Thursday, January 10, 2013

Reviewing The Willpower Instinct

You may have noticed that I haven't reviewed many books lately for the BlogHer Book Club. While I find it great fun to participate, life has been too busy. However, I couldn't resist when I saw the title of the next book: The Willpower Instinct. It's perfect for January, right?

Written by Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D., the book shares insights about self-control and was based on a class taught at Stanford University called "The Science of Willpower." Since I've already set some goals of my own for the new year... and already faced a few challenges in meeting those goals... I found this a very easy read.

The author takes a concept that all of us are familiar with - willpower - and explains successes and failures with science. With discourses on how desire, stress, happiness, cravings, pride and many more emotional responses affect our ability to control our willpower, the author breaks down the body's physical response to these emotional triggers and shows why they challenge your ability to meet your goals. 

Taking the conversation a step further, the author asks us to perform “Willpower Experiments” that are meant to help the reader understand our response to certain stimuli and then change our behavior to strengthen our ability to withstand the temptation. One of these approaches is to set a 'daily rule' about what would constitute success toward a certain goal. For instance, one student didn't eat meat until 6 p.m., but then he had 'permission' to eat what he wanted for dinner. This solved his previous behavior issue of 'falling off the wagon' at breakfast and then feeling as if he had already blown the goal for the day. As the author said,
"Using a daily rule also helps you see through the illusion that what you do tomorrow will be totally different from what you do today."
The book has many lighthearted interjections about our ancestors’ flight response in the face of a saber tooth tiger or our addictions to today’s technologies and, while it makes the reading more enjoyable, I felt like it took away from the ‘science’ that was supposed to be the focus of the book. Still, I found the book really interesting and have already passed it on to a coworker!

You can learn more about The Willpower Instinct and participate in the discussions about your own willpower challenges through conversations at BlogHer.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Oh, Resolutions... How I Love Thee

It's that time of year! It's time to make promises, declare that you're changing your life and then forget about it in a month or less. Yes, I fall victim every year. Last year, I resolved to:

  1. Run two 1/2 marathons.
  2. Drop 10 pounds before an April tradeshow.
  3. Remodel the kitchen and paint all of the woodwork on the main floor.
How did I do? I ran THREE half marathons, so no problem there. I don't remember if I dropped all 10 pounds before that tradeshow, but I've done very well all year in losing a little and then maintaining my weight - we'll call that a 'win'. And the kitchen... well, the wallpaper is almost down and beadboard went up, but that's it. I haven't even touched the woodwork. Still, two out of three isn't bad.

I'm still developing my goals for 2013, but on tap so far:
  1. Exercise 5 days a week in January and February as part of a Heart Healthy Challenge group on Facebook.
  2. Complete 13 running events in 2013 as part of #13in2013. As a subset of that, I am trying to run a 5k by the 5th day of the first six months of the year as part of the 5 by the 5th running challenge.
  3. Save $1,378 in the 52 Week Money Challenge
I do better with goals when there's a deadline/countdown. For instance, I hadn't gotten a 3.1 mile run in yet this year, but with the 5 by the 5th deadline screaming at me, I went to the gym at 6:30 last night to get it done. We will see how things are going in a couple of months. What did you resolve to start the new year?

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Now That Is The Way To Run

Last weekend, I left my house at 6:15 in the morning. It was 29 degrees and dark. I drove 10 miles, met up with my two favorite running partners... And seven strangers. Together, we made up a 10-person relay team that would be taking on a 50 mile race. We would be spending the next 8-10 hours together. It could have gone a couple of ways. Anytime you force 10 people to coexist in two cars for an extended period of time, I think it has the potential to go bad. =) Luckily, we had a blast!

Each of us had a relay leg, ranging from 3.4 miles to 6.6. My leg - leg 7 - was 5.5 miles on mostly flat terrain. Not everyone was so lucky! There were about 15 relay teams and 15 hardy souls taking on the entire 50 mile distance solo. It was a first-time event, but it was so well-run that it will grow quickly. Part of the appeal for our team was that we would be running the 'inaugural' event, but it is always a nice bonus when the event is as awesome as this one!

So, we froze for a bit, waiting for the start. We loaded our lead-off runner, who would be starting in the dark, with glow-in-the-dark bracelets ... You know... For safety =) Once the start sounded and the runners faded into the distance, we packed two cars with people, extra clothes, food and assorted beverages and drove to the first exchange point. That would be our day - dropping one runner off, cheering the incoming runner into their finish and continuing on to the next exchange point. In many cases, the exchange points were in the middle of nowhere on dusty country roads. The race directors had partnered with the Shriners Hospital, and we had Shriners manning many of the exchange points, often shaking their heads at the idiots willing to undertake this expedition, but cheerful and encouraging nonetheless!

