In Training, One Year On

A year ago, I posted about beginning training for a marathon. But it wasn’t really about training for the challenge of marathon, it was more. It was a declaration that this sedentary, unfit, and obese Web developer was going to change his life. And change my life, I have!

In May, I ran the St. John the Apostle Stingray 5K for the second time, finishing it 11 minutes faster than when I ran it in 2009. In June, I ran the CHKD Run/Walk for Kids 8K, and in September, I ran a half-marathon distance in an unofficial time of 3:07:35. Two weeks ago, I ran the Warrior Dash, a wonderful, fun obstacle course complete with scrambling over trailers, wading through a pond, crawling under barbed wire, and jumping over burning barricades.

And after about 24 years of struggling with my weight, and about 12 years in the obesity zone, I’m coming back. I’ve lost 47 lbs. so far, and while I’ve got a good amount more to lose (I’m still overweight), losing a fifth of my shell has been fantastic.

I’ve mentioned previously the book which has been helping me take it off, but here it is again for those who are interested: The Alternate-Day Diet (my review on Amazon). I credit it completely with my weight loss since the periods in which I didn’t follow it I gained weight, no matter how much I ran. If you need a program to kick-start your weight loss, I highly recommend it.

One of the most significant things about this year of physical activity and conditioning, is that I’ve actually stuck with it–never before have I been able to keep with a fitness plan for an entire year. (My previous flirtations with fitness fell apart during frigid Ohio winters!)

Now, a year later, I’ve discovered the joy of trailrunning, and my only regret is that I didn’t discover it sooner.

So, is this one of the Wild Things of God? Well, it is in my book. Like so many people, I’ve had a bit of a mental dichotomy between the “spiritual” and the “physical.” (And I could even write about how such a dichotomy is false while remaining blind to how it still affected me.)

But now, practical spirituality is the only kind that interests me. Meister Eckhart’s famous prayer, “God, rid me of ‘God’,” rings true. Yes, I’ve had a bit of insight into the world being a holodeck, and myself as a part of the interplay of light and shadow, but the point of having a holodeck in the first place is to participate fully in the marvelous presentations.

And tomorrow morning, I’m going to immerse myself in the phenomenon of trailrunning.

La vie, c’est bon! That’s Jedi life in the real world.

More updates

Okay, I’m really sorry I haven’t been blogging consistently. It’s easy to say there’s been a lot going on, but man, has there been a lot going on!

  • I’m buying a condo! It’s in a beautiful converted house that looks like a castle. It’s still in Ghent, and will be about a mile closer to downtown from where I live now. The location is perfect; I’ll be equidistant from my workplace and the Naro, and in walking distance of both.
  • Just came back from a short trip visiting my family in Texas, and helped welcome my great-nephew Bridger Callahan into this wonderful, crazy world.
  • Finished the St. John the Apostle 5k Stingray Run on May 1st, eleven minutes faster than I did last year.
  • Will be running in the Run/Walk for the Kids 8K benefit for Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.
  • Still in training for the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in September.
  • Will be attending Esperanto USA’s national congress in Washington later this month.
  • Will be moving next month.
  • And going to Spain in July!

Losing Weight, Gaining Life!

The Alternate Day DietLast night I ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen since December. She was shocked at how different I looked. Since January 18, I’ve been following a program called The Alternate-Day Diet. I started at 225 lbs. (102 kg) and had a BMI of 33. A few days ago, I weighed in 202.5 lbs. (92 kg, BMI 29.9), a loss of 22.5 pounds or 10% of my starting weight in less than 13 weeks. And 20 lbs of my loss has been fat. I’m looking and feeling younger and I’m really looking forward to continuing the progress.

Why was she shocked? I’ve been obese now for a long time. I crossed into 200-pound-plus territory in 1998, never to return, except for a brief, ill-fated flirtation with the Atkins diet.

Until now, nothing else has helped me take it off. Several years ago, I tried Weight Watchers and found it decent for the strongly-disciplined, but I found counting points tedious and unendurable after a few months. Last year, I attempted the “mindfulness” approach described in I Can Make You Thin by Phil McKenna and The Gabriel Method by Jon Gabriel. It seemed dead-on in principle, but required a tremendous amount of time spent in mental conditioning, and the effort the constant mindfulness required was too difficult for me to keep with it.

