Wednesday, November 19, 2014

On Turning 40

I'm not gonna lie.  Last night just past midnight, I opened up my Tinder profile, watched my age tick over from 39 to 40, and pondered the thousands of men whose dating preferences will forever after exclude me.  I'm not saying it was my proudest moment, but it happened.

Tonight I had a small birthday party, which is something I would never have planned for myself.  A few weeks ago my friend Robert gently suggested we go to happy hour on my birthday and invite a few friends.  I said yes, but then I started to get nervous about it.  Aside from being an introvert, the reason I don't throw parties is the same reason I have trouble asking people for help when I need it.  There's a part of me that doesn't believe I deserve such things.  In a moment of extreme vulnerability, I asked Robert, "What if nobody comes to my party?"  Robert replied, very sensibly, "Then we'll just hang out together."

Of course people came to my party, and it made me so happy to get hugs and well wishes from the people who are dearest to me.  And I was so touched to have a friend do something special for me because he knew I wouldn't do it for myself.

So that's the lesson of my fortieth birthday.  I don't have to worry about the thousands of people who won't ever love me.  I have plenty of people who already do.  I just have to give them the chance to show it sometimes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Dear Seventeen-Year-Old Carla

Dear Seventeen-Year-Old Carla,

In the last moments of the night before your fortieth birthday, I thought I'd send you a letter from the future and let you know how I'm doing.  First of all, nice job with the sunscreen.  My forty-year-old face thanks you.

I see you there in your bedroom, sitting cross-legged on your yellow bedspread listening to Tori Amos.  I would like to tell you how beautiful and powerful you are, but I know you won't believe me.  Someday you will.  

Let's talk about boys since that's what you spend most of your time thinking about.  That's not really going to change, by the way, so get used to it.

The beautiful boy you are in love with right now will be dead long before his fortieth birthday.  You'll think of him thousands of times in the coming decades.  You'll never stop thinking about him.

The boy you're actually dating?  The one who tells you you're lucky to have him because nobody else will want you?  Things are going to get worse with him before they get better, but someday you'll move on, and you'll never let anyone treat you like that again.  

You'll have love.  Plenty of it.  Don't worry.  

Nothing is going to work out like you're planning right now.  You won't go to the college you're dreaming about.  You won't get a Ph.D. in English or an MBA from Columbia.  (Yeah, I know, seventeen-year-old you doesn't want an MBA from Columbia, but thirty-three-year-old you is full of surprises.)  You're going to fail miserably at being a high school English teacher, and the job you'll have when you're forty doesn't even exist in 1991.  It's good you're paying attention in math class because that's going to come in handy.  Also, you're going to be really surprised at how much you grow to love the scientific method.

You won't be a famous poet by the time you're forty, but that's ok.  You've got to have something to look forward to, after all.

After a certain point, you'll stop caring about the plans that didn't work out because all the amazing things that happen to you will be so much better than anything you envisioned for yourself.  You'll travel, start your own business, move to the big city and learn to play a little sport called roller derby.

Despite all the amazing things, bad things will happen to you and the people you love.  Those experiences will deepen your empathy and compassion, and they'll teach you to love harder.

Love harder.  And if you love someone, say it.  You'll never regret saying it.

Above all else, stop worrying.  Everything is going to be allright.  

Forty-Year-Old You

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Strength Training Update

I'm four weeks away from my power lifting competition!

Since I tested my maxes at the end of September, I have been following a lifting program that my teammate Frak put together based on the Texas method.  Here is the basic outline of this three-day-a-week lifting program:

Day 1 - Volume Day
Squat:  5 sets x 5 reps
Bench: 5x5
Dumbbell Rows 3x8

Day 2 - Assistance Day 
Front Squat 3x3
Overhead Press 3x5
Back Extension 3x15

Day 3 - Heavy Day
Squat 1x5
Bench 1x5
Dead lift 1x5

The way it works is that every heavy day you do one heavy set, and each week you add five pounds (2.5 pounds for bench because bench is hard).  For volume day, you do 5 sets of 5 reps at 85-90% of the weight you lifted on your last heavy day.  On the second day you do low intensity/low volume sets.

The program can be modified easily.  Because I sometimes do my assistance day at the office gym, where there are only dumbbells, Frak gave me an alternate workout I can do with all dumbbells.  Also, the assistance work can be divided up and done on the other two days, which helps when life gets busy, but I prefer to do the three days a week as intended.

