Over a decade ago I was inspired by a revered and popular public figure who ran their first marathon sometime after turning 40. I said, "I'd like to do that one day - run a marathon - sometime in my 40's". Fast forward to November 3rd, 2010, and within minutes of the clock striking midnight, I cried myself to sleep. I had turned 40. My tears were not due to the actual number, but over the fact that my life didn't look like what I thought it would at this age. I was childless despite every effort not to be, and behind closed doors I was hopeless and lifeless. I had many broken dreams and a broken spirit to match.

A month after turning 40 I remembered my words all those years ago and asked my health care practitioner whether I'd be physically able to run a marathon (especially being 20kg / 45 pounds overweight), and if so - how long would I need to prepare. He replied, "12 months". I asked, "Would 11 be okay?" He nodded. That night I registered for the New York City Marathon and the next morning, I started my training program (which was written for me by an expert in aerobic endurance training). To ensure nothing stopped me from realising my dream (like luck in the lottery selection process), I registered with a charity and have a guaranteed place. I now have 9 months to go before I head to New York and realise my dream - running the marathon, three days after my 41st birthday.

This is my journey...

Thursday, 31 March 2011

Where have I been?

It's been a while since my fingers danced over this keyboard. I miss it. I have been so busy since Operation Pat that blogging became a luxury I could not afford.

I've been on a roller coaster ride this last month - too many ups downs twists and turns to tell all. Let's just say that I hit a stumbling block, fell over, licked my wounds and am on my way up again.

This journey has revealed so much. I'm not just talking about the emotional and mental journey - I was expecting that - it's been the physiological revelations that have been surprising, interesting and challenging.

Oh blow it, I will tell... maybe not all, just a snippet or three (dinner can wait).

Weeks 7 - 9 of my training marked my peak. I felt great. I had progressed from a shuffle to a run. I felt that I could go on for miles and miles, hours and hours. I was unstoppable. My MAF (Measure of Aerobic Fitness) test at the end of week 9 was my best ever - smashing my previous time by 7 and a half minutes. I felt like a super heroine that wore stars on her bra (or was it her undies?).

Then week 10, things turned around.

My long sessions had gone from spending 20 minutes in my AHRZ (Aerobic Heart Rate Zone) twice a week to 30 minutes four times a week. Previously my post-MAF test program adjustments had only ever seen 5-minute increases, and my 'long sessions' remained at two per week - that meant that with each program alteration, I had plenty of recovery time between long sessions to adapt to the increases in training time. The 10-minute jump and doubling the number of long sessions proved too much to bear.

*Please note that my training at this stage is based on time, not distance. It consists of 6 training days each week with a MAF test every 3 weeks. Each session has a minimum half hour component that does not vary. It is my 15-minute warm up and 15-minute cool down. This is not a token, but a critical component to the program. I must gradually raise and lower my heart rate. The variable element to the program is the time spent in my AHRZ (after warm up and before my cool down) and the frequency of my long sessions. This is the component that is altered in response to the results of the MAF test. It is a scientific method of building one's aerobic base whilst simultaneously minimising the chances of stress injuries. Very clever.

Weeks 10 - 12 was a period of physical struggle, which ultimately impacted me mentally and emotionally. My inability to recover between long sessions began to drain me, though this did not stop me from being faithful to my program. At the end of week 12, I did my MAF test - I had gone backwards by two and a half minutes.

What a blow.

I felt robbed.

Instead of being rewarded for pushing through the fatigue and being committed to my dream, I was penalised. The MAF test illustrated that I physically wasn't coping with the increase in training. Looking back it's plain to see that the increase was too much too soon. My body was trying to tell me something but I was too fixated with the program to listen. Perhaps I was afraid that I would slip back into being the lackadaisical person I once was.

The MAF test is a tool to track your progress and tweak your program accordingly. I used it as a weapon to beat myself up. As soon as I finished the test, I felt the bubble burst. I was angry, deflated, worried and disillusioned. I began to loose faith - in me, my program and my ability to restore myself physically, mentally and emotionally in time for November.

The day after my MAF test, Patrick had emergency back surgery. I had to put my woes aside to focus on him. The to-ing and fro-ing to the hospital, and the overnighter when Pat ran a high fever, had all but drained every ounce of energy I had left. I was exhausted.

