Tag Archives: adventures in exercise

Adventures in Exercise: Open-Water Swimming

I am hoping that next year I’ll start posting more regularly. But for now, I’m going to post about some things that happened this year that I never blogged about when they happened.

One item that’s been on my bucket list for years has been doing an open-water swim, so I made it my mission to do it in 2016. I’d heard about the James Doty Memorial Mile Swim, down on the beach in Southie, so after spending several weeks swimming at the gym in the morning whenever I could, one Saturday in June I went down to the beach and signed up. They gave me a bathing cap with a number on it and wrote the number on my arm.

At the beginning, I had some doubts about whether I could keep doing it, but as I kept going, I felt better and better. We started off all pretty close together, but at one point we were so spread out that I couldn’t see anyone else and started to worry that I’d gotten lost. And then, 33 minutes after I started, it was over! That wouldn’t be a great time for me in the pool, but I’ll cut myself some slack since it was the first time I’d swum in open water. And since it was a nice day in June, the water wasn’t that cold once I started moving!

The whole event was incredibly well-run but also very low-key. They explained everything to us before we started, including that it was very safe and that the only sea creatures we were likely to encounter were a type of jellyfish that doesn’t sting. Everyone I talked to was incredibly nice, and they had food for us afterwards.

One reason I wanted to do an open-water swim is  in preparation for doing a triathlon next year. I’m making that one of my 2017 goals. The only challenges I’d foreseen in doing a sprint triathlon were that I will need to do some major work to be ready for the bike part (that’s still true) and that I’d need to learn how to handle swimming in open water. Now I’ve got that down!


Adventures in Exercise: Insanity

At the end of last year, as you could probably tell from this post, I was not in the best frame of mind and had once again fallen off the exercise wagon. So at the beginning of this year, I decided I needed something I’d stick to, preferably something I could do from home. Winter 2015 in Boston, if you haven’t heard, consisted of basically nonstop snow for two months, which sometimes made it hard to go for a run or get to the gym. This year hasn’t been anywhere close to that, but I didn’t know that at the time. In any case, I’m glad I decided to do what I ended up doing: Insanity.

Insanity Workout Tips

I think I was a latecomer to hearing about it. Most people I told I was doing it had already heard of it, but I had no idea what it was until the end of last year. If you’re like I was then and have never heard of it, basically, it’s an intense at-home DVD workout with a lot of cardio and bodyweight exercises led by Shaun T. You do it six days a week for nine weeks, with one day off and one recovery day, with a less intense workout, per week. The workouts are about 40 minutes each for the first four weeks- warmup, stretching, then the main workout. Then there’s a recovery week with a less intense routine, and then for the next four weeks, the routines are more like 50-60 minutes each. You do a fit test on the first day to see how many of certain exercises (switch kicks, power jacks, suicide jumps, etc.) you can do in a minute, and the fit test comes up again about every two weeks so you can track your progress.


I started on New Year’s Day, and the first two days were the hardest. When I did my first fit test, I had to keep pausing the DVD so I wouldn’t puke. And the second day was even harder because I was so sore from the first day. But after that? It was surprisingly manageable. Hard, yes, but do-able. The circuits had a lot of exercises I’d never even heard of before, and I liked trying something new. Shaun T. is a good leader for this kind of thing, too–he’s just the right amount of pushy.


There’s a meal plan that goes along with it, too, and I tried to follow it fairly closely. I’m a bit of a picky eater, so there were some suggested meals I didn’t like as written, but did like when I used one of the substitutions listed in the back. I loved smoked salmon, so I did the lox and bagel one a lot, and I would sometimes substitute it for something like turkey. The pizza English muffin is another one I enjoyed, and this gave me a lot of ideas for healthy meals even when not doing Insanity.


All this said, I was definitely ready to be done with it by the end. Even though there are several different DVDs that go into this, I got tired of the same routines eventually. And it was HARD trying to find time six days out of seven to do it- so I’m even more satisfied to say that I never did miss an Insanity workout. Even when I went to New York, I brought my laptop and the DVDs with me and did the workouts in the hotel!
Since I’ve finished it, I’ve been trying to do a bunch of different types of exercise…but that’s a topic for another post.

Maybe I’m a Runner Now

Two weeks ago, I ran half-marathon number five. It was my best half marathon, both in terms of my time and in terms of how I felt. Here’s why this one was different.


