Monday, May 25, 2015

Fitness: My Running Story and Exercise Regimen

running bibs
fitness
Scheduled on 5/22/15

Since I'm always writing about marathon training, it may come as a surprise that I actually used to hate running.

Six years ago, I was pretty unathletic: I staggered in almost last during the middle school mile run gym test, I couldn't lift the standard bench press bar, and I somehow managed to get myself out during a round of summer kickball. 

I began running on a whim: the tipping point was a fundraiser 5k (3.1 mi) for a friend's mother with ovarian cancer. I ran to support her family, ignorant that this one act of sympathy would change my own life. The race took me over 50 minutes. Even though my time was far from competitive, even though I was sore and disgustingly sweaty, I was jubilant. It was the hardest I had pushed my body in a long time. Maybe ever, at that point. 

I was so ecstatic that I proudly sported my race bib on my back for the rest of the day, refusing to change my shirt even for orchestra rehearsal (I cringe as I type). Then, for some reason, I began to run a mile every day before school. I had no other races to train for, and joining the cross country team hadn't yet crossed my mind. I ran because I felt like it. I liked the feeling of accomplishment, I liked challenging myself to walk less and less each time.

A few months later, I joined the team. Within a season, I was running varsity cross country--and continued to do so throughout high school. I kept building and pushing. Now, I've competed in distance races up to half-marathon length, with my longest training run just breaking the twenties. 

While the marathon has eluded me due to overuse injuries, I know I'm not done. If anything, running has showed me that I can reach once-unimaginable heights. That I can conquer the most intimidating of tasks. That I am capable.

People often ask me why I run, or question how I can enjoy it despite all the pain. For a while, I was unable to give a definitive answer. It's one of those things you have to do to know, I said. I still believe that only running will result in true understanding, but I can confidently say this:

I run because it's empowering. 

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Before I left school, the doctor I'd been seeing for my stress reaction dropped the verdict: no running for at least 2 months. Given that running is such an integral part of my identity, this was really rough. 

So if you're also facing any sort of fitness challenge, let's do this together. I'm now forced to tackle some new disciplines more seriously while my foot rests--swimming and biking.

Pre-injury, this is what my workout schedule looked like.

Typical week of marathon training:

Monday: 30 min bike + 7 minute abs
Tuesday: 45 min run (steady state)
Wednesday: 30 min bike + 7 minute abs
Thursday: speed day (tempo miles, intervals, or fartlek)
Friday: 30 min bike + ab ripper x
Saturday: long run
Sunday: rest

Now, the runs are replaced with swims and longer outdoor rides substituted for indoor cycling. And when the equipment's available, I arm bike and lift. 

I encourage you to find some way to move your body that empowers you too. I know we're all crazy busy, but I promise that  putting your health first is hugely beneficial. Working out after classes helped clear my mind and made me more energetic. When I take my longer breaks from working out, I always feel sluggish, lose my appetite, have trouble sleeping, and develop back pain. 

Furthermore, exercising allows me to feel confident about my body, despite not fitting the modern ideal of skinny. I have few body image issues because I feel healthy and know I'm doing all I can to be healthy. 

The takeaway? I want to emphasize that sweat and determination go a long way. That cumulative baby steps become giant leaps. That all of this is so worth it. 

If you're interested in some of the workout videos I follow, I've listed these resources below, along with some of my recent running posts.

Ab workouts:
5 minutes (our 7 minute workouts involve this and a 2 minute front plank)
Ab Ripper X from P90X

Indoor cardio:

Recent running posts:


If all goes well, I should be on an international trip for the next three weeks--I've prepared 2 more posts scheduled to go live in my absence on the next two Mondays at 8 am. I may not have access to internet, so I'll catch up with you all when I return!

Please feel free to leave any personal running/workout stories in the comments--I'd love to read them. Until next time!

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Monday, May 18, 2015

Street Style: My Campus Photo Project

All photos from Best Dressed Jeffs -- Amherst Street Style

Hello, hello! 

I am indeed alive, and I'm officially done with my first year of college.

Lately, it's been a frenzy of writing, studying, packing, not sleeping. Now that I've been home for a couple of days, I feel much more at peace. Huge thanks to the readers who tagged along despite my absence--I can't wait to interact with you all again.

I'm confined to my walking boot for another week and a half, so my latest outfits have been accentuated by the big ol' gray cast and a hot pink running shoe (to keep sole height balanced). Eclectic, yes. The refined eclectic? Not exactly. 

