I Did It…Faced My Fear & Completed My First Triathlon!

After months of preparation and anticipation I finally completed my first ever sprint triathlon. As I write this blog a day has passed. Yet, I’m still too overwhelmed to express my feelings.  It’s hard to put my emotions into words. Nevertheless, I’m going to try.

coming out of pool

There is so much to be said about setting a goal and accomplishing it. There is even more to be said about facing your fears. I am so fond of telling people to just do it afraid. I’ve always believed in that approach, but I now realize that it is so incredibly hard to do. I’ve faced my fears before, but none like this!

Prior to getting in the pool yesterday I thought I was going to be okay. I wasn’t prepared to swim in six feet of water, and I was terrified of doing so. I’ve been practicing in very shallow water. As long as my feet can touch the ground I’m good. Once they leave the ground for an extended period of time I freak out! It wasn’t until two weeks ago that I even tried to swim in more than six feet of water. The reason I thought I’d be okay on race day was because the pool started at four feet and increased to six feet as you swim the length. My rationale was I wouldn’t be in the deep for very long. I assumed I’d be able to swim through it, and maybe even use it to my advantage.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. Since I hadn’t mastered my ability to breathe, I couldn’t hold my breath long enough to make it from five feet to  six feet of water without stopping. When I realized that, panic ensued. I have never been so scared in my life. My body was trembling and my eyes watered up with tears. The lifeguard literally had to jump in the water to help me. In that moment I knew my race was over. I thought, “This is it. He is definitely going to escort you out the pool.”

I didn’t expect him and the EMTs to give me a choice. When they asked me what I wanted to do, I immediately responded that I didn’t want to give up. I wanted to finish. From that point it became their mission to help me do that by any means necessary. The lifeguard even volunteered to stay in the pool with me for the duration of my swim. He vowed to stay by my side to assure me that I would not drown. He was prepared to save me. That comforted me.

As I swam the remaining laps, I became a bit more calm with every stroke. Eventually, I was at the last lap. I did it! I conquered the swimming portion. The sense of accomplishment I felt at that moment fueled me to the end.

The bike ride felt like a breeze compared to the swim. I was able to be fully present several times during the bike ride. I remember this awesome breeze on my face as I rode down hill. It was INCREDIBLE! I felt so free. I was so aware and present in that moment.

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The last mile of the bike ride was the hardest because of the slight incline, but I was determined not to stop. I felt so empowered. I pushed through with every fiber of my being. I knew the run was next and it would be the final leg.

Even though the run was only two miles, it wasn’t flat. It was mostly inclines. It felt like the longest two miles of my life. I could not have completed that course without stopping if I had only been out for a run that day. It was hard.

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Honestly, the difficulty of it did not matter to me. I just reminded myself that this was a freaking triathlon and it wasn’t meant to be easy. I was doing something that a lot of people can’t do. So, the fact that I was finishing last was the least of my concerns. My only objective was to finish. That was always my goal. I wasn’t trying to place. I just wanted to do my best. So far, I had done that.

Here’s the irony. All I wanted to do was finish. I didn’t want or expect any hoopla. But that’s exactly what I got. When I tell you the roars of cheers and applause I received when I crossed that finish line, you would have sworn I finished first! I literally heard them screaming for me before I even turned the last corner. I’ve never seen or experienced anything like that in my life. I was slightly embarrassed as I crossed the finish line. Not because I was last, but because of all the attention they were giving me. It was so humbling to me. I felt like a million bucks. Everyone from my friends, to the EMTs, the police and the firefighters personally congratulated me and gave me a hug.

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This experience has truly taught me that it’s not about how you start your race or even how you run it, all that matters is that you finish.

Now that I’ve shared my journey with you, I’d love to hear an experience you’ve had with facing your fears and how it felt when you did it. Please leave a comment on my blog.

Triathlon Training -Sinking in the Midst of My Swim

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The experience of training for my first triathlon has been such a journey. It has its share of ups and downs. For the past couple of weeks, there have been less ups and more downs. In particular, the swimming portion. Let’s face it, when you decide to participate in a triathlon you know it’s going to be difficult. Factor in the fact that you can’t swim and it becomes daunting.

