Tag Archives: outdoors

No Substitute For Self-Care

There’s no way to fool yourself into not being broken down, injured, or tired. Sure, you can give yourself all the pep talks you want, but when you feel like you’re walking on pins and needles, when you’re so tired you can’t even get off the couch, when you have small shooting pains in familiar places, it’s time to take a step back and rest. Rest, damn it. This is your only body, and sometimes, the reset button is broken, so you have to take the cooldown instead to let everything recharge, even if it’s not going to go back to where you want it to be.

Recapping my summer: I progressed well through 6 weeks of New Rules of Lifting for Women. The program calls for a barbell and some gym equipment, but since I don’t have access to much of anything but barbells and bodyweight, I did what I could with the materials I had on hand, and I put out a request on social media to borrow weights. I misplaced my 10-pound dumbbells and had only 2- and 5-pound weights to dink around with. A friend had 15-pound weights and 25-pound weights she let me borrow, but no 10. Another friend let me have her single 10-pound weight. And since this is the summer of being broke, I did what I had to: I tied my 5-pound weights together with a shoelace and lifted for a while with that. GOOD ENOUGH.

Sadly, my feet began hurting not terribly long after this. Contributing factors include taking on a role at my part-time job where I walk around the building quite a bit more, and the shabby shoes I’ve made work over the last several months are showing their fit issues, their age, and their quality at last, and the result was aching feet. As someone who let a broken foot go untreated years ago, I was not about to go down that road again and decided to take some time off from lifting. It was time for my rest week anyway, which I took advantage of quite gladly. Sadly for me, the rest week has turned into more than a month of not lifting weights.

However, there is a silver lining: my guts healed enough that I could run again, and it didn’t happen until I had been working on my core through NROLFW for those six weeks. Should I directly credit lifting weights with closing up the hole and helping me to be able to run again without abdominal pain? There is strong enough circumstantial evidence that I will take it on face value and call it good enough.

We had a temperate July, all things considered, to the point that I had to wear a light jacket to finish mowing the lawn on the fourth of July. This is usually a day of sweat, sunscreen, and humid warmth. It turned out to be a day I took the dogs for a nice cool walk in the mid-afternoon, and it was downright chilly in the afternoon shade. With all the great weather, plus a purchase of obnoxiously bright and wonderful new shoes (and some awesome free socks and new sports bras), I went for a lot of walks that sometimes turned out to be walk/run events.

I started tracking on four apps at once: Charity Miles, to donate to Feeding America; WoofTrax, to donate to my local animal shelter, Runkeeper; and MapMyRun. I have been getting inconsistent distance readings from one app to the next, so I like to multi-track to get a more accurate average. For instance, today, my apps disagreed by 0.3-0.4 miles. That’s a huge difference.

I’ve also been tracking small walks on the Charity Miles app in an effort to get a free t-shirt and support Team Red, White & Blue and the Wounded Warrior Project. The app is issuing more small challenges that scale up where participants can earn prizes from corporate sponsors for tracking a set number of days for particular charities. If nothing else, it’s a great daily reminder to work out, even if just a little bit.

My weight is still not in a place where I want it to be, and my stomach in particular is not where I want it to be – it’s making wearing some of my cute pants less possible, as some pairs cut into my gut in a way that they didn’t used to. I recently discovered that my favorite diet soda (I know, I shouldn’t be drinking any diet soda, I know! Jeez!) has concentrated orange juice as a main ingredient, and a diabetic woman who pointed this out to me said it messed with her sugar levels. She says this is the only diet soda she drinks that affects her; others that have plenty of caffeine do not affect her in the same way at all. While I’m not diabetic, and my doctor never diagnosed me as pre-diabetic, I have been watching my sugar for going on three years now, and Alzheimer’s and diabetes are in my genetic destiny, and I need to remember that even the diet “cheats” that I think are safe are only ok in moderation. I’m bad at moderation. So I’m going to cut back drastically and see how I can diversify my natural treats and go back to drinking diet tea and water instead. I’m discouraged, though. It feels like I’ve strayed from my original path, and it’s even harder to get back into good eating habits than it was to make them in the first place.