So in lieu of an outfit post, I present to you my favorite shots from the campus street style blog I started this year. It's called Best Dressed Jeffs (Amherst's mascot is Lord Jeff--don't get me started on this topic of hot debate) and it features students of all grades, and even some from neighboring colleges. You can read more about the blog's philosophy and see more photos of stylish students on the tumblr or facebook page.

As for other news, I'm going to be out and about this summer (traveling and working at an educational camp for kids), so my blogging schedule may be sporadic. I'll do my best to keep up, but there may be an influx of scheduled posts as I jet off across the world and country.

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Thursday, May 7, 2015

Broken Body, Strong Soul

dressing with crutches and walking boot
dressing with crutches and walking boot
topshop crop top
topshop crop top
Crop top, Topshop via Nordstrom | Skirt, H&M | Shoe, Forever 21
Photos by Alura Chung-Mehdi

Scheduled on 5/4/15

I almost named this post "Fragile Body, Resilient Soul" because I liked the vocab better, but then I reconsidered. The word fragile imposes a condition--it would imply that there is nothing I can do about these running injuries, that my body is just like this. Yes, I have encountered various ailments over the last few seasons. Yes, I have to be more careful. But more importantly, yes, I can run injury free--I've done it before and can do it again. My body is not fragile, it's simply broken right now. 

Wording can have a big impact on attitude--I'm always quick to correct my friends whenever they utter statements like "I'm a bad test taker," or "I'm a slow runner." While it's true that innate skill may vary, this wording doesn't allow any chance for improvement. It's resignation to a condition that has every potential to change with effort. Switching to "I've struggled with tests in the past," or "I can work on running speed" can make all the difference.

I also almost shed the crutches and boot for the entire post, but thought better of it. Yes, blogs are polished versions of our lives, but for me, shooting photos without all this hardware would've felt like a lie. The crutches and boot aren't pretty and make it more difficult to pose, but they're part of my life now. 

Life isn't always pretty, but pushing through the tough spots is most empowering.

Speaking of tough spots, finals week is almost upon us. I'll be pretty absent from the blogging world for the next week and a half, but I can't wait to catch up with you all once I've completed my first year of college. Leggo!

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Friday, May 1, 2015

Artsy Endeavors + Life Updates: Stress Reaction

20 miles later...{throwback}
 filled a whole journal for the first time in forever
 even rainy days can be beautiful
 mint tea mornings
 when your food matches your outfit
stumbled upon this gem on our morning run
photos from my instagram

Two weeks ago, I ran twenty miles straight.

Today, it's a monumental task to even walk to class. 

My relieved return to normal training was an all-too-brief reverie. Reality soon shattered it--after a few runs, I could barely walk without excruciating foot pain. 

Monday's MRI identified the culprit--a stress reaction of my 5th metatarsal. In an MRI, normal bones should show up black, but this one lit up white. Had I run any longer, the base of my toe might've fractured. The picture also revealed a very strained achilles tendon, which had likely been compensating for the weakness in my bone. 

I'm now confined to a walking boot and crutches, but that's the least of my worries. The physical pain pales in comparison to the emotional battle. After my last injury, I vowed to do everything right: I gently eased back into running, cross trained half my workouts, and continued to do strengthening exercises. I felt bad enough that I had fallen short of my goal once already. I felt like I was falling behind--I couldn't help but feel wistful as I scrolled through updates of old teammates competing in college cross country races, or completing full marathons in impressive times. I wanted to be them for those moments. I was angry at my body for failing me. I was angry at myself.

Similar emotions have definitely resurfaced. I feel incapable, frail, and embarrassed that I've fallen short again. What if I actually can't physically handle a marathon? What else can I do to prevent injuries if I'm training carefully, eating well, and sleeping enough? Why do I keep hurting myself?

But what's happened has happened, and I can't change it. I can only adapt. There's a tough road ahead, especially if I want to tackle another race in five months. But first, I have to take care of my body.

While the result of my second attempt is deeply disappointing, it wasn't futile. The workouts have led me to discover trails I had always dreamed of exploring. Rehab has allowed me to meet the incredibly kind and patient sports med team at Amherst and connect with other injured athletes. Training has pushed me to run the farthest and feel the fittest I have in my life.

It might look like a sad ending, but this story is far from over.

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