So, I devised a strategy – eat this elephant one bite at a time. First things first – learn how to swim. I was scared to death when I showed up for my first lesson. Nevertheless, I faced my fear of getting in the water and just did it. The next lesson I progressed exponentially, I actually swam. I learned the basic techniques and was able to move from one side of the pool to the other – with my coach right beside me of course. By the time I made my third visit to the pool, I was in the water on my own. I finally realized that the likelihood of me drowning in four feet of water was pretty slim. That revelation helped me a lot.

It’s now mid May and it feels like my progress has halted. This week it feels like I hit a wall. My confidence has faded and I feel like I’m back to square one. The defeating thoughts I’m battling in my mind have begun to get the best of me. All I seem to focus on is what I’m not doing right. I can’t swim the length of the pool without stopping; I can’t breathe; my form is bad, etc. The entire time I’m in the pool I’m consumed with these thoughts.

It wasn’t until I shared my concerns with a couple of friends that they help me come to a few realizations. First, all I’m focusing on is what I consider are the negative things. They reminded me that a few weeks ago I wouldn’t even get in the water, and now I’m swimming on my own.

Second, this is still new to me and it takes practice. I compared this experience to when I learned to drive a stick shift. It seemed so hard! There were too many things to focus on. Once I got the hang of it, it was a breeze. It felt so easy and I wondered why I complicated it so much.

As it was the case when I was learning to drive a stick shift, learning to swim is going to take practice. Therein lies my problem. I am not practicing enough. When I look back over the last two weeks I have swam once, maybe twice. I need to swim more. Unless I make it a priority I won’t get better. So, I’ve adjusted my strategy. I typically workout 5-6 days a week. I’m going to add swimming on at least three of those days – more if possible.

Furthermore, I’ve been judging myself so harshly and I need to stop that. I was so insecure about my limited swimming abilities I allowed it to hinder me from going to the pool. If there were other people in the pool I’d get anxious and self-conscious. I believe that has affected my performance.

Today as I was swimming – all the lanes were full. I even had to share my lane with someone. So, if I wanted to get in practice time I had to do it with an audience. It’s actually pretty narcissistic when you think about it. Those people are not there to see me, I’m not Michael Phelps. They’re doing their own thing. But when you’re self-conscious these are the tricks your mind plays on you.

As it turned out, having an “audience” worked out in my favor. The other swimmers were very nice. Most of the people in the water offered me constructive criticism. I knew my technique was bad, but I didn’t know how to correct it. So when they offered feedback I wasn’t embarrassed or insulted. I was relieved.

Each of them were able to give me feedback that will help me. If I were swimming alone, I wouldn’t know what to do. I’m sure I’d learn through trial and error, but it would take me much longer. Unfortunately, time is not on my side. I’m trying to complete my first triathlon at the end of June, so I don’t have time to waste. I’m grateful they took the time out to help me.

This experience is teaching me so much about myself. It’s helping me face my fears. It’s forcing me out of my comfort zone, and it’s teaching me to be compassionate with myself.

So, that’s where I am for now. I will keep you posted as I continue on this journey. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. Do you have any suggestions to help me on my journey. What has worked for you when you encounter challenges as you pursue your goals?

Life in the “Dis-Comfort” Zone

As of late I have found myself in a constant state of discomfort. I mean this spiritually, emotionally, and physically. From a spiritual perspective, I’m on a never ending quest to become the best possible version of myself. That requires me to try to walk out the Word of God daily. As anyone on this Christian journey knows, that is no small feat. I have to continuously analyze my actions, behavior, and reactions.

discomfort zone

Emotionally, I’m checking my feelings about critical relationships in my life. I’m assessing who I want in my life, as well as what I want and need from people in my life.

Physically, it’s two fold. First, I’m not currently satisfied with my body/weight right now, so that’s uncomfortable. The second part to that is I’m challenging my physical limits as I’m preparing for an upcoming sprint triathlon. I believe this physical aspect to be the greatest level of discomfort of them all because it’s magnifying the other areas. The physical challenges reveal a multitude of spiritual lessons.

