Last is the New First

The alarm rang at 6:15 am on Saturday July 1st; a very special Canada day as the country was celebrating our 150th Anniversary of Confederation. I had registered to participate in a 10K race, however, planned on walking the distance.

I’ve done many walking races, some as difficult as marathons, half marathons and of the last 6 years or so, only 10k events. I’m far from being a runner, I’m seldom a jogger, and mostly experience the race from the back of the file.

I get to see the elite front end runners coming back on the second half of the race, well into my second or third kilometer. It’s something not too many people see as they typically follow the front runners, usually 2 or 3 kilometers behind. I get to see them coming towards me, their feet landing with little sound, their gait long, their bodies elegant and strong… what a beautiful sight! They swish by me and disappear quickly as they aim to break their personal best record.

I get to thank the volunteers as I rapidly walk by, with enough time to share a few words with them. Running fast doesn’t allow one to do this! I don’t have to crowd in to try to get some water at the water station, I’m typically one of the last they serve. I am typically alone in the photographs the run team take, no chance of losing sight of me among the big crowds of runners.

I am proud to say I completed the 10K. Despite wanting to go back to bed, I completed the race. Despite the rain pouring as I arrived, forcing some runners to return to their homes, I completed the race. Despite the start of the event in torrential rain, I completed the race. Despite shivering at some point and getting a huge leg cramp at kilometer 4, I completed the race.

I finished third from last. There were still lots of people at the finish line encouraging us “slow ones” as we arrived. And, that is what counts. I finished, and I even was able to shave off almost 4 minutes from my last 10K race. Ultimately, it’s not about the completion time. It’s about getting out there, regardless of the adversity, and finishing what I set out to do.

It’s always a new race, a new setting, new challenges and the key is to simply push through the effort and meet my personal goals. Last place is MY first place – keeping my personal promise to complete my event.

  before the racesoaking wet arrival

Managing my beautiful mind

Ah! Our amazing mind… it can lead us to impressive results, create incredible imaginary stories, regulate our bodies and a zillion more things. Our mind however can also play some interesting tricks on us, as I was about to discover.

Many of you know that I have a big project on the go, that of becoming much healthier. One of my favorite activity, other than walking, is swimming. I am far from being an efficient swimmer. Until 5 years ago, I could never swim with my face in the water. With guidance and perseverance, I did manage to learn how to swim the proper crawl method, but my endurance always was poor.

Typically I swam in a 25 meter pool. My routine is to swim breast stroke or side stroke until I get warmed up, then I attempt to swim the crawl, which is difficult for me, but I can usually do the length and with a very short rest, continue for a few more lengths. The intent was to build up my endurance.
Flash forward to two years later, ie, one week following my early return from my Camino. My regular pool is closed for maintenance, and I leveraged another pool which is 50 meters long. In my mind however, that was WAY too long. After all, I was just used to doing 25 meters at a time.
deep end pool
And, wouldn’t you know, the slope for the deep end starts just a bit past the 25 meter mark. Somehow, my mind was set that I couldn’t go past that mark. I tried for two entire weeks yet each time I would see the beginning of the slope to the deep end, I would have problems with my breathing and my endurance. Even I, who tends to talk myself in or out of just about anything could not get past that marker UNTIL… I found myself resting at the deep end after finishing the last length breast stroke style when I remembered I was to start the crawl at the beginning of that length.

“Well, I thought, I guess I can do it now” and I headed off thinking I would likely stop again 20 meters or so short. Much to my complete surprise, I got to that point and since I was in the shallow end, it seemed my mind didn’t see the anchored marker that previously kept me from finishing the length, and I just kept going the entire 50 meters. I pondered a moment and thought “I must have broken through the barrier” so I headed back again but to my dismay, the moment I saw the change in depth I tanked.

I side stroked to the end again, and after a moment or two of frustration, I headed back to the shallow end. Again, I did the entire distance without any issues. At that point, I was determined to overcome that visual block. I admit I haven’t quite managed that, BUT I do know I can at least do the 50 meters by starting off at the deep end.

