Sunday, October 7, 2012

Are you running like you were going to?

Running the Stanley Park Seawall in VancouverHiking the Highline Trail in GlacierHiking Bear's Hump in Waterton Hiking Cat Mountain

I’ve gotten this question quite a bit lately via email, Facebook comment, etc. so I thought I’d go ahead and talk about it. We’re currently on a looooong driving day from Gettysburg, PA to Asheville, NC so it’s the perfect time for a post without having to upload or work on photos.

I think everyone I know knows that I lost a lot of weight a few years ago, mostly through a reduced calorie diet and a daily running habit. Once I got in the habit I kind of fell in love (well, it’s always been a bit of a love/hate thing) with running, and for the past three years I’ve run several half-marathons as well as one marathon each year.  I’m not particularly fast, but I’ve got endurance and I enjoy it.  I run alone.  I’ve always run alone.  I run with music, and I sometimes refer to my weekly long run (usually on Sundays) as my “church.”  It’s the time I can either work something over in my head, plan out my week, or just zone out in a kind of meditative state.  So I run so I can eat what I want, I run because I get that endorphin high, and I’ll admit it—it makes me an easier person to get along with.

One of the things both of us worried about as we were planning this trip was how to exercise enough so we don’t get tubby. David rode his bike to and from work every day for 15 years. I ran 3-5 days a week when I was in training for a marathon or half-marathon.  This allows us to eat what we want within reason.  Not to mention that we’re both happier people when we’ve exercised.

I had planned to work in a short (3-5 mile) run every day, or as often as possible.  I thought we’d get up, go for a run, then shower, eat breakfast and get out the door.  And we did that the first few days on the road. But we soon realized that on the days that we ran we weren’t getting on the road until 10 am. And when you don’t get on the road until 10 am, you don’t get to your destination until around 7pm. Then you need to make dinner (which may require a trip to the grocery) or go out to a restaurant (which requires a little research lest you end up at Applebees). So then you’re eating dinner around 8pm. Then we’ve got to import pictures we’ve taken that day, and check our emails, and book a hotel for the next night. Suddenly it’s 10:30 or 11:00, and sometimes even midnight.  (Incidentally you can see how we’ve got behind on blogging with this schedule.)

One of the unspoken agreements we made when we started out was that we’d avoid the alarm as much as possible. We’ve set it a few times, but generally we don’t. When you go to bed a midnight, you wake up at 8 without an alarm. Truthfully we wake up at 7:30 most days no matter what time we go to bed.  So as we got into a rhythm of driving days, the daily run went by the wayside. It takes up another hour and a half between getting ready, running, stretching, etc.  The days we don’t have somewhere to go have ended up (mostly) being the days we ran. There are also the mornings where the bed is warm, and you have no place to be, and you don’t want to have to research a pleasant or just safe place to run. 

There is another aspect of this for me that I find hard.  As I said before, I run alone. I tried to run with a group one time and I ended up on my own, running my own pace, anyway.  David is a long tall drink of water.  He also rides his commute at home as a series of sprints between red lights. He outstrips my pace with the easy lope of an African gazelle.  This would be fine if we just admitted that and ran separately. But the whole point of running together is to run together. Not to mention he usually has the hotel room key and I have the GPS watch to tell us how far we’ve gone. So he slows down and tries to keep up with me, which is hard for me, since I’m usually going unsustainably fast to keep up with him. If he runs off at a sprint I have to just watch him go and then try to hurry up and catch him when he exhausts himself and slows to a walk.  The other side of this coin is that if we go too far (we did six miles around Mystic, CT) he really feels it the next day.

Oh, the reasons not to run are myriad.  Maybe we took a hike the day before and are sore. Maybe one of us got devoured by insects and was too itchy to run. Maybe we have to be somewhere by a certain time, or we have a full day of sightseeing that we’re eager to start. And soon the routine develops without the run in it.

