One Year Later: My Life Revolves Around My Health

Last year I had a health scare with a lifestyle component. Never mind that there’s a genetic component. Health problems are All Your Fault, and you’re a lazy bad person for having them, right? Healthy is for the virtuous, and we all know that people with illnesses get them because they’re all bad and stuff, right?

*sighs*

Did I Change My Lifestyle to Manage my Blood Glucose Levels?

I did make a couple of changes and did get my blood sugar under control. I dropped an a1c reading from 6.0 to 5.5 using two things: a ketogenic diet and an average of 45 minutes of moderate exercise every day. I took this figure from my fitness watch and just took a straight weekly average of how many minutes a day, I got my heart rate into the aerobic range. So… pretty accurate for how much I move.

All this work didn’t make me skinny. Not even close. While the weight loss was significant, I’m still well into the plus size range. But the goal was never to get skinny. The goal was to manage my blood sugar, and I did.

You can manage some health issues with diet and exercise, yes. If you’re willing to let your life revolve around it. Know what? I have the luxury of the time and money to do that.

My Life Revolves Around My Health

Is a ketogenic diet a time-consuming, expensive pain in the ass?

Yes. Yes, it is.

And, no. No, it isn’t.

I mean, the food is tasty. I like bacon and eggs. I enjoy salads. I love a good steak. Strawberries and real whipped cream? Bring it. I like nuts. So, as far as enjoying my meals, heck yeah, I do! I might want to snack sometimes, but I’m not dealing with actual hunger.

However, I’ve had to resurrect my bento hobby and adapt it to my diet. See, whenever I’m out and about, I cannot count on a satisfying meal, or need to pay for a really expensive one. Not much in my diet besides nuts is shelf stable! (Most of those “meal bars” marketed as low carb aren’t. At least according to my fasting blood sugar readings!) That drives the price of “convenience” food up. Sure, sure, I can buy boiled eggs and cheese or something, but wow, at over a dollar an egg, I’m better off planning and making a bento. Honestly, this hobby is a lot of why I can tolerate eating a ketogenic diet.

It also changes how I interact with travel. Bento are great for travel – sort of. Taking a trip on an airplane or a train, it’s nice to slip a bento in your bag and go. But meals out become incredibly expensive, and you’re always wondering how much sugar is being used even in meat sauces and marinades. Cruises? You can handle it, but you can’t just, you know, eat a meal. You need to talk to the waiter to make sure what you’re getting is okay for you to eat, and you need to be careful about hidden carbs at the buffet. Theme parks? You can get hot dogs and hamburgers without the bun, sure. It’s also really expensive. Simple carbohydrates are cheap calories, after all. I don’t say this to snark it. I have a whole nother rant on why the abundance of calories isn’t the daggone evil people like to put it out to be, but that’s for another blog post.

Anyway, even though a ketogenic diet is more expensive, I suppose it’s cheaper than insulin. But the reality is that insulin may need to be a thing in the future. I’m doing what I can, but at a certain point, one’s genetics does factor in.

It’ll be blamed on me not being skinny, of course.

Is Daily Exercise a Time-Consuming, Expensive Pain in the Ass?

Yes. Yes, it is.

And, no. No, it isn’t.

Forty-five minutes a day is a lot of damn time. I’m doing it and to be frank, I’m glad of my fitness watch, as it means that I can wave the data under my doctor’s nose as proof that yes, I’m exercising at recommended rates and intensity, and I’m still not getting skinny.

It’s still a big chunk of my day.

A short workout is half an hour. On busy days, I’m up at five in the damn morning to get that walk in. Unlike a lot of people, my treadmill was a wonderful and frequently used purchase, even two years later. Expensive? Yeah. I could go outside. Except I live in Northern New England. I don’t like to walk in bad weather and generally won’t. It’s very hard to talk yourself out of a half hour walk on a treadmill in front of your bedroom door.

