Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Sneaking in a run

I often use the phrase "sneak in a run" when I'm trying to find time to exercise in a busy day when my other obligations might make getting a run in difficult.

It's a bit of verbal trickery, as if I can convince myself that a run is like a cookie or a beer, something to be enjoyed on the sly, a guilty pleasure.

If you're wondering, it really doesn't work.  But I keep trying. 

Today hopefully I can sneak in a run during lunch.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Update on yesterday's post

The chip times are now out for the Hot Chocolate Run. My estimates were correct -- our chip time was 46:07, which puts us at a 14:51 pace. My wife was hoping to not exceed a 15:00 pace, and while she hoped to get closer to 14:00 she was going to be content if she hit 15:00. Given the hills I'm thrilled she managed to stay on her pace!

Congratulations to Jessica and many thanks to Tina, as well as Steve/Brenda/Tom/Joe/Shy for coming out and making the race a success.

Also, we couldn't have done this without Jess's mom, who babysat the night before and during the race.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Hot Chocolate Race Report

This weekend, I ran the Hot Chocolate Run to benefit Safe Passage. This is a 5K run/walk event to benefit a domestic violence charity, run in my old home town of Northampton. This was its sixth running and over 4000 people participated, raising $90,000.

This race was not about me, nor about my fitness. It was about my wife. When she started running again after a baby-induced hiatus, she realized she wanted to set a race as a training goal. She signed up for this one, with her cousin (who was on a similar post-baby fitness plan). I joined in as well, and promised to run with them. This was my third road race, and their first.

The weekend of the race was interesting for a number of reasons, but I'll confine this post to the race itself. We arrived early (8:30 for a 10 AM race), and paced around outside in the cloudy 30-degree weather. The air was damp and there was an intermittent breeze that made it feel cooler than 30. We paced around outside, watching the super-fit run around to loosen up. We did half-hearted stretches and watched the crowds fill in. The atmosphere was festive with loud music, energetic announcers, and costumed competitors.

We dashed off to register my wife's brother and his entire family, who had decided at the last minute to run as well. They arrived as the crowds were getting thick, and soon afterwards the walkers departed on their 2-mile route. This race separates the walkers from the runners, which means that nobody is walking the 5K. Unlike many casual fun runs, you won't find people walking the entire 5K route. Anybody walking is someone who intended to run but isn't running at the moment.

With a sizable portion of the crowd gone, we started to get excited. There were 8 of us, all together, with varying degrees of fitness and experience. Some ran off to use the bathrooms (I saw the line and figured it was only a 5K and I could hold it!), some started chowing down on the cookies which were set out for post-race snacks (figuring perhaps they'd be all gone by the time we got back). I tried to make sure my wife was okay and not too nervous, while keeping an eye out for anyone I might know (didn't see any) and generally feeling motivated by being in the presence of so many fit competitors.

We self-placed in the chute at the "32:00+" mark. My wife's projected chip time was closer to 45:00, which was a shock to our extended family, who were thinking more like 30-35:00. Her cousin and I both knew her projected time, though, and we lined up with that pace in mind. Of course, it's telling that there's no placement difference in the chute between 35:00 and 45:00.

The energy in the chute was contagious. The music over the PA was getting livelier, people were dancing in place, clapping their hands, laughing and joking. We were all wearing ear-warmers and gloves, and the sky was starting to spit tiny snowflakes on us. We were all smiles.

Shortly after 10 AM, the cheers erupted as the runners surged forward. It took us almost five minutes to clear the chute and pour out onto the street. Our first obstacle was dead ahead -- a 500-foot section of road with about 50 feet of vertical climb. The steepest hill of the race was in the first quarter mile, and Jessica was completely unprepared. Though she had done some outdoor training, the majority of her runs had been on flat ground. She ran up the hill and completely out of gas; over the next relatively flat half-mile, most of the people who started behind us passed us. I realized before we passed mile one that there was a real possibility we'd finish last.

There was a certain freedom in accepting that. I realized my job was to keep my wife's spirits up as she powered through what for her was probably her toughest run ever. Having been pushed beyond my limits in my first race and having it almost ruin me from running, I knew I had to take a different approach.

I carried her gloves and her outermost sweatshirt, I advised her of her pace when she asked (I was wearing the Garmin), I told her distance numbers when she asked, and I offered occasional words of encouragement. But I didn't push. I couldn't help it, though -- this was a walking pace for me, and her cousin was used to running faster as well. So we were able to maintain an easy conversation, and did -- we remarked on when certain businesses had been sold and changed, talked about things we saw on the road, joked about the snow, and so on. But we kept our pace in check and tried to be encouraging without pressuring her.

The second mile was mainly recovery from the first. We got back into the pace which my wife had expected to run, but it was apparent how much harder it was than she expected. Near us, a man ran with his young daughter. She would sprint as fast as she could, exhaust herself, and ask to be carried. He would stop, pick her up, and trudge along until she asked to be put down. In this way they would leapfrog past us, and then we past them. We laughed when she would race past us; clearly she was "racing" while we were just running! Somewhere behind us a pair of middle-aged women ran with a runner in a full-body turtle costume. Not far from us, another pair of women were doing run/walk swaps. Other than these half-dozen people, though, we felt alone on the course. We passed occasional volunteers who were closing up their stations.

The third mile was the heart-breaker. We turned up a familiar road from our years in Northampton and ran through the campus of Smith College. It's a long slow uphill, nearly a hundred feet of climb in about three quarters of a mile. It's even worse than that, though, as the first hill ends with a slight downhill, before the last, steeper section begins. Jess had to walk a few times as the hill got rough, and to make things worse we began seeing people who had finished the race walking away from downtown and to who-knows-where. While they shouted encouragement it added to the feeling of separation from the rest of the racers.

We turned from Smith College onto Main Street, and the number of people along the road increased dramatically. Many shouted encouragement, "It's all downhill from here," and we put on our bravest faces and promised to run the rest of the way. We steadily increased our pace as we got closer to the finish. We knew there were a couple people behind us, and we vowed not to let them get by.

Of course, only in Northampton would a race to benefit a domestic violence charity get disrupted by anti-war protesters. A group of marchers in full black cloaks and white masks beating drums and waving signs crossed the street and threatened to block our path. Jess said, in dead earnest, "If they get in my way, I'm knocking them over." One of the women right behind us said, "I'll help." The marchers wisely waited for us to pass before resuming, so violence was averted.

There was one last moment of panic as the volunteers had already left this area and the police had removed the traffic cones as well. We weren't sure if we were supposed to turn down one side street or the next, and the man with his daughter was heading towards the second. We shouted to people milling around wearing race numbers, "Which way is it?" They pointed us down the first street, and we turned just in time, shouting to our leapfrogging partner. Our final few hundred feet were down the same hill that broke Jess at the start. She ran with all her heart, and we pounded through the chute to the cheering of the remaining spectators.

Our clock time was around 51:00. While our chip times aren't finalized yet, I suspect we will be around 46:00. Based on gun time results, 7 racers finished after us. Our extended family, who had bolted ahead at the start, finished 10 to 15 minutes ahead of us. But if my guess on chip time is right, we finished just a few minutes behind Jess's target time, which is great considering how unprepared she was for the hills.

But none of that mattered. Moments later, as we drank water and ate orange slices, we were just three more finishers among a happy crowd. We had set a goal as a family and worked towards it, and achieved it. And we're already scouting spring races and talking about training through the winter.

