Quick review: Jenny Ford’s marching workout is perfect

One of the reasons I have stuck with running is because it is easy. Left, right, left, right, don’t throw up, left, right, eventually stop.  I can do that. But our stupid school schedule is making it really hard to go out and run more than once or twice a week. Sometimes, to fill in, I make a stab at a “beginner” or “easy” or “drooling moron” workout video, but I always end up like Liz Lemon in the Cardio Hip Hop Groove class:

And yes, this is humiliating and discouraging even if you’re alone in your living room.

Well, I just found a half-hour workout that even I can do: Marching Cardio Workout with Jenny Ford. You can stream it for free with Amazon Prime, or you can watch it on YouTube.

The moves themselves are not complicated (step-tap, grapevine*, and box step is about as challenging as it gets), and the instructor gives you plenty of practice and directions. She often gives you an alternate move if the one you’re doing is too hard; and you’re always marching in between, so if you get confused, you can just fall back on marching.

She does not appear to be made of hot dog-colored silicone, she isn’t wearing tons of makeup, and for some reason, she is standing in the middle of a scrubby field in Illinois. (She has a whole series of marching videos, on Prime and on YouTube, not all set in Illinois, but this is the one I found first. I like the part where the utility repair truck tools by and takes its time parking.)

Best of all, she seems to sincerely understand that you are fat and old and are trying– well, maybe not your best, but you’re here, aren’t you? She isn’t constantly shrieking, “Ooh, feel that awesome burn, six, seven, eight! Your buns just love it, woooo!” Instead, she says things like, “You doing okay? Okay, now remember the kick thing? Get ready, because we’re going to do that again, but not for too long.”

The music is just typical workout nonsense, but it’s easy to ignore. You don’t need tons of space to do the routine, or any equipment at all. There is a bubble in the corner that counts down what percentage of the workout you have left.

Now I just need to figure out my little toddler-on-rollerskates-pushing-the-ottoman-into-my-achilles-tendon problem,** and I’ll emerge lithe and athletic, if not hot dog-colored, on the other side of winter.

*which I know how to do because we called it “the hora” and danced it while playing “Hava Nagila” when I was little.

**Besides letting her pour corn flakes into a giant box and do her own marching workout. This was okay, if noisy, until the kitten got involved.

We’re still running! A Couch to 5K update

Back in April, I wrote about the Couch to 5K program, which aims to transform sedentary people into runners. Seems like time for a little update.

We did complete the program. We’re still running, and we don’t intend to stop. I mean, we stop and go home and have lunch and stuff, but we haven’t let a single week go by without running, and most weeks, we run three, four, or five times. Today, we ran 2.5 miles, which is the longest distance we’ve done together.

I know. That’s not 5K! Well, when you get close to the end of the Couch to 5K program, it starts giving you the option of running for a certain distance or a certain time, and we always chose time (I think it ends at 31 minutes of running), falling short of the suggested distance. Once the program was over, we focused on keeping up the habit of running regularly, rather than upping the ante. Some weeks, being sick and busy, it was a struggle to get a mile in three times a week. We just wanted to make sure we didn’t stop just because the program was over.

And we are slow. Slow as hell. But we are gradually increasing the distance we go, and are working our way up to a 5K run in the fall, when it will be cooler. In New Hampshire, there is no such thing as a flat route, so we always end up trotting up and down, here and there, on dirt, on pavement, on gravel, and on grass, and some of the hills are killers. There are frogs and flaming orange salamanders in the road, and turkeys and turkey buzzards angrily launch themselves into the air as we pass, because we are annoying. We talk about the kids and politics and sex and what will become of us all, and what we want to have for supper. Occasionally we have a little fight as we run. Sometimes, I’m wheezing and gasping, and I just focus on not stopping or throwing up. Other times, it’s fluid and almost euphoric, and I feel like I could go forever. The weird thing is, it’s very hard to predict what kind of run it will be.

It’s far, far easier to run before 10 a.m., when it’s shady, the air is dry, and there’s a little breeze. Humidity makes running awful. But nothing feels better than being done with a run and knowing that, whatever else happens that day, you didn’t quit.

