Please be patient as I make some changes and additions to my blog. So far I have added a few extra pages and will be adding more soon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Fuel-21 Wrap Up

Twenty one days ago I started a nutrition challenge at my gym called Fuel-21. For three weeks you eat a strict paleo diet (in a nutshell: meats and vegetables, nuts and seeds, some fruit, little starch, and no sugar) with a focus on eating real food and developing good habits. Everyone participates as a group and there are weekly meetings to talk about any questions people might have as well as ideas on food.

I decided to participate in the program a few months ago and began ramping up early. Over the past five months I've been decreasing my grain and dairy intake. Dairy was not a hard transition for me because I have had a lactose sensitivity for a while now. I thought bread and pasta would be very difficult to give up, but I never really crave them anymore. The biggest challenge there was my passion for baking. Now that I have more time, I'm looking forward to creating new recipes using all of the new ingredients I've learned about over the past few months. I always spend a lot of my holiday season in the kitchen and this year will be no exception. I also decided to take a break from alcohol, including beer which is a passion of mine, a few months ago. That was an interesting challenge in and of itself. I definitely have a different perspective on social gatherings having attended quite a few now and skipped the alcohol. My thoughts on the relationship between alcohol and community will be explored in a future post.

That brings us to day one of the challenge. Each participant met with Crystal on their own to complete an initial body composition as well as receive their guide to the program. We all met each other for the first time on Tuesday, August 9th. Everyone introduced themselves and we all listened as Crystal gave us a little information on her background then walked us through each page of the guide. I was lucky to have a good friend going through the program with me. We both asked a lot of questions and decided to be each other's support. I also set the goal there to take a picture of all the food I ate over the course of the program and post it to my tumblr blog. I left there and headed to the grocery store to pick up food for the week. I was excited but also a bit anxious as I knew I had a birthday party coming up that week and I was going to spend two days baking and decorating a cake. Let's just say the thought of baking a cake without licking any spoons was a foreign concept to me.

Armed with a fridge stocked full of goodies, multiple friends to text when I was tempted, and an updated baking playlist (music is an absolute necessity in the kitchen), I began the process of cooking meals for the week and baking a cake that I had no intention of ever tasting. The first three days were an interesting mix of delicious meals and the constant smell of sugar taunting me in my own home. I was glad to complete the cake and deliver it to the party. Since then, I have really enjoyed exploring new meals. My grandmother made a big spaghetti dinner for my uncle's birthday and I told her ahead of time that I couldn't have the cheese or bread that goes into the meatballs. She and my mother were kind enough to make me a small pan of my own and I brought spaghetti squash to replace the pasta. It was delicious! As they enjoyed the apple pie she baked, I enjoyed my apple sliced and dipped in almond butter. There were a few outings where it became awkward when I chose not to drink, but each one managed only fueled my confidence that I really was choosing a better path. Over the course of the program I started to pay attention to my body and only eat when I was hungry. In the end, my routine of eating a little here and there and snacking throughout the day has been replaced by a large meal mid-morning and another large meal after working out and maybe a small snack at night if I'm hungry again before bed.

While I cannot say I was entirely diligent in photographing and documenting my food, I did take pictures of almost everything and it was a great way to prevent myself from mindlessly snacking. The extra photography aspect I added gave me an extra layer of accountability that had an amazing result. I became acutely aware of what I put into my body and knowing that a photograph had to be taken caused me to really consider every bite. It started out as a simple project but it led to an increased level of passion for food and it took everything from the selection of ingredients to the preparation and consumption of food to an almost spiritual experience. I have always considered myself a foodie, but this experience has changed my entire approach to appreciating the art of nutrition.
In the end, I have made some major changes and I am incredibly happy. I have seemingly endless energy during the day and I sleep like a rock at night. I no longer struggle to get to sleep and stay asleep. I am not hungry during the day and I no longer get cranky between meals. I used to regularly get a condition we call "The Hanger" where your hunger causes a significant amount of anger and frustration. I now go a large amount of time between my mid-morning and evening meal and I still have the energy for a solid workout. I feel like I recover faster from difficult workouts and I've been making great strides in my strength training.

I also lost body fat, pounds, and inches and while I will not say those results are irrelevant, I can say with complete honesty that the biggest gain from this experience is the way my body feels, not any change in appearance. I have more energy now than I have in years and that, combined with the amazing mental clarity, has set me on an unstoppable path to conquer my dreams and live a fearless existence.

As summer comes to an end and we start the holiday season, I am looking forward to the opportunities to feed and nourish my friends and family while continuing this exquisite exploration of all things edible.

