Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Taking Stock of 2012

At the end of the year, and the entire world if the idiots are right about the Mayans, it seems a good time to look over the last year. I have been thinking about my goals, challenges and resolutions for 2013, but want to see how I did in 2012 first. Not that an unachieved 2012 goal will keep me from setting my sights higher in 2013, though.

I had a goal to lose weight. I believe I weigh exactly the same as I did last year. I didn't gain weight, but I didn't hit my stated goal. I also challenged myself to participate in 2 hours of cardio every week. I am pretty sure that I did that. There were weeks that were much more than that and others that were less, but I will bet I averaged out to 2 hours weekly over the year. Just walking to my work shuttle every day is about 20 minutes, so that's getting me close without any set-aside workout time.

My biggest challenge for 2012 was to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I did finish the marathon in 4:58.21. I wish I had finished in less time, but just happy that I finished my first marathon. I also finished my first half marathon, too. 2:15.10 for the half. Honestly, the half marathon was harder than the full.

Those were the only goals that I declared publicly in 2012. Two out of three goals isn't bad. I will take that and use that for 2013. I won't worry about the one goal that was not accomplished, since it was not nearly as big of a goal as finishing the marathon. I'm ok not being at a smaller weight if I can point to my medal and say that I ran 26.2 miles.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Today's Tragedy

I feel silly posting about fitness, health & weight loss when everything I'm reading & hearing is about such a horrible tragedy.

The only thing I can say is to take care of your mental health, too. If that means working out, do that. If it means eating some comfort food, go ahead. Hug the ones you love. Look at pictures of cute kittens, shamed dogs, or wrecked cakes. Your physical fitness is still important, but can be worried about tomorrow and every other day.

Thursday, December 13, 2012


I do not have much willpower when it comes to food. If food is on my plate, I eat it, even after the point of satiety. If I buy a bag of Doritos, I eat a bag of Doritos. When I look at the serving size on packages, I tend to laugh and immediately multiply the number of servings by calories to calculate the total number of calories that I will eat. Are there any people out there who eat only 10 potato or tortilla chips?
I realized that my lack of willpower was a hurdle for me and my weight years ago. Most of the time I simply avoid the problem by not purchasing chips or other foods that I know will cause issues. Actually, I usually just avoid the chip aisle so I'm not tempted to buy them. I will buy chips on occasion, but try to make those occasions as few as I can and still enjoy them. This strategy works fairly well, but isn't foolproof because I'm not a hermit; I go out in public and work with others.

This time of year is a giant challenge to most people who are trying to avoid overeating. Not only is food floating around all over most offices, but there seem to be holiday parties every night. I know that there have been some weekend days where I am running from event to event with no time to sit down at home and eat. There are articles all over about how to overcome the temptation, but it really boils down to avoidance.

If you know there will be snack food in the break room mid-morning, try to avoid going in there until after your coworkers have devoured it all. If that means having extra water at your desk so you don't have to refill, get a second water bottle. If you don't want to tell people no when they offer you food, take the food and then get rid of it. If you know there will be plenty of food at a party, try to eat light earlier that day or the day before. I think the frequent suggestion of eating high-fiber food before will just make you gassy and add another 200-400 calories to your daily total.

I am not saying it will be easy. I am still regretting the chocolate croissant that I didn't grab this morning. I would regret it if I had eaten it, too. I am trying very hard to keep some reasonable eating over the next few weeks so I'm not jumping into New Year's Resolutions from a position of guilt, bloating and laziness.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Better Eating

I've been trying to eat better this week. Trying to get back into the groove of caring about my whole health and not just my running speed and endurance. I'm also trying to live the adage that "abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym." I know that the only way that I will get the abs that I want is to shed some fat that I'm carrying on my stomach.

This is not me saying that I'm fat, or even that I'm unhappy with my body. I love what my body has been able to accomplish this year. Even with flat feet, I finished a marathon. I can get up in the morning and decide to run 3, 5, or even 10 miles and I will probably be able to finish those miles. I love that I can hold a plank for a minute. I also love that my standing desk has improved my posture so much I had to raise my monitor.