I know eventually I will overcome this challenge but it totally amazes me that even though I KNOW I can do the 50 meters, I still am bound by that hard stop. Amazing that my mind is struggling with this however I am determined to conquer that invisible yet powerful obstacle.

Incredible what our mind can do, and surprising the power it can have over things that we struggle to control. In the grand scheme of things this is a small and inconsequential thing, but to me, it’s the game of mind over matter.

I wonder how many other “artificial” obstacles I have let impede my plans, how many times I’ve bowed out thinking this was not something I could do, or given up too early.

My determination is strong and soon the lane in both directions will be mine.
Now, please excuse me while I go and visualize this conquest!

Renewed focus on returning to my Camino

SAMSUNG CAMERA PICTURESEverything was set; my backpack was as light as could be, my plans were open enough to allow for changes, but focus enough to get my end goal accomplished. Although my first two Camino weeks were challenging in many ways, nothing was set to prepare me for a halt… not just a halt for a few days, but the complete halt of my third Camino.

For the past fifteen years or so, my sleeping habits had taken a toll for the worse. A byproduct of a corporate traveler’s life, my hours of work were very high and my hours of sleep were low. Along with this were less than stellar eating habits; late evening dinners consisting of whatever was left in the office kitchen, in my hotel room or rented apartment, late dinners with clients, airport food and grab-and-eat moments… Exercise? mostly running from one meeting to the next or trying to catch that late flight. Years of such a lifestyle took its toll on me. When I retired, I counted more than 7 daily medication going into a very tired and out of shape body.

My goals upon retirement were three fold; First to wean myself off the too frequent medications, second to get back to an active lifestyle and third (and hopefully as the byproduct of the active lifestyle) to get to a healthier weight. Well, one byproduct of my not so healthy lifestyle of the past was the need of a CPAP machine to help me sleep… oh, and actually not die IN my sleep due to obstructed airways. I’ve been on the machine for almost 3 years, and although I’ve made progress with some of my goals (down to two meds, both low dosage) and a much more active lifestyle, I still have some way to go for a healthier weight.

Last summer, I completed my Camino and chose not to bring my heavy CPAP machine with me. I managed to make it through with less than optimal sleep, but no other consequences. This year, thinking I would do the same and I headed out without my CPAP. Compared to last year, I was in a bit stronger body taking less medications.

After walking more than 160 km (averaging 20 km per day) I woke up in the middle of the night with strong cheat pains and problems breathing. I panicked, woke up the pension owner, and grabbed a cab to the nearest hospital. Turns out, after a few tests and some resting time, that the doctors discovered my body had gotten used to the CPAP and no longer could do without, and because of the exhausting walks, my body no longer could wake itself up without putting undue stress on my heart and lungs. I needed to return home immediately to deal with this challenge.

Rest assured, I realized how lucky I was to wake up – severe sleep apnea can cause a person to simply not wake up enough to get breathing again… but I still am upset that I am at this stage. The good thing, it CAN be reversed! It really can, and the solution is simple. I didn’t say EASY, I said SIMPLE! When I get to my healthy weight, I will no longer need this CPAP machine that has allowed me deep sleep for the past 3 years. However much I appreciate what it has given me, I do not want to be slave to this machine. Therefore, my focus is SIMPLE and anchored… and I will get there by what I like to do best, WALKING!

After all, walking is what I was doing on the Camino de Santiago – – I got to Burgos from Pamplona, and now will virtually walk my way to Santiago and will focus on doing everything to get me ready to return to my Camino in late summer of 2015.
The focus is set, the tools are in place (water for swimming, treckers for walking, music for inspiration).
My feet are walking feet, and from this point on, my focus to get those feet back on the Camino!
Happy trails!

Gambatte Kudasai – Do Your Best

I am reading a great book by a local author Robert C. Sibley, a journalist for the Ottawa Citizen, about his pilgrimage in Japan. He walked over 1,400 km and visited 88 Temples along the way.

