Why’s exercise walking so tough?

I love to walk. It’s a chance to get outdoors, breathe fresh air, clear my mind. Exercise walking takes no special equipment, just some decent shoes and for those of us who are fair-skinned, sunscreen. I can walk my dog, walk with a friend, or my personal favorite, walk by myself. I can catch up on podcasts, an audiobook, music or just think my own thoughts in silence.

So what’s the problem?

In a word, self-judgment.


Stanford Dish Oct 2012 - 3 - exercise-walking


I can’t walk just for the pleasure of it. I worry about whether I’m walking briskly, burning enough calories, keeping my heart rate up. Add to that the mental distractions. If I walk in our neighborhood, I brood over how many people are remodeling their homes. I start to worry when, if ever, my husband and I will replace our fifty-year-old shower, drafty windows, etc. At the same time, I hesitate to drive to a woodsy trail twenty minutes away — that lengthens my workout, plus it’s steep, and it’s dusty. After all, I just got my car washed.

Exercise Walking at The Dish

There’s a terrific walking trail near my home on Stanford land that locals refer to as “The Dish,” because it houses a large radiotelescope belonging to the University. It’s a looping, up-and-down pedestrian trail about 3.5 miles long. The Dish trail doesn’t allow dogs or bikes, and it’s entirely paved. Like lots of others, I enjoy walking in the Stanford hills, away from traffic. The views are spectacular, affording vistas over Silcon Valley’s foothills, Stanford and the San Francisco Bay.


Stanford Dish Oct 2012 - 5 - exercise-walking


Correction: please notice the views, they’re spectacular. I myself have trouble enjoying them while trying to keep my heart rate up. I pay attention to the ground ahead of me. While I walk the Dish, I’m usually bothered by an internal conversation that goes something like this:

What? Who are those women who just went around me, and on an uphill part, too? Oh no, I know that one — I played her in a USTA match. Well, no wonder she’s a 3.5 now and I’m not. Is she seriously MY AGE? I can’t believe that. What’s wrong with me? I have to walk faster, this is ridiculous.

Exercise Walking and the Dreaded VoJ

It’s that Voice of Judgment again. Only this time it nails me on a walking path where I’m supposed to be communing with nature, clearing my mind. Seems that I can’t stop competing, can’t stop evaluating my own performance and finding it deficient.

I don’t think I can silence my VoJ, at least not anytime soon. Maybe I can get it to quiet down a bit, though. If I temper my concerns about walking fast and burning calories with appreciation and gratitude for being able to enjoy a nice day, maybe that’s the best I can hope for right now.

See you later. I think I’ll take a walk.


Stanford Dish Oct 2012 - 7 - exercise-walking

What’s behind the poor play? Are you ready to find out?

I played tennis this week with a friend whom I haven’t seen since our last match together, back in the winter when emotional issues were affecting my game.  In fact, the last time we played together, I felt like such a failure I considered quitting tennis entirely — it had ceased being fun for me, and I was letting my partners down by inferior play.



But this time, things felt different.  I still made mistakes, we still lost our match, but I didn’t come away with the sense that my partner would never speak to me again, nor that I had performed so miserably as to discredit the sport.  While there were moments where I double-faulted or missed an easy shot and started to panic, I was able to settle down and focus on the next ball.  I even felt strangely calm when serving or returning serve on “pressure points” like “ad-in” – moments where winning or losing the point can decide the outcome of that game.

In spite of these improvements, though, I’m still not winning matches.  But this is a journey, in my case a long one, and at least I’m taking a few steps forward.  From my current vantage point, I now understand how strongly my attitude correlates with how I play tennis.  Knowing this, I see that what I needed a few months ago was not more tennis tips to pull me out of a slump, but a partner who could step over court boundaries and be a true friend.



I’m not blaming anyone — since I hate to let on that anything’s amiss, others might not even see that I’m having a bad day.  I’d prefer to give the appearance that all is fine, and I shy away from exposing vulnerabilities with anyone but family and close friends.  However, I’ve learned from this and other experiences that not only do I need to be more open about wanting others’ help — I also should be on the lookout for people who might need someone to pay attention to them.

[Read more…]

Back to September

Driving home after dropping my son at school last week, I stopped to let five girls on rollerblades cross the street.  With bike helmets and new backpacks, they joined other kids and parents making their way on foot, bike or stroller towards the elementary school near our house.  A mom with a yellow Lab jogged behind the pink and purple phalanx of girls, keeping an eye on their wobbly but excited progress.Even though our kids are past elementary age, I still love the first days of school in our neighborhood, when parents and kids stream towards their classrooms, clog the streets with parked cars, and make “happy noises” I can hear far down the street.

The elementary school students may be the ones who come to mind first when we think of “back to school,” but transitions are happening at every age.  Friends were telling me about their son’s first week at middle school, and how he had been both happy and a little nervous to move from class to class instead of staying in the same room all day long.  And, to their surprise, how all of a sudden he was coming home talking about girls . . . .  Where had their little boy gone?

It’s a question we parents keep asking ourselves, especially once our children grow up and move towards adulthood.  I mean, my oldest is a junior in college.  He’s an RA, counseling freshmen on how to adjust to life in the dorms, providing a mature influence and disciplinary oversight.  But in my mind, I still see him on his green bicycle, proud to ride off to sixth grade by himself.  My daughter, a college sophomore, tells me she’s going to try a different class because a professor may be knowledgeable but isn’t engaging.  But I still recall how petrified she was to find out she was assigned to the strictest (and most challenging) teacher for the third grade at her school.  Her initial fear subsided into anticipation, as she made a bead bracelet that spelled out the teacher’s name.  Go figure.

