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Monday, March 12, 2012

The gift of friendship... and imperfection

I read a surprising - yet not so surprising - result in a recent study.

(I had already learned that when given the choice, a significant amount of women will chose eating chocolate or horseback riding over sex.)

!!!

This time, I learned that women's favourite way to use their free time is...

... chatting with friends.

Yes, just that: chatting with friends. Nothing fancy, nothing complicated or expensive. No frills. Just getting together to talk.

Which makes total sense. After all, when we meet for an activity, be it shopping, a drink, a meal, a hike, it's just a pretext, right? Our main goal is to chat, isn't it?

But why do women love to chat together so much?

One of the benefits of friendship is the sense of connexion and belonging it provides. The great feeling that comes with discovering that you have something in common. Among those common things you'll discover you share, like interests, values and background, something is particularly exciting to share: the common imperfections. For some reason, we need to be reassured that other people are as imperfect as we are. It makes us feel better about ourselves.


Girl before a mirror, by Pablo Picasso


My friend M used to mention this "perfect frigging bi**" she works with, who apparently has everything going for her: great career, great family, great personality, great smile, great body, you name it. One day, M mentioned this "Miss Perfect" yet again, but for once, with a grin. Instead of grumbling about this colleague's mighty perfection, M suddenly seemed enchanted by something she had discovered about Miss Perfect. What was it, you wonder? Well, on this warm summer day, Miss Perfect was showing her legs by wearing a short skirt. BUT... when she sat and crossed her legs, my friend discovered that Miss Perfect was in fact not 100% perfect: she had.... CELLULITE!!! Judging from my friend's reaction, this was the best news in months! Yes, it was reassuring to discover that even Miss Perfect had cellulite, just like the rest of us.

(If someone in your surroundings looks like she's perfect, reassure yourself: she's not. She's probably just a better actress, better at pretending she's perfect. We all have our own secret demons, be it cellulite or something else!)

Chatting with friends make us feel good because we rediscover, over and over again, that we're not the only one who's far from being perfect. This has tremendous "feel good" power. Realizing we're not the only one.

We're not the only one who is probably not putting enough money in her RSPs. We're not the only one to wonder if her kids are the most mischievous beings humanity has ever known (and to wonder if she's just the most deranged mom on Earth, for that matter). We're not the only one to have such stretchmarks that it looks like a train has derailed on our belly (Thanks to my friend C for this wonderful metaphor!)

After a good conversation with friends, there's still not enough money put aside, the kids still behave like rang-a-tangs, the stretch marks are still obnoxious... but we magically feel happy. Isn't that amazing?

My friend K and I feel so much better about ourselves since we've discovered that we both binge (and when I say binge, I mean BINGE!) on junk food. We realized that our "cycles" are synchronized, and that the binge eating days coincide with a certain time of the month, which is the same for both of us. Since then, instead of self-loathing about those excesses, we do much better: we call each other... and lengthily describe to each other what we've eaten. It's become like a contest. It makes us laugh. "You ate half of  the apple pie and the whole bag of chips to yourself? How about 10 chocolate cookies in a row, followed by 2 huge bowls of chocolate ice cream?" In the end, we still eat way too much on those days, but at least we know we're not alone in the insanity.

I hope this post made you feel a little bit better about yourself! And you're more than welcome to share your own excesses with us!

Friday, March 9, 2012

Easy peasy 10K preppy

This the time of the year, folks. Time to prepare for Bluenose marathon!

Since there are 10 weeks remaining until the Bluenose, and since most of my running friends are planning to do the 10K, I decided to put together a 10K program.

(Please keep in mind that I am merely sharing my running plan and tips; this should NOT be considered as professional advice!)

This program supposes you can already jog for 20-30 minutes comfortably. If that's not the case, I suggest you start with the Couch to 5K program. If you're ahead of that, start where you're at in the plan, then build-up from there. And if you're already top shape and planning a half or a full marathon, please go ahead and surf the net: there are tons of running programs out there!

Although running programs vary a little bit, they tend to follow the same basic principles. Most of us are already familiar with them... but a little refresher never hurts. I know I often need to remind myself of these no brainers! So here are some of the "rules of thumb" of running:

10 training principles

1) Start at a level that's slightly challenging, but that you're comfortable with. If that means alternating jogging 5 minutes and walking 2 minutes, do exactly that. Even if you used to be a runner. After a long break, you can't get off to a flying start. (I know, it's tempting.)

2) Increase gradually. Listen to your body. Do not increase your total distance by much more than 10% every week. Take at least one day of full rest each week. It's easy to get carried away when running feels good, but injuries are too common and can wreck the best of plans. A pain in the b***... literally.

