"And, when you want something, the entire Universe conspires in helping you to achieve it." -The Alchemist, by Paulo Coehlo

Monday, April 24, 2017

Fun in the Sun with Horses and Dogs

Two weeks ago (April 8 and 9), we had a glorious two days in terms of the weather, so we decided to make the best of it by spending as much time as possible outdoors!

I had been scheduled for Saturday discharges at my job but we sent all the patients home on Friday, so I suddenly had an entire weekend day off to do whatever I wanted with. Carlos was working but Jess was not on call for once on Saturday during the day, so I texted her, "LET'S RIDE!"

Neither mare had been ridden in nearly 3 weeks and they needed to get out. We had a gorgeous ride on two spicy hot-to-trot creatures, Jess on Lily and me on Gracie. (I don't even remember how long it had been since I'd ridden Gracie on trail!) My favorite trails at the barn are currently in full-blown demolition process: not only is there heavy machinery, piping, cyclone fencing with black tarp behind it, and all sorts of spook-worthy objects around the trails, but the trails themselves are being turned into another on-property landfill for neighboring construction sites to dump removed dirt and rocks onto. This has been an enormous mental block for me when it came to riding on the trails, especially on my own. There is active work going on on this land during the week, which has complicated my after-work riding as well...so I have not been riding after work at all, despite our longer daylight hours.

This is...not the same. And I'm having a hard time with it. It was as glorious as it looks in this photo and we often galloped it in both directions. The section of trail that this path leads to is also gone: basically my entire favorite loop, the one I would do when I wanted to get in a fast, quickie ride, does not exist anymore.
We did a 4.5 mile ride in 1:15. I had Endomondo running just out of curiosity, but we weren't looking to go for a specific amount of mileage nor time. We just wanted to have fun and catch up. We did quite a bit of walking, trotting, and once G-Mare was warmed up (she felt so stiff after all this time off...I can't let her sit with her joint issues; I explained why things have happened the way they have this past winter in this post) we let them canter and then gallop up a few hills for funsies. Both mares had plenty of gas in the tank at the end of our ride, and proudly pranced half the way home before we convinced them that walking was the better choice!

Jess on Lily.
Both mares received their first bubble baths of the season. They were GRIMY. They then got  turned out and Jess and I drove into downtown to meet up with Shanna at our favorite cafe bar, Nola.

I think Nola has become our grown-up version of The Saddle Club's ice cream shop. We're all girls. We all love horses (I need to get Meggan out to the barn!) And we all get together to catch up at the same place all the time, except instead of horses we talk about work, life, boys and vet tech drama. And instead of sundaes, we have alcoholic drinks or coffee. Sometimes both. Most of the time there's also food involved.

Cafe Nola has the best bloody marys I have EVER tried.
(Photo by Jess.)
This was after dinner: a fig latte and...that pastry on the left? I declared it the perfect PMS food. It has peanut butter, jelly, oatmeal crumble and potato chips on top. It's beyond perfect. And it's gluten-free.
(Because yes, I have joined the gluten-free club so now our foursome is complete.)
Meggan eventually joined us and we spent the next...five hours...being obnoxiously silly and giggly. We laughed so hard and so long, that all our abs hurt the next day!

Jess and I retired at 9:00 pm because we were running a 5k together the next morning!


Sunday morning dawned gorgeous. I was stoked about running my first competitive 5k with Jess. Start time was 10:00 am; we had planned on arriving at 9:00 in order to register on site.

This 5k wasn't just any 5k. It was called Fast and Furriest and was a fundraiser for Operation Paws for Homes, a local rescue organization that partners with high-kill shelters in order to find foster and permanent homes for dogs in need that might otherwise die at the shelter. When you work in vet med, being able to contribute to this kind of organization is kind of a big deal! And it was happening right in our town of Frederick, MD!

You were also allowed to run with your dog, so 3/4 of the people milling about waiting for the race start had their dogs on leashes with them. It was pretty awesome. Jess had brought Finley, her Golden Retriever, but he has a congenital heart condition that limits how much activity he can safely do, so since it's a cool morning (upper 40s-low 50s) he hangs out in Jess's car in the shade with the windows cracked within sight of the park grounds while we go down to the registration booth.