Noticing my grey pallor, Patrick suggested we both recover by the seaside at my friend's beach house (merci ma belle amie xx). I found myself napping 2-3 hours a day (I'm not a 'napper' so that's INSANE for me) before heading out for my run - which sadly had returned to a shuffle. I dropped my training days from six days a week to three and on a good week, four. I was at my wits end.

Then slowly slowly, day by day, I began to feel better. Not great, but better.

I've kept up my training, though have cut back on the intensity and number of long sessions. I'm distinguishing the fine line between listening to my body and keeping up the running habit. I am continuing with my Traditional Chinese Medicine and acupuncture as well as getting a number of diagnostic tests done to see if there are any vitamin or mineral deficiencies that may have contributed to my fatigue. In a nutshell, I'm leaving no stone left unturned.

I have learnt that recovery is as important as the actual training. I know I've said it, but this experience has really driven the message home. Oh, and the MAF test is not a tool to beat yourself up with, but a measure to see how you're responding to the training and make necessary program adjustments.

So now you know where I've been... tomorrow I'll tell you where I'm going ;-)

Until then, know that there are times when you thrive and times when you survive. Do whatever it takes to survive so that in time you can get back to thriving - it's the best state to be in.

Grace xx

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Saturday Tip #4

Resilience is not measured by how long you can stay on your proverbial horse, but how quickly you remount after you’ve fallen off.
- Grace Mimmo Fitzpatrick (aka Zia Grace), 12th March 2011

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Operation Pat

You might be wondering what's happened to me.

Well, last week I was playing chauffeur to my husband Patrick taking him from one appointment to another - and this week, I've been playing nurse!

Rather than re-inventing the wheel that's already been re-invented, I'll just direct you to my hubby's blog post - which is actually a mutation of an email I wrote to some friends of ours.

So here it is... MicroDiscEctamy

Please pay extra special attention to the book Pat's reading - it's the basis of my training program and one that I highly recommend. I'll divulge more about the teachings of the book as my program develops.

Since my last MAF test on Saturday 26th February, I've gone backwards in my aerobic fitness despite being faithful to my training (have I already told you this?). Anyway, long story short - since that day, I've been a bit stagnant (in life) as a result of my over training, under resting and over stressing (not to mention my husband having emergency surgery last Sunday). I have managed a few training sessions over this last week, but each time I head out I'm completely exhausted and feel like I'm running in jelly (this really is starting to feel like déjà vu - I'm sure I've told you this before, no?)


We're looking at taking time out at our friend's beach shack along the coast for some much needed R&R. I'm looking forward to resuming my training with full gusto alongside the beach, while Pat does his rehab walking exercises. Assuming Patrick is discharged tomorrow, we'll be sleeping there tomorrow night - can't wait!

Once again, it's nearing midnight so I must bid you adieu.

Until next time... if you've derailed, do whatever it takes to get back on track.

Grace xx

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The cost of an overactive brain

You may recall some time ago I sought out acupuncture in an attempt to improve my rest and recovery. Since then I've been getting regular treatment, which leaves me feeling deliriously relaxed at the end of each session. While this is great on my acupuncture days, it hasn't exactly stopped my brain from working overtime in between appointments - which is becoming a bit of a concern.

Having an overactive brain has had a dominoes effect from lack of sleep, to frustration and fatigue. All this has had an alarmingly negative effect on my training - not to mention my writing and even speaking. But for the sake of this blog, let's just focus on the road to New York.

Despite being loyal to my running schedule, my lack of quality rest and recovery has seen a downturn in my aerobic capacity. This is measured by a MAF test (Measure of Aerobic Fitness) that I do every three weeks to track my progress - or in this case, regress.

My MAF test consists of a 15-minute warm up before timing how quickly I can run 4km / 2.5miles whilst remaining within my aerobic heart rate zone (mine is 125-135 bpm). I made great gains over the first 9 weeks (over 7 minutes), however this last 3-week block has seen me go backwards.

This has been so disheartening.

My delight in yesterday's milestone was short lived after waking up completely exhausted today (I had another late and restless night last night). It's now edging towards midnight, I have a busy weekend ahead and as I type these words I can feel my shoulders tensing and my jaw clenching.

I have come to the realisation that I have to manage this entire situation pronto or I could really do damage to the fruition of my dream. This may or may not impact my daily blogging - that will be revealed.

So for now I'll just say - until next time... know when to baton down the hatches as the seas rise.