After seven weeks on the Texas method, here are the gains I've made on my heavy sets:

  • Squats increased from 155 to 185.  (Note, I failed my attempt at 185 when I tested my maxes, and now I can do it for five reps!)
  • Bench increased from 87.5 to 95.
  • Dead Lift increased from 180 to 205.

I'm really pleased with these gains, especially the squat.  Squatting 200 pounds was my goal for the year, and I am so close.  I am excited to continue this program and see how much progress I can make between now and the competition on December 12th.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nutrition Update: My New Eating Plan

It’s not actually a new plan so much as a return to sensible habits of the past with a couple new ideas.

Since I started lifting over a year ago, I have struggled with nutrition.  Lifting makes me hungry.  It’s also supposed to boost your metabolism, and I keep hearing these stories of women who started lifting weights and dropped dress sizes while maintaining or increasing their weight because muscle weighs more than fat.  Thus far, this has not been the case for me.  Since I started lifting weights last September, I’ve gained weight, but I’ve also gained a dress size.

I don’t record my weight frequently, but in May 2013 my weight was 147.5, the lowest it has been since I was a teenager.  By the fall of 2014, I know my weight was up to 155 because I blogged about wanting to squat my body weight.  Through the winter and spring it hovered at 155, and I was ok with that, thinking that was a reasonable amount of muscle to gain.  Recently, though, I gained another five pounds, and this time there’s no claiming it’s muscle because my skirts don’t fit anymore.

Yes, I know.  I should not care how much I weigh, and I should love my body no matter what size it is.  I know these things are true.  I will admit that my discomfort with gaining a few pounds is evidence that I am not as enlightened on the body image front as I would like to be.  But in my defense, I like to think of the weight gain as more of a signal that I’m not eating optimally.  And if I’m not eating optimally, that’s going to affect my performance at derby and lifting.  Not to mention, another five pounds will put me in a whole other power lifting weight class, and I’m not even strong for my current weight class.  And lastly, buying new skirts is an expensive pain in the ass.

Although I haven’t been very faithful about recording what I eat, I looked at the data I had and decided I might be eating too much fat overall.  Some of that fat was the result of a little too much ice cream of late, but I had also increased my intake of healthy fats, primarily nuts, in an attempt to ward off hunger throughout the day.  There’s nothing wrong with fat, especially healthy fat, but even healthy fats have twice as many calories as carbs or protein.  It occurred to me that between my lackadaisical approach to tracking my food intake and defaulting to fattier foods to fill me up, I might be taking in more calories than I realized.  So I decided to be a little bit more careful about my frequency of ice cream consumption, and I decided I needed to trade a little bit of fat for some lean protein and vegetables.

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I hate cooking, and I hate vegetables.  Recently, however, I have been intrigued by the spiralizer fad.  I decided to get a spiralizer and do some experimenting.  I tried zucchini, sweet potato and carrots.  The only one I liked was zucchini, with spaghetti sauce.  Heat it in the microwave for a few seconds, and that’s two extra vegetables right there if you count the tomato sauce.

I also found the easiest crock pot chicken recipe ever, which is excellent because I especially hate cooking anything that once had blood coursing through its veins.  But I can manage to dump a package of chicken breasts in a crock pot once a week.

It helps me to plan what I’m going to eat and to eat basically the same thing every day.  That’s not to say I don’t deviate from the plan if I go out to dinner or something, but it helps to have the overall structure in place.  Here’s the menu I’ve been following, more or less, for the last couple weeks:

Breakfast (527 calories):  Smoothie (banana, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, skim milk, protein powder) and coffee at home.

Mid-morning snack (200 calories): Kind bar.

Lunch (284 calories): Zucchini with spaghetti sauce, carrot sticks, Greek yogurt.

Afternoon snack (446 calories): Peanut butter and crackers, apple.

Post-workout snack on skating/lifting days (135 calories): Protein powder & water.

Dinner (536 calories): Omelet (2 eggs, onions, spinach), ½ large chicken breast, shredded, with 2 tbsp. guacamole.

Overall, I feel this menu is pretty balanced.  It’s got protein and carbs to start the day, followed by some good fat in the Kind bar at mid-morning.  Lunch is light, but it’s got three servings of vegetables, protein and a little fat in the Greek yogurt, and a light lunch is ok because I always have a substantial snack in the afternoon to get me through practice or the gym.  My afternoon snack has carbs and fiber in the apple, plus protein and fat in the peanut butter.  Finally, dinner has a ton of protein, plus more vegetables and good fat in the guacamole.  It adds up to about 2,125 calories on workout days with the extra protein shake, and 1,995 calories on non-workout days.  These caloric intakes seem reasonable to me, although I’m not really an expert. My plan is to pay attention to whether or not I have enough energy, see how my clothes are fitting, and eat a bit more on days when I’m extra hungry. 

