Tales from the Tail-End (2)

The Philly 10k on August 28th was my undoing. I usually feel nervous before an upcoming race but I had never previously so thoroughly questioned  my ability to accomplish something. My last few pre-race runs were excruciating – my legs seemed to be directly wired to the anxious thoughts and refused to propel me forward at any comfortable pace. I was consumed by thoughts of my last-place finish in my May 5-miler. I was binge eating more in a week than I had in the previous 6 months.

The Philly 10k arrived. The day was hot and cloudless with bright morning sun and uncomfortable humidity. The crowd was massive and included one particular neanderthal who had seen fit to mercilessly bully me in the online forum for the Philly running community months before. I felt unhinged at the starting line by the queasiness that you get at the crest of a roller coaster – I am strapped in, we are climbing, climbing, climbing. There is not a damn thing that I can do about falling down this hill. I am not in control of this ride! I cannot control when it ends! Sure, I knew the race was 6.2 miles, but I couldn’t control how and when I would finish.

Dare I say it’s somewhat trendy to be a Back of the Pack (BOTP) runner these days? Running is an inclusive sport now. Anyone can do it anywhere. We are a group who is seemingly comfortable with our slowness, proudly emblazoning our turtle-pace on workout wear alongside caricatures of the plodding reptile. I even belong to a group with the tongue-in-cheek name “Too Fat to Run” because god knows that more than one ignoramus has seen me busting my butt on a trail and stopped me only to caution “you know, walking is great exercise, too. I started by walking. Maybe you should do that until your smaller”. Faster comrades throw out platitudes like “your race, your pace!” and”a mile is a mile no matter how fast you complete it”. Other well-meaning types will offer up ways to help you improve through speed training and fartlek workouts. Here’s the rub: why do I have to be faster? What’s wrong with running a 16 minute mile? Is there some rule that a sub-30 minute 5k is the ideal to which we should all aspire? You try lugging 277lbs for 5 miles and see how fast you are.

Sure, I could speed-walk and starve myself until I hit one-derland. A failed bariatric surgery procedure, though, has taught me that there are very few situations in life in which such misery is worth it. I would probably be a lot faster if I were lighter. If we consider the mechanics of the situation, it just takes a whole lot more energy and effort to move my body than it does certain other bodies. I am short, my thighs are roughly the width of whiskey barrels, I am carrying a fair amount of loose skin from the weight I have already lost, and I have a very, very short stride. There are caterpillars that have outpaced me on a trail. I am ok with this. Running and every other form of exercise I have attempted since re-branding myself an “athlete” is a triumph no matter how slow or uncoordinated I may appear. I wish other people would see it through the same lens.

So while being a BOTP runner may be all the rage, being at the tail-end of this pack certainly is not. I was so disappointed by the time I finished the Philly 10k that I cried from a mixture of sheer relief (that it was over and I had, indeed, survived) and frustration (because it felt like the race had shut down before I was done). I finished in under 2 hours and kept a pretty speedy (for me) sub-16min/mile pace. There were even 8 or 9 people still behind me when I finished!

(Detractors will refer to the 15 min/mile suggested pace as a reason for many of us to stay out of numerous races but they are assholes and I refuse to believe that races should only be for the sub-10min/mile folks). The water stations looked like ghost towns, littered with the crushed spectral remains of thousands of white paper cups, and several of them were shutting down as I passed through. The finish line was all but deserted save for my friends and a few volunteers. I was never given my Finisher’s Pendant (a friend of mine generously gave me his). Shake Shack ran out of the post-race ice cream treat and tried to offer me a coupon for free french fries instead. The reaction by many race directors to complaints from slower runners isn’t to improve their course support to better serve the BOTP. They will reference cut off times and simply insist that you be faster. This implies that only certain individuals should have the right to participate in certain races. I’m not interested in qualifying for the NYC Marathon, but it’s ridiculous that, given the breadth of the running community in 2016, people feel shut out of local races. I may never run a sub-15 min/mile race and that fact really deters me from signing up for distances greater than 5k.

