Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Racing vs. Training

I thought I had already reviewed Mindset: The New Psychology of Success
on this blog, but I can't find it if I did. I talked a little about it here.

The basic premise is that we all tend toward one of two beliefs about abilities: fixed -- that our abilities are set and accomplishment is all about showing how good we are without too much effort, and growth -- that we can consciously work to improve our abilities and accomplishment is all about working hard to improve.

I was definitely raised with the fixed mindset. I was praised in ways that suggested that my father, especially, thought that ability was inherent. "You're so smart," for example. The things that didn't come naturally, like sports, were easier to just let go than to fail over and over again to demonstrate how bad I was. School, including phys ed, was the same way. It seemed that there was more emphasis on sorting the smart kids from the not-as-smart kids and the good athletes from people like me, than on helping us learn how to learn to be better. I don't remember getting a lot of instruction on how to throw a ball, or run properly.

I know that there is some innate variation in ability, but I also think that learning starts a lot earlier than most people realize. I learned to read at a very young age -- I don't remember not knowing how -- but I couldn't have been born knowing it. My parents must have taught me somehow by reading to me. I know I watched a lot of Sesame Street, and that was in the early days when they emphasized phonics. I know one reason I wasn't super athletic, too -- at 8 or 9 years old, I got an in-school eye exam, and suddenly I had coke-bottle-thick glasses. Could it be that some of my coordination problems were because I was not able to see properly when I was very young?

As you can probably tell, I am an advocate for the growth mindset, because I think all of this emphasis on finding out who is good and who is not is bad for kids and adults alike. We should not only teach skills, but we should teach people how to study and how to think through a problem. When I'm discouraged, I tend to fall into a fixed mindset pit -- "I'm such a loser, why did I even try" -- instead of thinking about what changes I could make to be better. This is a pitfall for me at work, at home, in my eating habits, etc. I am trying to cultivate a more growth-oriented mindset.

That brings me back to the title. I did the Tri Goddess Triathlon with a friend of mine. She is ten years younger than me and has always been athletic. She has never trained much for the races she does. I get frustrated, sometimes, that she is so much better a swimmer and runner than me when she doesn't even try. I have a much nicer bike, and I did Spinning classes all winter, so that was where I caught her. She is thinking about getting a better bike.

Though it would bother me some if she got the better bike, still didn't train, and started killing me in races, I try to remind myself that it's really not about the races. Most people (my friend excluded) train so they can do well in races. That is some motivation for me, but really, it also goes the other way. I sign up for races so that I will train. If I could do well in the races without trying, I wouldn't get as fit because I'd probably just relax and show up for races and hope for the best. Even though a triathlon burns more than 1,000 calories, doing one or two races a year isn't much of a weight-management strategy, nor a fitness-management one. It wouldn't make my heart healthier, or give me greater lung capacity. It would just allow me to show off at a race now and then.

I know other formerly-competitive athletes who, for one reason or another, stopped training for a while. Many won't start up again because they are so much worse than they used to be that it upsets them. I sometimes think it's a gift that I have no "glory days" to remember. I do better in my races when I take more time for training and when I've been consistent for a long time. I can see the cause and effect. The goal for me is not to be a superstar triathlete (it's a little late for that now) but to be as fit and healthy as I can be, for as long as I can. That means training sensibly and consistently, with adequate rest and recovery time, and continually improving my nutrition. I know that over time I will slow down. I started running in my 20s and triathlon in my 30s, so I'm already seeing some slowdown in my 40s, but I want to keep putting in the miles anyway.

Monday, June 25, 2012

What I learned from the Tri Goddess Triathlon

This isn't going to be your typical race report.  No split times, etc. If you are interested in such things, check here.  These are just some insights and reflections from this year's race, many tongue-in-cheek.


Swim course the day before

1. Choose a scenic course. If you have a bad race day, at least you are outside in a beautiful place, and that's always a win.   This race was in Grass Lake, Michigan, near the Waterloo Recreation Area.

2. Race volunteers are awesome. I need to do more of that.

3. Even though pre-race fueling is important and a great excuse to indulge a little, it's possible to overdo it. Next time I need to eat more lightly. A too-full belly does not make for good sleep.

4. All-women's races have a reputation for being friendly, but it's still possible to get a solid kick to the gut during the swim.

