Racing for the Joy of It Can Be More Rewarding Than Racing for a Personal Record

31 May

Over the past five years, my racing goals have been fairly simple…improve my time from the previous race, also known as setting a personal record. But that focus changed recently, and it was an epiphany for me.
I had the joy of running the Big Sur International Marathon this year. Running experts say this course is one of the most beautiful marathon courses in the world. I chose to run Big Sur because the race fell on my 49th birthday and several of my friends decided to run it with me. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend the day than doing what I love with people I love.

When I was training for this race, my strategy was to take my time and not worry about achieving a personal record. I wanted to truly enjoy the beauty of the course because I might never have the opportunity to run it again. I felt it would be a shame to rush through the experience trying to get to the finish line as fast as I could.
Big Sur has so many unique course components. The first icon is running through five miles of giant redwoods for the first five miles of the course. This part of the course is a gentle downhill that’s mostly shaded and a relaxing way to warm up for the long miles ahead. A less relaxing, but equally majestic aspect of the course is Hurricane Point, a two mile ascent from miles ten through twelve. As I started up the hill to Hurricane Point, the Taiko Drummers were there to energize all of us for the two climb. The beat of their drums made me pick up my pace because the winds had died down a bit, and I was ready to attack the climb. Things get very quiet here as runners stop chatting to focus on the task ahead and the lush green hills decorated with wild flowers. As we climb the hill, we hear the sound of the grand piano playing, another unique aspect of this course. You lose the sound of the piano from time to time during the ascent, but when you crest Hurricane Point and head downhill, you hear the music clearly. The pianist’s music filled our hearts and souls. Several of us, including me, were moved to tears. We crossed the beautiful Bixby Bridge. The scenery from the bridge is astounding. Between the scenery and the piano, mile 13 was one of the highlights of the course and a great way to mark the halfway point of the journey. I couldn’t imagine rushing through this race.

By mile 20 I had only been running three hours and fifty minutes. I knew I had plenty of time to finish the race in the six hour limit, so I slowed my pace down a bit more to take in some of the most beautiful parts of the course. One spot was so spectacular; I stopped for a minute to stare at the beauty. The waves were crashing on the rocks and beach, the sun was shining on the ocean and you could hear and feel the wind blowing. It was amazing.

At mile 23 we were told to be sure to take a handful of fresh strawberries at the aid station. This is another one of the unique aspects of this course. Since I was in no hurry, I stopped and enjoyed the berries while I thanked the volunteers for taking the time to cut the tops off for us. At about mile 25 we were told to breath deep to smell the eucalyptus in the air. I’ve never smelled anything like that. It was so fresh and clean. It was truly breathtaking. That breath of fresh air gave me all the energy I needed to pick up my pace and sprint for the finish.

At the finish line I was given the ultimate birthday gift…a Big Sur International Marathon finisher’s medal and lots of memories of the most enjoyable marathon I’d ever run.

The next weekend, some women who are recovering addicts that I volunteer to train and help with their fitness and nutrition were running the Flying Pig 5k and Flying Pig 10k. Since I didn’t want to play favorites, I decided to run both races…back to back. These women had been training hard for these races for several months and I was honored to be able to run with them and share the experience with them.

The 10k race was first. Only a few of the women ran that one. I had run a 5k last summer with one of the women. During the 5k, she was still smoking and the race was really hard for her, but she was still one of the fastest of all the women in the program. For the 10k, she was race ready. She had quit smoking and had learned the art of finding her pace. We ran most of the race with a few walk breaks. The smile on her face when she finished was amazing. She was so proud of her accomplishment and how far she’d come from her 5k race last summer. I was so proud of her and the others who all finished not far behind us.

After the 10k, I had just enough time to run to my car and change race numbers. Most of the women in the program were running the 5k. They all ran at a different speed so I chose to run with one of the newer women whose daughter was running the race, but wasn’t running with her. She was one of the few in the program who was running alone because her pace was different than everyone else’s. When she first came to the program, she never thought she could run a step, much less 3.1 miles. But that day, she ran most of the race with just a few walk breaks. There were two highlights of this race for me. The first one came when she saw a steep hill we needed to climb. She looked at me and said, “Miss Lauren, I want to run up this hill.” I looked at her and said, “Let’s do it!” She attacked that hill like a pro and everyone around her walking up that hill started cheering. The look of pride and accomplishment on her face was priceless. I will have a memory of that moment in my head and my heart for the rest of my life. We took a short walk break at the top after she showed that hill who was the boss and then began running again a few minutes later. We walked a little more but I told her that whatever she did, she needed to save enough energy to run her fastest when we got close to the finish line. She did just that. She crossed the finish line with a smile on her face and her daughter waiting to greet her. I told her how proud I was of her and how honored I was to run with her. She smiled and said the honor was hers to run with me. She said she couldn’t believe that I would run at her pace and run the entire race with her. I told her I wouldn’t have had it any other way. It was truly a joy for me to run with her and see her progress on her personal journey.

