The Blood Pressure Project

I have many hobbies. I knit and crochet, and have a massive quantity of scrapbook supplies that I haven’t used on a scrapbook in quite some time, but treasure nonetheless. My small apartment holds the makings of many projects. And yet, I look enviously at my students and the projects they engage in. Some are school related…such as my champion Battle of the Books team and their project of reading 15 specific novels in a few months in order to compete in a contest of their comprehension and knowledge of the books. Much to my boastful delight, they take it very seriously and bring home the trophy every year! There are other students too, that have told me about personal projects. One year, a young girl wanted to learn how to crochet so she could make and sell potholders. She wanted to send the money to the ASPCA because she saw the commercials featuring images of abused animals and sad music playing in the background.

With an intense focus on their goals, these students have been successful with their projects. While I don’t really have time for projects like these kids, I do wish I had something to focus on. I have run two road races in the past and that seems to have worked for me. They were projects that required training and a specific end goal, but that end goal ended with the finishing of the race. Each time I had the best intentions to keep running and sign up for other races, but I never did.

Yesterday I was presented with a new project that really isn’t optional. An appointment with my psychiatrist led to a same-day appointment with my primary care doctor. My blood pressure has been an issue for many months. I had dental work done last month and even my dentist was concerned about my blood pressure. The appointment with my psychiatrist was at 8:00 in the morning and my blood pressure was high right off the bat. 167/107 when I went in and 165/105 when they checked it again on my way out. Considering my psychiatrist spent most of the appointment discussing my physical health rather than my mental health, I felt that I should take his advice and get in to see my primary care doctor asap–which ended up being an hour and a half later.

When all was said and done yesterday, I spent this morning making plans for this new project. Both of my doctors want to see me back in a month–not the usual three months they give me–so I truly cannot procrastinate with starting this project. I have a month to get my blood pressure started on a downward path. Losing weight is ultimately what needs to happen here. This means that exercise needs to become a priority again, which leads me to believe that it was some sort of divine intervention that after repeated messages and inquiries on Let Go and Facebook Marketplace, nobody actually followed through to buy my elliptical. I was trying to sell it because I stopped using it and wanted more space in my living room. Silly reasons to get rid of something that had helped me so much in my past attempts at weight loss.

This will be the third time that I’ve started a weight loss journey. I hope it will be the charm. I’m going to mix the elliptical, weight training, and running in with a low-salt diet. I really do enjoy running and I am looking forward to getting back out there again, though I am going to stay away from races for a while. I’m afraid of running the race and not continuing with my running regime after it’s over. Running, for me this time, has to be a means to an end. I have to use it as a part of my project to lower my blood pressure, not just to run a race.

I watched a Facebook live video yesterday of a woman who lost 100 pounds in one year. She said that you have to consider your weight loss journey as who you are now. Not just as something you do part time or do some times but not others. You can’t quit because you make a mistake and gorge on junk food. You have to learn from your mistakes and keep going. I’ve made mistakes in the past in my attempts to lose weight and those mistakes were simply that I did not keep going.

I want to lose weight and lower my blood pressure in order to be healthy in a way that I never have been before. Granted, there’s no Battle of the Books trophy that I’ll get when I achieve my goal, but then again, this project doesn’t have an end. It will be something that I just keep doing and maintaining. A daunting task? Sure. But not a task that is unfamiliar and certainly not one that is impossible. Here I go.

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I ran the race.

And it was tough. The first mile consisted of a really steep hill that I walked up, as did many other people who were in the rear of the pack. Once the route descended the hill, I was able to run. Not for the whole 4 miles, but as much as I could possibly run in intervals of varying lengths.

I had done a great job of getting out of bed every other morning at 6:30–of course it helps that 6:30 is when my husband leaves for work. I would get into my running gear and tackle the couch to 5k app, slowly building myself up to run in longer intervals. I was ecstatic when I got to week 5 day 3, which is running for 20 minutes straight. I had told myself that once I got to that point, I would stop using the app and just focus on distance. Time had run out by then and I was only able to do one run without the app before the race. For that run, I was able to go for about 2 miles without stopping to walk. Granted, my pace is that of a turtle, but my shuffle run is still faster than my walking pace. And really, just the fact that I was getting out there in the morning, like I had said I was going to, was enough for me. The temperature every morning was in the high 70s with pretty high humidity. But it never bothered me. I expected to come home sweaty each time, that’s what happens when you run during the summer months. Even on days when we were under a heat advisory, I still ran, because in the morning before the sun gets high, the temperature isn’t in heat advisory territory. So when several people talked of braving the heat and the humidity being the worst part on race day, I just kind of laughed because it really didn’t affect me. I had long since gotten used to it.