We had a great team, with lots of laughing and yelling and cheering occurring as the day went on. It also was very cool to be on the course with those who were completing the 50 mile race on their own. Remember Luke, from the aid station during my Lake Perry Rocks! Half marathon? He was running solo, in what I later found out was his first 50-miler. We rang our cowbells (cowbells are very important in trail races) and yelled encouragement for all of those on the course. There was one runner who started the day in a Minnesota stocking cap, so we kept checking in on him as the day went on, and in a fun twist, he finished his solo race about 45 minutes after we wrapped up our relay and we were able to shout, "Minnesota!" when he walked into the train station where we were enjoying a post-race meal. That earned us a big grin.

My friend Cara ran my leg with me, and we had a lovely chat while enjoying what turned out to be a gorgeous day. We ran across a cool old bridge and were fortunate enough to have the best race photographer in the business, Dick Ross, take a fun pic in that great setting. Shortly after finishing that leg, we popped the top on a celebratory beverage =)

There were more great finish line photos, a yummy barbecue meal and a lot of high spirits from people who really didn't know each other until the day had started. It was an incredibly cool experience, and I can't wait to do it again next year.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Only 50 Miles To Go

I signed up for three running events in October. First up was The Color Run, which I "ran" with my teenage daughter and two of her friends. I put that in quotes because The Color Run is definitely an event, rather than a race. While billed as a 5k, my GPS put me at closer to 2.75 miles and, with thousands of people swarming through the streets of Lawrence, there were many, many areas where it was physically impossible to run. Add in that nasty corn starch powder stuff and... well, it was a fun day with my daughter!

Last Saturday was the day for which I had been waiting and training: the Lake Perry Rocks! 1/2 marathon, organized by the Trail Nerds. It was my sixth 1/2 marathon - my third this year - and I was shooting for finishing in anything under four hours. Note: I'm not fast, but I'm persistent!

I arrived bright and early, so I helped at the registration table for just a bit. Once more helpers arrived, I found my training partners, Matt and Cara, and we tracked down the best race photographer in the business for a quick picture.

Poor Matt... he suffers so...

It was a gorgeous morning - just a little chilly at the start, but it promised to warm up nicely as the day went on. When Bad Ben sounded the start, the pack of 50k'ers and 1/2 marathoners took off down the hill to the trail head. Matt, Cara and I have been running together every Sunday in preparation for this race. They are speedier than I am by a long shot, but we agreed to stick together for the first few miles. They don't mind my walk breaks, and I don't mind that they're Iowa fans... 

Lake Perry was putting on quite the show for us on Saturday. The fall colors were beautiful, and enough leaves had blown off the trees to provide glimpses of the lake as we ran along the trails. Unfortunately, those same leaves landed on the trail, hiding fun obstacles like rocks, tree roots and more rocks! In the first five miles, we all stumbled and tripped. I took one flying leap and landed on my knees, but I did more damage to my elbow than anything. Since elbows aren't essential for running, no harm done!

There's a trail in there somewhere!

There's one manned aid station during this race for the half-marathoners at around mile 4.5. We came out of the trees and found Luke, a Trail Nerd and race volunteer, surrounded by tables full of peanuts, trail mix, candy, 7-Up, water, gatorade, bananas... heck, I have no idea what else he had. We stopped for a little pick-me-up and some encouragement from Luke before taking off again into the trees. Just a little while later, I told Matt and Cara to go on and run their own race. Matt had a time goal in mind and, with the rocky and hilly sections hitting hard between miles 6 and 9, I was going to slow them down too much. Off they went, and from then on it was me, myself and I slugging through the miles.

A trail run can do funny things to your head, especially when you're on your own. The peacefulness of the setting, the sounds of wind and wildlife... it gives a person a lot of time to think. I have fallen victim to the voices in my head before - those voices that tell you it's too hard or that you shouldn't be out there with "true runners". I didn't hear those voices on Saturday. I'm in a good place. I'm proud of what I've accomplished. And there's not been one person at a Trail Nerds race who has ever echoed those voices in my head.

I walked a lot of miles 6-9 after rolling my ankle for what seemed like the millionth time. All of the leaves definitely added another challenge to the race, but there were many sections that I deemed "runnable" and my legs were still feeling pretty good. I've had hydration issues in other races, but I managed my intake better this time. When my iPhone was telling me that I was getting close to the end - and my legs were telling me the same thing - the lead runner in the 50k came up on me. Now, here's where the head could have come into play. Here, I could have said, "Oh my God, he's run twice as far as I have and he's passing me." The lead runner could have been thinking things like, "Holy crap, why is there still a half marathoner in my way?"