On the physical level, my triathlon training is the hardest thing I’ve attempted in a long time. It scares me the most. It’s requiring me to do things I’m not yet physically capable of doing. In conjunction with the triathlon training, I’ve been preparing for a half marathon. Each week during my runs I add miles to my long run distances. Two weeks ago I ran 13.1 miles. I haven’t run that far since I participated in my first half marathon in 2007. It was intimidating, scary, and down right painful. The last three miles felt impossible. By the last mile I was in excruciating pain from my waist down.

Regardless of how hard it was, I refused to stop. I didn’t want to stop running because I was too close to my goal. I adjusted my course. I reduced my speed, but I wouldn’t stop. When I hit my distance I felt relieved. I felt proud of myself for keeping at it. But I still felt awful.

What I’m holding on to now from that ordeal is the experience of not giving up. I was so beyond my comfort zone during those last few miles. I didn’t know how I’d finish. What I eventually realized was if I had any shot at reaching my goal, I had to get okay with being uncomfortable. I’d never felt that bad  before on a run. It was a foreign feeling. I was definitely outside of my comfort zone. That’s when real change happens. It happened for me that day. I shifted my mindset. I go back to that day even now as I’m about to do something I don’t want to do, especially a hard workout. That run is now my barometer. I tell myself, “if I could run 13.1 miles, I can do this.” No workout I currently do is THAT hard!

To really get this lesson in my spirit I have to start practicing it –being in the “dis-comfort zone.” I have to do this in all areas of my life. When I’m overwhelmed with all of my projects and I get to the point where I want to give up, I have to remember that I’m in unchartered territory  - I’m outside my comfort zone. Eventually, I will get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Question: When was the last time you were outside your comfort zone?

Why Running is More than Exercise – A Metaphor for Life!

publix10kI have been a runner for more than 20 years. It began for me when I was 17 and started preparing to go to boot camp. I started running in my neighborhood because I knew it would be a part of basic training. And it was. We ran every day. Beyond boot camp I continued to run as a part of my exercise regimen to stay in shape. I’ve easily participated in more than a dozen races, including 5k’s, 10k’s and one half marathon. Even though it’s something I’ve always done, it’s not something I’ve always enjoyed. Nor is it something I’ve always considered myself to be really good at. I used to compare myself to other runners. Since I’m not what I consider a fast runner, I’ve never given myself credit for being halfway good at it.

In recent years, I’ve changed my perspective about running. What I like about it most is that it’s a metaphor for life. In running, as it is in life, you get out of it what you put into it. When people are trying to improve in running I always tell them, “if you want to get better at it, you have to do it more.” You don’t become a better runner by wishing it or by watching other people. You have to get out there and put one foot in front of the other. You have to start where you are. For some people, it means starting with a walk, then increasing to a walk/run, then ultimately all running. For others they just start running, as I did. I typically start out at a slow pace to warm up and then pick up my speed as I go along, ultimately finishing strong.
It’s so encouraging because as you do it, you will become stronger and you quickly begin to see physical and emotional changes. Your endurance builds up rather quickly over time. Eventually it gets easier to cover distance at a faster pace.
Here’s the other part about running. You have to accept that every day is not the same. Some days you will do more than you expect, and the next day you can barely cover half the distance of your best run. It can feel so discouraging if you let it. I find that I tend to give myself permission to have bad days in running. However, in other areas of my life I tend to beat myself up when I have a bad day, especially when I don’t accomplish the goals I set for myself.
This past weekend I experienced a great victory. I am in the process of  simultaneously training for a half marathon in April and a sprint triathlon in June. My training schedule includes long runs on the weekends. This past weekend I was scheduled to do an 8 mile run. I was extremely anxious about this milestone because I haven’t been covering long distances lately. I’m a seasonal runner. I don’t run much in the winter. On my run days, I’ve been doing an average of 3 miles. So, to jump to 8 miles was scary.
One of my best strengths as a runner is I can cover distance. I think it’s because I’ve learned to set my own pace – I don’t try to keep up with others. I don’t run fast, but I can run far when I’m rested and prepared. I also prefer to run my entire distance, I don’t like to stop and walk, unless I’m injured or in pain. Otherwise, I keep at it. When I went out to run on Saturday I kept telling myself, I probably wont’ run it all, but I’ll do the best I can. The most important thing for me was to cover the distance. Well, not only did I run the distance, it didn’t feel hard at all. I actually could’ve run another mile or 2 if I had to. I can’t describe how incredible it felt to accomplish that goal. I felt AMAZING!
As I’ve reflected on that run, I’ve started to see how I can take that same approach in the areas I’m struggling with in my professional life. Here’s my take away.
In ALL things:
1. Prepare as much as you can.
2. Be determined to do it afraid.
3. Do your best and accept that it’s enough.
4. Don’t give up! Run the race with endurance.
5. Know that when you do something you didn’t think you could do, it gives you confidence. It inspires you to continue to push beyond your comfort zone and tackle other goals you’ve set for yourself.
Next week, I will continue this topic. I will share more of the life lessons I’ve learned from running. These revelations really helped me. I hope it does the same for you.
Question: Are there any ordinary activities you do that you’ve gleaned any life or spiritual lessons?

Healthy Ways to Increase Protein for Peak Performance

As you may recall from my last blog, my biggest goal this year is to participate in a triathlon. It’s part of my overall goal to get in the BEST shape of my life. In general, I’m a healthy person. Now, I want to work on defining my muscles and reshaping my body. So, I’m kicking up my workouts to include more strength training.

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Of course, in order to build muscle I have to increase my protein. As a vegan, I’m always asked about my ability to meet my protein needs. Since I primarily follow a plant based diet, I get enough protein. But to increase my muscles I need to double my current intake. This is a challenge because the easiest way for a vegan to increase their protein is to consume a lot of soy products. I’m not a big soy fan. I do consume certain soy products on occasion: non-GMO brands of organic tofu, tempeh, and miso. Other than that, I try to avoid it.

The other challenge for me is trying to increase my protein while reducing my calories. I can get my protein up with beans, nut butters, protein powders, but the calories can add up really fast. So, every day is an experiment for me as I try to strike a balance. I need to find the right proteins and combine them with the right foods so I can build muscle while losing weight. This is key because as I’ve said in previous blogs, you can’t out train a bad diet. I can work out all day, but if I’m not fueling my body with the right foods, it’s to no avail.

I’m learning as I go. Now that I’ve committed to completing a sprint triathlon I’m going to start my official training schedule the end of this month. I need my diet to be consistent and on track by then. I’m making adjustments and progress everyday.

I want to share with you some of the things I’m doing to increase my protein intake and reduce my body fat.

1.  Consume at least 30g of protein at breakfast. This helps me stave off hunger for at least 4 hours. Protein rich foods are good for satiety…meaning you feel satisfied after eating and you don’t get hungry as quickly. A sample breakfast for me includes a sprouted wheat bagel (10 grams of protein, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter (4 grams), and a protein shake (17g). I use either Vega protein powder in vanilla, or raw protein powder in vanilla. I mix it with frozen strawberries, ½ banana, water and a little almond milk.  I prefer to consume my largest meal at breakfast. To save on calories, I can just mix the protein powder with water or a little almond milk. A cup of plain, unsweetened almond milk is only 30 calories.

2. Eat lentils as much as possible. Lentils are such a great source of protein. I buy the bag and cook it myself. It has 20 grams of protein for a ½ cup. That is huge! You really don’t need to eat much more than that because they are so filling. Combine it with green veggies or pair it with your vegan sausage at breakfast. I’m learning to eat veggies at breakfast, especially now, because it’s better to consume carbs early in the day.  I try to avoid carbs in the evening.

3. Replace pasta and rice with quinoa. Quinoa is a staple in most vegan diets. Quinoa is a great source of protein because it’s actually a complete protein. It doesn’t have as high protein content per serving as lentils, but it’s a great replacement for rice and pasta. In ¼ cup of Quinoa you get 6 grams of protein. I also buy quinoa burgers. They contain no soy, dairy, or gluten. They have 4 grams of protein and only 190 calories. They’re called burgers, but I don’t dress them as burgers. I pair them with veggies like broccoli or kale.