(On a personal note, my outdoors hilly run route definitely prepared me for this course. Combined with the pace, I finished the race feeling light on my feet and itching for more. It was definitely motivating, not in a "you have to get better" way but in a "look what you've accomplished, don't let it go away again" way. Having run in two large races and a small one, I definitely prefer the huge crowds. I'm scouting races and feeling disappointed when I see less than 200 people in most of them. So it goes.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Trotting along

Last week, fighting off a cold and still suffering residual back pain from leaf raking, I took it fairly easy running. And so it was on Sunday that I gazed out at the brisk November air and hungered for a nice long run.

And I got one.

I walk to the end of my short side street, and I can turn left or right. I always turn left, and start my run. It runs straight for a half mile or so, and then has a few bends before it connects with a major road. I always turn around in the same spot, before it gets dangerous due to proximity to the main road, and head back along the same road and run past my side street. This completes the first leg of my run. By now I am feeling good; the hardest part of the run is over, not in terms of terrain but in terms of willpower. My body is moving now, my brain has stopped thinking about what else it could be doing, and I've made progress - roughly 1.5 miles of progress, actually.

The next leg of my run starts as I breeze past my own road and then turn left on a different side street, which loops up a small hill. I climb the steep but short hill, and then gently descend back to the street I started on. Turning left here keeps me running further from home and really sets the stage for the second leg of my run. The hill is out of the way, and what I have now is a run alongside a big pond. This is a pro and a con ... on the nice side, it's beautiful. I often see herons, people fishing in boats, wonderful views across the pond, and my mind is at peace. On the bad side, it's a narrow stretch of road with not much room for navigation, and on windy days the breeze coming off the pond can be heavier than you'd think.

A major decision point comes during the second leg of my run. How far do I go? Once I turn around, the third leg starts -- running home. I can stop any time I want, and there's a certain perverse joy that arises from pushing further and further from home. Sunday, I ran as far as I've ever run down that road, up a really punishing hill to another main road.

I turn around and start back down towards home. This third leg begins with a steep and long downhill, which tempts me to run too fast and really pressures my legs. Soon, though, the downhill is over and I'm back by the pond. Running past the pond on the way home is always beautiful but since I know I'm running home now my body starts to think it can get away with complaining more loudly. By the time I clear the pond and enter the final third-mile or so, I'm really ready for the run to be over. The route contains a subtle uphill during that last stretch, which always feels so much worse at the end of the run than at the start.

I turn the corner and begin walking at my own side street. I push the button on the Garmin and it tells me I've done 4.25 miles.

I've run further than that, but not this year. Not only that, but the only way I've run further than that (while living here) is by tacking unnecessary loops and such onto my route. This is the core of my longest running route. If I can do this, I can do the longer version of this run.

It was with a huge sense of accomplishment that I walked up my porch steps and back into the house Sunday.

Friday, November 20, 2009

No news is not news

When someone who primarily writes about fitness stops writing for a week-plus, you would be forgiven for assuming said writer had fallen hard off the wagon and was too ashamed to write about it.

That's not precisely the story here -- there's just not much to say of late that is interesting. I wrenched my back a bit doing yardwork and caught a mild cold, and so my running the past couple weeks hasn't been exactly breaking new ground. I'm still doing okay when it comes to diet, but again, mostly treading water.

Things are going just about as I'd expect them to, given the circumstances and my particular goals.

And while that's not terrible, it's not exactly newsworthy either. And, to be honest, there is some frustration on my part that I'm stagnating. And a bit of a reality check ... this is how easy it is to stagnate. Just a bit more lax and I'd stop stagnating and start losing fitness. Kind of scary how fast it happens.

Now, I could sit here and write about my latest computer game obsession, Dragon Age: Origins. Now there's an area where I'm making real progress ;).

Sunday, November 08, 2009


It's been a bit crazy at work lately, and I've been pouring a lot of mental energy into solving some issues there instead of thinking about my own fitness. With my short-term weight goal achieved and a clear plan for my running, I haven't had the same drive I've been relying on to keep me on track over the past few months.

In other words, I've been a bit slack on the diet end, coming up with all kinds of excuses. The results are speaking for themselves -- a solid week-plus at more or less the same weight, with my trendline beginning to creep into the "gain" rather than "lose."

What's important for me to remember is that while there are numerous "go ahead and splurge"moments scattered throughout the holiday season, the only way to come out of the season with momentum is to treat each such moment as just that -- a moment. If I let them become habits I'm going to starting 2010 headed in the wrong direction.

I write this here, in public, because it's important to remind myself of these things, and what better reminder is there than this?

The situation at work is sorted out. The Halloween candy is out of the house. Distractions should be at a minimum for a week or two....

No runs this weekend; too busy doing yardwork and nursing back pain afterward. My back is a traitor to my cause. Weight this morning was up two pounds from my recent low and 1.5 pounds from my 2009 holiday maintenance goal.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

It feels so good to stop

Neil Peart, when describing long-distance cycling, says it reminds him of a man who beats his head against the wall, and when his doctor asks him why he does it, he says it's because it feels so good when he stops.

There are moments of true joy in running, but (in my limited experience) none of them beat the moment when your run is complete. You did everything you set out to do, your heart finally begins to slow down, your legs understand that you're done abusing them, and the incessant "thump thump thump" noise of your feet hitting the road finally stops. You realize that the thing you were half-dreading is finally over, and you are filled with satisfaction and empowerment.

Some days it feels great to run, some days it feels awful, but it always feels awesome when I stop.

Of course, that only works if you start. It's hard to remind your body of that when you're trying to psych yourself into lacing up and heading out the door....

Update: 3.5 miles during lunch today, longest run of the year for me. Heart rate was higher than I'd like. Splurged a bit on sweets around Halloween but nothing disastrous; just enough to keep my weight hovering around the same number for a week now.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Kicking off the holidays

First off, let's get this out of the way. I am so glad I committed to running a race in December. Knowing I have a fitness goal is going to be so useful in November. I should find one in January to help survive Christmas while I'm at it.

We've already had some snowfall (yes it melted immediately but that's not the point), Sam Adams Octoberfest tempts me at every turn, Halloween is in full swing (funny how goes from being a day to a "season" when you're a parent), and my brain is already daydreaming in its idle moments of roaring fireplaces, turkeys, and apple pies.

In other words, the holiday season has begun. And it doesn't end until a week into January at least (when the last "we never got together at Christmas, so let's catch up next week" meeting happens), and you could argue it stretches all the way through the superbowl....

I can't stress enough how important it is for me to have a strong running program during these months....

With my Couch-to-5K runs complete I'm now ramping up my run times and distance. The past couple runs have been 3 miles at about a 12:00 pace. I want to keep that pace and increase the distance to 4 miles over the next few weeks. I need to be able to run at this pace for 45 minutes or so. Then, I will begin specializing my runs:
  • one long run a week which can be slower but will continue to grow to 5, 6 miles and beyond
  • one fast run a week which is only 30-ish minutes and which will push my pace closer to 10:00
  • one normal run a week which is at a comfortable pace for 45 minutes

I'm not there yet, but that's my plan. Adding a fourth run is possible but not a priority.

As for my fitness, my weight is where I want it to be through the end of the year. Honestly I'd love to lose another 10 pounds before Christmas but I'm not going to sweat it if I don't. Just staying around where I am through the holidays will be a victory, especially with my running increasing steadily during that time.

Yes, I know it's all head games ... but as long as they work, I'm okay with that.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Toys and progress

I work from home one day a week, and usually eat at my desk while working ... because I burn up "lunch hour" time exercising. Today I went for the second to last run in the Couch-to-5K workout, and did it outside with my new toy -- a Garmin Forerunner 305. It's a combination fancy stopwatch, GPS receiver, and heart rate monitor.

