Tag Archives: goals

New Year’s Resolutions: 2013 Style.

Just over a year ago in 2012, I began this blog and set a few New Year’s resolutions for myself. Now that we’re a couple of weeks into 2013, it’s time to reflect upon how all of that went.

First let’s look at the good stuff. Writing, obviously, was something which I succeeded in doing more of. It’s all documented in the archives of this blog. Sure, I started strong in January 2012 with 20-something posts, then deteriorated to just a handful per month. But it’s something.

I also succeeded with exercising more. My goal was to work out once per week, perhaps twice. This worked until I busted up my knees by running too much. Unfortunately, I had to slow down for a while. Laziness meant “a while” meant “until July.” But once I got back into it, I discovered a new way to run. I’d always started at full throttle right off the bat, pushing myself so hard that the workouts were excruciating. Within weeks, I suffered from shin splints, aching knees, and wobbly ankles. That changed. This July, I started slow and built up my mileage slowly. Soon enough, I was actually enjoying my runs. In October, I completed my first 5K race. In December, I notched a 10K into my belt. I can’t say that the race was fun, but I’m proud of myself for completing it.

You can kind of see me behind a streamer at the very end

You can kind of see me behind a streamer, but that’s me finishing my first race!

How can I build upon this in 2013? Well, for starters, I’m registered for a half-marathon. Gulp. Perhaps I will do more racing this year; it has been something that I’ve enjoyed, and it keeps me motivated to run often. I’d like to exercise at least twice a week, no matter what. My mindset right now is such that that is an easy goal, but it’s double from last year’s, so I’m ready to go with it. Maybe by 2014 I’ll commit to exercise three times a week!

My Spanish improved, so I can’t count myself as a failure on that resolution. It’s still not where I’d like it to be. I don’t see myself becoming fluent until we are able to be immersed in it, that is, living in a Spanish-speaking place. One of these days we will! On the bright side, while it is hard to comprehend the full range of Spanish dialects, I can understand my boyfriend’s almost perfectly. No more secrets, sweetheart.

Something that I’m determined to improve this year is my guitar playing. And I actually just purchased something to make that a little easier: a little New Year’s gift to myself, if you will. It’s a classical acoustic-electric guitar! I don’t think my resolution last year was specific enough. This year, I’m saying it boldly: I want to learn classical guitar, like flamenco-style. This should make it easier.

My new guitar. Image from Guitar Center.

Yes, I have finally upgraded my guitar. Although I loved the 3/4-scale steel-string acoustic model that my nana bought me when I started taking lessons at 14, it was time to get a grown-up guitar. This seems like a good place to start. Acoustic-electric and full-scale. It goes very well with the lesson books that I’ve purchased. I do intend to become a real guitarist. No more awkward strumming!

That is all. We’ll check back here in 2014, at which time I should be a master guitarist and also incredibly thin and fit.

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The New Workout Plan

In the last month, I’ve competed in two 5K events and I’m ready to set a schedule for the upcoming months. There’s no rest for the weary.

(Unless it’s raining outside. Then I will rest, no matter what. Because now matter how hardcore you are, there’s no need to run in the rain).

As much as I hated running when I first started, I’ve grown to enjoy it somewhat. Now that my muscles have strengthened and my cardiac endurance has increased, a brisk five-mile jog feels less like torture and more like freedom. Sure, it hurts sometimes. But I’ve learned that it’s easiest to keep moving through the pain, and eventually it goes away.

The 5K races were fun, but I’m beginning to focus on longer efforts. As exciting as it is to quickly and easily run four miles, my workouts need to be longer than what that now takes me. For fat-burning, endurance-building purposes, I need to be exercising for a minimum of 45-60 minutes. So I’ve been pushing myself to go just a little bit more.

Endurance is key

That brings me to my next point: it’s becoming critical to have a workout buddy. I’m lucky that Marie is around. She used to run competitively and is naturally incredibly fast, so working with her pushes my limits. And she finds it helpful to run with me, since my pace helps her complete longer runs and build endurance. When you know you’re accountable to someone, you’re more likely to complete your workouts. Plus, I just enjoy running with her. Marie and I both live in Midtown, but about two miles apart – on opposite sides of Piedmont Park. This means we can warm up by jogging to the midpoint, then have some great terrain to tackle together.

This past Sunday, we had plans to run at 9:00 am. We would meet in the middle and then take the newly opened Beltline trail for our distance run. Well, my internal clock usually wakes me up by 8:30, even on weekends, so I didn’t bother setting an alarm. Unfortunately, I woke up at 9:04 to Marie’s 25-minute-old text message: “leaving my house in 5-10!” That put her on foot, somewhere very close to my place. I was groggy, half-asleep, and would have loved returning to fully asleep. But three minutes later, I was out the door because I couldn’t let her down. (And she was nice enough to not give me a hard time when I caught her much closer to my house than hers).

Piedmont Park – not a bad view for a run

(Anyway, an hour and a half later, I was showered and back in bed. No harm done).

Where am I going with this? To continue my quest of fitness, I need friends and goals. And I’ve got my next goal: the Beltline 10K on December 1. Goal time? I’d love to break 60 minutes.

Here we go…

(All photos are mine).

Adventure: Running My First 5k

Crossing the finish line of my first 5k

I look like I’m dying as I cross the finish line.

Here I am trying to reformat my blog, to feature more recipes related to my adventures. And since I’ve actually been exercising lately, I wrote a whole post about my plans to run a 5k. The post ended with a lovely recipe for salad dressing: power food at its finest. Since the race was planned for the end of October, I wrote my post and put it on ice. I needed to make salad, photograph it with dressing, and then post that sucker with enough time to motivate me to stick with my workout plan.

Then I kept getting emails at work about a fundraising 5K that the university’s cancer research center was sponsoring. The registration fee was reasonable and included a sweet long-sleeve shirt. The race was two weeks earlier than the one I was already planning to complete, but on a whim, I decided to go for it.

That was how I found myself at the starting corral of a road race for the first time in my life.

I’ve been training for the Monster Dash 5k with the goal of breaking 30 minutes. On the morning of the university event, I was terrified. Although I’ve competed in my share of athletic events, they never depended exclusively on my physical fitness and preparations. (The triathlon didn’t count – I was competing just to finish, not to perform). What if I wasn’t ready for it? I was short two weeks of training, after all. All morning on the way to the race, I debated whether or not to shoot for my goal, or save the effort for the Monster Dash in two weeks.

To make matters more exciting, I had been convinced that the race started at 9:00 am. My amazing cheering section and I arrived at the course at 8:00 or so. We took our time retrieving my bib and exploring the scenery. At one point, we noticed that someone was leading a group stretching session. Then we noticed that everyone was slowly migrating towards the starting line. “Let’s check it out,” we decided, and that’s how two non-racers wound up in the chute. They said farewell and left me there, and as I jogged in place and tried to stretch my calves, I casually asked the girls behind me why we were lined up so early.

“It’s 8:30!” I said. “Are we supposed to just stand here for another half hour?”

They looked at me like I was dumb. “Um, the race is starting now.” Sure enough, I heard a horn, and the crowd slowly began to move through the gate.

It was slow. Packed elbow-to-elbow with my fellow runners, getting through the gate was quite an ordeal. But finally we were through, and I began jogging cautiously. The first mile was a mess: I passed quite a few people, and in turn was passed by some. I tried to ignore that and focus on maintaining a sustainable pace. Fortunately, running slowly has never been a problem for me, and I happily succeeded at my goal.

Things picked up at the mile marker. Since I was listening to music from my iPhone on an armband, and using my Nike Running app to track my progress, I received a welcome interruption in the form of my pacekeeper. (Use that app if you can. It’s amazing). Fortunately, my pace was right on target with a 10-minute mile. I was feeling pretty good, surprisingly. So in that moment I reconsidered my goal of breaking 30 minutes and upped the ante a little bit. The course was starting to clear out, and I enjoyed having a little more space to myself. To make things more exciting, I passed my cheering section around the two-mile point.

Goofy smile for my cheering section

Seeing them made me happy, so I waved and mugged like a champ as I passed. But then things got a little dicey. Suddenly, I discovered, I couldn’t breathe so well. My legs burned and struggled and fought as I tried to make them move. I had reached a stage of utter exhaustion.

So I’m going to estimate that the last six minutes of the run were spent in sheer panic as I wondered whether I could keep going. This part of the course was sort of twisty with lots of turns. I tried to remember where the finish line was, and with every turn I peered ahead anxiously, just hoping to see that gate. Although I really wanted to stop running, I repeated in my head, “Keep going! Keep moving!” And surprisingly, I did. It was really an exercise in mental toughness, just trying to forget the pain and focus on finishing strong. Those of you who have been running for years already know this, I’m sure – but hey, for my first race, it was quite an experience!

In the end, I crossed the finish line with a gun time of 29:56.07. It was awesome, because I saw my cheering section as soon as I was through – such a relief! I could hardly breathe, and I wanted to puke, but I managed to gasp “Guys! I beat my goal!”

And the next day, when results were posted online, I learned that I’d not only beat my goal, but crushed it: my chip time, or total time on the course, was 29:30.23. It wasn’t easy, and it hurt like hell, but it felt surprisingly good at the same time.

Next, I’m competing in the Monster Dash 5k in just a week. I would like to break 29 minutes at this race, so my training plan will include some sprints during my longer runs. We’ll see what happens.

You can kind of see me behind a streamer at the very end

On Mastering a Second Language

When I was a baby, my parents spoke to me only in English, so naturally I grew into a child who could only speak English. And as it went, that never really changed.

After seven years of Hebrew school, I could read the Hebrew language and understand a few key words. But immediately after cashing in my Bat Mitzvah, the comprehension disappeared to the point that it’s like I never learned anything at all.

Spanish was a little different. Thanks to some great teachers over five years of high school and college classes, I found myself enjoying the learning process and actually picking up some of the language. My conversational skills held up when my family traveled to Costa Rica senior year of high school; while far from fluent, I could converse haltingly with just about anyone. And with the help of a small flask of coffee liquor in La Selva, my first real one-on-one Spanish conversation took place with an overnight security guard named Antonio. The more I drank, the more Spanish I spoke. We poured our hearts out on that jungle night and I understood everything he told me. It was nothing short of miraculous. I’ll never forget Antonio and I hope that he was able to overcome his intimacy issues.

Aside from brief interludes of travel, until recently, my life had been mostly conducted in English. It’s hard to maintain a language when you never speak it. After my last Spanish class in 2005, my limited knowledge started to fade away.

My boyfriend’s first language is Spanish, but we met in English, which he speaks perfectly. Shortly afterwards, when I told him I could speak a little Spanish, he was delighted. He came at me with a barrage of words so fast and intense that I could only respond with… “¿Que?” And from then on, we stuck mostly to English. Unless, of course, we were drinking. Or texting – the iPhone’s international keyboard has a remarkable capacity to help with pesky accent marks or misspellings.

The more I texted, the more I realized that I really do know a lot of Spanish words. But my ability to follow them spoken aloud was limited. What good is a language if you can only write it? It looked like my future in Spanish-speaking places would consist of walking around with a notebook and pen, writing notes to anyone I wanted to talk to. After I met some of Xavier’s family for the first time, it was hard to imagine anything else. They spoke mostly in Spanish, and although everyone in the group spoke slowly so that I could follow, I still found myself hopelessly lost. If I tried to contribute something to the conversation, all I received were strange looks – I’d completely missed the point. Lesson learned: real-life conversations don’t work well when you’re filling in the blanks a la Mad Libs. The only way I could converse was one-on-one at a snail’s pace, or when fortified with alcohol.

Clearly, more practice was necessary.

The next year, we arrived in Ecuador. Despite the fact that I’d spent a year listening to Spanish music, watching every Spanish movie that hit Redbox, and constantly attempting Spanish conversation with my native-speaker roommate, things were confusing. As anyone who has learned another language knows, the line to understanding is best crossed with deep attention. If you pour all of your focus and concentration into following a conversation, you will be amazed at your prowess and understanding. “I do know this!” you will marvel to yourself as the lively conversation blossoms around you.

After about six minutes, you’re mentally exhausted. Your gaze bounces around the group, following the speakers, smiling when they do, frowning when things get serious, just trying to stay engaged – and then you realize you’re just going through the motions and your only thoughts are in English and they’re something like “oh, no. I don’t get any of this!” because all of the words have become strange sounds. You mentally slap yourself awake, re-engage, lock onto the conversation. Wait, what’s that word? You ask someone quietly, hoping it will make you look good: you’re comprehending enough to have caught a word you don’t know in the midst of everything. “Laverde? Oh, no, la verde – the green one.” Yeah, you knew that. Facepalm. It’s over. Maybe tomorrow you’ll try again.

The other problem is that lots of people want to practice your language. You’ll try your best to converse en Espanol and they reply without a second’s thought in English. While this is incredibly helpful and comforting during those times of mental exhaustion – and those times are numerous – sometimes you just want an immersion. You want to be forced to speak the language, because only speaking it constantly will make you fluent.

When I was actually able to speak Spanish , I realized just how many random words I have picked up from living with a native speaker – and not all of it’s good. The first incident happened when we were in the car with a group of family members. Driving into Quito, a motorcyclist cut us off and Xavier had to jam on the brakes. Everyone was jostled a little bit. Always happy to comment on a traffic situation, I muttered something that we say frequently around the house, thinking it meant “dumb motorcyclist!” There were gasps. The word was actually an incredibly crude way to refer to a part of the male anatomy. Fortunately, this was the second day that we were spending with Xavier’s mom – so it wasn’t like that was her first impression of me, or anything.

Another day, we were pulling out of a parking garage and I opened our car window to give the attendant a tip. “Here, juebon,” I called to get his attention – I’d heard this word often when Xavier talks to his friends. In context, it sounds like “dude” or “buddy.” Well, when everyone gasped and then cracked up laughing, I learned it actually is referring to a bodily orifice.

Lesson learned: learning words in context is great, but be sure to clarify their meaning before using them yourself.

One of my goals for 2012 was to improve my Spanish. How am I doing?

After our trip, I’d say much better. But there’s a long way to go.

Once a coxswain, always a coxswain

As a real coxswain: winning NY States in ’06

So, let’s get the good news out of the way first: I ran 10 – yes, ten – miles this week. For the first time since I set a goal of running four 30-minute sessions per week, I actually accomplished it.  I know there are people who run 10 miles in a single session, and I applaud you people. Maybe someday I’ll join you. But for now, coming back from a long hiatus, four 2.5-mile runs this week feels pretty awesome. I wanted to start slow so I could strengthen my back before getting into longer runs. This is critical since I tend to throw out my back like it’s my job, especially when I don’t run for a while and then bust out a super-intense five-miler. The slow approach seems to be working well, and I haven’t had any back pain.

Now let’s get the bad news out there: I think I ruined someone’s day today.

Here’s what happened. I was running my standard lap, the 1.25 mile loop around my house and the surrounding neighborhood. Long enough to keep things interesting, close enough to return home should I experience cramps, thirst, or tears. As I approached a crossroads with the main street, I saw two girls. They were jogging together, not quickly, and they made a left onto the road that I was following. No big deal. Then, at my snail’s pace, I began to gain on them from behind. This was slightly annoying. For some reason I felt weird about passing them, probably because I have lots of deep-seated doubts about my abilities as a runner. We began ascending a hill. About twenty meters up, one of the girls slowed her jog to a walk. Since I was going strong, I knew I was going to pass her fast.

But once a coxswain, always a coxswain. Despite the fact that I wasn’t thinking clearly (all the blood was rushing to my legs and lungs to fuel the run, my brain left completely out of the circulatory loop), I decided that I’d try to motivate her as I ran by. This was a perfect stranger. Now that I’m safely ensconced in my home office and my run is over, I have no idea what I was thinking, except I felt really guilty about going past someone who was having a hard time and wanted to show some encouragement.

So as I ran by her I yelled “You got this!” She kind of jumped, looked at me, and laughed awkwardly – you know, a standard reaction when a stranger screams at you in the street. Then she said “Oh, I’m so out of shape.”

I replied in a ragged gasp – “You can still do it! This is only my fourth run back out.” Intending to convey, of course, that she could just try really hard and run through the pain. But what I actually conveyed was something along the lines of ‘haha, I’m so awesome and I’m going to rub it in!’ I knew that as soon as she looked at me with something between horror and annoyance, and felt so bad. Instead of stopping to explain, though, I ran away. Because I was running. And it felt like a good out.

Girl-who-was-jogging-slash-walking-around-Piedmont-Heights today, if you ever read this, I’m sorry. I was just trying to help.

My outburst gave me something to cringe over and consider as I finished the run. The years of rowing definitely contributed a lot to how I exercise. It’s ingrained in me to always finish strong on a workout, ending in exhaustion. And I’m completely obsessed with my Garmin Forerunner, of which my coach was quite a fan. The technology has really moved forward in just the last five years. My college rowing Forerunner was a giant brick that strapped onto your wrist and prevented any hand movement, much like a splint. My grown-up Forerunner is a pretty gray and pink watch that allows me to hold Riley’s leash, daintily wave ‘thanks’ to cars that let me pass, and re-tie my hair. Victory, 2012.

Tomorrow is Sunday and I’m going to attempt three laps, that means four whole miles. Will update if I’m still alive. Hope everyone has a great weekend!