Sunday, September 11, 2011
September 11, 2001 was an absolutely gorgeous day in Austin, Texas. Tuesdays were my long days on campus; I worked two jobs as a grad student and I went to both of them, plus several classes, on Tuesdays. My first class, for which I was a teaching assistant, started at 8 a.m. Central time. A student wandered in late and started chattering about an attack on the Twin Towers in New York. I shushed her, downplayed it, and tried to get the kids focused back on the lecture - they were starting to disrupt the entire class, not just my section. Then I dismissed it and got immersed in the class. Remember, this is in the days before smartphones and ubiquitous laptops: we didn't have a constant news flow and I needed the kids to focus on their class.
After class I went to the gym. The cardio room was state of the art, with several large TV screens and audio jacks for headphones on each machine. Walking past the cardio room to the locker room, I learned the awful truth: my student hadn't been right, she'd only been part right.
Being literally a thousand miles away from the attacks, most professors tried to maintain a sense of normalcy and held their classes. My afternoon seminar professor cancelled class, giving me a rare opportunity to go home on a Tuesday; normally I was on campus from 7:30 am to 9:30 pm. The news coverage was captivating, in a bad way. I called a friend and tried to process the information. Then I grabbed some dinner and headed back to campus for my evening job mentoring the freshmen on the football team. The university held a vigil in the main quad which I attended with some of the other mentors; I just couldn't stand being cooped up any longer and needed to vent my emotion.
Later that academic year I got recruited by the federal government to work on Latin American issues; my master's is in Latin American Studies and I speak fluent Spanish. I spent most of my 9-year career since working counternarcotics, which I consider just as crucial to national security as counterterrorism. (If you don't believe me, read some recent news coverage about what the cartels are doing in Mexico, right along our border.) This career move made sense because it built on the skills and interest I already had. But I've always slept well at night knowing that I am contributing to our nation's security.
This summer I began a rotation to the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC). While I have always been aware of all the sacrifices people have made to keep America safe, working at NCTC drives it home. We have photos of heroes fallen in the CT fight on the bulletin boards. I have friends who lost friends in Khost. On a more mundane level, I know countless people who spends nights and weekends - and sometimes weeks and months - away from their families to accomplish the CT mission. In fact, my two best work friends are probably on duty as I write this.
I am the first person in my family to leave the farm since my forefather bought it with his bonus payment for serving in the Union Army during the Civil War. My family are bumpkins, but very sweet; they are the plain and honest folk who make America what it is. I do what I do so that they continue to be sweet and innocent - along with millions of other Americans.
Now don't get me wrong: I'm no hero. I'm just another govie who sits in a cubicle for 40 hours a week. I've never done a war zone tour or even traveled to Iraq and Afghanistan and, for purely selfish reasons, I'd like to keep it that way. I do my best to provide the folks on the front line with the information they need to do their jobs and keep themselves safe, and that contribution is good enough for me.
My condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one in terrorist attacks, CT and other security operations, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'll keep working to try to prevent anyone else suffering a loss like yours.
Thursday, August 25, 2011
Last Saturday I finished the last training run of SparkPeople's 5K Your Way run/walk program. And it was the toughest run I've had yet. I didn't have as much caffeine as usual and I was visiting my in-laws so I had my back up shoes and ran on a different treadmill. Ugh, what a horrible combination. The belt wasn't as padded as the one I'm used to and my shoes just sucked. My recalcitrant iPod did not help at all: it kept playing swing from my gym mix when what I really needed was classic rock. Hitting the forward button 1,000 times didn't seem to force home the point. [sigh] My legs and feet hurt during and after the run, and my muscles refused to loosen up regardless of how much I stretched.
Monday was my next scheduled run and I was really nervous. Not only because Saturday's run was so bad but because I wasn't convinced that SP's plan would get me to the point where I can run 3.1 miles without stopping. In fact, I was quite positive that it wouldn't: the last training run was 1 minute walking, 4 minutes running and I simply didn't believe that I could go from that to 45+ minutes straight running.
All day Monday I tried to calm my nerves by telling myself that I am only competing against myself and that no matter what I do it will be a personal record. I'll just start running and see how it goes. The SP plan called for running for 30 minutes straight, which I knew wouldn't be enough to cover the distance, but I decided to stop worrying and start running. Then see what happens.
Simple plans like this one always work best for me, lol. When my workout time rolled around I was feeling good. I had my usual shoes and was at my usual gym. All positive things. My iPod was also very cooperative, which was enormously helpful.
