Focus On The 1%

I’m a big dreamer. I’m a doer. I set very loft goals and corresponding high expectations. Hence, the 50-mile race dream. 

Recently, however, I watched a very inspirational TEDx event titled, Don’t Dream Big. 

This seems counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Definitely misaligned with how I’ve approached life so far.  

Dreaming big is reinforced in mantras and quotes all around us. 

“Shoot for the Moon, Even if You Miss You’ll Land Among the Stars” – Leslie Brown

“Dream Big, Dare to Fail” -Norman Vaughn

“Think, believe, dream and dare” – Walt Disney

“Work Hard. Dream Big. Never Give Up” 

As I began to watch Eric Butorac share his story, I was intrigued. I had never heard of this guy before. His tennis story was completely foreign to me and we are a pretty devoted tennis family. 

I encourage you to watch his video.

In short – he worked his way from being a Division 3 college tennis player in his 20’s, to an internationally ranked No. 3 doubles player for a period of 6 years, making it to the Australian Open. He also succeeded Roger Federer as president of the ATP Player’s Council and at the conclusion of his term, was succeeded by Novak Djokovic. 

How did a guy, with no lofty goal to turn pro, let alone the aspiration to play in a Grand Slam tourney, become an internationally ranked tennis star and a leader in the professional tennis community? 

By not dreaming big. 

Rather he focused on improving consistently, deliberately, and steadily, every day. 

He focused on getting 1% better with every effort. 

He systematically tracked his progress and monitored his statistics. His measure of success was small, but incremental, improvement.  

This work ethic and philosophy eventually landed him on the hard courts of Arthur Ashe stadium playing in the 2014 finals. 

Boom! Mind blown! 

I’ve been processing this philosophy and trying to apply it to my own internal benchmark of success. 

By shifting my perspective from measuring myself against progress towards the ultimate achievement, where the gap can oftentimes feel oppressively vast, how does my outlook change if I gauge my progress on incremental goals and steps?

Let’s put this theory to work on weight loss, since I’m in the middle of a weight loss program. 

Last June, there is no way on this planet, I would have ever believed I could lose 30 pounds. If you told me I would easily be fitting into a size 6 in less than a year, I really would have thought you were an alien from another galaxy. Size 10 has been my standard – sometimes creeping up to a 12. I remember in college working out at a new gym and telling the trainer “I’ve never been a size 8. If you can help me do that, I’ll love you forever.” It didn’t happen. Lost love. 

Fast forward, 20 years later, in my 40’s, I’m in the best shape of my life. 

30 pounds was not my goal. In fact, when I started out, I didn’t really have a goal, I just knew I needed to make a change to my lifestyle. 

I gave myself time, 8 weeks, and the intention to just see what would happen if I made different eating choices. My exercise routine stayed the same.  

I weighed myself every week through the summer, and miraculously, with fundamental and consistent diet changes, I started dropping weight. 

I was elated. Every pound dropped was a success. I felt proud of myself and my accomplishments. 

I was measuring myself on incremental improvement from where I had been, rather than how close I was to an ultimate destination. 

There is a fundamental difference there. 

Dropping one or two pounds can feel like a success, when we compare it to where we were last week. Or it can feel like meager, inconsequential progress if we position it next to a lofty weight loss goal. If I told myself at the beginning of summer, I wanted to lose 30 pounds, a 1-pound change would be discouragingly minute in comparison to the ultimate destination. My bar would have been 30 pounds, not 1 or 2. I would have been setting myself up for disappointment every week. 

Oftentimes, weight loss goals are arbitrary. So many of us say, I want to lose 5, 10, 20, 50 pounds – or whatever the case may be – but who really decides that? Where does that number come from? Who says what is healthy? What is healthy for one person, might not be the definition of healthy for another. What one person thinks is aesthetically pleasing, may not be the archetype for someone else.  

For the vast majority of people, weight loss goals are purely subjective. When we measure small progress toward these lofty and subjective goals, it is easy to become discouraged and give up. 

If we shift our perspective to measure our progress on where we have been, rather than where we are going, we open up new possibilities for success. 

I’m taking this into consideration for my 50-mile race goal.

50 miles seems daunting and overwhelming. When I measure my progress towards completing 50-miles on my own two feet, I begin to question my sanity and wonder 1) How in the heck did I come up with this crazy idea? 2) Why on God’s green earth, did I put my dream out there in a public forum to document my journey? 3) What happens if I can’t do it? (injury) 4) What happens if I decide not to do it, after I’ve already made a commitment to myself and the world?

These are negative questions. I feel uneasy and almost sad inside when I read them. I feel like the opportunities for failure are overwhelming.

Let me shift into 1% thinking. 

I completed a half marathon last year. 

I’m lighter, leaner, and stronger today than I was when I completed my last half marathon. 

I will begin training for my long-distance race this summer. A half marathon is my first milestone on the plan and it’s completely doable. I’ve done so many of them, I understand the training and what it takes it get there. It’s going beyond that 13.1 that feels daunting. 

1% of 50 miles is 0.5 miles. 

Can I regularly increase my distance by 1/2 mile? Of course I can! That is absolutely doable. With 52 weeks in a year, it would take me about two years to increase my weekly distance by .5 miles and cross the finish line of a 50-mile race if I start from a baseline of zero. Put in those terms, any healthy person who has never run a step farther than half a mile before, could cross the same finish line. Incremental progress is manageable. 

My energy just shifted from negativity and failure-bound, to one of optimism, hope, and excitement. 

I can measure my success on improving .5 mile every week, rather than closing the incredible distance to 50.  

Does that mean I’m going to feel amazing every week and make linear, uninterrupted progress? Does that mean I’m not going to have setbacks? Does that mean I’m guaranteed to actually complete the entire race if I follow this 1% plan?  

Nothing is guaranteed. 

But at any time, if I improve incrementally, if I run just 0.5 miles more than I have ever run before – that is its own success to be celebrated.

Apply this concept to saving money. Growing a business. Playing a musical instrument. Academic achievement. Communicating with our spouse. Developing a closer relationship with God. 

The list is endless. We can always make, and then appreciate, small positive changes. 

Does the focus on incremental improvement eliminate the need for the big goal? I don’t think so. I think these larger than life goals give us energy to strive for something bigger than we ever thought possible. But sometimes the destination of where we end up, is different than the goal itself, and that is ok. That is good enough. That is still a success. 

I have some adorable shoelace charms given to me by a dear friend that I wear on a pair of running shoes. 

Run as far as you can, then take one more step. 

And really, it’s that simple. That’s all I have to do. 

Celebration and Gratitude

My intention this morning was for some quick hill repeats after I dropped the kids off to school. I was feeling a bit tired, so I wanted to get my 35 min of fasted cardio in and call it a day for exercise. There is a peaceful regional park near the school with miles of meandering trails and one very robust hill leading down into the campground that offers a challenging workout for those brave enough to run up it.  My intention was to get in 4 or 5 hill repeats as a HIIT workout, but changed plans as my legs seemed to yearn for more mileage once they got moving. 

