Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Yesterday's Challenge

I signed up for this year's triathlon to give me a goal and a concrete reason to eat right and exercise. (Beyond the maddeningly nebulous "You'll feel better and live longer.") Assuming all goes well and I complete it I will be able to accurately say, "I do triathlons." Present tense and plural, see? Something I never got to with the single, measly marathon I ran. "I ran a marathon." Yeah, well. Is it still 1996? No, it is not.

So yesterday I biked about 13 miles, the distance of the bike leg of the triathlon I have currently only done once, then immediately ran a little under two miles. I felt the feeling of rubbery, almost missing legs that I remember experiencing for the first time at last year's triathlon. This run-bike combo is something I intend to do a few more times so I get used to it. Got plenty of sleep last night and am feeling good today, so I feel like I got back on track after four days with no exercise.

The tough thing will be the swim, as I no longer belong to a club and don't have access to a place to practice swimming. But that's so ingrained from junior high swim team that I'm sure I'll be at least middle of the pack.

Time to beat: 1:41:57. After yesterday's workout and against my superstitious nature, I'm calling it right now: I WILL beat that time.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

The Ten Percent Challenge

Sometime last year I was talking with my friend Chazz Vader and he said that some people in his family had decided on a ten percent weight loss challenge. They were going to try to lose ten percent of their weight to get healthier. I was somewhere between 210 and 215 at the time and I thought that was pretty much out of the question for me.

Fast forward to now. This morning I was actually at 188, down more than ten percent from 210. How did I do it? During the summer I exercised; running, biking, swimming, and competing in a triathlon. That was pretty easy, as I enjoy getting out to exercise once in a while.

More recently I did something far more difficult. I stopped overeating and stopped eating junk food. Mostly. This was partly possible for me because I am reading the book The End Of Overeating. The book is very scientific, but I can sum it up, or at least what I've taken away from it so far, fairly briefly.

In the last thirty years food has become "hyperpalatable". In other words, it tastes better, combining sugar, fat, and salt in ever more creative ways. This heavily processed food has become easier to eat, requiring less chewing than any naturally occurring foods. This interacts with our body's reward systems in such a way that we can eat a lot of food without hardly even noticing it.

The takeaway for me is sort of a Buddhist thing. I can experience desire for food and then pinpoint the sources and reasons for that desire without actually having to fulfill the desire by eating. When I sit down at a restaurant, especially if someone else is paying, and I haven't eaten for a while, I am tempted to order, for example, Chicken Wings, Diet Coke, Burger, Fries. In the past, I have done this and by the end of the meal I've eaten a lot of hyperpalatable food - far more than it would have taken to end my hunger. I've often felt bloated and slow.

How Does That Play Out In Real Life?

Recently I went to a chain restaurant that serves exactly the brand of hyperpalatable, huge portion food that the book The End Of Overeating speaks of. Everything is cheesy, saucy, fried twice, and the portion served is way, way more than a person needs to eat. Plus, free chips and salsa! What did I do?

I didn't have ANY chips or salsa. I ordered a relatively modest burrito (It was the smallest meal at the table) and ate it. I drank water instead of pop or beer. I ate slowly enough that the parts of my body that register satisfaction would have time to do so before I had eaten more food than I needed. I didn't finish everyone else's leftover food. I let them throw it away or take it home. It seems so simple when I spell it out like this, but it was pretty much a completely new approach to food for me.

It was as though I could see more clearly than I'd ever seen before. All the cues for me to overeat were there and I could see them and appreciate them instead of thoughtlessly responding to them. In that sense it was very Buddhist as I understand that devotion.

A Superflous Headline To Further Break Up This Long Post

On an average day I drink no soda, no caffeiene, and no alcohol. I probably eat about ten percent less than I used to. We'll see what the holidays do to all this, but I feel great so far. I feel more agile and less sluggish. It's hard to believe I actually lost ten percent, but there it is.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Relax Your Face! Relax Your Face!

Here are the details of a first time triathlete. This is the extended mix. There is no single edit. Endure.

I was up around 5 a.m. and decided that all the sleep I'd gotten the previous two nights had left me perfectly ready to get up just that early. I did my five back/legs Yoga exercises. I got all my stuff ready and went down for breakfast. Dad made me four scrambled eggs, toast, and soy bacon. I had a third of a cup of regular coffee, as recommended by the book I read. Perfect. I was awake and fueled.

We put the bike on the back of the car and my support team and I went to Cleary Lake. We parked in a far grassy field. I was very nervous, unsure whether my preparations and training would be enough. I felt reassured when I entered the "transition area" and everyone seemed friendly and it was plenty spacious.