So many dogs!
We got our numbers and chips and attached them to ourselves, then got in line at the race start with the other runners. Runners sans dogs were at the front, runners with dogs in the middle, and walkers both with and without dogs were at the back.

"What's the plan?" Jess asked.
"I...don't really have one. I like to start at a moderate pace and pick up speed as we go along." Negative splits ftw!

We set up our music on our phones and the race started.

Jess pulled ahead and I paced with her as we wove our way to mid-pack of the runners. We had only been running for minute when I realized my breathing felt ragged. My heart rate monitor flashed 152 for my heart rate, which was higher than I wanted to be this soon into the race. But I shrugged, tried to control my breathing better, and ran along behind Jess. Her running style made me grin: she swung her arms enthusiastically and her long dark ponytail bounced. I've never thought of myself as a runner, though it is something that has grown on me tremendously over the years. My own running style felt so vanilla next to Jess's...I run with a flat stride and minimal bounce, barely moving my arms with my motion so as to reserve as much energy as possible for the long haul, precisely because it is Not Easy For Me.

I made a note of keeping the flatness of my stride while lengthening to keep up with Jess and it worked. Kind of. My breathing was still off.

I tuned into the music playing through my headphones. I had chosen my I Took a Pill in Ibiza playlist on Pandora and, while it is my second most-listened to station, it was offering a breakbeats song that did. not. go. with the pace I was currently running. Irritated, I flipped to my Don Omar & Lucenzo station, which is my usual workout station.

Sia's The Greatest came on, which is on my SoundCloud running playlist.

"Uh-oh running out of breath but I
Oh I, I got stamina
Uh-oh running now I close my eyes
Oh I, I got stamina..."

An enormous involuntary grin spread across my face. The beat of the song matches my breathing speed for running and I felt like I was suddenly getting air into my lungs for real.  I dug in, lengthening my stride further until I was running next to Jess and we methodically picked out runner after runner, catching them and passing them, side by side.

We hit the first mile marker not long after and I looked down at my heart rate monitor, which had somehow switched to the timer setting...we were only 8 minutes into the race.
"Hey Jess!"
"Yeah?" She was panting.
"We just ran an 8 minute mile!!"
"That explains why I can't breathe!" she exclaimed. I laughed.
"Yeah, me neither!"

We agreed to walk for a bit. I decided to switch over to my SoundCloud running playlist while walking. We were running for real here, so why the hell not?

All the people we passed before passed us now as we caught our breaths. I clicked over to one of my playlist songs, Start A Riot by Banners, the Thundatraxx remix.

I picked up a jog as the opening stanza started and Jess followed suit. The beat picked up as it reached the chorus and I accelerated.

If your world falls apart
I'd start a riot
If night falls in your heart
I'd light the fire
In the dark, when you sound the alarm
We'll find each other's arms
For your love, all you are
I'd start a riot

This song is followed by Vance Joy's Riptide. I've posted some of these before; this playlist contains songs that have carefully been selected specifically for their ability to keep me moving while doing a sport that is not easy for me.

Lady, running down to the riptide
Taken away to the dark side
I wanna be your left hand man
I love you when you're singing that song and
I got a lump in my throat 'cuz
You're gonna sing the words wrong

The song is so appropriate for running. I tighten my abs, straighten my back, engage the entire back portion of my leg muscles, and accelerate further, upper body quiet, legs moving subtly, incrementally faster to the beat of the song. It feels like slowly shifting gears on a race car, except the race car is my body.

Jess digs in and keeps up. We slowly pass everyone that had passed us while we were walking.

Not from the race ,but have a photo of me running a week after the race to break up the text. :)

Missy Elliot's Get Ur Freak On is next.

Oh hell yeah.

I think of this video every time I hear this song. It is my favorite fitness video ever, and it celebrates women with normal, real bodies getting out there and moving for the sake of moving, while having fun doing it and being total badasses. 