Finally, I am really getting old. I push mowed the lawn the other day. The yard is fairly large, and the grass was wet, so it was hard work, and it took me 3 hours to finish (I took plenty of breaks, too). I wound up with bruised palms, muscle soreness all over my body, a slightly aggravated ankle, pain in my left pointer finger from lifting the mower to scrape wet grass out from the inside so the blades would spin, and right wrist pain from turning the mower. And my feet hurt like hell the next day after I stood around at my retail job, then took the dogs for a walk. Even my magic new sneakers couldn’t save me from hurting myself.

Getting rest, making sure to eat before undertaking big physical efforts, resting body parts that hurt, and remembering I’m not as invincible as I think I am or want to be seem to be the only ways to age gracefully while maintaining some amateur level of fitness. But this is why I continue to work out: so that when I’m older, I’ll still be mobile enough to take my dogs for walks, to enjoy being out in nature, and to live independently as long as possible.

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The Hole Inside

I got sick over the winter holidays. It happens to most of us, right? Typhoid Mary gave Dirty Santa a whole new meaning this year, and friends and family alike were struck down by the same bug right around Christmas. And masked by the illness at first, my hernia showed up again to put a damper on my exercise.

The day before this mess started, I was lying on the couch watching TV, and my 30-pound dog jumped directly onto my stomach with his full weight. I felt a sharp pain, to the point where after a few minutes, I took pain reliever to, well, relieve the pain. I went to my part-time job in retail the next morning. I started out the work day just fine, but after an hour of being on my feet, I completely lost my appetite, felt feverish and nauseated, and still had to put on a smiling face to process customer returns on the weekend after Christmas for another 6 hours.

I had a case of the holiday season retail employee illness going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I had a case of the holiday-season, unwell-retail-employee, going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I was down with a bug for the next week, but even after I got over the fever and the tossing of the cookies and the aching of the body like the rest of my family was suffering, I was still feeling mild nausea at least once a day — mostly in the morning if I hadn’t eaten breakfast. And that’s a sign of… hernia! Aw yeah! Wait, that’s bad! No! Ugh!

Given my history of abdominal surgery and spending most of the summer of 2012 miserable and curled around a bottle of ginger ale, any abdominal weirdness puts my mild hypochondria into overdrive. Living in the U.S. without healthcare insurance, this turns into fruitless worry and hoping very hard that nothing is wrong.

Happily for me, I haven’t had any pain since the first night, and the nausea is getting a lot better. I’ve been taking antacids as needed, eating foods that will reduce the hydrochloric acid in my stomach, and not exerting myself too much.

Sadly, the weather shaped up beautifully over this weekend, and as much as I’d LOVE to be out for a run, wishing I’d bought a pair of fingerless gloves last night, I’m taking a rest to let my body heal. I don’t want to power through it and do more damage.

There's a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale...kind of to mental scale.)

There’s a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale…kind of to mental scale.)

My day job is about to get super busy, so I’m disappearing down the rabbit hole of work. But I am hoping that once the hole in my innards is healed, I can get back out on the road and keep on pursuing the sport I’ve fallen in love with to keep myself sane and remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a filing deadline that must be met.

And depending on how long it takes me to heal and how much of my life has been eaten by my job by early March, maybe I won’t need to outfit myself with fingerless gloves after all. That would leave a 3-month gap in my workout history, unfortunately, so maybe I should go ahead and get some outdoor sporting-appropriate gloves in case I feel mended enough in a couple of weeks to put my running shoes on during one of these 38ยบ F days.

I’d like to give a shout out to chicken broth. You complete me. When I am feeling sick and trying to avoid pasta as per my doctor’s standing orders two years ago, you are chicken soup in the purest, most digestible form. I love you.

Running On Glass

I’ve been running lately, and so far, it hasn’t killed me or completely destroyed my joints (maybe). Fancy!

