Category Archives: Health & Fitness

Why Run: A Reason For Every Decade

In anticipation of running the Bay to Breakers tomorrow, I’m reposting an article about reasons to run for every decade. These are personal reasons, but hopefully some of them will relate to the athlete in you. I’d like to start by saying that one of the main reasons I run today, a reason not stated below, is to keep me in shape for other things I like doing. I’ve found that having at least one good run a week gives me the stamina for dancing, hiking, or any other lively activity that comes around.License plate

DECADE ONE: In the first decade of my life, I exercised unintentionally, primarily by running away from a little boy named Scott at recess. He was so cute, much shorter than I, and could easily be outrun. On two occasions, he employed his taller, not-so-cute friend named Raymond to catch me. While Raymond held me still, little Scott would jump up and kiss me. Ever since, I’ve loved the name Scott (and eventually married one), but at seven years old, the running was what I loved most. Racing through the huge grassy field every day was bliss. I hear that kids don’t get to run willy nilly at recess anymore. This is a travesty, and I hope concerned parents everywhere will make enough fuss to return recess to its rightful place.

TEEN DECADE: In the second decade of my life, my teen years, I ran to lose weight. This was entirely unnecessary, but I did not know that then. The more I ran, the bulkier my legs got and the more I ran to trim them down. My legs were monsters. Not really, but with my teenager brain, I thought they were. At least my misperception kept me running, something I enjoyed, whether it was hot and humid or bitter cold. Running was a part of experiencing the world in a newly independent way, breezing down the trail of the old railroad tracks with no one to answer to but myself.

TWENTIES: In the next decade, my twenties, I ran for social reasons. My dad would say, “Gail doesn’t date anyone who won’t run with her.” This was true. My husband ran with me on our first date. Running with me and being named Scott kind of sealed the deal with him, that lucky guy. Unfortunately, he stopped running with me after we got serious. This is another travesty, but a very personal one, so only I need to fuss about it.

When I was 28, on two occasions, I ran with Robin Williams through the streets of San Francisco. We were part of a running group that gathered at Fleet Feet Sports on Tuesday nights. When I hear the slogan, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” I think of those early evening runs, along the Embarcadero and up and down the hilly streets.

THIRTIES: Then came the thirties, the years of running to escape. There’s nothing like running after a long day when it seems like everyone wants a piece of you. Responsibilities at work and home escalate like crazy in the thirties and running brings release. But it’s harder than ever to fit it in.

One night, I ran out of the house when my kids needed me. Their father was home, but working in his studio, so I was essentially on duty. We lived on a country street and it was dark outside, really dark. Coming out of our long, graveled driveway—running fast—I stumbled into a huge dead deer that had been hit by a car and pulled off to the side of the road. This spooked me silly, calling me to my senses. I immediately went back home to the kids. Running, as great as it is, should not come first.

FORTIES: In my forties, I started running for health and preservation: preservation of muscle tone, skin elasticity, energy, and the ability to sleep through the night. At one point, however, I started wondering. The medical community was babblying about running being bad for your knees. We NOW know that weight bearing exercise strengthens your knees, but the studies weren’t out at the time. I was worried because walking tends to bore me; it depressed me just thinking about it. So I put the question into a prayer—like I do with every troublesome issue—sincerely seeking direction. That week, license plates arrived for my new car and the first four characters were: 1RUN. In California, plates start with a number, so the “1” was as close as you could get to an “i”. But I had not asked for vanity plates! This was the result of uncanny coincidence or divine providence. I believed in the later and joyfully went running as soon as I put the plates on my car.

FIFTIES: Now in my early fifties, I run to help me think. For example, I’ve never suffered from Writer’s Block, but I do get Writer’s Sinkhole. Once I spent six hours trying to write one sentence. Well, maybe it wasn’t that long, but I don’t really know because I got lost in the effort, sinking deeper and deeper into this muddy place where I don’t want to give up because I almost have it, but it’s not quite right so I keep up the good fight while my brain gets more and more muddled. The best remedy, I have found, is to run—one mile will do it. My head clears, and when I return to my desk, the writing flows. Other exercise will work, too, as my almost-famous Jazzercise post explains.

BayToBreakersI would be amiss in this personal discourse on running if I failed to mention the Bay to Breakers. There are many races throughout the world that inspire people everywhere to keep on running, but the annual Bay to Breakers is the one for me, year after year, decade after decade. Last spring, I signed my son up to join me. He worried, “Mom, I haven’t been running for awhile,” but I told him that he was eighteen, a picture of health and had nothing to worry about. Sure enough, the photographers for the event captured my son prancing effortlessly in his minimalist shoes across the finish line (while my pained face tells a slightly different story). And do you see the near perfect number—11110—on his running bib? Like my license, it must be a good sign.