The run itself was fine, though the added feedback from the Garmin impacted me in a number of ways. I felt slow a couple times, and saw that I was, so I sped up. I felt over-exerted at times, saw how high my heart rate was, and got worried, because I really didn't want to slow down. I felt good a few times, and saw my pace was higher than expected, and it put a smile on my face.

But the real interesting data comes when you get home and upload it all into the PC. I can look at the map and say, right, when I came over this hill my HR was here, but my pace was also fast, looks like I was trying to run up it strong, and here I slowed down and ... well, whatever. It's fitness geekery at its finest and I look forward to tinkering with it.

What concerns me is how high my HR was going for the entire duration of the run. During warmup and cooldown it stayed where I'd expect, but it jumped up above 160 for the majority of the time I was running, and peaked up over 180 a couple times. It's not that I can't run for 30 minutes at this exertion level; clearly I can. But if I don't find a way to lower that HR, it's going to put a cap on my long distance running.

Looks like I have something new to ponder over the winter.

Fitness update: hovering on the south side of 200 pounds for past week, with weights fluctuating in a 2-pound range. Completed Week 9 Day 2, which I believe you can see here. Jess has finished the C25K and next week will start increasing her times. I find myself struggling more with junk food cravings; combination of seasonal shifts and less drive to deprive myself now that my weight is lower?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

2010 and beyond

A couple posts ago I said I wanted to outline some goals for next year, so here are some fuzzy and ambitious thoughts.

  • I would like to train for and complete a 10K in 2010, and do it in a way that lets me continue to run afterward. That means running smarter than last time.
  • I will experiment with a heart rate monitor for training purposes.
  • I want to build my mileage so my weekly long run is over 5 miles.
  • I plan to fix up my bike or get a new one, and experiment with adding cycling to my fitness routines.
  • I will adopt some sort of strength training.
  • I will find and maintain a healthy weight.
  • I plan to select a half-marathon training program and begin seriously pursuing it before the end of 2010.
  • I plan to always be in training, because I know it helps keep me focused.

If all goes well, I would like to run a half-marathon in 2011 and a marathon in 2012.

Super-secret goal is to run the 10K in the spring and do the half in fall of 2010, but that requires extensive bodily cooperation. We shall see.

Fitness update: completed week 8 of C25K. One week left. Ran into people at a work event who hadn't seen me in a few months, and they said I looked good. Didn't have any dress shirts that fit right, which made me both frustrated and happy.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Learning Humility

The honeymoon is in full swing. I'm in love with running, especially outdoors. I'm in love with the scale, that keeps rewarding my hard work. I'm in love with my smaller jeans, my smaller shirts, the last hole in my belt. I'm on top of the world.

Like I was in October 2007, falling in love with fall and with running (for the second time in my life).

I'm hovering around a milestone weight, just like I was in September of that year, when I bought myself a subwoofer to celebrate hitting 200 pounds (funny how I kept using it after I shot back past that weight :) ).

I took a few moments today to remind myself of the struggles that come with this. To remind myself that I've been down this road before and I know the pitfalls. I know it isn't as easy as it feels right now, and I have many posts written to remind me of that.

September 2007, I talk about staying motivated. In March 2007, I posted about getting back on the wagon.

I could look into my posts and see if I could find recurring themes. Like this post, written in 2007, which I could have written many times in my life. But why settle with 2007? I could go back to 2005, and see if I could find the post where it first became obvious I was on the road to losing my fitness that time. I was stunned to realize it came so quick after my 10K race. Talk about a race hangover; that one lasted 2 years.

And then I pull out something I wrote in August 2007, and realize it's just as true now as it was then:

this is all a cycle -- that we advance, we fall back, we learn and we forget ... but until the ticker runs out, we still have a chance to do the right thing.

I'm not here to be a pessimist. But whether I stay on the straight and narrow or fall off again, I love where I am today, and I will remember that tomorrow. But I know who I want to be, and know how to be that person. Hopefully I'm learning each time I take this trip and will do a better job this time around.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Q4 Goals - Fitness Edition

At work we're supposed to be writing down what our goals are for the final quarter of 2009.

I figured I'd do the same here for my personal goals. On a fitness front:

  • Drop below 200 and remain consistently below 200 through end of Q4.
  • Incorporate higher percentage of healthy fats

  • Run every week in Q4.
  • Complete C25K in October.
  • Increase distance/time in both November and December
  • Run the Hot Chocolate 5K in December with Jess

My goal is not necessarily to make drastic changes in Q4, but rather to drop another 5 pounds or so by Thanksgiving, maintain that loss through the holidays, while increasing my endurance.

These are achievable goals. I expect to succeed.

Later I'll share my fuzzy 2010 goals, which include some more grandiose ideas.

Progress update: Sunday morning I ran the first workout of week eight of the nine week C25K. I ran it outdoors, and with every outdoor run I remember more and more why I fell in love with running. Five workouts to go before I can say I'm "done" but I feel it's just a formality at this point. Saturday morning the scale gave me a sub-200 number for the first time in ages, but it only lasted 24 hours. I'll be back down there soon enough. So everything I need for Q4 is coming together.

Fitness snapshot

Life is made up of small victories: finishing the sixth week of my C25K plan and starting week seven with a beautiful outdoor run in fall sunshine.

Life is made up of small setbacks: eating fried food out at restaurants two days in a row and watching the scale not budge for a week straight.

Life is full of small compromises: deciding onion rings were going to satisfy my cravings more than beer, and skipping the beer.

Life is full of promise: a solid total cholesterol score (124).

Life is full of caution: a terrible HDL score (25) tells me I need to pay more attention to healthy fats.

That last one deserves some more commentary. I did a simple cholesterol screening at work; it only gave me a couple numbers and it was meant to trigger more conversation with my doctor not serve as a real guideline. But the 124 number was improved over what I remember my numbers being a couple years ago. The 25 number, though, is new.

HDL values above 60 are healthy. HDL values from 40 to 60 are normal. Values below 40 increase your risk of heart problems.

25 is significantly below 40.

The technician asked me if I exercised regularly, and I felt guiltless in saying "yes". I did more research on HDL. Exercise and weight loss are the two biggest predictors of HDL increases, and I'm working on both those. But what's also important is eating enough healthy fats: avacados, fish, olives, nuts. And as a ruthless calorie cutter, I know I'm guilty of throwing out the good with the bad.

So now I have a dietary action item other than losing weight. And next time I see my doctor, I'll ask for a full blood workup. I'll need to understand if what I'm doing is good enough.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Put the book in the bag

Our town library is having a fundraising book sale next week, and we decided to help out. Since we've had our daughter, we've made extensive use of the library's free childrens' programs. Jess and the baby are there weekly. The staff know our names.

So we got out our full complement of cloth grocery bags and started packing books away. I warned Jess early on that I wasn't sure whether I'd be able to give all my books away. Some I had no problem; though I enjoyed reading Stephen King's Desperation, say, it wasn't special in any way. But then I got to Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, which I read in Las Vegas, and I had trouble putting it in the bag. I didn't even love the book, but I remember feeling it was important.

The same happened to American Psycho, which I read on a plane (on the plane to Vegas, actually). I have distinct memories of holding that book in my hands, feeling like somebody would be reading over my shoulder and judge me based on the difficult subject matter of the book.

The Mars trilogy, which I loved (even though sometimes the books dragged on for pages describing rock), also went into the bags. The Life of Pi, another book I paused and said, "Wait, this was important."

But then I remembered something. My entire marriage has been a struggle against my wife's urge to clean up loose ends and my desire to hold onto sentimental objects. And never once have I regretted letting her win one of those arguments. So I gave in, again.