With nice end-of-summer weather, I’ve been walking along a quiet, hilly country road that takes me past pastureland and farmland, farm houses, small streams, and churches. I have a sheaf of small stories about the bucolic delights of my exercise, from shutting off my music to better hear Mennonite churchgoers sing hymns in German to collecting red clover for some inquisitive horses to photographing butterflies.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

Sunset in the country: this beats the pants off running in a gym.

One day, while walking down a long hill, I tried to pick up the pace a little to get my heart rate up more and to tax my leg muscles more than walking does. That turned into a very light jog. I was surprised, delighted – words you don’t usually use when you talk about working out. “This should stop soon. When is something going to start to hurt?”

I ran for maybe a full minute. As someone who hasn’t tried running since a failed C25K attempt in 2006, a minute felt like a long time to run. I had so much fun that when I caught my breath, I ran again. I didn’t attempt to go up any hills and did a lot of walking, but every time there was a downward slope, I ran a little more. I shaved 15 minutes off my usual 5K walk lap time and soaked in the tub when I got home.

With two jobs, my time is stretched a little thin, so I don’t run more than once or twice a week – which is great for me, as it is probably wise to let my body rest and heal for several days between those workouts.

The ankle brace and knee brace are necessities, of course. I tried running without my ankle brace a little over a week ago, which turned out to be a mistake. I went out on Sunday afternoon, and I had shooting pains in my ankle while I was walking up a hill – to the point where I seriously considered calling my boyfriend to come pick me up. I stopped for a moment and rolled my ankle in circles, tugging on the elastic at the top of my ankle. The pain quickly subsided, and it felt all right enough that I actually ran on it again before the end of my walk. When I got home, I soaked in the warm tub for a while, then propped my ankle up and wrapped it in a cold pack while I watched TV.

Will I keep running if I’ve hurt my ankle? Probably not. I don’t want to do lasting damage. I’ll give it some time to rest, and then, the weather will get really cold, and I won’t want to run or go outside, and I’ll get halfway through winter before I’m bitten by the exercise bug again, and I’ll put on all my braces and my neck gaiter and 14 layers of flannel and go out and run two miles and feel awesome, and then I’ll slip on black ice into some horse poop in the road and break my leg. And my phone.

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an "accident."

Horses! You are so beautiful! Why are you so treacherous? I have not forgotten the time a horse threw me into a tree. Yeah, an “accident.”

The constant thought I have as I’m running, besides “Just get to that tree shadow/driveway and then we can stop and walk… JUST KIDDING, go to the end of that driveway! I should REALLY eat breakfast before I run! I don’t know how I’m going to make it home!” is that I’m on borrowed time with this body. I feel like my brain is tricking it into doing things that could break it. It’s easy to be a hypochondriac and easy to be reckless. I’ve got to find the balance between having the gumption to test my limits and having the common sense to know when to stop and how to take care of myself properly when things do go wrong.

It Is Still Fresh Air, Even If It Smells Like Manure

The out-of-doors in the summer. It’s gorgeous! It’s covered in bees! It’s covered in kudzu, wildflowers, horses, crops, and cows, too, as far as I can tell.

Ahh, the countryside.

Ahh, the countryside.

The temperature has been more than reasonable most of this week – 75-80F (24-27C), partly cloudy, breezy. The place where I live has gentle, rolling hills and shade trees and farmland all mixed together. It’s ideal.

I haven’t been walking much the last 7 months, ever since I moved into my own house with a yard that didn’t leave dog-walking as a necessity anymore. Moreover, I took my dogs out a few months ago, and we were attacked by a dog that came off its chain down the street. So there’s been precious few dog-accompanied adventures, and until recently, precious few adventures undertaken solo.

I have enjoyed walking down to the flat bridge over a nearby creek. I’ve only been on that walk a few times, though. Part of that is the mental battle I have with that steep-ass hill that leads down to the creek. The 1.3 miles down to the creek is almost completely downhill. The trip back up is not really a lot of fun. The creek is usually lovely and enjoyable to watch for a few minutes. I have rediscovered my love of skipping stones on the water, and I usually come away with a memento, such as a little geode I plan to clean up and put on my desk at work.

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

Flat bridge ahoy! So beautiful and calm! And at the bottom of a mile-long steep grade! Bleh!