In this book, he speaks of a phrase that is often said between pilgrims doing this trek – “Gambatte Kudasai – Do your best.” When I read this, I immediately thought of our bootcamp sessions.

I will not lie, I am out of shape. Decades of office work, long plane rides, hotel food and client dinners peppered by limited movements left me carrying additional weight that increased over time. Although the past few years post retirement have seen me walk over 1,100 km in Spain (over two trips), eating better and getting much better sleep, I still have a way to go to get fitter.

Mama Hanes7 weeks ago, a friend of mine spoke about her experience at a local bootcamp and I decided that I need to up my game. Inspired by my brother who lost more than 75 lbs and now a runner, I signed up, along with my two daughters for a 5:30 AM, three times a week bootcamp.

I admit that I was scared and had my doubt as to whether I could even finish a workout, let alone try to keep up with the others. Some of the members had been attending the bootcamp 5 days a week, and this for a few years!

Our local group, led by the fun and encouraging instructor Ristow, is comprised of amazing athletes who are the picture of encouragement. When newbies like us start, the experienced athletes pick up the reps we aren’t able to complete, run back to get the straggler (most of times, ME), support and encourage each other.

All that is asked of us, is to Gambatte Kudasai – Do your best! Today marked our 7th week, and somehow my body finally decided to cooperate with me. For the first time in 7 weeks, I was able to keep up with the running, able to carry with another team member, not once, but twice, MISERY (a huge bar weighing more than 50 lbs or so), run hills and carry a sandbag.

I don’t think I have EVER felt such a rush at being able to almost keep up with the group. I still have a long long way to go, but I am so excited at seeing the changes in my body, the increase strength and stamina, and my ability to recover after a hard workout.

They say that change needs to happen from the inside, and we need to be ready for it. I can honestly say that I am THERE! The change is happening little by little and I am so amazed that even at my tender age of 53, I can say “It’s never too late”.

I am absolutely sure that the credit doesn’t only rest with me, but with the support of everyone surrounding me. I now understand that even though I am still last in line, the important element is that I am DOING MY BEST – Gambatte Kudasai!

Thanks everyone for your amazing support! We are now opting for bootcamp 5 days a week – and I look forward to giving it my all each and every time!
Happy weekend –
Mama Hanes (My bootcamp nickname!)

Applying all the learnings…

I am now almost at the end of Week 10 of my project. I’m still applying all the new knowledge and old nuggets of information I have documented, and it has become second nature to question most of my food choice to ensure I have either
– chosen the best type of food
– chosen the best cooking method when applicable
– chosen the right portions
– chosen the right mix (low carb, high veggies and lesser meat)

I’m realizing now that the web is so vast, one could lose one’s self searching simply one type of food, or cooking method or pros and cons. The Dr. Oz show was my starting point, but now I’ve expanded my searches to other links, suggestions from friends and buddies of the weight challenge group, news articles etc. Therefore, starting today, my project will be re-titled “my 20 week journey to a better me” – and this way, I’m not focusing ONLY on the Dr. Oz show, although it will continue to be a focused source of information.

My foot is still causing me some discomfort but with the care of Dr Greg, my chiropractor I have experienced good progress in managing this plantar fasciitis. I continue to use both the elliptical unit at the gym and my trusty kettlebells at home. kb fireplace

Yes, those are my kettlebells in front of my fireplace! I leverage commercials during some of my few but favorite TV shows to determine my swing durations – works great, and by the time an hour show has been viewed, I have done more than 120 kettlebell swings (of various types).

I appreciate the great links some of the readers have sent me, and I’m always open to new ideas, suggestions and insights so please, feel free to send me more! My focus will now change to be more aimed at walking; walking with and without my backpack – – The Camino is fast approaching, and depending on the weather, the walks will likely be a mix of indoor (treadmill, buildings) and outdoor options.
You will start seeing not only healthy eating, healthy exercising but also healthy outlook as I get closer to my departure date for my Camino.