In the end we filled 7 bags with books and donated them to some very happy staffers who will use them to raise money. And someone else will get the experience of enjoying a book I already enjoyed.

(and I'm secretly plotting to buy a Kindle)

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Eager to race

I know how I work -- I am goal-oriented. I will rearrange my life to get a training run in, but I will gladly let a "just because" run slip to the bottom of my priority list.

So, clearly the answer is to train for something.

Right now I'm working the Couch-to-5K, and I'm about to enter the "no more walking" portion of the program. That's right, the mid-run walk breaks are done! From Week 6 Day 3 and onwards every run is just increasing in length from 25 minutes up to 30.

I wanted to find a race to train for once the C25K was complete, but was having trouble finding anything after Dec 5. What's Dec 5 you ask? Well, it's the race my wife wanted to run -- the Hot Chocolate 5K in Northampton MA, my original home town and where we both went to high school. She has yet to run a road race (I have run two, when I was in better running shape), and when she mentioned it in passing to her mother she learned her mom had wanted to train for and run a race this year but had let it slide.

They decided to plan to run it together, and got a couple other female family members involved. I decided not to try and horn in on this action and instead to play the good husband who watches the baby. I also didn't want to steal her thunder and run a race before she did.

Since then, life has changed a bit for Jess's parents, and her mom has fallen way behind on her training. Realistically she's just not going to be able to run a 5K in December. So, instead, she volunteered to watch our daughter, freeing me up to run the race. This is good because the other family members might have to back out as well for schedule conflict reasons, meaning I may be the only person running with her.

This does mean I'm not running "my" race, but that's fine. I'm looking forward to supporting her and helping her cross that finish line. It's a big race (last year there were 1300 participants) which I think is awesome for a first race. I've run both small and big races and the atmosphere of excitement around the thousand-plus-person race is so much cooler. That, and you never feel "alone" on the course no matter how you're pacing yourself.

So what does this mean for our training? We both are on track to finish the C25K in October (she a week before me). The next steps will be to gradually increase our runs' durations, and to make sure Jess does a few training runs outside so she's used to how the pavement and the outdoor air feels. It's a totally different world than the basement treadmill. She's done outdoor runs before but it's been a couple years. Time to get back out there! My job is to mainly to enable her -- watch the baby, lend support, and whatnot. And sneak in a few outdoor runs myself....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Restless Feet

I was driving home a bit late yesterday after taking my mother on some errands, and my mind was wandering in a few different directions. I came to a realization about my mental state over the past few weeks: I'm getting restless.

Not in an "I need to exercise" way, but in an "I need to explore" way.

But Dave, you've done plenty of traveling this year, you say.

True enough. But there's something missing -- a desire to plan, to explore, to pick someplace new and figure out what I want to see there, and go there.

(Camping with the baby doesn't count. It was technically new, but trust me.)

Restless. At least I have a label for it now. Maybe I'll try and figure out something interesting to do this next year for our anniversary. Maybe I'll look into where else to go when visiting my grandparents instead of sticking to what we know and love. Or maybe I'll just try and plot out a fun day trip for autumn leaf-peeping....

All if it has to be more productive than reading random blogs and journals... though perhaps less interesting ;).

(Either that or I'll just start researching a new gadget to buy ... maybe a running GPS/pedometer/something-or-other...)

Fitness update: Within five pounds of the magic 200 mark, which has always been some kind of mental dividing line between "fit" and "fat". Well maybe not "fit" but somewhere in between I guess. My next workout (hopefully tonight) will wrap up week 5 of the C25K program (it's a 20-minute run). After that there's a week of endurance-building and then the final 3 weeks, which are all continuous runs of 25, 28, and then 30 minutes.

Friday, September 18, 2009

The other side

In my last post, I wrote about the world being as big or as small as I wanted it to be, being fearless and exploring on foot or on bike as a kid.

There's another side to this story, of course, and I was reminded of it today when out on a walk. I was probably around 13, and my best friend and I had somehow decided it was a good idea to explore the area around Fitzgerald Lake, a large conservation area in our hometown (you can see it here). It's a big space for a couple of kids to venture into, unsupervised. No maps, no compasses, no water, no cell phones (cell whats?), nothing but the shorts and t-shirts we wore and the bikes we had chained up who-knows-where.

We quickly were in over our heads, having turned ourselves around a few times and bushwhacked in what we thought was the right direction. Hours went by, the two of us lost in a wilderness of unknown size, in hot and humid summer weather. I remember being insanely thirsty, and being terrified of drinking stagnant pond water. We bravely soldiered on. I remember at one point, as we cut through a meadow, offering to take the lead. We swapped places, and I every step I took was slicing my legs on the sharp-edged grass that filled the meadow. I realized he had been silently bearing this pain for who-knows-how-long, and I could hardly handle a minute of it.

We chased phantom sounds, we walked in circles, we did our best to reassure each other that we would find our way home before dark.

And we did, eventually. We staggered out into a neighborhood, walked right over to someone's house, and drank our fill out of their hose. We then knocked on their door and asked to use their phone, calling our parents to reassure them we were okay. We found our bikes and made our way back to a corner store, where we bought root beer, before going home and probably (I don't remember) getting in trouble.

I remembered this story because today I was walking near work and said, "I wonder where this trail goes." I followed it for 10 minutes and turned around, realizing my lunchtime walk would turn into an afternoon walk if I stayed on it any longer. And somehow I took a wrong turn and ended up on a different trail. I got out fine, and I was never more than a couple minutes from my workplace, but for that brief moment I remembered the feeling of terror, two kids just about to enter adolescence and fearing for our lives as the sun started sinking in an unfamiliar wilderness.

Status update: 25 pounds down! Week 4 of Couch-to-5K complete. Still trying to make sure I eat enough, still scared of eating junk food.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Moving over the earth

I lived most of my youth in a single town, without a car. Everywhere I went I walked or bicycled. I got to know every side street, every dead end, every shortcut. My world was as big or as small as I wanted to let it be.

As an adult, it's easy to forget what it's like to inhabit that world. We visit far-off places, but we do it by driving at 75 miles per hour in a car with the windows rolled up, or in a flying tin can with in-flight entertainment. There's no concept of distance, just inconvenience between points A and B.

This is one of the reasons I love bicycling, hiking, and running. You move over the earth, but you feel the distance as you do it. You slowly watch the scenery change. You notice the details and your other senses get involved: neighborhoods have odors, the air tastes different in the fall, your aching feet and tired muscles remind you how far you've gone.

I'll never forget the cross-country road trip I took with my wife in 2002. Day by day, avoiding the interstate as often as we could, we drove thousands of miles across the nation. We ate locally, stopped and smelled the roses, tried to get a sense of the places we passed through. Destinations became unimportant, and the journey rose to the top. It changed me, changed how I view the world, how I view myself, how I view my life.

We can't just ditch life every year (well, some people can, but that's not the life I've chosen), but we can replicate some of that experience in small ways. A big part of why I want to be fit is so that I can exert my physical will upon the earth, move over it in whatever way I choose, and truly experience it. I want to run further than the horizon, to hike a trail that takes me from the valley floor to the mountain top, to walk well beyond what most people consider "walking distance," to answer every trivial "where does this go?".

I want to take it all in and know that in my own small way, I own it all.

When the vanity appeal of losing weight isn't enough any more, this is the well I draw from for motivation.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Hours turn into days, and then weeks

A recurring topic of conversation around me is how much faster time goes by now that I'm a parent. This morning, I look at the calendar and realize September is halfway through, and shake my head. Time marches on.