My Cycling Angels

Reviewing the best bike rides of my life

My wheels are my wings plaque

For sale on LightQuotes

In every walk of life, there are people to thank. Today I would like to thank my cycling angels, the people who fostered my love of biking, going way back to my first years out of college in New York City.

I’m thinking of Ray who hoisted my bike and his onto a moving train (the Hudson Line) for my first real biking adventure. I’m not sure where we got off the train, but we were clearly north of the city on streets that were entirely rural and mysterious.

Then came an urban cycling adventure, thanks to Jeff’s invitation, that was equally as fascinating: The Five Boro Bike Tour, “Boro” being short for “borough.” On this annual tour, in one day, an endless flow of bikers ride through all five boroughs of Manhattan. I remember having a headache through the whole thing due to missing my coffee that morning and not wanting to break out of the flow to buy a cup, but I had one of the best days of my life nonetheless.

Years later, on the other side of the country, my friend Amy introduced me to the Cinderella Classic, a bike tour that winds through the beautiful rolling hills east of San Francisco. For some reason, it is for females only. Men are involved, but only in a supportive role. For example, the men feed us…a lot. They feed us breakfast, snacks, lunch, and a post-ride soup that is amazing. With all the nourishment received along the way, the 65 miles is easier than expected.

In between these two tours, came a few seasons with a mountain bike and my marriage to Scott. Scott and I both bought Hoo Koo E Koos, probably the first mountain bikes for many. We biked on the fire roads in the Tahoe National Forest (getting lost which made for an eight-hour adventure); we frequented the Shell Ridge Open Space; and we spent one gnarly weekend navigating the canyons of Nevada City. Oh, those were the days…until I flipped over the handlebars on a steep decline and decided I wanted to go back to roads that were paved.

A decade slipped by without biking when I finally called my friend Emily, an avid cyclist, and asked where I should buy a new road bike. I wanted to get “fitted” properly since this bike would probably be with me for the rest of my life. (I don’t buy toys often, but when I do, I keep them a long time.) She directed me to Pleasant Hill Cyclery. “The place is a little quirky,” she said, “but they will fit you well.” A few hours later in the shop, I fixed my eye on a hybrid bicycle. Hybrids were gaining popularity at the time and seemed good enough for me. As I was nearing the purchase, angel Emily showed up. “I thought you might need some help,” she kindly said. Her boyfriend came too and they casually wheeled a Bianchi over to me. “Try this one,” they said. I took it for a test ride and my eyes were opened. I remember hearing, “steel is real,” and putting something like $2,000 on my credit card. Other than my wedding ring, it is my prized possession.

The day after I bought the Bianchi, I called up Laura, the last cycling friend I would like to thank. “A group of us are riding this Saturday,” she beckoned, “Join us.” I showed up at the appointed place and Laura sheepishly asked me, “Is thirty miles okay?” I had no idea if it was okay! Beyond my little test ride, I hadn’t ridden in years! But the group of cyclists were eager to get going, so I put on a good attitude and said I’d try.

It was tough, cycling Skyline Boulevard, Grizzly Peak and Wildcat Canyon. Laura kept shouting to me, “Car back! Car back!” This is the common phrase cyclists use to call attention to a car approaching from behind, but being the fearful novice that I was, I kept hearing, “Road rash! Road rash!”

But I made it through without crashing and was happy the ride showed me what I could do. It wasn’t until my next ride, when all by myself, I forgot to unclip when I stopped my bike and fell in slow motion to the ground. Laura had warned me that it would probably take three falls before it becomes second nature to unclip my shoes. She also taught me how to clean my wheels from bits of glass and she flippantly gave me an extra pair of expensive bike shorts, something I greatly appreciated since I had my Bianchi to pay off.

We all need exercise and at least a little adventure in our lives. I am grateful to those who have encouraged me along the way and hope to inspire others to sign up, team up, and enjoy each other in the great outdoors.

Managing stress with axioms

ElephantMy mother used to say: “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill.” I like the Russian proverb better: “Don’t make an elephant out of a fly,” although I didn’t know there were elephants in Russia. They drink Vodka, according to a BBC News story. Another popular saying is “Don’t sweat the small stuff.” Richard Carlson used the line for his bestselling book, adding five brilliant words to the title: “And it’s all small stuff.”

