Runner Vs. Team Sports

My parents encouraged team sports all childhood long, but like wearing my retainer and eating less butter, the pastime never really stuck.

Sure, I chased soccer balls in the fall and struck out looking each spring, but it became clear pretty early on that I wasn’t really of the team sport variety: I wasn’t a natural-born athlete, ducked when pop-flies came my way and happily spent most of my time warming the bench and/or eating orange slices at halftime without having even broken a sweat.

photo 2
Androgyny is the new cool.
They say team sports have all sorts of benefits for youth — they teach collaboration, boost self-esteem, foster clear communication — but I never loved the pressure of performing athletic feats in front of my peers the way some of my friends did. I tended to think exercise was best completed in solitude — plugged into an elliptical with headphones, say, or running five miles to the sound of my own footsteps — and that’s the position I’ve largely maintained these past 31 years.

So it came as a surprise to everyone — primarily me — when I accepted a friend’s invitation to join her indoor volleyball team this winter. It helped her case that she classified it as “very casual” and “likely to involve a decent amount of post-game drinking,” but mostly I said yes because I’d resolved at New Years to be more active this year in non-traditional ways. I’d expected that would mean trying new gym routines (success!) or walking more dogs (success!), but when the opportunity presented itself in the form of organized team sports, it felt like a sign from the universe that it was time to expand my comfort zone.

So I signed up, and — in a semi state of panic — arrived at my first match last month ready to embarrass everyone.

And you know what? I wasn’t as god awful terrible as I expected! I may not have a lot of hand-eye coordination and my erratic bumps tend to send the ball flying in any number of directions, but at least my serves score points and my 70″ frame means I can block a hit as it’s coming over the (arguably extremely low) net. Better yet, I’m getting fit in a new kind of way AND being social doing it, a win-win for this solitary runner.

Let’s pretend this wasn’t taken immediately after I lost the game for everyone. Cool, thanks.

So is volleyball my new sport of choice, and will I be forgoing my weekend long runs for spiking practice and King of the Court? Heck no. But am I excited it looks like we might possibly eke out the final spot in the playoffs? You betcha. The funny thing about stepping out of your comfort zone is once you’re there, it’s tempting to stay. 

Go Team Gary. 


On the Rocks

There are a couple tenets of my workout policy that I’d thought were non-negotiables: always hydrate before a run, carry a $20 in case of emergencies, think heavily about stretching (though don’t actually do it) and wear a hat when the sun’s shining bright:

Keira says: “Haven’t you used this photo before? If only there were other dogs in your life you could photograph for blog usage…”

But the most sacrosanct principle of my fitness routine was always this: Permanently keep one foot on the ground. Or in other words, no aerial yoga, no box jumps, no aerobatics, no hang gliding. You heard me: Nothing that has this height-adverse athlete working against gravity, because, my god, up-high things are terrifying. (Kind of like opening my news app every morning to see what monstrosities I missed overnight. But I digress.)

So it must have been a bout of temporary insanity — or fine, the love of a good deal — when on Black Friday I signed up for a half-price 10-pack of visits at a local rock climbing gym. I assumed I’d never actually climb, but the gym also offered yoga classes at convenient times, and I’ve been aiming to freshen up my practice.

And for the first five visits, that’s all I did – downward dog (with two feet on the ground), upward dog (with two feet on the ground), talk about getting a dog (with two feet on the ground.)

But as I walked by the climbers each visit on the way to the yoga studio, I started to get envious. They all looked so cool and so calm and so collected and so badass. Even more important: a lot of them looked like me. I’d thought climbers would be all muscle with clear superiority in the upper body strength department, but many of the men and women I saw making their way up the walls looked, well, kind of normal. At least, as normal as you can look doing something so freakishly unnatural as the human body moving vertically.

Or vertically and semi-upside-down. I mean, seriously?

