Operation: Winter Warrior

When I started this journey almost five months ago, my goal was to lose 30 pounds before the new year.  As of this morning, my weight loss goal was achieved.  Thirty pounds in five months.  I honestly can’t believe how far I’ve come in that amount of time.  When I started, I struggled to run more than one or two miles at a decent pace, my weightlifting regimen wasn’t happening, and my diet was admittedly poor.

Yesterday, I began to converse with a gentleman at the gym; about the same age, a bit taller than me, similar build. He mentioned how he was trying to lose about 25 pounds and was just starting to diet.  As we kept talking, I subconsciously began keeping track of his workouts.  He began to run on the treadmill – 5.5 mph for 12 minutes before running out of breath; similar to where I was when I started; and his weights were very similar to where I was 5 months ago, too.

Once he left, the realization set in.  That was me; my past; who I was 5 months ago.  At some point, I made a decision at the proverbial fork in the road.  Continue to go down the same path, or start being the kind of person that I wanted to be.  When you push yourself, and I mean REALLY push yourself both mentally and physically, you start to realize that you can achieve a lot more than you may have originally thought you could.

Now alone in the gym, my workout stopped as I slowly approached the mirror, looking straight at the floor.  I closed my eyes and saw a picture of myself only five months ago.  Stressed.  Fatigued.  Drained.  Lacking confidence.   I raised my head and opened my eyes, looking at the present picture of myself.  Strong.  Energetic.  Secure.  Confident.

Whether it be at the gym, at school, at work, on the field, or elsewhere, the battle that we face is against ourselves.  Have you progressed since last year?  Last month?  Could the “you of today” conquer the “you of yesterday”?  When I started, the answer to those questions was a resounding “no”, and that was not okay with me.

Enter my new challenge, Operation: Winter Warrior.  You will be competing against one other person reading this post in a challenge to improve your mental and physical health.  You will win the challenge only if you improve more than your opponent.  If it’s a tie, THEY win.  Here’s the catch – your opponent was sitting where you were sitting 5 seconds ago.  That’s right, your opposition is you.  Remember where you are today, both physically and mentally.  In three weeks, ask yourself if the “you of today” could EASILY conquer the “you of yesterday”.  If the answer is yes, you have succeeded.

Many people make New Years Resolutions, but here we are, three weeks away from the new year.  Why wait?  There’s no better time than now to start achieving everything that you want from life.

Bucket List #4: Complete

What once started as a weight loss journey has turned into something different; something more.  Over the last few months, I’ve spent a lot of time reaching out to support others; whether it be with weight loss, an overall quality of life, or just trying to find new and creative ways to make life more enjoyable.

One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned since I started is that you don’t have to do something extraordinary to make an extraordinary impact on someone’s life.  You don’t have to stand in front of millions and give a thunderous speech to inspire people.  You can make a difference in someone’s life by being yourself and reaching out.  Whether you know it or not, your actions will trigger a domino effect that will inspire others to reach out.  The lives you touch will touch others, and those lives will touch others.

The fourth item on my bucket list was to run a race for a charity, and Thanksgiving provided a perfect opportunity to do that.  The run was for the Life With Cancer organization, which offers support and education for those who are affected by cancer or who have loved ones that are affected by cancer.  There are millions of people who are living with cancer today, and this organization makes their day-to-day lives a little easier.

Some background: I’ve never run a race before.  Ever.  So this was a very new experience for me.  I did not train for this 5k race and only signed up a couple days before; however, my normal runs are anywhere between 2 miles and 4 miles, so running 5k (3.1 miles) wasn’t a stretch for me.  If you have run races before, you may just want to skip to the end.  If you haven’t run races before, stay tuned; I’ll be going through a lot of lessons that were learned.

I woke up around 5:45 AM for an 8 AM race.  Normally before a morning run (despite most of my runs being in the afternoon), I may have an apple and a swig or two of water.  Today it was 16 ounces of water and a banana, which I drank/ate at 6:25 AM.  I was out the door by 6:45 and arrived at the race site at 7.

Starting line an hour before race-time.

Starting line an hour before race-time.

First lesson: If you’re running a race in November, dress warm!  I feel like I was adequately prepared, but many people brought some of the disposable hand warmers and that would’ve been nice because – IT WAS FRIGID!

An actual picture from 30 minutes before the race.  Yes, it’s below freezing!

An actual picture from 30 minutes before the race. Yes, it’s below freezing!

I’m making the assumption that most races have bathrooms or Port-a-John’s close by, which leads me to my second lesson: For short races, don’t eat or drink anything different than normal.  I was nervous and over-thought the pre-race meal a lot, and as such, I was in the bathroom twice in a span of 45 minutes before the race.  Rookie mistake!