A longer workout is a swim. That’s a minimum of an hour in the pool, but you have to add a minimum of a half an hour on either side to get to the gym and clean up after the swim. Expensive? Yes, gyms with pools are expensive. I genuinely enjoy swimming, but the way I go at it is most certainly because of the need to get in large wodges of exercise.

Do I ever take long walks? Sure. I live near some amazing trails, and my husband and I often take an hour for a nice long walk. I find this a somewhat less… irritating use of my time. Hanging out with my husband is important, and a walk is a way I enjoy doing it.

It’s still all about managing my blood sugar. If I skip a day, my fasting blood sugar spikes a couple of days later. Almost a direct correlation. It’s why I continue to exercise.

Oh yeah, I check my blood sugar every morning.

Concentrating on Health is Distracting

I can’t just… have a meal without thinking about it most of the time. I’ve always been in the habit of meal-planning and cooking, and thank goodness for it. I don’t know how someone who didn’t plan and cook a lot would handle this.

How am I going to get in my workout today? That’s a consistent question. I know, the idea is that you’re supposed to do it just like brushing your teeth. I don’t. *shrugs* The reality is that I don’t have a consistent schedule.

Here’s the thing: The mental energy that it takes to get me eating and exercising according to my health needs is mental energy I do not spend on family, work, creative projects or other things. That’s real. Perhaps there are people who have unlimited mental energy for all this. The very real reality is that I don’t. If I were in a survival situation of some sort – rotten family dynamic, job insecurity or anything like that, I don’t know that I could do this.

I can see easily how diabetes can be poorly managed from a lifestyle point of view.

So, the smug health-is-a-virtue jerks can suck it.

You Win. I’m Too Tired to Fight It

I’m back to lifting weights and while I’m not as weak as I feared, I’m not as strong as I hoped. I am very sore this morning, but not as sore as I’ve been when getting cocky about how strong I was after a hiatus in lifting.

My dumbbell set is enough to carry me for about six months, I think. Then I need to decide whether or not to join a gym or buy a bench with a bar. I’m really leaning to buying the bar. The things that keep me out of the pool are a million times worse in the weight room and I’m tired of fighting it. While I need to burn some energy on my body and health, the microaggressions on being The Fat Lady Who Works Out and Never Gets Skinny are too much.

I’m tired.

I’m tired of newbies trying to make a Project out of me.

Way to go assuming my intelligence and intrinsic motivation there, cupcake.

I’m tired of the weight loss talk in the locker room.

If you’re working out an extra hour because you put whipped cream on a single slice of pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving, you don’t have the problem you think you have.

I’m tired of health being seen as a virtue.

Yes, healthy habits can be helpful. Overall health is often a crap shoot and luck plays a significantly bigger factor than you think. Ask anyone who had healthy habits and is slammed with a chronic condition.

Thing is?

I miss swimming. I’m eyeing a local college gym (I can join because my husband and I work for an affiliate organization) that is amazingly cheap, but does have crap swimming hours. Thing is, my own schedule would allow for me to swim there. I may still go back and just allow myself the indulgence of snarling at anyone who dares speak to me. I don’t really want to behave that way, but while I’m fine with flinching before diving into cool water, I’m less sanguine about flinching at the talk constantly surrounding me in the locker room.

But, ya know, I miss this:

Wake Up Calls and Why I’m Going to Smack You

The rhetoric around people solving health problems with a lifestyle component make me nuts. I mean like, I have to go get face down in a pool for an hour or something or “I’m going to start throwing punches” nuts.

You see this crap all the time.

Angela from East Nowhere, OH lost 70 lbs and this is how she did it!

Hi, I’m Angela, a 33-year-old mother of two who has a business embalming deceased laboratory mice as an art supply for PETA demonstrations. I was happy enough but of course I’d gained some weight after having my two perfect children. When I went to the doctor, imagine my shock to find that my blood pressure was 270/110. It was such a wake-up call.

