I could write about any number of very positive events, many of which had a profound effect on my life, but I think the number one thing on that list would have to be the decision to bring fitness back into my life. It's a big "best thing" with a lot of facets, but I can say confidently that without having made that decision, I would be a lot worse off than I am right now. And I'll warn you now, this post is gonna be a long one...
Having been a high-level athlete for the majority of my life, it wasn't like choosing a fitter lifestyle was a huge life-changing overhaul like it can be for many people. The focus was more on returning to a place in mind and body that I had previously lived, and only after stepping out of that life had I realized how much a part of me it had been. A couple years of overtime work grind and hundreds (maybe thousands) of commuter hours had taken their toll on my health, and it was starting to show. I wanted that old life back. Badly.
So I did something about it. The first part of the decision started right around New Year's, when I made the choice to be a little more conscious of my food habits. I bought a better blender, and started experimenting with smoothies to help me eat more fruits and vegetables, and to this day I'm still using that blender constantly. I'm also avoiding purchasing snack foods, and focusing on eating meals instead of mindlessly nibbling. While not all of my food choices are based on a healthy mindset, I am definitely doing much better than last year, and I'm proud of most of my day-to-day eating decisions.
My next phase in the "get healthier, get fitter" decision was to find a job related to health and fitness: I started working as a physical therapy assistant. Truthfully, I lucked into the job - a local chiropractor was looking to replace his former assistant, and though I had no formal training, he was impressed with my athletic background and my willingness to learn. He took a chance on me, and for a few months I was deeply immersed in the world of physical therapy and rehab. I learned a lot about body mechanics, got a lot of hands-on time with patients, and realized I could happily enjoy a career in the fitness industry. I started studying for personal training certifications as an adjunct to the information I was absorbing at work. I also pulled the trigger on a long-time desire to get my Zumba instructor's license, which I earned in late April of this year. I also added a Zumba Step license a few months later!
That's not me, but she accurately represents my feelings
after completing my licensing class!
Perhaps the most important part of the decision process this year was entering my first race event. I was inspired by my father, who had chosen to live a fitness lifestyle almost a decade earlier, and by one of my physical therapy patients who was a prolific endurance athlete and an absolute joy of a person. Team sports are tough when you're handling an adult life, especially a busy one; an individual sport, especially one you can train for alone, presented a way for me to stay competitive and push myself without having to match up my schedule with that of a team.
I decided to try something fun and low-pressure for my first event. I also wanted to do more than just run at an event, because I knew I needed more cross training and would struggle without a set goal. Thus was born my decision to enter a mud run: a mix of distance running, interspersed with obstacles to challenge me in other ways, while also breaking up all of that distance so I don't have to actually run 5k straight up my first time. I started working more on my arms, since they've always been my weakest area, and I pushed myself to run around the neighborhood a little more often. I didn't train as consistently as I'd wanted, but I still rocked my first run and NAILED the arm-intensive obstacles!
The monkey swing intimidated me, but I got across with no problem!
After that, I was hooked - I wanted more. But I didn't want to limit myself to mud runs (though I did end up completing several other obstacle courses over the following months), and started signing up for trail races and regular road races. Before long, I was able to complete a 5k without walking, much to my surprise! And then, I was doing so in a good time. And then, that time started to improve. The more I ran, the better I felt about doing it, and the more I wanted to run. I've said many times before on this blog that I never would have guessed how much I would end up enjoying being an endurance athlete!
Over the course of the year, I've run 18 events. Though most of those have been 5k distance, including all my OCRs, I've started to branch out to longer distances. This happened primarily because of the free entry I won for the Chicago Women's Half Marathon, which challenged me to try something I'd never thought possible. I entered a much longer race before the half, and started to run longer distances at home, and quickly learned that hey, I COULD run 10k without stopping. How 'bout that, I ran the Fort2Base 11.5 miles without stopping! I finished the half, and only walked a little, even in 100+ degree heat! Suddenly so much seemed possible, and I was making it happen.
And I made it happen with my dad at my side. Amazing.
I'd accomplished so much! But I wasn't done yet. I started this blog as a next step on my fitness journey, and it opened up a whole new world to me. Not only was I able to share my experiences and start creating a dialogue with the rest of the Chicago running community, but I was given opportunities to keep pushing and trying new things. I was getting invites to group exercise events, to launch parties, to fashion shows; I was sent free stuff to try, free classes to take. It was an overwhelmingly awesome feeling to suddenly be a part of something so much larger than myself.
I took to these new opportunities with relish. ClassPass gave me an entire month to play around with cross training options, allowing me to try some things I hadn't even realized existed, like AIR fitness! I stepped out of my comfort zone, and though it didn't always lead to a repeat attempt, every new experience helped me grow stronger in body, mind, and spirit. I even found some heavy favorites, like Exhale's barre classes or yoga jams at gratitudeYOGA. In fact, my experience with Lisa's yoga classes has opened up a part of me I didn't think I even had, and yoga has become a large part of my daily life. Yoga is helping me find greater clarity and more inner peace than I've had in a long while, and it's all part of that decision waaaaaaay back to start taking better care of my health.
I've even found ways to bring yoga (and Lisa) into the office
to share with my work family.
Throughout the entire year, this pursuit of wellness has consistently brought one a wealth of new friends and acquaintances, too. Though I've been in Chicago for a few years now, I've never really felt like I belong where I am, but that is rapidly changing. Thanks to my running and blogging, I now have a handful of wonderful ladies I can confidently call my friends, and I can connect with them not only on a fitness level, but as people. Knowing I'll find a friendly face at the finish line is a big push to perform and stay strong mid-race, but it's also a feeling I can take with me anywhere I go; whether it's a work day or a vacation, I know there are fun and caring people in my life.
That brings us up to date on my fitness journey thus far... It's been an incredible year, founded on some vague goals with little clear direction. I've learned so much about myself and about my capabilities, and I've pushed past more than a few limits to reach an entirely new realm of possibility. This year is wrapping up and I'm very proud of how far I have come, but it's already time to start looking forward again, and I know my goals for next year will be much more concrete as my dedication continues to grow. My 2014 has taken me on quite a ride, but 2015 is going to be absolutely out of this world!
Have some exciting highlights from 2014? Did you reach a personal goal or learn something new? Have you made a friendship that has helped shape your life? I wanna hear about it! Sharing makes the experience even better!