After we finished the program and proved to ourselves that we’re sticking with this thing, we bought ourselves some new shoes. We went to an athletic store, where they measured our feet, watched us walk and run, talked about our routine, and then gave us a variety of suitable shoes to try.

I settled on a pair of New Balance shoes (W860PG7, if you’re interested- see photo at top). They’re not too stiff or heavy, but are much more structured than the Walmart $15 pair I had been using. They are nice and wide, which I need for my feet that have splayed out after being barefoot and pregnant for almost twenty years. They don’t feel all that much different when I’m actually running, but my feet feel perfectly fine the rest of the day, which is amazing. With my crummy shoes, my feet were always sore, and sometimes I felt stabbing pains in my soles. These NB shoes have a pretty firm medial post, which apparently keeps my feet from pronating, or rolling inward, which makes your arches collapse or something. I wasn’t really listening, but it sounded bad.

The shoe people noticed similar issues with my husband’s feet, and he chose Nike Air Zoom Structure 20s. His feet feel better while he’s actually running, and he has less trouble with his ankles and knees during the day.

Each pair cost over $100, which kind of knocked the air out of me; but we figured we were paying partly for the guidance; and also we don’t spend any other money on running. We just run, and want to keep running. So it’s cheaper than a gym membership, and cheaper than physical therapy from running in crap shoes.

Other observations: Don’t skip the frickin warm-up, even if you’re in a hurry. Among other benefits, it gets your lungs going, so it’s not a horrible shock when you suddenly launch into a run and can’t breathe.

-If I’m struggling and getting tense and taking short little choppy steps, it’s helpful to think to myself, “Light and loose. Light and loose.” I need to remember to use my whole body and to be as fluid as possible, and that makes it easier to keep going.

-Always go pee one last time before you leave the house, even if you don’t feel like you need to.

We both have bad days and good days, and we don’t always match up; but when we do run, the rest of the day is always better than the days when we don’t run. I find myself thinking it’s reasonable to take the kids to the beach after dinner, rather than just flopping on the couch and turning into upholstery. I try to remember to offer up the run for different people’s intentions.

As I can’t seem to stop mentioning, I’m still pretty fat. I’m just not ready to stop eating mashed potatoes, is what it comes down to. But I feel so much more confident. My back never hurts anymore. I sleep well most nights, instead of almost never. My knees and other joints, despite everyone’s dire warnings, feel fine. My husband and I are alone together for over half an hour three times a week. And nothing, nothing, beats that feeling of starting something hard and scary and keeping at it until it starts to feel easy.

Yep, we’re gonna keep running.

Couch to 5K lives up to the hype

Here’s an entire post about the Couch to 5K running training program. You’ve been warned! If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here’s the short version:

I was just about ready to lie down and die, but now I feel much better, physically, mentally, and emotionally, and you can, too.

How it works: We downloaded the free app onto our phones. You go out three times a week, and it tells you exactly what to do, on the screen and out loud. Like: “Begin warm-up! Walk for five minutes.” “*BONG!*Start running now!” “You are half way!” “*BONG!*Start walking now.” And so on. It begins and ends with a five-minute walk, and alternates walking and running for varying lengths of time, increasing the total running time week by week. By the time you get through the whole program, you can run five kilometers, which is just over three miles.

You can upgrade the app to play music, keep track of calories, and other stuff, but the free version is fine.

Why we started: As with the beginning of so many great things, I was sitting on the bed crying because I’m disgusting and nothing will ever change and it’s just all so horrible. So my husband goes, “Let’s do that Couch to 5K thing.” And I sniffled, “Okay,” because it sounded better than sitting on the bed crying. I probably would have agreed to go away to Organic Rollercoaster Engineer school at that point.

We both used to run many, many years ago, but now we are both 42.  I have done various kinds of workouts over the years, but it’s been harder and harder to do anything consistently. We were both feeling very much like it was the beginning of the end, and like every aspect of our lives would just get harder and cruddier and more pathetic, steadily and inexorably, until we were dead. So, this was our way to fight back and see if we could do something else, instead.

