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.