Yesterday, I ran for 3.1 miles – marking my first ever 5k run.
Early this summer, I took up running. I gave myself a worthy goal – to hit a consistent 10-12 minute mile before the end of the year. I am not a strong runner. I’ve never really been a strong runner.
My training started relatively easy. I ran for 30 seconds and walking for 1 minute. I started at a 15+ minute mile. Each week or so, I would increase my run interval by 5 seconds. I’ve made it to 1 minute and 30 seconds now, and have hit a 12:05 minute mile and hope to keep increasing that and eventually decreasing my walk time.
To give myself a more short-term goal, I signed up for an official 5k that takes place on October 19. That’s now less than a month away. Time to buckle down on my training!
Typically, I run 3-4 times a week. Most of the time, it’s during my lunch break at work, which means my time is limited. I can typically get 2 miles in, sometimes 2.5, but I’ve never ran the full 3.1 miles of a 5k. I figure that I don’t want my first time to be on race day, so yesterday, feeling the urge, I ran.
I ran at 1 minute intervals, figuring that the added distance would mean I should probably pace myself a bit.
And I did it.
I ran down my hilly dirt road, back and forth 4 times, in order to get the full distance in. My pace was slow, as expected (average pace of 14:54), but I did it. And it felt good to know I can do it. I am deliberately pushing myself, making myself stronger and increasing my endurance. And I am seeing and feeling a huge difference.
Greg and I are on day 3 of a week-long vacation. Keeping to a typical Sunday ritual, we left out early this morning to hike at Smithgall Woods State Park outside of Helen, GA. There are several options to choose from, but today, we decided to go on the Ash Loop Trail.
Scotch was the lucky corgi who got to go on the hike with us today. He’s getting older, and arthritis is starting to affect him. However, he’s been doing really good with his meds and it’s been a long time since he’s gotten to go hiking. We chose the Ash Loop Trail because it isn’t too strenuous (only a 615 ft elevation change). Clocking in at just a hair under 4 miles (3.96), it is long enough for the humans to feel like we accomplished something and short enough to where our buddy boy Scotch could make the journey without injury.
From the visitor’s center, we hiked down Tsalaki Trail (the paved road that runs through Smithgall) to the southern trailhead for the Ash Creek Loop. We prefer hitting the south end first because you do have to wade through the creek at one point on the trail, near the northern end of the trail, so we like to keep it for later in the trip.
It’s rained here a little bit the past couple of days. Enough to settle the dust a bit, but not much else. It hasn’t been helpful with the heat or the humidity. This morning, while not miserable, was sticky. I’m glad we were on the trail by 8am and finished by 10am. Much later and it would have been uncomfortable, even in the woods.
Oddly enough, we didn’t see a single other (human) soul during our time at the state park this morning. Only one other car was parked in the parking lot as we were leaving. Smithgall is usually a more hopping place, especially with Octoberfest activities going on in Nearby Helen.
While we met no humans, we did see and come face-to-face (literally) with several spiders and a couple rafters of turkey. (Yup, a group of turkeys is called a “rafter.” I totally had to Google that one.)
One of the things about the trails at Smithgall that make these hikes interesting is that on several of them, you have to ford one or more creeks. On Ash Creek Loop, you have to go through two. The first one (if you start from the south) is tiny and if your boots are water-proofed, you can just splash through it no problem. The second one, though, it deeper than it looks. The first time Greg and I did this trail, we were unprepared. We hiked up our pants, took off our boots, and waded across barefoot with two corgis swimming beside us (Twinkie and Scotch). This time, we were better prepared.
Zip off pants – Check.
Watershoes to change into – Check.
Folding tripod trail chairs to make changing shoes easier – Check.
Soon after wading through the creek, we returned to the paved part of Smithgall Woods and made our way back to the visitor’s center parking lot.
A fun way to start our Sunday. Afterwards? Nachos and vegging on the couch. Sundays afternoons are made for relaxing and re-energizing.
