Saturday, November 30, 2013

10 Things I Want My Children to Understand About Exercise, Health and Body Image

What is a perfect body anyway?

Every day, we all receive conflicting messages. Messages on how we should dress, what we should eat, even messages on how we should look on the outside and feel on the inside. As a parent, helping our kids sift through the minefield of messages they take in at school, through the media and even unwitting family and friends is down right overwhelming. As I watch my kids receive these cues about their bodies, exercise and health and from these external sources, I feel more and more compelled to give them a little advice.

Here are the 10 things that I hope that my children will remember that I have taught them about fitness, health and their bodies:

1) Don't allow someone else to define what your perfect body is.
Who do you allow to determine what your perfect body should look like? Glamour Magazine? Marketing agencies? I am sure if you asked many professionals who use their bodies as their livelihood, they would not agree on what a perfect body is. Even amongst elite athletes, I would guess there would be disagreement. An Olympic sprinter and an Olympic gymnast have very different needs for their body, thus different ideals. What do you want your body to do for you? Complete a marathon? Take you to the summit of every mountaintop in your state? Backpack through Europe? Your body is your vehicle in life. If you want it to take you through life to neat places and do neat things, your ideal body is one that is prepared to do so. If you don't mind spending life on the couch with a litany of medications to get through the day, there is a perfect body for that too.

Where do you want your body to take you?

2)  I know you are watching me.
I know you watch me when I work out. I know you watch what I eat. I know you watch me everyday and learn from my behavior. I want you to know that I love myself, with all of my imperfections and talents. I want the same for you.
The kids having a crack at the traverse wall at a Spartan Race. Turns out, they want to be like me.

Spartan Fenway race
3) Know the difference between real food and junk food.
You are what you eat. Just like any machine, if you fuel your body with junk on a regular basis, what you will get from it will be junk. Know that real food does't come in packages.

4) Avoid self-deprecating conversations.
I have never understood the custom, but it is seems as though there is an expectation for reciprocity of self-criticism, often with near strangers. The conversation often begins with "oh, how I dislike my...(insert body part)". The second person responds with a criticism of themselves, often harsher than the opening comment. I have seen this escalate, or to be resolved with reassuring commentary from each party toward the other. I have no idea what social role this behavior plays. There is no good time or place for self-loathing. Don't waste your life worrying about some silly little imperfections that bear no role in your health. Every time we say something negative about ourselves, we are one step closer to believing it. If this type of conversation is the only way to make friends, find different people to hang out with.

5) You will only be given one body.
Your body is a privilege. The sole responsibility of taking care of it lies on you and only you. Don't expect that it is someone else's job to decide what is right for you. Take ownership.

6) I don't go to the gym because I ate cheesecake.
Working out isn't a one-time event. I don't workout because I think I am fat. Fitness is part of me: a habit that I do everyday because it makes me feel good. It is as simple as that. Enjoy the piece of cheesecake. Enjoy the run. Enjoy the journey.

Do what you love. Love what you do.

7) Don't be afraid to push yourself.
Life should be about fun, but sometimes fun is a result of hard work and sweat. Nothing is impossible: no dream is silly. The best of life is always worth working for and is not always found on the path of least resistance.

8) No one defines your limits but you.
It is ok to determine where your own boundaries are, but they should never be defined by anyone else.

9) Train to your weaknesses, but don't obsess about your imperfections.
The best way to improve at something is to take on what we are naturally weakest at. If you are long distance runner and short distances are your kryptonite, engage in more sprint work during training. With that said, a long run can be therapeutic and should always be part of your training regimen for no other reason that it feels good. When you feel strong, you are strong.

10) Don't be a bystander.
Death racing is not crazy. Neither are having Olympic dreams or wanting to run 100 miles. Dream the biggest stage you can imagine and then go for it. I hope you find something in life that you love and choose to go for it.

"...And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance."- L Womack
...and never stay on the dock when you can jump into the ocean.

" One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am - a reluctant enthusiast... a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While its still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; you will outlive the bastards."- Edward Abbey

live on the edge a little...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Fenway Sprint- How do we measure success anyway? Also another chance for you to win free US Spartan race!

Dad and Yaz. As a kid, I never could pronounce his name.
"Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan Thomas.

Rather than braving the World's Toughest Mudder this year- a race that promised to be cold, miserable, and grueling- I opted to return from my injury at the Fenway Park Spartan Sprint. Just two weeks after the Red Sox World Series win, this was guaranteed to be a more pleasant return to the sport of self-inflicted punishment that I have missed so much for the last 2.5 months.
yeah, that is the World Series trophy. Bummed I missed that.