Five minutes to game-time and I’m about 100 yards behind the starting line.  There were over 3,000 people running in the race and I’m guessing I was around the middle of the pack.  Everyone is standing around and talking.  Meanwhile, I’ve got my headphones in my ears listening to “It’s A Fight” by Three 6 Mafia and “Warriors of the World” by Manowar, which aren’t my running songs, but usually precede a general workout.

The horn sounds and we see the front of the pack in the distance start to go.  Lesson three: The start of a race is nerve-wracking and tense, especially for a first-timer, but it’s anti-climactic at best, so be patient.  While everyone at the front was running, everyone around me was slowly walking forward.  I found out later that it took me one minute and 55 seconds after the race started before I reached the starting line.

Fourth lesson: The starting line might not be level to the ground, so be careful.  I tripped over the starting line like an idiot but maintained my balance and started to run.  Maybe it’s just me, but I seem to run better when I’m trying to keep up with someone, so I began to look around for a “pace car”.  In front of me was a woman and her boyfriend?/spouse? running at a decent pace with marathon jackets on, so I decided to stick with them for as long as I could.

Lesson five: Do not be phased by the people you pass or the people that pass you.  Both will happen and happen often, so just run your race.  After the first quarter mile, three younger guys just flew by me, and my initial thought was that I was going too slow and needed to speed up.  I stayed the course.  You’re not competing against 3,000 people or three speed demons; just run your race, I told myself.

Despite knowing that I was still running on pure adrenaline after the first 0.75 miles, I decided to go faster.  I accelerated past my “pace car” and began searching for someone new to keep pace with.  I came up on another couple who both looked extremely slim and fit who were running at a quicker pace than I had been running earlier.  Similar to the last couple, I camped out about 10 feet behind them and just worked on keeping pace.

Lesson six: This may not apply to everyone, but it does to me.  Do scout work ahead of time.  I knew exactly where the mile markers would be and, in addition, despite not having a watch, I knew exactly where I should be in my playlist when I hit those markers.  At the 2-mile mark, I was still with my pace-setter and WELL ahead of where I should’ve been had I followed my normal pace.  I evaluated in my head whether or not I should continue to keep pace with him while wondering how long I can keep up the pace before running out of gas.

The side-stiches came at the 2.5 mile mark, with only 0.6 miles to go.  Not now!  Not when I’m so close!  The pain continued until a couple minutes later when the finish line was in sight.  I heard my pace-setter motivating his significant other, “There’s the finish line.  Keep going.”  The distance between us opened up as I could see them going faster.  I sped up and caught them again, trying to muster every ounce of energy to stay within my normal 10 feet.

At the last tenth of a mile, my pace-setter went into a dead sprint, leaving his partner behind.  I followed as we broke away from the small pack that we were with to cross the finish line.  It was my fastest 5k time that I’ve ever run by a full minute and 45 seconds.

Race Results

Race Results

Your actions, however large or small, can be inspirational to those around you.  Unbeknownst to them,  by just running their race, that couple inspired me to push harder than I ever have before.  Maybe one day, I’ll serve as the pace car to someone else.

I Want to be More

Over the last few weeks, my absence from this blog can be attributed to the fact that your humble author has been in the doldrums.  Whether it’s the SAD that I discussed in my last post or something else, I can’t seem to shake the feeling of despondency.  There are things that I want out of life that feel so far away… so impossible; and the feeling that those goals and aspirations are so far out of reach is driving me further and further down.  I want more.  I want to be more.

Stop!

A few posts ago, I went on a 5.5 mile hike through part of the Appalachian Trail called “Raven Rocks”.  Over this past weekend, I decided to challenge myself on a more difficult Appalachian Trail stretch.  A 9.25 mile hike with 3,000 feet of elevation gain over harsh rocky terrain.  The goal I set for myself was 4 hours.  While that may seem slow, take the rocky terrain into consideration.  This isn’t road running, and considering the 5.5 mile hike took about 3.5 hours with less elevation change, this was going to be a challenge.  In my head… almost an impossible challenge.

Time started to tick and I started to run.  With leaves piling over the trail, and most of the trail covered by rocks, there were only certain stretches where running was an option.  But every chance I got, with every ounce of strength I had in my body, I was going to push.

Similar to this, except worse rocks… and in the forest… and a less buff SharkStopper (yeah, that’s not me).

I reached the halfway point at 2 hours and 3 minutes. At that point, the reality of the situation set in. My pace was good – this COULD be done. From that point on, every time I could run, I ran. Every time I ran out of breath, I forced myself to keep going.

The last marker was positioned 0.75 miles away from the finish line with 29 minutes before the 4 hour deadline and the largest ascent still left.  I honestly can’t remember how many people I passed in that final 3/4 of a mile, but the adrenaline rush of being so close to accomplishing what I thought was impossible kept me charging forward.

Restart!