I take great pride of the effort that I put forth and I am always exceedingly proud of myself for finishing any race but that pride does not exceed the dejection one feels over the lack of fanfare and course support provided for BOTP runners. I’ve heard of people finishing a race only to find the finish line dismantled or that there was nary a banana or water bottle left in site. I’ve heard of runners being swept along the course like discarded tissues by police or EMS vehicles. I’ve heard of people finishing on sidewalks because the course was re-opened to traffic before they had finished. These experiences are humiliating. The solution is not to tell someone to merely work on speed.

I’m not exactly sure what the solution is.

I recognize that race directors face a logistical nightmare when coordinating a race: hefty fees are incurred in order to shut down city streets for hours, EMS and police support need to be secured, volunteers are required to man water stations and control flow, medical staff need to be employed to support EMS, etc.  Accommodating paces approaching 20 min/mile compromises all manner of functions in a city like Philadelphia. The Philly 10k route required more support than other races of the same distance because it has runners wind through numerous residential and commercial corridors of the city whereas popular routes like Martin Luther King Drive are already closed for recreational activity during that time of year. I get it, it’s a headache. It’s still unconscionable that BOTP finishers miss out on the same post-race perks as earlier finishers. No one should finish running many miles and have to ask “so, where can I find my medal?”

I likely will not register for the Philly 10k in the future (I mean, let’s get real – racing in the height of the summer heat is not pleasant). Moreover, it’s October and they still haven’t responded to my race survey responses about not receiving my pennant. I’ll focus on better researching my races and registering for ones that likely also support walkers. Maybe that means I’ll be sticking with 5k’s for a while. My next race is the Perfect 10 Miler in New Jersey. I have heard many positive things about this race regarding atmosphere, course support, runner camaraderie, etc. It is an all-women’s race which I think might be an atmosphere that will help ease some of my pre-race anxiety. They also offer the option of running the 10 miles as a relay with a “bosom buddy” which means a greater variety of individuals can participate.

After that, I look forward to getting back to running for myself and not because I have to train for a race. This kind of running (and a good antidepressant) is the best for my mental health and well being. Sometimes it’s just nice to get back to basics, to not have to worry about where you fall in the “pack”.

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Tales from the Tail-End

It has been a while since I have visited this space. August brought the end of one job, the Philly 10k, the start of a new job, and a pretty jarring depressive episode that put me off running for near to a month.

I skipped two races that I had previously registered for (The Great Pumpkin Run & The Yards 5000 Yard Dash) out of a mix of sheer anxious terror and this feeling of hopelessness; or maybe it was more this overwhelming sense of stale ennui where I felt unable to muster the energy to tackle basic life tasks let alone running 3+ miles. It is a feeling that is difficult to describe – how does a typically chipper, effervescent, extrovert find themselves without taste for food, eschewing all social events, sleeping at 7pm in the evening,  and crying over “60 Minutes” 9/11 tributes? It’s as if someone removed my batteries and I came to a grinding halt mid-stride.

I had been trialing something new over the summer: life without antidepressants. I know many athletes, yogis, runners who struggle with anxiety and depression who are able to successfully manage their mood with frequent exercise and a nutritious, varied diet. I had lost near to 50lbs and felt that I had shed some sort of heavy layer that kept me from being the physically outgoing person I had always imagined. I felt that I had good friends and a solid community of support. It seemed like a good time to remove the proverbial “net”. Surely, the endorphins pumped out by running or Bikram yoga would keep me flying just as high. The descent was slow and almost imperceptible – some increased irritability that I noticed when stuck in traffic or in exasperating moments with family, tears that manifested during the moving swell of a movie soundtrack, fatigue after a particularly busy day. Signs so minute that they were very easy to attribute to external forces.

To be continued…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unmentionables – Part II

Because knowledge is power, I’m sharing some of my favorite brands for fluffy ladies.

A word of caution – for the sake of your skin, do not try to go the el-cheapo route with workout clothes if you can avoid it. You want to avoid chafing, rashes, welts, etc if you’re participating in high-impact activities on a regular basis. Invest in a few quality pieces and launder them with care.

Dear Kate – I wear several of their underwear styles but I favor the “Hazel” for workouts. I don’t bother with the barrettes – my breasts give those thing the side-eye “please girl, that thing couldn’t hold a chicken breast!” Their 3x size was fitting me when I was over 300lbs, so they really do provide a true “plus size” cut. I now wear the 2x. I keep them looking like new by following their care instructions to the “T”. I know what you’re going to say – the price! I hear ya, sister. However, consider building your own set of 3 to take advantage of their coupon or sign up for the mailing list for another coupon opportunity. They are well-constructed and long-lasting.