Eat, drink, and be merry.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Iron Belle Challenge 2011

One of my favorite parts about my gym is the amazing community of women. The programs they build for women and the ladies I've met continue to blow me away. Today was the annual Iron Belle Challenge and now, after five months of CrossFit, I have completed my first competition. I haven't competed in anything since high school swim team, and that was more of a way for me to work out and less about winning. I even spent my senior year helping manage the team and never participated in a meet. Over the past month, I had the pleasure of forming a team of three with Courtney, one of the women from my 6pm class, and Kathryn, another woman who attends morning classes at the same gym. None of us really knew each other and it was a great time getting to know each other while prepping for and competing in the challenge. Since we'd all just met, we decided to call ourselves the Perfect Strangers.

Last night after the packet pick up, there was a workshop at the gym about goal setting and strategy during competitions. Courtney, Kathryn and I had a great time talking to each other about our strengths and weaknesses and coming up with a plan to finish strong and have a great time. During the workshop, we did an interesting exercise on communication. The team captains were given a short workout to get their teammates to perform and were sent back to communicate that without speaking. It was chaotic and fun and was definitely a challenge as the team captain.

The Perfect Strangers before the first event
This morning, after a series of unfortunate events, I made it to the check in and found my girls. We spent an hour talking with some of the other teams and working through some nerves. The first event was a 2 mile trail run with two workouts on the trail. At the first stop, your team had to complete 100 12kg KB swings. At the second stop, your team had to complete 100 6lb medicine ball passes and 50 burpees. Both of my teammates are strong runners, so I spent most of the run on my own. I was very happy to complete it with only a few short breaks to walk and catch my breath. In the end, we finished the event with a time of 30:33.

Kathryn owned the deadlift
The second event was a deadlift ladder. There was a row of bars set up starting at 105lbs going up by 10lbs each time and ending with a 200lb bar. If you made it to the 200lb bar, you had 30 seconds to get as many reps as possible. This was completed by one member of your team and Kathryn had the highest deadlift so she represented us in that event. Her PR before the event was 165lbs. It was amazing to cheer her on as she moved up and completed a 200lb deadlift. This event definitely inspired me to stay focused on my strength training.
Reagan rocking the squat cleans

The final event was a team WOD. As a team, we had to complete 3 rounds of 20 15lb DB push press, 20 20" box jumps, 20 55lb squat cleans, 20 pull-ups, and 3 butcher runs. Being in a crowded gym full of amazing athletes yelling and cheering while you work your way through each movement in the WOD was just incredible. We did a great job during this event and had a fun time.

The entire event was incredible, but there are a few moments that will stand out in my mind when I think back to my first competition. First was the feeling of anticipation as we all lined up to go out on the run. As we lined up, we watched the last people come in from the heat before us. Two members of one team were already at the finish line when the third member of their team came around the corner. They ran out to meet her and all ran in to finish as a team. I will definitely remember the look on Kathryn's face when she finished the 200lb deadlift. And last but not least, I will be bottling the sounds of my classmates and friends cheering me on as I finished more of the push press and squat cleans than I ever have. I'll be keeping the hugs I received when the WOD was over and every last drop of love and support and pulling it all out when I start to doubt my ability to conquer my fears.

The 6pm Ladies: Kelly, me, Reagan, Courtney, Lina, Christina, and Jessica

I got to call myself an athlete today. I had a number written on my arm. I was a part of a team. And I did things I would not have thought possible only months ago. Today was a good day.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Couch to CrossFit

I'm sure everyone has heard of Couch to 5K. There are numerous apps and programs available to take you from a sedentary lifestyle to becoming a runner. I was never necessarily interested in running, but I did want to find a form of sport or fitness that would allow me to develop my body in a way that could be applied to multiple disciplines. What I found was CrossFit.

Let's start with a little background on my health. As a kid I was fairly active up through middle school. After various family events and some personal health problems, I stopped most physical activity and ballooned to almost 300 lbs in high school. As a junior in high school, I joined the swim team as a way to get exercise (insert fat girl in pool joke here) but had no clue what do to about my diet. My family was not the healthiest on the block and Taco Bueno for dinner and some Blue Bell for dessert was not uncommon. I moved out after high school and over the next 8 years I tried this diet and that, gave a personal trainer a shot for all of three sessions, went for walks, occasionally tried to go to the gym that was taking money from my account every month, and generally put my health last. I did manage to lose over 100 lbs over the course of the 8 years through various calorie restrictions, etc.

This picture shows me near my heaviest and least happy then another shot right before I joined CrossFit, lighter and more happy, but not yet fulfilled.

