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How DO You Train to Run a Half Marathon?

Right now…I’ll level with you…I can barely run a good mile. A half marathon is 13.1 miles, exactly half the distance of a full marathon, which is 26.2. I chose a half marathon for my goal for several reasons, but among them was that the training runs for a half are much less time consuming than the training runs for a full marathon, so I felt it would be a lot more realistic with my life. Still, though…how do you go from barely running a mile to running 13.1 straight?

I’ve been preparing by lifting weights to build back muscle and doing Barre to increase the strength of my legs, heart, and lungs as well as my flexibility. These are all great building blocks, but at a certain point, in order to run long distances, you have to RUN. There is no other way to get your bones and joints used to the impact and help your body adjust to the stresses of running. I’ve slowly started that process informally with a short run each week, but in the upcoming weeks, I’m going to be increasing that.

And this is where training plans come in.

Like anything else, there are experts in running, trainers that have worked with enough runners to know what works and what doesn’t. I’m starting a program in October for beginner runners to prepare them to go from 0 running to a 5k in 30 days. There are several of these programs out there, essentially “couch to 5k” programs, but this one I chose because it’s a video or audio program, so you get coached on your runs, and it incorporates cross training with weights. It’s a new program and I’m pretty excited about it.

So…by November or early December, I’ll be up to running a 5k or 3.14 miles. That still is not 13.1, for anyone doing the math at home.

It is, however, a solid foundation that I can build on. Running long distances takes time. The biggest challenge is to build up mileage at a rate that increases strength and endurance without adding so much so fast that you risk injury. Again, training plans put together by the pros can really help and a quick google search will dig up plenty of free half marathon training plans or you can find services that will give you more personalized plans for a fee. I’m going with a free half marathon training plan from Runner’s World (a popular running magazine) that assumes you can run 6 miles straight, so part of my work this winter will be to slowly increase from running 3 miles and some change to 6.

But wait…December in Milwaukee means…snow.

Yes, yes it does! It’s a good thing I actually enjoy running in snow, but realistically, at least some of my runs will have to be inside on a treadmill. I plan on purchasing a used one or getting a cheap gym membership at a place with minimal equipment but decent treadmills (as long as Covid cooperates). I should only need a few months for the particularly nasty parts of winter when it’s icy outside. Snow I can deal with but ice means slipping, falling, and not being able to train.

Most training plans DO NOT have a runner running every day. That’s another mistake I made the last time I was training for a half marathon. I loved to run and it was my stress relief, so I ran every day…often even squeezing in 2 runs in one day. This was definitely not the smart thing to do. As you increase mileage, your body needs rest and recovery days to rebuild muscle and bone density. I was basically just pounding on my body and not giving it a chance to rebuild and eventually, I paid with a couple of injuries which required me to stop running entirely and then I had a hard time getting back into it and gave up. At that time, I was able to run 10 miles straight.

The training plans I’m looking at have just 3 days of running to begin, then they add in a long run on the weekend. For me, that will be on Sunday. In some cases, I’ll be able to lift weights or do other workouts on my “off” days, at least while my mileage is low. Avid runners can get really geeky with their training plans. I know some that keep spreadsheets and have all kinds of graphs so that they can see their growth. For me, the focus is more on having a structured plan so that I don’t push too far too fast and risk an injury.

This is definitely a place where an approach like the tortoise works better than the hare. Slow and steady really does win the race when the finish line is 13 miles away.


Morning Exercise and Quality Sleep – A Powerful Connection

Does it matter WHEN you exercise? Well, when you get down to it, if you’re really pressed for time ANY time you can fit in your workout is better than missing it, but there’s some really powerful reasons why working out early is better for your body.

Especially if you’re struggling to get good, DEEP sleep.

I don’t know about you, but ever since my world got turned upside down with Covid and a crazy work schedule this year, I have struggled to get to sleep and stay asleep. There have been a lot of nights that I was only getting a few hours, then waking up and using coffee to stay awake for work. I noticed that when I began working out each morning, I was doing better sleeping, at least when I didn’t have to stay up all night for network changes or was on my phone too much in bed.

Applachian State University did a study of people and the quality of their sleep and looked at whether those people did a cardio workout and when. What they found was that aerobic exercise done in the morning (their test group worked out at 7am) made the biggest difference in the quality of sleep they measured. You can check out the actual study here, if you enjoy geeky science papers.

