Tag Archives: training

On Being an F.A. Missionary

When I first started training, I had the goal in mind of being ready (and able) to join a boot camp program when we move this summer. I saw it as a step toward my athletic goals.

The things I’ve learned between then and now, about myself and about FA and HAES are amazing.

The thing about learning and growing: sometimes it makes something that might have been easy two months ago more complicated.

If I decide to take part in this boot camp program, I have to step out of my own comfort zone and carve out a place for myself in a situation where I have to risk not only being triggered, but also (the reason we all hate leaving our comfort zones, right?) being uncomfortable.

On the flip side, putting myself in a vulnerable, visible position might encourage people to talk to me and ask me questions about what I’m doing.

And if they’re asking questions, it’s a good bet that they’re listening. And if they’re listening they can learn. Just like me.

Kaia F.I.T. is a women’s only functional training program in Northern Nevada and some areas of California. (WARNING: The video below has mention of weight loss.)

Basically, you sign up for 6 week blocks where you meet up for an hour a day and do interval training. They also have a running program. I mentioned Kaia F.I.T. the other day and someone posted a really thoughtful comment about how joining a boot camp might be triggering, especially because I struggle with wanting to weigh myself.

And they’re right. It might trigger me. Joining a program where one big way they measure success is with the size of my body is sure to, actually, on some level.

But is there a time when it’s okay to risk being triggered in order to put yourself in a position of possibly bringing about even a small amount of change? When you’re fighting for change, can you isolate yourself from triggers entirely?

I called and spoke to a woman who is part of the program and she spent some time answering my questions. She said that the program usually weighs and measures you three times every six weeks, beginning, middle and end. When I asked if there would be a problem with me choosing not to measure my progress this way, she said “absolutely not.” She didn’t seem to think I’d lost my mind or anything, which is a good sign.

Weighing myself is something that’s hard for me. In fact, of all the triggery things involved with joining a program like this, the weighing and measuring is my most triggery. However, I’m already triggered in this way by going to a gym that has scales in every bathroom and having a tape measure in my house.

I’m going to have to find a way to be athletic in a world that equates success with reduced body size, no matter what. I went a year without even thinking about weighing myself before two months ago, but I spent that year in my house or at my job.

I can’t live totally isolated from every scale and every mention of weight loss in the world without limiting my participation in the things I want to do. It’s access to a scale and talk of weight loss that triggers me. Maybe training without daily or almost daily access to a bathroom scale would be less triggering to me than my current situation.

I asked if there is a lot of encouragement during the workout to “feel the burn” or “burn those calories, ladies” and she said that most of the women who are there want to lose weight, and that the trainers do stay upbeat (her word) and try to push you a little harder. I tried to pin her down on whether the push was to work harder or to burn more, and was not entirely successful.

I finally asked whether someone who was there to train athletically and didn’t want to focus on weight loss, even though the trainers might assume they needed to do just that, would be comfortable in the program. If I told a trainer that I don’t want to be encouraged to lose weight, would my request be respected? She said yes, it would. Again, she didn’t sound like she thought I’d lost my mind, even when I told her how much I weigh.

The Kaia F.I.T. program also offers a “nutritional plan”, encourages a one week detox at the start and another week at the end of every six week block, and access to a nutritional expert (the woman I spoke with said she wasn’t sure if the expert was a certified nutritionist, but that she had a college degree in nutrition.)

This, I think, would be more triggering for some people than just about any other aspect of the program. And this is what made me think about the idea of sort of infiltrating a lose-weight arena, because diets don’t trigger me as much as they might someone else. I won’t look at the diet and be tempted to follow it to the detriment of intuitive eating.

The woman I spoke with said that “clean” eating is encouraged. I told her that I’d done a lot of work on learning to eat intuitively and that the detox weeks or following any kind of a diet would not be something I’m willing to do. She said that was fine and that I wouldn’t be the only one.

If you have the opportunity to join a community where most of the people don’t know the message that means so much to you, do you do it? What if that community is offering something you need to meet your goals? I’m not likely to find any kind of training program with adult women in it where weight loss is not somewhere in the picture.

But maybe I can make space for myself in one that isn’t filled with people who already agree with me, and in the process spread the word about FA and HAES and what it means to be a defiant athlete. (That makes me sound like a FA missionary, doesn’t it?)

