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!