Grace xx

'Idea grow on Brain' is by Malaysian artist Joanna Lim, who wants to show her artwork to the world. World, here is Joanna's artwork.

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Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A personal milestone

There was once a time when I would drive past Albert Park Lake (aka Melbourne's Formula 1 Grand Prix track) and enviously watch runners glide past thinking "Gee, I'd love to do that".

My first ever lap around the lake was with my mountain bike some years ago and I remember thinking that in itself was an achievement (all you hardcore MTB'ers are allowed to laugh at that).

You see, doing a lap of Albert Park Lake isn't exactly far - nor is it mountainous - it's just under 5kms / 3miles of flat sandy terrain. However it's the fact that you can see all the way around that has you thinking "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

This morning I had an introduction to Pilates (I'm a late bloomer) near the lake and planned to run around it afterwards, which is precisely what I did. I'd left the detachable transmitting part of my heart rate monitor at home, so I was jogging by feeling rather than digital feedback.

Not monitoring my heart rate meant that I had nothing to really focus on. I was able to look around, take a dozen self portraits documenting this momentous occasion and, dare I say it, think. I started getting bored and the words "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?" chimed in my mind. I looked at my watch "Gosh, I've only been running 15 minutes!"

I had a mini panic attack "Oh my goodness, what happens if this occurs during the New York Marathon? Feel like I've been running for hours and it's only a few minutes? How will I get through it?"

Then the self coaching kicked in...

"Grace, you're running in a circle. You can see clearly across the lake - where you've come from and where you're going to. When you run through the suburban streets, you can only see the road ahead before it twists and turns. Just focus on what's in front of you and not the end".

So I continued to run around and focus on the time and not the distance. I could see the path whizzing underneath the gaze upon my watch. Before I knew it, I'd done it. I ran around Albert Park Lake. I had achieved a personal milestone - I had become that person that I once envied - and in the process, I learned a lesson...

Do not focus on the end. Just know that it's there and tis where you are heading, but do not fixate on it. Instead, focus only at the task at hand - what is right there in front of you. Devoting your focus on that will take you swiftly (and seemingly effortlessly) to the end.

Until tomorrow, keep the end in mind but focus only on the steps that'll take you there - you'll arrive feeling so much better. Oh, and avoid running around in circles ;-)

Grace xx

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Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Bloggy birthday to me...

Today marks 1 year since I started blogging.

I launched Project Grace 2010 on this day last year, which was supposed to be an 8-month mission to find myself along with my long lost mojo before turning 40 in November. My birthday came and went and I continued to blog.

On the first day of 2011, I invented Trailing Grace - though between you and me, I think it was ahead of its time as I discovered very few people wanted to trail a yet-to-be-somebody. It wasn't long before 9MonthsToNewYork was born, which is attracting far more interest - thus inspiring me to deliver daily.

I look at my life now and how it has transformed over the past 12-months. In a word, ENORMOUSLY.

My spirit has been revived, as has faith in myself. Each day brings greater clarity and with it comes strength and conviction. Just as the erosion of my spirit was a gradual decay, the rebuilding has been an equally slow and steady process. I feel that if we're not going in one direction in life, we're heading in another (usually the complete opposite). I am so grateful that after hitting the bottom, I am gently heading upwards. Phew.

I attribute 99.9% of this about turn to my blogging. It has provided me with an open form of expression. I type almost as fast as I can talk, therefore my fingers have become an extension of my thoughts and feelings (it's wild). Blogging has been an amazing journey, and one that I do not want to end anytime soon.

As much as we bloggers like to say "We do it for ourselves", let's be honest in admitting that having an audience has an impact - a big one at that. It's what separates blogging from a personal diary. I've tried the latter and it bored me. Blogging moves me. Knowing that I might entertain, engage, inspire, inform, delight, distract and / or challenge you, the reader, fills me with an enormous sense of pleasure. That's the reward.

It's not about money, it's not about fame (though either or both would be welcome), it's about connection. That's why I do it. I love to share my journey - what lessons I've learned, challenges I've overcome and tips I've discovered. In the process, I feel connected and that's what keeps me coming back day after day, week after week.

It is due to you being you, that allows me to be person that I want to be - one who is fully self expressed, open in communication and strong in vulnerability. For that, I am very grateful.

Until tomorrow, remember to give heartfelt thanks when opportunity presents itself - despite not knowing what happened to the 0.1%.

Grace xx

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