Last week was a bit crazy. One of my two distractions was a summer work picnic followed by cocktails to send off a co-worker who is leaving the US to return to India. The other was my wife's birthday.

Of the two, the work event was much healthier. The food was only okay, so I basically ate a small lunch and exercised all afternoon, holding myself to two beers afterward and feeling the day was a net win. My wife's birthday was a bit more of an all-day event, eating a bit more than I should have on two occasions.

But the momentum hasn't shifted; the weight is still falling and the running is still increasing. Yesterday I ran the first day of week 4 of the Couch-to-5K workout plan. After 2 weeks in a row where the run portions of the run/walk totaled 9 minutes, this week's run total 16 minutes (two 5-minute runs, two 3-minute runs), with five minutes of walking in-between and ten minutes of warm-up/cool-down.

For the first time in a long time, I felt like I was running. Three minutes of running, my initial burst of energy carries me through it. But after four minutes, my body gets a familiar "oh, we're really doing this for a while" vibe. That last minute of the 5-minute run felt like what I remember running feeling like.

If I stay on schedule I'll be able to run a few nice long runs in the late fall. I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Summer's over (sort of)

Labor Day marks the philosophical end of summer. Kids are back in school, the weather is starting to change, and people stop taking so much vacation time at work, giving the place a different vibe and making parking spaces more precious. Football season is in its one-week hiatus between the pre-season and the first game, country fairs are going strong, and the smell of grilled hamburgers carries across suburban yards on cool early-evening breezes.

On a personal level, I can hopefully catch my breath a bit. We've had a busy summer, with lots of travel and other family and social engagements. It seemed like we were booked every weekend, often times having to decide between conflicting plans. This week should mark the end, after a mid-week work outing and my wife's birthday on Friday, that is.

I am not complaining! We are fortunate to have such great opportunities to go interesting places and hang out with great people. But I'm looking forward to some quiet time and a bit of a reset button on lifestyle.

Part of doing something out of the ordinary every week is that you're always getting excuses for stepping outside your fitness norm. And if you're like me, one or two "bad" meals in a week can erase any evidence of fitness progress (and set you back in terms of habits as well). I feel like I need a few weeks without any excuses for splurging to make sure I'm well-grounded as I move through Autumn.

Because with Autumn comes apple pies, football games, and Sam Adams Octoberfest, my beer of choice. And of course, before we know it, the holidays are upon us.

Fitness update:

Today I ran the second of the three Week Three workouts in the C25K. I went to the Spencer Fair and ate a healthy (?) grilled chicken sandwich and half of a small order of fries. This past Saturday I camped with our 14-month old (and a bunch of other family) and was exhausted and grumpy when my brother-in-law showed up with 4 dozen donuts for the ten of us. I could have kissed him on the mouth I was so happy -- instead I confined my sugar-gluttony to one donut (let's not talk about the cookies I had later that day -- three hours of hiking paid for them in full).

Fitness isn't about absolutes, not for me. Sometimes it's the small victories. I could have eaten four donuts that morning. I ate one. I could have rested on my laurels after the first 90-minute hike. I went on two more. I could have bought a huge heap of onion rings today at the fair. I shared an order of fries. Sometimes you have to remember the context, think of how things could have gone, to see the progress you're making.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009


I was editing some family pictures on Facebook and saw two pictures nearly side by side, taken 3 months apart, where I was wearing the same shirt. I'm pretty happy with how different I look in the two pictures. So, to remind myself why I'm doing this, here's the two pictures:

This is hardly before/after, it's more before/during, but it's nice to see an image that shows where I am today as compared to where I started. (Going strictly by the pictures I got taller and thinner! ;) ).

And, yesterday I finished the second week of my Couch to 5K training, a few days late. I didn't run while I was on vacation and fighting off a nasty cold. But I'll be starting Week 3 later this week, which contains the same 21 minutes of walking and 9 minutes of running per workout, but contains two 3-minute run intervals and two 90 seconds (as opposed to six 90 second intervals).

An interesting challenge is coming up for me soon, a weekend camping trip. In general I tend to drink while camping, but this is a state park with no alcohol allowed, so that won't be an issue. So that makes the biggest Calorie challenge a pig roast and s'mores. We'll see where it goes!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

On Mortality

I returned this weekend from a short vacation in Southeast Maine. It was only a few days but we got to visit some of our favorite places -- walked along Marginal Way, ate at Wild Willy's, enjoyed the view at Long Sands, played at Short Sands, poked around the shops, went to Bread and Roses in Ogunquit, and more.

We also went to visit our friend Paulette, who lost her husband Peter earlier this year. Peter and Paulette owned the B&B that introduced us to the area, and in the years that they opened their home, we were frequent guests. They retired and closed the place a couple years back, but we stayed in touch, and were saddened when Peter passed after a short battle with cancer. This was our first trip to Maine after Peter's death, and it was hard knowing that we wouldn't be able to count on his unique local point of view. While it warmed our hearts to see Paulette, it was a sobering reminder of the frailty of our lives.

And so, as my wife, myself, and our daughter sat overlooking low tide on Marginal Way, I pondered quietly the nature of things. I looked ahead into the future and saw a world where my daughter was old and gray, and my wife and I were gone. I pictured her sitting on that same cliff, overlooking the ocean, and thinking of us. I wondered what life she would lead, what lessons we'd pass on before we left her.

While we were traveling Senator Kennedy died, as did Dick Egan, the founder of the company I work for. They led different lives but both had huge impacts. I won't leave the kind of legacy they did. I just hope I do something right enough that someone stands and thinks of me fondly on a quiet morning overlooking a still sea.

And I hope it's a long, long time from now.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Inspirational Voices

As I make an effort to refocus my life around a healthy diet and regular exercise, I am trying to find and follow inspirational voices. This includes people on Facebook, twitter, and blogs who talk about healthy living in positive ways that resonate with me.

For example, there's Jank and Tea, who I've been following since I first started running. There are my friends and co-workers who do Triathlons during race season and yet I can relate to. There are people like Sarah Stanley who just finished 3rd in her age group for a 100-mile ultramarathon. And, of course, there are people like the Anti-Jared who lost 200 pounds, as well as people who are still working on their journey and whose ups and downs are mirrors of my own struggles at times.

And then there are the other kind of people:

The bottom-feeders. The get-skinny-quick scam artists are all over the place, of course, but then there's the slightly-less-obvious affiliate marketers. They seem to have something interesting to say when you first encounter them, but after a week their "inspirational quotes" file cycles over and you realize they're just saying the same thing over and over, and hoping you click their links so they can make a couple bucks off you. These are closely related to ...

The opportunist. These folks may be legit, but they can't resist the dollar signs and pepper their life stories with affiliate links and sponsored content. "Here's a picture of me eating a HealthyBar after my run! It tasted so good I almost ate two, LOL!" Gag me.

The silent type. We know many blogs get abandoned. But when a fitness blog gets abandoned it has a darker implication. Did the author give up posting because he or she got tired of writing? Or because they couldn't bear to write about how they'd (temporarily) lost the battle?

The drama queens. Every weekend is a disaster, every week is a new victory. We all struggle and honestly I want to read the bad and the good together. But there's a personality type that's addicted to drama and conflict and when that person runs a fitness blog the result is too much to handle. I have to unsubscribe, even as I feel their pain. I just can't keep up with their roller coaster ride.

I'm always looking for new folks to follow, whether it's a blogger, a twitterer, or something else. So if you have a great suggestion, let me know.