To be honest, it didn’t matter if I won or if I lost, and it didn’t matter HOW I played the game.  What mattered, is THAT I played the game.  The day you stop believing that your goals and aspirations are worth fighting for is the day that you’ve been defeated.  Nothing comes easy, especially the goals that seem so ridiculously far out of reach.  Don’t give up on it.  It’s amazing what your body can do if the mind is willing and ready.  You will see abilities that you never knew you had, and eventually, you’ll realize that there is no limit to what you can be.

Today is your opportunity to be great!  Fight for it!  Take it!  Then never look back.

Finishing Time: 3 hours, 50 minutes, 49 seconds

Appreciate But Don’t Deviate

Those of you going through any type of weight loss program can certainly understand me when I say that stepping on that scale is a terrifying thing.  A million different thoughts race through my head when I pull out the scale… did I do enough?  Even if I did, will my weight go up? (it has before!) How long will it take me to get to my goal weight?  How will I react if this number is terrible?  I’ve seen a lot of people on the Calorie Count community wonder why they may not be seeing the results on the scale that they want, especially those who really have the dedication and the drive to work on it.

 

The way I see it, there are three possible outcomes when you step on the scale.

Outcome 1: The disappointing result isn’t nearly what you thought it was, due to unexplainable weight gain or a small plateau.

Outcome 2: The result is a realistic product of the work that you’ve put in for the week, but not necessarily as much as you would like (because let’s be honest, we’d all like 5+ pounds per week).

Outcome 3: The result is surprisingly better than you expected.

 

In the last few months, I’ve hit each outcome a bundle of times, but I think I’ve finally realized the secret to handling all three.  Appreciate, but don’t deviate.  Go back and read each outcome above, then read your corresponding advice below.

Advice 1: The body works in strange and mysterious ways, and there have been many times where I’ve done an hour of workouts per day and eaten extremely well only to see my weekly weigh-in go in the wrong direction.  You know how well you’ve been doing and you know how much work that you’ve put into this journey.  Appreciate, but don’t deviate.  Long-term goals are much more important than short term victories.  Keep doing what you’re doing!  Hard work and effort on a consistent basis will pay off.

Advice 2: Try not to minimize your accomplishments.  You have completed a solid short-term goal and are setting yourself up very well to achieve your long-term goals.  A positive step is a step in the right direction.  Appreciate, but don’t deviate.  Keep up the good work and keep charging forward.  Continued dedication will bring the desired results.

Advice 3: This is a huge win for you, and congratulations on your accomplishment.  It’s now time for you to prove that it wasn’t a fluke.  After a big win against a tough team, there’s a term in sports that’s called the “emotional letdown”, which usually refers to a post-“big game” struggle.  Appreciate, but don’t deviate.  Your commitment to this big win needs to be sustained over the long haul.  You did it before, and there’s no reason to think that you can’t do it again!

 

Regardless of whether you haven’t started, you’re just starting, or you’re right in the middle, I wish you the best of luck in your journey.  Don’t forget that even small victories are victories, so remember to appreciate them.

Appalachian Trail Hike

A few years back, my wife and I hiked up Table Mountain during our trip to South Africa.  It was an absolutely amazing experience and, without a doubt, the most exhausting hike I’ve ever completed in my life.

We should’ve used the cable car!

Today we decided to complete part of the Appalachian Trail, so we set out for a part of the trail called “Raven Rocks”.  The hike is 2.75 miles long (5.5 miles round-trip) with some fantastic scenery and some pretty strenuous trails.  The toughest part was the elevation changes, with over 1500 feet of total elevation gain throughout the hike.  I had heard that this trail is a good test for beginners to see if their heart is really into hiking.

 

If you are looking for something fun to do where you are getting a lot of great exercise, I would highly recommend hiking.  The goal of the day, in addition to exercising, was to test myself to see if I should keep pursuing this goal or just scrap it.  Below is my test criteria, but I would encourage you to go on your own hike and rate yourself too.

 

Lower Body Strength: This part of the Appalachian is extremely rocky, so the steep ascents and descents really test the strength of your legs.  In addition, keeping your ankles stable on uneven terrain is critical.  I didn’t really help myself out by wearing normal tennis shoes.  Next time I’ll invest in better hiking boots.

Lower Body Strength Grade: B+

 

Stamina: If you are going to test yourself, test yourself with a hike that is around 100-200% of your normal long run.  Usually, I tap out on a run at 3.25 miles, so a 5.5 mile hike (170%) was a pretty good challenge.  Elevation change is what really drains your stamina; varying the elevation and terrain is a tough, but worthy trial.  To be honest, I think I held up fairly well today.  At the end of your hike, if you feel like you still have some decent energy to keep going, you did well (or you didn’t go far enough).