After we finished the 10k, we waited for the others to come down the approach to the finisher’s chute. We cheered so loud you would think people could hear us for a mile. It was so great to see all of them finish the race and feel that sense of accomplishment for their hard work and dedication during their training.
One of the many nice things about the Flying Pig is that everyone gets a finishers medal. So, all the women not only had a sense of accomplishment, but they had a medal to remind them of how far they have come in their recovery and running journey.

When I got home that afternoon, I was hanging my medals up on a medal hanger I have in my hallway. I looked at the Big Sur medal and the Flying Pig 5k and 10k medals and felt this rush of joy wash over me like a warm spring rain. That joy came from the realization that sometimes it’s not how fast you finish the race that matters. What matters is the journey and taking your time to really enjoy the experience. I think racing for the pure joy of it will be my new racing goal.

You really are what you eat.

17 Apr

One of the things I stress with my clients is the importance of keeping a food and exercise log.  There are several reasons for this.  First, statistics show that people who keep a food and exercise diary are much more successful in achieving their weight loss and health goals than those who don’t.  Second, it can be fun to see your progress and the best way to measure that is by keeping a log. Last, it’s a great tool for me, as a trainer, to be able to give clients input on things they can do to improve their diet, exercise performance, etc.

To help my clients with this process, I have them use a tracking program.  One of the components of this program is that it emails me their log each week.  This way, I can see exactly what they ate, what exercise they did and monitor their progress and make suggestions.

One of my clients started running in the last year or so.  He has been running 5k races and doing very well, but now he wants to move up to longer distances.  When he hired me, we talked about his training goals.  He had two: increase endurance and lose the last 10 pounds he hasn’t been able to drop since he started running.

As someone who has been an endurance athlete for more than five years, I told my client that his nutrition would be the key driver in meeting his goals.  It’s the old saying, garbage in, garbage out.  We talked about how and what he ate and how he could improve his nutrition with some simple changes.  Keep in mind he’s married with kids, so I suggested he might want to consider eating different things than his wife and kids.

I get his report the first week with him using the tracking program.  He is following the training program I designed for him exactly.  I’m very pleased.  Then I take a look at his food log.  I see what he ate, the amount of saturated fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium.  It’s way too high, especially for achieving his two goals.  His fiber is also lower than it should be.  I email him that I’m really pleased and proud of how well he’s following the exercise component of the training plan, but I had some suggestions regarding his nutrition.  I explained the areas he needed to reduce and why and that he also needed to increase his fiber intake.  One of the areas I explained he could fix easily was breakfast.  He was eating a frosted cereal with vanilla almond milk.  I recommended he eat a whole grain cereal, such as oatmeal or shredded wheat with skim milk and some egg whites.  I told him I eat a bowl of plain oatmeal and 5-6 egg whites every morning for breakfast because it’s a lean breakfast that gives me healthy fuel to start my day.

A few minutes after I hit the send button, I get a call from him.  Here’s how the conversation went:

Client: “While you’re my trainer, I also consider you my friend.  So, I’m going to tell you this and hope you take it in the context in which it’s meant, which is a complement and a bit of constructive criticism. You’re a food freak!”

Me: “So what’s your point,” I say laughing.  I then go on to tell him that I will give him the same response I give my public relations clients and that is that you pay me to give you the best possible advice.  However, it’s entirely up to you whether you take it or not.

My client laughs too, but goes on to say he is really not interested in being as diligent with his nutrition as I am.  I tell him that I understand that his nutrition is up to him.  But I’m still going to continue to give him the best advice possible regarding his diet and exercise.  What he does with that advice is his decision.

The next week, I see his diary…it’s about the same; however I see some small changes that I’m pleased with.  This time my email is a bit gentler in light of our conversation the previous week. Again, I tell him how happy I am with his training workouts and that my comments about his nutrition haven’t changed much from the prior week.  I encouraged him to continue to make small, positive changes such as the ones we talked about and ones his log shows he made since we spoke the previous week.  I closed by saying the most important thing is for him to be cognizant of the amount of saturated fat, cholesterol, sugar and sodium he’s consuming and realize those choices have an impact on his goals.