In the beginning, I was terrified. I was so sure that I was going to embarrass myself, let my husband down, and just be pathetic and gross in some way, and end up feeling even worse because I had failed one more thing. This is not commensurate with reality. I’m actually fairly accomplished in a lot of different areas, and have done all kinds of difficult and frightening things, and am surrounded by supportive, appreciative people. But my stupid rat brain was pretty persuasive about me being a repulsive loser blob.

How it’s going:  It’s going great! It has been hard every week; it has gotten easier every week. Every week, we’ve been very conscious of getting stronger, which is incredibly encouraging and motivating.

We repeated a few days when we felt like we just barely got through them. One week, we peeked ahead and freaked out at how hard the next week looked, so we repeated the same week until we got a little stronger and more confident.

And that is fine. We intend to run a 5K eventually, but we’re not in a huge rush. As long as we don’t lose ground, it’s fine.

So now, six weeks later, we’re starting week four, which is a 31-minute workout. It’s a brisk five-minute warmup walk, then jog for three minutes, walk for ninety seconds, jog for five minutes, walk for 2.5 minutes, jog three minutes, walk ninety seconds, and jog five minutes, and then walk another five minutes to cool down. We talk and laugh while we jog.

There is no way I could have done this a month ago. Nooooooo way. I would have thrown up and collapsed and spent the rest of the day laughing at that that alien species of people who waste their lives moving their limbs around like idiots, rather than enjoying life like I was *sob*.

But I’ve gotten stronger, my stamina is much better, and most of all, I have more confidence. I woke up this morning feeling awful, with a sinus headache, a stuffy nose, and a heavy, congested chest. But rather than looking for a reason to skip, I decided that I would at least try and see what I could do. Nobody pushed me into it; I just decided on my own to try.

This . . . is kind of a big deal for me. I find that I’m spending less time looking for excuses not to do things, and more time looking for reasons to make things possible, or at least to give it a shot. Not just running, but all kinds of things. All kinds of things just seem more possible. I feel more capable. I’m looking forward to the future.

This is kind of a big deal for me.

Physical changes: I don’t own a scale, so I’m not sure if I’m losing weight. When I’m getting regular exercise, I find it much easier to eat reasonably, both in what and how much I eat. I’m focusing on just eating when I’m hungry no more than five times a day, stopping when I’m no longer hungry, and trying to get plants and protein and avoid sugar; so I know I’m healthier than I was six weeks ago. My days are less centered around hunting and gathering. The gin, however, stays in the picture.

I feel a lot less shame about my body. Even when I look in the mirror and see a body I’m not happy with, I see it as a working body, a trying body, and not the body of a loser. It’s not that fat people are losers, or that women who look like they’ve borne children are losers. But my body was, objectively, the body of someone who had given up. I had stopped trying to feel better, and that was no good, no matter how I looked to outsiders.

I’m definitely getting more toned. My belly is a little flatter, my hips are less blobby, and my legs and arms have more definition. I’m still fat. I will probably always be fat. This does not seem terrible to me (or to my husband, which helps a lot!).

And I’m sleeping better.
And I have more energy during the day.
I can be active longer without strain, and I can stay awake and alert for longer in the day.
And I’m setting a good example for the kids, who are thinking of doing the program themselves when school lets out.
Any my back doesn’t hurt all the time.
I think maybe my skin is clearer?
My mood is better, especially on running days.
And my posture is better. It’s easier, and it feels more natural, to sit up straight.
I’m looking forward to the summer, thinking about hiking and swimming and running around with the kids, rather than dreading feeling guilty about wasting the warm weather but feeling so draaaaaaained all the time.

I no longer look at running as some kind of alien, unreachable thing that people who are very, very different from me do. The program is really well designed, not pushing too hard or too fast, so you not only get your body in shape, but you gradually come around mentally, too, and start to think of running differently. I really admire the way it’s set up, with a good understanding of human psychology.

Things that help: We drive a little distance and then run in a secluded country road, where there is almost no traffic and it’s mostly level. This pic is from April 5. There’s less snow today!

We use the treadmill when the weather makes outdoor running actually dangerous (like when the road is covered with a sheet of wet ice), but the treadmill adds a whole level of difficulty and unpleasantness. Fresh air, room to move, and something to look at make a huge difference.

It would be harder to stick with this on my own. My husband and I encourage and motivate each other, and keep each other on track. Talking and laughing while we run also makes the time go by so much faster.