What they found was that aerobic exercise early in the morning, even just 20-30 minutes of brisk walking, kind of reset hormones in the body and helped regulate sleep and wake cycles. It was the combination of the exercise and the timing. The later people exercised, the less benefit they were seeing in their sleep. Those who exercised at 7pm had the worst quality sleep. For those who didn’t have time to do their full workout earlier, even just adding some cardio in the morning helped them see benefits.

If you don’t struggle with your sleep, then this might not be something you need to consider, but if you do workout later and are having issues getting a good night’s sleep, you might consider moving your workout or adding in a smaller workout in the morning!

What a Difference a Year Makes!

Facebook reminded me yesterday that it was one year ago this week that I went back to work after surgery on my neck. I had suffered for almost a year from nerve pain and it had gotten to the point all I could do was lay as still as possible in my bed…and even then I had pain. I was on a mix of painkillers and couldn’t even type. I had a foraminotomy on two levels, shaving bone away from the pinched nerves. This required an incision that runs from my hairline down my neck to my shoulders, cutting through neck and shoulder muscles. A year ago, I had healed to the point I could go back to work, but I was still weak and still healing.

This year, my husband came home from the hospital after his cancer surgery on that same day. This year, I’m able to lift weights with those same muscles that were cut. I’m in awe of how our bodies can heal and how resilient they are as I work through the weakness in those cut muscles and my husband recovers from his abdomen being cut open. He is already up and walking and back at home, but his incision is truly something to behold, running from his ribcage all the way down…and yet, his body is healing.

Our bodies were designed by our Creator to heal…even though my husband didn’t need it as part of his surgery, I recently learned that our bodies can even recreate a new stomach from our intestines if surgeons have to remove your stomach! Imagine that! Our bodies can sense that an organ is missing and work to recreate it.

All too often we view our bodies as if they are just poorly made. When I talk with some people, it’s as if their bodies are their enemy, always looking for ways to betray them, either by breaking down or by the open sabotage of cancer. Yet, even through my husband’s cancer journey and my own struggles with my spine, I’ve seen that our bodies are always working to heal. Sometimes, they just need more support and help, but it’s the body’s work to heal.

A year past my own surgery, I am stronger than I was before my nerves began giving me pain. I have consciously worked to strengthen all the muscles that support my spine, even if those exercises were really hard to do and didn’t really show results that were impressive. I intentionally did more work on the muscles that were cut as well, which was hard. At first, it was humbling how little I could lift or do before those muscles simply couldn’t do any more, but I kept at it…and my body responded.

Today, I am pain free, which is huge if you’ve ever had nerve or spinal pain.

The surgeon did a wonderful job, but even the best surgery can only do so much. My surgeon made it clear when I went to him last winter when I was still having pain and made it clear that the rest of my recovery was in my own hands. I had to do the work of healing. At a certain point, doctors and even prayer left off work that was mine to do.

That’s true so often in life. We have our part to play in healing, whether it’s our own bodies and minds or the world around us. If we remain passive players in our lives, we’ll remain weak and never reach our full potential that we are meant to reach and the world we live in will never become the place it is meant to be. We can only depend on others to do it for us so much before we reach the point where it’s our work to do and no one else can do it.

What is in your life that only you can uniquely do, whether it’s for yourself, your family, or your community? Where is your work to heal and become the next level that is planned for you?

Sweating the Stress Out and How Working Out Helps me Lose Weight (Hint…it’s not about calories burned!)

It’s been a stressful week…month…year? Ok, let’s just settle on that it’s been particularly stressful this week. My husband just had cancer surgery yesterday and, while he’s thankfully doing really well, that does make for a stressful and emotional time. Today, I had one of those mornings where it just seems like everything I did went sideways. It’s the kind of day where if you even touch a glass, you’d break it.

Now, normally, once I hit that “this is the last straw…I can’t take any more” point, I’d be reaching for the chocolate chip cookie bars that are sitting on my kitchen counter right now. Instead, even though I’d already lifted weights and done a barre workout, I put on my running skirt and shoes and hit the pavement for a training run. As counter intuitive as it may seem, I know I’ll feel better from sweating it out than I would from eating comfort foods. Comfort foods only comfort temporarily and then whatever it was I was trying to comfort myself from comes back to the surface and it becomes a vicious cycle that leaves me feeling icky and my weight rising.