Zella – I really like their tanks. The fit is generous without being baggy. They are soft and hold up to a multitude of washings. I am a pear-shape and these taper nicely at the hip instead of bunching up over my tummy. Their pants run a bit small if you have large hips and a generous bum like myself.

Old Navy – I know, I know. Didn’t I just criticize them in the last post? If cost is the difference between you getting out and getting moving and you staying on the couch, then buy stuff at Old Navy! They ALWAYS have crazy coupons. So it’s not really a financial loss if you get a pair of capris for $10 and have to replace them in 6 months. They size up to 4x (about a 24) and they have high-waisted pieces that are great for avoiding the dreaded “muffin top”.  Their pieces will last quite a while for lower impact activities or if you don’t run crazy amounts of miles in a week. I actually wear their little short thingies under fit n’ flare dresses instead of spending a fortune on Spanx. Again – launder carefully to keep the fabric in good condition.

Katie K Activewear – A newer kid on the activewear block! Their pants definitely make me feel that my jiggly bits are secure. The fabric is super soft and they offer fun prints and colors, proving that you don’t have to be saddled with an army of black leggings for workouts. Their tanks are very form-fitting but they just debuted a looser-fitting tee that I am eager to try. They size up to 3x. I am currently a 22 in most pants and their 3x fits me quite well (thunder thighs and all). They offer a coupon code if you sign up for their email list. I snagged a pair of capris from their sale section for $44. The shipping is pretty speedy and their customer service superb.

Lineagewear – I love these leggings for yoga and barre classes. The prints are super fun and they will be sizing up to a 4x after completing an Indiegogo campaign! These legginggs are really stretchy so you may be able to size down. I don’t recommend them for running because of the fabric (not enough moisture wicking for me) that they use but you can make that call for yourself.

Enell – some of us don’t need a sports bra so much as industrial-strength ace wraps. Nell provides a lot of support by keeping the girls tucked in close with a mid-length, front closure bra. No underwire. It’s not especially sexy, but you won’t be in pain after that 5-miler or kickboxing class. I like the higher coverage for yoga when I don’t want to unwittingly flash my classmates. Lane Bryant also has some pretty good sports bras that allow you to adjust the shoulder straps.

Lane Bryant – Yes, another one from the blacklist. Their Livi Active line is getting better even if it’s not my favorite. Most of their pants will not hold up for high-intensity activities where you sweat heavily. I find the material gets water-logged and sags. I tend to favor their tops as they provide a roomier fit than other brands and are better at wicking sweat than their pants. Avoid anything with the word “stretch” in the description. “Stretch” has no place in fitness wear. They used to have a great capri/legging that actually had compression, but I’m pretty sure it’s as elusive as the Vaquita.

I also find Zeazorb powder and BodyGlide to be essential for avoiding chafing and rashes, especially in the summer.

To prevent nasty fungal infections like intertrigo – always change out of wet clothes ASAP and dry your skin before putting on clean, dry clothing.

Unmentionables

Chubby folk fall under that low rung of society beneath children and the elderly.

Those who should be neither seen nor heard.

Obviously, if you allowed yourself to balloon to the size of a larger zoo animal, you clearly could have nothing of skill or value to contribute to society, right?

I have certainly spent a large portion of my life trying to make my body appear small in a variety of settings that clearly illuminated just how I fit…

…into the seat at the movies or the theater

…into that airplane seat belt

…into the roller coaster car

…into the crowded elevator

…into the revolving door

The thought of donning form-fitting workout wear and bouncing up and down is terrifying for many of us. It wasn’t until recently (like in the last 3 months) that I stopped wearing workout wear that was several sizes too big. Exercising as a 300lb woman felt not only humiliating but physically impossible. And even if you’re a badass body positive babe who could give a flying fruitcake about what your “imaginary audience” thinks, there are very limited options on the market for holding all of that fluff together.

Companies like Lane Bryant, Forever21, Old Navy, and Torrid insult plus-size ladies with their poorly functional line of “athleisure” wear. How am I suppose to run that race in all that cotton!?