I ran to the bottom of the hill and veered left, past the campground, onto the dirt trails. I ran 5 miles yesterday then did a heavy leg workout, so my fatigue was palpable. With my music on, I ran about 1.5 miles out, then turned around to conquer the hill on my way back. My heart rate soared as I increased my pace up the hill and pushed through to the top.  Out of breath, I lumbered toward my car. As I approached my vehicle, something in me told me to pass it and just keep going. So, I continued on the trail paralleling the street for another mile, then looped back into the park. By this time, my breathing had regulated, and my body was warm despite the frosty 42 degrees outside. The last mile back was slight downhill, and I was gliding easily under the canopy of trees, rhythmically moving my feet to the cadence of my music, when the word celebrate popped into my mind. 

I turned this word over, curious as to why it came into my consciousness. 

Celebrate this moment, celebrate your achievements, celebrate your life, my inner voice said. 

When I shattered my ankle in 2019, this was the same trail I ran on my very first run, 5 months post-surgery. I remember limping through the adventure, both frightened of the pain and ecstatic that I was pushing through it. Every step was an uncomfortable, but joyful, effort. 

Today, two years past my surgery, two half marathons accomplished, and hundreds of miles walked and run, with two metal plates and 14 screws still holding me together, I am filled with gratitude, humility, and celebration. 

If I hadn’t broken my ankle, I wouldn’t have been determined to exceed the expectations of my doctor and physical therapist and run a half marathon within a year of injury. If I hadn’t run that half marathon, I would never have set the goal to run a 50-mile race before I turn 50. If I didn’t set that goal, I wouldn’t have my blog and I wouldn’t have pursued improving my fitness and health with such determination. 

 My injury changed my life. It changed my perspective on life. 

Setbacks are gifts. They are opportunities for change and adaptation. 

Through these setbacks, whether in or out of our control, we learn. We have the fortunate opportunity to adapt, change and move forward. Or we can see our impediments as roadblocks, resist the hidden lessons, and stay stagnant. 

This week has been SUPER frustrating on my weight loss journey. I really just want to grumble and growl and stamp my feet like a toddler. 

The scale has gone up a couple pounds since last week and despite my best efforts, I really haven’t dropped much in the last few weeks. 

I ask myself, what am I doing wrong? I enjoyed a “cheat meal”/date night with my husband last weekend, did that throw everything off? Aside from that, my diet has been consistent. Worried about the lack of downward movement in the scale, I have increased both my cardio and my weight training. But the numbers haven’t really budged. I am focused. I am diligent. I am determined. 

Intellectually, I know I am fine. My progress pics continue to show significant change, even if the scale doesn’t. Maybe I’ve hit a plateau. Maybe my body just needs to adapt at a weight it hasn’t been for 25 years. Maybe my muscle gain is increasing faster than my fat loss in this period of time. Maybe it’s hormones. Maybe it’s a million things. Rationally, I KNOW:  Don’t make any changes. Stay consistent. Be relentless. Be resilient. Be outcome independent. Just focus on the long-term goal and everything will eventually align. 

Yet, yet….

I am human. 

I want the instant gratification of the scale showing the evidence of all my efforts. 

I want to see measurable progress, spelled out for me in crisp, clear, digital LED numbers on the little white plate situated prominently in the middle of my closet. 

But alas, that is not to be right now. 

So, what do I do? How do I approach this setback? Give up? Rebel against myself and go off the program? Say screw it, it’s not worth all this effort with no measurable progress? Eat those chocolate chip muffins I made for the kids this morning? Trust me, that has gone through my mind many times. But that would be disappointing. I would be abandoning the lesson that I am supposed to be learning right now. That would be giving up on myself.

What should I do instead? 

There is that word again: celebrate. 

Celebrate my glorious date night with my husband. An evening for reconnection, laughter and deep discussion, while enjoying a delicious meal at one of our favorite restaurants. 

Celebrate the feeling of my clothes getting looser and looser on my body. 

Celebrate the strength in my arms and shoulders and back. (I can almost do a pull up!) 

Celebrate my health – that I am able to invest myself into this process wholeheartedly without physical limitations or pain. 

Celebrate my husband – that he is on this journey with me and a tremendous support system. I couldn’t do it without him.

Celebrate my kids – with their ever-ready smiles, words of encouragement and playful teasing that brighten even the gloomiest (and hungriest) of days. 

Celebrate my friends and family – amazing people who have followed my progress and encouraged me and motivated me on this journey. 

Celebrate my trainers and coaches – whose belief in me, has helped me to believe in myself. 

With all of this celebration comes tremendous amount of gratitude. 

I am so lucky. I am so incredibly blessed and fortunate. I am grateful to God for all of these gifts and ask Him to help me give back to this world more than I have received, and be a conduit of love and motivation to others. 

While celebrating all of these amazing gifts and feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, it is impossible to be weighted down by the output of the scale. I can almost laugh at my despondency over the frivolous numbers. 

My life, my body, my health, my journey – is all to be celebrated.  The ups and downs. The progress and setbacks. The peaks and valleys. Good days, bad days. Every single part of it. 

 And for that awareness, for the opportunity to experience all of this, I am humbly grateful. 

Simplicity

 My weight loss journey has taught me many life lessons in the last 7 months. I have learned about resiliency and relentlessness. I have learned about sacrifice and perseverance. I have learned to give myself grace while holding myself accountable. I am 28 pounds down and still losing. I am redefining my mental image of myself and reimagining my fitness goals and possibilities. I am reenergized, reinvigorated, and highly motivated. 

However, the most surprising lesson I have learned is profound enough to stop me in my tracks every day to marvel and consider its implications. 

Here it is. I’m going to spell it out in all caps so you can feel the “weight of it” (pun intended). 

WEIGHT LOSS IS SIMPLE

Boom! 

Let that soak in for just a moment. 

Every day, I am bombarded with ads for fad diets, fancy weight loss plans, magic pills, workout regimens and supplements. The “easy solution” is offered by doctors, nutritionists, celebrities, home-grown athletes and fitness junkies. From the moment I turn on my phone and computer in the morning I am inundated with product ideas. The checkout line at the grocery store is the worst offender with endless magazine covers lined up with competing weight loss story headlines and images promoting the latest person to lose 20, 50, 100+ pounds. I fall prey to these sexy headlines all the time. 

Here is the other surprising thing I’m going to tell you – most of these diet plans work. Most of them have merit. Most of them will really help you to lose weight. 

Paleo, Whole 30, Keto, WW (Weight Watchers), juicing – you name it. They all work. 

So, if they work, why do people still struggle? And if they work, is it necessary to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in a weight loss system, to ensure you meet your goal? 

Maybe. That’s up to you. 

Ok – I’m sure you’re thinking, this is confusingThis isn’t making any sense. She’s telling me everything works. But I’m still not losing weight. And if everything works, what do I choose? She just said weight loss is simple, but this seems complicated and I’m left with more questions than answers. 

The breakdown in the simplicity of weight loss is our expectations. 

WEIGHT LOSS IS SIMPLE. 

But….

SIMPLE DOES NOT MEAN EASY. 

Oftentimes, the simplest things are the most difficult to maintain. As humans, it seems we thrive on complexity and process. We overthink, over analyze and over work, in pursuit of our goals. We indulge in excess and crave more, more, more. Our collective appetites for food, material possessions, social media, headline drama, seem to grow exponentially. 

Simple is mundane, monotonous, BORING. Simple isn’t sexy. It isn’t thrilling. It just is. 

It takes mental toughness and self-discipline to thrive on simple. 

Weight loss means – burning more calories than you consume, over time. Simple. 