To be honest, I’m a little scared. Judging by the pictures I’ve seen, while the group seems diverse in age and shape, I will be the largest woman by quite a lot. I’m also not good at confrontation. It freaks me out and makes me want to cry. What if I show up, and people are mean to me when I say I don’t want to be weighed or look at me like I’m crazy when I say I’m not there to lose weight?

It would be easier to stay home, to keep walking by myself at the gym or in my neighborhood, to find my camaraderie here, with you. But is that what’s best? If my personal set of triggers/hang ups/healing wounds are such that this kind of group won’t damage me—or at least that the risk of damage is worth taking for me–maybe I can find a space there. Maybe a teaching space.

The woman I spoke to said that when we go to Carson City next month for a few days, I can come to a couple of training sessions. I’m going to do it. I am going to test drive being a F.A. missionary.



Filed under body, mind, spirit

Defiant Athlete: Week 8

It’ll write my two month progress report on Monday. Two months seems like both a really long time and no time at all to me.

It seems like a long time, because I am fighting the frustration of not getting the results I want fast enough. I don’t want a two mile outdoor walk to feel like an epic woman vs. nature struggle. I don’t want to have to struggle my way up a hill by coaxing myself into just going to that car, and then that sign post, and that rock.

It seems like no time, because it’s flown by. And other than those damned outdoor walks, I’m having a real good time.

Here’s what’s the best part of the real good time: You. The conversations that are happening in comments here and with my friends and family on Facebook are exhilarating. They are the most fun, they are intellectually exciting and they make me more happy than I can express. Thank you for that.

I feel on fire with the idea of the defiant athlete. I want to yell “you can move for fun!” from the roof tops. If anyone has any leads to rooftops that I might yell from, let me know.

This week, I’ve logged less points than the one before, and the one before I logged less than the one before that. I’ve noticed that the last two weeks, and this week in particular, I’ve worked out a little less, but much harder. Also, this week I stopped logging grocery shopping as points. My fitness level has improved sufficiently that grocery shopping isn’t the feat it used to be. I could probably still give myself zone 1 points, but I’ve decided not to.

This week’s Ten List:

1. I did twenty minutes of 2.8 mph for four minutes followed by one minute of slow jogging at 3.5 mph. I’d planned on doing this for an hour, and couldn’t. My lungs and heart loved it, my legs did not. After the fourth minute of jogging, the pain on the outside of both calves was intense. I did run the last minute at 5 mph, when I knew I was going to have to stop. My legs gave out, but my heart rate didn’t go as high as 3.2 mph for a minute did in week one.

2. I had a nice little indication that I’m getting stronger this week. After the above mentioned walk/jog, I went on the elliptical. I told myself I’d go as slow as the machine would let me until it started to get uncomfortable. Two weeks ago, this was about 3 minutes, although I could push to eight. This week it took ten minutes for me to feel like I wanted to stop. I probably could have gone 20.

3. I’m really enjoying yoga, and Ruby is becoming a serious little yogini. She asks me to do yoga with her before bed almost every night. She says it helps her relax, which is hilarious coming from a six year old. But awesome.

4. I walked a mile on the treadmill in just under 20 minutes this week, which is a personal best. Yay!

5. I walked 2 miles outdoors in 39 minutes, which made up for the pain.

6. I am still (still) struggling with not weighing myself. I don’t know how to stop this. I mean, I know how to just not weigh myself. I don’t know how to stop wanting to. Does the desire eventually just go away?

7. My legs hurt so bad when I try to push past my comfort level when walking that I wonder if so many years of sitting at a computer most of the day has atrophied my muscles. I’m serious.

8. I am so anxious to get to Carson City, so that I can have access to a pool and maybe by a bike, take some belly dancing lessons, join a boot camp. I want to have fun.

9. I’ll have to take what’s good about the boot camp and leave their diet at the door. And tell them I don’t want to be weighed and measured. I’m willing to give that a try for one six-week cycle, because the idea of functional training appeals to me so much. I think I’ll open a dialogue with the trainer before hand.

10. I had a really interesting talk with the owner of my gym this week. She asked me about writing, because her son-in-law has written a book. I gave her the basic spiel about being prepared for rejection, but getting it out there anyway. Then I told her about Defiant Athlete and that I want to write about it as an academic study. She got so excited. She started telling me about a woman whose been able to get off blood pressure medication and one who is controlling her diabetes through exercise. I feel like I could turn her excitement and willingness to see exercise as something other than a weight loss measure into a way to reach more people, but I’m not sure how.