Companies like Nike, Under Armour, Lululemon, Athleta – should I go on? – make a thinly veiled attempted at clothing the curvy lady by providing “special sizes” that they lump with maternity wear. Seriously? “Special Sizes”? It’s like a size 20 is a disease or something.

Oh, and by the way, you can never get those sizes in the store – yet another slight that aims to highlight just how little we think of those who aren’t a size 00-10. You’ve got to spend an arm and a leg on shipping only to realize that their size 20 must have been meant for a husky 10 year old and not a grown-ass woman with breasts and hips. And if you happen to find a retailer that does offer “extended” sizing, chances are that they just blew up an outfit like a marshmallow in a microwave without any thought to proportion so that the size 8 woman gets a well-fitting garment and you get a trash bag.

With all that being said, who wouldn’t be uncomfortable throwing themselves headlong into a hike or run or spin class? Who would want to attempt a downward dog pose while worried their capris will split? Who would feel confident and comfortable moving their body and sweating in front of others?

Up until now, I refused to do jumping jacks unless someone was ready to secure all the jiggly bits in place with Duck Tape.

This summer, I really wanted to focus on working through my insecurity of being a literal hot, sweaty mess in front of other people. Naturally, I signed up for a 10k on August 28th (The Philly 10k) to force myself to run through the summer – a time when many Northeastern US runners slack off significantly because of heat advisories and crippling humidity.

Summer smashed into Philadelphia this week. I am already dreading July. We went from cold and rainy to 90 in the span of a week. I completed my first 10k training run (following the Hal Hingdon novice plan) today with an easy-peasy 2.5 miles at 0900 when it was already 77 degrees. I wouldn’t call myself a trail runner, but I much much prefer a good trail to a sidewalk or road. The trail has the added benefit of a lush tree canopy that prevents the sun from bearing down on you as if you’re a sunny-side up egg egg in a cast-iron skillet. The trail also provides fantastic scenery and enough flowery Honeysuckle perfume to ensure that I am not focusing on the body odor that must surely be emanating from every pore.

It was a sweaty, sweaty run. There was also very frizzy hair and cheeks so red you’d think someone had been chasing me. It was also a great run. I changed my intervals from 3:1.5 to 2:1 and felt that my run:walk transitions were much smoother and my pace got a wee bit faster.

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I relish the sweat now. It’s a badge of honor.

I just make sure to wear one my trusty hats to keep it all out of my eyes.

 

Dead F*cking Last

IMG_26785 for CHOP Run – Philadelphia, PA – 5.21.2016

One of my worst fears came true today.

I finished last in a race.

Not last as in “back-of-the-pack” last.

The Philly Fire Department paramedics were stalking me with their ATV — last.

The geese on the trail were out-pacing me — last.

Last two feet over the Finish line — last.

I am-going-to-throw-in-the-towel-and-quit — last.

D.F.L.

Dead. Fucking. Last.

Thinking about it one Bloody Mary, one beer, and several hours later, though, I am A-ok with that.

My anxiety failed to convince me that I wasn’t worthy of finishing. For the first time in life, my body is overriding the self-doubt and self-deprecation and my legs are carrying me; propelling me forward like the coupling rods on a locomotive, further and further. I am actually almost glad that it happened so that I could stop agonizing over the some-day possibility, dust myself off, and say “so what!?”

As trite as it sounds, I feel that I am a winner. I am never going to “win” any race I enter but I am slowly conquering that part of me that refused to even make an attempt.

“A winner is just a loser who tried one more time.” (George M. Moore, Jr.)

I am glad that I have kept trying. That even though my original goal was weight loss, that I have not let a scale dictate my accomplishments, that I have exceeded the meager expectations I set for myself, and that I continue to seek the life the exists outside of my comfort zone.

Every time my nerve denies me (which is often when you are stuck inside the insecure body of a 320lb person who just CAN NOT be you), I channel my inner Cheryl Strayed, remembering my favorite words from Emily Dickinson, and I go above my flippin’ nerve. Nothing I accomplish ever seems pretty (there were two Beauty Queens in this race – WITH tiaras) – it is sweaty and uncomfortable, skin chafes, my hair gets frizzy, and my thighs ache the next day. It gets done, though.

