Secrets

When I first started running marathons, social media wasn’t around. I guess chat rooms were still kind of a thing (does anyone remember chat rooms?!?!) and social media may have been in its infancy but I was definitely not cool enough to be into it.

So when I started training for the NYC Marathon in 2003, I told everyone by email or word of mouth that I was running. That way, I couldn’t back out. Everyone would know. It was a great motivator to get my training in.

Me and my very first marathon medal the next morning. Yay!

I finished! It was torturous, but I finished.

Every year after that, as marathon season ramped up, people would ask, “Are you running?” It was always an enthusiastic “YES” from me. For 9 years, I would share my racing plans with everyone, often times raising money for charities close to my heart.

More recently, I’ve been keeping my big races to myself. I happily train without telling anyone when I’m racing. I don’t share my splits on Daily Mile. I don’t share my runs and progress on Twitter. As much support as the cyber world can offer during training, there is also a lot of pressure that goes along with it.

The Hamptons Marathon (that became a half marathon for me) was a secret race.

The Hamptons Marathon (that became a half marathon for me) was a secret race.

Perfect strangers can track you online during a race and when people know your goals, they also know when you’ve failed to reach them. It sounds silly, but the goals I set for myself are very personal and I prefer to keep some of them private.

When I decided to train secretly (or just less publicly?) for the Hamptons Marathon this past Fall, I was unsure how my post-op body would respond.

From colostomy bag to J-pouch, my little body has been through the wringer.

From colostomy bag to J-pouch, my little body has been through the wringer.

Would my J-pouch hold up? Would I get sick again? Could I really get all that mileage in less than a year after two major surgeries? I signed up for the full marathon, knowing full well that I might need to drop down to the half.

I decided to keep the race (largely) a secret and see how training went.

Clearly, I was happy with my choice to drop down.

Clearly, I was happy with my choice to drop down.

I knew a few weeks before that this was probably going to be the case and I was oddly at peace with it. Because despite the 65 mile weeks, grueling summer workouts, and faster than ever times, I knew what I could do and what I couldn’t do. The half I could do, the full I could not.

It’s not that I’m afraid to publicly fail. I’ve done that plenty of times. It’s just that as I test myself and try new things, I prefer keeping those personal goals tucked close to my heart.

Close to my heart like my Peanut.

Close to my heart, like my Peanut.

Have you ever run a race and not told anyone you were training for it? Or do you prefer to get the support of your friends near and far during training? It’s totally a personal choice and I’m curious if anyone else has switched back and forth like me. Or maybe I’m just crazy…?

Now go out and run!

Obi-wan: The Emotional Side of Post-Injury Athletes

The following is the third in a series of guest blogs written by my Dad, affectionately nicknamed “Obi-wan” for his sage advice and guidance in using The Force in my life. He is also the inspiration behind Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays and the person who first taught me how to get strong and stay fit.

The classic baseball team photo *awesome*, age7

He also taught me how to throw a ball and swing a bat so I could play baseball at age 5. Whattaguy. Note the excellent grip and form on that bat.

Here he is, ladies and gents, Obi-wan.

May The Force be with you. (Image courtesy of LucasFilm.com)

May The Force be with you. Not my Dad, btw.
(Image courtesy of LucasFilm.com)

As an avid reader of Abby’s blog I read with great interest April’s “Effects of De-Training” with the supporting study data. The study data on the effects of de-training on highly trained runners or cyclists supported what everyone, regardless of fitness level, has found out when starting back into a training regime after a layoff: your fitness levels have tanked!

Since when is 20lbs so much to lift?

Since when is 20lbs so much to lift?

Having never been a highly trained endurance athlete but more of a self trained fitness enthusiast who has had a number of enforced training layoffs due to injury and illness, the data was particularly interesting to me to see the effects of de-training on highly trained athletes.

It also made me wonder about the emotional effects of de-training and re-training on well trained endurance athletes and also the average person working to stay fit in today’s busy world.

Later that day Abby and I had a long discussion about the effects of de-training and how her recent experiences with chronic illness, anesthesia, surgery, and an enforced layoff after her surgeries had affected her. Our conversation ranged into the emotional side of starting to train again after an enforced period of de-training.

Try as you might, the human body does not bounce back after major surgery or de-training. Sigh. I know.

Try as you might, the human body does not bounce back after major surgery or de-training. Sigh. I know.

We agreed that retraining our body to once again be able to perform at the pre-layoff levels had both a physical and emotional component that one needed to understand. It’s more than just pushing ones self to get back into the gym, on the bike, or onto the track.

In other words how does one get their mind around starting again after injury, illness, or enforced layoff for any reason?

So proud of a measly 1.5mi run 4 weeks after surgery. My body felt like jello, but I was mentally SO ready to be running again.

So proud of a measly 1.5mi run 4 weeks after surgery. My body felt like jello, but I was mentally SO ready to be running again.

In trying to get a better handle on the emotional side of re-training after an undesired training layoff, I turned to the source of all wisdom in today’s world, the internet.

After trying a number of searches included “re-training”, “emotional effects of de-training”, “starting training again after de-training” and other searches without gaining much insight into the emotional aspect of re-training, I did come upon an article which gave a helpful acronym which they associated with re-training after de-training:

SMART

 S – Set Specific Goals

M – Set Measurable Goals

A – Set Adjustable Goals

R – Set Realistic Goals

T – Set Time Based Goals

Be SMART. You don't want to end up like this poor fellow.

Be SMART. You don’t want to end up like this poor fellow.

This same acronym has been applied in various different disciplines including business, and while the above would seem to be a helpful way to go about getting started again, it doesn’t in my mind address the emotional component of starting to train again.

When one has the fear of re-injuring yourself, the uncertainty of how the surgery you had will affect your ability to participate, or just the self conscious aspect of reentering the gym or workout facility at a different level of performance, having a plan helps but doesn’t address the fears that we all have of lacing the sneaks back up.

Working out with awesome friends helps A TON when working your way back after a layoff.

Working out with awesome friends helps A TON when working your way back after a layoff.

As with anything in life fear of the unknown and tolerance of ambiguity are the greatest fears that we have as humans and the fears around restarting our exercise regime or fitness program is no different.

Upon reflection I don’t know that there is any easy answer or strategy for overcoming our fears. But as with all things in life, they are lessened by facing them head on and getting started with a realistic plan of action which will allow us to once again “go out and run” (or whatever)!

Thanks again to Obi-wan for another great post. Have you ever had to work your way back into shape after a hiatus? How did you do it?

Now go out and run…or whatever ;)

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: Hang In

What’s this? Two posts in a row? This could only mean one thing: I am a human being again. No more Tasmanian Devil.

Put my face on this image with a white coat & scrubs & you have me for the past 6 weeks.  (Image courtesy of LooneyTunes.com)

Put my face on this image with a white coat & scrubs & you have me for the past 6 weeks.
(Image courtesy of LooneyTunes.com)

Not that I’ve been mad, just crazy busy going from one event/school thingy/project/race to the next.

And so, welcome back to Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays where we decided that, despite all the crap each of us deals with on a regular basis, it’s still way better than the alternative.

Have you ever had to just Hang In there? Ugh. It’s the worst. Your current situation sucks and there’s absolutely nothing to do about it so you just have to Hang In there and wait for the tide to turn.

IMG_1533

I’ve been there. Lots. And lots.

In school, during races, after surgery, in my rotation, while I was sick, in…LIFE. “Just Hang In There” is basically the title of my autobiography.

Abby Bales: Hang In There

An Autobiography of a Gal Who Spent a Lot of Time On a Ledge.

Waiting, waiting, waiting to feel better.

Waiting, waiting, waiting to feel better.

I’m a do-er. There’s nothing that infuriates me more than to “just Hang In there” or “wait and see”. There is a deep feeling of desperation in those moments that is impossible to articulate to one who has not been there. It’s a very dark place.

You know what has always happened when I actually did Hang In there? I survived. I came out the other side. I breathed a huge sigh of relief and explored a more positive feeling: gratitude.

I did my best to hang in there for my last mile in Chicago. Haven't been this grateful to sport my race medal in a while.

I did my best to Hang In there for my last mile in Chicago. Haven’t been this grateful to sport my race medal in a while.

That feeling of gratitude tends to stick around for quite a while. Gratitude and strength for Hanging In and not giving up, not giving in, not collapsing into myself in a heap on my living room floor.

Well, not every day.

I feel stronger for having endured really tough situations. Not so strong that I go out looking for trouble, but strong enough to know I could do it again (and again) if I have to (and I have).

Surrender? NEVER!

NEVER!
(Image courtesy of Peanuts.com)

I’ll take having to Hang In there for a while knowing that, eventually, it will make me stronger. Eventually.

And that is way Better than the Alternative.

Now go out and run.

Effects of De-Training

THE VIRTUAL 5K IS TOMORROW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Don't forget to wear your bib!

Don’t forget to wear your bib!

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, then click here first to find out how to sign up and click here second to learn about the INCREDIBLE prizes you could win.

(psssssst: a trip for 10 to Acapulco is one of them!)

This is your LAST CHANCE to get the $15 entry plus the $10 additional entry. After tomorrow, raffle tickets go to $20/each! There’ll be other items to purchase along the way, like…

Shirts! Shirts! Shirts are on the way!
Shirts! Shirts! Shirts are on the way!

Everyone loves a shirt that says, “Kick Ass” on it, right? Right. This will be my first foray into selling-of-shirts land. I’m a little scared…

…anyway, onto the actual blog for today.

Because more people than ever are participating in endurance sports, more people than ever are getting sidelined by injury. This is just the natural progression of things, but what does it mean for your training? How long can you be out before your really start to “lose” it?

Being out sucks. Trust me, I know. Hospital gowns are not nearly as comfy as running clothes. They're kinda scratchy.

Being out sucks. Trust me, I know. Hospital gowns are not nearly as comfy as running clothes. They’re kinda scratchy.