There are three parts to that equation. 

Consuming. 

Burning. 

Time. 

If you want to lose weight, you need to consume less and burn more. Simple. 

Whether you do this through juicing, eating a cave man diet, eating only whole foods, cutting out sugar, running more miles, doing more cardio, working out in the gym – those choices are up to you. That is why all those plans work, and you can choose whichever one works best for you and whichever one best fits your lifestyle. 

The variable that is unknown, that depends on every unique body, that no doctor, trainer, or weight loss system can “promise” or define for you – is time. 

Some people respond quickly and drop weight fast. Some people take longer to get results. What takes one person a week, could take another person a month. We get into dangerous thinking when we compare our results to someone else. Our bodies are all gloriously, beautifully, unique. We can all achieve our goals – albeit, at different rates. 

I know with absolute certainty – if you pick a program, stick to it, remain consistent and disciplined, overcome temptation, and give it time – you will succeed. 

If we can push through our instant gratification culture and expectations, celebrate our small goals and steady progress, be resilient through the plateaus, and relentless in pursuit of our goals, in time, we will accomplish the objectives. 

That’s why simple is so darn hard.   

Simple allows space for over thinking and over complicating.

We get impatient. We want faster results. We think if we don’t see the impact of our sacrifice quickly, we must be doing something wrong. So, we adjust, we change, we try something new. But switching things up over and over again only sabotages our goals. 

We have to be focused, not let the noise distract from our mission, and get through the ups and downs. 

Yes, simple is not easy. Sometimes it sucks. 

But simple works. 

You got this. 

Relentless

 

Relentless is a word my tennis instructor says on the court a lot, along with the concept of outcome independence

For someone who is extremely outcome dependent in all facets of life, this new philosophy being drilled into me while hitting hundreds of fuzzy yellow balls one hour a week, is beginning to shift the way I view my world. 

The idea is simple. Pure. Uncomplicated. 

It is another way of saying, “be present in the moment”. What just happened, is irrelevant to what is happening.

Be relentless in your effort and the outcome will eventually align. Don’t get hung up on a “miss” or a failure, and let that failure determine the outcome of your next opportunity. Let it go, move on to the next.

Sound advice. 

But in practice, does it really make sense? For an outcome dependent individual like myself, I am dripping with skepticism. 

Of course what happened matters! I silently scream. What happened, gives us information. We can calibrate our current efforts based on previous results. We can use that information to fine tune, adjust, and make constructive changes. If we don’t pay attention to what happened we can’t improve for next time. 

Yes, this is all inarguably true. 

But what emotion do we often unintentionally attach to the failure? How do we subconsciously view ourselves through the lens of a “miss”? 

Every single time I view a bad shot as a miss, there is a negative self-talk that perpetuates a sense of inadequacy. And inevitably I carry that inadequacy with me to the next shot. And if I think I am not good enough, if I get down on myself, what is the probability that the next shot will be great? 

Conversely, if I view my amazing shot as the barometer with which I measure myself, and I get puffed up with bravado and self-importance, what happens when the next ball goes out? 

The rollercoaster ride of emotions tied to outcome is dizzying. A one hour tennis lesson can become very stressful if I consume myself with the outcome of where all these tiny balls land on the court. 

But untangling my sense of self-judgement from the outcome, is uncomfortable. Removing the measuring stick of judgement feels vulnerable. 

I need a tool with which to measure myself. I need a reference point. I need some way of telling myself that I succeeded or failed. 

I am currently on a weight loss journey. The tool with which success is measured is the scale. 

The number on the scale is a very conniving, devious, manipulative creature that can take on dramatic self-importance if you give it that power. 

I consciously say “weight loss” journey, as opposed to “fitness” journey because I have always been in pursuit of fitness. But when I stepped on the scale at the end of June this year, it didn’t matter how “fit” I was, the extra pounds I was carrying were impacting my ability to be in shape. As a female in her 40’s, with a metabolism that has always chugged along with the efficiency of a tugboat, compounded now by changing hormones and age, I knew I had to reign it in before it got worse. 

After an emotional acceptance of my reality (aka “meltdown”), a switch flipped. 

I cut out sugar, refined carbohydrates, and wine. 

This, my friends, was no easy feat. I’m a cookie, cake, cabernet kind of a gal. 

I switched to vodka soda if I was indulging in a cocktail. I ate spaghetti squash instead of spaghetti noodles. I baked a sweet potato instead of regular potato. No bread. No sweets. 

And I gave myself time. I told myself that no matter if I lost 1 pound or 10 pounds, I would persevere until the end of summer. 

We went on a COVID-inspired road trip for our summer vacation – I packed almonds, vegetables, and grapes while the kids indulged on pretzels, chocolate, and a plethora of high carb – but super fun – road trip snacks. 

I went to Nashville to visit a girl friend and I declined delicious homemade desserts, hush puppies (oye vay!) and corn bread.  

I was steadfast, I continued my pursuit, and surprisingly, almost miraculously, I began dropping weight. By the end of the summer I was 18 pounds down from my June weight. 

I was astonished. I hadn’t seen these numbers on the scale since before my babies, maybe even since high school. I didn’t know it was a possibility that I could be this lean at this age. I didn’t know it was a possibility I could actually be “lean”! My body fat registered at 23% at the doctor’s office. For someone that has always viewed herself as a “big girl” or a “curvy girl”, this was undeniable proof that I was no longer “fat”. 

I began receiving compliments on my weight loss. I started seeing definition in my arms. I comfortably dropped a size. 

Then things stalled. The scale stopped moving down. But interestingly, nor did it really move up. We went on vacation in Cabo and indulged in food and drink. The scale didn’t budge. 

Slowly, I began to take more liberties. Out to dinner with my husband or friends, I allowed myself to have some bread, have a glass of wine, maybe eat dessert. Surprisingly, the scale didn’t change much. 

However, from indulging in Halloween candy at the end of October, up through my last bite of pie during Thanksgiving dinner, my weight loss had officially stalled, my motivation had waned, and the numbers on the scale ticked up a few pounds. 

Until Sam walked into my life. 

Sam is a bodybuilder and personal trainer. Referred by a family member, my husband and I decided to give him a try. A new spin on our fitness routine. Why not? 

Our first meeting, he said to me – “You could do a fitness show.” 

“Huh?” I replied, disbelieving and dumbfounded. 

“You’d be surprised” he said. “I train a lot of women over 40 and a lot of moms. Moms are the most organized and they do great. You could do it.” 

“Ummmm….what is involved?” I asked with reluctant suspicion.

“Follow my plan. It’s not complicated. You’ll drop 10 pounds in about 3 weeks. We’ll go on maintenance mode over the holidays, get back at it in January, be ready for a show in spring.” 

Is he serious? Me, in a bikini, on a stage, with a spray tan, flexing my currently non-existent muscles? 

The thought of wearing a bikini on the beach or by the pool gives me anxiety, why would I subject myself to that torture? 

On the other hand, why not? 

Why not pursue something that I would have thought was impossible? Why not embark on the journey to finally squash my perception of myself as “curvy” “chubby” and “thick”? Why not add an experience to my life that is fairly unique and completely dependent on my own hard work, consistency, and dedication. Why not try? We get presented with these opportunities in life that often catch us by surprise. Opportunities that are often so far off our radar or out of our comfort zone that we discount them as being unattainable. But we have options. We can either seize the moment, push through the fear, put in the work and make a change, or make excuses and let the possibilities pass us by. 

