, and attachment to ideas, thoughts, or feelings about the self, mistakenly taking those as the actual self. Therefore the ultimate goal in many meditative practices is to identify all the ways we cling to our sense of self so we can let go of it. The Buddhist concept of not-self is this discovery.
Revolver identifies the egotistical sense of self and an abandonment of that pursuit close to Jake’s epiphany:
Avi to Jake: “You’ve heard their voice for so long, you believe it to be you. You believe it to be your best friend. Where’s the best place an opponent should hide? Do you know who Sam Gold is, Mr. Green? He’s all up here? Pretending to be you. You’re in a game, Jake. You’re in THE game. Everyone’s in this game. And all of this is his world. He owns it. He controls it. He tells you what to do and when to do it. He’s behind all the pain there ever was. Behind every crime ever committed, and right now, he’s telling you that he doesn’t even exist. We’ve just put you into a war with the only enemy that ever existed. And you, you think he’s your best friend. Where’s the best place an opponent should hide? In the very last place you ever would look. He’s hiding behind your pain, Jake. Embrace the pain, and you will win this game.”
Avi and Zack’s Rules of the Con:
- The greatest enemy will hide in the last place you would ever look.
- The only way to get smarter is to play a smarter opponent.
- First rule of business, protect your investment.
- There is no avoiding war; it can only be postponed to the advantage of your enemy.
- The only real enemy to have ever existed is an eternal one.
- Your friends are close, but your enemy is closer.
Jake Green’s Lessons on Letting Go of the Ego
- Jake Green (narrating): “One thing I’ve learned in the last 7 years. In every game and con, there is always an opponent. There is always a victim. The trick is to know when you’re the latter so you can become the former.”
- Before we can let go of our ego, we have to observe where we are in the game.
- Jake Green (narrating): “When you’re winning, who thinks about losing? But when you’re faced with what I’m looking at, a new and cold reality dawns—a fact that we like to ignore. You cannot win. The only prize they guarantee when you play this game is that you will lose. It’s only a question of when.”
- Once you realize where you are in the game, then realize there is NO WINNER.
- Jake Green (narrating): “I know I can’t take it with me. So why the pain? Why the fuck does it still hurt?” Hang the old brain up for a while. It’s just been getting me in trouble.
- Pain comes from holding onto things we know don’t really matter: (greed, fear, etc.)
- Take Zack’s advice: “Wake up.”
- Take Avi’s advice: Your opponents and fears hide behind your pain. “Embrace the pain.”
Do the short practice identifying who you think you are. Then, give yourself time (months even!) to see how this changes you. Maybe right now you’ll define yourself as “one who procrastinates.” Maybe this is “true,” but is this really who you are? Maybe confronting this definition of yourself regularly will help you not procrastinate.
Over time, try to let go of all the ways you identify yourself (roles, attitudes, thoughts, feelings, judgments). What’s left? How do you define it? How are you a different person? Using the above example, do you procrastinate less? Why does something like time management matter if you’re letting go of defining self as procrastinator?
In An Exploration of Masochism I committed myself to six solid weeks of weekly running with the Knoxville Track Club’s Wednesday Night Runners (WNR). I then detailed a six-week training plan to help me be organized and stay focused. Since then, I’ve purchased new running shoes and increased my distance. Last week, as the culmination of my six-week promise and plan, I ran in two races, a 5K on Sunday and my first ever 8K on Thanksgiving Day. I also let these two events gauge whether I should begin training for the Knoxville Half Marathon in April.
Moving from solo to social running has been quite a transition in both the “social” and “running” aspects. Socially, the runners are encouraging and passionate about running. Though they certainly take running seriously, they don’t seem to take much else too seriously. They love getting together to have a good time, and they’ve turned exercising (ugh…) into something to look forward to and even something to celebrate. They encourage me to get out, and once I’m there, some of them have literally gone out of their ways to keep me going. Just getting to know these awesome and inspirational people is my greatest source of motivation for sticking with it.
I have to admit, though, I’d really enjoy the whole experience more if I could actually run with them. Seriously, I am kicking last place’s arse! Yes, last place, always and by far. On that note, the 8K was my first race on the Socialites “team,” and I think I owe them a bit of an explanation. I joined without understanding anything about the KTC Grand Prix series and team rankings, etc. Essentially, I just did it for the extra discount on the registration price, and because LC is way helpful with taking care of that whole process (KUDOS!!!) So for those of you who do take this running thing seriously, but who have the social grace to refrain from mentioning it: I’m sorry for bringing the time down in this last race of the season. If I had anything to do over again, it would be running it on my own. That being said, next year will be different; I’m sure of it.
I’m going the distance…
Physically, I have increased my distance, but not necessarily improved my time. I was typically running about 2 miles each time I ran, and I was doing that 2-3 times a week. Now, I’m running a minimum of 4 miles each run at least twice a week. I also devote one day each week to an hour long elliptical run. Clearly, I am building endurance at this stage, and it’s paying off in the way I feel after my runs. I can go farther; I feel better immediately after; and I need less recovery time. Yesterday I ran almost 5.5 miles, and I don’t want to die or even curse profusely.