5. It is impossible to hold my gut in for an entire race, but my unflattering skin-tight pink trisuit was still the best thing to wear for this race. It's not a beauty contest.  Most years I add a tank top for the bike and run, but I forgot it and it was nice not to have to deal with it flapping.

6. Train more for the bike. Always.  I did more bike training this year than usual, but I still wish I had done more. I was too tired to have much left from the run.

7. You can have a rocking body and be a kick-butt triathlete at any age. We all had our age (as of December) written on our calf.  I got passed by some hot 50- and 60-somethings. A corallary: Looks might give a hint of your athletic abilities, but they don't tell the whole story. I got passed by a woman much larger than me on the bike, and I could not catch her until well into the run. I know I passed several women thinner than me during the swim and bike (though they probably all caught me during the run).


Best Medal Ever
8. Keep moving forward. It's okay to walk the uphills/downhills/aid stations if that's what gets you through the race. This year I didn't worry as much about my time and just tried to enjoy myself.  

9. Help comes from unexpected places. I was flagging during the run and a 52-year-old I kept passing and then getting passed by came up behind me and said, "C'mon, Pink." She kept pushing me through the finish. I'm not a hugger, but I hugged her after the race.

10. Bring a designated drill sergeant, especially if you are traveling with a friend. I wasn't assertive enough about leaving early, and my friend and I were almost closed out of the race.  My husband, who always insists on getting there early, would have had us there half an hour early.  It all worked out, but I wouldn't want to go through that again. Letting someone else have the stress of pushing everyone out the door is a big load off my mind when I'm stressing about the race.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Life Well Lived: Fashion, Beauty, and Style Resources


As a part of the Life Well Lived Blogger panel, I was asked to answer the following question: "What are your favorite resources for inspiration on style, fashion, beauty and living life well?" This question is being discussed on BlogHer.com's Life Well Lived page

I think I find fashion and beauty inspiration in the usual places. I love leafing through magazines for fashion and beauty tips. Lately I am enjoying More magazine because it shows gorgeous women about my age and I feel like the fashion and beauty tips are more relevant to me.   I also like Val's column in O.  Pinterest and blogs are fun sources for me too. 


I take inspiration from living life well from everywhere. Novels, memoirs, films. People who seem happy. My cats, who are good relaxation coaches.  I take a lot of inspiration from doing things I enjoy, like swimming. 


How do you live life well? Leave your comments here or at the LWL main page, and don't forget to enter the sweepstakes.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Book Review: Wild by Cheryl Strayed

Note: I bought this book myself using my Audible.com subscription. At this rate, they should be sponsoring my blog, but they currently are not. If you click on the link to try a free sample audiobook, you will be helping RadioLab, one of my favorite podcasts ever. Some of the links below are Amazon affiliate links, if you would like to help support the blog.



About a month ago, I was attending a conference with a work friend. We were both reading on the way. My friend was reading Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail and said she really liked it. My book wasn't as good, so I was jealous. Later, when Oprah made it the first book in her new book club, I was reminded of it and decided to try it when I had an Audible credit.

The plot of the book is simple enough, and reminiscent of Private Benjamin: Woman finds herself at rock bottom and decides to radically change her life by doing something difficult. Difficult thing turns out to be much harder than expected, and she is much less prepared than she thought. Enlightenment comes through challenges.

The book is fascinating, especially the first half, because Strayed describes hiking The Pacific Coast Trail, a wild and scenic wilderness hiking trail.  She has to carry everything she needs in a backpack she nicknames Monster, with a few supplements from boxes she packed to be mailed to her at wilderness outposts along the trail.  She has never backpacked even one day before, never even tried to lift her backpack fully packed, and she makes some spectacular errors along the way.  She didn't pack the right things, and packed things she didn't need. When she lightens her load, sometimes she leaves behind things (an ice axe, a dromedary water bottle) that she later needs.  She is always desperately short on money.  At times I got angry with her, which was totally irrational, wondering why she wouldn't hang on to the water bottle, which couldn't have weighed much, just in case.

That's the whole point, though. She feels stupid about her mistakes until she realizes that if she had waited to be able to do the trip "right," she might never have done it. As a reader feeling superior to her because I wouldn't have made those mistakes, I realized that I also have never done what she did.