This is not to say that we haven’t run at all, but it has been far less often than we intended.  We’ve taken a few hikes as well, which are a really nice way to move your body and also to experience a place at ground level and a walking pace. This trip has been a good laboratory for the rest of the year as we’ve learned what works, what doesn’t, and what we need to change. One of the primary things we’ve learned is that we need to slow way down and stay in the same place for more extended periods of time if we want to experience a particular place on more than a highlights or surface level, and be able to do things like laundry, blogging, and yes, running.  It’s a paltry excuse, but one of the reasons we haven’t run more is because we haven’t had the time.  We’ve been a lot busier than we ever were at home, on a day to day basis. There hasn’t really been much time to read a book and no time to watch tv (the latter is just fine).  We have digital versions of five or so magazines that I haven’t looked at September or October issues of.  This is not to complain, but it does explain why when the option is run or sit here and go through photos or g-chat with friends and family we’re missing, we might just opt to sit.

Then the other side of that coin is the eating.  If you’re Facebook friends or you follow us on Google+, then you’ve seen the way we’ve eaten our way across the country. We’ve had such amazing food, almost everywhere we’ve gone. Local things, things we won’t get anywhere else.  Lovely pie, local ice cream, the best gelato, aged cheddar, tea sandwiches, scones, salt water taffy, fudge, fresh from the oven popovers, lobster mac and cheese, cheesesteaks, and cider doughnuts. It’s hard to pass up when you know you may never come back this way again. (I’m looking at you, Montana.)  On my part I think the steriods I was on from the bug bites made things worse from an appetite standpoint as well.  I wasn’t just eating more often I was eating more volume with that.

It all boils down to too much sitting and way too much eating.  What else is there to do for four or five or even eight hours in the car? It’s a fix-all. It cures boredom, give you something to do, and for me at least it’s a little mood elevator that also alleviates all the little crabby stresses of travel—bad traffic, spousal bickering, anxiety about where to stay the night or just plain old bad mood-itis.  Some days I can just wake up grouchy, and without the run I find that food soothes my ruffled feathers.  You can see how this is vicious cycle.

I don’t know about David, but I stepped on a scale at Urgent Care in Montana, and once in New Hampshire at the house we were staying at there, and I’m up probably 5-7 pounds.   For someone who has lost a significant amount of weight in the past and knows how hard it is to lose it, this is somewhat terrifying.  But even my anxiety about that seems to lead me right back to eating something to drown out that anxiety. Funny how that works.  I’m pretty sure David’s relationship with food isn’t this messed up, but even though I’ve been at a steady weight for years, apparently all my bad habits and excuses were still there, waiting for their opportunity to exploit a situation.

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I do think the general availability of fattening, calorie-dense food and the inactivity that comes with a road trip are factors that won’t follow us as often on the international portion of the trip. We’ll be trying to eat cheaply and cook for ourselves, so that should lend itself to healthier dinners.  And let’s face it—when it comes to food it’s harder to find unhealthier food than American food.  Is this a pipe dream? I don’t know.  And will it be easier to run in foreign countries where we don’t speak the language and more often than not the dogs run half-wild?  I don’t know.  Time will tell.  But I do believe that it helps to just slow down and leave a little more time in our schedule for it.  And that is largely within our control. 

Additionally, I want to find an app for our Samsung players with the sun salutation yoga poses.  Crouching over a pretty flower trying to get the right shot tells me that I need some more flexibility. And we need a few cross-fit type workouts that can be done with with our body weight (think squats, lunges, burpees).  And one that tracks calories. I’ve used Lose It! in the past with moderate success.

It all boils down to what I know about my health and weight at home—you have to make the time for it. You have to make it a priority.  And at the end of the day, you have to admit that you’re responsible for your body, what you do with it, and what you put in it.  I believe it is possible to maintain a healthy weight while traveling.  The keys for me are that in order to lose weight I need to know exactly how many calories are going in, and how many are going out. And I need to be active. Very active.  I just need to make sure I get more of that each day. Nothing exciting or easy. Just knowing that the opportunity to take a year off and travel doesn’t mean that I get to take time off from being healthy. I hope I’m figuring it out.

To have another popover, or to not have another popover?