Dead Fucking Last will always trump D.N.F.

Did Not Finish.

{This experience also provided me with a rare moment of grace. Another race participant, whom I loosely know through the Philadelphia running community, re-entered the course AFTER he had finish his race to find me and run with me to the end so that I did not have to finish alone. I will always remember the instant, warm sense of comfort that comes when someone else reaches out to convey that “hey, you’re not alone in this”. I will strive to pay forward that kindness to someone who may find themselves in my shoes.}

 

Goodbye Gastric Band!

It has been over a year since I began my journey from fat to fit. My priorities and goals have changed dramatically during that time.

In January 2015, my priority was weight loss to become a thinner person. My goal was fiercely driven by shame, vanity, and embarrassment. I so wanted to feel small, to not take up so much space in a room, on an airplane, in a theater seat. I wanted to wear a clothing size whose number was not also accompanied by an “X”.

After a shower, I would stare at myself in the mirror and gape open-mouthed at the expansion of my flesh – it oozed in every direction like a marshmallow in the microwave. I couldn’t remember exactly how I got to that very moment except for the vague recollection of cumulative moments that involved lots and lots of food and the belief that I was so far gone that no amount of exercise could change what I had become. I also felt deep, hot shame over having had gastric banding in May of 2012. Now I was even heavier than when I had the procedure 3 years ago. Could I be a bigger failure!?

Today is April 26th 2016 and I have whittled myself down from a weight of 320 pounds to 273. I am an athlete. I have become a runner, completing three 5k’s with more races on the horizon. I have begun a yoga practice. I have tried a zip line and swung through the trees on a fine June day. I have kayaked and been able to pull myself out of the boat. I have made wonderful new friends. I went to a New Year’s Eve party. I started working as a Nurse Practitioner. I have discovered a community of body positive athletes. Somewhere along the way, my goals shifted focus from becoming a thinner person to becoming a happier person.

I am happier when I exercise. I am happier when I achieve concrete goals. I am happier when I use food as fuel and not as a friend, reward, or punishment. I am happier when I am surrounded by supportive, like-minded people. I am happier when I am strong enough to do the activities I’ve avoided for years. Am I “thinner”? You bet! And don’t misunderstand me, it feels exhilarating to pull things out of the closet that I couldn’t wear for 2 or more years to have them slip right on. That feeling is icing on the cake, though, because most of my joy is now derived from becoming the person who says she is going to accomplish something and then does so. I don’t know if I will ever be considered a “thin” person but I am becoming more and more comfortable with focusing on the journey rather than the destination. I love that there are others out there who agree; who believe that you can still be “fat” AND fit, that your fitness is not equal to your dress size, that you don’t have to keep yourself hidden away until you’re ready for that “after” photo (Mirna Valerio and Tulin Emre  have some very powerful words on these topics).

This week has been a true milestone for me. After 2 years of complications stemming from the gastric band, I had it removed yesterday. I feel so liberated. I am free from that young woman who thought that she had to have surgery to be healthy and happy. Free from that young woman who was depressed and despondent. I am so excited to eat raw vegetables and to not have to leave the table in the middle of a meal and to be able to fuel my body properly to continue to achieve the fitness goals that I set. I got some skeptical looks yesterday from the surgical team – “you? a runner? riiiight” – when I asked when I could return to my training plan. I think they were put in their places when my resting heart rate  of 48 caused the monitors to alarm. We still have a lot of barriers to break through in the healthcare industry when it comes to the obesity debate. I feel that I am a better Nurse Practitioner because I can use my own experiences to inform my interactions with my patients.

I took photos to commemorate this moment. I am proud of the progress that I have made. My skin is not taught, my belly is not flat, and now I have 5 extra scars to add to the landscape. I am wearing my first pair of Katie K Rushhour Capris, though, and that is very exciting. Talk about a woman who supports #fithasnosize. I am inspired by women near and far who are also putting in lots of hard work to achieve their own dreams. In a world where we focus on how social media can be used for so much evil, isn’t it nice to see all the good that it does, too?

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*Can we also talk about how I bought this City Fit Girls tee 2 years ago and it finally fits! It’s 2XL and my Katie K capris are a 3x plus. Get them before they are gone – they are on sale now!

 

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