The gist of The Alternate-Day Diet is to eat very lightly (really a modified fast) every other day. And on “up” days, eat just your usual amount. I’m keeping myself to around 500 calories on the short days … a few pieces of fruit and a protein bar, and another snack, like microwave popcorn or low-fat cottage cheese. I’ve found that as long as I spread my little snacks well throughout the day, I’m very seldom hungry unless I stay up very late.

The diet isn’t restrictive about what to eat at all… only that for weight-loss, you should limit your “down” days to about 25% of your typical intake. However, to use the diet simply for the benefits of the calorie restriction lifestyle, down days can be as much as 50% of regular intake. “Good” food is encouraged, of course, and the author says that most followers soon find themselves preferring healthier choices. That certainly has been my experience. On my up days, I tend to eat wraps and salads, heavy on vegetables, but often including eggs, cheese or fish. Sometimes I also enjoy a nice dessert. I’m losing my taste for many fried foods—I haven’t had or even wanted French fries since starting, and the thought of a heavy Chinese dish with fried rice actually repels me now. (On the other hand, I still have a weakness for tortilla chips!)

I’ve been blogging my progress on my review of the book at Amazon.

Since I’m training for a half-marathon in September, and I’m currently running about 10 miles per week, there’s a question of whether the weight loss is from the eating program or the running program. I believe it’s almost entirely from the eating program, because last fall I was training even more vigorously than I am now, and I didn’t lose a pound during three months of training. Seriously, my weight was as unchanging as a rock — 225, 225, 225 during the whole period, give or take a pound. More evidence is that in February, I was sidelined with an Achilles’ injury, and not running at all. I lost as much weight during that period as I did in March, when I resumed my running.

However, a mixture of cardio and strength training actually is part of the ADD, although it’s not emphasized and gets easily overlooked.

My goals? At first, I was thinking of shooting for a weight goal, 162 lbs (BMI 24), and possibly down to 145 lbs (BMI 21.5) which is where I stabilized when I got into great shape the first time. However, I’ve been reading about the advantages of Waist-to-Height Ratio over BMI as a fitness measure, and that, combined with the fact that I’m not being drawn to a low-fat diet like I was 20 years ago, makes me think a waist goal, rather than a weight goal, is more in order. My primary goal will be 34 in. (WHtR 49%), and then, I may decide to go further. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to many more celebrations along the journey: crossing the 200-pound mark, breaking 190, buying new pants, and so forth. But the main thing is just the newness, freshness, strength and vitality I feel. It frims!

Marathon (and other) updates

I won’t be running in the Shamrock Marathon this month. I had some substantial problems with my left Achilles’ tendon, and after some rest, a lot of physical therapy, a couple of shoe changes, and wearing an ankle brace, I think that’s behind me, as long as I go slow in building up to the distance. These problems started in late December. At that time, I changed my plans to run in the half-marathon event instead of the full marathon, but my Achilles’ problem kept flaring up, and I was never able to run more than seven miles without tremendous difficulty.

So now, I’m training for the Rock-and-Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach in September. That should give me ample time to train without hurting myself. I’m looking forward to it!

Other news:
La Sagrada FamiliaI’ll be going on vacation to Barcelona and Majorca this summer. I’ve dreamed about this for years. My dad will be coming along with me, and I think this is going to be an amazing experience for both of us.

I’ve been trying to studying both Spanish and Catalan this year, but I’m finding that studying two languages at once, especially if they’re closely related, is really difficult. The result is that I haven’t really studied much of either so far this year. I have a pretty good base in Spanish now, which I’ve been studying off and on for about three years, but my Catalan is very basic, and it’s tough to find good learning materials and anyone to practice with.

I love Catalan and really want to learn it (it’s like a cross between Spanish and French, spoken with a Russian accent); but I’ve come to realize that I need to give Spanish priority. That way I when I get there I’ll have a very decent grasp of one of the area’s languages. If I try to concentrate on Catalan alone for a few months, I probably won’t be very good in either one when I get there. (Sigh.)

I’m planning not just on going to Esperanto USA’s national congress this year as usual, but I may actually be giving a workshop in Esperanto there. (Public speaking in a foreign language! Just a couple of years ago that would have been unimaginable to me.)

Marathon(s) update

Well, the writing marathon, NaNoWriMo, is finally over. I and my friends Zach and Margreet all won, which is to say, we completed the challenge of writing a 50,000-word rough draft of a novel.