There were 1,016 people registered for the Firecracker 4 Miler this 4th of July, and according to the results website, there were 860 or so actual runners. I placed somewhere in the 740 range. I had no aspirations of doing anything spectacular for pace, I just didn’t want to come in last. I was very close to the bottom of my age group, but I wasn’t last and that’s o.k. with me.

What was spectacular about the race was the people. The event was hosted by the local running club that I’m a member of. I don’t go to their meetups out of self-consciousness, but I’m a paid member. It was many of the members that served as volunteers for the race. There were people at every turn in the route clapping and cheering for every person that rounded the corners. They didn’t know my name, but they could see my number and having someone call out “Come on 64, you’re doing great!” when I was huffing along was amazing. The people handing out water at every mile with big smiles as I approached were encouraging. Seeing my husband randomly on the side of the route taking pictures when I didn’t expect to see him and hearing him cheer me on, was a great motivation. Even the ladies running behind me commented on how sweet it was for him to do that.

But the moment I will carry with me came as I rounded the last turn that would lead me to the finish line. There was a lady waiting for me. Judy is the wife of the man I teach with. I teach English and he teaches math. He doesn’t have a Facebook page, but she does, and we have been friends on there for several months. She’s of retirement age, but is in great shape and running races like this are the norm for her. She had called out to me earlier in the race. She was about a mile ahead going in the opposite direction I was. We quickly passed by each other and I didn’t think much of it until I saw her on the corner of that last turn. Obviously she had already finished the race and gotten her medal, in fact, she placed 2nd in her age group. But there she was, back on the course, waiting for me. She hopped off the curb and started jogging beside me. Words of encouragement poured out and though I was very much out of breath, I thanked her as best as I could. She kept pace with me for that last quarter of a mile, continuously assuring me that I was very close to the finish line. When we reached the very last few feet, she stepped off the course and across I went. From extended arms I took hold of my finisher’s medal (which is all I really wanted), a banana, and a bottle of water. People were clapping and cheering and my name was being called over the loud speaker as I crossed, as though I was the first. It felt great. I didn’t see Judy after that, I had wanted to thank her again after regaining my ability to speak without my breathing getting in the way. I did get to thank her on Facebook later. It is very true what they say about runners being the best people.

the last leg
My fantastic hubby captured the moment. I’m the one in bright pink on the right, and Judy is on the left in the tank top and white hat.

This race was Judy’s last for a while. She told me this when we bumped into each other the day before at the packet pick-up location. Her knees have really been hurting her lately. I told her, this is just the beginning for me. And I meant it. I’m determined now to lose weight. My diet prior to the race wasn’t the best. But now I’d like to get rid of the weight so that I can be a better runner. So that in a future race, I can be an early finisher so that I can step in and jog with someone who needs an extra boost to the finish. It may take me a while to get to that point, but I’ll get there. I’m not going to give up, this truly is just the beginning.

Whatever, I did it.

I am absolutely serious that I’m going to run a 4 mile race on the 4th of July. The wife of my co-worker who is an avid runner and who is also running in this race, told me to prepare for the humidity. We’ve had a tropical storm bringing us a ton of rain and storms for the past few days and today was off and on rain while I was at work. I had worked out on the elliptical for the past two days, but today, I really wanted to get outside and run. I waited until the rain stopped and the radar showed that there wasn’t anything coming behind it. I originally planned to only walk a mile up the road just to start getting acclimated to being active in the heat and humidity. So I got out there and went up the hill and decided I was going to go ahead and complete another workout in the Couch to 5k app. I’ll admit that I skipped the last section of jogging because the hills I was going up and down really made me breathe hard and I didn’t want to overdo it.

