I'm not overly fond of New Year's resolutions but I do firmly believe in reflecting and tinkering. This story begins on 12/31/15.
The wife and I had a fairly benign but thoroughly enjoyable New Year's celebration this year: more than a few drinks, lots of laughs, lots of reflection (we do that a lot), and then in bed well before midnight. The next morning I woke up at my usual "you've got to be kidding, really?" time, began to manage through my lightly hungover state and then sat to reflect (see, there it is again).
I landed on the following: I never did anything I'm proud of while drunk; whilst all my proudest moments and accomplishments never included an ounce of booze.
And I know I'm not the only one. Google "drunk regrets" and you get endless, often painful, stories and visuals.
More importantly, as a self-diagnosed health nut, I've tried all sorts of health challenges and fitness routines; and I'm super conscious of what I eat but yet I've never tried being stone-cold dry (which I find interesting considering that I don't drink that often anyway). So to that end, time to experiment with a 100% dry year in 2016.
Salud! (he says with water)
"Today I will run what you will not so that tomorrow I will run what you cannot."
My goal is complete: I completed the four most common races, all in one year. While my objective of making regular updates throughout my training and immediately post-race fell by the wayside, I'm satisfied with the results nonetheless.
[Disclaimer: These results may vary and I am not recommending or condoning anybody follows or adheres to my training routine, gear, or plan. These are my results and my results alone.]
I'll dispense with the romanticism typically associated with avid and life-long runners. I'm not one of them. They are much more eloquent at describing the other-worldly feelings associated with running. I shall instead focus on the observations gleaned as a result of my experiment in running.
The Shoes. As I wrote in the kick-off post, my running experiment started with the all too important assessment of the shoes. I started in minimalist shoes but as my mileage increased to roughly 25 miles per week I noticed more pain during my runs. I went to see an orthopedic doctor, a physical therapist, and a podiatrist to make the necessary adjustments. I started doing more leg strengthening exercises via different tension rubber bands and changed to a more rigid running shoe; as my podiatrist instructed (he's an ultra-marathoner), "your form goes to crap after 20 miles so you'll want to have a shoe that can support you, especially if you're a first timer." Net, the majority of my training was done on a pair of bright orange Saucony Progrid Guide 5s; very cushiony and a smooth ride. Towards the end, when I was running 40+ miles per week, I transitioned to a pair of Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12s; not as pillowy as the Saucony's but more medial arch support. My only recommendation when it comes to shoes, especially for first timers, is to visit multiple running stores and try different shoes; do the treadmill and camera thing that most of the top quality running stores offer. If you can afford it, see a podiatrist, a running podiatrist preferably, so you can rule out any crazy physiological issues you may have before you start piling on the mileage.
The Gear. Other really helpful equipment, once I surpassed the hour-long training runs, were:
The Race. I ran all the races I planned on racing except the Summit Fest 1/2 marathon, I opted instead to run the Little Miami 1/2 in late August. Little to my knowledge but that course (very fast, super flat) is known to be a great prep race for the Air Force marathon. Regarding The Race, my initial goal for the marathon was to finish; then, as I got closer to the race, I set a sub- 5hr goal. Then, on race day, around the 8 mile mark, I decided to stay with the 4 hr 30 min pace woman. Around the half-way point, there were ~15 people in our group and it started dwindling from there. By mile 18, the 4:30 group was down to 7-8 runners, by mile 22, there were four of us, and finally in the end only three (me included) crossed together. The woman in the pink shirt (pictured above) was amazing: she held the sign 90% of the time, kept the exact pace for 4 hrs 30 mins, and was chirpy / encouraging the entire time. As for me, I cross the finish line and thankfully nearly passed out. Why thankfully? I had nothing left, I didn't hold back and conserve energy; I picked the right stretch pace. I didn't train for 4:30 and I wasn't ready for 4:30 but I challenged myself: either I do it or pass out trying. I'm a masochist apparently.
I have no idea. I'm currently not running. I've gone back to my old fitness routine and I feel great. Will I ever run again? Probably. I'm sure I'll start to remember the euphoria of the long distance run and the serenity of my mind simply shutting off while I piled up the mileage. Perhaps I'll do a few short races just for the race high. Who knows, maybe I'll start long distance running again in the spring when the weather improves. Maybe.
For now, my running experiment is complete, I accomplished my goals. I learned a lot about what my mind & body can do when tested. I confirmed my do now ideal. I learned that my mind goes to some comical places when it has nowhere to go for 4 hours at a time - a useful tool for long road-trips as well.
Most importantly, I'm grateful that I was able to conduct this experiment.