Flow is nice. Flow feels good. Your body is doing something, but your mind is free to wonder or focus on other things. Some people run to feel a flow. It’s calming, it’s soothing, it gives you a since of mastery and accomplishment. This action has become so routine, that I don’t even have to think about it.
Flow certainly has its place. But it isn’t growth or progress. The state of flow doesn’t lead to improvement.
In order to truly improve yourself, you must be deliberate in your practice.
I have anecdotal evidence that supports this hypothesis. For years, I’ve used my recumbent bike for exercising. It’s an easy way to burn calories. I hope on, set my resistance program and start peddling. My body is working and burning calories, but my mind is elsewhere. I’m reading, playing a video game, or watching tv. I get into a mindless flow. My biking doesn’t improve. I don’t burn more and more calories. I don’t go faster or further. I’ve maintained a similar rpm the entire 10 years I’ve been using that bike.
On the other hand, when I run, my entire focus is on running. I’m deliberate when I run because I want to improve my speed, stamina, and my overall cardiovascular fitness. I don’t listen to music. I don’t listen to audiobooks. The only thing I pay attention to is me and what my body is doing. I constantly remind myself that I am growing and growing hurts. Improvement comes from stress and being focused and deliberate.
And I am improving.
I started only running for 30 seconds and then walking for 1 minute. As of this posting, I’m running for 1:25 while still only recovering by walking for 1 minute. My goal is to consistently be running 10-12 minute miles by the end of the year. Right now, I am hitting around 12:55, my fastest being 12:05 so far.
I’m killing it.
So when you set a performance goal for yourself, whether it be physical, creative, mental, or whatever, be deliberate in your practice.
I like cooler weather. There’s nothing quite like getting up early in the morning, bundling up in layers, and going for a brisk hike to the top of a mountain. Greg and I have some of our best hiking adventures in the middle of winter, when icicles dangle from the jagged scars of fallen trees and magnificent mountain views are revealed from the leafless forests.
But I have so missed getting out on the water in my kayak.
Greg and I picked up kayaking last year. We did the research, saved up, and bought us a couple of peddle-driven Hobie kayaks. (Blessed be the Mirage Drives)
It’s said that you should spend money on experiences rather than objects. This is one of those situations where purchasing an object has lead to some amazing experiences. I love these kayaks and the adventures we’ve had in them.
Cabin fever got the best of us Saturday, and hearing that it was going to be a decent day, we got up early and then… waited until the afternoon to head out to the lake.
What? It was a cold morning!
About two minutes after unloading the kayaks at the boat ramp, I managed to hurt myself. While wading in the frigid lake water, trying to get my kayak set up, my foot slipped off a rock and landed hard on the edge of another rock. I didn’t feel to much at the time, because my foot, being in said frigid water, was relatively numb. Afterwards, in the boat, I felt the boo boo more.
First aid kit to the rescue!
Luckily, it didn’t bother me much. After a bit of a rough start, we were on our way. The wind was cold, the sun was warm, Greg kept taking off his jacket and then putting it back on, and finally used it as a snuggie (too bad I didn’t get a picture of that). And I had a smile on my face the whole time.
I was in my happy place.
And even though I have a sunburn on my legs now (rookie mistake), I can’t wait to get back out there again.
I am grateful for all the adventures I get to have.
I am not fat. I do not think I am fat in any way. Sure, I get a belly. I have one right now. I have cellulite and and stretch marks and saddle bags on my thighs. When I carry a bit of extra weight on me, I don’t freak out. I know it’s just a temporary fluctuation that my body is going through.
But I do keep an eye on it.
You see, my family has a rich history of obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart troubles, strokes, and the whole host of health problems that come about from weight issues. Since I was young, I watched my family struggle through all of these issues. I never wanted to have to go through this struggle personally.