3) To improve, you'll need to run at least 3 times a week. 4 or 5 will obviously yield even better results. If you are prone to injuries and/or boredom, you can do some cross-training instead of workouts 4 and 5. Swimming, cycling, hiking and elliptical machines are all good for cardio if you keep a good pace. You can also do some weight lifting and core training. Strong muscles = less injuries.

Of the 3 weekly runs:

A - make one your long run: jog comfortably for a long duration, either non-stop or using the 10 min run - 1 min walk pattern. Intensity can be up to 75% perceived effort; having a conversation should still be possible. What I love about long runs is the repetitive nature of the movement, of the breathing, and of the sounds (footsteps on the ground). Once you've found your cruising speed, generally after the first kilometer or two, the rythm is soothing. Those long runs are akin to a meditation session.

B - make one your tempo run: medium length intervals at 75-85% intensity, around race pace or slightly faster (or the fastest pace you can withstand for the duration specified... this will depend on a lot of factors). Tempo runs prepare you to sustain a good pace on race day. Taking your pulse or using the treadmill helps monitor the increase and decrease in intensity. Here I will confide that tempo runs are my pet peeve... and this is probably the main reason why, to this day, I remain a slowish runner when it comes to races!

C- make one your short, intense interval run: short intervals at 90% - 100% intensity, 100% being an all-out sprint that's impossible to hold for more than 20 seconds. Bring the pulse back to a slow jog rate between repetitions for best results. Running very fast improves cardio and forces you to adopt an efficient running form. I personally find it fun, too! Hill repeats, if the hill is steep and takes less than 1 minute to climb, can replace speed work once in a while. Fear not the hills. Hills are your friends. Races are so much easier when you've gotten used to run uphill! (Especially if a bridge will be part of the route... ahem!)

4) Always start with a warm up and finish with a cool down (brisk walk/slow jog). Afterwards, stretch aplenty. Yes, there IS time for that. Stretching the muscles also allows to stretch the duration of the runner's high. And runner's high is GOOD. (Do I sound like a junkie or what?)

5) Whatever you do, each workout should have a specific goal (and only one goal!)

6) Breathe properly. All of us remember to inhale, but a lot neglect the exhaling part. Practice emptying your lungs slowly before you catch the next breath. Being an asthmatic runner, I find this helps tremendously, and I'm sure it's beneficial to every type of runner. At first, you might want to turn off your music in order to pay full attention to your breathing.

7) Dress properly. There will be some trial and error. I've been too cold and too hot while running. You have to adapt to your own internal thermometer - and they are all unique! - keeping in mind that it feels about 10 degrees warmer than the actual temperature when you run. More importantly, get good shoes!

8) Eat well. Your body might tolerate junk when you're sedentary, but it will make you pay if you try to run on low-quality fuel (and alcohol, even in small amounts)! Test and try what works for you. Some people eat very little before and after running. Personally, I need a good amount of fuel. But it has to be easily digestible. And of course, stay hydrated. Watch your hydration for at least 24 hours before the race.

9) The last week before the race is a "taper" week. Decrease the total distance and slow down.

10) Keep the motivation up. You might need to run with someone or in a group. You might need to run with music. You might need to vary the route. You might need to get your kids to hold a sign that says "Run! There's a bear behind you!" (Yes, my kids did that.) Do whatever it takes to remain motivated. Personally, I always "treat" myself to a long "cool down walk" after my runs. This is when I can fully enjoy the runner's high while listening to my music. Those "after-run walks" simply are blissful.

10 weeks to 10K

(Remember: The %s relate to your perceived level of exertion. Heart rate can be useful for gauging level of intensity, but general calculations don’t work for all of us. Get used to your own numbers and adjust accordingly. Some seasoned runners can instinctively deduct their heart rate from their perceived levels of exertion. Also: Please do adapt this plan to your needs! It is NOT a perfect plan. We'll discover it as we try it. Do let me know if you find mistakes in it. And have a great workout!)