I realize that the front runners are coming back up the opposite sidewalk on the other side of the road. We've been running on the flat and the road starts a gentle downwards incline, which means further ahead there is going to be a turnaround to go back uphill.

I accelerate more, my footfalls matching the beat of the song. I'm using this damn downhill to our advantage right now. My feet fall faster and faster, landing heel-first, propelling me forward, and I think of all the times trotting downhill on the Old Dominion Triple Crown trails to make up time for the slow uphills later.

Jess is sprinting behind me in order to keep up now and we are flying past people, some with their dogs trotting along next to them, others alone. We are finally able to see the turnaround ahead.

"My plan is to run hard now so we can WALK up the hill after!" I say to Jess.

"Thank you!" she gasps, "Because I really didn't want to have to run back up this hill!"

We make the turnaround and slow to a jog to tackle the beginning of the hill's rise, slowing to a walk as we approach the first water station.

We are both breathing hard, and we each have two cups of water, which takes us a minute because it is hard to swallow when you're breathing hard! We then continue on our way up the rise, alternately walking and slow jogging. The music playing through my headphones is perfect right now:  Starley's Call on Me.

There is a second water station on this hill. We stop for more water there too, then ease into a jog again.

And then Kranium's Nobody Has To Know Major Lazer remix comes on.

I pick up the pace of the jog to match the beat of the song and find myself powering up what is left of the hill. We run past the 2-mile marker and look at my watch: our second mile was slower than the first at about 12 minutes, but that's okay. This was a damn long hill. I don't tell Jess our time because I want to set the pace for the third mile. I have no intention of walking anymore.

The course flattens and then takes us downhill momentarily, winding around park sidewalks and through a  flat shaded path where the race photographer is standing with camera ready. We laugh about it later: Jess and I both thought at the same time, "Smile for the ride photographer!" #endurance

I love this song, and I love the video. And it is also on my playlist.

I get the distinct impression that we are getting close to the end of the third mile and start to pick up the pace again.

I am right: we hit the 3 mile marker going at a full-tilt run. Only a fifth of a mile to go and the finish line is within sight.

Jess and I look at one another. "Let's GO!"

Now. The flat conservative run is over. I ignore my pounding heart and breathe in and out in measured respirations. Must not pant! Breathing is life, and if you can control it, it allows you to in turn control just about anything you are doing with your body. Shoulders back, I swing my arms across my chest and knees come up and forward in what feels like enormous ground-covering strides with a moment of full suspension in between. I don't think I've ever run this fast before.

We blow through the finish line almost side-by-side, the timer at the top of the finish line arch flashing 30 minutes (we finished our third mile in 10 minutes!) but I miss the seconds reading because we are going so very fast. It takes us a few strides to slow our forward momentum in order to come to a stop.

Jess and I are laughing while trying to catch our breaths.

"Oh man!!" We have matching exuberant grins.

We remove our time chips and hand them over to the volunteer in charge, then get out of the way of the finish line. I text Carlos: he was supposed to meet us. He is over by Jess's car keeping Finley company, so we walk over to meet him there.

He takes a post-run photo of us. Or rather, tries.

How many attempts does it take to get a good photo with a Finley?

Answer: Many! :D
We wandered over to the covered picnic area, where the race staff had all sorts of food for the runners. We each snagged a bag with an English muffin (Carlos received both of ours), a banana, a protein bar and a bottle of water. There was also an assortment of donuts and pastries, coffee and hot chocolate. Simple carbs for the runners. ;)

We stayed until awards were announced. Jess thought we might have placed but a 30 minute 5k, while super fast for us, is considered a moderate pace overall and I highly doubted we would get anything.

We didn't...but the third place finisher for my age group came in at 28 minutes, which was a pleasant surprise: shaving 2-3 minutes off a 5k finish time is very doable if I'm interested in placing in my age group next time. We'll see...

As it was, both Jess and I Top-10'd in our age groups! Jess's time was 30:24 and mine was 30:23! Not bad at all for two people that don't consider themselves runners!