When the topic of fitness or nutrition comes up in conversation, people are often surprised to learn that I’ve been over-weight three times in my life. Based on their lens, they assume that I’ve “always been thin” or athletic. They often guffaw when I tell them that I too have struggled with managing my weight; or they sarcastically retort that I wouldn’t possibly understand their struggles, or that I have it easy since they have always been over-weight. In response, I wryly point out that nobody is born over-weight (at least not by choice); that being overweight is the result of successive failures in moderation and discipline, failures in caretaking that occurred prior to and after birth. I make a lot of friends.
Healthy food makes me fat?
I became overweight as a pre-teen, in my early twenties and then again about two years ago. In each case, I became roughly 20-40 lbs overweight and each time the weight gain was mostly a result of my nutrition; simply: I ate too much. Unfortunately, I often find that folks that are looking to lose weight, and ask my opinion, often spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the type of food (e.g. Paleo, juice only, no juice, no sugar, more fat, no fat, no carbs, go vegetarian, etc) or more exercise. As I’ve said before, exercise is good for a whole host of reasons but increasing exercise alone won’t necessarily help you lose and maintain weight, only proper nutrition can.
Growing up my Mom was pretty militant about having only “healthy” foods in the house; e.g. no processed cereals, no soft drinks, lots of fruit. Yet I still gained weight. Why? I ate too much. As I got older I became a pretty dedicated exerciser (high school sports, college intramurals, top 1% on military fitness tests, etc) so how is it that I gained 20lbs? I ate too much. After the military, I continued to exercise 5-7 times a week and eat healthy: no soft drinks, no fast food, 8-10 servings of fruit & vegetables, and focus on whole food. Yet, I went from 175 lbs to 205 lbs two years ago. How? You guessed it, I ate too much. In every case of weight gain, it wasn’t exclusively the type of food I ate or the level or type of exercise. I consumed entirely too many calories, period.
Losing the Weight & the Super Duper Food Scale
The first two times I lost the weight I had external motivators. My Mom was a tough cookie, she had to be as a single Mom of two boys (more on that in a separate post), she was able to motivate me to lose weight in her ever-loving way, “you’re fat, stop eating peanut butter sandwiches before you go to bed.” Simple, direct, effective. The second time, I had the Military: fit to fight, combat-ready, peer-pressure, and “fat-boy” club are all very motivating monikers.
This most recent time, however, I had no external motivator. It all came down to me. You know what? It’s really hard to lose weight on your own. Fortunately, my body did me a favor, it started hurting. Every time I tried to go for a long run, everything hurt. Then I started having all kinds of gastric issues. So what did I do? I bought a food scale. More accurately, my wife bought me a food scale and told me to measure everything I ate. She made me read labels. Did you know that only sixteen, plain, no salt, raw almonds equal 100 calories?! Sixteen! (That’s not a lot) I had no idea. I was grabbing a handful as a snack almost every day…nearly 4x the calories. So naturally – and here is the hard part – I decided to track everything I ate for two weeks. In the end, I was over-eating by nearly 2x at every meal and snack. One food scale, a little label pre-reading, and hard discipline for two weeks; result: I lost 40 pounds last year and I’m training for my first marathon. It took some time before I got to the point where I instinctively knew how much food I needed versus wanted, but it was worth it.
I only eat rice cakes.
So do I only eat tofu, non-fat, non-sugar rice cakes 24-7? Yes. Just kidding. Of course not, I love food. Better stated, I love good food. I just don’t eat the entire menu. My wife and I eat out and order rich, savory food, but we split the plate. I’ll eat fast-food, but split the fries or get a salad on the side. I eat chocolate by the truckload. Just. Not. All. At. Once. In other words, now that I have a baseline of how many calories I need (many, many months later), I'm able to manage what I eat without having to exclude anything.
Over time, I have also made other healthy food choices over the year like reducing overall fat intake, less sugar, and eating more fiber; but these are merely tweaks and refinements. It wasn't food's fault I was over-weight, it was mine: when over-ate, I gained weight – plain and simple. So if you’re looking to lose weight, don’t focus on the refinements or quick fixes of what type of food you’re eating, or what one thing you should eliminate from your diet to fix it all. Start first with how much you’re eating. Track everything for two weeks, one week, or any length of time you’re able to stomach (pun intended). Then talk to your Dr. and/or a nutritionist to see how many calories you really need. You’ll be surprised.
It may be hard but enduring change doesn’t occur overnight and you may regress (I did three times). Nevertheless, moderation is the key. Keep it simple and buy a food scale. After all, you weren’t born over-weight. Even if you were, blame your parents and go buy a food scale. Good luck.