These same genes are inside of me, but I have vowed to make better, more healthy choices. I fight my biology. I exercise regularly. I eat (mostly) right. I don’t care about being thin. I just want to be healthy. I love myself and my body. I want to take good care of it and of myself.
And sometimes, that’s really fricken difficult. I’ve yo-yoed. I’ve damn near starved myself. I’ve over-exercised. And I’ve had marvelous epiphanies. I’ve grown so much over the years and have come to understand my body and it’s needs.
And it’s still a struggle.
I see setbacks. All. The. Time. Every flare up of my mystery illness is a set back. Every cold is a set back. Every major headache is a set back. Every Thanksgiving and Christmas is a set back. Sure, some set backs are more serious than others. I can typically recover from my headache set backs within a few days, but my mystery illness can drain me for weeks and it takes months to get back to where I was.
Just last week, I caught the dreaded cold bug. I didn’t work out for 10 days and I fed my cold. Carbs were my best friend. I ate an entire box of Mac and Cheese by myself, which definitely wasn’t good for me, but it’s what I really, really needed at the time.
I suffered a set back. A couple weeks before, I had finally overcome a particularly frustrating plateau. It was a win. It was awesome.
But this morning, I weighed more than I have in several years. And I know that it wasn’t a good weight gain. This wasn’t me packing on muscle. It was water, fat, and I’m pretty sure at least 3 pounds of stored mucus. It was the weight of illness and idleness.
But you know what that means? It means I have a goal again. I have a target. I will once again achieve victory and the pride it brings in me. And I look forward to meeting my goals once more.
Lake Russell Recreational Area in Mt. Airy, Georgia is a hidden gem, especially in the off season. The trails are quiet and isolated. And even during the months when the park is fully open, the beach area and campgrounds might be crowded, but the trails typically remain little traveled.
One of our favorite trails is the Lake Loop that, you guessed it, circles around the lake. This past weekend, however, we went on one of the other trails – the Lady Slipper Trail.
The Lady Slipper Trail starts off with a steady uphill climb for about a mile. Once you hit the top of the ridge, you merge into an old forest road. The official trail turns left, heading northeast. Greg and I eyed each other, and turned right, heading down the road going southwest into an area of the park we haven’t explored. We did about 3/4 of a mile, reaching the end of the road and going a bit further (a smaller trail continued beyond the end of the road) along the ridge through a pine forest. We would have kept going deeper into the woods, except we came across a hunter and didn’t want to disturb him or his dogs. So, we turned around and headed back.
Wanting to at least go for 5 miles, we hiked beyond where the trail enters the road and continued northeast and veered off onto the Lady Slipper Trail once more, where it departs the road and heads down a hillside. Instead of doing the loop though, we went for distance and then turned around to head back to where we parked.
On our way back, we actually met up with the hunter that we saw at a distance in the woods and exchanged apologies and pleasantries. He had two small hunting dogs with him that were adorable and friendly. Scotch and Beans behaved themselves and everyone had a good sniff. We also met a couple groups of mountain bikers on the return journey – making this the busiest we have ever seen this trail before.
The Lady Slipper Trail is a multipurpose trail. You can hike, bike, or horseback ride on it, so I’m really surprised we haven’t seen a lot more folks on it before.
The day was beautiful and the dogs enjoyed getting to stretch their stubby little legs. It’s been great getting out and hiking more again. I can feel my heart recovering from my last mystery illness flair up, and with each hike, I can feel my body getting stronger and more resilient. Being outside again makes my soul happy.
I am grateful for the abundant outdoor beauty that exists so close to where I live.
On Saturday, Greg and I returned to one of our favorite local destinations – The Smithgall Woods Center for a hike.
Smithgall is awesome because most of the time, the entire park is pedestrian only. So even just getting around in the park is a hike in itself, and there’s several hiking trails off of the main road. It’s a peaceful, less populated state park.