Is this true; is it all small stuff? Not really. What the Philippines are presently going through is not small stuff, but it’s generally true in our day-to-day lives.

My bigger question for this post is: Does it help to keep these sayings in mind? If you were to hang this plaque I designed with the cute elephant in your home, for example, would it help you calm down if you were overreacting to something? I hope so because the piece is for sale in my new Etsy store and I’m hoping it will help people “roll with the punches,” another great expression.

For me, what mostly scales down my anxieties is the combination of two things: being outside and praying, which reminds me of two more quotes. The first is: “It’s impossible to walk in the woods and be in a bad mood at the same time” I totally agree with this statement found on forestfreak.com. The other is “Why worry when you can pray?”—a phrase adapted from Philippians 4:6 and turned into a peppy song. If I could find a good quote that communicates the stabilizing effect of nature and prayer together, I’d display it everywhere around my home and office, because—even with my good strategies—I tend to panic and overact as much as the next guy.

There’s something else to mention. When I need to calm down, I ask myself an important question about the stressful situation at hand. I ask: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Sometimes the answer is not too bad and I realize I can deal with it. Other times, the answer is nasty. For example, what’s the worst thing that could happen if I don’t start making money? I could end up sleeping between sheets of plastic and newspaper under a bridge somewhere! But then, I reason, even then, if the worst thing happened, with God’s help, I can still deal with it.

Once I engage my faith in such a way, it (my faith) gets stronger, and I relax. Asking yourself the worst-case-scenario question and employing your faith for the answer, is like coming out of a strenuous workout at the gym: you feel stronger; you are stronger. What’s more, you feel calm, you are breathing deeply, and you’re in much better shape for facing that elephant—or fly, whatever the case may be.

I never met a Jazzercise instructor I didn’t like

Instructor150pixelsOne of the best things about my Jazzercise class is the lack of mirrors. We don’t watch ourselves. Instead, we watch the instructor whooping it up on stage and imagine that we are performing as well, when, in reality, we are only swinging ourselves around half as much. Sometimes, I watch other people in class, too. I never notice anyone else looking around, but I suppose it happens. There’s a particular woman who has a sense of rhythm to die for. Actually, there are at least two. One woman exerts a modest amount of energy, but is all style. The other gives it everything she’s got and is also all style. I try to mimic them, but due to the lack of mirrors, I can’t tell if I’m succeeding.

I’ve never met a Jazzercise instructor I didn’t like. In addition to energy and style, they have personality. Our main instructor is fun because every now and then—without missing a beat in the routine—she starts giggling. I have a suspicion she is chuckling at me for trying to swivel my boyish hips around, but there’s no real evidence for this. After she giggles, she makes a joke like she just thought of something funny. Once she blurted out, “Life begins when the kids leave home and the dog dies.” I am still laughing about that one. But don’t worry, it’s just a joke, we all love our kids.

The worst part about jazzercising is when—right in the middle of a dance—we are told to turn and face the side of the room, then the back, and then the other side. Being directionally challenged, this upsets the apple cart for me, and I forget my steps. Or possibly, I forget my steps because I lose sight of the instructor. Help!! But others don’t seem to mind. They even let out a loud, happy shout as they turn to the back of the room. I need someone to explain this to me. Why exactly are we shouting? In any event, I am getting better at all this turning around, and suppose if I attended class every day (like some impressive people), I would appreciate the variety.

Speaking of variety, the music played in class is fantastic. I love it. One night, I looked up the video for one of the songs we danced to because I was so enthralled with it. This was a while ago, and, if you must know, it was “If I Was Your Boyfriend.” Well, my daughter heard me from her bedroom and shouted, “Mom, is that you listening to Justin Bieber!?” I’m not sure if I scored points with my daughter at that time, or not. Later, I referred to the young musician as Justin Beaver, which reassured her of my ignorance.

Occasionally, Jazzercise instructors sing along with the music. I hear that getting certified as an instructor does not require voice lessons. But who cares? It keeps the hour interesting. Besides, I noticed even Justin Bieber doesn’t sing as well when he’s dancing.