What I love so much about the Fenway race is the energy. Rex Sox fans and huge masses of people flooding into Fenway Park from the city of Boston (over 8,000 competitors in one day) guarantee a day of people-watching like no other. Men in Superman thongs,

While it might appear that the dude on the left is... well.. inappropriate- 
I am pretty sure this is a case of a misplaced, synthetic Red Sox beard. Photo Laura Messner
bearded ladies, superhero outfits and disguised superstars
(Andy Weinberg's daughter
 caught up with  Red Sox 3rd baseman
in his Spartan debut disguised in
body paint- Photo Sloan Weinberg) 
all guarantee that the day can never be boring. The race is FAST. Up stadium stairs jumping over dozens and dozens of rows of bungy cords suspended 12 inches off the floor, dozens of plyometric exercises squeezed between traditional Spartan monkey bars, rope climbs, sandbag carrys and wall ascents provide a high intensity frenzy that takes the athlete over every inch of the stadium in under an hour.

Additionally, this year was something special for me. My dad, who had planned to come to the World Championships in Vermont back in September before I had to bag out, finally got a chance to tag along with me to witness the madness. To add to the coolness of it all, dad has been a huge Red Sox fan as long as I can remember but has not been to Fenway Park in over 30 years. This event was one for the history books as far as I was concerned.

The race was as perfect as I had hoped. Even though I am still recovering from my injury, I made up for any lack in fitness with determination. After ball slams, water carries, stairs, walls, and more stadium stairs... I nailed the erg (rowing machine) that plagued me last year. Last year, this obstacle seemed unsurmountable to me. What I have learned since then is that simply rowing back and forth quickly does nothing to make the machine "row" faster. To row faster, you have to pull harder. Forcibly. While I suspect I was probably pretty close to the 2 minute/500 meters limit, I'll never know as I did not receive the 30 burpee penalty at this obstacle. I did miss the spear throw, but somehow I have come to expect that. Self-fulfilling prophecy, I suppose.

I finished the race feeling great. A perfect end to a perfect day. Oh, wait, it was still before 8am. But a perfect ending anyway... until I made the only mistake I made all day. I checked the results before I left.

When I entered my name and bib number hoping for a top-10 finish, the computer screen came back with a placing of 18th elite female. Eighteenth? How could this be? I replayed my race in my head. I ran as fast as I could. I nailed every obstacle save the spear toss. I executed each of the plyometric exercises with precision and strong form. Eighteenth place? This was my worst placing EVER in a Spartan Race. For a moment, I felt like the day had been a failure.

I shook it off and dad and I went about our business of being tourists. Pictures on the Red Sox dugout. Dad imitating Yaz outside of Fenway Park. Being with one of my favorite people on our own adventure together unlike any we had had in years quickly brought me back to my happiest place and we enjoyed our day together as if I had won. But I didn't want to think about the race.
Red Sox fans out in full force

But didn't I win? I mean, I ran my best, nailed the strength part of the contest, and kept my focus in an all-out-sprint effort, which is always my kryptonite. I was SEVEN minutes faster than I was last year (in which I placed 7th place in the event). It may be that this year's course was shorter? Likely, it was. However, my effort was nearly 2 1/2 minutes faster per mile than last year, so clearly, I HAD improved (last year I took two penalties since I failed the erg challenge). In comparison, the winner of last year's event was only about 2.5 minutes faster or 40 sec/mile faster this year. Clearly, my impression that I had improved was not totally misguided.

But why did I allow myself to determine my own success relative to the competition? Is being beaten a failure if you have improved? This begs the question, would I rather win a race because the competition never made it to the starting line or have a PR and be beaten? Which progresses me more as an athlete?

Well, I wasn't prepared to answer that myself until the following day. One of my favorite OCR friends and 2X reigning World's Toughest Mudder, Junyong Pak, was beaten for the first time in 3 years at his title event. He didn't fall short, in fact, he went further than he ever had on a course that was arguably harder. He simply was bettered by someone who either had better training, a better plan, or was just better for the day. It was as simple as that.

Do I respect Junyong less because someone out there beat him? Absolutely not. His athletic endeavor is no less impressive to me than if he had been untouchable.  I know him well enough to know that his concessions to the winner after the event are genuine and honest. His sportsmanship, however, is one that may be unmatched in the sport and for that I am in awe.
Junyong, conceding the win.

So, it looks like if I am going to be in the top 10, I am going to need to step up my game as more athletes rise to the challenge. But really, I have no one to answer to but me.

And I killed it this weekend.

So, if you haven't raced a Spartan Race, or are totally hooked already, don't miss the airing of the World Championships on NBC Dec 7 from 4-5 pm. Also, enter here for my free giveaway for any US Spartan Race in 2013 or 2014 @

Spartan Race giveaway raffle

Giveaway ends Sat Nov 23, 2013.