Instead, the lead runner took the time to tell me that I was looking good, and that the finish was just a little further down the trail. I think I thanked him and encouraged him on his finish, but things were getting fuzzy by this point. The moral of the story is that trail runners are the best, folks. Simply the best. When I came out of the trees onto the road that led up (and up... and up...) to the finish line, there was a crowd of people waiting for the 50k'ers to come through on their final segment. I was greeted by "almost there" and "great job". Matt and Cara, who finished about 40 minutes ahead of me, were waiting partway up the hill to cheer me on. As I turned into the lane that signaled the final yards of the race, half marathoners who had finished earlier shouted encouragement and clapped. Cow bells were ringing, and when I stepped across the finish line, Ben was waiting there with a medal. I missed my under-four-hours goal by a few minutes, but that's okay. It was an absolutely beautiful day, and I shared it with the best possible people.

I have been running for about five years now. I ran my first 5k shortly before my youngest daughter was adopted from Vietnam, and then promptly took a year off. When I started back in, I fell in with a group of trail runners and found support that I couldn't have imagined. Five years later, I'm 40 years old, 30 pounds lighter and I still love to be on the trails.

Next up is the Bison 50, a 50 mile relay race. We have a team of 10 hardy souls, taking legs of 4-6 miles each. There will be a lot of laughs, a few beers and a little bit of running. I can't wait!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Race Season

Here we go! After approximately three months without running, I need to get my Asics in gear. The heat has been absolutely crushing this summer, so I have filled my time with elliptical workouts and the Nike Fit app. Now that we're easing into Fall, it's time to plunk down a little cash and get reacquainted with the asphalt.

So far, I have the 5k Race Against Breast Cancer in late September and three races in October: a 5k Color Run, a trail half marathon and a 4-6 mile leg of a 50-mile relay race. I hit the Governor's Mansion loop for 4 miles on Sunday with friends and didn't keel over. I'll take that as a good sign and keep adding the mileage.

I am incredibly glad that I have kept up with the workouts, even if they haven't been running-focused. I feel stronger and my pace was definitely faster than expected this weekend. We'll see how that translates come race time, but since I have yet to clear 40 minutes with a 5k, pace obviously isn't my big concern!

I'm excited to be turning the legs over again! I've kept up with my fitness routine, but there's nothing like running to make me happy. And, thanks to my latest obsession (Pinterest), I have a new motivational slogan:

If you're tired of starting over, stop quitting.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Cue The Tears... She's In Kindergarten

In November of 2007, some of you may remember when I met this little munchkin for the first time.

Yesterday, the peanut started kindergarten.

She woke up, yelling, "I'm in kindergarten!" She was dressed an hour before it was time to go. She checked for her water bottle and her snack over and over again. She ran to the car and skipped down the school hallway at her sister's side. We went into the kindergarten room together, stopped at her backpack to attach her name tag, dropped the snack in her cubby and found her desk. She patiently waited while I took a million pictures and then attacked the playdoh that the teacher had waiting to keep the kiddos busy until the bell rang.

When I picked her up from school, she talked a mile a minute for an hour. I heard all about good choices and bad choices, what she ate for lunch (one carrot! a miracle!) and how the class went outside two times to play. As part of the day's art project, she was asked to pick one word to describe how she felt about coming to kindergarten for the first time. Other students were a little nervous, some were very excited but Miss P... Miss P was happy.

Yes, I cried. As big sister N said, it was my last first day of kindergarten. My baby was going off to school, and she couldn't wait. 

The night before school started, P's kindergarten teacher gave us a poem to read, along with a small bag of red glitter. It read:

The night before school starts is exciting and fun. There's so much to do, and so much to get done. Your clothes are all ready. Your backpack is, too. Your classroom is filled with fun things to do. There are so many questions that fill up your head, you might find it hard to get into bed. Teachers and students can get jitters down deep, and then find it hard to relax and get sleep. So, here is some glitter that is a magical tool. It will help you be rested and ready for school. Tonight, just before you climb into your bed, sprinkle a little where you lay your head. The glitter will help you sleep through the night and wake in the morning fresh, smiling and bright. I'll sprinkle some magic on my pillow, too, and be ready for school when I'll get to see you!!! -- Sweet Dreams, Mrs. B. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Julia Child!

I'm sort of in love with Julia Child. It's not that I'm an amazing chef or that I have any interest in working my way through her French cookbook, one recipe at a time. It's Julia herself who captivates me.

I remember watching reruns of her cooking shows on the public television station when I was growing up, and she always seemed to be having fun. Now as an adult, I admire her balls-to-the-wall attitude (if you'll forgive the crude language).

A few months ago, I read My Life in France, which covers the years in which Julia attended cooking classes, taught a few of her own and began writing her books. I loved it! Tonight, in honor of Julia's 100th birthday, I'm diving into A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS. I find it fascinating that Julia and her husband were involved in the spy business, and this new book has gotten rave reviews.

If you don't have time for any reading, take a look at this sweet and funny clip. And happy birthday, Julia!

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