Filed under body

HAES-Style Training

When I’m working on the treadmill, or walking outdoors, and I reach the point where I just want to stop, I have a mantra that I repeat to myself, over and over:

Shaunta Alburger, you are an Ironwoman.

It gives purpose to pushing through and continuing on and taking one more step or picking up the pace or adding some hills.

My mantra makes me push hard at the end of a training session. Yesterday I only walked 25 minutes, because I was pressed for time. But I jogged the last two minutes. I haven’t jogged for two minutes in a row since I was a teenager. A few weeks ago, jogging for one minute made me feel like I was dying. I also averaged 3 mph. With no shin pain. I am getting stronger.

Last night I spent some time trying to find someone–anyone–who had a web presence and was a fat person training for an Ironman without an expressed goal of losing weight. What I found was a lot of “watch me lose weight and then train for an Ironman” blogs. Some inspirational-type stories about people who had lost weight and then completed an Ironman.

The one thing all of these had in common was that the weight loss was the most important thing. And it occurred to me that this is really backward.

Linda Bacon, in her book Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, talks about how once you get to a point of eating intuitively, your body naturally finds it’s set point. I still struggle with some parts of intuitive eating. Eating what I want is working out okay. I’ve been able to make food morally neutral most of the time, which is a huge accomplishment. But I still struggle with stopping when I’m full. I have all of these emotions and past experiences mixed up in food, and I’m still sorting them out. But it is getting better. Slowly, but it is getting there.

I am also learning to accept that I may have damaged my metabolism and other bodily functions enough with decades of dieting, undiagnosed gluten intolerance, and binge eating that I am at my set point now. I may never lose weight, even as I become dramatically healthier.

Except, if I continue to train athletically and eventually build up to the amount of training necessary to actually become an Ironwoman.

I’ve struggled with this some. How do I keep it from being about weight, when running at 340 pounds hurts so bad? How do I separate training from weight loss when, as I start training harder and harder, it’s probably going to happen anyway.

I haven’t lost any weight in the last two months. Not a pound. I’m stronger. I’m faster. I’m not any lighter.

But, I’m starting from zero here. I give myself points for grocery shopping, because even that amount of exercise is training when you are used to spending all day, every day sitting in front of a computer. I’m ecstatic with my 700 or 800 points per week, but they aren’t enough to make me lose any weight.

They are enough to make it so that I can walk a 5K. They are enough so that I am considerably more bendy than I was two months ago. They’re enough to give me the cajones to go into the free weight section and do strength training with the grunting men. They are also enough to make me healthier.

And they are enough to make my body change, even if I’m not losing weight. My legs are stronger, my arms are stronger, my core is stronger. And they are also a little smaller. Not much. Not noticeably so unless you happen to live in my skin.

They aren’t enough to make me an Ironwoman. For that I need closer to 2500 points a week, and grocery shopping doesn’t count. Yoga might not either. To train to be an Ironwoman, I’d need 2500 points of swimming, running and biking.

I figure it would take me five years to build up to that level. And that those five years will definitely have an impact on my body. There is no way to divorce training from my body, after all. In fact, training is all about reuniting your body with your mind, isn’t it? Getting into your skin and being happy there.

Training for an Ironman-length triathlon would change my body. I would get stronger, of course. And I would probably get smaller.

It would impact the size of my body the same way Bacon says HAES might for some people. As a side effect of healthy behavior.

So, this is a round about way of thinking today about how I can stay true to the HAES concept and radical body acceptance, if I’m doing something that will almost surely result in my body changing over the next five years.

The body is a spectacularly magical thing, isn’t it? If you ask something of it, it will do it’s damnedest to comply to the best of its ability. If I continue to ask mine to let me run, and do the work to get there, it will eventually shift itself so that it can run with more ease. My legs will get stronger. My lungs and heart will get stronger. And my miraculous body will use it’s fat stores as energy over the course of those long training sessions.

I might not ever compete in an Ironman-length triathlon. But joining a roller derby league or learning to belly dance or taking up skiing–any athletic endeavor I pursue will change my body. Roller derby will build my leg and core strength. Dancing will make me more graceful. Skiing–I don’t know, I’ve never done it. But something. And that something, the idea of my body changing to allow me to participate in these things, is exciting.

The key, I think, to building a HAES-style relationship with movement and exercise is to focus on training and results that are not weight loss. Just like building a HAES-style relationship with food.

