August 25, 2015

Cool crisp morning air. The first hints of Autumn. Head out into darkness, single headlight attached, reflective ankle bands announcing my presence to those behind.

Last year’s warm-up-miles portion of the ride is this week’s medium-level exertion ride. Much work ahead just to get back to break-even, and then the great beyond.

I’ve finally made peace with that now, though, and this is critical to my getting back on track. Sheer faithful and optimistic determination, fueled by the wisdom of those whom I hold in regard, push me forward. Ever forward, a little at a time.

The past does not exist, says Ron, and he is right. Put forth a consistent, good effort every day, day after day after day after day, and you will arrive at the ability to do incredible things, says James. And he is right.

I’m just a little stronger during this morning’s ride than during yesterday’s. Just a little fresher. Just a little closer to where I am going. And as I push hard on the last couple of turns to my house, the same phrase keeps echoing in my head in time with my invigorated, beating heart: 2016. 2016. 2016.

So, a new era is starting for me. My plan for this writeup was to do a summary review of my blog-to-date and characterize a group of posts as comprising a certain “era” and thus to fit this new start into that context. Then I realized that this effort is at once somewhat daunting and a little depressing.

Therefore, I’m simply starting again. My mom passed away 9 months ago today and I’m only now, I believe, able to battle my way out of the depression and apathy, the searching for motivation and purpose, that followed.

Yesterday I got out and rode the bike. An 11.5 mile ride; it was my first in a week or so and only my 5th ride in 8 weeks. I’ve lost an incredible amount of fitness and bike ability, and correspondingly, gained a pretty amazing amount of weight. I’ve put myself through 9 months of hell, and really put off a good friend in the process.

This is a good segue to the new era, though. Succinctly, I’m not (currently) able to do on a bike what I could last summer/autumn. It’s hard work for me to ride a fraction of the distance I did. Coming to grips with my own past potential is what’s been keeping me off the bike for months, a vicious cycle that reinforces itself. More time passes, I lose still more fitness, and become still more discouraged about the growing gap between “what I could do” and “what I can do” – so I stay off the bike.

But I finally realized I need to simply break that cycle. *I am here*, right now; it doesn’t matter what I could do before. The title of this blog post is a reflection of my determination to basically start over from scratch, rediscovering the joys (experienced in 2011, 2012, 2013) of being able to extend my abilities, ride a little further, a little faster, expanding my options, and falling in love once more with this pursuit.

To that end, during yesterday’s ride I identified with two key concepts which I believe I’ll find useful as I progress. Viewing physical prowess in financial terms, I will start being aware of my “spending limit” and of “leverage”.

With RE to a given bike ride – my “spending limit” is the total work output I can reasonably put forth before I’m burning the candle too aggressively. This output is shaped by distance but also by terrain (hills, flats), wind, etc. It’s a general idea of “how difficult” of a ride I’m capable of doing, more or less on demand, and without undue repercussion, such that I could repeat the same exertion the following day, and the day after. At various times in the past (which now I’m deliberately forgetting exists at all), my “spending limit” was pretty high, for a mortal. That is, compared to some of my bicycling friends, I was a pauper; but relative to the man on the street, I could do a lot. I could reasonably jump on a bike in most conditions and go ride X miles, day after day. Well, my current spending limit is pretty low. But that’s ok. I will start where I am and, through my efforts – through consistent riding, healthy eating and drinking, diligent weight training at gym, etc, I will gradually extend my spending limit.

Lest the reader think I am being OVERLY analytical/precise, I make no effort here to actually quantify this “spending limit”, either now or in future. I am merely aware of a fuzzy probability space that it occupies. My spending limit now is not what it was in September, but it’s also not what it will be 3 weeks from now, or 2 months from now, or 4 months from now. The goal is to gradually but consistently, and unceasingly, expand the “spending limit”.

The concept of “leverage” is closely related, in fact maybe indistinguishable. It refers to the “micro level” of effort within a given ride. In other words, as a general statement, to the speed I can maintain over X distance, over Y terrain, etc. It refers to the range of freedom I have to kick it up a notch or two, and still be able to complete that ride reasonably comfortably. My “leverage” capacity is also not what it was last year. Within a given ride now, I have to be much more wary of exertion, of wind and hills, etc. My options aren’t as wide as in the past. But, as with the above concept, the idea is to expand this over time, back to where it previously was, and then much beyond.

All of this within the context of simply accepting that “this is where I am now” and attempting to rediscover the simple joys of being able gradually to do more and more on the bike. If I catch myself comparing “now” with “back then” – and I inevitably do sometimes – it can be discouraging. The key will be to forget that and simply focus on inexorable improvement NOW.

I still have some major bike-related goals – a lot but not all of them centered around randonneuring – which I am going to work hard to bring back into my grasp. When all is said and done, I will have lost over a year’s worth of time in terms of bike fitness and options. But taking the long view, that’s not as huge and smarting a penalty as it certainly seems right now. I expect to be able to ride, at distance, for decades more – and if so, I have lost only a small amount, perhaps 3%, of that time, to this period of depression and searching for motivation.

We ride forward now into the future, gradually expanding what is possible.

Less talk and more do

March 21, 2015

My frustration at my fallibility, my humanity, results in this rather discontented post.

I was able to push my streak to, I believe, 27 (maybe 28) days, but then decided to take a day off. The reasons aren’t as vital now, but what is vital is that I learn from it and my subsequently-resumed struggles with weight and with fitness.

I am vowing today that this will be the last time that I must learn the lesson that for me, the bicycle is the beginning of all things good healthwise. It drives everything else for me; and its absence likewise drives the symmetrical and unpalatable decay.

My blog’s tagline is “My bicycle saved my life”, and I 100% mean that. It’s done it a couple of times already, and is about to yet again. Now I must finally allow it to shape me, literally and figuratively, into what I’ve denied myself for many years.

This is the year (already nearly 12 weeks in) of less talk, more do.

12 weeks till weigh-in!

September 10, 2014

Subject says it all.  Twelve weeks to go till I again allow the scales to indicate my progress (or lack thereof) since I resumed working very hard to get into shape.  I can already feel in all kinds of ways that I am losing weight and getting into better shape, but I’ve stayed faithful to my original plan and not stepped on the scales.  Nor will I for another 12 full weeks.

“…and I hope I never do.” So sings Bono in an impromptu lyric change for a live performance of the well-known u2 song. This phrase “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…and I hope I never do” is a very interesting one to me, with myriad layers of meaning- one of which, I can overlay on the quest to get into better shape.

Sorry in advance for the self-centered musing and internal talk. A part of the reason for this blog is to capture things for myself for future reference, and also potentially, in some way, to influence others. This post will accomplish at least one, maybe both.

Like almost everyone who is trying to lose large amounts of weight, I have a real love-hate relationship with the scale.

On the one hand, it’s easily the most objective + accessible means to gauge progress in fitness. Note the word “fitness”. Those who are trying simply to “lose weight” have it wrong, in my view. The goal is to get into better SHAPE – to improve FITNESS – to promote LONGEVITY – and to adopt a permanently healthy lifestyle. Again, though, to that end, the number on the scale is the quickest, easiest objective report card available.

On the other, though, focus on the scale introduces a variety of complications in your mission. Simplest is, in fact, that watching the scale does risk putting the emphasis on watching that number move – not on the proper things, i.e. fitness, health. Other complicating factors can arise tied to quirks in one’s own personality.

For me personally, I SOMETIMES feel almost like scale-watching is a lose-lose proposition. Let’s say I weigh in and am down what I hoped or even further. Great!, you say. Yes, great – but now, I tend to feel like I’ve earned a “reward”. “Rewards” can easily become a slippery slope to lower vigilance. Also a tendency to think, “Ok, great, I got this in the bag” – and to, even entirely subconsciously, take your foot off the accelerator a little. Become a little cavalier. Become less driven, less motivated. Say instead that I weigh in and am not down what I hoped – maybe I miss it big, in fact. This is even worse. Now there’s a big risk of a tailspin of despair. “Man, I worked my BUTT off the last X days since last weigh-in. And all it got me was THIS?!” I begin to doubt my system. I begin to doubt myself. Demons of doubt creep in: “Maybe I can’t do this.” Nothing is more toxic, truly.

In my roughly 5-year journey since I started losing weight (which has decidedly not been a straight line, as several of my friends who have been there to encourage me will attest), I have suffered both of these effects, more than a couple times.

All of this has been on my mind the last couple days as I approach my next weigh-in. Readers may recall that I last weighed in 2 weeks ago, at which point I was down big – some 4.3 pounds in 2 weeks. The plan then became to weigh in every other Wednesday.

Fast forward the intervening two weeks. I’ve been doing great, and I mean GREAT. I have not been THIS dialed in, with all aspects of my fitness, for over a year – probably 14 months. I am seeing progress in so many ways – on the bike, with the fit of clothes, with the face in the mirror, with my day-to-day feeling, etc. There’s really no question at all that I am moving in the right direction, and rapidly.

That then begs the question: Why weigh in this Wednesday? If the goal is improved fitness, and weight loss as a consequence of that – and it surely seems both are coming along fine – then what is to be gained by stepping on a scale? I already KNOW I’m doing well. I don’t need a scale to tell me that. The scale can only complicate things. I can either be as far along or farther, than I think, which can introduce some slothfulness; or I can be well less far along, which can only generate confusion.

I have been thinking to myself recently that if I hit X weight this Wednesday, I’d give myself a little reward. What reward? I didn’t yet decide. But the point here is, in my internal dialog about whether to weigh in or not, I find that this reward is a factor. “I WANT to weigh in, because I feel confident the number will be good, and thus I’ll get a little treat”. But at the same time I recognize that this is risky, for all the reasons given above.

The last day or two, the thought occurred to me to not weigh in at all until X date – something several weeks off. I like this idea in principle, although I find that it will test my willpower and my curiousity to know just what I’ve accomplished. This, then, ultimately became THE deciding factor. I turned the question around on myself this morning. “Which path do I WANT to take, in the sense of it being the easiest? Which is the path of less resistance?” The answer was clear. Weighing in this week will be, in a way, bailing out on myself. One trait that I have – a gift – is that when I dedicate to something, I become very hungry and drive very hard. But this drive, applied to fitness, risks being dulled by objective confirmation of success. It’s hard to stay hungry (for me it is) when I feel like I have a little bit less to prove. I thrive on feeling like I have something to prove. And so, I think I am better served by keeping myself pushing hard, not allowing myself the simple pat on the back. I want to stay hungry to continue with my good habits, and deferring weighing in till a date certain, well into the future, is a good way for me to do that. Different folks tick in different ways. This is how I tick.

Therefore, I’ve decided. My birthday is exactly 100 days from today (counting today). In addition to the 12 days since I last weighed in, this gets us to 16 weeks. A nice round number; essentially (although not exactly) 4 months, etc. By that time, I expect to have blasted through my best-ever weight of 184. I anticipate being anywhere from 16-32 pounds down by then; 18 would find me back at 184. So, the plan is set. I’ll defer weighing in again – even once, even “just for a little sneak preview” – till my birthday, at which point I expect I’ll be in the best shape I’ve been in in many, many, many years. Till then, I will stay hungry and in the hunt.

Another update 100 days away……

So, my struggles with weight are only too-well-documented in the archives of this blog.

So too, though, are my successes. Longer-time readers will know that I successfully lost exactly 100 pounds from my heaviest (from 284 down to 184), but then lost the thread among a strange sort of alienation/meltdown from the bike and things which got me to that point. During that period I put back on, at the WORST point, fully 27 or 28 pounds (!). So about 211-212ish was the worst that I reached.

I then tried in fits and starts to get back to “the good times”, but not really with much duration. I’d lose a few lbs, gain a few, lose a few.

Now, I’m happy to report that I’m back into good habits and doing great. Feeling out of this world. For a little over 2 weeks now (yes, not a long stretch at all but relative to any period in the last 9ish months, this is very promising), I’ve been eating & drinking healthy, riding the bike quite a fair amount, hitting up gym 3 days per week.

I’m seeing the results in all kinds of ways. The scale tells some of the story although certainly not the full story. But, the scale is one of the easiest objective methods to measure progress, so – I’m happy to report that in 2 weeks I am down 4.3 pounds. I am back down to 202 and crumbs.

I’m planning to weigh in probably every 2 or so weeks, on Wednesdays (just like the old days, heh). By the time of the next measurement, then, I anticipate being – FINALLY – back in Onederland, i.e. under 200 pounds. This’ll be the first time for me in that range in quite some time.   Months.

My long-term weight goal remains 169. At that weight, especially as both variables in the power-to-weight ratio keep improving thanks largely to gym, I will be in quite good shape and content. I expect that with healthy and active living, I’ll actually go below 169 – but, 169 is The Goal.

Again, I’m seeing the effects in all kinds of other ways too. It feels terrific, and as I told a friend the other day, it blows me completely away how great I feel, how strong and so forth, just after 2 weeks of living very healthily. I cannot wait to see what this is like 6 weeks from now, 3 months from now, 6 months from now.  All those goals I have – some longer-held, some only recently-added (and a couple of which are too huge to have even aired on this blog yet!) – take on a new sheen of accessibility.

Till next time…see you out on the road…

Ample research has demonstrated that those with concise, clear, SPECIFIC goals are much more likely to attain them than those without. E.g. “I will have a net worth of $500k by my 30th birthday” not “I want to become rich and make lots of money”. “I will lose 10 pounds in the next 2 months” not “I want to lose weight”. Etc.

Accordingly, here are my rather specific fitness-related goals for 2014. In keeping with my intended timeline  outlined in a recent post, the initial goals are less bicycling-related but become more so as time progresses.

  1. Drink a gallon of water every day.
  2. Drink 1/2 a gallon of my green drink blend every day except during bike tour weeks e.g. RAGBRAI.
  3. Do 40 pushups per day, 6 days/week; and add 5 pushups/day every week. So week 1 = 40, week 2 = 45, week 3 = 50 etc.
  4. Ride bike at LEAST 3 miles/day, every day. Indoor stationary bike if circumstances dictate, but outside if at all possible.
  5. Go to gym 2.5 times per week through March 10th; do at least one interval workout (P90X and similar) per week through March 10th.
  6. Lose 15 pounds by March 10th. I’m currently 194, so this means a weight of 179 by March 10th.
  7. After March 10th, drop to gym 1.75 times/week; still one interval workout per week, for remainder of year (other than bike tour weeks and out of town vacations).
  8. Switch focus from losing weight, to the bike, adding bike fitness and bike miles, on March 10th. Ride a few times/week and gradually increase distance.
  9. Return to randonneuring by May or late April.
  10. Zero DNF’s (did not finish – referring to rando rides) for 2014 barring extraordinary circumstances.
  11. Ride every local 100k (62 mile) rando route at LEAST once in 2014.
  12. Be 8 months into the P-12 streak by 12/31/2014.
  13. Lose an additional 5 pounds by May 10th (so, weight of 174 by May 10th).
  14. Lose an additional 6 pounds by September 30th (so, weight of 168 by September 30th).
  15. Maintain weight at 173 pounds or below for remainder of 2014.
  16. Do at least one century ride (100+ miles) per month starting in July.
  17. Do at least one 200k (124 mile) rando ride by 12/31/2014.
  18. Ride RAGBRAI in July, and at least one other major “bike adventure” (to be determined) in 2014.

As the year moves forward I’ll keep the blog updated with my progress against these goals.

As anyone who knows me in personal life can attest, when I get into something I go full boar.  I want to become the very best I can at something, or dedicate huge amounts of time to it, or see/hear/read all there is to experience about that thing, etc.

Cycling but more specifically randonneuring is no different.  I’ve had a passion for the sport ever since first learning about it, and despite my recent “abuse” of randoing – which I deeply regret in several ways – I still retain the love of randoing, and I cannot wait to return to it.

I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to what LIFETIME goals I should set for randonneuring.  So these are the goals that I don’t intend to accomplish in 2014, or the next 12 months (which, today being 12/28, are basically one & the same), etc.  Instead, these are things that, as I look back as an older man years from now at my randonneuring “career”, I want to be able to say I accomplished.

Keeping with my “all in” kind of approach, I, more subconsciously than consciously, ask myself, “Self, what is/are the highest MORTAL accomplishments that you can hope to achieve in randoing?”  RUSA, the governing body of randonneuring in the US, offers a wonderful range of awards, for different “kinds” of achievement – annual mileage, lifetime mileage, consecutive-months mileage, variety of rides, variety of US states, etc.  The “bling hound” in me would love to win every award RUSA offers – and I’d love to make that happen.  But, when we speak of CONCRETE, actual goals, I retain as the criteria that they be big-dream, stretch goals but yet “mortally achievable”.

Switch pursuits on you to give a metaphor – I’m a big chess fan and former very active player.  In one interview, chess grandmaster Edmar Mednis said of his lifetime achievement that “the ultimate goal of every chess player is to become world champion…but that is really reserved for a very very few…so the substitute goal for most of us is to become grandmaster because that is the highest ‘normal’ title you can achieve.”  That sums up what I look for in my lifetime randoing goals – big-dream goals but arguably the highest “mortal” goals you can shoot for.

After some internal haggling about what constitutes “mortal”, I’ve arrived at my Big Four randonneuring goals.  Remember, these are lifetime goals, not what I intend to do in 2014.  I’m not likely to accomplish any of these in 2014.

Here, then, in ROUGHLY ascending order in terms of difficulty, are my targets:

  1. Win the P-12 award.  This, again, is the award given by RUSA for 12 consecutive months (doesn’t have to be 12 months in a calendar year) of a 100-km (“populaire length”) ride.  This was my initial RUSA goal, and I was 6 months into it prior to my “hiatus” this year.  When I return, this is definitely a goal I want to look back on years from now and have ticked off.
  2. Win the R-12 award.  The relative difficulty of goals 2 and 3 are debatable, but ehhh.  R-12 is the same as the P-12 but represents 12 consecutive months of a 200-km or greater ride.  There are a good number of people who have won the R-12 but it’s still a small % of RUSA’s overall membership.  It’s a deceptively difficult award to win, and especially if you live in a state that experiences a true winter!
  3. Win the “super randonneur” award for riding “the series”.  Ok, first off, this is actually an ACP-sanctioned, not RUSA-sanctioned, award, but I’ll spare my non-hardcore readers the details.  RUSA administers the award in the US, succinctly.  This is an award given to a rider who completes “the series” of rando-length rides within a calendar year – that is, a 200k, 300k, 400k, and 600k brevet (group rando ride) within a calendar year.  For my imperial-units friends, that’s about a 124-mile, 186, 248, 372-mile rando ride in a single year.
  4. Win the “K-Hounds” award.  This is the highest annual-mileage award RUSA offers. Once again sparing my readers laborious detail, this is an award that riders created and moderated (but which RUSA acknowledged & recognized) until this year, but starting in 2014, RUSA will begin administering and formally distributing this award. This award is given to riders who complete 10,000 RUSA kilometers in a calendar year.  Unless my semi-hand-count of the K-Hounds website fails me, only roughly 70 riders (I think I counted 71) have ever won this award since its 2006 founding.  I know for a fact that more riders have achieved each of the other 3 honors I name, so I consider this the most difficult of my 4 lifetime goals.  If accomplished entirely via 200-km rides, this would mean basically a 124-mile RUSA ride every single week for a calendar year.  That’s damn impressive.

When you consider that ~70 riders have won the K-Hounds award, then even if you make an assumption that all of them have won the awards associated with my other 3 goals (it wouldn’t shock me at all if there were a few who had done only 3 or even 2 of them, though), this means that only about 0.75% or fewer of all RUSA’s 9,230 (all-time) members have achieved all four of these.  Very ambitious goals, indeed.