The main problem with walking down the main road to work out: traffic. I’m not very keen on sharp hill crests and turns where I could be a surprise object in the roadway. I try to cross the road, or walk in the tall grass in ditches on the side of the road, if I hear a vehicle coming. But there are a lot of ticks in this part of the country, and they sometimes hang out in the tall grass, waiting. Planning. Scheming. Hungry. The ticks and I are at war. There are no survivors once they are found in my house, on my pets, and especially on my person. The first line of defense is a good offense, and that means walking on the road when I can.

Being an explorer and a self-preservationist, I decided to walk in the opposite direction of the bridge the other day, opting for a nearby single-lane, paved, quiet road that winds through the main Mennonite settlement in my county. It was a good choice. I mean, the county where I live is just chock full of natural beauty anyway; it’s really nice to be able to walk slowly through it and appreciate it up close without fear of being run over by an F-250 every two minutes. While on this slender thread of pavement through lush farmland and riotous green woods, I gave directions to some lost folks in a pick-up and waved politely at anyone who passed me, whether they were in work trucks or open-air horse-drawn buggies. I felt that I looked out of place, walking along a road mostly traveled by farm workers while in my bright teal workout shirt (get your rear in gear!), headphones, hiking boots, sunglasses, and knee brace. But I was also very at-home in my surroundings. I spent some of my childhood summers on a sprawling farm just outside of town: riding bikes down dirt roads, looking at the cows, trying to rescue birds from oil ponds bubbling up next to little-used derricks, and picking blackberries. I’ve always loved the outdoors, and living in a place where I can more easily appreciate it year-round is a gift I will always cherish.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Wide open spaces and a seldom-used fork in the road.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

Meeting house, complete with water pump and hitching posts.

I photographed all kinds of wildlife while I was out earlier this week. I was delighted to find a small waterfall lurking behind foliage, trickling slowly into a creek that wound under a bridge and into a pasture where several beautiful honey-colored horses grazed in the midday sun. I marked that bridge as my halfway point to make an approximate 5k (~3.1 miles) from my starting point. When I reached that point again today, the horses were gone, and there was something very dead by the creek. It smelled terrible, and it persisted for a tenth of a mile. Then, on my way back to my starting point, the wind had shifted to where I was upwind, and I managed to be in the path of the breeze after it had passed over every single pile of horse manure on the road. I took it in stride in the name of better health.

I had a great couple of walks, though I know my calves are going to be sore for a few days. Months of activity followed up by three 5k walks in a single week? Not without consequences. At least I had the foresight to wear my ankle brace and my knee brace both. And sunscreen, most of the time.

Future home of freckles.

Future home of freckles.

Now, it is time to talk tragedy. My amazing hiking boots that I got last fall, which have seen me through many miles with my dogs and on my own, suffered an eyelet loss earlier today. Quel dommage!

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

ALORS. Now my laced-up boot looks ridiculous.

I’ll figure out a fix – it may involve heavy-duty glue, or an awl, or something. The boots are otherwise fine, and I might even be able to get away with still wearing them in their current, stupidly-laced state for a while yet to come.

Another lesser tragedy: my old sports bras are now in dire need of replacement. They are not structured at all; I bought one at Target, another on sale at a sporting goods store, and I bought them both to wear to physical therapy when I was 40 pounds heavier than I weigh now. It’s going to be a while before I can afford a really good underwired upgrade, so I may either tailor one of them or buy something inexpensive to get me through the fall at a big box retailer.

My less-than-sturdy body parts are doing well; little ankle soreness, no knee complaints to speak of, and even my surgery scars are all right. I am still ever-mindful of too much exercise straining my abdominal surgery scars. No pain so far after my third walk in a week, but it could take a day or two for that to still happen.

Wake Up Your Legs, Woman

I’ve been moved into my new house for two months, and until yesterday, I had never walked farther than almost to the outlet of my cul-de-sac. It’s winter! I’ve been hard at work! Yesterday, I was tired of doing nothing, and even though I was on the threshold of sick, I went for my first serious walk since the move.