Why I run: A reason for every decade

License plateDECADE ONE: In the first decade of my life, I exercised unintentionally, primarily by running away from a little boy named Scott at recess. He was so cute, much shorter than I, and could easily be outrun. On two occasions, he employed his taller, not-so-cute friend named Raymond to catch me. While Raymond held me still, little Scott would jump up and kiss me. Ever since, I’ve loved the name Scott (and eventually married one), but at seven years old, the running was what I loved most. Tearing through the huge grassy field every day was bliss. I hear that kids don’t get to run willy nilly at recess anymore. This is a travesty, and I hope concerned parents everywhere will make enough fuss to return recess to its rightful place.

TEEN DECADE: In the second decade of my life, my teen years, I ran to lose weight. This was entirely unnecessary, but I did not know that then. The more I ran, the bulkier my legs got and the more I ran to trim them down. My legs were monsters. Not really, but with my teenager brain, I thought they were. At least my misperception kept me running, something I enjoyed, whether it was hot and humid or bitter cold. Running was a part of experiencing the world in a newly independent way, breezing down the trail of the old railroad tracks with no one to answer to but myself.

TWENTIES: In the next decade, my twenties, I ran for social reasons. My dad would say, “Gail doesn’t date anyone who won’t run with her.” This was true. My husband ran with me on our first date. Running with me and being named Scott kind of sealed the deal with him, that lucky guy. Unfortunately, he stopped running with me after we got serious. This is another travesty, but a very personal one, so only I need to fuss about it.

When I was 28, on two occasions, I ran with Robin Williams through the streets of San Francisco. We were part of a casual running group that gathered at Fleet Feet Sports on Tuesday nights. When I hear the slogan, “I left my heart in San Francisco,” I think of those early evening runs, along the Embarcadero and up and down the hilly streets.

THIRTIES: Then came the thirties, the years of running to escape. There’s nothing like running after a long day when it seems like everyone wants a piece of you. Responsibilities at work and home escalate like crazy in the thirties and running brings release. But it’s harder than ever to fit it in.

One night, I ran out of the house when my kids needed me. Their father (Scott) was working in his home office, so I was essentially on duty. We lived on a country street and it was dark outside, really dark. Coming out of our long, graveled driveway—running fast—I stumbled into a huge dead deer that had been hit by a car and pulled off to the side of the road. This spooked me silly, calling me to my senses. I turned and headed back home to the kids. Running, as much as I love it, should not come first.

FORTIES: In my forties, I started running for health and preservation: preservation of muscle tone, skin elasticity, energy, and the ability to sleep through the night. At one point, however, I started wondering. The medical community was babblying about running being bad for your knees. We NOW know that weight bearing exercise strengthens your knees, but the studies weren’t out at the time. I was worried because walking tends to bore me; it depressed me just thinking about it. So I put the question into a prayer—like I do with every troublesome issue—sincerely seeking direction. That week, license plates arrived for my new car and the first four characters were: 1RUN. In California, plates start with a number, so the “1” was as close as you could get to an “i”. But I had not asked for vanity plates! This was the result of uncanny coincidence or divine providence. I believed in the later and joyfully went running as soon as I put the plates on my car.

FIFTIES: Now in my early fifties, I run to help me think. For example, I’ve never suffered from Writer’s Block, but I do get Writer’s Sinkhole. Once I spent six hours trying to write one sentence. Well, maybe it wasn’t that long, but I don’t really know because I got lost in the effort, sinking deeper and deeper into this muddy place where I don’t want to give up because I almost have it, but it’s not quite right so I keep up the good fight while my brain gets more and more muddled. The best remedy, I have found, is to run—one mile will do it. My head clears, and when I return to my desk, the writing flows. Other exercise will work, too, as my almost-famous Jazzercise post explains.

BayToBreakersI would be amiss in this personal discourse on running if I failed to mention the Bay to Breakers. There are many races throughout the world that inspire people everywhere to keep on running, but the annual Bay to Breakers is the one for me, year after year, decade after decade. Last spring, I signed my son up to join me. He worried, “Mom, I haven’t been running for awhile,” but I told him that he was eighteen, a picture of health and had nothing to worry about. Sure enough, the photographers for the event captured my son prancing effortlessly in his minimalist shoes across the finish line (while my pained face tells a slightly different story). And do you see the near perfect number—11110—on his running bib? Like my license, it must be a good sign.

Jazzercise gets me thinking

Jazzercise-classI missed out on Jazzercise when it was first trendy, years ago, although it still ranks as the number one fitness franchise. I had been busy biking, running, rollerblading, hiking, anything outdoors. For a phase, while I lived in Manhattan, I rollerbladed to work; that is, until a tall, burly man standing beside me at a street corner said, “You’ve got guts,” as I pushed off the curb to cross the intersection of impatient taxis. That’s when I realized I should probably opt for a safer form of exercise.