By then it was around noon, and our post-run snacks had evaporated: both Jess and I were STARVING. We texted Meggan, who also lives in town, and met up for what would end up being a late lunch at Brewer's, our other favorite hangout, where we could sit outside with the dogs: Meggan brought her two Shih-Tzu mixes, Peanut Butter and Jelly, who are besties with Finley. The dogs were all very well-behaved while we ate. (Shanna had taken the day for some stuff that she needed to get done so she couldn't come.)

Afterwards we walked around town, just enjoying the warm weather. This was the first weekend that truly felt like spring. Everything was either green or blooming ferociously. Sunlight danced off of the creek that runs through downtown. I take no photos because I'm just enjoying the company, the conversation, and the surroundings. None of us wanted to go back indoors!

Carlos and I are eventually the first to leave: we have to go run errands before our work week starts the next day.

Jess and Meggan remain on one of the park benches, Finley, Peanut Butter and Jelly at their feet.

It was a beautiful weekend.

I leave you with this song. I love that the dog is a main character in the video! 
It is a fitting ending to this post. :)

This is Wild One by Lucky Rose and Tep No.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Update on the Mares!

Carlos rocking it out on both girls
I am SO behind on horse updates! I am behind on lots of updates, actually, so if I can ever finish a couple of all the posts I've started in my Drafts folder, you guys might finally get a full view of all the goings-on around here lately! Just not in chronological order, but progress isn't linear, only time is, so that's fine. ;)

Towards fall of last year, I had noticed Lily was starting to get the slightest bit of effusion in her hocks. It didn't bother her nor affect her performance, but I made a mental note to keep an eye on her hocks and her movement because with her Thoroughbred post-legged hind limb conformation, hock injections have always been something I've foreseen in her future.

One rainy, wet afternoon in the late fall, I went out to the barn to check on them and discovered that the tiny bit of effusion in the hock her left hind (ALWAYS THE LEFT HIND) had ballooned to orange size. Cue freakout. Both her and Gracie had been going through a phase of merciless bullying by the alpha mare. Lily had no other marks on her but Gracie's lumbar back and rump were covered in bite marks from where the alpha mare had ripped off her skin. I suspected Lily had been chased away from the hay feeder and in trying to get away with one of normally nimble moves, had torqued the leg in the mud. She was never lame, never painful, and there was never any heat. It's been 6 months and there has been no change in the swelling: it is soft and squishy, like hock effusion usually is. I have a photo somewhere but I don't feel like looking for it so here is a picture from the internet so you guys can have an idea of what it looks like.

Same size and location.
When it presents in this fashion, it is usually caused by a strain to the tendon sheath, and that was my vet's verdict as well. I have not done imaging nor lameness tests nor the whole shebang because she feels the same under saddle, looks the same at liberty, is not guarding the leg at all in lateral movements, and I'm not planning on competing in endurance anytime soon.

See? No problems engaging and pushing off of that left hind at liberty.
Also Lily, can you save some of that awesome little canter for when I hop on in a minute? :) Kthx
Both horses had most of the winter off, not because I wanted to but because the weather gods literally conspired to make riding impossible. We don't have an indoor arena and with the constant rain and mud, I did not want to attempt muddy trail rides that could strain arthritic legs (Gracie) or Lily's funky hock. I also gave myself permission to be a fair weather rider this winter: we did so much riding in nasty weather last year in preparation for and during all our competing that my brain and my body were in mutual agreement: we have nothing to prove and it was absolutely fine to stay indoors by the gas fireplace on a shitty day, with a quick run to the barn to check on the girls and feed them when the rain let up. When I didn't have time to ride because I was on call for work or we had other things that needed to be done, THEN the weekend would be gorgeous. Fuck you, weather gods.

Anyway. Lily had a nice 5-month break with a splattering of non-strenuous work throughout, so if this had indeed been something that needed resting, she definitely got the rest. Now I'm slowly bringing her back into work with light trail rides (45% walk, 45% trot and 10% canter). She has been offering up lovely work in the arena so I finally decided to take advantage of it.