As always, I wish you good choices and balance of life!
Life is grand,

8 Week follow up

Jan 13th marks the completion of 8 weeks of my 20 week project to a healthier me.
I’ve lost an additional 3 lbs, bringing my 8 week total to 8.5 lbs. May not seem like much to those who are dieting every day, but the reality is, I’m NOT dieting.

I’m incorporating life changes for a healthier me. Cutting down on snacks, and although the holidays time was a time where I did eat my share of frosted gingerbread boots! (NO, not all of those… )
ginger boots

I also brought on a bad case of plantar fasciitis – which I am now taking care of carefully. I stood way too long on the concrete floor at the craft fair. Now I see a chiropractor, get ultrasound treatments and painful massages to break down the scar tissues… (ouch). I am doing swinging kettlebells, and working on the elliptical for now.

I’ve also joined a group where we are challenging ourselves to lose a few pounds and increase the quality of our meals, workouts and overall life! The bonus is a little challenge where the 3 participants with the highest percentage of loss of weight will earn a few $$… nothing wrong with friendly competition!

So little changes can add up to good losses – and even if 8.5 over 2 months doesn’t seem like much, if it continues this way, it’ll be 20 lbs over 20 weeks! That is 7 lbs less than my backpack that I will be wearing for 7 weeks while walking more than 800 km on the Camino de Santiago.

Life is grand!

Week 7 – Day 5

Things happen…. notice I did not say “%%^& happens” although it could fit! Even our best intentions sometimes are challenged by unexpected events. This could be a cold, flu, sprain, event in the family that requires our time (limiting workout times) etc.

In my case, my situation was self-inflicted although unplanned. Since I knew I was going to be standing for many many hours during the 10 day craft fair, I went out and bought really comfy shoes with a nice insole, rubber sole, and cushioned – and I bought 1/2 size larger thinking this would be more comfortable if my feet ended up swelling by the end of the day.

At around day 5 of 10, I started feeling pain in my heel, especially when getting out of bed. I didn’t pay much attention figuring it was simply due to the amount of standing I was doing throughout the day. And I was right, but the smart thing would have been to strap on my runners instead of what I thought were perfect standing shoes.

By the end of the craft fair, my left underfoot was burning. I did some research and determine, based on the symptoms, that I had developed plantar Fisciitis.

According to Wkiipedia, Plantar fasciitis (PF) is a painful inflammatory process of the plantar fascia, the connective tissue on the sole (bottom surface) of the foot. It is often caused by overuse of the plantar fascia or arch tendon of the foot. It is a very common condition and can be difficult to treat if not looked after properly. The plantar fascia is a thick fibrous band of connective tissue originating on the bottom surface of the calcaneus (heel bone) and extending along the sole of the foot towards the toes. It is commonly associated with long periods of weight bearing.

According to the Mayo clinic, Plantar fasciitis is particularly common in runners. In addition, people who are overweight, women who are pregnant and those who wear shoes with inadequate support are at risk of plantar fasciitis.
foot issue
Fortunately, this is reversible with stretching exercises and taping of the foot and othotics. I’ve been stretching multiple times a day and the symptoms have noticeably reduced in the past few weeks. I’ve inserted a soft gel heel pad and that also seemed to help for some time.

I’ve still done some kettlebell work and will re-incorporate my elliptical and treadmill workouts little at a time. This may have curtailed my workouts, but it is NOT a reason to forfeit ALL workouts. Here is where my trusty kettlebells come in to account.
It’s a set back, but one I can manage – so YES, %^&* happens, but our ability to find alternate things to do will ensure I don’t fall behind on my personal quest to get healthier!

Gym time… and a bit more background to this project!

Today I had a complimentary session with Russell Shaw, a trainer at the Goodlife Fitness Gym in Barrhaven. He was so informative, nice and personable and he developed a program specific to my needs – – ie, getting ready for my next Camino starting in April.