Fast Run - Monday
Tempo Run - Thursday

Long Slow Distance - Saturday
10
March 11-17
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
4 x (20 sec 90%+1:40 rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 27 min
2 min brisk walk
4 min jog
6 x (2 min tempo+1 min rec jog)
4 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 30 min
5 min brisk walk
4K or 25 min
5 min brisk walk
T 35 min

9
March 18-24
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
4 x (30 sec 90%+1:30 rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 27 min
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
5 x (3 min tempo+1 min rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 32 min
5 min brisk walk
5K or 30 min
5 min brisk walk
T 40 min

8
March 25-31
Pattern
2 min brisk walk
8 min jog
30 sec 90%
15 sec 100%
30 sec 90%
15 sec 100%
30 sec 90%
15 sec 100%
3-4 min rec jog after each
2 min brisk walk
T 34 min
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
6 x (3 min tempo+1 min rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 38 min
5 min brisk walk
6K or 35-40 min
5 min brisk walk
T 45-50 min

April 1-7
Pyramid
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
45 sec 90%
30 sec 95%
15 sec 100%
15 sec 100%
30 sec 95%
45 sec 90%
3-4 min rec jog after each
2 min brisk walk
T 38 min
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
5 x (4 min tempo+1 min rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 39 min
5 min brisk walk
7K or 40-45 min
5 min brisk walk
T 50-55 min

April 8-14
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
6 x 20 sec 100%
3-4 min rec jog after each
3 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 40 min

Acceleration
2 min brisk walk
8 min jog
5 min 75%
4 min 75%
3 min 80%
2 min 85 %
1 min 85%
2 min rec after each
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 42 min
5 min brisk walk
6K or 35-40 min
5 min brisk walk
T 45-50 min

5
April 15-21
Pattern
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
20 sec 100%
30 sec 95%
20 sec 100%
30 sec 95%
20 sec 100%
30 sec 95%
3-4 min rec jog after each
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 43 min
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
5 x (5 min tempo+1 min rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 44 min
5 min brisk walk
8K or 50 min
5 min brisk walk
T 60 min

4
April 22-28
Pyramid
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
45 sec 90%
30 sec 95%
15 sec 100%
15 sec 100%
15 sec 100%
15 sec 100%
30 sec 95%
45 sec 90%
3-4 min rec jog after each
2 min brisk walk
T 46 min
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
5 x (6 min tempo+1 min rec jog)
5 min  jog
2 min brisk walk
T 49 min
5 min brisk walk
9K or 55 min
5 min brisk walk
T 1:05

3
April 29- May 5
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
8 x 20 sec 100%
3-4 min rec jog after each
3 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 48 min
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
4 x (8 min tempo+1 min rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 50 min
5 min brisk walk
10K or 60-65 min
5 min brisk walk
T 1:10-1:15

2
May 6-12
2 min brisk walk
8 min jog
10 x 20 sec 100%
3-4 min rec jog after each
2 min brisk walk
T 50 min
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
3 x (10 min tempo+3 min rec jog)
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 53 min
5 min brisk walk
11K or 65-70 min
5 min brisk walk
T 1:15-1:20

1
May 13-19
2 min brisk walk
10 min jog
4 x 30 sec 90%
3-4 min rec jog after each
5 min jog
2 min brisk walk
T 35 min

Acceleration
2 min brisk walk
5 min jog
8 min 75%, 1 min rec jog
4 min 80%, 2 min rec jog
2 min 85 %, 3 min rec jog
1 min 90%, 4 min rec jog
30 sec 95%, 5 min rec jog
2:30 min brisk walk
T 40 min
5 min brisk walk
4K or 25 min
5 min brisk walk
T 35 min

0
May 20
RACE DAY!!! Sleep well, eat well, and warm up.

Reminders:


Week 6 is a plateau before going on to longer distances.
Week 1 is a taper week in preparation for the race.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

How to make a fool of yourself 101

In this Occidental world that celebrates individuality, the ego sometimes takes excessive proportions. Too often, it's all about "me, myself and I". I don't remember where I read it, but someone recently suggested that to shrink all those overinflated egos that abound, we should, in lieu of spending energy on personal growth, try to focus on personal de-growth (or decay, or decline). Instead of targeting all our efforts on ourselves, instead of always trying to become better, we should endeavour to make ourselves less perfect, less strong, less important. Instead of protecting our ego, we should embrace...

... vulnerability. After all, vulnerability is an understated, and underrated, quality. Yet is is in vulnerability that we create our strongest connections. Opening up and sharing our weaknesses with a trustworthy friend or family member is a quick path to intimacy, complicity, attachment. Imperfection elicits sympathy and compassion. It is reassuring to see imperfection in others. We often (consciously or not) try to impress others, but the real way to make good friends is to let our imperfections shine! Asking for help is an other way to foster attachement. It has been shown that helping someone makes us feel connected to them, makes us care even more about them. So go ahead, ask for help! Finally, auto derision (making fun of oneself) is a sure and healthy way to make people laugh. And people just love to laugh.

According to Brené Brown, professor/researcher of Social Work, "vulnerability is [nothing less than] the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change". For a nice talk by her on the power of vulnerability, click here. Here are some of the things she says during that talk:

"In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen. Really seen. Deeply seen."
"Vulnerability is necessary, as in being willing to say I love you first, to invest in a relationship that may or may not work out, to love with your whole heart even if there are no guarantees."
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of joy, of creativity, of belonging, of love."
"To feel vulnerable is to be alive."