Walking back down the road in the direction of home, I thought about all the cars flying past me. I always feel a little self conscious walking on the side of that road to get between where I live and the neighborhood that I like to run in. There is a lot of traffic on that road, but I’m only on it for a little more than a quarter mile. So what were they thinking of the overweight woman walking on the sidewalk in clothes that looked like she had been walking in the rain for how wet with sweat they were? I don’t know what they were thinking and I don’t care, because I did it. I went out in the humidity and ran. There was steam coming off the road, it was very sticky out there. I felt slimy and gross, but man did it feel good to know that I had accomplished my goal for the day. Doing that today proved to me that I don’t need to wimp out in the air conditioning and use the heat and humidity as an excuse to not go out and run. Whatever, I can do it.

IMG_2162

A screenshot of the weather from my exercise log that I took when I got back from running today. 

 

The purpose of a teacher’s summer…

…is to relax and rest. Two months off in the summer is the reward for 10 months of having very little free time because of lesson plans, paper grading, and a thousand other extra things that I’m responsible for. There are exactly two and a half days until summer break and my principal has already let us know that when the kids leave on Thursday, she wants us to leave with them. You don’t have to tell me twice! I will lay rubber in that parking lot just as soon as that last kid is picked up.

This summer, I fully intend to do a lot of knitting and a lot of reading. Doing all of that in a reclining position on the couch with my feet up is also in my plan. But this summer, I’m going to do something different. I’m going to actually get up early each day and go running. I have to get up early because here in the southeast, there’s a small window of time each day before the crushing heat and humidity take over, and I plan to take advantage of it. I want to run, I love running, and I’ve been very, very bad at it lately. Bad, only in the fact that I haven’t been consistent in my efforts.

Now though, I have to be consistent because I have already paid my registration for a 4-mile race in the downtown area of my city on the 4th of July. I’m cutting it awfully close on training time. To be fair, I did re-start my couch to 5k app a couple weeks ago, however, school kept me busy and a new baby kitten kept me busy, and a whole host of other excuses kept me indoors. After May 31st, I will have no excuses. There will be nothing to keep me busy besides what I come up with myself. I’m doing this.

It’s going to be a bit tougher this time because I’ve only ever run a 5k, which is about 3.2 miles. This is a full 4 miles, but man oh man am I excited to get out there and try. I really can’t explain what it is that makes me like running so much. Maybe just the sense of accomplishment… I don’t know. But I do know that I’m eager to run this particular race. Perhaps because when I ran my first 5k, I didn’t know there was such a thing as a finisher’s medal, so I went home empty handed. With this race, I am determined to get that medal at the end.

Training for that race will take the first month of my summer break. I don’t plan on stopping after that race–I want to keep a running habit going, so we’ll see what the second month brings. That’s going to be my main purpose this summer–running. One of the songs I listen to when I run has the following line: “Surprise them with a victory cry.” If I make it through this summer and actually develop a running habit and run that race and get my medal, I will surprise myself with a victory cry when back-to-school time rolls around. Wish me luck.

 

I want to attend the Oscars

One of my earliest posts on this blog is similar to the thoughts I’m having tonight. The Academy Awards are on tonight and while I have absolutely no desire to be a famous celebrity–I don’t like being the center of attention, even at my own wedding–I still wish I was one, at least just for tonight. I want to be dressed up in a fancy gown and sitting in a plush seat in the audience enjoying the show. This is my desire tonight for the simple reason that I’ll bet none of those people in attendance have to get up early tomorrow and go to work.

When I’m envious of celebrities only because they don’t have to go to work tomorrow, I know I’m starting the downhill descent to summer vacation. I am starting to become “teacher tired”. It’s a real thing. I slept for 12 hours Friday night into late Saturday morning this weekend, and yet, I’m exhausted. I know it’s because I’m the yearbook editor and the deadline is coming up soon for it. My Battle of the Books team is preparing for their annual competition which is going to be a week from Wednesday. We’ve won the past four years and since we’re hosting the other teams this year at my school, there is even more pressure for us to not break the winning streak at home. It makes me nervous every time I think about it. It’s also the week of our monthly faculty  meeting and my principal has already promised us that it will not be a short one. I’m ready for next weekend already and the work week hasn’t even begun!