And so, I have begun. 

I am making progress. But slowly. My running is suffering. My times have slowed way down. My long runs have gotten very short, 6 miles has been my max. 

I’m in a calorie deficit and my carbs are intentionally low.

The food plan he has us on is drastically different than what I did to lose the first 18 pounds. Egg whites, chicken, white rice, a green apple, almonds, vegetables, berries and oat bran. Everything measured and weighed.

I am always hungry. Before the holidays, I ate the same thing every day for three weeks. I did fasted cardio for 26 days straight. I cried. A lot. I doubted. I have been grumpy with the kids. I have been irritated with my husband. The scale has gone up. The scale has gone down. One of the early weeks was an extreme exercise of self-control as my monthly hormones were raging and begging for refined carbohydrates. Ladies, you get me! But I stayed strong and focused.

When it gets really hard, I ask myself the question, why? Why am I doing this? Why am I putting myself through this emotional rollercoaster? 

And then I realize. 

I’m viewing this through the lens of outcome dependence. I stand on the scale every morning and judge myself based on what the numbers show. Every morning is either a build-up, or a let-down. Either confidence or shame. Yet my actions every day have been exactly the same.  I have followed the program, the diet, the workouts, the cardio plan. I drink at least a gallon of water. For three straight weeks, I did not deviate from the plan. 

Now that we’ve moved to “maintenance” mode over the holidays, our intention is to be a little more flexible and enjoy the season. And let me tell you, I have enjoyed! I have appreciated food and drink like I never have before. I have sat and savored every morsel of a holiday cookie. I have enjoyed every bite of chocolate. I have delighted in every fizz of champagne. The scale has definitely responded by creeping up a bit. 

But guess what – and I’m writing this with a smile on my face – I’m ok with that. 

Here is the thing that I’m beginning to realize. This is a process. This is a journey. It is not perfection. I will stick to the plan. I will be consistent. I will be RELENTLESS. I will not focus on the scale every single day. Eventually – slowly – the OUTCOME will align with my efforts. 

I don’t usually post pics of myself on my blog. But give me until spring, my friends. I’ll post the “before” and “after” pics. I don’t know if I will actually be strutting my stuff on a competition stage – but I know I will be ready to. I will have given myself a life experience that I wouldn’t have ever dreamed was possible.

At the end of the day, isn’t that what life is all about? 

Cultivating Certainty

Have you ever had a goal that just nags at you? A target that you try to reach, but it always seems to be just a hair out of your grasp?

I’ve had this goal that has been nagging at me for months. One that I have repeatedly attempted, with unsuccessful results. 

Now, as I have previously explained, I am not a “real” runner. I don’t have long running legs. I’m not lean or gazelle-like. I’m more like a densely packed, muscular mule. I run as slow as molasses. But if you know anything about me by now after reading my blog posts, you know I’m a goal-oriented person. Last April, when I completed my usual, hilly, 3.5 mile loop, my unexpected 10:17/mile pace astounded me. For me, this was a pretty swift time. This was pretty gazelle-like. I immediately felt the adrenaline rush of achievement. 

Holy shit! I thought, when I finished. So close to a 10-min mile. With all these hills, that’s fantastic.

See where I am going with this? Goal-setting time.  

Beat a 10-min mile pace on this route now Shannon. Get it done. I told myself.

And so, I tried. 

My next attempt clocked a 10:55/mile. Hmmm…not the direction I need to be going.

Try again. 

10:49

Ok – time for a different approach

I purchased a weighted vest. Only six pounds. I thought if I trained wearing weights, then ran without, my time would miraculously drop. 

My pace slowed to a sluggish 12:10 wearing the vest for the first time, ultimately settling in the high 11’s after some time adjusting to it.

Every once in a while, I would try the run without the vest. My pace was disappointingly in the low 11’s. What the heck? What am I not doing right?

Undeterred from my mission, I began sprinting drills and interval training. I wanted to increase my VO2 max, which would theoretically translate to improved speed on my loop. 

Something started to click and I got as close as 10:02. But despite repeated attempts over the next several months, I could not break the 10:00/mile mark. 

One morning, I went out of the gates with everything I had. I felt the fire in my legs pushing me up the hills. My heart rate was over 180 on the last ascent home. Bile rose in my throat as I sprinted the final corner to my house. I collapsed in my driveway with exhaustion, eager to see my pace, certain that I had finally done it. 

The ugly numbers 10:10 glared at me from my watch. 

I felt utterly defeated.  

There was nothing more I could do. 

Other than…keep trying. 

And so, I continued. 

I ran fasted, I ran full. I ran after eating protein, I ran after eating carbs. I ran with the vest, I ran without the vest. I continued my sprinting workouts. I ran endless hill repeats. I ran long runs. I completed a half marathon for goodness’ sakes. I worked out faithfully in the gym. I lost about 18 pounds in the process. Yet my times were all over the place. 

11:22 

10:04

10:28

10:33

10:44

10:46

Then it happened. 

The first time I broke the 10 min/mile pace was a brisk fall morning. I stretched briefly in my driveway to get the blood flowing in my muscles and felt energized despite the cold.

My intention was for an easy, no pressure run, as a warm-up to my gym workout. I started out loose and relaxed and enjoying the feel of autumn around me.

As I continued, I slowly gained confidence and pushed harder. I felt my legs boldly striking the ground beneath me. I knew every inch of the trail. I knew when to anticipate the intensity up the hills and when to relish the recovery in the declines. I kept telling myself not to panic. I breathed deeply in through my nose and out through my mouth. I was centered. I was focused. I was confident. I had a “knowing” that I carried with me the entire time.

My tennis coach speaks often about “cultivating confidence”. He repeats that I know how to hit a forehand or an overhead, I just have to move out of my own way, stop over thinking and shift from uncertainty to confidence. 

That’s what I had on my run. Confidence. 

I got out of my own way. I stopped thinking. I stopped panicking when it got hard. I started trusting in my body, my mind, my ability. I believed in myself. 

When I returned into my driveway, I just knew that I had done it. 

Sure enough, 9:56. 

Boom! 

After trying for almost 8 months, I finally beat my goal by 4 seconds. 

Elation! Excitement! Accomplishment! 

But there is more. Some would say the lesson of this story is “never give up”. To keep striving to reach your goals and by putting in the effort and work, eventually you will achieve them.  

True. 

But funny enough, the next time I ran the same exact route the following week, my time was 9:36. After months of fighting for just a few seconds, I decreased my time by almost 20 seconds in just 7 days. 

How is that possible? I didn’t magically increase my fitness ability in one week. I didn’t learn a new running technique. I didn’t become lighter, leaner, and faster overnight. 

What happened in one week?

There was only one thing that changed. One difference. And it had nothing to do with my physical abilities. 

Confidence.

I now possessed a “knowing” that I was capable and a complete trust in myself that I could do it again. 

There was no uncertainty. There was nothing holding me back. I was free. 

Every time I have run that route since, I have easily been under 10. Even when I’m not feeling well. Even when I’m tired. Even when I feel slow. 

The question I’ve been asking myself now is, how many times do I get in my own way?  How many times does my subconscious doubt handicap my abilities? How many times do I unintentionally let myself down by not believing in my very own potential? 