There are a few flaws in the book. I got tired of what seemed like endless mentions of Snapple Lemonade.  I  cursed the editor who let her use the word "pudenda" in the book, a word for a midwife, maybe, but not a normal person.  I wondered why she had to always call her butt her "rump," which seems more suitable for horses than humans. There were times when the powerful emotions the book described gave way to drama and sentimentality.  The biggest flaw, for me, was that Strayed ignored what seemed like a major insight she had about her dealings with men. She says that as a woman traveling alone, she needed to change how she interacted with men:
Being one of the guys meant I could not go on being the woman I'd become expert at being around men. . . The one I'd banked on all through high school, starving myself thin, playing cute and dumb so I'd be popular and loved... The one for whom behind every hot pair of boots or sexy little skirt or flourish of the hair there was a trapdoor that led to the least true version of me.
Despite this seemingly important realization, she seems boy crazy throughout most of the hike, especially the second half.  Every good-looking guy (and most on the trail were going to be fit, if hairy and dirty) seemed to leave her dropping right through that trapdoor to her giggly girl self. She admits to a sort of addiction to male attention, and though it seemed like that hiking alone for so many miles might have changed that, she still seemed to define herself by her relationships in a way that was a little disappointing. I didn't see her change in the way I thought an adventure like that must have changed someone.

Again, though, it's easy for me to sit on the sidelines and criticize how I might have written the book differently, just as I think I might have approached the hike differently. My beliefs about what I would do don't mean much unless I pick up the pack or the pen myself.

The truth is, I could not put this book down.  I made excuses to go for drives or walks or clean my house because I don't like to just sit and listen to audiobooks.  I found the story compelling and loved reading about the author's experiences. I sought out YouTube videos and photos that showed her trip so I could imagine it better. Even with the flaws I mention, I highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Worlds collide!

This vulnerability stuff is hard.  Yesterday, as usual, when I finished my blog post I tweeted the title and a link from my phone.  Except that I didn't tweet it @toledolefty, I tweeted it to my real-name twitter account, which is linked to facebook. I didn't even notice I had done this until a former student replied with a nice comment about what a good article it was. Then I immediately realized what I had done and panicked.

I don't attach my blog to my real identity to keep anyone professionally related to me from finding it in a Google search.  Not because I say anything bad or unprofessional, but because this blog is so honest and discusses things (like my actual weight numbers and various neuroses) that seem too personal to be perused by students, my co-workers and superiors, or even most of my family members.  I had a major freak out when I had some trouble deleting the tweet and the facebook post.  I also worried about who else had seen it.  I don't mind complete strangers reading about all the stuff rattling around inside my head, but I'm still a little weirded out by the thought of all of that being "out there" for people I know in my everyday life.  It's just too vulnerable. I would feel especially weird if current students were reading, just because teaching itself is a pretty vulnerable act.  Even though I talked yesterday about how important it is to allow myself to be vulnerable, this might be a bit too much for me.

I know that eventually someone is going to make the connection. It's fairly easy to figure it out with even the simplest of detective work.  I put pictures of myself here, so if anyone who knows me stumbles across the blog, they will recognize me. I know, too, that if I ever decide to become a professional, or even self-published, writer, I'm going to have to put the real me out there.  I'm just not ready to make it easy for my worlds to collide yet.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Please don't judge me


In I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power, Brené Brown talks about "unwanted identities" and the fear of being judged as a whole on the basis of one small part of ourselves in a way that we don't want.

That is really ringing true for me lately. The thing that bothers me most about carrying extra pounds isn't even the way they look on me -- it's how they make others think of me.  I feel these unwanted identities slapping me in the face more than ever lately.

Maybe I am more sensitive because I have been making an effort to work out more and to work on improving the quality of my diet -- because I am actually doing the things I need to do, I guess I want people to give me the benefit of the doubt instead of assuming they know everything about me by the way my body looks.

My neighbor gave me a hard time a few weeks ago about not seeing me running at one of our local parks lately. At the time, I was apologetic and deflected the comment with something about "yeah, I need to get back to it, blah, blah, blah." But then later I thought, "I have been running. Just not at that park and not at the time I used to." And it made me angry to think that just because he didn't see me, he assumed I must not be working out.  "Of course, because I'm not skinny yet," was my next thought.

He saw me today from across the street and said something about going running. I was watering my garden and didn't hear him and said, "yes, it's a nice day for it," and left it at that.  But again, I thought, "Get off my case, dude."

So yes, this is about unwanted identities:
I want to be perceived as: Part of the crowd, normal, happy, healthy, fit, smart, strong, experienced, vibrant.