So where have I been? Transitioning to a new role and relocating again would probably be enough to take some time off and ease up on the extra-curricular activities right? No, higher levels of day-to-day stress or significant career / personal upheavals don’t require me to “slow down” or “take it easy”; I still have my nights and periodic, non-family, quiet times where I can reflect, meditate, and “ideate”. This latest hiatus was due to my body crapping out. And not the kind of oft-purported stress-induced shut down or mental breakdown; I find that those kinds of breakdowns are prevented with daily exercise, proper nutrition, sex with my lovely wife, and humor. I’m talking about my internal organs just deciding that they’re going to stop working, completely out of my control. This time it’s my gallbladder (my appendix decided it was time to exodus about a year ago).
In a nutshell, the entire month of March was spent in hospitals, Doctor’s office, specialist offices, testing offices, radiology departments, you name it. Nobody could figure out what was wrong with me. I didn’t have any classic indicators that normally accompany a failing gallbladder. It wasn’t until my wife talked about my condition with her best friend that we finally asked the Doctor about a HIDA scan; a long test that is used to determine if the gallbladder is functioning properly even if there are no gallstones. As it turns out, my gallbladder is not working and it must be taken out; so now I wait for the minimally invasive procedure.
Whilst all this was happening, I observed two things. One, I found it curious (and frustrating) the frequency to which friends and family kept proffering advice and defaulting to stress-induced causes despite me presenting overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Second, if life is a balance between mind, body, and soul - for me, body is the base. As I stated before, I actively manage the mind-body-soul interaction by exercising daily, eating ridiculously healthy, reading prolifically, ravaging the wife, entertaining the boys, and meditating as best as I can. But when the body, through no control of my own, decides it’s done, the whole equation goes. I have no surplus energy to put to my side projects; I have no personal desire or drive to keep creating instead of simply consuming. My entire focus falls on getting better, to getting the “host” back to working order.
I oft get upset when things don’t work as they should, especially when I follow all the prescribed preventative measures. I.e. if you get regular oil changes, you should get longer car life. Therefore, my reasoning goes, if you eat healthy & exercise regularly, you should get a longer, more consistent, body life and body performance. However, based on this latest episode, perhaps the equation isn’t that easy (especially when you think about George Burns). Perhaps some things truly are out of my control despite my best efforts to mitigate them. Better stated, instead of getting upset when things don’t operate as the “should”, more acceptance is the key. To be clear, however, I’m still not going to “slow down” Mom, sorry.
I don’t agree with the premise of Why Exercise Won't Make You Thin because the article assumes that all people who exercise rigorously reward themselves with non-nutritious food, thus negating the benefits of exercise, so why bother to exercise at all. That’s silly. Exercise is good for you, for a whole host of mental, physiological, and emotional reasons. Equally, if you find yourself rewarding your hard work with non-nutritious food, then yes, you’re taking 3 steps forward and 4 steps back. More to the point, while I will agree that exercise alone won’t necessarily help you lose and maintain weight (only proper nutrition can), I think a combination of vigorous exercise, proper nutrition AND (this is critical) MORE constant, daily motion are the key to better overall health. Constant motion? Let’s do the math.
24 hrs / day
7 days / week
60 mins / hr
10,080 Starting Mins Per Week
2,940 -- Sleep (7hrs / night)
3,600 -- Work (60 hrs / wk)
300 -- Travel (Commute, 30 mins * twice a day * 5 days); assumes automobile commute
420 -- 1 hr of TV every day (probably conservative)
1,260 -- 3 daily, 1 hr meals (Bkfst, Lunch, Dinner)
420 -- 1 hr daily on personal grooming / dressing (male + female average)
420 -- Misc (restroom, breaks, etc); 1 hr everyday
9,360 Subtotal Non-Exercise
420 -- 7 days of 1 hr fitness classes / gym / dedicated exercise (probably generous for some)
420 Subtotal Exercise
300 Surplus / (Deficit) Minutes
5.0 Surplus / (Deficit) Hrs
4% Minutes spent on exercise activities
93% Minutes spent on non-exercise activities
3% Surplus minutes
Based on the assumptions above, if you’re already spending roughly 90% of your weekly time on non-exercise (no motion at all) specific activities, nutrition aside, telling people to MOVE MORE makes more sense than telling them to not exercise at all. While your specific minute consumption times may vary, on average none of us are moving as much as we should, gym or not. Run your numbers and see where you shake out...I'm going for a walk.
What is the difference between being comfortable versus being complacent? I have no idea, so I challenge myself. Challenge my thinking, my parenting, my husband-ing; attempt to challenge my assumptions and my understanding of things. I won't get it right all the time so I welcome all constructive feedback. The goal? To "...be satisfied with life always but never with one's self." (George Jean Nathan)