I had been used to hour-long walks with 60 pounds of dog dragging me up and down hills. I figured walking by myself for as long as I could take it would be a snap. And for the first part, it was. Beautiful day, gorgeous countryside, picturesque cows and horses – and best of all, the dead opossum had been cleared off the road. The land sloped ever downhill toward the creek, and I kept going.

About halfway into my trek, I thought to myself, “Walking back up this hill is going to be a bad time.”

Descent into a creek valley.
Once I reached a gentle grassy hill that reached the lip of the water, I sat on a rock for a few minutes and watched the stream. I took some pictures. Then, it was time to head back up the hill. My pedometer app on my phone told me I’d walked 1.36 miles. As I squinted at my phone in the sun and looked back at the road winding up the hill, I felt encouraged at how rested I felt. “I feel great for not having done any exercise or walking for two months. This should be ok.”

Two minutes later.

The wrong side of a hill.
I took off my light jacket and made my way around the curve, winded but enjoying the exertion, through the steepest part of the ascent. I think it’s been long enough that I felt the burn, but I was more than capable of accomplishing the walk without having to stop and catch my breath.

The land began to level off a bit after a half mile or so, and I went back to taking photos and inhaling deeply the cool air (this became more shallow breathing when the wind was coming off a well-used horse pasture).

Hay.
Today, my calves are a little sore. Tomorrow, I’ll likely feel that soreness even more. But I had a great time. And if I wasn’t sick today, I’d make plans to walk the same route tomorrow to give my underused calf muscles a chance to stretch out and help me do what I most love to do: enjoy the physicality of being alive.

Later this week, I’m setting up my physical therapy gym in the spare room of my house to get back to work on my shoulder. I stretch every day, but it needs more work. Spring seems like the best time to get back to the business of repairing myself, getting serious about my eating habits, and enjoying some time outdoors.

Inclement Clothing

Northern hemisphere snow party! Whoo!

It’s around the darkest days of the year with the least sunshine, and it’s not so bad, to be honest. Yeah, it’s in the 20s F in the morning with highs rising all the way to the 30s F by the middle of the day, but as long as it doesn’t rain and get all damp and gross outside, that’s not so bad!

Unfortunately, it’s been damp and gross – the wet kind of cold weather that isn’t pretty and doesn’t have the decency to not soak through every layer you have on – for a lot of the last couple of weeks. Snow flurries fell over the weekend, though, and didn’t stick to much, melting and refreezing almost as soon as they hit most earthbound surfaces. This morning, it was cold, clear, and dazzlingly sunny.

As I’ve said several times before, I’ve put together a cold weather wardrobe. It proved to be inadequate the other night when it was just above freezing and started to rain very hard as the dogs stood in the back yard, alternating between finding things to eat in the bushes and pulling away from me toward the house without having used the potty, which was the entire reason we were out there. I have a rain coat, but I wasn’t wearing anything warmer under it than a sweater. I don’t have waterproof boots or pants that resist rain. My flannel pajama pants I’d worn out into the rain got pretty damp, and I let my shoes dry out for a day before I took the dogs out for a long walk again. So basically, those things are next on my list of winter-wear gear. I’ve got being warm enough down, now I just have to stay dry as well.

Rain hasn’t been much of a problem for me for years. Texas doesn’t get a lot of rain, and the last two summers have been phenomenally dry and included a record-breaking drought. Now that I’m in Kentucky at the foothills of Appalachia, it’s a different story. We’re not quite far north enough to get snow, and we’re not quite far south enough to have a warm winter. We get a wet, damp January, leaf-stripped forests for three months, occasional snow. It seemed worse when I was young and didn’t always have adequate protection from the elements. But now, I’ve grown up, accessorized with fleece and a dozen different garments, and I’m good to go when it’s snowing in my face.

This is what I wore last night on a circuit around the neighborhood across the hard gravel road, around frozen puddles, into the murky night lit via light pollution caught by low-hanging clouds. I was so toasty.

A woman's leg clothed in hiking boots, argyle knee-high socks, black tights, and purple pants

Pants layers – long socks, tights, yoga pants, and boots.

