Wednesday, February 10, 2010

How running has changed my life...

Some of you may know that I'm an avid runner -- I kept running three-mile runs until I hit 34 weeks into my pregnancy with Kate (when everything... energy, knees, pelvis, back... gave out and up).

What you guys don't know is that, before a few years ago, I hadn't run since... oh... high school (and even then I did it grudgingly).

I read something earlier about a contest on Track Shack's blog (a local running store) about how running changed your life... and I started reflecting on it...

Way back when, in college, I tried to keep myself in decent shape. I ran stadiums and took the occasional tour around campus, but my eating habits were atrocious (as most college students are). I graduated from college, started a high stress job and met my eventual husband. Things started slowly going downhill. I met my husband at 21 and 125 (ish) pounds... married him at 23 and 130 pounds... and became pregnant with my son at 26 and 143 pounds. In five short years I had gained close to 20 pounds -- an average of 4 a year. My heart routinely rested at 95 beats per minute and tacchycardia wasn't abnormal for me. Walking up a flight of stairs was an occasion for a racing heart and heavy breathing. In addition to the weight I was carrying, I gained an *additional* 43 pounds, making my weight a whopping 186 at the time I was admitted to the hospital to give birth to my son. Keep in mind, I am only 5'4'' tall. My blood pressure was routinely in the 150/90 range and it even got to the point where my OB threatened bed rest if I couldn't lower my blood pressure on my own. My labor was complicated and ultimately resulted in a c-section -- a disappointing, but not altogether unexpected (considering my health), turn of events for me and something that has truly bothered me since my son was born. Relatively soon after my son was born I had my first abnormal EKG... at 27 years old.

My father has been on high blood pressure medication since he was 27. He has had multiple heart attacks. Diabetes runs rampant throughout both sides of my family. My grandfather died of a heart attack when he was only 50. I look at my father and wonder if he'll be there to see his first grandchild turn 10... nevermind graduate high school or get married.

I looked at my father and son and realized something -- if I wanted to see my grandchildren graduate from high school, I had to make changes. Not a diet but a significant lifestyle change.

I reduced my red meat consumption and increased the amount of fish that I ate. I switched to more lean cuts of meat (such as extra lean pork loin instead of pork shoulder). I became a dedicated label reader and outlawed anything with the words "partially hydrogenated" and "high fructose corn syrup" from our household. I switched to mostly organic foods -- especially dairy, packaged goods and eggs. I started buying fresh produce instead of canned and reduced the amount of butter in our cooking. I lowered our sodium intake by only purchasing low or no sodium canned goods and soups. I try to bake more instead of buying processed goodies. I make switches like substituting greek yogurt instead of sour cream in many recipes (unless my husband, who doesn't have the health concerns I did, pitches a fit).

But that was only a start.

I began slowly, by pushing my son in his stroller up and down the block. I increased my distance and soon we would walk a mile or more. Then, I began to jog with him in the stroller (taking frequent walking breaks at first). The first time I could jog around the block (which, in my neighborhood means 1.5 - 2 miles) without stopping to walk, I was elated. Eventually, over the course of a few years, I moved to a treadmill and routinely began running 5 - 6 miles on an almost daily basis. When my son started part-time preschool at a local Montessori, I joined a gym and started weight training and diversifying my work out routine. It helped to build muscle and increase my speed -- soon I was able to run a 24 minute 5K on the treadmill.

So, how did running change my life?

Thanks to the dietary changes, breastfeeding my son and the walking/jogging regimen, I was back down to 140 pounds in around a year and I lost even more weight after that. Before getting pregnant with Kate, I weighed between 120 and 123 pounds and my body fat percentage was excellent. I actually had close to a six-pack (which I'd *never* had before, even in high school). My blood pressure was routinely in the 105/65 range and my resting heart rate was in the upper 60s. My cholesterol was actually low the last time because the "bad" cholesterol levels were lower than normal -- a very, very good sign. My heart has no arhythmeia anymore and RUNNING up flights of stairs is no longer enough to wind me (well until lately).

But the best thing of all -- I FEEL amazing.

My last pregnancy was horrid. Every little awful thing bothered me -- I was miserable. The difference between my last pregnancy and this one is literally night and day. I actually competed in my first 10K at 20 weeks and finished at 71 minutes. I didn't even take a walk break until after I passed the three-mile-marker. I ran a 5K at 25 weeks and finished with a 29 minute time. My last 'official' 5K was at 30 weeks and my time was around 32 minutes. I kept running three miles around my neighborhood until I just got too uncomfortable running to keep going. I've been more active in this pregnancy than I was in the entire five years between graduating college and having my first child and it's solely the result of how great I feel. I was lucky to GET OFF THE COUCH during my first pregnancy nevermind actually take a walk around the block.. I was tired, miserable, hefty and uncomfortable. Do I believe that the difference in the way I feel is directly tied to my health? Absolutely. I have gained around 30 pounds this pregnancy (well within the healthy range for someone at normal weight), my resting heart rate is normal and my blood pressure is still in a terrific range. My blood work is all looking wonderful.

While changing my diet was an integral part of fixing my health before massive problems arose, I don't believe I could be in this great shape today unless I changed my exercise habits as well. Running provided me with a calming (and competitive) outlet. It helped to relax me on the days when my stress levels would rise while helping me fill some of the competitive fire I lost when I became a stay-at-home mom. Running has fulfilled me physically *and* mentally. It improved my self-confidence because I can look in the mirror and not feel ashamed of what I see. Running has also allowed my son to see that normal, healthy people make fulfilling exercise a part of their daily lives -- something I hope he will carry with him his whole life. He *loves* to come to races with me and thinks the children's runs that Track Shack puts on are ridiculously fun.

Running is cheap, easy therapy. Sun, rain, hot, cold, conditions don't matter. Bad day? Run it off. Indulged a bit too much? Run another mile or two and don't feel guilty.

Before, the idea of running made me want to cry. I'd probably put chinese water torture on my list of THINGS TO DO TODAY before I'd put running... now I can't wait to have my baby so I can get back to the treadmill and the open road. I'm planning on running my first half-marathon in early October (Disney's Wine and Run) and am looking forward to training for my first triathlon.

Honestly -- running has truly made my life better. I'm happier, more fulfilled, more energetic, more active and more satisfied. You never really realize how much poor health impacts your mental state until you totally change your lifestyle. My outlook on life wasn't good -- I wasn't really figuring I'd make it to my 70s, so I seemed to do everything I could to make sure I didn't. I suffered from bouts of insecurity and depression because I wasn't happy with the way I felt or the way I looked. I feel like I can be a better mother to my son and wife to my husband because I feel so much better around myself and my life in general.

The best part is that I'm not an anomaly. Anyone and everyone can do this, it just takes determination.

1 comment:

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