4. Incorporate a modest amount of nuts. Nuts are another great source for protein. I just realized that sunflower seeds have a lot of protein, about 7 grams per serving, which compares to almonds and walnuts. As with most nuts, they are high in calories, so I have to be careful with consumption. I usually eat way too many.

So, these are just some things I’m trying as I try to increase my protein to about 100 grams per day. My desire is to do it without using a lot of soy. I don’t feel comfortable consuming soy on a regular basis.

Now, if you’re a vegan who is not trying to build muscle or participate in a triathlon, then you will not have any problem getting sufficient protein. Just make sure you eat plenty of leafy greens, black beans, green split peas, quinoa, and nuts.

Question: Do you have any suggestions as to how I can double my protein without soy products and without increasing my calories so much to compromise my desired weight loss?

5 Strategies to Acheive Your 2014 Goals!

Happy New Year! This is one of the most hope-filled days of the year. We look at the first day of the year as a new beginning. We ponder what we did the previous year and anticipate what we’ll do differently, or better, in the upcoming year.

One of the things I want to do better this year is to concentrate my efforts on the things that get me to where I ultimately want to be. Basically, I want to narrow my focus. I can’t afford to get wrapped up in a lot of things. Time is such a precious commodity. Each of us gets 24 hours every day, but some people use those hours a lot better than the rest of us. My objective is to look at the things I did -especially as it relates to my professional goals- and see what worked and what didn’t. If it didn’t help me accomplish my goals or impact my target audience, then I have to stop it. I want to focus my energy on doing my BEST work, not “busy” work. Doing one thing well is much better and more effective than doing a lot of things mediocre.

So, as I’m streamlining my priorities for this year, I figured I’d share with you some strategies to facilitate this process.

1. Define your ultimate goal. What is it that you most want to accomplish? (Lose weight, start a business, rebuild an important relationship, etc.)

2. Identify the barriers to accomplishing your goal. What has stopped you in the past from getting this done? Negative people, poor eating habits, lack of physical activity, busy schedule, lack of finances?

3. Determine how can you overcome those barriers. What can you do differently? Make new friends, join a support group, change your schedule, switch jobs, get an additional job?

4. Break down your goals into achievable objectives. What can you do over the next 12 months to get closer to achieving your goal? Then, narrow down what you can do each month to hit your 12 month target. Next, determine what you can do this week to accomplish your monthly goal. Finally, scale back to what you can do today to help accomplish that weekly goal.

One of my favorite sayings I heard last year was “inch by inch anything is a cinch.” No matter how lofty your goal is you can do something small every day to get you one step closer to hitting that goal. Also, you will want to make sure you track your progress. You can do this daily, weekly or monthly. This will help you keep your target in mind and help get you back on track if you get off course.

5. Determine the consequence of not reaching that goal. What will happen if you don’t accomplish your goal? Will your health deteriorate? Will you remain in the unhappy state that you’re in – or even worse – become more unhappy? Will you lose material things (house, car, etc.)? When you remind yourself of what’s at stake if you don’t reach your goal it can be a huge motivator when you want to give up.

Finally, the most important thing is to make sure you have someone to keep you accountable. Accountability is one of the greatest contributors to success. If you have someone checking in on you asking about your progress it will inspire you to do what you said you would do. It also helps to know someone is supporting you. If someone else believes in you it will push you when you feel like you can’t do it. If you don’t have a specific person to keep you accountable, you may want to to start a blog. Lots of people have started blogs to gain accountability for goals like weight loss and participation in competitive sports events.

Having said that, I want to share with you one of my major goals for this year. One of the biggest things I want to do this year is participate in a triathlon. I have wanted to do this for years, but I’m so afraid because I can’t swim! Furthermore, I’m EXTREMELY afraid to swim in a lake or an ocean. Nevertheless, this year I will do it, even if I have to do it afraid. I’m going to sign up for a sprint triathlon. There are several near Atlanta happening in May. My first step is to join the Atlanta Triathlon Club so I can get the support and education I need.

Anyway, I plan to chronicle this process, so please stay tuned! In the meantime, I welcome any support or feedback you can offer.

Now, that I’ve shared one of my goals for this year, will you share with me one of yours? What is one thing you want to accomplish in 2014?