What I’m dreading about the upcoming week is not the same as what I’m looking forward to. I have not exercised with my whole heart being put into it for a few weeks. I have one excuse after another for why I haven’t exercised consistently and why I have drank more soda in the past two weeks than I have in the past four months. Despite all that, I am looking forward to Monday afternoon because I am determined to stop the excuses and come home to the elliptical and make an honest attempt at getting back into my fitness routine. There are too many gains that I have made that I do not want to lose. Too many signs and reminders pointing me back into the direction of my elliptical and weights. Those A-listers in California can have their night of leisure and grace and not have to worry about tomorrow. But as for me, teacher tired or not, I’m doing this.

Random thoughts on fitness

I’m a little scared to step on the scale. I’ve gained back a few pounds over the holidays and I’m not sure I really want to know if I’ve been successful in working them off. But what I am sure of is that my doctor is proud of me. He said this to me, along with a pat on the back, at my appointment the week after Christmas. My cholesterol levels had come down to within nearly normal range and my blood pressure was significantly lower. He listened to my heart, told me to keep up the good work, and then I was back in my car headed home. And that’s what it’s all about really. Seeing lower numbers on the scale is awesome, but checking my heart rate with my watch while I’m sitting on the couch and seeing my resting heart rate in the upper 60s/lower 70s range is what makes me feel good. Before I started back on this fitness journey, my resting heart rate was often around the high 90s. I’m eagerly awaiting the results of my blood work from another doctor to see what my A1C and other numbers are like now. I’ve always told myself that I am not so concerned about losing weight so I will look good in skinnier clothes, to quote Queen Latifah from an old Weight Watchers/Nutri System/Jenny Craig commercial, I want to be a “size healthy” and that’s exactly where I’m headed.

*****

I started this diet and exercise routine on Saturday, November 4th (thank you Apple Watch activity app). The day before that was the last day I drank a soda. I’m terrified of even taking a sip of one now because of what a friend of mine said about the first time she drank one after going without for two years. She had told herself she was only going to drink one, but wasn’t successful in going back to not drinking it. It’s funny now, because since I quit smoking about 13 years ago, I started to have occasional dreams at night where I am smoking a cigarette and am so mad at myself because in my dream I acknowledge that I’m smoking after having successfully quit. Then I wake up and am relieved and renewed in my desire to never smoke again. Since November, I haven’t had a dream about smoking, but I have had dreams where I am drinking a soda. The relief in waking up and realizing it was just a dream is the same as the smoking dreams.

*****

My husband got me a new pair of running shoes for Christmas. I really needed them too. The hot pink ones he got me two years ago have served their purpose and it was time to retire them from active duty. So with a new pair, and a gradually increasing collection of athletic clothing, I started running again. I had gone back and forth in my mind about where to run because my neighborhood has had some dangerous incidents happen with shady people. That, and I always feel a little self-conscious walking up the side of a very busy road to get to the neighborhood I like to run in. I walk facing traffic and I don’t like that all the oncoming cars can look right at me as they drive by. Despite this, I restarted the Couch to 5K app on my phone and have completed week 1. Sort of. I ran this past Tuesday and with a little over one minute left before the workout was complete, my phone battery succumbed to the frigid air and died. When I got back home and plugged it in, it did not register that I had completed a workout in the app. Oh well. I’m happy to do Week 1 Day 3 again, given that I have spaced out the workouts a little too far. Running outdoors is harder when the temperature is just at or slightly below the freezing mark.

*****

Inspiration can be found anywhere. At a Christmas party, I was talking to an older couple from my church who are marathon runners. They were big supporters in my last running endeavor. I told them that I had started running again, and we spent nearly the rest of the party talking about running. I started to tell them that I was going to pick up running again after the weather warmed up, somewhat expecting them to agree with me. But instead, Martha offered to give me a wrap to wear over my face so that I could run with a little bit more warmth. True to her word, she brought it to me at church the next Sunday.

*****

I’ve been a little leery about signing up for a 5K again. The first and last time I ran one, I didn’t go much farther after that. In fact it was very quickly after that race that I stopped exercising. I had achieved my goal and that was it for me. So how do I stop that from happening again? I wondered about that for a while, but then I remembered a friend of mine running a 5K every month for a year. That was her goal and she did it. So I decided that I would sign up for a 5K, probably for one that will be in March, and then I’ll sign up for one in April. If I have two that I’m scheduled for, I’ll be less likely to stop afterwards. That, and paying for a membership to the local running club is hopefully going to be what I need to keep me going. For now though, I’m on a roll, I have no intention of stopping anytime soon, and the bottom line is, I’m loving every minute of it.