I decided I had to make a change in my life, so I could be a good mommy and a good example to my kids because I didn’t want them to be embarrassed by having a fat mom, so I started running marathons and eat only the finest produce picked by virgin elves under the light of the full moon when the dew has just fallen on alternate Wednesdays. I’ve given up television and am so embarrassed at all the evenings I spent watching Game of Thrones and eating a bowlful of candy.

Life is so much better now and I’m full of energy and my marriage is wonderful now that I’m a size six again. I look forward to my salads and springwater, and nothing wakes me up like a ten mile run in the sleet!

See, I’ve had a health scare, and yeah, it has a lifestyle component. (It has a genetic one, too, mind. No-one ever talks about that part).

I went for a doctor’s checkup and I’m prediabetic.

Did I decide to make some changes? Why, of course I did. I’d much rather try the lifestyle thing if at all humanly possible because managing blood sugar on insulin is a lot bigger pain in the ass than swimming a few miles a week, lifting some weights, and steering clear of the pasta. Sorry, candy and Game of Thrones never was part of my lifestyle, though I’ll admit being a writer and editor is sedentary as hell. I’ve always been pretty good about getting at least those CDC recommended 150 minutes a week of exercise. It must be showing on my heart indicators, because even my doctor believed me! I just upped the amount I’m getting and am trying a ketogenic diet for a while. (Rare steak, bacon-wrapped asparagus, and strawberries with whipped cream. Oh yes, pity me…)

The thing is, that subtext from Angela’s testimonial (and isn’t the evangelical term testimonial a big damn red flag) is that she became more moral and a better human from doing these things. Terms like “wake up call” and the “I’m so proud of you” condescending nonsense you get from people really says to me that there is a better way to look at it.

We don’t need to witness about focusing on one’s health, friends. Look at it like an engineering problem and take the emotion out of it. What do the peer-reviewed studies actually say? Read them. Health articles often overstate lifestyle stuff because it sells magazines and supplements. Would you buy a diet from Angela? Should you be getting your health advice from someone whose self-contempt was that strong?

No.

I have a problem, yes. I am applying a solution, absolutely, but don’t witness at me or ask me to witness.

Mascoma River Greenway Slayton Hill Overpass

I haven’t posted much about the Mascoma River Greenway lately, though I have been following its construction with great interest. They’ve completed a new phase, having paved it and installed safety railings over the Slayton Hill overpass.

I enjoy walking, not only as recreation or exercise, but merely as transportation. This greenway has me very excited because as it is being completed, it becomes quite safe and relatively easy to walk from my house to my preferred local shopping center. The construction hasn’t gotten that far yet, but the progress has been so amazing.

I spent the whole walk we took on it today in the gorgeous fall weather just gushing about how amazing and wonderful this greenway is. Lebanon has really needed it, and it’s clear people are making quite a lot of use of it. We saw a few people on bikes, several people walking their dogs (remember Lebanon has a leash law, my neighbors!), a few people clearly just out for a stroll.

Local peeps? If you’re happy about a nice and useful walking trail, join me and donate some money to its construction. If you don’t have money, but do have time or skills, you can get involved and join in work days on the trail. It’s already wonderful, but I am still fantasizing about being about to take a nice long walk some summer night to the movie theater.

Dorm Boots, Physical Hobbies and Sedentary Hobbies

As a reward to myself for getting up at five in the damn morning to get my long-neglected swim in, I decided to blow off housework to knit, finishing these little slippers, called Dorm Boots. They seem to have originated from an old pattern in the early part of the Twentieth century, they developed and updated over the years. I’ve seen variations that were knitted flat (I freely admit I found the pattern too confusing) to the variation you see here, which was knitted in the round.

I made them out of some scrap yarn I had left over from my latest shawl. Like the shawl, these things make me absurdly happy.

They’re very easy. All you need to know is how to knit in the round, decrease left and right, purl and sew up a seam. The bottom of the slipper is actually knit open, and you sew it up at the end. If you want the pattern, click on the image. It’s free, and quite useful.