And then I was on call again. And then it rained. And then we had family in town. And then we went to the cherry blossoms because those only happen for 5-7 days out of the year. And then it rained again. And then and then and then. Whatever.

Three weeks after that, I've been able to get a few consistent rides on Lilybird. And I've been very happy with her. Rides have been mostly limited to the arena at the moment, and I'm okay with that too.

The only foot that is actually solidly on the ground is her left hind: this is what she looks like when working correctly. Please ignore my equitation...
I really need to stop dropping my inside shoulder...
But look at my horse! :)
(All trotting photos by Shanna!)
Arena work at the moment is focused on collection, which is what she has been indicating she wants to do anyway. This is perfect because her topline needs some work after all the time off. She is at a great weight overall coming out of winter but her coat is unusually dull, so flax has been added back into her diet (1 cup per day) to see if her summer coat comes in as glossy as it always does.

Worst conformation shot EVER. But you can appreciate both the lack of sheen and the excellent body condition on my hard keeper! No ribs = success!
We've done the oils in the past: rice bran oil, flax oil, Cocosoya, etc. They worked beautifully on her when she would eat them...but since she persistently turns her nose up at oils nowadays, we're staying away from them. I also added a pound of Triple Crown's 30% supplement to her daily ration, which does amazing things for her muscle building but is also outright rocket fuel for her. She's fine on it as long as she is in consistent work, but she cannot be on it if not worked consistently because she turns into every stereotype of a Thoroughbred imaginable. Grain at the moment is Legends CarbCare Performance: this is her off-season grain, which is high fat, high protein and low starch. She eats it with gusto, she retains a reasonable amount of muscle + a brain even when rested while on it, so she stays on it. (When competing she is switched to TC Complete, which is fed alone during conditioning and then 50/50 with oats the week before and after an endurance ride to build up and later replenish glycogen stores in her muscles. #endurancenutrition)

G-Mare has been a whole other issue. She has been very stiff coming out of the time off, and I will be having her right front pastern injected again (this is the one with ringbone) once I have a more normal schedule that allows me to use my regular veterinarian again. I've been interacting with her consistently but after my first real official ride on her, I realized some of her ground manners had temporarily gone to pot: she tried to barge into me while I was hosing her off post-ride and to get ahead of me while hand-walking back to the barn. This got rapidly corrected right then and there, and a brief round pen groundwork session helped remind her that Gracie mares still are expected to behave like model citizens even when they think they are wild ponies.

She did gain some weight during her time off and has a slight crest going on, but after a few rides it is already melting off. G-Mare was on TC Lite as a ration balancer over the winter with her oral joint supplement, but I've switched her to Legends CarbCare Show & Pleasure for now. She is also getting 1 cup of flax/day. No rocket fuel for her, though! And I need to restart her IM joint supplement. Last winter she did fabulously on zero maintenance, coming out of the winter moving fluidly, but this has not been the case this year.

Sass monster. Also: somewhat awkward canter.
I don't think 50s are in her future anymore, based on how she is moving now. And that's okay. Gracie can be whatever she wants to be because it is a privilege to get to spend time with this mare. But I'm working on building up her fitness again in the meantime because it's good for her regardless.

First decent ride on her since the nieces came to visit.
Photo by Shanna.
Same ride. Photo also by Shanna.
Last weekend Shanna came out to the barn with me both days and hopped on G-Mare while I worked with Lily. Gracie was quite stiff and unbalanced the first day, so she was kept at the walk and gait; no canter.

Nice swinging gait once she was warmed up though.
The second day she was stepping short with both right legs (RF = ringbone, RH = worse hock of the two.) Shanna did the right thing by keeping Gracie moving in straight lines around the arena and large circles, but the mare never really warmed up out of it.

Shanna on Gracie.
Gaiting easily. Shanna did a great job keeping G-Mare moving at a controlled speed.
So the ride was cut short and Gracie had Monday off. I was off again on Tuesday and brought both girls out for riding: Carlos would ride one while I rode the other for 30 minutes and then we would switch. I started out on Gracie with the bareback pad so I could make sure she was warmed up properly.