This is me saying that I would like to change some things. This is me saying that I could be better/stronger/leaner. I think that too often we are pushed into looking at our weight or health in very stark ways. We must either love everything about how we look and how we weigh, or we must hate it. There doesn't seem to be much allowance for people who are currently happy, but still want to change/improve. Yes, I love what my body can do, but I think it can do more.

I know that this either/or standard has been applied to plus-size actresses who say they're happy with how they look, but then go on to lose weight. I can remember the backlash against Jennifer Hudson, Oprah, and America Ferrera when they lost weight. Their decision to lose weight was viewed as abandoning their fans. And of basically being a liar. It's possible that there is some jealousy in this criticism. Or maybe the critics fear that their own claims of happiness with their weight aren't true.

Just as I don't think we should fat-shame, I don't think we should thin-shame. People can see what they look like in the mirror without others telling them how they should feel about their reflection. If they ask for opinions, it's one thing, but we should stop offering unsolicited opinions on the health and/or weight of others. People know if their weight is unhealthy without being told.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


I am avoiding the winter temperatures and darkness by running on the treadmill. I don't like it at all, but will continue to use it until it gets warmer outside. It's a battle between two things I dislike and picking the one that's less awful and safer. Treadmills inside are much safer than running in the dark. It's also less hassle because I don't need a ton of winter clothing to protect myself. I can run in shorts and a singlet.

Most articles on running will tell you to put the incline at 1% grade to simulate running on flat terrain. Because the motor will carry you part of every step, you need the slight incline to overcome that assist. I have a run scheduled in February that will involve hills, something hard to find in Chicago, so I'm setting the treadmill on an incline of 2%. This is such a small number, but it was surprisingly tough. My first attempt at incline put it up to 15%, but that almost killed me. That made me do a bit of reasearch to understand what that number actually means. Each percentage point is 52.8 feet rise over 5,280 feet (mile) run. The Tour de France doesn't appear to have anything higher than 8%.

I ran a full 5K yesterday and it took me 34:30. I'm not sure if that's because of the grade, or because of it being a treadmill. Whenever I took the speed over 10 minute miles, I ended up too close to the front and hit it. I think that was because I was afraid of falling off the back. I know that fear kept me from getting as full of a stride as I would like. I was afraid that if I tried for a higher back kick, I wouldn't get my leg back in time and I would go shooting into the wall. I think I'd feel better if the treadmill were longer.

I think that more time spent on the treadmill will make me more comfortable, which should help me bring that time down to something closer to 30:00, if not lower. My goal for an outdoor 5K time at the end of April is 25:00. I know that running on an inclined treadmill is hard to translate to flat outdoor running, but any improvement in my time will be a good thing. I know I will get in a few outdoor runs during winter, but since the bulk will be on the treadmill, I will use that to gauge improvement.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Finances and Fitness, part 2

Yesterday, I gave everyone some ideas on how to get fit without spending much money. Today, I'd like to share another one. If you're like me and dislike winter, you may want to look for a place to run inside. Treadmills are great, if you have a good place to put them. Buying one will be cheaper than a gym membership after a year or two, depending on the cost of the gym considered, how much you'd spend in gas getting to that gym and how often you use the treadmill at home. You can make the treadmill more affordable by using it as a desk, something I wish I had at work.

For those of us who can't get a treadmill because we're in an apartment, a gym membership may be the best answer. A standard gym membership will be at least $30 per month with a contract length of a year. Most health clubs have an initiation fee in addition to the monthly fee. If you live in a larger city, that monthly fee will probably be closer to $60, if not $100. The corporate gym that's closest to my job and has a location near my apartment would have charged me $45 per month, after my employer's discount. $400-$1,200 for a year of fitness is a luxury I can't afford.

I have found cheaper health clubs, though. The YMCA charges less than the discounted rates my job afforded me. In my hometown, their membership rates are about 20% cheaper that the other health clubs. Most locations of the YMCA have swimming pools, something not all health clubs have. Additionally, the YMCA is a charity that provides health and fitness services to children who might not have that any other way. I took swim lessons at my hometown YMCA, at no cost to my family.

For me, the YMCA wasn't really conveniently located, but the local park district had a fitness facility at the park across the street from the shuttle I ride home every day. The membership for the park district health clubs was even lower than the YMCA, too. I splurged and bought the GOLD membership, which lets me work out at every park in the city that has a fitness center. This cost me $82 for three months of access. That's less than I paid for a gym membership in 1993.

