Thursday, March 31, 2011

Essentials of the High Speed Life

As I roll into another season going 100 miles an hour in every different direction, I've learned that there are some key factors that need to be attended to so I can be successful in my athletic pursuits no matter how short on time I am.  We are all busy, and challenged with juggling life while trying to squeak out time for a training session here and there.  There's a rolling priority list that seems to always be evolving and rearranging.  For me, my kids and school are at the top of that list and I try my best to manage the rest, often not so gracefully.  I realize that this is a common struggle for most of my friends and fellow athletes, and it occurred to me that to have success juggling all of this, there are some rules to live by.  You can cut a warm up short, stretch while doing homework with your kids, skip that recovery ride or learn to let it go when you just aren't hitting your marks for that days training session.  However, I have learned the hard way that there are some short cuts you cannot make and decided to share my thoughts as we enter another triathlon season.  Sleep is gold, good nutrition is essential and stress is a big hairy monster that needs to be constantly managed.

Sleep.  Ah, that delicious time we daydream about.  You're aware when you don't have enough of it, grateful when you get too much, and bitter when you lay in bed, welcoming it with open arms and it never shows.  I spend a lot of time thinking about sleep.  I have struggled with lack of sleep enough to understand you must respect this elusive gift, and learn to coddle it.  I think it all boils down to consistency, and understanding the ingredients necessary for a good nights sleep.  First off, it helps to go to bed the same time every night and wake the same time each morning.  We haven't changed all that much since we were infants.  We require less sleep but our bodies still appreciate being able to anticipate when sleep will arrive and went it will leave.  Secondly, for the most part, athletes require more sleep than most.  Get in your 8 hours.  If you can't get it in all at once, a cat nap can serve as a 'sleep snack'.  In my experience though, this nap cannot last for more than 20 minutes or it effects the next nights sleep.  Lastly, caffeine, nutrition and hydration can have a big effect on the quality of sleep you delight in. Personally, I've found that one cup of coffee in the morning is all I can handle.  Then I spend the rest of the day conscious of good hydration, and making sure to eat a nutritious snack before bedtime that includes protein.

Considering I spend a lot of time in the car, kids sports practices and walking around a college campus, I don't have the luxury of having a refrigerator at my finger tips.  This is where snacks that don't require refrigeration come in handy.  The good news is, there are a lot of options out there from bites to energy blasts to protein shakes that although are great to eat while you're training, can also be consumed as a snack on the run.  Powerbar has not only made it easy to get the types of calories needed during workouts but has made eating on the run mindless.  In addition to consuming enough water, it's important to replenish electrolyte stores with a sports drink.  I have found that coupled with adequate water intake, a sports drink instead of caffeine, helps me maintain a steady amount of energy throughout the day.  I learned the hard way that more caffeine just ends up making me more tired, more anxious, and less able to have a restful nights sleep.

Stress.  We all suffer from it, some more than others. You can feed it or learn how to deplete it's momentum.  When not well managed, it can cripple us and leave us cowering in a corner.  But when overcome, we can be left with a great sense of triumph.  In my experience, I have found that the three major factors that have the largest impact on my stress level are regular exercise, efficient sleep and proper nutrition.  Funny and frustrating how these are all intertwined, as a common theme in my life.  If I get my training in, eat well, and sleep well, I am a well-oiled machine and can take on anything!  However, if I don't sleep well, training sessions don't go well, I have trouble concentrating on daily tasks and then I suddenly find myself as a poorly functioning victim of the stress monster.  

It's simple really, it just takes awareness and some creative prioritizing.  We are all short on time, it is a scarce resource these days.  But ultimately, what we do with our time is a choice.  And it's amazing what we are capable of when we are taking good care of our bodies.  Good luck in the fast lane!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Confessions of a Late Bloomer

I remember having a conversation with my brother, at the beginning of this arduous educational journey as a single mother.  He pointed out to me, that we come from a family of late-bloomers.  After all, our father, (a retired chemical engineer) didn't speak a word until he was 4 years old and he turned out to be a smarty pants.  I've carried this simple statement with me and pondered on it often. 