Moments after I hit send, the phone rings.  It’s my client.  But this time, he’s telling me he’s really looking at the packages more, realizing that this one product he really likes and thought was a good choice, really isn’t because while it’s marketed as a low calorie ice cream dessert, it has a significant amount of fat in it and almost of all that fat is saturated fat!  While he cannot see my face, I’m fairly sure he can hear that I’m smiling by the tone of my voice. I tell him that being aware of what you’re eating is half the battle.  Making better choices is the other half.

In the months following these conversations, his awareness about what he eats and the food choices he’s making continue to improve.  He’s on his way to a successful journey into better nutrition and achieving his goals.  And I’m proud and honored to be with him on this journey.

Change is a choice when it comes to your health.

9 Apr

Here are actual stories of people I know.

Last year, one of my closest friends was diagnosed with breast cancer. There is no history of cancer in her family. So, once we got over the shock, we all went into information gathering mode. We gave her books, names of the best doctors and a list of a variety of other resources.

One of her coworkers, who is a breast cancer survivor, gave her a book that is considered to be one of the best and most complete on the subject. My friend read the book cover to cover and called me to say, “I need to make some serious changes, and I need your help.”

One of the key things the book talked about was the importance of healthy eating and drinking habits. It talked about research that says certain bad eating and drinking habits may increase your chances of getting cancer and that a healthy diet may help prevent certain types of cancer and help prevent it from coming back once you’ve had it. So we set out together to change her nutrition for the better.

On her own, she immediately said, I have had my last soda and alcoholic beverage of any kind. She was not a heavy drinker to begin with, but she was committed to give that up. She has stuck to her commitment, and I know she will continue to do so. She also committed to being more diligent about drinking more water each day. So, she had the beverage battle under control.

Now it was time for us to work on the nutrition battle. She is an executive with a large company. She works long hours. Her husband owns a business and works long hours too. They often go out to eat because they’re tired when they get home and she doesn’t feel like cooking.

To be successful, I knew it would come down to choices. So, we talked about what types of things she should order when they go out to dinner, how to order them, etc. We also talked about what types of foods she traditionally cooks, which ones are healthy choices and which ones are not. We talked about the types of foods she keeps on hand and how to upgrade those foods to healthier options such as brown rice instead of white rice, wheat pasta instead of regular pasta, having more fresh fruits and vegetables and buying leaner proteins. She did all these things.

Next, her doctor told her due to the type of cancer she had, she would need to exercise every day for the rest of her life. She dusted off the treadmill they’d had for years and began using it every day.

The outcome is that she has lost 51 pounds in about nine months and plans to lose about 25 more pounds in the months to come. She looks great. She feels great. And the reason for that is she made the choice to live a healthy life in order to save her life. I’m so proud of her. But I have to say, I’m not surprised. When she puts her mind to something, she achieves it and this lifestyle change is no different.

On the other hand, I know someone whose husband just had his fourth heart attack and fourth surgical procedure. His doctors have been saying for years that he needs to drop a significant amount of weight because he is morbidly obese. The doctors have told him he needs to improve his diet and get some exercise. He hasn’t heeded the warnings from his doctors or the heart attacks.

Then there are some acquaintances that have Type 2 diabetes. One is a couple the other is a widow. The doctor told the couple they needed to improve their diet and get some exercise. They weren’t interested in that. Today, they’re on insulin. The widow joined Weight Watchers but wasn’t really sticking to the program. Because of that, she wasn’t losing much weight. So, she decided to have surgery to try to help her eat less. There was a complication with the procedure and she was miserable for several weeks. Her weight loss since the surgery has been about a pound a week…safe weight loss, but not any different than what she could have done if she was willing to modify her diet and improve her exercise. She is also still insulin dependent, even after the surgery.

Studies show that making healthy lifestyle changes such as improving your diet and getting more exercise can reduce or prevent heart disease and can prevent or reverse Type 2 diabetes.

I’m always stunned by people like this. I cannot understand why they won’t make simple, safe, inexpensive changes to improve their health, increase their longevity and take steps to insure they’re around for the ones they love for many years to come.

What it comes down to is choice and willingness to change. Nobody can make the choice for you and nobody can force you to change. You have to choose to change your life and improve your health. If and when you’re ready to do that, I’m here to help you.

The joy and reward of loving your work and the people you work with.