Whether it is on the tennis courts, the running trails, trying a new recipe, playing a new piece of music, doing an unassisted pull up, writing this blog, working through personal or interpersonal conflict, trying something new, making a new friend, starting a new volunteer opportunity, or eventually when I cross the finish line of my 50-mile race – whenever something is hard – I’m going to try to intentionally shift my perception – from doubt to trust. From disbelief to belief. From fear to conviction. 

I’m going to follow my coach’s advice: cultivate certainty. I already feel the excitement of possibility. 

Don’t Give Up on Yourself…

I did it. I got in my 8-miler last week, which was surprisingly easy! Today I tackled the 10. I finished it, but based on how good I felt last week, I anticipated this 10 to be a walk in the park. It wasn’t. It was drudgery. Every last step. I wanted to give up multiple times. 

First, I thought I would try a new trail that would give me an opportunity for a nice, flat (easy) out-and-back. Explore 5 miles one way, then turn around, and less than two hours later, I would be dusting off my shoes, eating a snack, going to the gym and moving on with my day – grocery shopping, picking up the kids and shuttling them to their activities. Normal Life. This fantasy did not materialize as I sit on the couch in my pajamas writing this and looking like the angel of death may claim me in the next 30 minutes. 

Mistake #1 – Leg workout the day before long run day

I should not have done an intense lower body workout in the gym yesterday. When I got out of bed this morning, I felt every single muscle from my calves through my lower back screaming at me. Normally this pain would be good news, a sign that muscle is repairing itself and getting stronger. Today however, this exhaustion in my legs was a bad sign. 

Mistake #2 – Not looking up a new trail

I should have checked that the trail would go 5 miles in one direction. I entered O’Neil park, walked down the steep hill to the bottom where the campgrounds are located, and started my Garmin watch. I thought the trail eventually connected to the bike path in Lake Forest, near Saddleback Church. The run started off well – albeit slow, because of the aforementioned leg situation. The path was beautiful and heavily shaded with large oak trees and several quaint stream crossings. I passed a beautiful and heavily pregnant runner (no less than 7 months along) rocking a fast pace wearing nothing but a sports bra and her running shorts. It was one of the most inspiring sights I have ever seen.  It made me tuck my irritation about my sore legs way down deep and push a little harder. About 2 miles in, the trail became very uneven, heavily laden with rocks and stones. And just stopped. It just came to a dead end. 

Shit. My 10-mile out and back just got reduced to 4. What do I do? The only thing I could do. Turn around. 

Not a minute later I stumble on a rock. One of those great big rocks that any normal person would avoid and go AROUND, not try to be cute and go OVER. And I twist my ankle. The one that shattered last year. 

Now what do I do? Say screw this? Claim my exhaustion only 25 minutes in and walk back to the car? 

I walked a couple of paces. I stretched. I rotated my ankle clockwise a few times, then counter-clockwise. No swelling. I checked in with my pain level and determined it wasn’t bad, maybe a 2 out of a 10. 

Assessment – soldier on. 

Ugh. That is literally what I said to myself as I made the decision to push forward. 

So now what? Remember the big hill I walked down? I purposefully didn’t start my watch until I was at the bottom of the big hill because I didn’t want to include it in my distance today. I run this hill often. I do hill repeats on this hill. I love this hill. But not today. Today, I did NOT want to run this hill.  

But now, if I wanted to continue to get the mileage, I had no choice. Today this hill was my nemesis to be conquered. And conquer it, I did (insert evil laugh here). 

Once I reached the top of the hill, I had to make a choice. My car was right on the other side of the gate. I could see it. A gleaming white beacon of refreshment. I knew there was a bottle of water sitting in the cup holder, still cold. There was a banana and a delicious protein bar. There was air conditioning. There was a place to sit and rest my aching legs. 

But the momentary comfort would not provide me with a lasting sense of pride or accomplishment. As tantalizing as my car was, I knew I could not return to it for another hour or more. 

Instead of turning right, out the gate and into the car, I turned left, and trudged the next 2 miles uphill through O’Neil park. In my mind I said, I’m at 4 miles, I’ll do 2 miles out of O’Neil, another mile added on when I get out of the park, and the last 3 miles back to the car will be relatively downhill. Awesome. 

Mistake #3 – Putting hope in a plan that has not been thoroughly vetted

I ran the miles out O’Neil park. But…the two miles I had anticipated, were based on a different starting point from previous runs. By the time I ran out of trail I had added only 1.5 miles. Any long-distance runner knows that those smaller distances – quarter mile, half mile, mile, – they matter in the whole. I still needed to add another 1.5 before I could turn around. Now I was getting annoyed at myself. Irritated at my lack of planning. Questioning if I should just turn around now and call it a day at what would be maybe 6ish. 

Ugh. Again. I said it louder this time. Ugh. 

Soldier on. 

Keep going. 

One foot in front of the other. 

So, I just kept moving. And singing. I started singing to my music, out loud, even when I was passing other people on the sidewalk. The singing got me out of my own head. I focused on something other than my pain, and it also kept my heart rate even. If I could sing, I wasn’t out of breath and I knew I could make it the last 4.5 miles. 

Now that I was out of the nature park, I was on the city street. Every stop light became a decision. Right, left, straight? I just kept going. And going and going. 

Mistake #4 – Adding too much distance because you’re a poor planner

There was a point when I was at 8 miles and I thought it was only about a mile back to my car. I could just go to the car. If I went about 9, I was already going further than I had gone last week. 

Or….I could stop making excuses and add the distance to make SURE I would complete 10.  I took a detour and did a quick lap (well, let me rephrase that…a slow, laborious lap) around the reservoir in our community then popped back out onto the street for the home stretch. 

I hit the 10-mile mark. I did it. I could barely move when I stopped my watch, at exactly 10 miles. The run was a completely different beast than I had expected. All mistakes that I could have personally avoided. But I persevered through the discomfort, through the pain, through the disappointment. I didn’t give up on myself. I continued to put one foot in front of the other. Step after step. I didn’t give myself an easy way out. 

That bottle of water was still waiting for me. My stomach was rumbling with hunger because I had been running for almost 2 hours. I was eager for my banana, which had probably now turned brown sitting in the heat of my car for that length of time. No matter, it was going to be delicious. I could taste it.  

I was almost there. 

I just had to walk the last mile to the car. 

Glorious!

Hello everyone!!! It has been a while since my last post! The world has been crazy for the last few months. It has been difficult to justify writing about running, with all that has been going on. But I decided I just have to get this blog going again. For my own sanity. The writing is an outlet for me that nourishes my soul. The longer I wait after such a long break, the harder it gets. I have to get this post out and free myself to write.

So here it goes! Enjoy and see you back here more often (I hope!)  

Glorious!

Although my miles have been consistent, I have not started increasing my distances past my typical 5-6 mile long-run range. This is definitely behind schedule for my, now virtual, half marathon scheduled in October. I need to start picking up the mileage, and fast. For my planning, I need to get in an 8 and 10 miler before the big day on October 5th. Definitely doable. I just need to get it done. It will take focus and discipline and I will need to push through some discomfort – but I will do it. Procrastination is my own worst enemy. 