So I suppressed my fears and signed up for an intro climbing class, bringing a friend along to witness what I expected would be a 50-foot drop to my death. And you know what?

IT WAS TERRIFYING! But also super exhilarating. After we learned to tie ourselves into our harnesses and belay for our friends with two feet firmly on the ground, we hit the climbing walls. Most of the climbs, I — shaking with fear — asked to repel down only halfway up the wall, but a few times, I made it all the way to the top, and that was the Coolest. Feeling. Ever. So I went back last night and did it all over again.

And wore this sweet harness.

I didn’t know what kind of workout rock-climbing would be, especially for someone as cautious as me, but it was definitely a sweat-inducing! Today, my upper back and forearms ache that way muscles only do after they haven’t been used in years. I’ve since done some googling, and it seems rock-climbing can burn as many calories as jogging per hour, plus it tones all kinds of muscles from your forearms to your calves to your obliques. Believe me when I say my typing muscles feel particularly warmed up this morning after gripping at tiny handholds for 60 minutes last night.

The best thing about rock climbing? Unless you like the auto-belay, which is a terrifying experiment in throwing yourself from a great height and hoping a machine catches you, you do most of your climbing with a belay partner — a cool experience for a solo runner like me who’s almost always working out in an isolated state. I befriended a couple in the intro class and convinced them to go with me again last night, and — Horray! — none of us dropped each other to our violent ends! Success!

I don’t think climbing will ultimately take the place of running in my heart — it’s too expensive long-term, requires too much gear and demands a bit more planning than just lacing up and running, but having another sport in my repertoire? It rocks.

Have you ever exercised against gravity? Sandra Bullock and George Clooney, I’m talking to you. #2013moviejokes #Ican’tbelievethatmovieisalreadysoold


Chicken Broth, Part Deux

Congratulations! You’ve now made your own chicken stock!

(That is, assuming you treat my blog like a life coach and did exactly what I suggested in last week’s post. And if you DO do everything I recommend in my blog, you should probably rethink your life choices… and return that golden doodle you stole.)

“Nah, I’m cool here.”

But really, this is the question I find myself grappling with every time I make homemade chicken stock. Now that I have it, what do I DO with it?

We all know chicken stock is great for us — it aids digestion, it’s rich with minerals, it helps beef up immunity against colds — but finding ways to use it beyond chicken noodle soup sometimes takes a little creative thinking. Fortunately, I’ve done it for you. Hashtag you’re welcome.

Here are a few ways I use up a big batch of broth, and I’m open to all your additional recipes and suggestions, because lord knows I can always use more.

  1. Cook a giant batch of grains in it. We’re talking risotto, rice, quinoa, couscous, farro, bulgar, kamut, sorghum, boogabooga, or any number of other funny-named foodstuffs that are now in vogue. [Note: One of the words in that list is made-up. The rest are, amazingly enough, real words.] A big batch of quinoa cooked in broth tastes a million times more interesting than a batch cooked in water.
  2. Boil up some lentils. The UN General Assembly declared 2016 the International Year of Pulses, and for good reasons: these little nutritional powerhouses are packing a healthy punch. Dried lentils are some of the most economic and greenest protein sources out there, so throw them into a pot of broth with a bay leaf and some spices, and let them amaze you.
  3. Make some soup. But it doesn’t have to be chicken noodle! This butternut squash/pear soup from my mama’s repertoire is a delicious way to put your homemade broth to good use. Or try this paleo sausage and kale soup, which has graced our kitchen table at least forty-five times this winter.
  4. Freeze it. When in doubt, load your broth into freezable containers and deal with it later. In addition to freezing cup and quart size batches, I also recommend freezing an ice cube tray worth of chicken broth. You can defrost these tiny portions quickly for when you need to deglaze a pan or braise greens or want to make a miniature bowl of soup for a mouse.

How do you put your wholesome chicken broth to good use? “I use it to lure away unsuspecting golden doodles” is a fair answer.