22 Mar

I consider myself very fortunate.  For nearly 20 years I’ve been an entrepreneur.  I thoroughly enjoy owning Abel Associates Public Relations (www.abelpr.com), the first company I founded.  Over the past two decades, I’ve helped my clients get the recognition they deserve for their community service work, the innovative ways they run their businesses and much more.  It’s very rewarding seeing good people and good companies acknowledged for their efforts and ingenuity. I look forward to the next decade of owning this company.

This year, I founded another company, Abel Fitness Training (www.abelfitness.com).  This company focuses on corporate wellness through nutrition and fitness education and training.  As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog, I view corporate fitness as a component of public relations.  Not a day goes by that I am not grateful to be able to spend my days doing the two things I love most…public relations and helping people and companies get healthy.

Most of the people and companies I work with have been with me for at least 10 years. Some have been with me as long as I’ve been in business.  So, it’s understandable that I don’t just consider these people clients.  I think of them as friends…some of them are like family.  The business and personal relationships we share bring me great joy and fulfillment.

Over the weekend, the American Heart Association hosted the 35th annual Heart Mini Marathon.  The race offers a 5k, 15k and half marathon.  I have been helping to train two executives that I have known and respected for 15 years.  Their goal is to walk their first half marathon in Indianapolis in early May.  The Heart Mini 15k was a training race to help them gauge their progress and work out any gear or fueling issues for their goal race.

These two women are very driven.  When they put their minds to something, they do it…whether it’s for work or for personal reasons.  So, I had no doubt in my mind they would follow the training plan and be successful in achieving their goal.  But there is more to training than just doing the workouts.  Endurance races require other types of preparation including proper nutrition, hydration, training gear, etc.  So part of my job was to make sure they were fully equipped with what they needed to have a successful and enjoyable race experience at the Heart Mini and at their goal race.

Race day approaches.  I send them a checklist of things they need to do in the days prior to the race.  I’ve fine-tuned this list over the last 6 years with my own training experiences, so my clients get the benefit of that.  I know this dynamic duo is race ready and I feel good that they’re going to have a great race experience.

All races are special in their own way.  But a first race at a particular distance is extra special.  This is their first 15k.  I know how they’re feeling…excited, anxious and lots of other things.  This is also their first race that they will get a medal when they finish.  And that is something special because it’s a tangible acknowledgement of their incredible accomplishment.

In my final email to them on Friday, I wish them good luck because I may not see them in the crowd on race day.  They know I’m running the half marathon.  What they don’t know is that I plan to be waiting for them a couple blocks from the finish line.

I finished my race and went to meet my fellow Pain by Numbers running group friends at our tent, which is in the perfect spot to see people approaching the finish line.  I hang out with my friends as we cheer people to the finish…a few we know, most we don’t.  Runners are that way.  We support and take care of our own. 

I know the pace goal my friends have set.  I look at my watch and just as I comment to one of my running friends that my friends should be coming by us soon, I see Debbie and the look of determination in her eyes as she spots the finish line in the distance.  She’s so focused on her goal, she doesn’t realize I’m there cheering until I get right next to her and say, “Let’s go. I’m running you in.”  As we’re heading toward the finisher’s chute, I ask her, “Where’s Ginny?”  She says she’s right behind us and we’ll meet her at the finish. As we run towards the finish, I tell Debbie how proud she should be and how proud I am of her.  She just smiles and keeps saying, “I can’t believe you’re here and you waited for me.”  I told her I wouldn’t have missed seeing her finish her first big race.  As we get close to the timing mats, I say, “It’s all yours now.”  She looks at me and says, “Aren’t you going to finish with me?”  I replied, “This is your race and your photo opportunity.  I’ll see you on the other side of the timing mats. Go!”

As I watched Debbie cross that finish line, I had tears of joy in my eyes.  I knew exactly how she was feeling.  And I was thrilled to be there to share that experience with her.  Moments later, Ginny crossed the finish line and we were there waiting for her.  She had the same look in her eyes…a look of accomplishment and pride.  The photographers at the finish line can’t capture that look. Being there is the only way to truly see it, feel it and experience it.  It’s priceless. After I gave them both one more hug, I said, “Let’s get the medals that you’ve earned!” Once again, seeing the look on their faces as they got their first finishers medals was incredible. 

After they had a few minutes to admire their new hardware, I told them that they should be proud of their accomplishment for several reasons. Seasoned runners and walkers will be the first to say that the Heart Mini course is very tough due to its relentless hills.  First-timers finishing in under their goal time is remarkable. Also, because the Heart Mini course is so much harder than the half marathon course they’re racing in May, I made it clear to them that they should have no doubt about their ability to complete the half marathon, and I knew they would do so successfully.