She was in her first heat of spring and being a monumental fussbucket. She was literally arguing with herself...I was simply asking her to walk on a reasonably loose rein and she would fling her head around and even threatened to rear a couple of times, which is just her way of trying to intimidate her rider to get out of work, a card that she used to try to play all the time when I first got her. I could understand her being cranky because she was in heat: mares get crampy and sore and irritable too just like we do. This is also normal for her: the first heat of spring and the last one of late fall are always rougher on her. By the time I realize this is happening though, it is too late to start supplementing and I'm not keeping her on a mare herbal supplement like raspberry leaf year-round only for two moments throughout the year. (I am a firm believer in raspberry leaf though: Lily lives on it year-round because unlike Gracie, all of her heat cycles are upsetting. She gets nervous, anxious and buddy sour. SmartMare Harmony has done wonders for her; she has been on it for the last 3 years.)

With Gracie acting up, I just kept my cool and continued gently requesting what I wanted: a sedate walk with no head-tossing, which she was perfectly capable of doing. She had done it en route to the arena while walking next to Carlos. I was not asking for anything even the slightest bit difficult.  I gently requested until I got what I wanted. I would get it for a few steps...and then another flailing moment.  She had three opportunities, but at the third head-flinging episode I spun her around in a tight circle and pony-kicked her forward. She walked on calmly and gave me no more trouble whatsoever. Good girl, Gracie. She was heavily praised.

I was expecting to have to do a long warm-up and not really get to the point of collection that I wanted to work on with her on this day, but she surprised me by offering it up with minimal request from the get-go. I was positively thrilled: she felt sound, smooth and even. She received tons of praise.

Her more collected gait.
I engage my abs, Gracie lifts her withers.
Lovely work.
We were working on extensions here and on not cheating by getting behind the vertical
(a common thing she does when she is trying to avoid using herself properly.)
She was a titch more on the forehand here but that's okay at this point in time. I like that despite the tail swishing you see going on (she always does more tail swishing during arena work than on trail; she really does hate arena work) her entire body still looks relaxed. 
And then Carlos got on while I rode Lily. The goal was for him to just walk her around the arena. I had ridden for 22 minutes and that had been enough for Gracie: asking her to use her body correctly, even at slow speeds, is HARD work and she was drenched in sweat. I didn't want to overdo it. But G-Mare decided she had other ideas and monumentally tested Carlos. She scared him. So I had him work with her on gaiting more just to get her brain back in her head. They did absolutely fantastic and Gracie did not test him again.

Same photo from the collage above but look at the angle of her croup compared to the other photos!
Werk dat butt!

Afterwards we hand-walked them back down to the barn, where they had bubble baths and food while waiting for the vet to come for spring shots. I am out of bute so I did go ahead and buy a tub of it while my vet was there: what I like to do when either of the girls is showing signs of having a rough heat cycle is to give them a dose of bute before riding. The difference in behavior with NSAID on board vs no NSAID on board when they are physically uncomfortable from raging hormones is like night and day. 

I had a long weekend of riding planned for both of them but it has been raining nonstop since Friday night. See what I meant about the weather? But it means you get this update instead. ;)

Such good girls. <3
They just stood quietly where we parked them while we moved stuff around in the arena.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Trust Me

"Trust me," Tony says. "I know you can do this."

Those two words. They have been said by every man I have ever admired and respected. And every time I have played along, amazing things have happened. From jumping a course of 5' fences on a stallion I had just met, to moving across an ocean to a new country to start a new life with the guy who is now my husband.

This time? This time I am in Tony's gym, standing on an elevated platform with thick bungee cord-type resistance bands attached to a belt on my waist. The entire contraption is called the Vertimax, and the gray bands are creating enough tension that I still feel it during the bottom phase of a regular mattress squat.

Obviously not me. Photo from the internet. But just so you guys can visualize what I was doing.
This is the Vertimax model I was using.
There is now a box in front of the Vertimax. The box stands 2' higher than the Vertimax's platform. Tony wants me to do a squat jump onto the box, which involves leaping both up AND forwards against the pressure of the resistance bands.