Stamina Grade: A

 

Upper Body Strength: Not all of hiking is with your lower body, especially if you’re carrying essential items on your back.  For me, this meant lunch for me and my wife, plenty of liquids, and my light camera equipment.  Multi-day hikes obviously come with even more essentials.  I’ve always had back problems, but my workouts in the weight room have improved my upper body strength tremendously.

Upper Body Strength Grade: B+

 

Pace: Everyone walks at their own pace, but continuing a trail walk at a strong pace can be the difference between making it to a shelter and not.  In the harsher climates and weather conditions, this is even more important.  Today was a beautiful day (60 degrees and cloudy), so weather didn’t factor into play.  We were able to walk 5.5 miles in 3 hours and 30 minutes, and if you strike a few brief pauses and 20 minutes for lunch, I think the pace was pretty solid.

Pace Grade: B+

 

Equipment: Here’s where I get docked a lot, but this is part of the learning process.  Walking poles are important.  Well-soled hiking shoes are important.  I didn’t really know this when the day started, but seeing the people out there (who knew what they were doing) shed some light on the subject.

Equipment Grade: D

 

All in all, it was a great day for hiking, and while the hike definitely put me to the test, I think I’m ready for something longer and more challenging.  My grades weren’t all A’s today and there are many ways that I can improve and get better.  But whether it be a multi-day hike or just a short day trip, if you are getting out there, exercising, and having fun, you’re already improving and getting better.

Down, but never out

Your humble blog writer has been sick with the flu for the past few days, which likely isn’t helping the weight loss goals.  I’m still staying under my calorie count each day, but the inability to workout is going to catch up to me eventually unless I get over this sickness soon.  The most important thing to do when you’re sick is to take your medicine and rest up.  I can stay in bed for the day, but most of the time is spent trying to clear my head rather than actually sleeping.  With a head cold, I find that staying upright (walking or sitting) is a lot less stressful than lying down where the congestion just goes to your head.

 

Then I thought, there needs to be a way where I can work out without physically destroying myself.  There needs to be a way where I can be sick but still work out in a limited capacity.  Even though the majority of the last two days have been spent miserably going through tissue after tissue, I was determined to find small ways where I could stay active.

 

Workout choice #1: Treadmill

And when I say treadmill, I mean walking on the treadmill.  During a usual run, I’m going around 5.8 to 6 mph, sometimes faster on a good day, sometimes slower on a bad day.  Walking on the treadmill while you’re sick means you should cut your average time in half, maybe more.  Today, I walked for a mile at 3 mph, and even that may have been a bit fast for me.  Take your time and don’t worry about walking fast.  In addition, don’t worry about making the walk continuous.  I broke up my 20 minute mile walk into three pieces.  When you feel even a bit tired, it’s time to stop.

 

Workout choice #2: Stretching

I have never tried yoga, but subtle stretching seems to work for me.  This is less of a workout and more of just getting your muscles and joints loose.  The stretching that I did today helped ease the stiffness that I’ve been feeling over the last few days.  It also gets your mind focused on other parts of your body rather than what hurts the most with the flu.

 

Workout choice #3: Walking the dog

This goes under the same premise as the treadmill, except you are getting some fresh air and so is your dog.  The unfortunate part about today was that my dog and I were home alone and we were both sick (I won’t get into the details of her sickness).  I think the fresh air helped us both.  I liked the outside walk because I could control my own pace and take breaks as necessary.

 

I will reiterate that the most important thing to do when you’re sick is to rest.  Take care of yourself and don’t overexert your body.  I began to feel the symptoms on Thursday night, and Friday I did absolutely nothing but rest.  When you are sick, listen to what your body is telling you.  If your body says rest, do it.  Today, mine said to try and slowly get back to normal, but I recognize that it will take time.

Workout Boosts

Working out for some people isn’t as fun as it is for others.  For me, personally, it’s a mixture.  Some days I’m EXTREMELY motivated to work out.  Other days, that is one of the last things I want to do.  They key for me is to have more motivated days than unmotivated days.

 

Sometimes, all it takes to get motivated is a little outside pressure, or maybe a workout goal to attain, or maybe something fun to help you workout.  Sticking to the same workout routine can be monotonous, so I’m always looking for new ways to keep things fun and interesting.  In addition to the “About” and “Bucket List 2013” page at the top of the screen, I’ve also started a “Workout Boosts” page.  If you need any ideas for workout boosts, feel free to head there.  No, I’m not a personal trainer and didn’t create any of these on my own.  I will, however, post my own personal reviews of each of these.

 

The one I tried most recently is an iPhone app called “Zombies! Run!”.  Yes, I know I’m extremely late to the party, but let me tell you… this app is flipping amazing!  While the cooler weather may have contributed, I ran a 5k faster and had much more energy than ever!  I’ll post a full review at a later day; but the long and short of it is, this app is fantastic!

 

I hope this helps keep workouts fun and entertaining!  Stay active, my friends, and keep checking back for new content!