Dad acted perfectly as my valet, holding whatever I didn't need at that moment and walking back to the car for a towel when I realized that would be helpful in the first transition. (After swimming that is. Seems like an easy one but it hadn't occurred to me.) We sorted through the stuff in the bag I was given after we found the registration area. It was mostly freebies and ads, but I got the race number and ankle strap with an electronic timing chip. I got my number (280) written on my arm, hand, and leg in magic marker at the area where that was going on.

We went back to the transition area and I set up my bike, helmet, and jersey. I asked a volunteer if I needed to wear my number in the water. He asked someone else to make sure and it turns out I did not. I attached the number to my new jersey and left it by Dad's bike. (Right this second I'm listening to iTunes on shuffle and Neil Diamond's "Headed For The Future" is not, technically, a very good song. Or is it? Good Lord it is something. It is definitely headed somewhere, seemingly straight for the excesses of mid 80s synthetic pop. I might call these excesses "wretched" if I were a self-aggrandizing rock critic who made his own tree seem taller by cutting down other peoples' (ahem, Greil Marcus!) but I am not and I actually kind of like them and see the logic behind them.)

Anyway, I headed down to the beach in my triathlon shorts, feeling very exposed and chilly. I had my goggles and yellow swim cap, which color identified me as a 35-39 year old man to swim in the fourth heat at 8:09 a.m. I waded into the water and put my cap on. I put my goggles on and the band snapped. I crudely tied it to the frame of the actual eyepiece. The first three heats took off to the "Ready...(gunshot)" and my heat was called. Ready...BANG!

I can't describe how very, very strange it was to try to swim fast in a straight line with only dark brown water below, a wavy surface, and bodies crashing all around me. Seaweed brushed my face and my skin over and over. I was glad I'd practiced breathing straight ahead to find my way. I was glad I'd read some books that told me it would be weird. I felt a slight urge to panic, but easily calmed it with some rhythmic, strong swimming and mental discipline.

I found that I was one of the faster swimmers in my heat, which was a surprise. I kept crashing into people's feet until I just went ahead and passed them without worrying about them catching back up with me and/or feeling put upon. It's a race after all. I think I was well within etiquette and no one passed me. I was pleasantly surprised by how fast a quarter mile goes by when you don't have to do a flip turn every twenty-two and a half yards.

I ran happily out of the water, stripping off my cap and goggles and waving to my parents. My dad wore a Memphis, TN t-shirt and shouted, "Go Memphis!" I understood later that he'd worn that t-shirt on purpose and was excited about it. Typical supportiveness from both my parents throughout this whole enterprise. They told me later I was third or fourth out of the water in my heat.

I got to the transition area, dropped my cap and goggles, dried off a bit, and put my jersey, socks and shoes, and helmet on. I walked the bike out of the transition area then hopped on that particular bicycle for the first time ever. My mom took some pictures as I rode off towards the park entrance.

The bike ride was long and I had similar decisions to make about who I would actually be faster than and who might be mad that I passed them. It was a whole heck of a lot more spread out, though, and I got over it. Never had an unpleasant encounter. All were friendly and there was plenty of "on your left" and "coming up on your right" and so forth. The long country roads were all very hilly and I felt very sensitive to variations in grade. I tried to keep a steady rhythm using whatever gear would facilitate that. It was tough and about twice as many people passed me as I passed.

If there was one thing I would do differently (and there is) it would be to have a hydration system installed on the bike. Guys were whipping by me with fantastic combinations of handlebars that allowed them to lean forward and straws that allowed them to drink at will and easily. I am pretty sure I got dehydrated. Early on in the bike part I ate a Vanilla Bean goo tube, which mostly seemed to make me thirsty. I was very glad to turn back west and then north. I was even happier when a woman yelled that I'd passed the nine mile point. I got back into the park and one of the almost finished runners (with whom bikers briefly shared a path) yelled some encouragement like "Keep going strong, Buddy!" and I felt good.

I came in towards the transition area and my folks cheered for me. I hung my bike back up and started the run. My legs felt like I was still on the bike. They weren't in pain but were nevertheless crying out to just stop for a second and get their bearings. I did not do this. I was too eager to reach that water station at the first mile. I felt that if I stopped I was not sure I would start again. My legs felt very, very strange. It was something completely new, which one doesn't necessarily get every day.

I felt like I'd never get to the first water station. A young woman was a little ways ahead of me and I kind of paced myself by her for a while. That or I kept my head straight down looking only at the ground directly in front of me. I couldn't bear to think about how much distance I had left to cover, even though (unlike the marathon in 1996) I was absolutely not in pain. To sum it up, I was dehydrated and my legs felt weird.

I'll always be grateful to the woman who shouted at me shortly after that first mile of the run (at which I got two cups of water). She said, "Relax your face! Relax your face!" and made appropriate hand gestures regarding which direction the muscles in my face might go if I relaxed them. It is very good advice and it's amazing how different a run feels when you're not grimacing and squinting. I relaxed my face, my shoulders, and felt ten times better. Plus I'd finally drunk some water. I started pushing it a little when I got to the spot on the path that said 4K. I didn't want to leave any energy unused.