I don't want to be perceived as: An outsider, lazy, depressed, in need of advice, weak, a beginner, weak-willed.

I am sure that I sometimes make the same kinds of snap judgments that others make about me, but I think I am smart enough not to voice them, at the very least. People seem to feel entitled to tell me what I need to do and seem to think they know all about me and it makes me very angry. The worst is, because I feel shame and want to change the subject, I rarely am able to voice my feelings about it in an effective way, and instead tend to shrink and deflect the comment.

I keep asking myself whether I look so bad as to deserve so much unwanted advice about fitness.

I think the urge to have a hard body is an acknowledgement that a soft body is a vulnerable one. If I had complete control of how my body looked, it would be taught and lean and these comments would just bounce right off my body armor.

Of course later, when I am not in the middle of a "shame storm," I come up with all kinds of things that I should have said or did.  But those same brilliant replies are lost the next time this issue comes up.

The thing to do, I know, is to realize that no matter what I do, or how perfect I make myself, people are always going to be able to assign me unwanted identities of some kind.  I can't control that.

Perfectionism comes when I buy into the delusion that if I do everything right, nothing bad can ever happen to me.  That just isn't true.

There is a quote by Anne Lamott that I have been googling frantically for and cannot find right now, but it goes something like, "You are never going to have all of your sh-t together in one place and have everyone you love alive at one time." The implication is that there is no perfect life moment where we have done everything right and win the grand prize of everything we want all at once. Life is about learning to live in the imperfect reality rather in the perfect fantasy.  I keep coming back to that idea when I start thinking that the things people do that bug me will stop when I have lost 10, 20, 30, or 40 pounds.

I may never be able to stop my neighbor from thinking I am all of those unwanted things. But if I don't believe them myself, and don't get caught up in the whole crazy story, maybe I will be able to laugh these things off instead of spinning them into something bigger than they are.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Summer goal check-in

I thought I'd check in with some of the progress on my summer goals:

First, for those who are wondering how it's going with the Clarisonic Mia 2: In a word, better.  Switching the brush heads worked. I'm no longer getting weird lines of blemishes.  I don't think this is quite the miracle that people seem to think it is, but it does improve skin texture.  My skin feels soft, and I have less blackheads. I still get a few blemishes, and it doesn't take away fine lines. I guess that expecting a facial cleansing brush to wipe out all of my skin problems might be expecting too much, though because of the price, my expectations were very high.   I will keep updating as I have been using it longer for the curious.

I updated my original workout calendar to show the actual workouts I did.  If I did not do a workout, I used the strikethrough font. If I added or significantly changed a workout, I put it in bold. If I did it as planned, I left it in plain text.  It strikes me that I skipped a lot of running and ab workouts. I hate doing crunches, and a lot of times the run was the second workout when I didn't have a lot of energy. I'm going to work on bringing my actual closer to the plan, but I think I'm doing well. Yesterday I did an open water swim in a very nice quarry.  I biked there and back, too.  Then I played in the pool with my cousins for a long time, which was fun. On Thursday, I bagged my planned workout and did a couple of hours of gardening.  That was a good switch, I think, because it not only got me active, but also served a real-life function. So far the scale is not showing a loss, but my body fat percentage is improving, and I feel like I do look leaner and firmer.  I am hoping that I will start burning through some of my fat stores soon. I'm putting more throught into planning meals, not just to lose weigh tbut also to save on our grocery bills and stop wasting food because I didn't get to using it fast enough.


I just started doing Artist's Way twelve-week recovery program for "injured artists." I think it fits.  I bought this book years ago and never used it. I don't have a writer's block so much as a writer's terrifying monster in the closet, so I am taking it slow and working through the exercises.  One of the things I'm supposed to do is an "artist's date," a solo activity to inspire creativity and fun.  Some ideas I have: Visiting the botanical gardens, going to the art museum, going to an art supply store, starting back up with my watercolor lessons.  Any ideas of fun and creative (especially cheap) activities are most welcome in the comments.  I almost talked myself out of doing the "morning pages" today because I didn't get to them first thing and I wanted to start off "right." I then reminded myself that starting off by not writing was the most wrong way to start possible, and did it anyway.  Three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing a day is supposed to help all artists clear away the mental clutter and get to a place where they can start to create. We will see.