Tony stands on the other side of the box, ready to catch me if needed. The man is 6'4" and probably close to 300 lbs, so his ability to catch me is not what I'm doubting.

It's the fact that as I squat down to get ready to jump, my legs scream, "You have GOT to be kidding me!" We are 40 minutes into a 1-hour grueling lower-body workout. I'm already certain I'm going to be walking funny the next day, and we haven't even started jumping yet. And also, box jumps are my nemesis. I admire all the Cross Fitters and hard-core gym peeps that do them regularly because every time I see them, I'm like, "You rock and I admire you so much because my body can't do that."

So yeah. Here I am with a box in front of me to jump, with added resistance to make it even harder. The little negative voice in my head goes, "Fuck this. You can't."

I glance up at Tony, who is waiting. There is no backing out. "You can do this," he repeats.

"Shut the fuck up," I tell the negative voice in my head. I bite my lip, ignore my protesting muscles and force them to contract, exploding up and forward into a jump.

My feet land on the box. SLAM! There is a split second of surprise as I think, "Oh my God! I did it!" But I am immediately pulled backwards onto the platform by the resistance bands. I go with the pull by hopping back down.

"I want you to stay on the box, though!" Tony says.

Box jumps with the Vertimax. Obviously not me. Photo from the internet.

Dammit. He grins brilliantly at me.

Snarl. I try again. Same thing.

"Contract your abs as you straighten up," Tony instructs.

It takes four more attempts before I figure out how hard I need to tighten my core and how much I need to straighten my back in order to fight the backwards pull of the resistance bands.

I jump up. Feet slam on the box. Straighten up. Hold for a second.

"GOOD!" Tony says.

Hop back down.

"This is for every man that ever said I could not do something," I think to myself, as I leap up again. For every PE professor that ever said I sucked at sports. Feet slam on the box. For the first trainer at the first gym that didn't think I was capable. Straighten up. For every time I was chosen last for outdoor games because I couldn't even run one lap around the track at school without feeling like I was going to die. Hold for a second. For the first guy I ever liked, who called me fat. Hop back down. Tell me I can't do it. I will show you that I can.

Again. There is an undeniable power in feeling your mind conquer the perceived limits of your body.

And again. Tony never does need to catch me.

"30 second break," my trainer says. He is grinning from ear to ear. Proud.

I'm still strapped onto the platform so he passes me my water bottle.

"So now," he says, "now we are going to do this same cycle, but with the blue cords," he says, swapping out the gray set of bungee-type resistance bands for the blue set, clipping them onto the belt around my waist. The blue bands are the highest resistance.

He steps back to watch my reaction.

"Well, this makes the gray cords feel like I was working against air," I say with a grin, and he starts laughing.

I go through a series of mattress squats, static forward and front lunges, step-ups onto the box with alternating legs, with the end goal of finishing with the box jumps. Holy cow.

Muscle memory is a magical thing, though. While the jumps are definitely harder now, my body now knows how much it needs to tighten my core and how quickly I need to straighten my back in order to resist the pull of the bungee cords. I finish all 10 reps feeling like I'm making it look easy (my legs begged to differ...) I'm unstrapped from the Vertimax and I almost levitate off the platform. Tony laughs.

We weren't done yet. I then got to do 3 sets of 10 reps each of leg extensions and hamstring curls. I didn't even pay attention to what weight Tony set the plates at. I didn't want to know!

And done. I stretch, we set up an appointment for next week. Tony walks me to the door.

"You did a great job today," he says. He means it.

I float back to the car. Because it's either float or stumble...

I had had my body fat % measured that morning. I hover around 20-23% in my "normal" state. The lowest I had ever been was at my fittest, when I turned 29 and was training with a professional bodybuilder. At that time, the lowest I ever got to was 18%. I was positively thrilled!

Today? Today I measured in at 15.8%.

15.8!!!! What?!!!