 

Keep Going

I started exercising again on November 4th, and I haven’t stopped since. I’m driven to keep going out of fear. Each rest day that I take makes me afraid that I will get lazy again and lose all motivation. Of course, the 15 pounds I have lost is plenty of motivation too. Even at the height of my 5K training a while ago, I never lost more than about 15 pounds. While I haven’t started running again, I have gotten very good at various workouts on the elliptical. It is my goal to start the Couch to 5K app again after Christmas. I want to get back out there and run. I’ve been acquiring new fitness gear little by little and I’m hoping that there will be a new pair of running shoes in my future.

I’ve reached a point where I am in uncharted territory. I am currently at the point where I left off the last time I was on a quest to get healthy. What happens now? Am I really capable of losing more than 15 pounds? Can I run another 5K without giving up on exercise after I complete it? I am confident that the answer is ‘yes’ to those last two questions. And for the first question, what happens now is that I keep going. I’m getting pretty bored with the elliptical and after two days of only doing the bare minimum of 30 minutes on it, I knew I had to go longer today and I dreaded it. To motivate me, I decided to put on my running playlist through the bluetooth speaker I have and go all out for a full hour. It worked. There is some kind of magic to the songs I have on that playlist. They all remind me of the time that I called myself a runner and that’s always enough motivation for me. Of course, the speaker battery died with 20 minutes left, so I had to keep going in silence.

Even though the elliptical is wearing out its welcome in my routine, I have a rule that once I start the time on it or start the interval routines I created on the iPad, I don’t stop and get off. It helps keep me going knowing that I just have to get started, because once I do, I’m not stepping off until I’m done.

The last time I was on my fitness journey, I was motivated by the desire to have children. The unhealthy nature of my body would not have made pregnancy safe for me. This time around, I’m doing this for my overall health. I love that my resting heart rate is in the 60s instead of the 90s and I’m anxious to see the results of my blood work from earlier this week. My husband and I have made the decision to grow our family through adoption, so at this point, I’m getting healthy for me. Because I’m 35 years old and take a medication for my blood pressure, one for my cholesterol, and one for my blood sugar. All the medication I take for my mental health is non-negotiable. I’m not concerned about that medicine. I know I will be taking that for the rest of my life, exercising and eating healthy will not the chemical imbalance in my brain. And I’m o.k. with that. Taking three medicines for health conditions that I can control is not o.k. with me. So I’ll keep going.

I’ll keep going until I can’t imagine my life without exercising. I’ll keep going because when my husband and I bring children into our home, I want to set a good example for them. But most importantly, I’ll keep going for me. For pride in myself, for a sense of accomplishment, and for the satisfaction in knowing I did something that changed my life for the better.

“Get ugly!”

I don’t particularly like to drink Gatorade. It’s not a go-to drink for me, but the commercial they had on t.v. not too long ago motivated me in other ways. In my extended exercising slump, I would often feel pangs of regret when I would see something that reminded me of the fact that I had unintentionally given up on running and being healthy. The feelings of regret might have actually been the beginnings of motivation. This particular Gatorade commercial showed several different people engaging in a wide range of athletic activities, all while sweat poured off of their bodies. In the background, upbeat music played and a chorus of “Get ugly!” would be sung in rhythm to the music. The whole point being that you should get ugly–with sweat while you exercise. Working out is not about looking cute. And of course, when you’re done you should drink Gatorade.

I was reminded of that commercial today as I got close to finishing my elliptical workout. I had increased the time and resistance level of my routine today and I could feel it! The sweat literally poured off of me and the 100% cotton tank top I was wearing became more saturated than it ever has before. I was Gatorade ugly and I loved it!

The amazing thing about today, is that it wasn’t the first day I’ve exercised. It was the 6th straight day and I couldn’t be prouder of myself! Last Saturday, I listened to the playlist of songs I used to listen to while running, with some new additions. I got intensely motivated to get on the elliptical, so I did. And on Sunday, after a low blood sugar scare, I got on again. Monday, I got off of work and wondered if I would be able to do it a third time, after all, I was exhausted from work. But I did it anyway. I didn’t even hesitate to put on my tennis shoes as soon as I got home. Tuesday, Wednesday, and now Thursday, are all days that I got on and worked out. It’s not even something that I have to convince myself to do. There is no question in my mind that I’m going to do it. No hesitation. I haven’t had a soda in the same 6 days. Only water, milk with cereal, and the small glass of tea I drink to take my medicine at night. This feels familiar. Like I’ve done this before. Except that I have done this, and it feels great to be doing it again.

sweaty shirt
My shirt was so sweaty that I had to hang it up to dry before putting it in the clothes hamper.