When I have negative emotions, it’s like a black ball of tar in my chest, heavy and sticky and full of poison. Exercise pulls the poison out of me with each bead of sweat like venom from a snakebite. I can almost imagine my sweat being black and foul as I begin and then, slowly becoming clear as all the anxiety, stress, fear, frustration, and anger are pulled out with the drops of sweat. Over the past week, during my workouts, I’ve visualized the dead Covid virus leaving my body with my sweat.

Today I was not disappointed. As my feet pounded and my legs reminded me that I’d lifted today already, with each block I began to feel more myself. I felt my thoughts calm and I moved from living in my head to coming back down into my body, pulled there by aching calves and lungs growing stronger. My heart beat more easily even as it beat more rapidly. As I reached my cooldown, I walked with a peaceful ease that wasn’t there.

And this comfort comes without a cost later and it is more lasting than anything I would have gotten from those chocolate chip bars, delicious as they are.

The reasons that working out helps me lose weight aren’t really tied so much to however many calories I burn. Even though my workout watch tracks such things, I don’t really pay attention. The calories burned are just a nice bonus. Working out helps me lose weight because I have an outlet besides eating to deal with my emotions, but it’s even more than that. When I work out, the quality of my workout is impacted a lot by how I eat. If I eat healthy foods, it’s easier to do my workout and I enjoy moving more. You know what I mean if you’ve ever overeaten or eaten a bunch of junk food and then tried to go for a walk…you just feel awful. It’s even more like that when I run or work out hard. If I’ve eaten well the day before and drank lots of water, there is an ease in how I move and my body feels good. If I have given in to junk foods, eaten too much, or skimped on water, I struggle in my workout and it’s just a chore.

Every time I run I realize that it’s easier to run when I’m not carrying around empty foods in my stomach or on my body.

All day, when I reach for what to eat next, I remember my workout and I am mindful of the experience I want the next time I sweat. Do I want it to be a struggle or do I want to feel ease? Is that chocolate chip bar worth the struggle I might have later? Is a second helping going to feel good tomorrow? In some cases, the answer is a resounding yes, but in others…I pass it by.

In this way more than the calories spent, working out helps me keep on track with healthy eating, which in turn is a bigger factor in weight loss than exercise. You simply cannot outtrain a poor diet.

And you cannot out eat your emotions.

And then Came Covid…

On August 8th, I began having a sore, scratchy throat and I was just tired. By August 13th, I had a positive Covid-19 test and a bunch of other symptoms. I had been training well. The day before my Covid test, I did 2 workouts, but didn’t feel right at all during them. I had to take breaks to catch my breath and at one point, my whole body went cold. By the night of my positive test result, I was isolating, my body wrecked with aches and pains and my head hurting so bad I cried.

It was everything I’d been trying so hard to avoid.

I’d worn a mask every time I’d gone outside. I’d only gone out to get groceries and to take my husband to his cancer appointments. In retrospect, it’s most likely that I contracted Covid at one of those appointments. There were 2 Covid positive patients in the lab the morning I sat there, waiting for him. By some miracle, he didn’t get covid and the entire rest of the family tested negative. So, I isolated in our spare room, sleeping on a couch and surrounded by workout equipment, but with barely enough energy to brush my teeth.

I was so afraid that others in my family would be sick or that my illness would push off my husband’s cancer surgery, but happily none of those things happened. Everyone else tested negative and my husband’s surgery is still scheduled for next week. So, I was left with time to recover alone…and think.

Even as I recovered, I kept getting calls and texts from work, pleas for me to look at just this one thing, do just this one thing. I did end up logging in while sick to upgrade some equipment. I was exhausted and nearly cried when I had to stay online longer…due to some other changes being done, they weren’t sure if alarms were related to my change or those. I just wanted to rest…so badly.

For me, this was a lightbulb moment.

For years, I’ve moved between one networking job and another, hoping each time that the next one would provide a better work/life balance. Each time, I’ve found myself yet again sacrificing sleep, my health, time with family and friends. Now I had an illness that has killed some and even then…work still had its demands. I looked around myself and realized that while I have enjoyed my career…it’s well past time to begin coming up with a plan for a change. It’s time for me to think about what’s next and be more intentional with my life.