I’ve posted about how miserable and lonely I was this summer in the aftermath of the fire. Early in the summer, I was making an attempt to eat healthier and exercise, but I abandoned that completely as the apartment situation got more and more depressing. It’s a cruel irony that you need healthy living the most when life is hardest, which is also when it’s hardest to do it. I stopped paying attention to eating healthy and ate a lot of crap, and I couldn’t force myself to exercise. One day, when I was particularly down and it was good running weather, I tried to get up and out of the house to run. I made it a total of two blocks.


I haven’t weighed myself in a long time, but I know I gained weight. A lot of my clothes weren’t fitting me right, and when I saw pictures of myself taken in July, I burst into tears. I looked hideous, and much heavier than I should be.


So when things calmed down, I signed up for the Bay State Half Marathon, the same one I did last year. I’d come so close to breaking two hours before, and I felt like I was really capable of it now.


While this was my fifth half-marathon, the training for it felt different from any of the others. Before, I often felt like I had to force myself to get up and run. This time, I got into a good routine and was actually looking forward to my runs. I think it helped that I started my new job a few weeks into the training—having a new routine in general helped me fit in a new running routine. I started using MyFitnessPal more consistently and keeping better track of what I ate.


When I set that goal of breaking two hours, I’d thought that I would barely make it. Instead, while I was running, I looked at my watch at one point to see how I was doing and thought, “Wow…you totally have this!” I ended up finishing in 1:54:56—ten minutes faster than last year. The weather undoubtedly helped (it was nice and cool that morning), but I’m still thrilled with my time.

Half Marathon 2015

I’ve never really gotten the “runner’s high” that I hear people talk about, but during this training, I had way more runs where I felt great afterwards than runs where I felt lousy. I still haven’t weighed myself, so I don’t know if I actually lost weight, but I certainly feel better, and definitely more motivated to keep working out. When I first started getting into half-marathons, I blogged about how I still didn’t think of myself as “a runner.”

Well…it took a while, but I think now, maybe I do.

Update on Life

A lot’s been happening with me recently, and I thought I’d take a minute to recount it here.


If I’m being honest, I have to admit that lately I’ve felt really, really lonely. It seems like it’s been weeks since I had a real, honest conversation with someone.


So for now, I’ll write about some of the good things that have been happening.


First, I bought a car!


Even though I’m thirty, this is actually the first car I’ve ever owned. I had a car as a teenager, but it was only “mine” for a year, since it became my sister’s after I went to college. I also don’t really enjoy driving and don’t need to drive to get to most places I need to go. But sometimes I do need to get out of the city and I was sick of depending on other people for rides. So now I have this car! I mostly just drive to chorus every week and I drove to Marblehead a few weeks ago to meet my cousin’s cute new baby. But it’s nice having the option to drive places if I have to.


Second, I finished my fourth half-marathon!

bay state half marathon

Even writing that is weird. How did I become the kind of person who does four half-marathons? I still do not think of myself as a runner. I’m not an athlete and I’m actually kind of lazy about exercise most of the time. And yet…I just did this fourth half-marathon (the Bay State Half Marathon in Lowell) and got a really good time for me. This is a really flat course (there’s a marathon at the same time, and since it’s so flat, people use it to qualify for Boston- even their advertisements say so) and the weather was perfect and autumn-y, so that’s part of where the good time came from. But I also just feel faster, and while it might be awhile before I do another half, I kind of want to try again and maybe break two hours. It feels possible!


Third, I’ve had a couple of fun experiences at book signings lately. The first one was with none other than Neil Patrick Harris! He was doing a signing of his new memoir at Brookline Booksmith, so I got a ticket. None of my friends ended up going, but I made friends with the people around me in line. (Although two of them, who actually ended up being pretty cool once I talked to them, started off their time in line having this really graphic conversation about how someone they knew had an infection and I was dying to say, “Guys, I JUST ATE.”) They were hurrying everyone through the HUGE line as quickly as they could, so there wasn’t time to take a picture with him, but my new line-friends and I took each other’s pictures and sent them to each other.


I had all these things I was going to say to NPH, like, “Congratulations on the Oscars! Are you going for a hosting EGOT?” (They’d just announced the day before that he was going to be the Oscar host.) Or, “Will you sing ‘The Confrontation’ with me?” But they all flew out of my head and I just ended up saying something like, “Thank you for being here!” and that I liked what I’d read of the book while standing in line. So I don’t think I left much of an impression on NPH, but I’m glad I went.