No clever summary here to this post, except to say that obviously I have much hard work ahead of me.  I’m animated, though, to start working toward these very respectable targets.  And like Mednis, the chess grandmaster quoted earlier, once I do achieve all of them, I can – and will – feel very good.


September 25, 2013

Never really mentioned this to anyone – not that it’s a “secret”, just hasn’t come up – but the era of my fitness that saw me FINALLY break through my 209-pound plateau / floor / ceiling where I was mired for months, was driven by this single, simple, beautiful quote from the movie Minority Report.  An otherwise freaky and downright disturbing movie, nonetheless this semi-whispered quote stood out to me as if shouted loud as I watched it one weekend.  “You can choose”.  It hit me like a rock.  You can CHOOSE to achieve superior results.

Lately I’ve been mired in yet another plateau around yet another major benchmark.  I recently officially declared a 100-pound loss, having gone from 284 to 184 lbs.  However, for the last longer-than-I-care-to-look-right-now, I’ve been treading the same 6-pound range, between 184 lbs and 190 lbs.  I’ll develop good habits and then drift after a couple days.  Develop good habits and then drift after 9-10 days.  Aaaand repeat.

As recently as two days ago I was wrestling with something I never wanted to face.  Have I become CONTENT with my progress.  Am I CONTENT to have achieved what I have?  In a way that eludes my ability to capture in words, the answer was both yes and no.  I found that PART of the reason for my lack of “eye of the tiger” lately is that I am, in fact, satisfied with what I’ve achieved.  But even at the same time that was true, a part of me was dissatisfied with that comfortable acceptance.  This part was saying, “Really?  Yes you’ve done great but really? You still have a very ample belly, your cardio still isn’t where you’d like it to be, you can’t run much distance at all (for example)”, etc.

Then yet another movie quote came to me, which, though it may sound odd to you the reader, prompted me turn the entire thing 180 degrees and look at it differently. This one came from the movie Wall Street (itself paraphrasing Friedrich Nietzsche):

A man looks into the abyss, sees nothing staring back at him. It is in that moment that man finds his character.  And that is what keeps him out of the abyss.

That quote really resonates with my recent experience.  I was definitely looking into a kind of abyss of a future, thinking “well if I’m not striving to move forward, what AM I doing?”  In that moment, I found my answer, and that answer is what PROVIDED the direction.

Quite suddenly, as with my previous “YOU CAN CHOOSE” moment, I realized that yes, I can simply DECIDE to continue making progress.  I can DECIDE to put away any BS excuses I might allow myself to buy into.  I can DECIDE that I’m not yet satisfied with the progress to date – proud, definitely; relieved, VERY, but not satisfied.

I can CHOOSE. And I’ve chosen.

weight_184So after stumbling in August and gaining weight month-over-month for the first time in 12 months, I righted the ship toward the end of August, and for my official September weigh-in I registered 184 pounds.  This was my second major weight-loss goal since I began (the first being 209 pounds), and means that I’ve officially lost 100 pounds from my all-time heaviest!!

Also as a related sidenote, when filling out a health assessment recently I realized that I passed another kind of cool milestone:  at 5’6″ and 184 pounds, my BMI is now 29.7, which means that for the first time in many, many years (I’d guess at LEAST 10, probably more), I am now officially only “overweight” and no longer “obese”.  Granted, I’m right at the top of the “obese” range – and I already know I still have a lot of progress yet ahead of me – but to see that change in category is a pretty cool thing.

Now I finally begin formally navigating to my THIRD major weight-loss goal – 174 pounds.  Ten down from current.  My goal is to reach this by Thanksgiving.  And I still wonder at what body weight I will feel fairly “normal” and no longer feel overweight or at least no longer feel fat.  I’m guessing at least 167 lbs, maybe lower.  This is actually exciting to me rather than daunting or discouraging – it means I do in fact have a lot of improvement still ahead of me, and I’m going to achieve it!

To health!