After a divorce last year and time spent wallowing for a few months, I decided I was tired of watching other people run marathons, play sports, ride bikes, go rock climbing, and all the other fun things I wasn't strong or fit enough to do. The drive from my apartment to my favorite little beer bar in Austin takes me up and down Burnet Rd. In the afternoons, I would drive past and see people running, jumping, squatting, and all sorts of crazy things in the parking lot and around the gym. After staring myself down in the mirror and verbally telling myself to put up or shut up, I was driving back from the bar and saw a row of girls doing pull-ups outside the gym. When I got home I looked them up and called the next day. I went in on my lunch break and spoke with the amazing Emily Baker who told me all about the program and reassured me again and again that all the training was scalable to my level. Inside my head I was laughing and thinking surely they couldn't understand how incredibly weak I really was. Regardless of my doubts and fears, and there were many, I signed up for Elements that day and paid right then to remove the chance to chicken out. I was scared to go to my first class and called the gym and rescheduled a week out. After a week of beating myself up, I showed up to my first day of Elements. It took all the will I could muster just to get out of the car. I walked in to the gym and saw people on the floor doing who knows what with cylinders of foam and little tennis balls and barely managed to walk to the counter to check in for class. Ben coached me and two other ladies through a lot of basics and we did at least a million* squats. And when I say we did, the other two women did and Ben went to get me a 20" box to sit on and get back up from because I couldn't actually support my weight past a slight lean. The next few days I was on fire and started using the handicapped stall at work so I could get a boost getting up from the seat. That is not an exaggeration.

I survived Elements and signed up for the 6pm Womens Only class. The ladies were all so friendly and I couldn't believe there were no chuckles when our coach pulled out the 20" box for me to work on my squat. Our warmup always ends with a 400m run which at that location involved running from the gym to an AutoZone down the street and back. Let's just say I didn't make it to the AutoZone before I was huffing and puffing and dizzy. Regardless, a lot of the girls gave me a high five on the way and told me I was doing a good job. What a way to kick off my first day of CrossFit. One of the workouts my first week was Annie which involves 50 each of double unders and sit ups, then 40 each, then 30 each, then 20 each, then 10 each and your goal is to complete all of that as quickly as possible. I don't think I had used a jump rope since kindergarten and I'm pretty sure I skipped the day where we learned how to properly jump rope. After fumbling around with it for quite a while I went over to try and do the sit ups. I kept at them, occasionally pulling myself up by the legs, and after less than 50 the coach called time and the workout was done. I hadn't even finished the first set. After class, the girls were kind enough to share stories from their first weeks and consistently reminded me that showing up and working through the WOD was a victory in and of itself.

I clung to that concept as the days went by and in what seemed like no time at all I was squatting to a med ball during the warm up. Then I finished the 400m run in the warmup without taking a break. Next thing you know it I finished an 800m run. I was almost in tears walking back in to the gym and one of my friends looked up and saw me and stopped what she was doing to give me a high five and tell me how awesome I was. Day after day I was racking up personal record after personal record. I got to call time in my first WOD and finished it completely. Then I ran a mile. Then I started squatting with weight. The hits just kept coming! Then came the day when I finally felt like I could describe myself as CrossFit. I had finally earned that description. Annie came back around in the rotation and I did every jump (single, I'm still working on the double unders) and every sit up and I got to ask my amazing coach, Carey, to give me my time. I sat on the mat and thought back to that first week when I had to get help getting up from a sit up and I had to fight back tears. I walked over to the whiteboard and proudly wrote my time, which was still longer than anyone else in the class, and I practically floated out to the lobby after stretching out.

Now I look forward to every day I get the pleasure of sweating it out with the amazing ladies in my class. I keep setting and reaching short and long term goals. I even added an extra day of training to get a better understanding of the various lifts when we work with weights. I love moving heavy weight and the strength I've developed over the past five months has changed my life. I walk with my shoulders back and every step is full of purpose. I am even competing for the first time on a team for the Iron Belle Challenge on Saturday. I love my life and I am loving my body and watching it change every day is such a joy to me.

So to anyone out there that has ever considered training, go for it. I can't recommend it enough. Find a supportive environment and, as Jen Cardella would say, do work, bitches. It is awesome. It may not be as simple as downloading an app, but it is worth every drop of sweat.

Go forth and conquer.


*The actual number is probably less than 100, but to a total newbie it felt like a million.

Greetings fellow adventurers!

My name is Jo. I'm starting this blog as a way to journal about life and all the things I find amazing and awesome as well as pull together other sources that I find inspiring and interesting. I am new to this blogging thing, so bear with me as I fumble my way through it.

I am a word nerd, so I think the best way to introduce myself is to start with a list of words. They define, inspire, interest and describe me (or I just like the word, like pulchritudinous) and they are listed in no particular order of importance.

CrossFit, Paleo, Rowing, Lifting, Strength, Travel, Language, Precocious, Adventure, Laughter, Gaming, Music, Foodie, Beer, Animals, Swimming, Friendship, Nerd, Baking, Change, Reading, Shoes, Dancing, Learning, Challenge, Determined, Phoenix

I'm sure you'll learn more about me as I attempt to ponder life while avoiding the awkward internet overshare. I appreciate feedback and can't wait to get to know everyone!