Shifting my inner dialogue from imagining stepping on a scale and seeing an obscenely small number on it, to hearing the voices in my head announce that I’m an Ironwoman as I cross the finish line is a major paradigm shift.

I still have work to do. One of my biggest struggles is avoiding the scale at the gym. It gets easier and easier as I learn to trust that if I continue training, my body will respond by getting stronger and faster. But the hardest part is that avoiding the scale doesn’t let me avoid thinking about my weight. The thought is still there, although I’m getting better at dismissing it.

Another key to building a healthy relationship with exercise is realizing that the amount of exercise that will bring me big health benefits is never going to cause me to lose weight. I could continue to walk 30 to 60 minutes four or five times a week, do yoga and strength training two or three times a week–and the changes to my body will most likely not include shrinkage. I’ll reduce my risk of everything from heart disease to cancer, but I will not be smaller.

Making that leap of acceptance is incredibly freeing.

If I eat a balanced diet of good food that I enjoy and stop eating when I’m full, my body may or may not get smaller. But the goal is to get healthier, and that will happen regardless.

If I train my body with a goal of running an Ironman-length triathlon five years from now, it will get stronger. I’ll be able to run further, bike further and swim further. And faster. Training to be an athlete will eventually make my body more athletic. How could it not? But I refuse to make weight loss the goal.

If I ever do become an Ironwoman, it won’t be because of what I’ve lost. It will be because of what I’ve gained.



Filed under body

Am I Brave Enough to be the Last of the Last?

There is a 5K run/walk in Reno in August. I clicked through to the website and took a look at the race results from last year, thinking that this would give me something to strive for. Some idea of how fast I need to be able to walk 3.2 miles before I enter a race.

And then I realized that if I were to run in that race today, I would come in almost 10 minutes behind the last place finishers.

That gave me pause, I’m not going to lie.

I walked 2 miles today–and the good news is that it didn’t hurt. My shins didn’t turn to molten lava, even though I did one interval at 3.2 with about 90 seconds at 3.5 (which is a slow jog for me.) And that was all kinds of awesome. But it still took me 45 minutes. And I’ve found myself wondering all day if I’m brave enough to enter a race knowing that I will most likely not be able to keep up. That everyone will pull away and I’ll be left alone.

Am I brave enough to be the deathfat girl straggling in 10 minutes after the rest of the stragglers?

I don’t care about winning or placing or whatever. But can I do this, emotionally, psychologically, if I might be not only last–but way to the last?

Maybe racing with other people would push me faster, and I wouldn’t come in dead last after all.

Maybe if I wait until next summer, I’ll be able to finish a 5K in less than an hour.

Then I took a deep breath and looked at the results again. The oldest person in the race was 81. He ran the 5K with a 5.50 minute mile pace. (2.9 mph is something like a 21-minute mile.) That lifted some kind of anxiety that I wasn’t even aware of.

I might be last in my first race. Really, really last. But I’m not competing against anyone but myself. A 5K at a 2.9 mph pace is what I can do right now. Maybe I can get up to 3.0 or even 3.2 mph by August. Maybe not. But with 42 years of experience as a defiant athlete, my 81-year-old self is going to kick some ass.



Filed under body

Athleticism Deserves Protection

Athleticism, it seems to me, is something to be protected.

Like an endangered animal, it needs to be coddled a little, given just the right environment and the chance to reproduce in a controlled space. After a while, it will thrive in the wild. But at first? It needs protected status.

Because it has a natural predators.

There’s the dreaded nay-sayer. This is a tiny internal bug that does big damage. It wiggles its way through your ear into your brain and sets up housekeeping. And it whispers, “you aren’t good at this. You will never be good at this.” Over time, the nay-sayer collapses your self-confidence. It might be microscopic, but it is loud and left unchecked drowns out any evidence that you can, indeed, do this.

And then there’s the bully pig. This one is an external threat that often hits in childhood and adolescence, but can strike at any time. Nay-sayers live in clouds around the bully pig. The bully pig has an acutely developed radar for any sign that you are feeling confidence or having fun. It strikes, and strikes hard, when you least expect it. The bully pig literally or metaphorically kicks your legs out from under you, sits on your chest and screams in your face that you suck. This is not a subtle predator.