I am 5'4". My weight currently fluctuates between 133 to 139 lbs, depending on time of month, stress levels, and how well I have been sleeping. I am not some skinny waif and I am most definitely not starving.

Today April 16, 2017:

The best part? The best part is the fact that I'm actually enjoying this journey. Looking into the mirror periodically and doing a double-take going, "Wow! That's my body?!" is just the icing on the cake because I am having so much fun in the process. For someone with MAJOR prior body image problems, body dysmorphia and a history of anorexia and binge eating as a teen, this is enormous.

My point? If I can do this, so can you. Don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't achieve something. Not even that little voice in your head bent on telling you that you will fail. Whether it's to try out a new sport, equestrian or otherwise, to lose weight, to find a new job that fulfills you, to succeed at whatever it is that you want to succeed at in life: go out there and do it.

You can do it. You got this.

Trust me. 


Tuesday, April 4, 2017

My Heart

It's been a long day.

The sun is out and the thermometer in the car driving back to Maryland says 82.

"Look at it!" Carlos says in a stage whisper as he's driving, pointing surreptitiously at the temperature reading, as if afraid it is going to disappear if he's too obvious about it.

I look over and laugh out loud. I had forgotten what those numbers looked like.

We're hungry. It's rush hour. We crossed the state line half an hour ago and thankfully are moving at a reasonable 30 mph for this region at this time. We discuss lunch/dinner...it's too late for lunch but too early for dinner, so whatever you would call that.

"Let's go to Brewer's!" we decide unanimously. It's our favorite bar in town.

Another half hour later we are swinging by our apartment so I can change into street clothes. I quickly stuff sneakers, tights, a sports bra and one of my technical tops into my gym bag as I run back out the door. It's too pretty out and we still have several hours of daylight left...I have no intention of returning home immediately after eating.

We sit in the bar area next to one of the floor-to-ceiling windows: it filters out the chill late afternoon air and only lets warm sunlight in.

I have the most amazing salmon and Carlos has an individual pizza. We are stuffed, but as Carlos pays the bill, I grab my gym bag, change into running clothes, and walk with him outside, where I give him a momentary kiss good-bye: he is going to go to his favorite record store while I go complete 3 miles.

"I'll meet you at the bandstand after," he says with a grin.
I laugh. The bandstand at the park is becoming a heavy player in my life these days. More on that in another post.

I slip my headphones on and click over to my SoundCloud app. There is a new song that I want to listen to.

If you can, I recommend listening to this song in the background while you read, as I had it on replay for this entire run.
Direct link so you can open it in a separate window is here.

I pick up a run as the music begins, winding my way through the late afternoon crowds around town, out to enjoy the warmth and the sun.

The crowds thin out as I reach the water and I turn left to follow it.

I turn my back to the sun and chase my shadow across the ground. The music pours over me and I lengthen my stride. It's like my body and the floor disappear and I'm floating above ground. There is no effort, only infinity.

I swing around the bridge at the far end of the canal and run towards the sun.

And I never want to stop.

The shadows are long beneath the radiance of the light.

"Now I see fire
Inside the mountain 
I see fire
Burning the trees
And I see fire
Hollowing souls
I see fire
Blood in the breeze
And I hope that you remember me..."

When reality is more beautiful than any photographic filter, you run towards it.

This guy was fishing under this stunning cherry blossom tree. The tree was afire...with light.
Everything was afire with light.
And the brand new grass was like the greenest velvet.
And everyone was out and about revelling in it.
And my heart pounded with the sheer joy of it.

My legs had already been worked hard that morning. At 2.8 miles, they said, "Enough." I slowed to a walk and met Carlos at the bandstand.

We walked around the park one more time, just for the pure enjoyment of being outside, and he took his flip-flops off so he could walk barefoot on the grass. I grinned because I never said out loud how soft the grass looked...he saw it for himself.

And then we got in the car and got ice cream on the way home.

And we finished the day in a most ordinary way, setting up food and laundry for the rest of the work week.

I love this town. It is my town and there is no other like it.

And this tripod foot-obsessed cat is also the cutest.