Let’s add conditioning

Let’s add conditioning

What an honor it was to be interviewed for an article for Women’s Running this month (M. Rodenburg, “5 Tips for Sticking to Running Once the Pandemic is Overwomensrunning.com, April 14, 2021). While the author focuses on those who took up running during the pandemic and want to stick with it, the piece offers appropriate tips for any of us.

Now that spring is fully here (tomorrow is May already!) it’s a great time to focus on making running a habit, but aside from other things competing for our attention, there is one big issue that can sideline us before we get going.

I won’t repeat the 5 Tips outlined (read the article!), but add that one other thing: conditioning. While coaching and being involved in beginner running programs, I think the biggest factor that stops developing runners dead in their tracks is conditioning – or rather lack of conditioning. Especially as we get older.

Last week, Kurt wound up in the hospital with acute lower back. The right mix of pain killers and anti-inflammatories over a few days got him to the point of moving again and physical therapy is next up on the agenda. 

We’re still not 100% sure of the cause. MRI didn’t provide any clues like an obvious disk herniation. There was no telltale pain down the leg that typically comes with a compromised sciatic nerve. What I do know is this: when I have had back pain issues it’s usually at a time when I’ve gotten careless about conditioning.

Often beginner runners – or even us veterans coming back after a long winter – just go out and run. We tend to ramp up the distance and/or intensity too quickly and also likely neglect the warm-up and warm-down, and other necessary strengthening exercises needed to support our level of activity. 

As a coach, I stress the importance of conditioning and urge would-be runners to make that a habit first! Too often new runners start to develop aches and pains due to lack of conditioning that they attribute to an “injury” and sit back on the couch discouraged and defeated, believing they “can’t run.” 

I’ve written about this before. It’s a subject I can’t overstate. Take the time to do a dynamic warm-up – just  5 minutes of moving that gets the blood flowing to all the important parts of the body. Give your body some warning that you’re going to be asking it to work hard – don’t shock it into submission!  Here’s a rough video I did of my pre-run warm-up.

Then when you’re done, WARM-down. Do a few more moving (dynamic) stretches and then some static stretches (positions that you hold). My routine is 15 minutes (a video of which can be found here).  So plan 20 minutes of pre-and post run conditioning. If you are pressed for time, cut down on the run time, not the conditioning time.

Additionally, some key core strengthening should be added to your cross-training days. In addition to flexible leg muscles, a strong abdomen, back, and hips are needed to support the workload. A routine I like can be found here.

There is more to running than just running. I can’t stress enough how important the whole package is. The extra time on conditioning is well-spent. Not only will you feel better, you will be less prone to injuries and set-backs and be able to run long for a long time! Wishing you happy and healthy running!

Spring running. Vernon Hills, Illinois. April 2021
Some non-advice for the parents-to-be as I look back on my daughter’s first 21 years

Some non-advice for the parents-to-be as I look back on my daughter’s first 21 years

Last week, my daughter turned 21. The ups and downs of my life with her came cascading down around me as the day caused me to reflect on the role I’ve played in getting her to this point – which is now, for me, one of my best friends.  

She was a great baby, sleeping through the night very early with an exceptionally happy disposition by day. The toddler years, although hectic for me as a full-time working mom, got off to a good start too. But just when I thought I was going to escape the feared “terrible twos” they arrived late…at three. 

The “terrible threes” stuck around for what seemed like an eternity when they collided with a dose of “terrible teens” as soon as she reached double digits.  Challenges seemed to escalate from there. I was reminded of well-meaning friends’ warnings of “the bigger the child, the bigger the problems” and actually longed for the days of diaper changing and 2am feedings.

The day we met. Hackensack, New Jersey. April 2000

She was headstrong and had her own way of navigating her world which always seemed constantly at odds with her parents. We tried our best to guide her in the right direction while respecting – even admiring – her opposition to the status quo, questioning nature, and persuasive negotiation skills.

After her father died a month into her freshman year of high school and it just came down to me verses her – ah, me and her – emotions became more complicated. I found myself very alone in the decision-making process as the single parent of an even more vulnerable teenager.

Earning my coaching credential during this time is probably one of the most valuable things I’ve ever done. Initially, it helped me achieve exactly what I wanted. It allowed me to expand how I could work with consulting clients and also gave me an added bit of credibility. This was something I felt I needed if I was going to remain self-employed and maintain the flexibility I wanted as a single parent.

Then I noticed it had helped me become a better listener, and a better communicator. And while those skills are important to any professional, they were most useful in my role as parent.

I started training to be a certified professional coach about the time she turned 16 and learning how to take a “coach approach” was a game-changer in our relationship. I think what happens with parents of teenagers is that we begin to miss the little people they once were and start to feel they no longer need or want us. Their need for independence at this exact moment and the push back they’re giving us adds to the conflict. Not taking it personally is step one!