I will admit that the health clubs that cost $100 a month do have some really nice features not available for $27. The more expensive clubs may also have newer machines with private TVs. On the other hand, no one is using the park district health club as a singles bar. I have to bring my own towel, but I don't have anyone trying to sell me tanning or supliments. Each has their advantages and disadvantages. If $100 per month is within your budget and you like the amenities that provides, please don't let this discourage you from joining. I just wanted people who think all health clubs are outside their financial means to realize there may be something they can afford.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Finances and Fitness

Many people use a lack of finances as an excuse to avoid fitness. Yes, being filthy rich would make it much easier to be fit. Expendable income could mean more free time to spend exercising. Money to spend on personal trainers, ideal equipment and a personal chef would be ideal. Unless you won the lottery, figuratively or literally, you don't get to have the ideal; you have to work within reality. That does not mean you have no hope of living a healthy, fit life, though. There are many, many ways to achieve fitness on a budget.

Walking: There is minimal cost to beginning a walking program. The only needs are a comfortable pair of shoes and socks. If it's cold outside, you would need winter wear, but it can be the exact same items you wear the rest of the time. There is no need to buy special clothing to begin a walking program. You don't even need to venture far from home, if at all. You can walk around the block, up and down your hallway, or around your yard.

Running: Just like walking, the only equipment needed are a good pair of shoes and socks. I do recommend going to a good shoe store and getting the shoes fitted for running. I would also try to avoid cotton socks, but sweat-wicking socks can be bought for about the same price as cotton. If you're a woman, you will also need a good sports bra, but if that's outside your budget, you can wear a good normal bra with a cheaper sports bra over it. Again, it's not ideal, but as long as it keeps the bouncing to a minimum, it will work. As with walking, you don't really need to venture very far. I have done interval training by running around my block repeatedly for 30 minutes.

Resistance: You can work most muscles without any weights, other than your body. Push-ups, sit-ups, lunges, crunches, squats, planks, and leg lifts are all exercises where you can use gravity and your body weight to challenge your muscles. There are about as many of these exercises as there are muscles in your body. For a few dollars, you can also buy resistance bands, which work like hand-weights, but cost less and take up less room. You can also use old, handled beverage containers filled with water as hand weights.

That's just the tip of the iceberg. If you want more cardio, you can buy a jumprope. You can also search online for fitness videos. There are yoga, Tai chi, stretching, and many other fitness videos available on youtube, netflix and cable's On Demand features. As always, the internet has as much bad information as good information, so you'll have to weed through the crap to get to the good stuff. I think it's worth it to get healthier, though.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012


When I had a stress fracture in my femoral neck last summer, I was given an ultrasound machine to help the bone heal. I recently read that ultrasound could also help with soft tissue injuries. I still have the machine, so I was going to dig it out and try it on my tendon that's been giving me issues since August.

I decided to do a little research on it before putting it to use, though. I didn't do any research when I first got the machine, but that was because I was in the middle of moving and leaving my job. I was busy and didn't really have great computer access. Now I find out that I could have saved some effort.

The theory is that ultrasound helps with pain and speeds healing. There have been studies that showed this to be true. Although the one I found was small and on rabbits. Another study showing it works involved people and was a bit larger, but was funded by the company that sells ultrasound healing devices. A study on rats showed promise, but only if used early after injury. A review of all ultrasound studies found bad science and no proof of effectiveness. I think the Wikipedia summed it up nicely: Effectiveness of therapeutic ultrasound for pain, musculoskeletal injuries, and soft tissue lesions remains questionable.

If I didn't have the machine already, I wouldn't go out and buy one. Since I already own it, and have an injury that MIGHT benefit from using the machine, I will use it. There's no side-effects from it, so I don't see why I shouldn't do everything I can to make my tendon feel better.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Holiday Wish List

It's that time of year again. It's the season when people ask you what you want for Christmas. I find this to be a really difficult question to answer. Part of that is because I don't want to ask for practical things like a new carafe for coffee. The other reason it's kind of difficult is that I don't have extravagant wants, so I tend to buy things for myself when I want them. I now understand why shopping for my dad for the holidays was so difficult; if we saw he could use something, he would go buy it for himself.