I was wondering how much time had gone by the whole time and there were no indications of that anywhere. I was very pleased when I ran in and saw that I was under two hours. I was hoping to finish under three hours. I turned in my timing chip, they read something that sounded kind of like my name, and I got my finisher's medal. I walked quite a ways off into the picnic area by myself to cool down. I was very happy and not in pain. My training and preparation were adequate, my support team was outstanding, and everything about the race exceeded my expectations.

My parents hugged me and said how proud they were. We got some free fruit and drinks. I ate a packet of Organic Energy Chews my dad had kept in his shirt pocket for me. After a while I ate the protein bar I'd put there as well. He had a hot dog and we had gatorade and water, all sitting at a picnic table talking about the race. We sat there for a while then stood near the presentation area near the finish line and watched the drawing winners get their sweatshirts and the race winners get their trophies. My parents noted that if either of them had entered and finished it they would have won their gender/age group as the sole entrant.

So, hey, what were my results? I was 170th out of about 300 overall, 28th out of 32 men aged 35-39, with a time of 1:41:57. It was great and I intend to do it again.

Saturday, June 27, 2009


I just had a great, great ride along the Willard Munger trail. The bar where we're playing tonight and last night put us up at the Willard Munger Inn, which I can't recommend highly enough for cycling enthusiasts. The proprietor was very friendly and communicated well. (Her expectations about us as a rock band were hilariously off the mark. "We're not that kind of band." said Justin when she respectfully asked us to not party loudly late into the night. Ha ha ha.) Anyway, they offer free bicycle rentals for guests, which I noted beforehand so brought my new shorts and old helmet.

The ride seemed really tough on the way out and I was somewhat out of breath, but partly because I was singing when it occurred to me to do so. I find that singing while I bike takes the place of the iPod I use when I run. There was not a soul in sight for most of the ride. I went out a little over seven miles according to the markers.

On the way back it seemed much, much easier and I think it was downhill. I believe I was literally on a mountain and I certainly was on one figuratively and mentally. Gorgeous views, light rain. And about a mile away from the hotel (The trail begins twenty yards from my room's patio) I stopped when a deer was in the path ahead of me. I stared at her for a while without moving and let her decide to run away on her own. It capped a magical ride through bluffs, forest, hills, and panoramic views near Duluth.

I have now accomplished each part of the triathlon. I have yet to put it all together but I have a little over a month left. I feel good.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Brief Ride, Long Run

I rode my 15 year old Trek bike to Erik's Bike Shop this morning as soon as they opened and dropped it off for a tune up. I asked the guy if there was someone in the store who could offer me advice on triathlons.

"Like what?"
"Well, like, I don't even know what the order is. What comes first?"
"It's swim, bike, run."
"Swim, bike, run. Okay."
"That guy over there, James, he's more our triathlon guy."

But James was with one of those customers who looks like they're lonely and just wants to talk and so has commandeered someone in retail whose job it is to be nice. (How do I recognize such a person? It's easy once you've been a bank teller, believe me.) So I left and ran home as I'd planned. But at least now I know that. Swim, bike, run. Got it.

Also, I noticed that "triathlon" has only one total "a".

Listened to David Bowie's "Stage" album while running and it was great. I know you can't listen while in an official race but I love to when I'm not officially racing. Here's a representative quote from that album:



I love that line and the way it is delivered. "Low", which has the original studio version of "Breaking Glass", the song referenced here ("Stage" is a live album), is the album of the month at our house and I like it more every time I listen. And we listen a lot. Side B, which is largely instrumental, can turn my seemingly normal suburban neighborhood into a mysterious cypher spilling over with silent secrets as I run through it. Angelo Badalamenti, who scored Twin Peaks, obviously listened to the album a few hundred times.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Good Week

For the first time in a long time I ran three times this week. Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday. Plus I did yoga a few times to stretch and strengthen my legs and back. I got my bicycle out of the garage and reinstalled the front tire and inflated both tires. I'm going to take it to the shop for a tune up. I need to plan my training so I don't end up a wreck like I was after the marathon in '96. That's going to take some time and I will probably use some online tools at but basically I am starting to feel like I will be ready to do the triathalon. Sweet!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I AM Going To Run, Bike, and Swim

I have signed up for a triathalon. My knee has been feeling good and yesterday I stretched out a little bit for my longest run of the year with no discernable problems. I've been doing some yoga and that feels good. A 13 mile bike ride, 5K run, and 1/4 of a mile swim might be just the thing. Well, it better be because it was almost 60 bucks with the b.w.c. fee. (bank insider's term meaning "because we can") Sweet!

Anybody know a good bike repair shop?