Status update: C25K W2D1 completed yesterday. This week the 30 minute workout is 21 minutes walking, 9 minutes running, running in intervals of 90 seconds. Legs are ready for more, but I'm sticking to the program. Of the 35 pounds I wanted to lose to reach my "back in shape" goal, I've lost 15. For the last few weeks of summer, I'm wearing my shorts one size smaller, because the ones I started the summer with keep falling down.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Overweight and overeating

My scale decided to give me a birthday present today. It dropped me below the magical imaginary line that exists between "obese" and "overweight." I really hate to write that, because I always think "I have a gut" and the truth is "I am obese." It might be "just a gut" but it's a big enough gut to trip a magical imaginary number on a doctor's chart somewhere.

Well, was big enough.

Of course, I celebrated (my birthday, not my lack-of-obesity) by having a sensible eating and exercise day ... up until my dinner out, where I got an appetizer (horror of horrors), a full meal, and dessert. And a beer.

So today I ate enough food for two days, near as I can guess. It's hard to count the calories in a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant.

It's okay, though. I can't go through life eating salads and grilled chicken and veggies every night. There will be days when I splurge a little, and there will be birthdays and holidays where I splurge a bit more.

I still did my running workout (one week down!), I still ate my fruits and veggies and whole grains earlier in the day, I still felt healthy.


I've been recording my calories and exercise for 40 days now. I've been within or under my optimal weight loss amount for 36 of those days, and within maintenance levels for 38 of them. It's not quite time to call in the guys in the white coats yet.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Birthday Eve

I get reflective on my personal life at two times each year ... the stronger of those, generally, is my birthday. New Years, I'm usually too busy enjoying the holiday season and the NFL playoffs to spend too much time navel-gazing.

So on the night before my birthday, I look backwards and ahead.

I look backwards on a life I am, for the most part, very happy with. I have been to wonderful places with wonderful people, I have lent a helping hand, I have been a good friend and an excellent husband and am surviving as a father. I have exceeded expectations and surprised myself. I have used my powers for good.

This is not to say I have made no mistakes. The road has been full of detours and missteps. I've wasted countless dollars and hours, I've missed out on awesome opportunities, and I've lost touch with people I care about simply because I'm easily distracted.

But overall I'm happy with where I've gone and how I've gotten there.

I look forward to an unknown world.

I try to visualize my future and fail. I had no idea what being a father to a toddler would be. I am even less prepared to visualize being a father to a growing child. I am powerless to visualize being a father to two children, an eventuality that may someday arrive (or may not).

I have no idea what awaits me at work. So much has changed, so much is still the same. I'm in a state of constant flux. Sometimes I feel like I am incapable of being surprised any more, in that arena.

I can intentionally visualize what I want out of my next few years though. I want to teach my daughter to read, and do it in a way that she ends up loving books. I want my fit body back. I can feel it, my old level of fitness, hiding under this misuse, and I want it back.

I want to see new places, eat new foods, cook new foods. I want to experience new things with my friends and family. I want to strengthen my friendships instead of taking them for granted.

I want to create. I want to write. I want to somehow take this weird imagination of mine and couple it to the urge I have to stick words together, and get something out of it.

The first 18 years of life, you are a child.
The next 18 years of life, you take the hand you were dealt the previous 18 years and make what you can out of it.

And then what?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Running towards 40 ... or at least 36

I'm a few days away from turning 36, which is 90% of the way to 40, and that's been on my mind a bit of late. I'll write more about that as 36 gets closer ... for now, let's talk about running.

When I started running in 2004, I did it using the Couch-to-5K program, which at the time was just something people talked about on the Cool Running forums. Now it's got its own fancy (?) website but the program is the same. After, what, 18 months without running (more?), I figured I could do worse as a reintroduction than just restarting that program.

Today was W1D1 (Week One, Day One).
5 minute warmup
8 sets of (60 seconds running, 90 seconds walking) = 20 minutes
5 minute cooldown

This repeats twice more in Week One. The program runs for 9 weeks, and at the end your workout is:

5 minute warmpup
30 minute run
5 minute cooldown

It works, which I know because I've used it before. So has Jess (who, by the way, ran W2D2 today and has a 5K picked out to run with her mother in December).

It's a bit humbling to be starting W1D1 all over again, but it's good to have the structure. There's nothing wrong with a slow reintroduction. So today I popped my headphones in while Evelyn napped, and did my 30 minute workout on the treadmill in the basement. My legs were itching for more, but that's fine. They'll be crying for less, soon enough.

My big hairy audacious goal is to run a marathon before I'm 40. My fallback plan is to run a half.

I've got 4 years, and I'm on Week One Day One. I'm pretty sure I can get there from here ... one workout at a time.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Baby steps towards running

I bought running shoes the other day. If you aren't a runner, you might not understand why I'm writing this like it's an accomplishment.

Running shoes are, to quote the Internet, serious business. Everyone's feet are different, and running shoes are designed to prevent injury and increase comfort depending on what your foot needs. You could just go to the store and buy a pair of sneakers and run, and if your feet happen to be the right kind, you might not end up in crippling pain.

Then again, you could be like me (and many others), and require a bit more attention. And if, like me, you haven't run in coming up on two years, you may not remember what your needs are, and guessing comes with a high potential penalty.

So buying running shoes, for me, requires going into a specialty store, trying on a handful of shoes, and showing off my clumsy stride and form for a couple of fit 20-somethings who thankfully manage to not project "oh my god look at this old fat guy," but instead seem legitimately interested in making sure I have the best chance of succeeding when I strap these on and go out the door.

So, yes, new shoes have been purchased, thanks to the kind folks at Northampton Running Company, which is where I happened to be when I had enough time to kill to buy shoes. I ended up with an update of the shoes I ran in when I was training for the 10K I ran a few years back. Hopefully they'll work as well this time around as they did then!

I tried them out yesterday with a 15-minute walk, because that's all I had time for. I'm still trying to make sure my hamstrings and back can handle the stress of running, but eventually I'm going to have to actually get out there and see. I'll take them for another walk today.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Eating: Add, don't subtract

I stumbled across two great pieces of advice the other day with regards to eating healthy, in a success story on the Calorie Count blog.

Add things to your diet instead of slashing them.
Give your full attention to the food you do eat. Don't disrespect yourself and your food....

This relates to a New York Times article I read recently about how we're spending more time watching people cook than cooking. In it, food marketing researcher Harry Balzer says something interesting:

You want Americans to eat less? I have the diet for you. It’s short, and it’s simple. Here’s my diet plan: Cook it yourself. That’s it. Eat anything you want — just as long as you’re willing to cook it yourself.

These things come together for me and suggest some changes in how I think about food. A beautiful meal, cooked at home, out of delicious healthy ingredients, is much more satisfying and engaging than the best-tasting junk food. My wife and I are talking about trying to approach cooking like a hobby, picking out new recipes and ingredients every few weeks (or once a month even) and trying things out. The feeling of adding to our lives while still managing to eat healthier is something we want to embrace.

I also love the commentary on fully engaging with your food while you're eating it. If I'm going to spend 150 Calories of my budget on a beer, I'm going to make sure I enjoy that beer. Getting a muffin for breakfast instead of a healthy egg-beater omelet is an okay decision, but enjoy that muffin and make it count.

Some people think of food only as fuel. I will never be that person. I love to eat and drink. I love experiencing new foods, and I love revisiting my favorite meals and beverages over and over again. Some people would be happy eating nothing but scientifically perfect nutrition bars and water. But I need my spicy tomato sauces, my sausages on the grill, my sauteed mushrooms, my roasted sweet potatoes, my burritos, my hot sauce, my cilantro and lime juice, my tequila and my cold beer.