The other book signing experience was last weekend at the Boston Book Festival. You remember my post about the book series I loved as a kid? Well, I was really excited when I learned that Ann M. Martin, the creator of The Baby-Sitters Club, would be there. So of course I went to her panel and got her autograph and a picture with her afterwards! Ten-year-old Katie is so jealous of thirty-year-old Katie. (I met some cool people in that line, too. Lots of interesting people to meet at book signings.)


I always try to do NaNoWriMo and never succeed. I do have a new idea this year, though, so we’ll see how I do. Some writing completed is always better than nothing, after all. You can friend me there if you want—purebrightfire is my name there.


And happy belated Halloween!


Playlist of the Moment: Half-Marathon Playlist

On Sunday, I completed my third half-marathon! My time wasn’t great, but frankly, I didn’t train as much for this one as I did for my previous ones due to being busy, being lazy, and a bout of what I think is plantar fasciitis in my left foot. But I finished, the course was beautiful (it was completely in Newton, MA, and part of it went by BC!), and the weather was awesome. And I didn’t get sick like I did for the last one! My friends Julie and Pam also ran it and did great, and the race was followed by a fun after-party. (At a bar in which they were out of a lot of the beers we asked for due to a large party of “zombie Santas” drinking them the night before.)

Music definitely helps long runs go by faster, and although I listen to all kinds of things while running and did my twelve-mile run listening to the Les Mis soundtrack (yeah, I know, you could probably start a SST-S drinking game with how many times I mention this musical), this is my favorite running mix. It’s purportedly a running pump-up mix, but it’s very me-specific and probably not the kind of thing everyone would listen to (did I mention there’s a Celine Dion song on it?) My taste in music remains questionable as always, but they’re all songs that are about running, winning, fighting on, persevering, or being a champion…or else they’re just upbeat and fun to run to. Anyway, here they are:

Half-Marathon Playlist

1. The Vengaboys, “We Like to Party”
2. Nelly, “#1”
3. Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
4. Village People, “YMCA”
5. Celine Dion, “The Power of the Dream”
6. Destiny’s Child, “Survivor”
7. Ricky Martin, “The Cup of Life”
8. Jimmy Eat World, “The Middle”
9. Katrina and the Waves, “Walking on Sunshine”
10. Trapt, “Headstrong”
11. Hoku, “Perfect Day”
12. Christina Aguilera, “Fighter”
13. Chumbawamba, “Tubthumping”
14. Gloria Estefan, “Reach”
15. Whitney Houston, “One Moment In Time”
16. R. Kelly, “The World’s Greatest”
17. Lady Gaga, “The Edge of Glory”
18. Army of Me, “Perfect”
19. Kate Voegele, “Lift Me Up”
20. Colbie Callait, “Somethin’ Special”
21. Clique Girlz, “Incredible”
22. Sheryl Crow, “So Glad We Made It”
23. Taylor Swift, “Change”
24. 3 Doors Down, “The Champion In Me”
25. Survivor, “Eye of The Tiger”
26. Kelly Clarkson, “Stronger”
27. Queen, “We Will Rock You”
28. Queen, “We Are the Champions”
29. Bruce Springsteen, “Born To Run”
30. Theme from Chariots of Fire
31. Journey, “Keep on Runnin’”
32. Gloria Gaynor, “I Will Survive”
33. Rascal Flatts, “When The Sand Runs Out”
34. U2, “Beautiful Day”
35. ABBA, “The Winner Takes It All”
36. Gym Class Heroes, “The Fighter”


1/2 + 1/2 = ?

Yesterday, I completed my second half-marathon, this time in Boston. Megan also ran it—her first half-marathon—and did awesome!

Here we are at the finish.

This course was hilly and difficult, much harder than the Princess race—the hardest part of that one was getting up at 3 AM. But I’m really happy to say I finished with a respectable time, although it wasn’t as fast as I wanted it to be due to the heat. I really do not do well exercising in heat—that’s one reason I did swimming for so long, I think! But yesterday was unseasonably hot out—80 degrees in Boston in October! WTF? I want my nice fall weather! So while I made really good time for the first eight miles, I hit a wall when we had to run uphill over a bridge where there was no shade, and around Mile 11 I threw up. I think I may have had a bit of heat exhaustion—it wasn’t until after I finished and got some Gatorade that I started to feel better. As much of a pain as training in the winter for the Princess race was, it was MUCH easier than running in the heat. But I’m really happy that after that unfortunate detour I was still able to finish!