Thursday, November 6, 2014

October Review and November Goals

Here’s how I did on my October goals:

Go to as many practices as possible.  I attended four of nine practices in October.  Out of the five practices I missed, four were due to travel or work.  Not ideal, but also beyond my control. 

Lift three times per week.  I should have worded this goal a little bit differently because my current lifting program can actually be modified to be completed in two or three days per week.  I prefer the three-day version because the sessions are shorter and a bit less grueling; however, it is great to be able to compress the program into two days in weeks when time gets tight, which is what happened twice this month.  So while I didn’t meet my goal as stated, I did fulfill my lifting plan for the month, so I’m giving myself credit for meeting this one.  

Do chin-ups daily.  Chinups have not been my friend lately.  I would say that I have struggled to work them into my daily routine, but the truth is I haven’t struggled.  I have simply stopped thinking about them.  I’ve learned a lot about all the times of day I don’t like doing chin-ups:
  •        When I get up in the morning (because I am not a morning person)
  •       When I get home late at night after derby practice
  •        When I get home tired from the gym
  •       When I get home after happy hour

I think part of the reason I’ve lost my chinup motivation is that I know I’m not going to be able to meet my goal of doing one assisted chinup before the end of the year.  Plus, I think that on most days I just have too much to do:  work, skating or working out, league business, feeble attempts at having a social life outside of derby.  No wonder the last thing I want to do when I get home at night is do chin-ups.  Ugh.  I’m going to give myself a little bit of a pass on the chin-ups through the end of the calendar year.

November Goals

November is the month I turn 40.  I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say about that later this month. Besides entering middle age gracefully, my goals for the month are:
  •        Attend all seven practices leading up to our first bout on November 22
  •        Follow my weekly lifting program (lifting 2-3 times per week)
  •     Chinups three times per week (as opposed to every day)
  •        Follow my new eating plan, which I’ll be writing all about in another post

Monday, October 13, 2014

Visiting an Unfamiliar Gym

Although I was scared in the beginning, I've gotten comfortable at my gym over the past year.  In fact, I'm so comfortable in the weight room now that I was certain traveling to an unfamiliar gym while in Florida for a teammate's wedding last weekend would be no problem at all.

I was wrong.

My teammate Frak had done the research and found a gym within walking distance of our hotel.  We planned to lift together on Sunday, along with a third teammate.  However, I arrived in Florida on Friday, a day earlier than everyone else, so I decided I'd go by myself on Friday, too.

Could we just pause here for a moment to appreciate the fact that I have become a person who would choose to go to the gym during a weekend getaway at the beach?  Holy crap.

So anyway, I went to the gym.  The nice lady at the front desk asked what I was there for and I said, "Just some power lifting stuff."  She told me the squat racks were in the back.  So that's where I headed.  Except there was only one squat rack like the ones at my gym.  There were two other strange contraptions that looked sort of like squat racks, but not really.  They had built-in pins that pointed up at a weird angle so it would be difficult to adjust the bar to the correct height and even more difficult to get the bar in and out of the rack safely.  They also had built-in safeties which were also not adjustable and therefore not great for short people.  Both of these strange racks were already in use (not by people doing squats), so I was not entirely sure if they were made for squatting.  And of course, the one normal rack was already in use.

As I stood on the gym floor trying to figure out what to do next, I felt all the old familiar gym anxiety come sweeping back--that uncomfortable feeling that I didn't belong there and must look like an idiot standing there looking confused.  A year ago, I would have turned and walked out immediately.  This time, I forced myself to think things through a little bit.  First off, I reminded myself that I have been lifting for a year and can, in fact, squat and dead lift more than my body weight.  In other words, I was qualified to be there.  Then I reminded myself that no one was looking at me because they were all too busy worrying about their own muscles.  I felt a little bit calmer.