 

Unfinished

Last year, a friend posted the link to a writing contest on Facebook. It was for a literary journal and they were looking for non-fiction essays. With dreams of winning the top prize, I knocked out the story of my mental health journey and entered the contest. I did that all in a matter of two or three days, without editing. I didn’t win. I’ve already got something started for the contest again this year–I know to take it slow this time.

I had quickly become a fan of this journal and began to follow them on Facebook myself. Over the summer they started a reader column in which they give a word, and then the readers submit their response to that word. The first one was ‘small’. Man was my entry good! But it wasn’t accepted. I recently tried again with the most recent word ‘unfinished’. I haven’t gotten a response yet, but I felt it important to include my entry here because while I have been so focused on issues related to my mother lately, my fitness journey continues to be present in my mind. I can’t give up on that.

Here is what I have to say about it:

“As a work in progress standing, reflected in a mirror, I know that the image I see has not changed from the day before. It will not change tomorrow. I see imperfection where my husband sees beauty. I must remind myself each day that I’m not so concerned about the outside façade, but the health of what’s most important on the inside. I take too many medications at my young age for my physical health. An unintentional laziness makes the refills necessary. I created a new healthy lifestyle once before and every day I hate that I haven’t done it again. Vivid dreams at night of running and a desire to become a mother without the worry of complications drove me to train for and successfully complete a 5K. The incredible feeling of pride in myself for being able to run the entire distance and cross the finish line will never diminish in my memory, and yet, it is difficult to recapture the motivation to begin again. That initial spark may never come back. The second time around will require something different. And whatever it takes to get started again, I know that going to bed every night with regret in my heart for a day filled with wasted opportunities is not the answer. The answer lies in the mirror. It is necessary to see myself each morning as a person in transition, a person who is capable, a person who is simply unfinished.”

Wish me luck–both in getting my piece accepted into their next publication and for getting back on track with my physical health.

From Meaningless to Meaningful

My words have become meaningless. My health has become questionable. And yet, I continue to tell my husband, “I know I keep saying this, but I really need to start running again”. Even as my blood pressure and weight continue to increase, I continue to make repeated stops at fast food restaurants that do not serve my best interest.

There was a day recently that I discovered I could motivate myself to ‘get back out there’ if I listened to the playlist of songs I listened to when I would run. That day, I actually put on my running gear and left my apartment and began walking up the road to the neighborhood that I always ran in. Naively I thought that I would just start the Couch 2 5K program again and all would be well. I ignored the fact that the last time I was successful with the program, I had completed about 3 weeks of getting on my elliptical for 30 minutes every day. I didn’t even make it to the neighborhood that day. The familiar feel of my ankles and shins tightening up began early on in my walk. Usually I could just continue to walk and the tightening would ease, not this time. The pain spread and intensified throughout my legs. I had to turn around and admit defeat for the day, complete with a limping walk of shame back home. Shame might be too strong of a word, but it did make me realize that I truly will have to start over.

That day, though recent enough to even be called recent, was still at least 2 weeks ago. I didn’t try again, I didn’t get on the elliptical, I just didn’t…I continued in the same manner of laziness that I had accustomed myself into.

I don’t want to try and explain my laziness. I don’t want to try and analyze why I don’t “just do it” when I know that eating better and exercising makes me feel good. The discomfort I feel in my stomach when I eat junk will go away! Exercise improves my mood! My clothes becoming looser is empowering! These words are not meaningless. They are the words that I should be telling myself every morning when I make a conscious decision to skip breakfast at home, or pick up a biscuit on the way to work because it would be quicker and easier. They are the words that I should be reminded of when I come home in the afternoon and sit on the couch, having already decided that I would rather grade papers or surf the web instead of getting on the elliptical.

Words have power, and when I told my husband tonight that he and I should go walking on the local river trail after church tomorrow, I think I will mean it.