I have to say, though, it will be awhile before I attempt another half-marathon—I’m thinking next fall I might do one in Newton, but my next athletic attempt will probably be an open-water swim. While I was training for this race, I ended up neglecting other forms of exercise I love—swimming, yoga, Zumba, classes at the gym like Pilates and abs workouts. While I enjoy running, I don’t live and breathe it like a lot of serious runners do. I’ve heard people talk about getting a “runner’s high,” and I have no idea what that is. Actually, when I run I get more angry than anything else—my mind tends to wander and I imagine scenarios, and by the end of the run I’m mad at someone for something that never happened.

This is the thing, though: never in a million years did I think that I’d be someone who completed two half-marathons in less than eight months. If you check my bucket list, I talk about the open-water swim and eventually a triathlon (although I have some serious catching up to do with cycling before I can do one of those), but nothing about running. I did JV track for three years in high school, but I never thought of myself as A Runner. As a kid, I knew adults who were serious runners—so serious that they wouldn’t do a popular two-mile race in my hometown because “it’s only two miles,” and I used to roll my eyes at that. Now, I can actually relate to that mentality.

I wish someone would tell this to high school and college students. When it comes to sports, it’s so easy to feel like whatever you are as a teenager is what you’ll be for the rest of your life—in my case, mediocre swimmer and girl-who-only-does-JV-track-so-she’s-doing-something-during-the-offseason. But none of that really matters after you graduate—after that, you don’t do anything for scholarships or to get colleges’ attention, but just because you want to. Look at me—I always thought of myself as a terrible athlete as I was growing up, and I still don’t consider myself a good one, but here I am doing two half-marathons in a year, thinking about doing another one, and hoping to do at least a couple of shorter road races by the end of the year.

If you didn’t know me, you might think that perhaps I actually am A Runner. I certainly don’t think of myself that way, but the point is that if I wanted to be A Runner, I could be.

Princess Me!

Two weeks ago, I was here:

If you couldn’t tell from the picture, “here” was Disney World. Specifically, for the Princess Half-Marathon!

Last year, my sister ran the Boston Marathon. I am not quite that crazy, but I thought a half-marathon might be something I could manage. When Caroline mentioned that the Princess race would take place during her spring break from law school, I hesitated at first. “I don’t know if I have time to train.” “It’s in Florida- it will be hot.” But then I looked at the half marathon training schedule and realized that it was completely do-able. So I was in.

I am amazed that I actually managed to stick to the training schedule, which involved four days of running per week, including one long run over the weekends. While I do like to run, and like other forms of exercise as well, I have a tendency to be lazy. I have a whole gamut of excuses for skipping the gym—everything from “It’s raining” to “I don’t want to miss The Office.”

Furthermore, if you haven’t been paying attention to the weather in Boston, we’ve gotten snow up to Shaq’s earlobes this winter. This meant running on the sidewalks involved getting my feet soaked in frozen puddles, trying not to slip on ice, climbing over snowbanks to avoid stepping on puddles or ice, trying to squeeze around people when the sidewalks were too narrow from the snow, being stopped dead in my tracks when I realized that a sidewalk hadn’t been shoveled and having to figure out how to get off the sidewalk without stepping in knee-deep snow…you get the picture. After awhile, I started longing for Florida just so I could run a long distance without being interrupted by the elements.

We had to get up at 3 in the morning for the half-marathon to be on the bus by 4 and start the race by 6:30. And so my sister and I, along with 13,000 other runners (mostly women, and many of whom were wearing tutus, tiaras, or princess costumes) ran 13.1 miles.

Along the way, we saw all kinds of Disney characters and entertainment:

And when it was over, we spent the rest of the day in Disney World!
I love Disney World. I had been twice before, once when I was eight and once when I was thirteen, and I think I was just as excited this time. We covered a lot of ground in one day- we got to the Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM), and World Showcase in EPCOT on a one-day pass.

The day after that, we headed to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which was awesome. We went on all the rides (Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is maybe the best ride I’ve ever been on ANYWHERE), hung out in the wand shop and Honeydukes, and had ourselves some butterbeer.

And what’s next? Well, I think I’ve caught the running bug. I still don’t want to run a marathon (I don’t like running that much), but I think I’m going to sign up for some 5ks and possibly another half marathon.

I don’t think any other race will give me a number like this, though: