Thursday, February 13, 2014

My Messy Love Story


Tomorrow is Valentine's Day - a holiday that I usually spend the majority of my time trying to avoid.  Not because I don't believe in love, but because I don't like being forced to celebrate it on a certain day.  But I dutifully made melted heart crayons and a ton of those stretch bracelets for my kids classes, bought the Jedi some fuzzy jammie pants, and am getting ready to make our Valentine's Day orders.

The holiday does have me thinking about love stories.  Lately I can't go anywhere without someone asking about how my training is going (being a celebrity is so tiring.  Just kidding....).  The gym, work, running into friends at stores - everywhere.  So what about my "love story" with fitness?

I'd like to be able to write a totally inspirational story about how I woke up one day with the idea to become an amazing athlete and it's been smooth sailing ever since.  But like most love stories, it's more complicated than that.  It's also wound so tightly around the story of my family that I can't separate the two.  Like everyone's fitness journey, it is deeply, profoundly personal.  And messy.  And awkward.  And sometimes embarrassing.  And beautiful.

According to my mom, I had my first panic attack when I was 18 months old.  I curled up in a ball and went catatonic.  Even the pediatrician couldn't find what was wrong.  I just turned off.  Probably the best decision my parents ever made for me was to let me and my brother grow up on a 4 acre piece of property in rural New York.  I grew up rambling through the woods, riding my bike (and once walking) the 20 miles into town, and learning to love the outdoors.  Hiking with my big brother.  I had next to no athletic ability.  My only nod to athletics was a brief and very mediocre stint on the high school cross-country team (which I would use to justify my hatred of running for the decade that followed) and martial arts.

Backpacking.  Not our dog.
The meditative aspect of martial arts got me through my early twenties, a time where I had finally given up and been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression.  On the up side, it also introduced me to my husband, the Jedi.  I introduced him to mountain biking, hiking, kayaking, and took him on an ill-advised backpacking trip in the early spring in NH where we nearly froze to death.  He married me anyway, in 2005 on the top of Wachusett Mountain.  We had a wonderful honeymoon to Alaska.


Two weeks after we got home, my wheels truly came off for the first time.  Paralyzed by a job I didn't love, a house we couldn't afford to buy, and the certainty that this was supposed to be one of the happiest times in my life therefore I must be a terrible person for feeling so down.  Jedi took me to a doctor, who prescribed the SSRI I'm still taking.  I also joined a gym and started taking yoga and pilates there.  No running, nothing using those scary machines, but I did understand that I felt marginally better after a pilates class and I did my best.  A few months later I'd quit the gym for a new job, but still managed to crawl a bit out of my hole.

We even hiked on our wedding day

Time went by, I got a better job and we bought the house.  We had a new addition to the family, requiring me to come off my medicine.  I substituted with a prenatal yoga class - the first real steady yoga practice of my life.  I looked forward to those classes like a person lost in the desert looks forward to water.

Mini-Me is born

I kept up the yoga after the birth of my daughter, and good thing, because seven months later I was pregnant again.  No need to even find another class - prenatal yoga again.  But this time it wasn't cutting it.  By my second trimester the stress of working, having an infant and growing another one was too much.  I went back on my medication.  Weighing the cost of taking medication while pregnant was very hard.  I had to come off it again for the last 5 weeks.  After my son was born, I got my next dose within minutes of his first feeding.

We are four

Things settled in the next few years.  I gained back the weight I'd lost while pregnant (yes you read that right.  I was extremely ill with both kids and actually lost weight the first time, broke even with the second).  We built a house.  We moved.  Our kids grew.  I didn't do much exercising at all.  I gained weight.  I got really manic about counting calories and using the elliptical after bedtime and lost 20 pounds.  Jedi became a stay at home dad.  I lost my job.  I found another one. I got worse.  I tried a number of different medications in addition to my main one to try to find solid footing.  I settled on a long-acting benzodiazepine for anxiety.

We started a home bakery business to give me a creative outlet - another way to try to control my mind.   Life got busier.  We biked with the kids in the trailer when we could and went for hikes with them in baby backpacks.  We taught our kids to love the outdoors.


In 2012 we somehow got it into our heads to run our local Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving.  We dressed up our bike trailer like a turkey, loaded 40 lbs of kids into it and huffed through the course, finishing around 45 minutes, but making the local papers for our creativity.

I started to wonder what else I could do.  Some friends joined a Zumba class and the C25K program as New year's resolutions.  I followed along.  We ran/walked a 5K for St. Patrick's day.  I was sore for days.

I also was still struggling.  The time of year, perhaps - late winter is always the worst.  I contacted a friend (Merlin) who runs a wellness business - she convinced me to join a gym and keep running.  I learned to get up really really early.  A few weeks later she casually suggested I try triathlon, since I was already a biker and I was training to run.  All I needed was the pool.

You know the rest.


Why am I telling you all this?  Because I believe that many, MANY women suffer from post-partum depression, with mental illness, with anxiety.  Because I believe it is important to talk about.  Because I believe strongly in the mind-body connection, and that you can make huge strides in managing these conditions through nutrition and lifestyle.

Veggies from our garden

So now, nearly a year after I decided to become a triathlete, where am I? 


 Good question - not one I always have the answer to.  My kids think I'm a rock star and love to do what I do.  They also did their first tri with me last year and love to come running and biking with me.  It's a part of them that they will keep forever - that is tremendous.  I'm eating more or less clean, and that helps the anxiety.  I'm learning to enjoy running, primarily for how calm I feel once the run is done, if not for the actual moments spent doing it.  Swimming is my meditation (or I hope it will be once I get my technique smoother).  Riding a bike is just pure joy.  I still do yoga on a regular basis to quiet my mind and help my body recover.

I truly don't care how I place in my races this year.  I'd like to finish them feeling that I did the best version effort that I could.  I don't need to break a certain time.  My fitness love story would have two happy endings:


  • That being a triathlete will teach me to let go more and worry less.  I don't stress a bad workout, I shouldn't stress a bad day.  That I train my mind and spirit by training my body.
  • The keeping my body sound will allow me to active well into old age, so that I'm still climbing mountains with my sweetheart in my 70s.  That my dreams of backpacking the Long Trail and becoming a yoga instructor will one day still be possible.


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Since my last post, I re-united myself with a sub-10:00 minute mile pace with a awesome short run from work on Tuesday, followed by an easy swim set and a new-found Yoga for Runners video last night.  Sheriff's idea of tapering seems to still involve working out (my version prior to obtaining a coach was to sleep a lot and eat chocolate, but I guess he knows what he's doing), so I have a 40 minute bike trainer session today and a short run tomorrow.  A Valentine's Cake and a Karate cake for Legos' little guy.

It's actually snowing sideways.
Oh, and about a foot and a half of snow to deal with, like everyone else.  (Couldn't write something without mentioning the snow).  

I also woke up to an email that I've been accepted as a Sweat Pink Ambassador for Fit Approach.  I'm excited to be joining this community of amazing women, and hope to be bringing a give-away or other goodies soon.

I hope that this Valentine's Day brings everyone closer to the happy ending of their own love stories, and that everyone is staying safe in this storm.

What's the most important part of your fitness love story?


What are you doing for Valentine's Day?  Let me live vicariously!

1 comment:

Courtney Fields said...

Wow, very beautiful! I love your story. My love for running was actually born out of an eating disorder that was an offshoot of depression. Now I'm mostly healthy, unmedicated, and self-medicating through training. But seriously, your story is wonderful. Good luck in all your races this season.

For Valentines Day we're going out to a super fancy dinner. In six years we've never once celebrated and this is the first time we'll actually have the chance to do so. I'm quite excited.

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