Here’s the science:

  • 7 highly trained runners or cyclists who trained for 10-12 months, at least 5 days/week for 60 minutes daily at 70-80% of VO2 max were studied. 57 sedentary individuals served as the control group.
  • Except for exercise during testing scenarios, walking was limited to < 500m daily at a slow pace and all other physical activity was limited.
  • After 12 days VO2 max (anaerobic capacity) decreased by 7%, by day 84 VO2 max was down by 16%.
  • Max heart rate increased by 5% (aerobic-means your heart works harder to do the same activity) and then leveled out by day 84.
  • Cardiac output and stroke volume declined immediately and had decreased by at least 5% by day 12.

Reference

Coyle EF, et al. Time course of loss of adaptations after stopping prolonged intense enduracne training. J Appl Physiol 1984;57:1857.

What does this mean?

There is an immediate decrease in your conditioning after 12 days off from training, approximately 5% or more in your heart’s ability to efficiently pump blood. 5% isn’t terrible and won’t kill you, but you’ll feel it.

And you’ll really feel it after 84 days at 16% when you can’t get going.

Your anaerobic goes first, followed by your aerobic which absolutely TANKS after 3 weeks. I mean TANKS.

photo (7)

Image property of: Coyle EF, et al. Time course of loss of adaptations after stopping prolonged intense enduracne training. J Appl Physiol 1984;57:1857.

Conclusion: 12 days is where the most marked changes happen, but it’s a steady decline after that into the depths of de-training.

This effect will be amplified by sickness, anesthesia, damage to the body systems (pulmonary, cardiovascular, etc.), disease, and lack of training to begin with. So, if you’re sick or have some kind of immunological disease, these effects would be more dramatic and over a shorter period of time.

Getting out of the hospital is a big step. No one runs out of the hospital and does 16 miles. No one.

Getting out of the hospital is a big step. No one runs out of the hospital and does 16 miles. No one.

I hope this helps some of you when you’re curious about the how long it takes a well-trained athlete to de-train and by how much.

Don’t stress over it, though. Your body needs whatever time it needs to heal and that’s the most important aspect of training: healing.

Now go out and run!

Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays: The Ledge

You survived Monday. Hooray! And Tuesday. Woohoo!

This is how I feel when Monday rolls around. Not because I really hate mornings but am not a fan of Mondays at school.

This is how I feel when Monday rolls around. Not because I really hate mornings but am not a fan of Mondays at school. 11 hours in class will do that to you.

So welcome to Better Than the Alternative Tuesdays where we remind ourselves why is really so much better to be here, no matter what kind of crap we’re dealing with, than not. This idea came about from something Obi-wan (my Dad, not THE Obi-wan Kanobi) has said for years in response to the lemons life has thrown him/us, “Hey, it beats the alternative.”

And it does.

More and more I find myself out on The Ledge. In running, in school, in life. Just…out on there on The Ledge without a parachute, looking down and not knowing whether or not I’m going to fall to my eventual demise or into something better than I could ever have imagined.

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So, I guess I’ve been building my wings.

I went out on The Ledge and got into my dream school.

I went out on The Ledge and had one of the worst marathons of my career.

I went out on The Ledge and had major surgery to take back my life.

I went out on The Ledge and got told “no”. A lot.

I went out on The Ledge and made a friend.

I went out on The Ledge and got burned by people I misjudged. Again. And again.

I went out on The Ledge and met others with my disease.

I went out on The Ledge and true friends came to my aid.

I went out on The Ledge and found that a friend was not there with me.

I went out on The Ledge and found my husband there, right beside me, ready to take a leap with me, pushing me holding my hand.

Always holding my hand.

Always holding my hand.

The Ledge is a scary place. A place where you sink or swim. And for me it means that once I’m out there, someone else knows about it ‘cuz I’m a chatty one. So then I have someone who will know if I back out. Accountability insurance, I suppose?

Maybe I’m just a chatterbox.

Me and Peanut, mid-conversation about how cute her little onesie is. We're chatty girls.

Me and Peanut, mid-conversation about how cute she is. We’re chatty girls.

Take this Virtual 5K. I put it out there and now have over 100 supporters, more than 20 raffle prizes, and people all over the world coming out of the wood work to help me meet my goal of $20,000. I didn’t sandbag my goal. I stepped onto The Ledge and look what happened.

Awesomeness happened.

Screen Shot 2013-04-02 at 8.57.50 PM

Holy awesome! Keep those donations coming, guys! I’m 1/4 of the way to my goal!

I’m learning to trust that regardless of whether or not I’m successful in these endeavors, I’m better for having tried. Yes, it’s lonely and terrifying to put yourself, your ideas, your beliefs, and even your health out there on The Ledge for others to ignore or ridicule.

 

But when you succeed, when you leap and find yourself somewhere better than you were before, even if it’s only once, it’s worth it. And so much better than the alternative.

Whoever thought "Doctor" would ever be in front of MY name? Not me.

Whoever thought “Doctor” would ever be in front of MY name? Not me.

 

Life is nothing without taking chances. Walk out on The Ledge every now and again, friends. The view is spectacular.

Now go out and run.