Music and distractions like Facebook help a ton on the treadmill. I prefer talking to my husband and listening to the birds and streams when we’re outside, but it helps a lot to have a song in my head, to keep to the beat.

General running tips that I remember from long ago. Correct me if I’m wrong about these!: keep your movements as smooth and gliding as possible; use your whole body, rather than just trotting with your legs; roll from heel to the ball of your foot when you step; try to extend each stride, rather than running faster; tip your chin up to keep your chest up and shoulders back, so you can get more air in your lungs; keep your hands low and your fingers and arms loose, rather than tightening them up around your chest like a fricking dinosaur; breathe in through your nose and out through your pursed lips, to keep the oxygen in your body as long as possible. Don’t forget to stretch before and after. Drink water!

My friends, I was circling the drain, but I’m fighting back! If I can do it, you can, too. (It doesn’t have to be Couch to 5K. It could be any firm decision to get moving and keep it up indefinitely.) I’m not special. I’m not radically reorganizing my life. I’m just ready to stop feeling terrible about everything all the time.

 

Valhalla Rising, cavemen farting, Terry Pratchett giving it a shot, and me running(!)

 

I’m watching . . .

Originalos (and Valhalla Rising)

Let’s say you’ve picked out a swell movie to watch, and everyone’s ready and snuggled up on the couch, except that one kid is still washing the dishes. Still. So what do you do? You watch a few episodes of Originalos. Here’s a representative sample:

Look, I’m not proud of it. In my defense, if you saw Irene laughing that long and hard at a farting caveman, you’d probably let her watch more, too. These 3-minute episodes are streaming on Amazon Prime.

We also watched Valhalla Rising (2009, directed by Nicolas Winding Refn, who directed Drive, which we loved) last night, and we’ll have a lot to say about it on this week’s podcast! (To join my super secret, super fun podcast club, see my Patreon page.) Here’s the trailer for Valhalla Rising:

Reading . . . 

Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Behind the curve as ever, I’m just now getting into Terry Pratchett, who played with words, and with ideas of futility, heroism, absurdity and hope, throughout 41 novels about Discworld. He died in 2015.

I did read Going Postal a few years ago, and was charmed and moved by the characters and dialogue but very confused by the plot. Guards! Guards! was much easier to follow, and very winsome and entertaining, as well as touching in parts. Looking forward to hanging around with Captain Vimes more, as well as that very, very interesting Patrician.

Guards! Guards! summary: In the human-all-too-human city of Ankh-Morpork, the canny leader of a secret society realizes that he’ll have the citizens in the palm of his hand if only he can find a champion to conquer the terrible dragon. Only there is no dragon, except for small, mostly-harmless pets. So he summons a big one. Things do not go as planned! The focus of the story is on The Watch, the ones you call when things go wrong, but you don’t really expect them to do anything. In fact, you count on them having no intention of doing something. Well, this time, they do something.

As far as I can see, this is a typical Pratchett theme: Everything has gone to hell, and there’s not much anyone can do about it. Still, for whatever reason, the one guy who knows better decides to give it a shot anyway, and make a stand for what he decides to believe is the right thing to do. (Pratchett fans, do I have that right?)

Listening to . . .

The Black Keys

Also not a new find, but I’ve rediscovered the Black Keys as excellent running music. Yarr, my husband and I are doing Couch to 5K. We’re on week three, when you have to run for three minutes at a time. This is only possible if I hide the fact that I’m running from as many of my senses as possible (especially since we’re celebrating spring with hail and slippery freezing rain; and, not wanting to die, we are running inside).

Here are a few Black Keys songs with a good beat for a slow, steady run:

“Gold On the Ceiling”:

“Tighten Up”:

“Fever” is a little brisker:

“Howlin’ For You” (which comes along with a satirical sexploitation revenge fantasy movie trailer that made me laugh so hard, I almost fell off the treadmill) (warning: stupid, but R-rated):

I welcome other suggestions for running music! I’m putting together a list, because I hear there is more running coming up in this fershlugginer program.

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Now your turn! What are you watching, reading, and listening to?

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Pratchett graffiti image by David Skinner via Flickr (Creative Commons)