I am doing less well on my work goals, but I purposely took a break from work activities, other than working with the students whose projects I'm mentoring. The latter have been getting first priority treatment.  I will catch up with the other work soon.  I just needed a bit of a mental break at the end of the term.

My house still needs work and I also need to work on ways to have fun and not spend too much money.  I am still trying to figure out how I'll find balance when school starts up again.  Most of all, I'm still working on finding my why. That's probably the biggest project of all.

Friday, June 01, 2012

The downside of the upside

I have a great friend who is a yoga teacher. She was telling me about the crazy schedule she has for the next few weeks and then quickly shut herself down and said, "but of course it's all perfect."

I do admire her ability to see the positive, but I think in this case it might have been worth thinking about why she is so prone to overbook herself and asking herself if there was a way she could set things up differently next time. Of course she has to accept that if she is committed to all of these things, she has to make the best of it now, but it's worth exploring that overwhelmed feeling and thinking if there is a way to avoid it.


I do feel that there is a pressure to be reflexively positive. Barbara Ehrenreich wrote eloquently about it in Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America. There is an almost superstitious belief that if we aren't always unerringly happy, we will attract bad things to us. Ehrenreich even got grief for daring to feel sad and angry when she was diagnosed with cancer.

Of course, there is some truth to the sunny-side outlook --  anyone who is reading this is using an electronic device that costs more than most people in the world will live on in the next year.  We are all very blessed, and it is worth being genuinely grateful for the things and people we are lucky enough to have in our lives.

That said, emotions are there for a reason.  And an unswervingly positive outlook is like a compass that is always set to North -- pretty useless for deciding what direction I need to go.  If I'm feeling bad about something, it might be a sign that I want to make a change. Trying to shove those bad feelings down with affirmations and positive thinking may be the very last thing that helps.

I had a job, for example, that was so bad that I fantasized on the way to work that I would get into a minor car accident so that I wouldn't have to spend the day there.  That was a pretty serious sign that I should have left. I told myself I couldn't. I was in graduate school and this job making $8 an hour (almost double minimum wage at the time) was paying a lot of our bills.  In retrospect, though, I could have done things differently. I could have found a minimum wage job and gotten student loans, which I was superstitiously afraid to do. I could have insisted that my boyfriend (now my husband) find a way to contribute more to our joint expenses.  We could have found ways to cut those expenses. I was convinced, though, that I just had to accept the situation and make the best of it. I worked that job for a miserable year and luckily got a graduate assistantship the next year and could quit. It all worked out in the end.

I recently listened to the audio version of This Is How: Proven Aid in Overcoming Shyness, Molestation, Fatness, Spinsterhood, Grief, Disease, Lushery, Decrepitude & More. For Young and Old Alike by Augusten Burroughs. It wasn't my favorite of his books (Magical Thinking was much better) except for the first chapter:
Affirmations are dishonest.  They are a form of self-betrayal based on bogus, side-of-the-cereal-box psychology.
The truth is, it is not going to help to stand in front of a mirror, look into your own eyes, and lie to yourself.
 Especially when you are supposed to be the one person you can count on. 
What to do instead? When I'm feeling lousy, I think it's a good time to take another look at the situation.  Maybe there is a way to get myself out of the mess if I'm willing to dare to question its inevitability.

With the weight thing, that is what I'm trying to do.  I have genuinely asked myself, "If the world was magically transformed so that societal expectations for weight vanished, would you still want to lose weight?" The answer is yes, so I've been trying to make changes in the reality in which I live, instead of in the ideal world. I have been looking for ways to set up my life so that the real me, not the magically healthy me who never once craves tortilla chips, can have a better chance of succeeding. I've made a new default by setting up a workout schedule for the next month.  That schedule is a best-case scenario. I've already made the choice to deviate from it -- today for example, my knee has been swollen and tender, so I skipped the run -- but I'm more likely to succeed than having a default of doing nothing and having to consciously choose what workout to do each day. I also planned my meals for this week, but I had a couple of backup no-cook options just in case, which we ended up using.

I don't have all of the answers and I don't expect anymore that I will, someday, have things all figured out.  I don't think that I'm entitled to an easy; stress-free life. I'm entitled to the life that chance, circumstance, and my own efforts build for me, and that can be a pretty good one.  Especially if my compass is working, and I'm willing to use it.

"Count your calories, work out when you can, and try to be good to yourself. All the rest is bulls**t." -- Jillian Michaels at BlogHer '07