I finally took some time today and created a wish list on Amazon. Every item on the list is fitness related. I tried to come up with non-fitness items, but nothing came to mind. That's not totally accurate, I did ask for comfortable shoes that are ok to wear for work. I only need those because I stand at my desk and need shoes that aren't running shoes or heels. If I sat at my desk, I wouldn't need or want new shoes. So, that's tangentially a fitness item.

Here, for you to view are the items on my wish list:

"Duel in the Sun: The Story of Alberto Salazar, Dick Beardsley, and America's Greatest Marathon".  I also asked for Alberto Salazar's book "14 Minutes: A Running Legend's Life and Death and Life".  I've already read Dick Beardsley's autobiography "Staying the Course: A Runner's Toughest Race" and I've watched the video of the marathon, so I thought it was time to read the book about that race. Here's the video of an amazing marathon finish.

In addition to two books about running and runners, I also asked for items to help me be fitter. I asked for the FitBit. It's a pedometer, accelerometer and altimeter. It measures all activity, including sleep. I am hoping this will give me the push I need to shed the remaining weight that I don't like and get the flat belly I want.

I also asked for push-up bars to help me get more range of motion on push-ups, and a wobble/balance board for some added core work. I didn't ask for more microfiber socks, but I could always use those. I'm sure I could find many, many more fitness items that I would be happy to receive. That's the other reason coming up with a list is difficult; I'm happy that people just think of me, so any gifts are good gifts.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Hustle or Hustled?

Most 5Ks are run as awareness and fundraising vehicles for charities. Larger races like the marathon and half marathon are corporate sponsored, but are done simply for the sake of runners; no one is making a profit. The 5K I ran yesterday, on the other hand was organized by a company designed to make money. This was the second for-profit race I've done this summer, in addition to the one I spectated, but I won't make this mistake again.

Yesterday's run was called the Santa Hustle 5K. I finished it in 26:16, a full 1:30 faster than my PR from this summer. I tweeted out that time, along with my shock, because I didn't feel that I had run that quickly. It turns out that the course, although certified, was about 1/5-1/4 of a mile short of a full 5K. The corrected distance of 4.65K seems to be the reality, but it's really going to be hard to know positively what the distance was, because the race organizers are covering their asses. They're issuing corporate statements that sound apologetic, without actually taking any blame. If I recalculate my pace based on this distance, my pace was 9:05 per mile, meaning I would have a 28:13 for a 5K.

I'm ok with that pace and time. It's slower than my last race, but not by much. The race went fine, so 28:13 seems reasonable. The first mile seemed like I was running slowly, nowhere near the 8:55 that my chronograph clocked between the start gate and the first mile marker. The field was too crowded to get any speed going, though. There was a 180 degree turn after about a mile and a half that immediately encountered the crowd-slowing hydration station. I ran the third "mile" a minute faster than my first or second mile, which seemed unlikely to me, especially considering I walked part of it while taking off my jacket.

Charity races tend to be capped at 2,000-4,000 people to make sure they run smoothly. For-profit races don't do that, because it would limit profits, so they end up with double the number of runners, if not even more. This leads to many problems with the race going off smoothly. One for-profit race this year had lines of 2-3 hours for packet pick-up because of the 40,000+ participants and poor planning. The other for-profit race I did this summer started 30 minutes late because of a vendor and people had to wait 10 minutes while a bridge lifted for a boat to pass, in the middle of their race. Those runners also had to dodge tourists during the last .2 miles of the course because it was held at a tourist attraction with no roped off course.

These races attract people because they have a clever concept and/or great swag. I received a Santa hat and beard yesterday, in addition to a long-sleeve tech shirt that looks like Santa's jacket. Others give out really expensive running jackets, sweatshirts and medals. They have much better marketing behind them, too. It makes sense; if you're making money, you can pay for a good ad campaign, which will lead to bigger profits. Charities don't want to spend money on marketing that could be better spent on their actual cause.

I don't want these for-profit races to disappear. I think they are a great gateway for new runners. People who may never consider running otherwise may be lured in by the fun concept and giveaways. If these races get more people into running, they serve at least one good purpose. Personally, I will just avoid them in the future. They aren't providing me with the product I actually want when I pay to run a race.