Coaching is step two. Rather than coming at problems with anger (as in “why can’t you pick up your things?”) or resentment (“all I see is your face in that iPad all day!”), I learned to be more curious and look for understanding – mine! “What kind of a system do you think would work so we can find a home for this stuff” and “I really miss you at dinner. What would make having dinner with me/us more interesting?” Even if they still don’t put stuff away or show up for family dinner, at the very least, you haven’t fired the first shots of World War Three. My house just became a calmer place. Teenagers need space to find themselves. And as long as they’re safe, space is good.

I only wish I had taken this approach earlier. Younger children can benefit from having a parent-coach, too.

Coaches celebrate achievements and acknowledge difficulties. They hold a safe space for learning and growing. I remember simply saying to my daughter “I imagine that’s difficult for you” when she told me about some problems with a kid at school. She paused and said how nice it felt just to be acknowledged. As parents, our first impulse is to take away their pain and solve all their problems. Most of the time, that’s not what they are asking us to do. They simply want their feelings validated and acknowledged.

First Birthday portrait. 20 years ago this month.

My daughter’s 21st birthday occurred just as Kurt’s son and daughter-in-law are coming up on the last few weeks before their first child makes his appearance. So I write this with a little forward thinking for them too. Parenting is by far the most difficult job anyone could have and no matter what you do, you will make mistakes. 

While I felt I improved upon my parenting skills as a certified coach, I still made mistakes. And I never stopped second-guessing every decision I made on her behalf and fearing that she would be talking about me in therapy long after I’m gone. That’s part of the job. Thankfully children are resilient. And they grow up.

They forgive us for the mistakes we made and they eventually appreciate all we’ve done to launch them from the nest. The fact that my daughter is now one of my best friends and also looks out for me as well is some satisfaction that maybe I did a few things right. 

Best advice I can give to the parents-to-be is perhaps no advice. Parents should understand that all kids are different and what will work for one doesn’t for others (the reason why so many contradictory parenting books have been written). All kids progress differently; don’t compare and don’t listen to anyone who does. Be yourselves: caring, thoughtful, intelligent, creative and resourceful. You got this! It’s kind of like the marathoner’s creed: there will be days when you don’t know if you can do it; there will be a lifetime knowing that you have! 

One Year Later, Another Perspective

One Year Later, Another Perspective

There have been a considerable amount of articles, blog posts, other features about reaching the one year mark of the pandemic. Everyone offers their own, slightly different perspective. I feel they are all worth sharing, if for the singular purpose of creating an historical mosaic. To read my personal tales of pandemic life, see “Thoughts from Home: Life During a Global Pandemic“. I continue with my story… 

A year ago this week was my first week of quarantine with my daughter at her apartment and my second week “working from home” for a job I had just begun. We had gone to New Jersey the week before for Ann’s funeral. For us, and those who knew and loved Ann, the stories that abound regarding COVID-19’s first year also signified the countdown to another difficult, more personal, milestone.

The long road back. Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. March 2021

I imagine all of the families who lost someone directly to this pandemic approached this one-year acknowlegement with a similar uneasiness. I remember speaking to 9-11 Families many years ago who wished to mourn their loved ones privately while the entire world shared and yet couldn’t possibly comprehend the level of their grief. 

Roughly 528,000 lives were lost to COVID-19 in 12 months. Statistics show that the pandemic and ensuing shutdowns and closures have effected mental health, education, and of course the financial stability of many.  None of that can be taken lightly, although this too shall pass.

Our experiences are very personal. All perspectives are valid. While some mourn the loss of a loved one, some frontline workers experienced unimaginable stress, while others found the struggle in managing online learning and/or maintaining mental wellness equally challenging. Although I was laid off at the end of June and have been without the job that will make a few other areas of my life complete, I am grateful for Kurt’s support. Other than gaining 10 pounds, I’ve channeled my inner-introvert and have navigated the past year fairly well.  

I’ve come at this too with my ability to “roll with the punches” (one of my greatest skills according to my mom) and also with the hindsight of my (almost) 56 years of living and over 25 years of running (including 10 marathons). One lesson learned is that we rarely give the journey the credit it’s due until it is a fleeting memory; as soon as the marathon is over we put our sights on the next one. 

I find now that my mind is full of bittersweet memories of beautiful moments in my life that at the time I could only see as a difficult journey to someplace better. I don’t think our experience in regard to the past year will be any different. As I was driving back from the United Center on Monday after receiving my first dose of the Pfizer vaccine, I thought about the strong and resilient people we became. 

How we will remember the kindness of the people who offered support and helped us cope. How we perhaps got to spend more quality time with our immediate families. How we connected with neighbors who were also working from home. How we will cherish the effort we made to spend time with others on Zoom. How we found motivation in virtual races. We’ll look at the pet we adopted. And how successful we were still able to be at work. And yes, how much we miss working at home in sweatpants.

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