I’ve done this in my health and fitness, but I’ve allowed the urgency of work’s priorities to override my wants and needs in other parts of my life. It’s been very rare that I’ve gotten a real vacation. I take days off in ones and twos, never really getting a full break. I’ve missed family milestones. Weddings, funerals…I’ve missed most of each. I’ve fallen out of touch with friends and missed connecting with family.

I have lived in a life in survival mode, always afraid of losing my job and always overworking just in case.

And it’s time it all stopped. It’s time I started working towards a life that has a more healthy balance, where my mind and body can rest and where I can be more fulfilled spiritually and socially. It’s time I started working towards a second act in which work no longer devours my time and energy.

Because no one is promised more time and the clock is always ticking. Work can always replace me and every year there are younger, hungry engineers eager to step into my shoes, but no one can replace me to my friends and family if work works me into an early grave.

But…What Do You EAT?!

I’m down 15lbs from my starting weight and I’ve put on quite a bit of muscle. I’m really happy with my progress! I’ve had a couple of people ask what I’m eating, so I thought it might be helpful to write a post about just that. Please, keep in mind, that this is what is working for me and you should do what is best for your own nutrition, in consultation with your doctor.

We showed this plan to my husband’s oncology team and they were thrilled to have him start it, so now he’s doing it with me, albeit with much more containers to eat in a day. He’s not even hungry and sometimes isn’t sure how he can eat it all. I also ate in a way very similar to this the last time I started running, with some tweaks this time around to make it less work for me.

I’m Eating Clean

That’s just kind of a fancy way of saying I’m not eating junk. I’m eating whole foods, as unprocessed as possible. I eat whole grains, tons of veggies, a boatload of fruit, lean proteins and a smidge of healthy fats and seeds. It’s basically what the food pyramid looks like.

I’m Eating Macros

That sounds very technical, but all it really means is that I eat a certain ratio of different types of foods. I eat 40% carbohydrates, all from high fiber sources, 30% lean protein, and 30% healthy fats. This is a pretty standard configuration for most athletes and bodybuilders, of which I am neither, but I do find it provides me the right mix of fuel.

I’m eating MEAT

This wasn’t strictly necessary. I could have done a clean eating vegan macro plan and I initially did begin with one, but after about 1-2 weeks, I just couldn’t keep eating that much. The sheer amounts of beans and tofu and such I was eating was more than I wanted to continue eating. It IS possible to get that 40-30-30 ratio with all plant proteins, but you have to be really committed to it.

I’m eating Timed Nutrition

This just means that I’m timing my meals around my workouts for maximum efficiency. I eat 6 times a day. 3 meals and then 3 snacks. One of those snacks is a protein shake before I work out, so it’s not too filling. This is again, how athletes often eat, but anyone can eat this way. The theory is that I’m feeding my body doses of nutrients throughout the day so that it has everything it needs without any waste. In practice, I’m never hungry and often thinking, “Do I REALLY need to eat AGAIN?”

I’m practicing Portion Control

This is the BIGGEST area I normally struggle with. I often will eat healthy foods, but completely mistake what a healthy portion should be for me. I have used other systems in the past, like counting calories or tracking my food, but this time around I chose to use a container system where I just measure out different types of foods and combine them to make a meal. I’m using Beachbody’s Ultimate Portion Fix to do this. The upside to this is that I don’t have to do the math to get my macro ratios right and I have meal plans that tell me which containers to combine for which meals.

You can use that system without doing timed nutrition or eating as often as I do…that’s a choice I’m making for my own goals.

I’m Meal Prepping

All this sounds a lot more complicated in theory than it is in practice. In practice, I keep 2-3 different types of protein, high fiber carbohydrates, low carb veggies, and fruits in the fridge. When it’s time to eat, unless it’s dinner, which is where I cook those and serve a fresh combo to the family, I just pick what’s leftover, scoop it into containers, and pour the containers for my meal into a bowl and heat and eat. It’s really no more complicated than eating a regular lunch of leftovers. For the most part, our meals aren’t much different from anyone else’s except I probably cook with less oil. Right now, I’m eating my midday snack, which is Greek yogurt with blueberries, a teaspoon of almond butter, and some of those little snacking peppers on the side. Super easy to grab and eat!

Eating this way, I’m able to lose weight, build muscle, and NOT BE HUNGRY, all without having to count calories or track my food to any extent and that works for me.