The well-meaning oh dear is an insidious enemy to athleticism.  On the surface, it’s a sweet, kind little animal that seems to only want what’s best for you. It directs you to pursuits that you are more well suited for. The oh dear wants you to succeed, and would deny strenuously any suggestion that it means you harm. This predator kills your athleticism with kindness. An oh dear might even encourage you to participate in more suitable athletics–swimming instead of dance, in my case. In your childhood, the oh dear might have shaken her head and lamented your clumsiness or hugged you as she told you that not everyone can be a fast runner, and wouldn’t you like to just quit? He might have packed away your basketball if you couldn’t get the hang of free throws or made sensible statements about spending money to keep you included in a losing soccer team. As an adult, you might find an oh dear watching you a little sadly as you lace up your sneakers, offering up better ways to spend your gym membership money or reminding you that you’re too old to learn to ski.

Lastly, we find the media bird. This is not a pecking, picking little sparrow. The media bird is a pterodactyl ready to eat you whole. It comes at you from all points, squawking that you are going to die if you don’t fit its very narrow range of perfection. It both insists that you can do it! and that if you do, but don’t shrink in size as a result, you are still going to die and it’s all your fault. The media bird is a fear monger. And it is everywhere. It’s oppressive presence often results in the despairing feeling that there is no point in being an athlete if you do not lose weight as a result.

Yes, athleticism deserves protected status.

Your athleticism deserves to be protected.

Here are half a dozen ideas for how to do that:

1. Check out the defiant athlete list on this site. It is full of people who have held on to or rebuilt their athleticism despite the predators that might have killed it. There are resources out there–find them and use them.

2. R emind yourself that being athlete does not equal winning first place ribbons. All it requires is showing up and moving with purpose. In fact, disconnect the words athlete from the arbitrary idea of ‘good.’ The point is not whether or not you are ‘good’ at something, the point is whether you enjoy the process of participation.

3. Find body-positive outlets for your athleticism. If you have a large-body yoga class near you, consider joining it. There are some athletic pursuits that are safe places for fat people. Belly dancing and roller derby come to mind. Conversely, if your heart is in surfing or marathon-running or some other sport where fat people aren’t the norm, carve out you place in it and burrow in.

4.  It can be difficult to make room for running/walking/riding a bike/rollerskating/lifting weights or whatever it is that you want to do. Doing so requires you to decide to find a way to put some of your resources of time and maybe some money into it. Especially if you are the type that doesn’t take much for herself, finding an hour or a few dollars and holding on to them can be very empowering.

5. Disconnect moving your body from weight loss. This might take some time, especially if you are unraveling years of this kind of thinking. But it is possible. A mantra might help. Repeat I am an athlete as many times as it takes to make the daydreams about a smaller body go away. Also, remind yourself that having thoughts about weight loss does not mean that you are a defiant athlete failure. One thing that I’ve found helpful when the indoctrination gets overwhelming is to turn ‘thinner’ into ‘stronger.’ Replacing the word ‘exercise’ with ‘training’ has helped as well.

6. Nurture a healthy sense of fuck you. That’s right. If you need permission to be counter-culture and abrasively protective of your right to athleticism, I hereby grant you with it.

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Defiant Athlete: Week 7

This has been a good week for me. (I’m finding that hard to say, in light of the colossally not-good (turns out there is not an adequate variation on the word ‘bad’) week so many millions of people had.)

A couple of really exciting things got rolling. I started the Rad Fatties Project. I started a page up above which has an explanation for the project, and an invitation to join it.

I also started a new story. It’s a YA thriller, sort of a Bourne Identity-type story with a fat, athletic teenage girl protagonist. I usually feel at a total loss when I don’t have a current fiction writing project going. At first, I finish one manuscript, and it gets rejected some, and then I think: that’s it, I’m done. Who needs this shit? And then I get restless, and I start to think: Oh, God, what if I have no more ideas? And then I get an idea, and the cycle starts again.

I didn’t train as much as I wanted to. Or, as much as I set out to last Friday. I was tired. The sleepy kind of tired where, by afternoon, staying awake sometimes feels like a giant effort. I wonder if maybe my body just needed a down week? I’m not sure.  I know that I haven’t been getting enough sleep, which . . . yeah, it leads to staying awake being a giant effort. I think I need a bed time this week.

Here’s this week’s ten list:

1. I walked a 5K! I don’t believe I’ve walked 3.2 miles all at once in — I don’t even know how long. A decade? Longer? And not only that . . .