I was questioning the garter stitch at the soles, but I think I get the point. You really do want a little texture on them. I’ve walked across the tile floor in my kitchen and the texture, even with acrylic yarn, is enough to reduce the chance of slipping.

For people who want comfy house-socks that are warmer than the thin ones you wear under your shoes, but don’t really want to commit to a heavy slipper, this is a good intermediary. I would also consider them good bed shoes for people who wanted to wear socks to bed.

I made them out of acrylic, and I think I would only want to make them out of an easily washable yarn, unless I were to make the deliberate oversized to felt on purpose. I’m tempted to try that, as I have some heavy brown Fisherman’s Wool left over that would make a warm slipper, indeed.

Ah yes, getting the swim in.

I’d been neglecting working out for some time, and was spurred back into a proper routine by a couple of things. First, I threw out my back. I have never in my life had back trouble before. It’s awful and painful and if you’ve been through it, I don’t have to tell you anything. If you haven’t? It sucks. It was from sitting in a bad chair and not working out. I fixed the chair while my back healed well enough to move without much pain, then I got back in the pool. I’d always had a strong back, so that was a bit of a shocker.

The other was a comment my son made while he was visiting for Thanksgiving. My parents had sent up with him a box of memorabilia from my childhood. In it were a few swim team ribbons (I never got better than second place, and I’d been on the swim team for longer than I’d remembered!), a bunch of pictures of me on various soccer teams and several Karate (Isshin-Ryu) certificates. He commented that he did not know that I was an athlete when I was a kid.

That brought me up short.

I don’t think of myself as an athlete or even a former athlete. Yes, I know. If you train to swim two miles in open water, you’re an athlete. All I can say is that I don’t think of myself that way. I didn’t think of myself as an athlete as a child, either. I was always gently encouraged to have some physical activity to engage in most of the time and I liked swimming and dance and soccer and Karate. But I was never a star at any of them. I did it because they were fun, and stopped when they stopped being fun.

But I never really could get into exercise for the sake of exercise, even though, yes I need to move or my body breaks down! Taking a walk? Well, it’s nice as a way to socialize with someone, or while listening to a book or something, but I don’t love it for the activity itself. Running? Running is for people who can’t swim. Exercise classes? *shudder* Not unless they’re highly skill-based, and in that case, I’m into it because I’m learning the skill. Weights? Okay, ya got me. I get a kick out of lifting heavy stuff.

But while I know that I do need to make sure to move my body regularly to counteract my sedentary profession and other hobbies (knitting ain’t exactly active, is it?) I always need a physical hobby to make sure that I’m active enough. And that’s the thing. I see myself as having a physical hobby – not as an athlete.

Unsustainable

I lost about 20 lbs.

And I quit even though I am hardly at a weight that would make anyone flipping out over body size happy.

I quit.

No, I didn’t quit because I’d reached a goal. And I didn’t quit from lack of willpower or anything like that. I stuck to what I was doing for about four months. I was seeing plenty of results.

But I have found calorie counting intrusive and unsustainable. Also, obsessive-making. I didn’t realize how much so until yesterday morning coming home from the gym (yes, I work out every morning, yes, I do a pretty intense workout, no it’s not going to automagically make me skinny) and was musing on meal plans for the day when my husband commented, “If you have to diet, why can’t you go back to No-S?”

“Why do you say that, sweetie?” I asked.

“Well, is your goal swimming long distances, or calorie counting? I think the calorie counting is interfering with your real goal.”

He was right. Now, when I do the calorie-counting thing, I don’t, say, eyeball a portion and guestimate. I don’t even use measuring cups. I measure using a scale and measure to the gram. Then record it. Recipes? I measure all the ingredients, then portion it out.

This is unsustainable. And no, my goal is not to be skinny, but to trim down a little in the hopes of speeding up swimming. But, yeah, the swimming is the real goal.