So what have I been doing, if not running? And without the running, I haven’t been writing. Is this a runner’s slump? A writer’s block? What’s going on? The keys feel unwieldy under my fingertips. The tapping and click clacking seem empty and arbitrary. How can I write about running when everything else going on in the world seems so…so…incredibly heavy?

Whether it is the pandemic, the political arena, Black Lives Matter movement, or a barrage of other socio-economic issues – everything is emotional, triggered, sensitive, debated, contested, argued, and rallied for or against. 

I have strong opinions and try my best to openly listen and understand others’ perspectives, yet everything feels polarized. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground. 

It is exhausting. It is overwhelming. It is, at times, paralyzing. 

Despite the broader global issues, we all still have individual lives to live. Regardless of what is happening outside the walls of my house, inside, the daily minutia continues. I still have four kids to manage, three of whom are scattered about the downstairs with various schooling stations complete with laptops, printers, cell phones, headphones, charging stations that rival the circuitry at NASA space center, stacks of 3-ring binders, post-it notes, about 10,000 pens, empty water bottles, snack containers, crumpled papers, and dirty socks layered in piles next to their workstations. One of our 10-lb Shih-Tzus is recovering from her second back surgery of the summer and is now curiously shaped like a crescent moon. My husband is still working from home with no plans to return to the office, and my house is a revolving door for service people coming to deliver or fix things. It is endless. 

With the complexity of our individual lives colliding with the uncertainty of the global environment, how do we claim our own individuality? How do we keep it all straight? Where do we find our own center? 

That’s where I have to have the self-awareness and self-discipline, to return to my running. Something happens to my energy when I put on my visor and headphones, tie my shoes and head out the door. When my shoes are crunching along the trail, all the chaos slips away. 

It is just me, my breath, my music, the burn in my legs, the dirt under my feet, and the will inside my soul. 

When I am running, I can let go of all the negativity of the outside world. I can release the “to do’s” piling up inside the house. I can be alone with myself. I can pray, I can think, I can not think. Those minutes on the trail are the most empowering of my day, because they are mine. Some days I push hard, repeating a steep hill over and over again until my lungs are on fire and my limbs are jelly. Some days I strap on my weighted vest and try to increase my heart rate on a routine path. Some days, I add distance because I don’t want the run to end. The opportunities are diverse. With so much that is out of my control, it feels so good to have something within my power to create. Like the words on this page. These are mine. 

Even when we pour our lives into the people and causes around us, we all need outlets. In finding the balance of our physical, emotional, and creative outlets, we will have the energy to dive deeply into the world around us. 

I’ve decided, there is no shame in running, writing, or writing about running. No matter what is going on in the world. I’m going to write about my next half marathon. I’m going to write about my weight loss (yes! It’s been amazing). I’m going to write about the days I want to stay on the couch, but somehow put one foot in front of the other and make it happen.

We can all relate to these human experiences. Struggles, goals, triumphs.

I feel much better. I’m back. And to share how I feel with you in music, I invite you to listen to “Glorious” by Macklemore.

“Glorious” – Macklemore

You know I’m back, like I never left

Another sprint, another step

Another day, another breath

Been chasing dreams, but I never slept 

Chorus: 

I feel glorious, glorious

Got a chance to start again

I was born for this, born for this, 

It’s who I am, how could I forget? 

I made it through the darkest part of the night

And now I see the sunrise

Now I feel glorious, glorious

I feel glorious, glorious 

Beyond The Finish Line

As I held the last puzzle piece in my hand, the final 1,000th, I expected to feel triumphant. I had spent hours in COVID-19 quarantine, concentrating and sorting with my neck bent over the Sweet Paris Bakeshop. The perplexing plethora of polka dots, swirls of pink frosting and countless fluffs of merengue, had dominated my mind and kitchen counter over the last week. But where was my sense of accomplishment? My exuberance of completion? Unceremoniously, I added the piece, completed the scene, and moved on with my day.

This is not a new sensation for me. The expectation of elation or pride when a goal has been accomplished, followed by a hollowness – an overwhelming sense of ordinary.  

My first half marathon after my injury I was anticipating a dramatic emotional finish. I had exceeded the expectations of my doctor and physical therapist. I was running a race that nobody thought would be possible one year before. I had committed to months of training. I pushed through the pain and discomfort in my right ankle. I gritted through the throbbing ache that was now a constant companion in my left hip, a result of subconsciously compensating for my injury.

My four kids and husband waited for me at the finish line. I imagined their smiling faces and supportive cheers energizing my final strides. But at mile 4, I was caught off-guard with intense emotion. I was overcome with happiness and gratitude that I was able to run again and reclaim my pre-injury lifestyle. The metal plates and hardware in my ankle were not going to limit me. A sense of pride swelled inside me that I was showing my kids what it means to persevere. I wanted them to know that if they put their hearts and minds to something, they too could accomplish the unexpected. I choked back the tears and told myself to just make it to the end. I gave myself permission to fall apart when the race was done. When the goal was completed. When I had finished.

So, I soldiered on. Through the ebbs and flows of any long-distance race. Some miles feel like they pass in a blink and others feel like every step is agony. Miles 8-10 were my best. My feet were light and airy. I was energized and confident. I felt like I could run forever. 

Then mile 11 turned into mile 12 and doubt crept in. My legs turned heavy and I felt like I was moving through jello. I didn’t know how I was going to make it. I walked a few yards, then restarted. I walked a few more yards. And restarted. I proceeded in this disjointed fashion for about a half mile. As I got closer and closer to the finish I thought of my family. I wanted to make them proud. I found a way to focus, to pick up my legs and start moving again. When they saw me, I didn’t want to be walking, I wanted to be running. 

The crowd lining the streets cheering the runners became more concentrated, and the runners’ path narrowed.  The energy from the crowd was invigorating. Finally, I heard my name and saw my family. Their enthusiastic shouts were exactly as I had imagined. I waved and gave them a thumbs up as I pushed through to the finish line, willing myself to finish strong. 

I made it. I completed the race. I powered through to the end. My ankle did not fail me. I did it.  As I accepted my medal, I anticipated a tightening in my chest and tears to well up in my eyes. 

But, surprisingly, nothing. 

As I continued walking through the post-race mayhem, I was doing everything in my power to conjure up the passioned response I had suppressed at mile 4. Here is your chance, Shannon. Let it flow. 

Nope. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. 

I met up with my family and received their congratulatory hugs and words of praise. I was exhausted and happy, but overall, the moment was pretty, I don’t know, what’s the word I’m looking for?  Uh, ordinary. 

Then we walked to the car and took my daughter to her soccer practice. 

Pretty anticlimactic.   

It begs the question in my mind, how important is the finish line? 

Prior to my race my therapist was congratulating me on my training effort and said “Shannon, you’ve already won by just showing up. Whatever happens after you make it to the start line is a bonus.” I looked at him as if he grew a third eyeball in the middle of his head. 

“Uh, no” I scoffed. “Absolutely not. If I don’t finish, it’s like I didn’t race. I have a goal, and if I don’t meet my goal, I have failed.”

“But you’ve put in all the work. You’ve done the training. That is what matters. You show up, you’ve already won.” he challenged.

Incredulous and unwavering in my position, I redirected the conversation to another topic. I would not be deterred. I had a job to do. Period. I had decided I would run this race, and that meant finishing the race.