Though my time is not impressive (actually it’s embarrassing, quite frankly), I am ecstatic every time I make it just a little bit farther. I know I need to improve my time, and I’m hoping this is something that works itself out with continued consistent practice. Group training for the half marathon starts this weekend, but the runners need to be able to run 3 miles as a starting point. I’m not able to do that (yet); so I’ll keep running on my own for now with a goal of joining them in January.
My intuition is telling me to keep up the endurance work, but to work on getting stronger in my legs, quads, and core. So, I will change up my home yoga practice and maybe try out a few new classes. I’m also thinking of introducing two-a-day sessions on Saturdays and Sundays with endurance in the morning and strength-training in the evenings. We’ll see how far that goes. I’m not entirely confident I’m motivated enough to do all that; but considering I never thought I’d even be doing what I am now, I won’t rule out success as a possibility.
Feeding the Machine
In researching training for a long race like a half-marathon or a marathon, I’ve found diet and hydration are incredibly important, but I’m overwhelmed with all the meal plans, gels, bars, powders, etc. I’ve learned from experience to bring water along on runs of 3 miles or more, but at what distance (or length of time running???) do I need to consider a gel or type of refueling while running? How many of you carbo-load, and how do you go about it? The diet that works best for my weight loss is one low in carbs, and eating even moderate amounts of fiber, whether on running days or not, makes running more uncomfortable and challenging than I think it should be. (That’s really the most tactful way to put it, but yes, I totally just went there.) So, I don’t know how carb-loading (or other pre-race diets) would work for me.
Then there’s my regular diet. Since re-gaining my appetite after Yogic Lent in the spring, I eat close to 300 calories every three or four hours. But since I’ve been running longer and farther, I’ve noticed a significant increase in my appetite, and I’m definitely feeding it. There have been times these last three weeks especially that I’ve surprised myself at how much I’ve been able to eat in one meal. It’s not affecting my weight; in fact, I’ve lost weight these last three weeks!
I know that in order to do more, I need more fuel, but I think I also need to be specific about exactly what I’m eating. I eat granola and trail mix for breakfast and snacks throughout the day, and I eat my fair share of fruits and veggies daily. I’ve been eating fish up to twice a week for over a year, and poultry once a week for about the last five months. Do I need more protein? More carbs? Meal replacements like bars or shakes? What do you eat to keep you going? I’d really appreciate your suggested recipes for half-marathon/marathon training meal plans! When I find things that work, I’ll make sure to share them.
Gear and Gadgets
Any time someone tells me, “Buying X will improve Y about you,” they tend to transform into a dodgy character from a Flannery O’Connor story right before my eyes (ew…Manley Pointer). I am generally a skeptical person, so that may just be it; but even more so when faced with tying consumerism to self improvement. No magic pills or fad diets (or special shoes) can ever replace the transformation of actual work because I’m not “just” trying to lose weight. I’m pushing myself to see what I’m capable of doing. And then every time I reach a milestone, I push a little more. Would I be changing my life like this if it came in a pill? Would I feel this strong?
And yet, I have to admit buying a new pair of shoes immediately improved my running. In my old shoes, I could feel violent tremors through my ankles, shins, and knees every time my foot hit the road. It was so bad I couldn’t run a quarter-mile without needing to stop due to pain, and it hurt for two/three days afterward. Actually, I think my shins and knees are still recovering from all of that needless torture. Even with that residual (and decreasing) discomfort, I am now running farther and with shorter recovery periods than ever before, so the shoes are amazing. A huge thank you goes to the Runner’s Market for the great fitting.
I’ve also been running using my phone for music and GPS tracking. I use the runtastic app to log my running (and other activities), and it uses my phone’s GPS system. The app is free, and I get GPS service included in my phone’s plan, so I don’t incur any charges doing this. But, sometimes my phone loses GPS, and the app stops working; and using my phone as an mp3 player, GPS system, and fitness tracker all at once is a huge drain on my phone’s battery. What do you want for free, huh?
Well…at the 8K, I won a super spiffy Garmin wristwatch (clearly not for performance; it was a raffle prize for donating cans in a food drive at the event). The watch takes care of the GPS, and I can upload the runs directly into runtastic when I get home. I’ve only used it a few times now, but it seems to be both easy to use and reliable. This means I can use my phone for music only, which does wonders for my battery life.
As a reward for completing my first 8K, and out of necessity for running outside in the winter, I purchased two running shirts and an ear warmer on Black Friday. I’ve run in and washed each of the shirts once now, and I will give a proper performance review after a few more uses. Right now, I’m impressed. The shirts seem to be really thin, but they keep me warm and dry. Again, I’ll give a proper review in about a month.
All of this goes to show that while running is certainly a minimalist sport, investing in shoes is absolutely necessary; and gadgets/gear can make the process much more enjoyable and conducive to performance training.
Hopefully through amping up my strength training, finding the right training meal plan for me, and with the right winter gear, I will make it through the winter and to the half-marathon. (And I’ll still party even if I finish in last place!)