It brought me up short. While I don’t want to overeat particularly, I certainly don’t want to make a hobby out of tracking every gram that goes into my mouth, either. And as an athlete, I do have some level of concern about how I am fueling my workouts. Which basically means a lot of lean protein, whole grains, fresh veggies and fruit. Nope, that’s not going to make you automagically skinny, either. But the point is that while permasnacking isn’t good for me, eating meals totally is.

The balance for that for me is using the No-S method. No sweets, no seconds, no snacks, except sometimes on days beginning with S. Cake on a close family member’s birthday? Bring it! Sure, the carrot sticks are great, but for goodness sake, have a sandwich with it. Eat a hearty breakfast after that long swim. Just, don’t spoil your dinner by snacking, but wait until it’s mealtime.

For me, it’s sustainable. I prefer larger meals to snacking, there’s a lot of clarity to it and it’s not something that gives me the creeping horrors when contemplating doing it the rest of my life.

New Year's Musings

It’s a new year. I thought about New Year’s resolutions and really the only one I could come up with was to develop the habit of hanging up my swim towel and bathing suit immediately upon returning home after my workout.

But I like that resolution. You see, the resolution presumes that I’m going to be swimming, after all — a habit I’ve developed pretty solidly since the middle of last August or so.

I’ve been looking at my progress. It’s been so-so. I’ve dropped my average mile time down about eight minutes. That’s cool and all, but I need to drop it down another eight before some swims I intend to do this summer.

So, yeah, coaching. I’m lousy at accepting coaching, but in the Rule One* category, I really need to. Open water swimming can be dangerous. The “can be” moves to “is” if you don’t follow Rule One. And that’s going to mean coaching.

I’m eyeing the idea of developing a tolerance for colder water with a bit of despair. I hate cold, and I train in a pool that runs between 78 and 80 degrees. While I’m completely happy to put this off until about May or so, I’m going to have to get in the water then and start building up a tolerance. I signed up for the Sharkfest in the non-wetsuit category.

I did not do this out of any real macho sense. I did it because I’m five-two, and even if my diet goes well, will be weighing over 200 lbs by my swimming events. They simply do not make wetsuits in my size. Sure, sure, they make them for large people, but they make them for people whose size is at least in part due to height. For someone as short as me? Not so much, and certainly not for a price that won’t make me curl into a little ball sucking my thumb. Women my size are not often athletes. It happens, yes, but we’re not typical.

And yeah, I’ve got some pipe dream ideas about swims I’d like to do. But the only way to make a pipe dream a reality is to take daily incremental steps. One of those steps is most certainly developing cold tolerance.

I’ve been reading Loneswimmer a lot because he seems to obey Rule One (except for his habit of swimming alone 😉 ) and has written some detailed material on the biology of cold reaction and hypothermia. I suppose living in Northern New England near a really great hospital might come in handy. One would think they’re moderately expert in dealing with hypothermia.

There are other things I will be doing this year. Not so much resolutions, but things I need to do more, or do less. One of them is simply to create more. I need to knit more, write more blog posts, and sew more. Not want to. Need to. I do think the measure of a life revolves around what one creates. I don’t necessarily mean objects, mind. It could be a home, a family, a piece of software, a community or an idea. But I do think as humans what we do that matters most is in what we create. So much so that if I spend more time consuming than creating, I feel badly both mentally and spiritually.

It’s probably why I rather like cosplayers, the SCA, indie gamers, little bloggers, and all of that. It might be a little hobby, but it’s creating!

So what am I creating as a swimmer? A stronger, healthier body? Yeah. And it’s why I got into it. But to be honest, I keep up with it because I like it, and I’m happy when I am doing it. Probably I need something in my life where I turn off the information input flow and just BE for a bit.

*grin* And if you argue that means that turning off and not creating for a while is important, I’ll point out that most of the ideas for this article came to me while I was face down staring at that black line. I don’t listen to music or anything like that when I swim. I let my mind roam, poke at problems, and use my time in the pool to think. (When I am not trying to do a certain amount of math to quantify my workout, that is!)