When running or hiking hills, I have always promised myself the reward of looking at the view when I get to the top. I push through, blinders on, until I reach the peak. Only then, do I allow myself a moment to stop and take in what is around me.  

My world, my entire existence, has been centered on the goal. On the finish line. On getting to the peak. On that moment. 

But lately I have begun to ask myself, what have I missed on the journey to get there?

I have a friend who recently celebrated one year of sobriety. After some heartbreaking moments with her family over the years as she struggled to get her addiction under control, this anniversary was an amazing accomplishment fueled by love for her family and her desire to reclaim herself.  But when I asked her how she felt on that significant milestone, she said “it was just like any ordinary day.”

Ordinary. The months and days leading up to that anniversary were certainly not ordinary. They were filled with struggle, and longing, and celebration, and anger, and loss, and relief. The day might have been ordinary, but the journey was monumental. 

Begrudgingly, I may have to acknowledge the wisdom of my therapist. It’s not about the finish line. The finish line is merely a catalyst to the experience.

The moment of completion is just any other moment. It is here, then it is gone. It comes, then it goes. These moments are certainly important, celebratory, and oftentimes defining. But I’m learning that the millions of moments that lead up to that point are just as significant. The 999 pieces lay the foundation for the 1,000th. Transformation occurs through 364 days of sacrifice and bargaining and ultimately triumph to achieve 1 year of sobriety. Strength and stamina is built through the hundreds of thousands of pounding steps taken to prepare for the finish line. The emotions at mile 4 are no less powerful than what they may be at mile 13. 

For fun, a friend and I have decided to walk to San Clemente pier this weekend. That is about 20 miles. Will we make it? I certainly hope so! But more importantly, I am super excited for the journey itself and how much fun we are going to have along the way. 

Fun in the Sun

As my mileage increases, I continue to spend more hours outside. A nagging question dances around in my head. How do I best protect my skin from the harmful UV rays of the sun? I have dealt with a variety of basal cell carcinomas over the years. My skin checks are now every 6 months because it seems like something new is always popping up. Most recently, I had a basal cell on my forehead hairline removed. I had to have a special procedure done, called Moh’s, to preserve as much of my hair as possible during removal. My biggest concern during the whole process was having a potential bald spot in the middle of my forehead, not the skin cancer itself. Vanity. Yes. And that is what is the foremost driver of my sun protection question. When I run my 50-mile race before I turn 50, I really, really would prefer to not also look 50. Or worse! Older than 50, because I was irresponsible and lazy with my skin care and let my skin be weathered and damaged by the sun.

When not under quarantine, I also play tennis several days a week. While I wear a visor and makeup with SPF35 sunscreen, I rarely apply additional sunscreen to my face. I would also say it is a 50/50 chance that I apply sunscreen to my arms and chest, unless it is an especially hot and sunny day. This is bad. Very bad. I already see signs of aging that I know could have been prevented. Nevermind the pockmarked scars from the basal cell removals. I need an overhaul. I need some professional help.

Thank goodness my friend, and fellow runner, Dr. Jyoti Mundi with the Dermatology Center of Ladera Ranch, is here to offer me some guidance and support.

Hi Dr. Mundi! Thank you so much for participating in this blog post and offering your advice.

First, can you tell us a little about yourself as a runner. How long have you been running? What is it you enjoy about the sport? Do you have any races or goals coming up?

Thank you for inviting me to participate. 

I would most certainly classify myself as a beginner in the sport. I could not run a mile when I was a teenager, but I have completed two half marathons in the last year. I completed my first half marathon in honor of my father-in-law who succumbed to multiple myeloma (a type of cancer) last year. His memory motivated my first training, and now, running is more to me than just exercise. It is a part of my life now; a chance to put on my headphones and listen to Bollywood beats, a chance to be free and with my own thoughts and feelings, a solitary retreat. I was looking forward to experiencing a race in Europe later this year, but the spread of coronavirus thwarted those plans.

You have the most gorgeous skin. But I’ve heard running can be bad for your skin. What are your thoughts? 

Thank you. Running, and regular exercise in general, has both beneficial and harmful effects on the skin. The weight loss alone can result in a loss of volume on the face and a more hollowed appearance.  Our bodies make free radicals when they are under stress. These free radicals break down collagen and elastin and this leads to more wrinkles and sagging skin. In addition to an increased risk of skin cancer, chronic, repetitive sun exposure results in brown spots, discoloration to the face and neck, thickened skin, and wrinkles.  

It is not all bad. Exercise is also really good for your skin.  Regular exercise brings more blood to your skin. Blood carries oxygen to your skin and helps remove free radical waste from the your skin.  Stress also affects the amount of oil produced by our skin. Since exercise can decrease overall stress, it may help reduce acne. 

So, it is really important to exercise in moderation and maintain a healthy skin care routine. 

What do you do to protect your skin while running? Is there a pre-run and post-run skin-care routine you have?

I try to run early in the mornings or in the late afternoon/evenings to avoid peak sun hours. 

Before a run, I always wash my face with a gentle cleanser (Simply Clean by Skinceuticals). Then I moisturize with a light moisturizer such as Cetaphil daily hydrating lotion or Neutrogena hydroboost gel cream. 

I cannot emphasize the next step enough. I always apply sunscreen, even on a cloudy day, to my face, lips, my ears, front/sides/back of my neck, and my upper chest. It is important to apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before heading out and to reapply sunscreen every 2 hours, at least. And, don’t forget runner’s sunglasses to protect your eyes. 

I have combination acne prone skin so I prefer Elta MD’s UV Clear sunscreen. If I am planning on going for a longer run, I will take my Colorscience powder brush on sunscreen in my fanny pack so I can reapply. My lip balm has an SPF of 30 (Aquaphor lip protectant and sunscreen). 

What if sunscreens burn when they get into my eyes or irritate my skin?

Sometimes the chemicals in sunscreens leak into the eyes due to sweat. If you experience this, it is best to use sunscreens that are mineral-based with active ingredients such as zinc oxide and/or titanium dioxide. Formulations of sunscreen for babies are generally well suited for people with sensitive skin, such as Neutrogena Pure and Free Baby sunscreen, Blue Lizard Australian Sunscreen, and Aveeno Kids Zinc Oxide Mineral Sunscreen. Stick formulas, such as Cerave Sunscreen Stick with SPF 50, also tend to be free of irritating ingredients. 

In addition, barrier protection is a reliable way to protect one’s skin.

I have a baseball cap that has UPF built into it and a pair of runner’s sunglasses. Skin cancers in and around the eye are rare, but they happen. Additionally, I always wear a long sleeves tee with a UPF of 50+, and I generally wear leggings to protect the skin on my arms and legs. Keep in mind that washing your sun-protective clothing can reduce the UPF over time, but there are products like SunGuard that you can add to your wash to help with that. 

You can find performance sun-protective clothing through several retailers including REI, Solbari, and Coolibar, amongst others. 

What about your post run skin care routine?

It is so important to wash your skin after a run. Sweat mixed with dirt and makeup can clog your pores and cause acne or inflamed hair follicles on your face and body.

I try to shower within 30 minutes of completing a run. I cleanse my face again with my Simply Clean cleanser by SkinCeuticals. I am acne prone, so I wash my chest and back with Panoxyl foaming wash after a run. 