I married young, had children young, and grew up in the middle of raising a child who taught me that strength comes in many packages.  I did my first ever race at age 33, am now a single mother, college student, triathlete, and most recently started taking voice lessons because when I grow up, I want to know how to sing.  So ya, I'd say I fall in the late-bloomer category.

Chem Lab.  That's my lab partner Josh who is a phenomenal athlete and in no way, suffers from late-bloomerism.
 So what is it that constitutes the order in which you're supposed to progress through life?  What is the purpose of this order, and who and what does it serve?  Is it worse or less efficient if you do things out of order? What affect, ultimately, does the order in which you progress through life have on your overall experience?

One side effect is that you end up dressing like this and having friends like these who don't see anything wrong with it.
 There seems to be an acceptable manner in which people play out adulthood.  Go to college, get married, launch a successful career while simultaneously having 2 1/2 perfectly healthy children, retire and go live out your days with your spouse in some warm place.  The thing is, decision making is hard.  Making decisions not only about your own life, but those included and affected by your life, is difficult.  Who doesn't want an outline?  So, many follow the provided outline because it's safe, it's a great recipe for success, and let's face it, it's the fairy tale.  And everyone loves a good fairy tale.  However, in all reality, many a folk discover themselves in their 40's, acquire their dream job on the cusp of retirement, have sex before love, marriage before maturity, and career before knowledge.  So,why is there this pressing need to do things in order?  What I think, is that when we do things in order, life unfolds like a delicate silk scarf.  And when one decides to do things out of order, life unfolds like an old cardboard box with all kinds of trinkets and crap wedged in the crevices of the box.  It's not neat, it's not pretty, and you never know what's going to come flying out at you next.  I know this, because I am clearly not following the standard life outline. I made a one-winged oragami bird out of that perfectly crafted outline, and just lit it on fire!

This little one provides me with matches, and regular reminders that life is fun, and funny.   And let me tell you, there's a lot to laugh at in my little world.  Especially with friends like these.
 I'll admit: it's tough being a single mom and going to school full-time.  It's scary sometimes knowing that I'm the only one responsible for my triumph or failure, that there's no one to catch me if I fall. But the fun in this is, I am charting my own course, and making my own outline while learning along the way.  There are all kinds of scribbles and arrows all over my paper, and it doesn't even resemble an outline.  It's got coffee spilled on it, a few post-it-notes, and of course, lots of random doodling.  But it's mine, and I can write whatever I want on it.  The thing is, no matter how hard one tries, your plan is never going to be perfect. No matter how meticulously stacked our papers are, the wind is gonna blow.  And really, do you want it to be perfect?  Who wants to watch a movie in which they can always predict what happens in the next scene? I've learned not only to "go with it", but to slow down, stop, and take a look around.  There are times when I do this and feel completely overwhelmed by the greatness of life, and wanna cry.  And other times, when I just get a mischievous smirk and shake my head.  Not many dull moments on this course I'm charting. I am settling in, and learning that it's not all about finishing what I've started, but taking in as much as I can along the way. I've learned that 'difficult' is a relative term, and that you can catch up on sleep, homework, and housework, but you can't catch up on being a mother.  And of course, if something scares the shit out of you, stop...ask yourself why, and then do it.  I have found that the things in life that scare me the most, are the ones that I reap the greatest reward from overcoming.

I race because I like how it feels on the other side of the finish line, much more than I like the comfort and safety of the sidelines.
 So, if there's something you want to do, but you're not doing it because you think you're too old, it'll be too hard, or people will make fun of you...I'm here to tell you: you're not, it won't be, and they will!  This is to all those late bloomers out there.  Get your arm in the air, and let that freak flag fly!

He forgot to put his game face on.  Good thing I had mine.
A little plug:  Our elite women's running team put together a running calendar to raise money for Active4Youth which supplies under-privileged children with the opportunity to be coached and run.  Please buy one!  Who doesn't need a calendar??

 "You will turn over many a futile new leaf till you learn we must all write on scratched-out pages."  ~Mignon McLaughlin