So don't fight it. Embrace it. Find ways to fully engage with food and drink while still building healthy habits. Don't slice out a huge part of your life and expect to somehow end up with something sustainable. It won't work.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


I am now three weeks into my lifestyle rebalancing, and I'm really feeling the progress. I've dropped ten pounds (I know, too fast! See below), I'm getting used to some new habits, and I'm planning for the future. But let's talk about some of the unpleasant aspects of this.

I'm finding out I'm a little obsessed. On Friday, I was making plans to go out for dinner on Monday. I knew it would be a Calorie-heavy day, so in my mind I was already planning how to cut corners for THREE DAYS prior. I saw that and nipped it in the bud, but it's telling when it comes to my mental approach to food.

Warning: the following is a bit self-obsessed, and way too detailed for anyone.

I'm "supposed" to have anywhere from 1800 to 2300 Calories a day. This will yield a healthy steady weight loss and still provide the fuel I need. Over the past 3 weeks, I've averaged probably closer to 1400. Some days it's 1200, some 1500, but if I go over 1500 I start to get nervous. Nervous even though I could eat a full meal in addition to 1500 and still be "okay."

I was trying to get to the root of this behavior, and I figured some of it out. It's partially that when I last was this strict with food, I was eating out on a regular basis. We lived in an area with more good restaurants, had no baby to deal with, and my wife was working and going to school and was much busier. We didn't cook nearly as often. We were also more social -- more likely to be going out for a poker night, a game night, a movie night, a random get-together that involved takeout (or delicious mexican food, you know who you are) and beer or margaritas ... basically I was constantly leaving room for a disaster in the evening, and I often needed that room.

Life isn't like that now. Going out to eat is harder because there are fewer options where we live now, and we're carting a toddler along. We're more likely to eat at home, and more likely to control the ingredients and make those meals healthy. With my wife also starting to pay attention to her food we're not having huge thousand-plus Calorie dinners.

So my new goal for an average day is to consume 1000 healthy Calories at work, leaving room, for a 600 to 700 Calorie dinner and a 100 to 200-Calorie dessert. Here's a breakdown of what I was doing before at work:

Breakfast: 200 Calories
(Egg beaters, onions/peppers, whole grain toast)

Lunch: 300 Calories
(Salad, yogurt, hard boiled egg, oil and vinegar)

Snacks: 200 Calories
(Banana, apple)

Total before dinner: 700 Calories.

So I need to add 300 Calories to my average day. A hundred at breakast, a hundred at lunch, and an extra hundred in snacks would probably work out well. I could add some dairy at breakfast (glass of skim milk, or some low-fat cheese), some protein at lunch (meat with the salad), and perhaps some fat to my snacks (almonds).

I could also change it up even more. Have a 500-Calorie sandwich at lunch. I write this, but as I do I get nervous. Sandwiches lead to bags of chips, bags of chips lead to french fries, french fries lead to big bellies.

This is the unhealthy relationship I have with food right now. I know it's not normal. I know I need to improve things. I'm getting there.

I'll write more later, including some other things I'm trying to do to take this in a healthy direction, as well as my thoughts on physical (not just dietary) fitness.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Two weeks in

It's been two weeks now that I've been sticking to my guns and eating right. There have been a lot of little challenges in these two weeks but doing the right thing has become its own sort of stress relief. It's hard to describe but the mental focus it takes to stay on track is partially fueled by the chaos I'm feeling in my work life. New boss, new responsibilities, new team members -- a lot going on.

My clothes fit a little better, I'm that little bit more self-confident, and the scale is reflecting my changes.

While I'm exercising regularly in the form of walks around the campus at work, it's not the same as a rigorous workout regimen. With two weeks of solid diet under my belt I feel like it's time to start thinking about the workouts. I'll be looking at some changes in this area next week.

My biggest concern right now is sustainability. I'm overcompensating right now, eating too few Calories rather than staying at the level I "should" eat to be losing weight at a healthy pace. If I go 100 Calories over that magic number I get panicked. I know I need to find a middle ground.

I'll get there.

What's strange is that the things which should motivate me (long, healthy life, energy to keep up with my daughter, and so on) aren't necessarily the things that got me going. I'm motivated by the fitness of my friends and co-workers, and not wanting to be the person left out. This doesn't surprise me; it's always been this way for me. Just interesting to note that having a baby didn't change that....

Friday, July 17, 2009

Tapped like a keg

I've read that only 5% of the eligible donor population gives blood. For most of my life I've been part of the majority. Today I switched sides.

I grew up in a faith that held blood sacred, and so would not consume blood or blood products, nor allow them in their bodies via transfusion. You can imagine that giving blood was similarly forbidden. I left that faith behind long ago, but that strong taboo remained in my subconscious. Coupled with my unease around blood and needles, it was easy to just skip it every time the call went out.

The cries of the needy eventually got too loud to ignore, though. The experience was relatively painless, since they come right to my building to hold the drive. From picking up the information packet to walking back to my desk took 70 minutes. I was a bit more lightheaded than I expected to be, otherwise it would have been even sooner.

(In reference to my previous post on fitness and diet you'll be happy to hear I ate a packet of raisins instead of cookies afterward.)

The whole experience got me thinking, though. A lot of the indoctrination I received as a child contained rational components. If you imagine a society that lives a certain way, it's easy to come up with reasons why certain religious commands make sense. And yet I was able to reason my way out of them, fairly easily, as I became an adult. But "God demands you hold blood sacred" is inherently irrational. There's no societal benefit hiding in the wings, nothing but a remnant of ancient superstition interpreted as divine law.

I reasoned my way out of all those superstitions years ago. And yet I skipped every blood drive my company hosted, for over a decade.

But today I took a stand for reason and for the rational betterment of the human race. It felt good. I was so busy being happy about that, that it didn't occur to me until later that the pint I gave could someday save someone's life.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The power of 48 hours

Last weekend was pretty much perfect. The summer weather was ideal: dry, sunny, warm but not oppressive.

On Saturday I went to the annual summer cookout hosted by an old college friend. There (and the holidays) are the only times I reliably see this circle of friends all together. Sure there are occasional parties, football games, and so on, but everyone tries to make these twice-annual events.

Reflecting on the day, later that night, I realized just how much some of my friends have embraced their fitness, and how much I've let mine slip. It was a catalyst of sorts, coming at the same time I stumbled onto some old fitness journals, some old spreadsheets.

For the two days since then, I've done what I used to do -- eat 3 healthy meals, have fruits for snacks, and limit my junk food indulgences to carefully controlled portions. I've tracked my food intake and activity levels online.

I've gone to bed feeling without feeling full. I've finished meals feeling merely full not stuffed. In just 48 hours I've reminded myself what a healthy normal lifestyle feels like. 48 hours is nothing to write home about, I know. It's just two days. Call me back in two weeks, right?

We'll see. For now, it's been a good two days.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The next four years

I wrote a Facebook note the other day, about things I wanted to do by the time I was 40 (I'm 4 years and a couple months from there). It was inspired by some discussions I'd had at work with a friend who has just 10 months until 40, and his "undone" things.

My list has two important things on it.
  1. Run a marathon.
  2. Write some fiction.
2 is easy, depending on how you define it. The writing exercises I'm trying to get back into could qualify under some definitions.

1 is a stereotypical BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal). I don't know that I'll ever be in shape to run a marathon. But the road there will teach me a lot about myself and get me into the shape I know I want to be in. My escape clause is running a Half. I ran a 10K, I'm relatively sure that given another 6-9 months of training I could have been ready to at least finish a Half, even if I embarassed myself in the process.