Do you have any New Year’s resolutions? If you do, are they guided by a principle in your life? If so, what are they?

* Do not be a fu^h^h^h fornicating idiot.

A Tale of Two Workouts

Last Saturday, I was carless, and I was considering doing a workout. My choices were either to walk to the gym, which is a half a mile away from my house, and do my swim, or just walk for an hour and let that be my workout.

I decided I was going to walk for an hour. I’m lucky. I live in an area that’s great for walking and has the loveliest trail just near the gym. So, I walked the half a mile to it, walked a couple of miles on the trail and then walked home.

Now, while I do like and approve of walking as exercise, there are some problems for me. My feet tend to cramp up when I walk and I’ll usually have some heel pain for a day after a long one. I also tend to have hip pain after a couple of miles when I go for a walk. This can be ameliorated by slowing my pace a bit (which I do) so I’m walking about three miles an hour.

This is enough to make my hands and feet feel warm on a cold day, so it does get the body temperature up and the blood pumping. But it’s not enough for me to really feel my heart pounding or to elevate my breath to where my lungs feel like bellows or something. (A feeling I kind of like to go for when working out).

Still, it was exercise, and I did it for an hour, so all in all, a respectable workout, even if my feet did hurt.

The next day, I had access to the car, so I decided I was going to do a comparison workout and swim for an hour. This was about ten minutes longer than my “long” swim of a mile, but it was for science, and I was experimenting.

I took it a little easier than I do for my usual swim, but not by too much. I still did about 400 yards of freestyle sprints where I ended the sets gasping and feeling my heart pounding hard in my chest.

But nothing hurt. Oh sure, I felt the muscle effort and was even a little sore in my back, ribs and butt the next day. That’s not the same thing as it being actually painful when you first start to walk after sitting down for a bit, and it isn’t like something sharp digging into your hip. (I developed arthritis quite young)

Does this mean that swimming is easier than walking or running? (You do know that argument is part of how the Ironman got started, yes?)

Well, if you want to say that swimming is a very different sport from land-based sports, I’d agree. For many reasons, they’re hard to compare. Common wisdom says that swimming distance multiplied by a factor of four will get you a general equivalent in upright dry land locomotion.

So, my walk had me at a pace of about three miles an hour (19:42/mile, to be exact)

When we apply the multiplier to my swimming pace, it comes out to about four and a half miles an hour. (13:20/mile. Really brisk walk or a slow jog)

By this metric, yes, I’m going a lot harder swimming than walking (and no, I’m still not going all that fast. I get that!)

I didn’t do any heart rate tests, and possibly, I should. I think because the walking hurts, though, that the data might be slightly skewed.

But even perceived exertion has its place. That thing about the heart pounding and the lungs going like bellows? I don’t do that walking and I totally do swimming. I’m red in the face and gasping at the end of a swim, and not so much when I am walking (except for that damn hill up to my house!)

I’m not saying this because I think going really hard is the be-all and end-all of exercise. I’m doing this because I’m training for specific events that I want to do because of reasons, not because I think there’s necessarily any real virtue in working out hard. There isn’t, really. It might be a fun challenge, but there are other challenges available to you.

But I will say that if you think going all out and really hard might be fun, but that in some formats it is painful, there might be other formats in which you’d enjoy it.

This is pretty much why I am a swimmer.

An Excerpt from “Screw Skinny, Get Fit”

Mis-assigning Virtue

Often we associate virtue and physical fitness. Blame it on the Spartans or Romans if you want, or blame it on the Puritans. But because exercise can be hard or painful, we can associate it somehow with virtue.

Muscle mags are probably some of the worst offenders for this. You’ll find lots of articles sneering at fat, lazy slobs and a great deal of self-congratulations for a great physique and by implication, perfect health. Sometimes it can be hard to wade through them to get to some genuinely good information.