My youngest still lives at home but is about to get his driver’s license.  I should be happy to be “free” of shuttling kids around after so many years, but I wonder if I’ll ever again have chances to converse with my children the way I’ve had when they were required to be in the car with me.

The thing is, all our kids all doing exactly what they’re supposed to do – grow up and separate from us.  And even those of us who aren’t parents, or whose kids are “all grown up,” remember what this time of year was like for ourselves: the anticipation of something new, hope for something good, fear of the unknown.

So even if our lives are not governed by the academic calendar, post Labor Day is a great time to start fresh.  The days are getting shorter, but there is still the promise of an Indian summer ahead.  Now that kids are settled into school, some adults  take advantage of cheaper and less crowded vacation destinations.  Others feel we can finally get organized after traveling or feeling scattered during the summer months.  For some, like Rita Konig of the WSJ, it may mean sprucing up our desks.  For me, it’s meant getting back to my workout routine, something that’s proving torturous but necessary.  I’m also signing up for some classes, not a full load, but a couple of things to do for myself, to put my brain into gear.

So whether you have kids or not, find something to do that rejuvenates yourself this month, gives you a new routine or a new way of looking at your old routine.  It may be a vacation without the summer hordes, or a new set of pens for your desk.  Whatever you choose, though, be on the lookout for pink and purple rollerbladers – you might even want to join them!


Porta potties and plans, dumpsters and dreams

For the better part of a year, the view from my kitchen has been a porta potty, a dumpster and a messy construction site.  While I don’t blame the new neighbors who bought the house across the street and are making substantial improvements, it just happens to be my luck that I am living in a construction zone.

It’s a common phenomenon in Northern California and other areas where there’s no bare land left in the most desirable neighborhoods – those with good schools and close to jobs.  Here, it makes sense to buy an older home and either raze it to build a new house, or make significant upgrades to it.  So most people experience construction on their streets at one time or another, and many themselves have undertaken remodeling projects.  We appreciate that our neighbors’ upgrades are likely to benefit our own property values, and we accept construction as inevitable, especially when long-time owners sell their homes to young families.

Even though neighbors of a home under construction don’t suffer the stress that owners experience with unforeseen difficulties and delays, we endure “construction spillover”  that grates on one’s nerves nonetheless.  So for example, my quiet cul-de-sac has become chaotic, especially since a home farther down the block recently completed a two-year renovation.  Tranquility has been overtaken by trucks, jackhammers, roofing hammers, contractors hollering to each other, table saws in the yard, musica ranchera on the radio, or rock hits on 107.7 “The Bone.”

There has been a steady stream of workers, although very few dogs – I’m thankful there aren’t more subs with pit bulls on this job.  While some days are noisy and others less so, the thing that plagues me most is the increased volume of traffic on our street.  Although the owners have tried to get workers to park in front of their house, there are simply too many vehicles to fit over there.  On many days, it seems that laborers with the oldest, dirtiest trucks like to park directly in front of my home.  Inevitably, guys return to their vehicles to eat lunch or make phone calls, and I get to pick up stray napkins and food wrappers after they’re gone for the day.  [Read more…]

Reflections on a ring

AT&T Park, at the edge of  San Francisco Bay, floated with celebrations last weekend.  The San Francisco Giants’ 2011 home opener on Friday saw our “Fear the Beard” closer (Brian Wilson) run the 2010 World Series flag out to the right field arcade and hoist it up the flagpole to rest just below the Stars and Stripes.

Saturday night fans arrived an hour before game time to witness the historic presentation of the World Series Championship rings – enormous, gaudy things that went to every player on last year’s team, plus the front office folks and untold others in the Giants organization.  The first ring was presented to 53-year Giants veteran Mike Murphy, who manages the Giant’s Clubhouse.  Not to be left out were Giant fans’ favorite radio voices, Kruk & Kuip (Mike Krukow and Duane Kuiper).  Also receiving rings were the team’s six living Hall of Famers, four of whom attended the festivities.

Non-players donned tuxedos or even tails (with orange bow ties, of course), lending an air of class to the occasion.  Many players put on their rings immediately.  They lined up along the first and third base lines, with each new individual receiving his ring making his way down the ever-longer row of players to fist-pump or bear-hug on the way to his spot.

Sunday marked the 2010 Rookie of the Year presentation to catcher Buster Posey, who characteristically deflected praise in thanks to his teammates, the selection committee, everyone in the Giants’ organization, and of course, Giant fans.  He was joined by four other past Giants who received Rookie of the Year awards, and he was given a day off catching to revel in the moment.

Monday the Dodgers were in town, and Juan Uribe (last year’s SF shortstop, now a Dodger) received his ring before the game began.  The upshot: fabulous ceremonies, once-in-a lifetime experiences, all pulled off in true San Francisco style: celebratory and sophisticated.  On the diamond, the first four home games amounted to two come-from-behind wins, followed by two losses.  Sports commentators agree that it’s time to set 2010 aside and turn our attention to 2011.

So what does this have to do with me, a sports fan by marriage?   [Read more…]