Now, some friends have enquired about when they can read my work, is it public yet, is it “finished” yet, and so on. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a good friend about that:

… I’m discovering that the words “rough draft” seem to mean wildly different things depending on the author, the book, and to non-writers.

I’ve got friends asking me to post it online, as though this is something slightly less polished than the book I envision. NOTHING could be farther from the truth.

I tweeted that my rough draft is so rough, it makes the surface of Mars look like glass by comparison!

The main story arc is pretty much finished… needs to be fleshed out, and needs an epilogue… everything is about as sketchy as can be… Most of the minor characters still are named with XXX as a placeholder!

So, yeah, I pretty much finished a “rough draft” in the roughest, draftiest, most skeletal sense of the word, but yeah, there’s a heck of a lot more for me to discover!

2009 NaNoWriMo winner badgeOr to put it more concisely… you don’t even want to think about reading it in this state… I’m probably going to take many months to revise it. I do think it’s a good science-fiction story, and will be seeking to publish it eventually.

As for running, my eight weeks of preliminary conditioning are over, and I’m officially on the training program of The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. Last night I jogged four miles. Sunday, I’ll do five. And on March 21st, I’ll do more than 26. It’s exciting, and I’ve got to say, endorphins are the best drug in the world! They make it worth it, even in spite of sores, rain, and slogging through mud.

These continuing projects, both turning the draft into a book, and turning myself into a marathoner are great challenges, but I’m already off to a great start, and I’m enjoying the heck out of them.

In Training

I’m in training. For a marathon! Yeah, you read that right, and it still sounds as unbelievable to me as it does to anyone reading this who knows me.

Sure, I wrote earlier about starting a running program; I began running again this spring rather stupidly. I just started jogging, and tried way too quickly to extend my runs. I didn’t begin by getting my body to get used to the idea of moving first, by walking, then gradually adding jogging, and slowly, smartly building up my bones and muscles from those of Internet potato to jock wannabe.

And after I finished my 5k race in May, I slacked off, and stopped running again, although with geocaching as a hobby, I’ve been getting outside and moving a bit more than I used to.

images.jpgFast-forward to the present: Almost everyone on my team at work (yeah, fellow geeky Web developers and engineers!) has been reading either Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, or The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by Whitsett, Dolgener and Kole, or both.

The first book is about ultra-marathoning, and deals with the subject on two levels. First, it’s a brilliantly-written account of its practitioners, from the Tarahumara people of Mexico, to some of the most colorful characters in the the States that you’ll ever read about.

The second level is a examination of the science of running, which is no less interesting, and to me, was even more so. One mystery that McDougall was intent on solving, is why US distance running capability has been decreasing since the 70s.

Over the course of his investigation, with discussions ranging from sport science laboratories to casual conversations with extreme runners, a pattern emerged that running injuries exploded proportionately with the advent of running shoes, and a rapidly-growing segment of doctors, coaches, and runners are eschewing shoes for barefoot running or minimal footwear, such as Vibram FiveFingers.

The results (for many people at least) have been remarkable. Some people with debilitating running injuries have been quickly able to surpass their previous abilities, and there are coaches now who insist their athletes train barefoot to prevent injuries.

I had decided to order a pair of FiveFingers long before reading Born to Run, and the book only increased my interest. Last week, I received my VFFs and the feeling was amazing—exactly like being barefoot, but with protection from the glass, stickers, and pebbles that make city streets foot-hostile. Alas, my shoes were a size too small, but I’m looking forward to getting the right size later this week.

nonrunnerguide.jpgMeanwhile, I’m following the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. It’s from 1998, so naturally doesn’t have the latest and greatest information about footwear, but it seems a sane (though still scary) guide to get a non-runner like me to complete a marathon. The marathon-training program is 16 weeks long (about the length of a college semester, which is where this approach was developed originally). There’s also a more basic 10-week program to prep complete non-runners to have the strength and stamina for the training program. Needless to say, I’m in that preparatory phase.

All in all, this is pretty amazing stuff. More and more, we’re realizing that the corporate-controlled running shoe industry is slowing us down and killing our feet, that our God-given arches and natural pronation is the best shock absorption possible, and that what we’ve had all along is all we ever really needed.

footprint.jpgThis renewed attention to the bare foot makes me think of one in particular: the empty footprint. As Karen Armstrong wrote, the first symbol of Buddhism wasn’t the Buddha-image, but the Buddha’s footprint. That, to me, is a wonderful illustration of the impact of spirit and mind upon matter, more distinguished by what’s not there than what is there.