You’ll notice the duration of this project is important – it runs from Nov 19th to April 5th which is a week before my planned departure for France, where I will meet with team Nestor and start again the Camino journey.

I asked Russell to focus on my goals –
– become stronger cardio and muscle wise
– develop a stronger back (which did cause me some discomfort last Camino, mostly when walking downhill due to the weight of my backpack)
– develop stronger legs and core

The weight loss is secondary to the getting fitter.. it’s a byproduct, NOT the main focus. I think we often get too focus on the weight, and not take into consideration how stronger we become, how better our clothes feel, how longer we can walk, jog etc.

Russell (who played professional soccer, coached athletes and now is a personal trainer at the club) developed a program based on my needs. My main focus for the first four weeks will be foundation exercises – squats (at which I excel thanks to my kettlebell coach Mary Burney!) lunges, pull and push machine exercises, plank (one of my favorites) and an exercise for strengthening my back. As well, cardio will be part of the overall program.

Along with my Dr Oz show’s tips, ideas and calls to action, this will provide me with a sound approach to bettering my health and wellness!

If I just show up, the rest will follow…

It’s been a bit more than a month since my return from my 9 week stay in Buenos Aires. I finally feel I am back to a good routine. Now, many of you will be surprise that I actually like routine. Not the routine where I know what I will do every hour of the day, but simple activities that I know mark certain days and times.

My favorite re-adopted routine is my kettlebell workouts. I have to admit that often I have read that the hardest thing to do in a new workout program is simply to show up. The rest typically follows. The days are much shorter now and when 5 AM comes about, it is as black as night outside. One couldn’t really tell if it was 11 pm or 4 am. My bird chirping alarm seems to call “kettlebells, kettlebells” instead of tweet tweet. YES, I do wake up to sounds of birds, I find this a lot less jarring than the radio or even worse, a buzzing sound.

For the first few minutes needed for my brain to engage legs to move, arms to move and body to get out of bed, I too get the “oh, it would be so easy to just skip today” or “is that a sore knee I feel” but I know that if I just show up, the rest will follow. As I eat my light breakfast of PB and banana on whole wheat, part of me thinks that perhaps an extra hour sleep would be best… and I remember, “If I just show up, the rest will follow.”

The car is typically cold, the steering wheel cranks sluggishly and I tell myself “If I just show up, the rest will follow.” The streets are quiet with just a few cars here and there. I start to feel the heater do its work, and before I know it, I arrive at the center. Mary’s car is always there early, the back door opened and the colored kettlebells are waiting to get picked up by all the participants. I actually bring my own, given I have invested in the entire set. My kettlebells stay warm which is a bonus. There is nothing like a cold kettlebell that has sat in the car overnight to remind me of the value of warmth.

The workouts are not easy… not at all. In fact, I am reminded of every move typically the day after the workout. I also realize that this means my muscles are working to get stronger. Each passing week, I feel the changes, small but noticeable changes. I realized this morning that I would be two entire weeks without my kettlebells, but my trainer Mary reminded me that kettlebells are not needed to do daily squats and other exercises.

 So even though cruises typically mean eating, eating and more eating, my personal goal is to lose one pound, yes, one little pound, 16 little ounces during my cruise. The cruiseships have beautiful workout rooms and tracks around the decks. What I really enjoy about cruising is that I don’t need to chop, prepare and cook food! And believe me, there is NEVER a lack of food, good or bad on a cruiseship. My aim is to enjoy in moderation and just relax and forget about anything but enjoying each ray of sunshine, each moment of tranquility (yes, this too can be achieved even though there are thousands of passengers) and of course, the company of my sweetie.

When the deck chairs seem to invite me to sit rather than walk, when the bed seems too comfy to leave, when the thought of working out has my imagination coming up with a dozen reasons why I shouldn’t be in the gym, I will remember that all I have to do… it to show up, the rest will follow….

Sunshine, here I come!