Next, I wandered around the rest of the gym to see if there were any other racks.  There weren't.  But there were a couple of Smith machines.  My gym doesn't have Smith machines, so I wasn't really sure how to squat in one.  I went into the locker room, got my phone out of the locker, and looked it up on youtube, at which point I was feeling very proud of my resourcefulness.  I went back out onto the gym floor and did a couple of warmup sets in the Smith machine, except my form didn't feel quite right in the machine, and I could also tell that the bar did not weigh 45 pounds.  I googled "how much does Smith machine bar weigh" and got answers ranging from 5 to 45 pounds, which was no help whatsoever.  I asked a guy near me if he knew, but he didn't know.

At this point, I really was frustrated.  I was scheduled to do my heavy lifting day that day, which meant I really needed to be sure I could squat safely and with accurate weight.  I didn't want to mess up my heavy day as I only get one a week on this program, and I have goals, damn it!

So after all the positive self-talk, youtubing and googling, I finally did pick up and leave without lifting.  Nevertheless, I felt somewhat victorious for sticking it out as long as I did, trying to figure things out, and not immediately caving in to the discomfort.  Plus, I knew that Frak would be there on Sunday, and she could explain to me the many mysteries of how to work out at a strange gym.

And she did.  When I told her about the strange racks she said, "Those are squat racks, they're just shitty squat racks."  When we went back on Sunday, she let me have the good rack.  (Letting your friend have the good rack for her heavy day is a sign of true friendship.)  I asked her how I would have done my heavy day if the good rack hadn't been available.  How would I handle a failed set?  She recommended not going to failure in a rack like that unless the gym had bumper plates that you could throw off your back.  So this was good to know.  Frak also told me not to squat in the Smith machine, and I am more than happy to follow her advice on that.

With my squats and bench presses successfully accomplished, it was time to move onto dead lifts, where I encountered another challenge: hexagonal plates.  Instead of nice round weight plates, this gym had hexagonal ones.  This meant that after every dead lift rep the bar would roll forward or backward and I would have to reset my stance and start over.  One way to avoid this is not to set the bar down completely, just to tap it on the floor between reps, but Frak explained that I should not do this because you can't do it in a power lifting meet, and it is a bit easier because there is a rebound effect that you don't get when you are picking the bar up from the floor.  So that was kind of a pain, but I managed to accomplish my dead lifts also.

After all this, I had a revelation.  All of my gym discomfort on Friday was completely unnecessary.  I wasn't the problem.  The crappy gym with the subpar squat rack and hexagonal plates was the problem!  Woah.

So now I feel more confident about going to an unfamiliar gym while traveling, just in time for a business trip later this week.  This time, I'll be visiting a strongman gym, so I feel confident they will have plenty of squat racks and round plates, but of course visiting the land of the giants brings a whole different kind of intimidation, so we'll see how I handle that.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

My Goals for Season 9

I've set two simple but powerful goals for season 9.

1. Talk in every jam.  
Back when I played volleyball, it was my job to talk in every play.  I was the setter, and the second hit was always supposed to be mine.  Every time one of my teammates returned a serve, it was my job to yell either "mine" or "help."  It was automatic.  Alas, roller derby is a lot more complicated than volleyball, there's a LOT more to say, and communication is not my strong point.  There are lots of reasons for this.  Partly it's because I'm an introvert.  Talking before processing inside my head first is not my natural tendency.  Partly it's that my brain has enough to deal with getting my body to do what it should.  There's not a lot of bandwidth left over.  But partly, I think, it's also that I just haven't formed the habit.  

My team lost eight skaters last season and has drafted several new skaters this season.  Many returning skaters, like me, took time off for at least part of the summer.  While we're getting used to playing together, learning to trust and anticipate each other, communication is going to be more important than ever.

One of my teammates suggested I could begin to strengthen my communication skills by narrating the location of the jammer.  It's something I am already watching for, and it's not something that requires my brain to process strategy.  It seems like a reasonable way to start.  I'm going to work on this in scrimmage, and as the year goes on, I expect I'll get better at talking about other things during jams, too.

2. Find my learning edge in every practice.
When I was learning to skate, everything I did took me to the edge of my comfort zone, or as I like to call it, my learning edge.  Now that I'm a bit more advanced, I feel that it's important to remind myself to really push myself to that edge, which is where growth happens, every time I put on skates.  Otherwise, what's the point?  Whether it's speeding up my transitions during warmups, or forcing myself not to use my toe stops in agility drills, or putting on the pivot panty once in awhile during scrimmage, I'm going to pick at least one thing every practice and push myself to the edge.  Notice I said one thing.  It's not about being perfect.  It's about cultivating the right habit of mind every single day.  I believe if I start with one thing, the focus will naturally carry over to more things every time.