2. I walked a 5K at an average of 2.9 mph. With no shin splint pain. I used hills the first 20 minutes, but turned them off when my calves started to tighten up.  When I still had no pain after 45 minutes, I decided to push it, to see how close to a 5K I could get in an hour. I jogged for two of the last 15 minutes, walked at 3.5 mph for maybe half of it, and 3.2 mph the rest. I got to 2.9 miles in the hour and finished the last three tenths during my cool down. I was sweating and grinning and people were looking, but I didn’t care.

3. I went 1.25 miles during my outdoor walk this week. That one hurt. The good news is that it didn’t hurt until about halfway through. Which means, slowly but surely, I’m getting stronger. A couple of weeks ago I went half a mile and  literally limped home wishing I’d brought my phone so Kevin could come get me.

4. I realized that part of why walking outside is so much harder is because our roads are not flat. They’re curved, for snow melt run off. So when I walk in one direction, my right calf and left hip hurt. On the way home my left calf and right hip hurt. I think it’s a result of walking on an angled road. Also, I walked faster than I do on the treadmill, 3.0 mph, and uphill most of the way.

5. If I walk down the middle of my very quiet street until I get to the highway (which is not quiet), there is a chance that a nice old man in an equally old pick-up truck will have to come up very close behind me while I’m singing Boy George out loud and wait for me to notice, then laugh and wave as he passes me once I scramble out of the way.

6. I now have a copy of Big Yoga: A Simple Guide for Bigger Bodies by Meera Patricia Kerr. Review is forthcoming.

7. King Arthur Flour sent me a giant box of their gluten-free mixes. I’ll review them one at a time, but not all at once, I promise! Also, Ruby picked a random winner from the entrants to my cracker contest, and the winner is Katherine.

8. Adopting HAES has made cooking so much more fun. I am also finding, though, that too much sugar makes me feel not great. I still struggle some with making that translate into not eating enough of it to make me sick–with not feeling like I need to over-indulge in forbidden foods–but it is getting easier.

9. I have not weighed myself for an entire week.

1o. I am formulating my plot to turn Defiant Athlete into an academic study. It’s pretty damned exciting.


Filed under body, mind, spirit

Training Points and Self-Coaching

When I was a young athlete I had lots of coaches. A swim coach and assistant coach, a soccer coach, a track coach. They’d tell me what to do, how hard to push. A team sport, like soccer, often involves everyone doing the same training unless you reach an elite level. But in an individual sport like swimming or track, my coaches almost always had a training plan just for me.

Today I’m my own coach. That means I have to manage my own training. A simple points system helps me do that.

Have you heard of Sally Edwards?

She’s professional triathlete who has completed 16 (!) Ironman races, most of which she won for her age group. She’s a world record holder. And then there are the 75 Danskin triathlons. And those? Yeah, she came in dead last in everyone of them. She comes in last so that none of the other women, many of whom have never done a triathlon before, have to worry about straggling in alone at the end.

She’s written lots of books. The one I bought last week is Triathlons for Women. I guess I thought I’d read the book and review it for you. But I’m finding that I need to read it slowly and assimilate the information. Not because I can’t understand it, but because I don’t want to miss anything. So, a full review is coming, but not today. (However, if you want a book about triathlon, I think this is a good one.)

There is one part of the book though, that’s close to the beginning, that I’m really excited about. Sally describes heart rate training, which is basically figuring out your maximum heart rate (instead of using a generic chart) and then focusing on being in one of five training zones while you work.

Zone 1 is 50 to 59 percent of your maximum heart rate.  The zones move upward to 5, which is 90 to 100 percent of maximum heart rate.

And then she provides an easy way for assigning points to your training, based on the number of minutes spent in each zone. I had to really think about this: is assigning points to training different from counting calories or fat grams or carbs?

I think it is. Sally doesn’t present it that way, even remotely, in her book. You give yourself one point for each minute in zone one, two for each minute in zone two and so forth.

Counting points has nothing to do with trying to lose weight. It’s a self-coaching strategy, and I think a rather good one.

I did adapt Sally’s plan a little. Her book assumes a certain level of fitness in its readers that I don’t yet have. And that’s okay. (I did not feel judged in reading the book for not being that reader, either.)

I’ve been keeping track of my heart rate during exercise for the last five weeks, which helped me come up with my own training points plan.

My zones are as follows:

Zone 1: Anything that is not sitting at my desk. I also don’t count one hour a day of cooking or housework as zone one. Anything above that is above my normal. (I’m the cook and Kevin is the main housekeeper around here. Don’t hate me!) Grocery shopping gets a zone 1. So does light stretching and slow walking at 2.0 mph. Zone 1 for me is a heart rate of between 110 and 119. Zone 1 takes little effort and feels good for as long as I want to do it.