4 Reasons Why You Might Not Want to Start with Running if Your Goal is to be a Runner, or Why I’m Not Running Much Yet

These days, I’m training a lot, but running very little more than an occasional fun run of a few blocks. This might seem counter-intuitive considering I plan on running a half marathon in about a year and a half, but there is some method to my madness and let me share it with you if you are hoping to make a similar transition from 0 miles to runner.

  1. I don’t feel I’m at the right weight yet to begin running.

    The last time I became a runner, I began running at a higher weight than I currently am. I did make it past that and lost a lot of weight in the process, nearly 50lbs. However, I also suffered through some very painful shin splints and plantar fasciitis, both common injuries for newer runners. I spent a lot of time with ice packs on my shins and feet between runs and the whole process was a lot more painful than necessary. If you are heavy enough that moderate to intense exercise makes your joints or feet hurt, you may also want to drop some weight before you hit the pavement hard to spare your knees, hips, and feet having to carry that extra weight and bear that extra impact. A solid nutrition plan can really help here along with non-impact exercise.

    This being said, you definitely don’t need to be at your goal weight before you begin running and you can definitely lose weight while you run. You’ll want to talk with your physician and listen to your body to know if you might want or need to lose a few pounds before starting or if you’re ready to go.
  2. Cross Training is VERY important to avoid injuries and great to begin BEFORE I run.

    Another lesson I learned the first time I became a runner! The first time around, I just ran. As I got better at it, I loved running so much I really didn’t want to “waste” time doing any other physical activity. I just wanted to log more miles and watch my speed and endurance improve over time. Unfortunately, this led to some serious muscle imbalances that in turn impacted my gait and eventually gave me another common running injury, ITBS, which is a tightening of a band of tissue that runs from your hip to your knee on the outside of your leg. It was this injury that eventually sidelined me from running for 10 years.

    A few physical therapists later and I finally fully embrace cross training. Doing activities like weight lifting, swimming, or pilates, yoga, or barre can really help build muscles that I don’t use while running and help balance the muscles that I do. The human body is all about balance and if you do any one activity too much, you eventually risk an injury by bringing the body out of balance. Right now, I’m doing a combination of weight lifting and barre and really working on conditioning muscles that will help keep me in balance and avoid injury.

    If you already feel like you’re in pretty good shape from your other activities, you may be able to start running right away while working in cross training days.
  3. Sometimes, Running Isn’t the BEST Way to Build Up Cardio Endurance and the Body’s Tolerance for Impact, if you’re not already doing it.

    Physical exercise is often divided into different groups. Of these, running is considered cardiovascular exercise and high impact. It works the heart and lungs hard, which is great for the health of these organs, but it also causes a lot of impact when the foot hits the ground. This impact is actually good for your bones and joints, contrary to popular belief. Studies have shown that runners actually have a lower incidence of age related knee issues than the general population because running builds up lubrication and cushioning tissue in the joints much like using a muscle causes that muscle to grow denser and stronger. Similarly, impact helps build greater bone density to withstand that impact. It is actually being recommended for people in their 40’s, particularly women to seek out high impact physical activity now, which goes completely against what we used to hear. (Don’t even get me started about how eggs are good for you, then bad for you, and now good for you again. I don’t even pretend to understand how that works!)

    However, what IS harmful to bones and joints is too much impact all of a sudden and that is one of the biggest mistakes that new runners often make, besides not having the right shoes (but that’s a whole other story). Most bodies that haven’t been doing high impact cardio just aren’t ready to pound the pavement much. I’m working up to more and more impact with fewer, shorter runs and adding in some high impact HIIT cardio. (High Intensity Interval Training) This allows me to more slowly build up tolerance and cardiovascular endurance before I begin seriously running.
  4. If you’re not already in the correct shape for it, starting out with running rather than working up to it can be disappointing and lead to giving it up entirely.

    I can’t count how many times I heard from people when I was a runner the similar story…

    “I tried to run once, but I just couldn’t run much more than a block. I’m just not a runner.”

    It always makes me sad because the odds are very good that this person could have been a runner. It’s likely they just didn’t quite know how to begin in a way that would set them up for success. Most often, they didn’t have the correct shoes, which might not make that big of a difference the first few times, but soon will lead to issues and they likely didn’t have realistic expectations of what their body would be capable of at that point. Like anything else, your body gets better at running slowly over time as you regularly run. When I start out running, I do intervals of running spaced out with walking in between. I run just a little bit further than seems easy and then walk and begin running just before I feel fully recovered. I slowly work up to running straight through by making those walk intervals shorter and shorter and the running intervals longer and longer, similar to beginner runner programs like Couch to 5k, but more at my own body’s pace.