A woman in a leather jacket, fleece hat, and two sets of gloves giving the thumbs-up

Gloves and face layers.

A woman in winter clothing wearing four shirts.

Shirt layers – tank, thermal sweater, fleece pullover, and leather jacket.

Next on my shopping list are rainproof pants and boots. I could probably apply some water resistance to the boots I have now, but it might be easier to upgrade to another pair at some point.

The ability to be comfortable as I go out into the world is the only thing that makes it tolerable going out. I went into the cold woefully underdressed a few nights ago and didn’t really get almost comfortable until about 20 minutes in, when I’d warmed up from the exertion. By that time, my hands were frozen, and we were almost back at the house. Lesson learned.

Compelling Cold

What is it about the cold that makes me want to be outside?

I took two accidental hour-long walks with my dogs today. We’ve been strolling through the nearby ballpark (where I spent 7 happy summers on various softball teams as a kid), expanding on our neighborhood exploration, and apparently that’s enough to boost our outdoors time past the 60-minute mark. I took the dogs out on an intentionally long stroll this morning to reward them for being so good during the rain of the last several days.

This evening, I called my sister, wrangling the dogs with one hand, and we probably moved a lot more slowly than usual. I also wore my knee brace, because the walk this morning, plus stumbling in the mud in my work shoes during lunch, made it feel necessary. When I hung up the phone and checked the time, we’d been out for over an hour and 10 minutes.

The temperature this morning was about 32F/0C; this evening, it was 25F/-4C. I guess I’m not a Texas girl anymore if I can put up with that with a smile on my face.

I was super cozy this evening in a new sweater I picked up for $15 at Kohl’s: a Tek Gear 1/4-zip microfleece jacket. Lows in the 20s are about as cold as it regularly gets in this part of the country, so modern fleece is just fine for this climate. I practically live in my performance fleece zip-up jacket from Old Navy, bought for $12 about a month ago. My hiking boots are still amazing performers. My long socks are warm and comfortable. A fleece hat that a friend gave me 13 or 14 years ago still looks good, feels soft, has kept its shape, and is warm and familiar. It’s great to feel so well-bundled, so well-prepared.

A woman in a pink plaid fleece jacket

Me in my new fleece jacket, late November. I wore this zip-up damn near everywhere the first few weeks I bought it.

The only part of me that got remotely cold this evening was the hand in which I was holding my phone, and then only because I took my glove off in order to dial. I don’t think my life has gotten to the point where I need fancy gloves that allow me to use touch-sensitive devices, but I’m sure everyone will offer those in 5 years.

The dogs have weathered the cold very well for being suburban beagles their entire lives, too. When it was chilly and wet out the other day, they actually went chest-deep into standing water in drainage ditches; they got a nice bath when we got home. Today, they dragged me through some red Georgia clay, a subsoil with a lot of iron in it, and came home with their little white feet turned orange. They didn’t seem to mind getting a quick feet and belly rinse-off with warm water. Like me, I suppose, they don’t mind getting cold and gross in the out of doors, as long as there’s warmth and comfort waiting on the other side. I don’t think they’re the kind of dogs that require clothing or protection from this level of cold; they rather enjoy it, from all appearances. And their enjoyment helps feed into my own enjoyment. My girl dog gets mesmerized by wildlife and shatters the peace of whatever time of day we’re out with short yelps or excited whimpering. But seeing her so excited, smelling everything, rapt with attention, studying a tree, solving problems, is such a joy. The only time I’ve ever resented being outside with the dogs is going out at 5:30am with inadequate clothing, sometimes without shoes, and waiting for one or both of them to go potty… without result. But what can you do? They’re my companions and my compulsion to exercise. I’ve built my wardrobe around the activity of taking them outside to enrich their existence. As long as there’s a need for them to go out, I’ll keep outfitting myself to withstand whatever weather I must to be a good steward for my dependent, loyal dogs.

Several dogs on a paved street in late autumn.

Dog walking. Sometimes, it’s cold, it’s hot, it’s damp, it’s raining. Most of the time, it’s fine. Every time, it’s worth it.