Now I do Jazzercise. I’m on the once-a-week plan because I still like the outdoors and because that is all I need to keep away the aches and pains from everything else I do. It amazes me how I have zero neck pain—even after working ten hours at the computer—due to the incredible variety of movement and strengthening this one class provides.

Jazzercise also gets me thinking. Any kind of exercise does, but the dance steps seem to be particularly conducive to mental activity. I’m the one in class who runs to my notepad between songs to jot down an idea. Why other people don’t do this, I do not know.

There was a man in class today, a novelty for our group. He took a position in the center of the room, in the middle of about thirty women. He managed the steps well. I have a secret fantasy that my husband will sign up one day. It’s not just that I want to giggle as he tries his first sashay, but I’m tired of hearing about the shoulder he hurt while weightlifting or the muscle he pulled when he kicked a ball. I’m quite convinced the comprehensive stretching and twisting of Jazzercise will stop him from hurting himself elsewhere. Unfortunately, he’s not showing any signs of interest at this time.

I also noticed a mother and daughter in class today, jazzercising side by side. It was clear they were mother and daughter because they were both strikingly beautiful, just one had long bouncy hair in a ponytail and looked a lot younger than the rest of us.

Of course, the other ladies, the ones I see regularly, are beautiful, too. Especially the one who came to class even when she had no hair. Especially the one who came to class the day after half her house burned down. And especially the one who didn’t come to class when her teenage son went missing…though she did keep in touch through facebook so we could pray, post photos of him, and help search. It was a happy day when she came back to us, all smiles because her son had been found and he was unharmed.

Jazzercise, you see, is moving in more ways than one.

Diet Tip #2

icecreamAs I’m sitting here eating my nightly bowl of ice cream—nothing fancy, always vanilla with chocolate sauce, walnuts or almonds and maybe whip cream on top—I am reminded of my favorite diet tip. This tip is unstudied. In fact, I made it up myself, although I’m sure there are other longterm dieters who have come to the same happy position.Here it is: When you eat, enjoy it. End of tip. But I’d like to elaborate for those who want to understand how this really works…

Enjoy eating and whatever you are eating to it’s fullest. If you discover that you are no longer loving it, stop eating. The first bites are usually the best anyway because our taste buds get used to flavors and the fun wears off. That is, unless you are drinking wine perfectly balanced with your food, then watch out. But even so, the Mediterranean diet practically requires wine, and that seems to be working really, really well. You can read about the latest celebrated study in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Back to my tip, I’m not suggesting that you stop eating a perfectly good plate of food. The emphasis is not on saying “no” to food, but on saying “yes” to it. Enjoy what you eat, relish it, thank God for it, occasionally go “yummmm,” and you will be more satisfied. Being satisfied, you will find that you actually eat less. I promise. Well, not really. This is a tip, not a rule. Hard and fast rules and eating are not compatible in my experience.

A subset to this tip: do not eat while doing anything other than partaking in conversation with your table companions. How can you fully enjoy your food when the TV is showcasing the depravity of man?

My daughter recently told me that I look unattractive when I eat. This did not offend me for two reasons. First of all, I’ve been a parent for 18 years and have had ample time to be humbled. Secondly, I know she is telling the truth! When I eat, I chew slowly, savoring as much as I can before swallowing. Not like a cow, but more like a chipmunk, I keep the food around, sometimes in my cheeks, so it can come in close contact with as many taste buds as possible.

Did you know that you have 10,000 taste buds? Maybe more or less, depending on if you’re a supertaster, but still thousands. I say, make sure those taste buds are satisfied and they may stop begging for more.

Flabby mouse story

mouseAlthough I write about my years of chronic dieting in The Social Cause Diet, I’ve never really been fat. I just thought I was. Not until I was in my 30s did I realize I can eat almost anything and stay in the general vicinity of a healthy weight. But I still have a heart for those who can’t say the same, and that would be most people judging by the statistics.

Recent research shows that exposure to certain chemicals at birth causes mice to put on weight later in life. The effect of chemical exposure causes the descendants of the mice to be overweight as well. Nicholas D. Kristof’s article in the New York Times today explains it all: “Among chemicals identified as obesogens [chemicals that cause animals to store fat] are materials in plastics, canned food, agricultural chemicals, foam cushions and jet fuel.”

I am not politically minded, but if I was, I would battle wholeheartedly for the elimination of chemicals in our cushions!