    So, for now, I’m not running much at all, but I definitely am training. I’m lifting a lot of weight for my upper body to help keep that strong as well as strengthening my legs and core and slowly building up impact as my weight decreases. All of this should serve me well as I begin to run more and more and the hope is that my patience will be rewarded by skipping the worst of those beginner runner injuries that can steal the joy from running and slow down my progress.

Have You Edited Yourself Out of the Picture?

If you look at my family’s pictures over the past 10 years or so, you’ll notice something is missing…me. I used so many excuses to avoid being in front of the camera. After all, somebody has to take the picture, right? The truth is, though…I didn’t want to be seen. I was afraid to be seen. I felt safer, more comfortable outside the picture.

Truth be told…I still do, but I’m no longer allowing my fear to keep me out of the picture.

I realized, seeing pictures a friend posted of her parents, now gone, that one day these pictures I’m avoiding so much might be all my children have left of me. How selfish is it to deny them the comfort of seeing my face next to theirs in family photos simply because I wasn’t brave enough to be seen? To deny them momentos simply because I couldn’t love and accept myself as I am?

We live in a time where there are filters and everything is carefully curated before being shown. There are standards of perfection we will never meet. Even if I reach my goal weight and have six pack abs, guess what? I’m still going to have the wrinkles on my forehead that everyone in my family gets. I’m still going to be 5 foot 2. I’m still not going to measure up to the ideals I’m shown every day on Instagram.

So…I’m not going to try to change to fit those ideals.

I’m going to put myself out there as I am, imperfect but real and unfiltered. I’m going to let myself be seen even if it feels awkward or uncomfortable because my friends and family are worth it and maybe, just maybe, it will help others be more accepting of themselves.

The First Time I Prayed…It Was While I Was Running

Growing up, I’d never been really religious. Even through most of my 20’s, I flirted with different belief systems, but nothing ever really “stuck.” I was agnostic, not sure what I believed, but pretty much feeling like I was on my own.

That is, until I was in my early 30’s a single mother of two, and my life was on the rocks. I was so broke that I had times I had to look for spare change in my truck in order to fill up the tank to get to work. It was the recession and I was a junior engineer, so I wasn’t making a ton of money and there wasn’t child support coming in. There were times I went hungry so that my children could eat…and that wasn’t even the worst of it. In the same summer, my grandfather passed away, my brother was stricken with his second bout of cancer, this time in his kidneys. By the time they found it, it was already stage 3 and it was an aggressive form.

At this time, I was living in Jacksonville, Florida, a thousand miles from my family in Illinois. I was so broke that I couldn’t come home for my Grandfather’s funeral. He was my last grandparent and the whole family always looked up to him and went to him for advice. I felt adrift and I felt like a bad daughter, unable to comfort my parents either with the loss of my Grandpa or as they faced my brother’s illness.

To cope with the stress from work and the phone calls from home, I went on runs. A girlfriend who was also divorced who lived in the apartment next door was kind enough to watch my kids. I would lace up my shoes and run until I felt the stress leave my body with the sweat. Some days, I’d run twice, once in the morning so that I could face my coworkers without breaking down into tears and once in the evening so that I could have the patience and upbeat attitude my toddlers needed from me. It took more and more miles to reach that place of peace, more and more sweat to let out the unspoken screams inside me.

Then, I got the call that my brother was Stage 4. There is no Stage 5 to cancer.

I felt numb, but on my next run, on a hot, sticky day in August, I felt like my chest was being ripped apart. I had so much pain and anger and fear I’d been holding in. As I ran, I didn’t care if anyone was around…I began crying, my tears mixing with the sweat dripping down my face. The pain of the loss of my Grandfather and the pain and fear of losing my big brother tore into me and I realized that I could run forever and never outrun it.

First, I silently cried out to my Grandpa, wondering if he could still hear me.

“Grandpa, I don’t know what to do…help me!”

I was three miles into my run and I fell to my knees in front of a bridge in a scrubby little patch of woods along that part of the road, which ran near a highway. My knees hurt from the rocks sticking into them and I was panting for air, crying and sweating. It didn’t matter that another runner or cyclist could come along at any moment. I knew it was a popular route for other people getting exercise. I was down there, in the dust, a mess of tears, hair coming out of my ponytail in frizzy puffs, trying not to just howl and sob.

Without thinking, I spoke aloud, the words just pouring out of me from someplace deep within me.

“G-d, please,” I hitched in my breath, like I did when I was little and crying so hard I might hyperventilate, “I can’t do this alone. Please…help me…just…please.”

There was no lightning bolt, no animal that came out of the woods or angel that picked me back up. I cried some more, but somehow felt a little better and I sheepishly got up out of the dirt and finished my run, wondering if I was losing my mind. Besides the rote prayers I’d memorized and recited as a child, I’d never actually prayed or tried to talk to G-d. I wouldn’t even admit I was sure He existed.

It wasn’t long after that I met a man. He was not my type and I wasn’t looking to date anyone. Long story short, that man eventually became my husband and it was from him that I learned much of what I know about faith, G-d, and Judaism. My help did come, not from the mountains, but from a man who reached out to me in his own grief at the loss of his sister to meet me in mine as my brother died.

To me, that’s too much of a coincidence not to believe that G-d listened to me that day and sent the help I needed so that I didn’t have to keep trying to go through everything alone.

I still have my best talks with G-d when I run or when I ride my motorcycle. Alone with my breath, I find my mind calmer and more open and it’s easier to pour out my heart. When my life turns upside down, like it has again this year, I find myself returning to the comfort of those still moments when it’s just Him, me, and the road.

Why You Need Cross Training

The FIRST time I took up running…I just ran. I put on my shoes and slowly upped my mileage, but pretty much, running was my thing and I wasn’t really interested in other activities. I’ve known people who are similar with whatever sport they enjoy most, particularly cyclists. It’s very easy to find something that you enjoy and that works for you and then…just do that.

But there’s a problem with that and I discovered it in a BIG way as I increased my mileage. As I began running around 10 miles or more, I began to suffer pain in my knees. After visiting my doctor and a physical therapist, I was told the issue was ITBS, a tightness in the IT band, which runs down the outside of the leg from the hip to the knee. I went into PT to rehab it and the pain was pretty serious. In physical therapy, I learned I had some serious imbalance in the muscles of my leg.

Later, when I tried another attempt to get back into running, I wound up with plantar fasciitis, an irritation of the connective tissue on the bottom of my feet. Again, in PT, I learned I had some serious imbalances in the muscles of my legs.

The problem is that when you do the same exercise over and over and that’s all you do, only the muscles related to that exercise develop and this can quickly lead to weaker muscles in other parts of your body which can pull joints out of alignment and lead to injury.

I was stubborn enough I had to learn this twice!

This time around, I’m being a LOT more intentional with my training. I’m concentrating very hard on weight lifting and barre classes, which work my core and parts of my legs that running does not work. I’m adding in runs slowly and working to build up more well rounded fitness as well as lower my weight so that the running I do will be a lot less likely to sideline me with an injury.

So…what should you look for in a cross training program?

If your activity of choice is heavily cardio, it’s really good to look for something that emphasizes building more muscle. For runners and cyclists, we use our quad muscles in our legs a LOT. Lifting weights that strengthen the upper body and back and hamstrings can be a big help balancing things out. In addition, exercises like pilates, yoga, barre, or anything else that really strengthens the core will help a lot with the kind of balance that helps prevent falls and help protect the spine.

In my particular case, I’m doing 5 days a week of barre classes because I know my core is weak and my spine needs more support. I’m lifting weights 4 days a week with a special emphasis on my back, shoulders, and arms. Part of this is to bring strength back into the muscles that I had cut last year in my neck surgery and part is to increase my metabolism and balance all the lower body exercise I’m doing. I’m only lifting 1 day a week on my legs.

The downside to cross training is that it kind of negates the wonderful simplicity of activities like running or cycling. I loved running because I didn’t have to belong to a gym or “go” anywhere to do it. With these kinds of fitness, you just grab your shoes or your bike and off you go, whenever it works for you. Cross training can mean having to join a gym, but it doesn’t have to.

For me, I use online workouts through Beachbody to get in my weight lifting and Barre. I can stream those workouts anywhere and get them in whenever it works for me. If you want more information on that, please contact me and I’ll be happy to help you get started.