I am happy to say, that the park has fully reopened. Last time we went, most of it was closed because the main road had been washed away, leaving behind a ravine.
Instead of hitting up one of the normal hiking trails, we decided to take a graveled side road up to a cell tower. The road is aptly named Tower Road. We’d never explored this part of the park before, and I can say for certain that this is definitely the steepest part of Smithgall.
We took the Scotch and Beans and had some fun. After not going hiking or leaving the house much at all these past few weekends, it felt awesome to get out in nature again and really reset myself for the week at hand. Nothing makes me more content than a jaunt through the woods amongst the happy tree pheromones ion thingies (no really – look up “Forest Bathing”)
Growth comes from rest. When you work out a muscle, the fibers tear. These tears are where the growth occurs. But if you just keep tearing, day after day, without giving you body time to repair itself, you risk serious injury.
Which is why I decided to forgo a workout session tonight. My legs hurt something fierce. I’m not sure if it was from my regular workout rourine, or from the two games of bowling yesterday, but as the day has gone on, I’ve found myself in increasing pain.
I welcome a bit of soreness, because it means I accomplished something. But sometimes, I over do it. If I don’t take the time to heal, I’ll only make things worse. So tonight, I’m taking a break from my normal Monday night workout session.
The same is also true for your mental health. If you don’t take the time to stop and allow you mind and soul to repair itself from those little tears they experience everyday, instead going on and on, with no stress relief, the pain will debilitate you. Overwhelm will set in. Meditation is a great way to rest your mind. Being mindful and grateful is another way. However you chose to stop and relax your mind, it doesn’t matter. Just remember to allow yourself time to rest and heal.
So this is a reminder to stop. Be present. Focus on you, your surroundings, what’s happening right now. Is there any part of you–mind, body, or soul–that needs a rest?
Greg and I have completed two hikes so far in 2019, and both have been brand new to us. This past weekend, we made our way to a remote spoton the Appalachian trail – where the trail crosses Indian Grave Gap Road. Indian Grave Gap Road is a narrowish dirt road that winds through the national forest. If you decide to visit it, I recommend a truck or suv, especially after hard rains like we’ve experienced here in North Georgia lately.
Where the AT crosses the road, there is a small parking lot. We geared up and headed north towards Tray Mountain.
Tray Mountain is the 7th highest peak in Georgia. The trail up to the peak is moderately difficult, and a near constant incline. But it is an awe-inspiring trail with canopies of mountain laurel and rhododendron that give way to breathtaking views. Eventually leading to the very top of Tray Mountain at 2.55 miles (the shelter is as little further down the trail, but we didn’t go that far). This trail has become an instant favorite.
Yesterday, Greg and I took full advantage of the holiday and the gloriously mild weather and went for a hike. When you have time off and it’s 63 degrees outside, you go outside and enjoy it!
It’s amazing that after six years of hiking and exploring all that the mountains of Northeast Georgia has to offer, that we still find places that we’ve never hiked. Especially trails that are definitely ones that should have been on our radar. Yesterday’s hike was one of these. We go to Unicoi State Park in Helen at least once a month. We love taking the pups for a casual stroll around the little lake there, and we’ve explored a bit of the other trails this park has to offer, but we’ve never completed the Unicoi to Helen trail.
Coming in at just under six miles in and out, this trail is one that we’ll be adding to the rotation for sure. I’d say it’s only moderately difficult – purely based on length. The climbs and descents are mild. It has been raining A LOT here recently, so the trail itself had several swishy, muddy parts, but nothing that a good pair of waterproofed boots couldn’t slog through easily.
The trail starts at Unicoi Lodge in the park and winds up at the city park in Helen, where you can add a little bit of length and site-seeing to the hike by going around the little paved loop in the park.
Because of the weather and time of year, the trail had many different types of fungus and lichen growing everywhere. The rivers and streams were flowing like crazy, several days after we received flood-level amounts of rain.
This was a great, new experience to start of 2019.