A Thousand Miles.

Dear friends,

women_marathoners_lg

I am a runner. I have been for more than 20 years. I don’t look like the women above. For one, I don’t wear those silly short-shorts. (I’m prone to chafing.) Two, those strides? Well, those are not the strides of a 50-year-old, nonathletic woman running 11-minute miles. But when I’m running, in my mind, I am one of those kinds of women — strong, determined, capable.

And maybe that’s why I run. Because whether it’s real or imagined, I like feeling strong and capable. I like feeling as if I’ve done the hard thing. I like defeating the voice in my head that says “Don’t get up. No big deal.”

So after two years of mostly anemic running efforts, I have pledged to run a marathon. A different kind of marathon, one I call the year of a thousand miles.

I’ve mentioned this quest to a close circle of family and friends and they all say the same thing: Why?

And I say why do people climb mountains? Why do people compete in 26-mile marathons or Ironman competitions? Why do people push themselves physically to achieve hard things?

I don’t know. Maybe we’re trying to prove something to ourselves. To others. Maybe it’s part vanity, part human competitiveness.

Whatever my combination of factors is, I want to spend my 51st year doing something hard. Mustering discipline like never before. Digging deep and finding something new and/or startling inside me.

And that’s why I chose this particular goal. Because I’ve been running a long time. I’ve run a half marathon and multiple 8-, 10- and 12-mile runs. I’ve run 20- and 30-mile weeks many times. But I have never ran 20 miles a week for 52 weeks in a row, and that’s what a thousand-mile goal represents.

Twenty miles a week is a little less than three miles a day. To many runners, three miles is a piece of cake. But the thing is, if you take a day off, you need to run six miles the next day. If you take two days off, you need to run nine miles the next day. You can do the math — a runner can fall so far behind it’s impossible to catch up, so exceptional discipline is required. And it’s the discipline part of this puzzle that appeals to me.

I’m three weeks into this deal and I’m about five miles behind schedule. A three-day layoff due to a business trip my first week out of the gate put me immediately behind, but I’m determined to chip away at my deficit. Actually, I’m determined to bank some miles so that if I get sick or go on another business trip or have any unplanned life experience, I won’t fall seriously behind.

All of this assumes I don’t experience an injury, of course, and that’s a real wild card. I’m already feeling the increased miles in my knees and hips and I have no idea if my body will hold up under the strain. But I think it will feel good to try.

My previous personal record is a little more than 800 miles in a year (two years ago, in 2010). Close, but not so close I have confidence I can ace this.

By the way, if you read this post, you might be tempted to assume this is all a mid-life crisis. Maybe it is, but it doesn’t feel that way. If I have any great insights as I run my way through this, I’ll let you know. In the mean time, I welcome your good thoughts.

With gratitude {for two legs that have so far held me in good stead},

Joan, who has already informed Mr. Mom that if she meets her goal, she plans to throw one hell of a Thousand Mile Party on her 51st birthday

The cleanse.

Dear friends,

I mentioned in this post last week that I was going to use my vacation to get myself back on track, nutritionally speaking.

I showed you the photographic evidence that my pantry is stocked with junk.  And, dismayed by its effect on my figure, I wrote an ode to the ripening pear I have become. So starting a week ago yesterday, I vowed to turn over a new leaf — and I embarked on a “spring cleaning” of my diet.

Here’s what I’ve consumed for the last eight days:

  • fresh vegetables of many kinds
  • fresh fruit
  • brown rice and oatmeal
  • beans
  • and no more than 4 ounces of lean protein (including egg whites) a day

By the way, I’m not anti-meat. But by limiting myself to 4 ounces a day, I was enforcing a wider zone on my plate for vegetables and whole grains. It’s so tempting and so easy to fill up on meat (even lean meat) and I didn’t want to go the Atkins route.

I reduced my dairy intake dramatically by cutting out cheese and butter last week (I’ve been eating way too much for way too long).  I did put a teaspoon of cream in my morning cup of coffee and a tablespoon or two of milk in my oatmeal, but I’ve been a dairy hog for a long time so this has been a significant change.

Of course the biggest change has been 8 straight days of eating nothing out of a package, which — without intentionally trying — means I also eliminated all processed sugar. Plus, I banned the table salt because I wanted to remind myself what fresh food actually tastes like.

And what do I think?

Holy schmoley!

First off, I had a wicked headache for almost five straight days. I’m talking headaches that verged on migraines (without the vision disturbances) and that would not be tempered by over-the-counter pain killers. I went to bed with a headache, I woke up with a headache, I painted and cleaned with a headache. Finally, about mid-day on Thursday, it broke. I’m no physiologist, but I’m pretty sure my system was reacting violently to the  sudden and total elimination of processed sugar (and perhaps refined grains) from my diet.

Second, I lost 5 1/2 pounds, which is not the chief reason I did it, but boy — what a benefit!

Third, I immediately extinguished all heartburn, which had become a new and growing problem.

Finally, I just flat out feel better. I can’t explain it except to say my mind is clear (once I got past the crushing headache) and my digestive system has calmed and receded to the background (where it belongs) rather than being an omnipresent, roiling reminder of my excess.

I feel so good, I’m going to keep it up — though I’m not sure what that means. I’m sticking to the daily 4-ounce limit on protein because it encourages other good eating habits. And I’m going to stick to my low-dairy guns for at least a while longer. I need to remind myself that the world doesn’t revolve around cheese — or at least convince myself its proper place is as a condiment, not a food group. And I want to stay away from sugar and packaged foods as long as humanly possible. In my life, “humanly possible” has never been longer than about six months. So we’ll see.

The big unknown for me is bread and pasta. I know there are all sorts of healthier, whole-grain varieties out there. Heck, I have a grain mill and several buckets of whole grains in my basement and I can bake a loaf of whole wheat bread like nobody’s business. But bread and pasta are a slippery slope in my life. I have trouble controlling portions with these two foods, and I haven’t learned to consume them without drenching them in all sorts of unhealthy fats. So, I’m taking it slow in this area to see if I can moderate my gluttonous tendencies.

I mentioned to a friend that I was doing this and she said “Ouch. Sounds painful. I have absolutely no self-control. Good luck.”

If you’ve known me very long, you know I have self-control as secure as a bank vault. As long as it’s for a specified period of time. I have often said I have a self-control switch and I’m either on or off. I have struggled with moderation my entire life and I’d love to break my feast-or-famine mentality. (Ask my friends — I have yet to ease into anything in life.)

I started with a “cleanse,” which is clearly a famine strategy. Let’s see if I can turn my cleanse into cleaner living all around rather than a one-off laundering.

What say ye, dear readers? Any words of advice for this recovering foodaholic?

With gratitude {for so many wonderful culinary choices in life and a growing ability to select healthier ones},

Joan, who watched the “sugar is toxic” story on 60 Minutes Sunday night as a member of the Amen corner because if the five-day headache isn’t proof she doesn’t know what is

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