As my warm-up wrapped up, I started to get nervous again. I went back to my mantra: "I'm only competing against myself. And it will be a personal record no matter what I do." I started to run and tried not to stare at the time display. I disciplined myself to check only after each song. My first surge of pride was at the 10-minute mark; going from 4 minutes to 10 minutes straight is a big jump. I told myself to keep going, if at all possible, until 30 minutes. The training plan called for 30 minutes, so running for that long completes the training and earns my reward; I'd already decided on a big reward for finishing the training - a new iPod Nano Touch. I kept running, inching closer and closer to 30 minutes.
But then something magical happened at 30 minutes: I stopped running for time and started running for distance. My calves twinged but only a bit and I wasn't tired yet. The closer I got to 3.1 miles the more I wanted it. I wanted to earn the Nano for doing the whole enchilada, not just finishing the training. And I wanted to run a 5K for the same of doing it; it has been The Big Fitness Goal since I started on this journey a year and a half ago. I wanted the pride of accomplishment for such a major goal. So I kept running.
Great tunes, pride, and the prospect of a huge reward are fantastic but can only keep me going for so long. I silently cheered myself along. But what really kept me going was imaging you, my SparkFriends, cheering me along, too. Every time I was tempted to slow to a walk, I asked myself what my runner friends, LOTUSFLOWER, KITHKINKAID, and YOOVIE would do. The answer was always "keep going!" And I imagined the rest of you as a cheering section at a race. (Yes, I have a very fertile imagination, lol.) That fueled me to 3.1 miles, 48 minutes, when I slowed down and started to cool down.
I would never have attempted to run a 5K, let alone finish one, without SparkPeople. The tools to drop my BMI and get fit are incredible. The running program really works. But it's my SparkFriends that have been the biggest help and inspiration. Thanks, guys!
Because I am a plotter and a planner I am always thinking about what comes next. I've been mulling this over since Monday, and the conclusion that I've drawn is that I'm just going to keep running. I'll do 30 minutes on the treadmill fairly regularly and try to increase my speed, which is admittedly very slow. And I might attempt another 5K in a few weeks. But right now I want to keep my runs fairly unstructured and just revel in the joy of being able to run at all.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
For me being healthy is quite simple: respecting my body so that it gets through the day without difficulty and can handle all the fun stuff I want to do, like hiking, biking, dancing, rafting, climbing, etc. To keep my body adventure ready, I drink 8+ glasses of water a day, sleep for 8 hours a night, exercise regularly (3 cardio and 2 ST sessions a week), and eat a healthy diet with at least 5 freggies a day.
Here's the catch: actually doing this is a lot harder than it seems like it should be. We all know how hectic life gets and how easy it is for the best-laid plans to come off the rails. So another huge component of living a healthy life is not obsessing or being a perfectionist. I'm a recovering anorexic, so this is TOUGH for me. My mantra is something a college Spanish conversation professor always said: "close enough is good enough." Lately I've been forgetting that and royally beating myself up. I need to warrior up and realize that I am not the enemy. Neither is food. Or the scale. Okay, maybe the scale is, lol. There really isn't an enemy here. It's just me, trying to make every day a good one. Good choices, good mental space. Some days will be great, others are just going to have to be good enough.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
This is week 2 of my radically earlier schedule. By "radically earlier" I mean that I now go to bed at the time I used to get home from work. Seriously. I only work 8 hours a day now, instead of 10, and my commute is dramatically better because I get out the door before traffic really starts.
Let me count the ways in which this is awesome:
I get three hours back in my day.
I have a whopping 5 hours at home before I need to go to bed.
I can cook dinner on weeknights. And prep my lunch, breakfast, and snacks the night before. The sum total is that I'm eating a bit better but doing much better at staying in my calorie range because I plan and prep better.
DH and I eat more meals at the table.
I'm better rested. (I can sneak in a nap right when I get home, if I need it.)
The house is cleaner and better organized because I can keep up with things during the week.
My cats are happier because I'm home more.
DH seems to like having me around more, too.
I'm doing a better job of getting my workouts in. If I can't get to the gym at work, I have time and daylight at home.
I have more time for fun on the weekends because I'm taking care of little things during the week.
It's easier to keep up with my SP goals across the board and I think I'm making more and faster headway than I had been.
My commitment and motivation are way up.
Yeah, total win across the board. I think this schedule change is just the boost I needed to get back on track and back in the game. Look out 160s, I'm coming for you!
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