Re-Centering

A good friend of mine told me that my mother’s death would change me. He was right.

I’ve found that I’m re-prioritizing things in my life. I’m wanting to integrate into my life more of the things that I’ve neglected and strike a better balance. One of those areas is the body. Seeing death up close has reminded me that this body only lasts a relatively short time under the best of circumstances, and I’ve not been giving mine the best. So in addition to my semi-vegan diet, I’m exercising more, and I’m currently in training for a 5k run in early May. (Man, have I got a long way to go!)

But things are already progressing well. I now can run 1600 meters (that’s a mile for my fellow Americans) without pausing or feeling exhausted, and I’m getting a little bit closer to getting back into shape every day.

I’ve also become aware of how much of my life has been spent sitting on my butt in front of computer screens. I really want to reduce that a bit. I’m not talking about changing my work, but I might be talking about changing my play. Parkour, anyone? Of course, I know I’m not ready for that yet. (Emphasis on yet.)

My Vegan Trial

Today is the last day of a 21-day trial of a vegan diet.  Overall, it was far easier and more satisfying than I expected it to be.  In fact, there was only one day in which I was really disapponited I couldn’t eat something non-vegan; that was my boss brought in some delicious muffins his fiancée made.

Why did I do this? I needed to change some things in my life desperately.  I began the year with a diagnosis of high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high LDL cholesterol. I’ve been obese for many years now.  I need to change and obviously, everything that I’d tried before wasn’t working.

I can verify that I’ve lost six pounds, and that my blood pressure has gone down significantly, and I expect that the other numbers have as well. My energy has been higher, my thinking clearer, and I’ve had less a tendency to “crash” when I get home after work.

Besides health, another thing that interested me in a vegan diet are the environmental benefits.   The overwhelming amount of grain grown in the world (not just the US) is fed to livestock.  If you think that beef cows graze grass on farmer Jone’s ranch, the reality has been quite different for a long time. I’ve known that the deforestation of the Amazon has been caused by farmers burning trees to create more farmland, but I didn’t know until recently that that great rainforest is being burned mostly to grow grain for beef cows.

In 2006 a United Nations study affirmed that raising livestock for food contributes to massive deforestation and climate change. If the existing farmland of the world were re-purposed to feed humans instead of cows, pigs, and poultry, not only would be there far more food than we need, but we’d soon be converting vast quantities of it back to its natural state.

So, am I going to stay vegan from now on? Probably not in the strictest sense.  I’m not an absolutist.  I might have some dairy now and then, fish from time to time,  and meat occasionally. But I’ve no doubt that my daily meat and dairy habit is over, and good riddance.  I feel better than I have in a long time.

Fingernails and Fast Food

I bit my fingernails from as early as I can remember, until early September 2001. I usually wasn’t conscious of it… only when I looked at my ragged nails, or spat out a “trimming,” was I aware of it at all. I tried many, many times to stop, and never could.

In 2001, just after the Labor Day weekend, I went to a Vipassana Meditation Center for a ten-day-long “intensive” (Intensive is the word for it. It was ten hours of meditation a day, for ten days, and all but part of the last day in silence.) I didn’t really enjoy the experience that much, but midway through, perhaps it was five years ago this very day, I looked at my hands, and realized that I hadn’t bit my nails since the intensive began. I also realized that I was now free forever from my nail-biting habit.

Two nights ago, while I was sitting at my computer, reading some blogs, I suddenly felt a strong rush of energy to my head, and it came with a distinct message, that I should sit zazen immediately. I obeyed, and after a period of sitting, felt I had been given a gift: specifically, that I was now free from my addiction to bad foods.

Some of you know me well enough to know what my diet is like. I’ve struggled with eating decent, healthy food (versus fried food and sweets) for more than two decades. Occasionally, I had some success that soon proved to be all too fleeting. But when I woke up yesterday, the certainty of the gift held: I was free. And my meals showed it. So did my meals today. I find I simply don’t want things that are bad for me anymore.

My teacher told me there actually is a Sanskrit word for this phenomenon (I don’t remember what it is) but it refers to the liberation of a person from negative attachments. It comes not from self-effort, though; it’s an effect of the spirit becoming more aligned with the One.

You can soon expect a leaner Frimster!