I've started the writing exercises again.

I have yet to make a firm and serious commitment to the right nutrition and exercise routines to get me back into running shape.

So I'm here to write about the reasons I should commit myself to this:
  • My daughter is only going to need more from me, physically. I need to keep up with her.
  • My daughter needs a good role model for her fitness.
  • I want to live long into my daughter's adult life and not be a burden on her.
  • I am sick of hating shopping for new clothes.
  • The self-confidence will help me at work.
  • It will burn off stress from work and home.
  • I was confident and content on a different level when I was at my most fit.
  • I know I can do it.
  • I want to appear more professional and disciplined.
I recently sat down and talked with some friends who have been steadily growing more involved with fitness over the years. I was inspired and jealous. And frustrated with my own recent lapses.

And by recent I mean last 12-18 months.

Of course, my lapse in writing is much more severe (though it doesn't count the same: I've been blogging steadily instead ... it's like lapsing on running but biking instead).

Friday, June 19, 2009

vs. the empty page

In 2005, my best friend loaned me 3 books on writing fiction. I had been inspired by his success in chasing his dream of writing, and felt a deep urge to put some of my own ideas into words.

I began doing some writing exercises, saving the results to a folder buried deep on my computer, for nobody else to read.

I did five exercises. And life caught up with me and I didn't do any more.

I took those 3 books out today, from the deep recesses of a bookshelf. I cracked them open. I found the exercises, and dug out the documents I had written. I read four of them. Somehow I missed the fifth. One of them was really good -- a comic story which failed utterly in accomplishing the desired exercise but somehow stumbled onto genuine humor about my own flaws.

I had forgotten I had even written it.

The others, well, they were exercises. Not every workout ends up with a pretty result.

Late tonight, when the house was dark and quiet, I cracked open the book and decided to do the next exercise. I opened up a word processor and stared at the blank page for several solid minutes. I brought up my web browser, hoping I had a new email to distract me. Nope. I tabbed over to Facebook, and clicked "Refresh." No new posts from my friends.

Fine. I tabbed back. Stared again.

And then I began typing. It came out slow and disjointed, but it came out.

When I saved the file, I realized I had already done the exercise in 2005. I compared the two results, written 3 and a half years apart. The topic was supposed to be a couple pages describing a difficult, painful, or partially forgotten memory. Back in 2005 I had written about an interaction between a 16 year-old and his mother, based clearly on my own life (but with all the names changed). It read like a scene in a story, but perhaps one where the star of the story is just a little too self-aware for it to be real.

In 2009 I wrote about a friendship that collapsed due to a series of events that started when I was 13 and wrapped up when I was 16. It read like a letter, or perhaps a blog post. First-person, no names changed, very little subtlety.

I re-read them both. I don't know which one I like better. Neither is a fun read. The story from 2005 is more polished but less honest. This year's story is nastier and sadder, but isn't as good a read. I imagine this has more to do with what I've been writing for the past year (aka blog entries and professional emails) than anything else. In some ways, the story I wrote today makes an excellent prequel to the one from 2005. Chronologically the two probably even overlap, although in the years that have followed the memories formed two distinct chapters of my life with nothing to tie them together.

In any case, it's a sort of victory to start the days with those books buried away and end it with a triumph over a blank page. We'll see where it goes from here.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Geocaching on Marathon Monday

Area runners are conspiring to get me back on the roads -- I must have seen a dozen out today while driving the rural roads of the Brookfields. I guess everyone finds the Marathon inspirational.

As always I took today off, and was checking my email on the blackberry when I saw 3 emails in a row from geocaching.com - 3 new geocaches within a few miles of my house. The types of caches we do as a family are fairly limited right now: roadside hides are the majority, followed by easy walks. Rough hiking is just too hard with the stroller. So when I saw that all three were roadside caches I figured we should dash out and try and record our name first on each one (called FTF, for First To Find).

Of course, with a 10-month old, it's not that simple. Getting packed and changed and ready took a while, but we were soon enough on our way. The first geocache was at the site of the Woolcott Homestead in the Brookfields. The Woolcott family settled there in the 1680s and built a tavern which was often visited by travelers on the road to Boston (remember, Route 9 in Massachusetts was the main way to Boston before the Mass Turnpike was built). The Woolcotts played a small part in the often tragic history of relations between the settlers and the Natives; John Woolcott's wife and two daughters were killed by Native raiders in 1693. Though the family remained in the area, all that can be seen on the site now are marker stones. And near one of them we found the coffee canister which had been repurposed as the geocache. We took from it a trackable coin in the shape of an Easter Egg (appropriate since I startled a rabbit while searching for the cache).

We drove down the road to view another historical marker and turned around; by the time we drove by the cache site another family was signing the log book. We were first, but by less than 5 minutes!

We made our way to the second of the three caches, a few miles away by a pond. As we approached we saw a car pulled over and a man bent over peering through the underbrush beneath the roadside trees. We slowed down and considered joining him, but decided not to interfere with his hunt. After all, the third cache remained a possible FTF target! Bravely onward we went on some of the most beautiful scenic roads in East and North Brookfield to a small bridge that crossed a narrow stream. Hidden on the guardrail was a magnetic hide-a-key with a few folded pieces of paper within. We signed our name second (alas, today was not a multiple-first day) and took in a bit of the view before getting back on the road.

We considered returning to the second cache but with the baby's morning disrupted already and the drive longer than we expected we abandoned the hunt and took a more direct route home. As we headed towards Spencer we passed a field with nearly a dozen deer grazing, and a pair of turkeys, one posing most dramatically. We made it home and fed our daughter and finally got her napping a short while later.

While my wife dozed off and I watched the thrilling finish of the Boston Marathon, I knew I had to write this post. The views we saw today weren't spectacular, but they were beautiful and memorable. And we would never have seen them if not for this new hobby of ours.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

A single mile

My lovely wife has a class this morning, so I'm left with Evelyn on the most beautiful Saturday morning we've had so far this year. Mid-40s, sunny, and headed up another ten+ degrees. Even with huge puddles, tons of sand and mud, and snow lining the roads, I had to get outside. I bundled Evie up and put her in the Jeep carriage, and took the safest path I could come up with for a walk.

We ended up covering almost a mile, most of it along part of what was my regular summer running route in 2007. Usually that was a 3-mile run but sometimes I made it as long as 5.

It's so weird to write that, 2007, as if I have been hiding in the house for years, but it's true -- I didn't run at all in the summer of 2008.

Walking the along the route I used to run every weekend showed me a few things:
  • I love being outside
  • My body is going to need some retraining
  • I can't wait to share this with Evelyn
Even though we live in a semi-rural area, the roads are not wide and as such it's not the safest place to run, never mind with a stroller. It's going to take some creativity, but it's something I really want to do. I look forward to writing more about it here.

Saturday, February 07, 2009

A moment of introspection

A few years back, while my wife and I discussed for the hundredth time whether we would have children or not, she said something to me which really reminded me why I fell in love with her. She told me we didn't need to have kids, but if we didn't, she didn't want to be living the same life in a decade that we were then. She was fine with giving up her dream of being a mother, if I would come forward with a much different dream to take its place.

In the end, we decided together that we wanted to be parents, wanted this life. I do not write this because I regret that choice.

But sometimes I wonder what very different life we would have come up with so that our lives in 2017 would be nothing like our life in 2007.

Late last week I stumbled upon the blog of someone who took an approach that called to me from across the "what if" chasm. She ditched a corporate life and is traveling the world as a freelance writer and consultant. You can read her most recent post here.