Achilles slays Hector, by Peter Paul Rubens


Brown also stresses the fact that a lot of us, uncomfortable with vulnerability, try to numb it. This might explain, to a certain extent, the skyrocketing levels of debt, obesity, addiction, and over-medication in North America right now. But numbing vulnerability does not work. Apart from numbing the negative, it also numbs everything else: joy, gratitude, happiness. Instead, Brown tells us our job is to simply tell ourselves "I am enough." We'll be kinder to ourselves and others that way. Our job is also to tell children "You are imperfect and wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging".

Today, I have decided to apply those lessons in vulnerability. (I think you should do it too!) And the way I'm gonna do it is by telling you, readers, a few stories. Other than cleaning the toilets, one of the best ways to effectively deflate one's own ego is to tell others tales of the moments you've made a complete fool of yourself. You know, those shameful times when you wished to disappear under the floor, and that you secretly hope no one will ever learn about? Yes, those ones. Well, it's time to tell them publicly. Try it! I assure you it will be very liberating.

I'm a fool # 1

I am sitting in a literature class with a dozen of other graduate students. The professor asks the group, "Who has read Victor Hugo?" I raise my hand like a shot, as do most of my classmates. The professor looks at me: "Which ones of his works have you read, J?" I am ready to open my mouth and name a few. This is when my mind suddenly decides to go blank. Like completely blank. As far as my nut bag of a brain is concerned, I might as well have never read one book in my whole life. And who's that Victor Hugo anyways?

Victor Hugo


(To those who don't know him, Victor Hugo was a very famous and very prolific French writer of the nineteenth century. He is, among others, the author of Notre-Dame de Paris - in English The Hunchback of Notre Dame - and Les Misérables. His books are translated and read all around the world. The two aforementioned ones have been adapted for musicals and cinema. To be a French Literature Masters student and not be able to name any of his books is akin to being a Medical student who wouldn't be able to locate the the skull on a skeleton.)

When I come back to my senses, the professor has changed topics already. Still, I want to drown under my desk.

I'm a fool # 2

Speaking of drowning. Here are two facts about me: a) I am a swimmer 2) When it comes to swimming, I tend to be a little bit of a show off. Whenever I enter a body of water, be it a swimming pool or a lake, I like to swim some butterfly... partly because I enjoy it, but mostly because butterfly never fails to impress onlookers. Yes, I'm that vain. So here I am during my vacation in Cuba, enjoying the warm water and the waves, when I suddenly decide that all those beachcombers are due for a show. Let's swim some butterfly, I tell myself. And so I start swimming. It flows, it is fluid, it is strong. I feel great. On top of the world. (On top of the ocean would be more accurate). This is when something else, as flowing, as fluid, and as strong, hits me right in the mouth: a huge wave. I half swallow, half breathe in, a generous amount of saltwater. I try to pretend nothing's happened, but when I try to discretely cough, nothing comes out. I try to inhale. Nothing comes in. Starting to panic, I get on my feet. Still, no air is coming either in nor out. I am truly and fully choked. Like in I'm gonna turn purple soon if I don't de-choke myself quickly. I forcefully try to cough. Nothing. I try harder. Finally, a faint cough works. Inhaling is as difficult. I takes me about 5 minutes to regain my normal breathing. So much for the butterfly show!

I'm a fool # 3

This one has to be the most mortifying. Imagine a first date with a super handsome, smart, funny, strong (karate black belt) guy whom you never thought would lay his eyes on you, yet here you are sitting in front of him in a restaurant because he actually asked you out. The food is good, the conversation is flowing. You discuss common interests, and they are numerous. You laugh together. You're thinking this evening is going really well and that you might have won the jackpot with this date! All the while putting some ketchup on your fries, you tell him witty things that make his smile widen and his eyes sparkle. While you're chewing on a mouthful of fries, he replies with a hilarious comment. You burst out laughing. You laugh so hard you almost choke (what's with the choking, anyways?) You laugh so much it makes you cry. Your laugh is such that you start to snort. And then some. As if this wasn't enough, the snort is accompanied by a leak of the nose... but not any kind of leak. What is coming out of my nose is red. It is KETCHUP.

My beau's smile is gone. He is staring at me, and his eyes are not sparkly anymore. I quietly wipe my nostrils with my napkin, but I know the damage is done: I have successfully ruined the moment, and probably the date altogether.

Now your turn to dig into your shameful memories!