After cleansing my skin, I apply SkinCeuticals Vitamin CE Ferulic serum to my face. This helps protect the skin against damage caused by free radicals. Then I apply Alastin’s Restorative Skin Complex cream (which stimulates collagen and elastin production) mixed with SkinMedica’s HA5  for extra hydration, and finally I apply sunscreen again (Elta MD UV Clear) if I have the rest of the day ahead of me, even if I plan on staying indoors. 

Once sun damage has occurred, what are some of the best ways to remedy the damage? 

I think a good routine that incorporates a sunscreen, a hydrating moisturizer, products that help repair damage such as a Vitamin C and E serum as well as restorative cosmeceutical grade products such as Alastin’s Restorative Skin Complexcream or SkinMedica’s TNS Essentials serum are crucial to repair damage. 

Intense Pulse Light therapy (aka IPL) can be very helpful to treat uneven skin pigmentation that results from chronic sun exposure. 

If you find yourself squinting or frowning while you run, stay ahead of those wrinkles with Botox.

And, please take the time to get a full body skin check to screen for skin cancer by a board certified Dermatologist.

How important is hydration for healthy skin?

Hydration is very important for healthy skin. Of course drinking water is important to maintain healthy blood flow and this in turn helps bring oxygen and nutrients to your skin and helps flush out toxins. However, drinking a lot of water is not enough to hydrate your skin.

It is important to hydrate the skin topically, directly.  You can do this by using a gentle cleanser, keeping your showers short, and using hydrating moisturizers, with hyaluronic acid for example, especially to the face and neck (I use SkinMedica’s HA5 moisturizer daily) and creamy or oil-based emollients to the rest of the body.  

Do you have any other recommendations for skin care in general – especially during this time of COVID-19 when people are washing hands more frequently, and wearing masks and gloves? What should we be doing during this time to protect our skin? 

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of hand washing throughout the day. However, frequent hand washing can leave your skin dry and cracked. This can then lead to a higher chance of picking up germs. It is really important to moisturize the skin of your hands after every hand washing, on damp skin. If you are using hand sanitizer, be sure to rub it on the skin of your hands well, let it dry, then apply moisturizer. I personally really like Aveeno’s Eczema Therapy Itch Relief Balm, but Vanicream Moisturizing Ointment is also a really nice fragrance free and dye free emollient. 

Face masks, when worn properly, are supposed to create a pressurized seal so air does not come through. While this is imperative to minimize the spread of the virus, it can lead to problems in the skin around the nose and mouth. Heat and sweat can cause irritation and flare-ups of rosacea and acne. Some people get bruises and skin discoloration.  

To try and minimize mask related skin problems, always wear a clean mask on clean, well-hydrated skin. Please wash your hands first!  You may want to avoid heavy make-up because this might clog your pores, especially under your mask. I would recommend removing the mask as soon as you can when you return home, and again, Please wash your hands first! Then clean the skin with a gentle cleanser and apply a hydrating moisturizer. Cool compresses may help reduce swelling and irritation. And if someone is prone to bruising, topical arnica cream may help.

This also may be an opportunity for people to experiment with some in-home skin care routines. Any fun make-at-home masks or skin products you recommend?

I would like to share my mom’s signature mask recipe. This is great for acne prone skin and to help reverse the signs of aging and sun-damage. Please consult with your dermatologist before trying this at home, especially if you have more sensitive skin.

Ingredients: 

Turmeric powder (1/4 teaspoon)

Gram flour (2 teaspoons)

Tomato (1/4 to ½ of tomato pulp, as required to make a paste)

Lemon juice (1/4 teaspoon)

Use a gentle cleanser to clean your skin first. Mix and make a paste and massage it gently with clean fingers onto damp skin. Leave the mask on the skin for 5-10 minutes. When you start to feel the mask dry, rinse it off with cold water. Pat-dry your skin gently with a towel. Then apply your normal moisturizer and sunscreen. 

Thank you so much for this valuable information Dr. Mundi! This definitely gives me some direction on how to better protect my skin during runs. I look forward to seeing you out on the trails – and in the office for my next skin check soon!

You can contact Dr. Mundi at:

The Dermatology Center at Ladera

600 Corporate Drive Suite 240
Ladera Ranch, CA 92694
Fax: (949) 364-8511
Tel: (949) 364-8411

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Finding the Extraordinary

My family, like all families, is struggling to adapt to life under self-quarantine. It has been tricky because “normal” is redefined every day. California is now on state-wide lock down, and everything changes so quickly. 

I’ve asked the kids to journal every day. “This is history in the making!” I eagerly tell them. “Record it now, so in the future you can see what you were thinking, feeling, experiencing during this unprecedented time.” Groans, moans, refusals. 

I have to approach self-quarantine with four kids like running a marathon. In a long-distance race, if I think about all the miles that lay in front of me, I begin to panic. Self-doubt creeps in, how will I ever make it to the finish line? Fear, uncertainty, anxiety, dread. 

If I think about the weeks (dear god, months!) that lay in front of me, quarantined with these kids, my heart begins to race, my palms get sweaty, and I want to throw up. How are we going to get through this? How are we going to stay sane and make the best of every day? Fear, uncertainty, anxiety, dread. 

So, I can’t focus on all that lays before me. I can’t dwell on what I can’t see. I can’t spin infinite possibilities of scenarios that I can’t control. I can’t fixate on the unknown. 

I can only concentrate on what is in front of me now. One mile at a time. One day at a time. One step at a time. One moment at a time. 

If I am focusing on the moment, how does my awareness change? If I let go of the fear of what “will be” or what “might be”, how do I embrace the immediacy of this current experience? 

In our “classroom” at home, all is blissfully quiet for a brief moment. Kids have headphones in, laptops open, and they are engaged in their first lesson of the day. Pretty ordinary. 

Until you look closer.  

I sit. I observe. I notice. 

A furrowed brow, forehead lines creased – confusion. And then microscopically, the face muscles relax, open up – a dawn of understanding. 

Corners of a mouth upturned as a virtual classmate types something silly. Smile breaks wide open and eyes twinkle with mischief. 

Lips pursed together in concentration as chin dips toward the chest, eyes focused and non-blinking while striving for new level in Typing Pals. 

There is a simple beauty in these moments. The ache of love spreads through my chest as I silently observe my children. This ordinary, is actually extraordinary. 

My sisters and I have a new “quarantine challenge”. It’s been super fun to share our experiences with each other over text message every day. Now we are going to take and share pictures of ordinary objects that you might not normally consider, but are actually quite beautiful if you take a moment to pay attention. 

On my run yesterday, I probably looked as though I had gone Corona-loca with the number of times I stopped to take random pics of scenery around me. 

I have run this trail probably 100 times, maybe more, over the years. And yet, I have never fully been mindful of the beauty around me. 

The thousands of tiny purple flowers sprouting from wild rosemary lining the trail. 

The delicate green moss dusting miles of bright white fence.

Mottled birch trees, a vibrant juxtaposition of colors as tender layers of bark peel back to expose raw vulnerability. 

Light cascading through tendrils of dainty leaves, gently illuminating individual stamens.

We are surrounded, in every moment, by beauty. If we sit still. If we pay attention. If we notice. If we let go of the panic, anxiety and fear. If we focus on what is in front of us.

There is extraordinary in the everyday ordinary. All around us. In everything. Even in the uncertainty, the chaos, the unknown. 

Where can you find yours?