On Monday, I got an email from Debbie thanking me for being at the finish line. She said, “You have no idea how it felt to see you there waiting and going that last block with me. Having you run that last block with me warmed my heart.”  Ginny also sent me an email, thanking me for the tips, checklists, etc.  She said Sunday was a great day for her, but the best part was when I told her that based upon the race she just finished, she would do well in Indianapolis. 

You’ve heard the saying, do what you love and love what you do.  I am living that every day.  And the fact that I love the people I work with makes it even more amazing.

Corporate Fitness is a Public Relations Opportunity

7 Mar

When I started Abel Fitness Training (www.abelfitness.com)  to help companies improve the fitness of their workforces, everyone who knows me asked the same question.  They wanted to know if I was closing my public relations firm, Abel Associates (www.abelpr.com).   I told them absolutely not!  The two companies were highly compatible and would operate accordingly.

When I made that comment, some people understood what I meant immediately.  Others gave me a puzzled look.  For those who seemed puzzled, I went on to explain.

Abel Associates knows public relations. We understand that public relations is all about perception, and perception is reality. How a company’s internal publics (employees) and external publics (clients, prospects, vendors, etc.) see the company reflects directly on the company’s public image.

Studies show that people who are fit are viewed much more positively than people who are not fit. So if your workforce is fit, logic says your external publics will have a more positive impression of you. Studies also show unfit workers cost American companies billions of dollars annually in absenteeism, lost productivity and higher healthcare costs. Companies that help their workforces become healthier are sending a message that they care. Employees who feel valued and respected are more loyal and that saves companies money in lower turnover. The bottom line is that a fit workforce is a not just a good investment, it’s good public relations.

I’ve had my public relations firm for 20 years. I’m passionate about P.R.  I’m equally passionate about fitness and helping people get healthy.  Now I’m getting to share my expertise in both of my work passions to help others.  I can’t think of anything more rewarding than that.

Welcome to the Abel Fitness blog

27 Feb

To start this blog, I think it’s important for you to know why I’m so passionate about fitness and a healthy lifestyle.  Here is my story: Lauren Abel Before and After photos

In 1996, I was 33 years old and went to my family doctor for my annual physical…I’d gained 10 pounds from the year before, but I was still at a nearly healthy weight for my size and age. I told the doctor I was eating healthy and exercising daily and asked her if she had any suggestions on how to prevent this from continuing.  She said, “Cut your calories and increase your exercise.” So I did.  The next year I was up ten more pounds.  We had this same conversation for four consecutive years. By that time, I had gained a total of 40 pounds, I was eating 500-700 calories a day and walking one to two hours a day and I was obese.  The doctor didn’t seem concerned or interested in my weight since my cholesterol, triglycerides and sugar levels were all in the healthy range.  But that was no consolation to me.  I was heavy, hungry and frustrated that she wasn’t giving me any answers to my problem.  I realized if I was going to get answers, I was going to have to find them on my own.  And I did.

I found a book that explained why I was gaining weight, and I started my fitness and weight loss journey in 2000.  The book made me realize that I got heavy from not eating enough and exercising too much.  I shut my body’s metabolism down and what little I ate, my body was storing as fat.  Most people are just the opposite.  They eat too much and don’t exercise enough.  What I learned is regardless of how you became unhealthy, nutrition and knowing how to fuel your body properly is the key to better fitness and health.

By 2001 I had lost 60 pounds.  How did I do it?  By eating five healthy meals a day and eating every three hours.  As for exercise, I started with walking.  As my fitness level increased, I added some strength training with free weights at home along with squats, lunges, pushups and crunches.  Eventually, I took up running, swimming and cycling.  I ran my first marathon in 2008 and did my first triathlon that year too.  Since then, I’ve done numerous marathons, ultra marathons and triathlons.

I was so empowered by my fitness journey I began helping friends and clients get fit because I wanted them to feel as healthy and happy as I did.

As I kept hearing about obesity and diabetes epidemics in the United States, I realized it was time to take my quest to help people get healthy and fit to a whole new level.  I became a Certified Personal Fitness Trainer and Certified Sports Nutrition Specialist and started Abel Fitness Training. But I think my most impressive set of credentials is my story.  I am living proof that armed with the right nutritional information, willingness to get your body moving and the desire to be healthy; you and the people in your company can get fit too.

My friends and clients say my passion for fitness and healthy living is contagious.  I encourage you to contact me, so you and your employees can catch what I have.  You won’t regret it!