Zone 2: Strength training and yoga are generally zone 2 activities for me. Eventually I might buy a heart rate monitor so that I can really know which zone I’m in–but at the moment I don’t feel the need to micromanage. Walking at 2.5 mph with no hills brings me into zone 2. So does a more active family activity, like bowling. Zone 2 for me is a heart rate of between 120 and 129. Zone 2 takes a little more effort and is sustainable for a long time, although I might get tired after a while. (Think walking around Disneyland. You can do it for hours, but at the end of the day you’ll feel it in your muscles.)

Zone 3: Walking at 3.0 mph or at 2.5 mph with hills takes me to zone 3. So does the stationary bike. Harder strength training or core-related yoga bring me to zone 3 as well. When I’m sweating, I know I’ve reached zone 3. And I love it! Zone 3 for me is a heart rate of between 130 and 139. I can sustain it for a while, at least 45 minutes to an hour, before I start to get too tired to continue.

Zone 4 and 5: The elliptical and jogging at 4.2 mph bring me to zone 4 or zone 5. I can only sustain zone 4 (heart rate between 140 and 49) for about 10 minutes and zone 5 (above 150) for 1 minute. Going into zone 5 is difficult for me to recover from and so if I’m going to push that hard, I do it at the end and then cool down. I can do 10 minutes in zone 4 in the middle of episodes at zone 3.  Zone 4 actually feels pretty good, even though it’s really hard. It feels like I’m pushing myself and getting stronger. Zone 5 sucks. It hurts. If I push faster on the elliptical or jog for more than one minute, I move into this zone and need to stop quickly. (There is nothing wrong with being in this zone, but your body just can’t maintain it very long.)

My goal right now is to get to a point where I can log 800 points per week, which Sally says is the minimum for training for a spring triathlon.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in recovery from years (decades) of forgetting that there is a point to movement beyond getting skinny. I like that using a point system reminds me that I’m in training while giving me a way to track and log my training without using weight. It lets me set a goal and then places zero judgment on whether or not I meet it. No one is yelling at me that the consequence of only logging 400 points is that I’m going to be a big fat lard ass for the rest of my life.

Understanding heart rate zones lets me monitor my body and what it needs. It is shocking to me how out of touch with my own body I’ve become. I forgot what it feels like to feel my muscles or to enjoy making my heart pump harder. I’ve walked a marathon in the last five weeks! How cool is that?

One of the best parts of being an athlete is riding that edge between what you know you can do and what you hope you can. Guess what? That edge belongs to you. It might be training for a marathon. But it might also be walking to the corner everyday, and then going around the block with your cell phone in your hand in case you need to call your husband to come pick you up.  And then logging more training points than you ever have with a silly grin on your face.

Is the block walker less of an athlete than the marathon runner?

Hell, no.

Someone asked me in comments the other day if you have to be good at sports to be an athlete, because they’ve always been poor at sports and so they don’t think they can call themselves an athlete no matter how defiant they are. I don’t know if they came back to see my answer. I keep thinking about it though, so I’d like to address it here in case anyone else is feeling the same way.

You are an athlete if you decide you are.

I want to be fit enough to join a roller derby team. I also want to run a 5K, participate in a sprint triathlon, kayak and ski. That doesn’t mean your goals have to be the same as mine. For you, being an athlete might mean joining a bowling league or even having the ability to walk a mile. But maybe you just want to feel good–that’s a fine goal.

It is, in fact, a very fine athletic goal.

Every time you move your body, you’re training it to feel good.

There is no universal mold that all athletes must fit into. No one gets to tell you that you aren’t good enough or fast enough or strong enough. No one gets to tell you that you aren’t an athlete.

Repeat after me: No one gets to tell you that you aren’t an athlete.

On the flip side, you are under no obligation to be an athlete either. You don’t owe the world athletic ambition, or even the desire to feel good. No one, including me, can tell you that you are one if you don’t want to be.

But, I’m telling you this, and I believe it so strongly to be true: whether you choose to train to be a roller derby girl, a triathlete, a kick ass miniature golfer or the World Champion of feeling good, you are an athlete as soon as you put that desire into motion with purposeful movement.

You are an athlete the moment you decide that you are. And no one–absolutely no one–can take that away from you.


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