Being physically fit isn’t a moral imperative, nor is being healthy. There are lots of reasons why being more active is good and they’re discussed all through this book. You may have a million reasons to do what you do (or don’t). Since you’re in charge of your life, you get to decide this.

The human body did not evolve to be sedentary for long periods of time – true enough. Many people find regular movement has the benefits of mood improvement and an increased sense of well-being. Many people also find that hard, punishing exercise just makes them depressed and wanting to quit. Plenty of people have it worse than that, and punishing type exercises is emotionally triggery. Amazing what some high school gym teachers can do to discourage health and fitness, innit?

The reality is, yes, you do have to put in some maintenance on your body for it to perform well. The reality is also that you’re under no moral obligation at all to become an athlete if it doesn’t suit you. The reality is that you’re under no moral obligation to maintain your body, either. Obviously I find being active desirable, and I do genuinely believe it leads to a greater quality of life, but I’d be the last person on Earth to choose whether or not it does for you.

A great deal of finding out what’s going to make you more fit and feel better will be a constant series of corrections. This will be a pretty fluid boundary as well. If you stop exercising, you’ll find your light workout from your fit days will feel terrible to you. While consistency is ideal, don’t be a fool. You’re not doomed to a lack of movement because you have your exercise ups and downs.

You don’t owe the world “pretty”

Part of the reason, I think, that women are encouraged to exercise and “get fit” is a bloody lie. It is not about getting fit. It is about the idea that it is a woman’s responsibility to be pretty. If it helps, I’ll let you off the hook. You don’t owe the world physical attractiveness, so don’t let anyone tell you that you do.

Don’t let people use fit as a euphemism for pretty. There are plenty of physically fit Olympic athletes who would not be picked for modeling contracts. Challenge people when they try to map pretty to physically fit, and maybe we can chase that idiotic canard out of the English language. Except in the most extreme of cases –more to do with malnutrition, you cannot tell either physical fitness (for whatever value of fit you’re discussing) or health from appearance. Being strong and healthy might do things you like to your appearance, sure. That’s dandy, but what it does to your quality of life is far more important.

Your value as a human being is not about how many people want to fuck you. Sorry for the bluntness, but that’s what it boils down to. Don’t buy into that nonsense. Yeah, yeah, people talk about biological programming, but men are biologically programmed to rape any woman that smells like she’s ovulating, too. Five men in six have never committed a rape at all. Let’s not act as if we don’t have minds and wills, too, okay?

Making a disconnect between “unpleasant” and “good”

You might have gotten the idea from gym class. You might have gotten it from someone who was trying to teach you self-discipline, but kinda went overboard. But you might be thinking that if it hurts and it is difficult, it must be good for you.

Nonsense.

Exertion and challenge is one thing. I’m all for challenging oneself a bit during an exercise session, mind. Just don’t be an idiot about it. There’s a serious difference between challenge and punishment.

Self-discipline v. self-punishment

I’d be the first to say self-discipline is important. Except, I wasn’t. Would you believe other people have said it before me? No. Fine…

But yes, getting into the habit of being physically active when you have been sedentary for a while does take a fair whack of self-discipline. No-one is excited about their workout every single time they do it. In fact, there are many days when the best thing I can say about my workout is that I did it. Sure, sure, sometimes it feels glorious and wonderful. Other times, I plod.

Ultimately, what matters is not that I felt glorious or that I plodded through it. Nope. The important thing is that I did it. My body will not care how I felt about it, but muscles will be stronger and the heart will be pumping better because of the work I put in.

There’s a difference, however, between self-discipline and self-punishment. Even if you hate working out, it is not supposed to hurt. If you’re going for any sort of pain, it is because pain is your kink, not because your body needs it to get a good workout or enough movement to stay in good shape.

I won’t even push the “hurt so good” feeling some people (including me) sometimes go for. You don’t have to do it to get a productive workout. People who do it are going for an adrenalin high. You don’t have to do this to get fit. Some people just don’t get this feeling, and it is okay. While you do need to move your body to keep it in working order, anyone who says it has to hurt is a little maso. If you’re not, you can safely ignore them.

Now, that’s not to say that challenging yourself a little is bad. Challenging yourself some is a good idea. It’ll keep you interested, and boredom is often a problem with exercise, especially among geeks. I think it is no accident that when we do work out, we tend to gravitate towards sports that can be translated into a lot of math like weightlifting, or tend to be very physically technical, like martial arts or swimming.

Are you experienced?

To keep myself interested in swimming, and to make it pretty much impossible to drop out of working out pretty regularly, I’ve signed up for a couple of open water swims next summer.

The first one I will do is Son of a Swim — a two mile open water swim through Kingdom Swim at Lake Maphremagog. It’s meant for new open water swimmers and signups are limited. This just suits me for a first open water event. It’ll be in late June, so I am going to have some time to get some open water practice in before I do the swim.

The second one is going to be the Boston Sharkfest. While it’s a race, I’m going to have to admit I’m really only swimming to complete this one. It’s 1500 meters, so is almost a mile.

I’ve asked some questions on a message board dedicated to marathon swimmers. (You, like people who swim the English channel and stuff). They’ve been very kind and have offered some advice, mostly that I need coaching to get my speed up. Annoying, but unsurprising. I didn’t really want to join a swim team, but for something as technical as swimming, I obviously need someone to critique my technique. So yeah, coaching.

I’ve also been advised that I need to bring up my swimming volume on some individual workouts. While common wisdom says you can swim in a day what you swim in a week, it’d be a good idea to make sure I really CAN do a couple of miles in a pool at some point before I try the open water stuff. So, I need to plan for a few much longer swims in the months ahead. That’s cool. I can deal with that.

The last part is relevant to the two mile swim, but not the shorter one — feedings.

*sighs*

I swim on an empty stomach most days. In the pool at five thirty, I really have neither time nor inclination for breakfast until after my swim. Given that I am generally hungry with a strong adjective in front of it after a swim, I’m okay with this.

But for longer swims, food of some sort is generally thought of as a good idea. Depending on the length of the swim, most marathon swimmers eat every half hour or so. Now, a two mile swim is by no means a marathon. (Cutoff for that is 10K, I think…) But, yeah, it’s going to take me a couple of hours to do the swim. I dunno… The idea of eating on such a short swim makes me wince.

On the other hand, this is advice given to me by people who are majorly into this, and ya know, like swim the English Channel and stuff. I can’t say they don’t know what they’re talking about. They do. They totally do.

What I am wondering is how that advice translates to me, the fitness swimmer who is signing up for a pretty small event just to keep herself interested enough to work out most days. I tend to snark non-elite athletes imitating what the elite athlete does. (Gatorade after a normal fitness class, or protein powder when you’re not a competitive bodybuilder, ferinstance).

Yet, these elite athletes are actually advising the whole feeding thing for this tiny little swim. (Not that it’s tiny to me. It’s huge to ME. But I’m comparing what they do).

Like the coaching, I am probably going to suck it up and follow their advice. Until I have experience doing this, I can’t know better, and I realize that.

The reality is that these swims are going to be a little dangerous. Not hugely so, of course, but there is risk involved. I could get hypothermia, I could get a cramp and have a hard time keeping afloat. I could panic out in the open water (yes, I’m a good swimmer, but being scared before an open water swim is not too unusual, and panicking happens among the inexperienced sometimes, and I am inexperienced). I could get too tired to go on in the middle of the swim, and it’s not like running where you can slow down and walk. You have to keep up the pace to stay afloat and keep up your body heat.

So, with all that in mind, I figure I don’t really have enough personal experience that might trump someone else’s knowledge, and until I do, it’d be suicidally stupid not to follow advice.

I’m still resisting the idea of sports gels, though… Lynne Cox got by on oatmeal cookies and warm apple juice, darn it!