Monday, January 3, 2011

New Year's Reflections

Rather than making pointless resolutions about the direction I would like my life to take, I want to take stock of how far I've come in just one year (the first numbers are this time in '10 and the second are the present ones)

Weight: 220lb s, 161lbs
Pant size: 36/30, 30/30
Maximum distance ran at once: less than 1mi, 7mi
Average ran in a week: less than 1mi,24mi

These numbers don't give the true reflection of my life, however. They are merely achievements that I am proud of. Looking back, it took a lot of effort to achieve these goals even though at the time I didn't realize I had made the decision to put forward so much effort.

It began because my car sucks. I hate driving my parent's '94 Lincoln Towncar around, even though I am very lucky and grateful to have it. It still kind of sucks to show up to an event in a boat you would expect a '70 year old woman in bottle glasses to be captaining. But it was all I had. Until I got my Trek bike.

I had been planning to get, or rather thinking it was a really good idea to have, a bike for about six months but in May I decided that the time had come and so I went down to Guthrie Bike in Sugarhouse on a morning when it was pouring rain to get my new mode of transportation. I had a hell of a time getting the bike into the back seat of the Lincoln. I hadn't realized at the time that it was possible to just pop the wheels off the bike using the quick release levers on the side, but there was a lot still that I had to learn by trial and error.

At first biking to and from work sucked. Really sucked. I didn't have the right gear. My legs burned whenever I reached a hill, I would suck wind faster than I used to suck down Cheetos. I could hardly make it halfway home before having to stop and take in some air. I thought, damn it if I am able to make it home without stopping by the end of the summer that will be an achievement I can be proud of. I did just that a week later. I then set another goal: If I can get home without having to drop from 3 and 8 gears by the end of the summer I will be proud of myself. A month later I was cruising home in 3 and 8 in record time and wearing heavier and heavier packs.

Something was changing in me. I began to see the bike rides not as exercise but as my way of conveyance and then finally as something I looked forward to because it felt good to propel myself forward using my own power. I began walking on my days off. I walked everywhere. I made sure to walk to the grocery store, that way I could only buy what I could carry and this cut down significantly on the junk food I would normally buy.

By mid-June I was in constant motion. I began to have radical thoughts: what if I started running? Running has always been my kill-joy. That's not true, not always. When I was really little, like four or five, I would run everywhere. I was a skinny little bastard too. I would race my brothers and their teams at their baseball practices, and keep up just nicely. Back then I was in constant motion. And then one day I stopped and got fat. By the the time I was in jr. high it was too late because my feet were terrible. The doctors said it was because the growth plates in my feet hadn't yet fused and were rubbing up against each other, and also because my arches were collapsing. I think that it was just because I was 50 lbs overweight.

The more I entertained the notion of running, the more I liked the idea. And so I bought an iPod Nano, perhaps the greatest workout device ever invented. I also bought the Nike+ workout kit and began monitoring my progress. The first run was a disaster. I didn't plan out the route and I thought I would just navigate around my neighborhood and see how far I could get. What I didn't realize was how many damn hills and dead end streets there are around my house. I ended up running less than a mile that day. I didn't run again for two weeks. But the next time I was prepared with a route from Google Maps and a playlist that would keep my feet hitting the pavement to the beats of Tool, The Deftones, and other rock and metal bands. I ran two miles and patted myself on the back. I thought if I could run a 5k by the end of the summer I would be doing pretty well. The same story evolved as what happened on the bike. I began running in the morning, eating breakfast, showering, and riding my bike to work and then home. By the end of July I was running five miles a day and biking ten. I had a learning curve, the biggest lesson being to stretch before and after my workouts, and also learning to breathe properly during my runs. Now every time I go to the gym I make sure to run at least 5mi.

My weight loss wouldn't have been possible without a change in diet of course. I decided to try something radical. Now this is something you will find very few health gurus promoting but just might work: I cut out junk food and ate mostly meals that I prepared myself. I say mostly because I still have a weakness for the occasional taco from a local Mexican joint or a plate from Mo Bettah Steaks (which if you get their mini chicken and steak mix with brown rice is actually a really awesome option.) But that's it. I didn't cut out carbs. I didn't go vegan or vegetarian. I didn't do anything other than eat only stuff I could prepare and exercised everyday. Radical, I know.

I was inspired by Michael Pollan's advice, "Don't eat anything advertised on TV." I had also just watched his documentaries, The Botany of Desire, Food Inc., and The Omnivore's Dilemma. I was primed for a change. I began eating natural foods. I shopped at the Farmer's Market. I ate whole grains when I ate grains. The funny thing is, the more I did this and the more I exercised the less I felt the need to eat. I have incredible amounts of energy now but I have stopped mindlessly grazing on crap or gorging on food that has no nutritional value but plenty of sugar and bad fats. I don't feel any cravings at all for fast food. The appeal has faded.

A funny thing began to happen. One day when I was shaving I noticed that my face was a little gaunter than it had been. My cheeks were more defined. I looked at my arms and my chest. New veins were showing on my arms and no man boobs. Cha-cha-changes. I started weighing myself. I was kind of shocked when I realized I weighed 190 pounds. I had lost 30 pounds in a months time. Now if you talk to a doctor and say, I plan to lose 30 pounds in a month he might refer you to a psychiatrist. And he would be justified to do that too. It's insane to plan on doing something like that. I absolutely didn't plan on doing that either. I began to worry that I might have cancer. But, of course it was just the shock of losing so much so fast. It was supposed to be a lot harder than this after all. I began to monitor my weight religiously, or obsessively might be a better word. There are records of Hemingway listing his weight every day for most of his adult life. Sometimes in my more delusional moments I like to compare myself to Hemingway. Every morning I weighed myself and sometimes after I got home from a bike ride I weighed myself just to see how much I lost in water weight. It turns out that I can lose between two and five pounds in water after a bike ride. On average that summer I lost one to two pounds a week (non-water weight.) I began noticing little ab muscles appearing. Not chiseled rock hard but still there. My legs, stripped of their fat, are super-defined and rock hard. My muscles are finally coming out after a long dormancy. It's good to see them again. And of course, all of my pants are now clown pants.

I also noticed that when I smiled at girls there wouldn't just be the polite smile back. It's good to ask out a member of the opposite sex and not have to fret over whether or not she says yes. If she says no, there's someone else who'll say yes. Confidence brings so many good things.

But these are all really side-effects of why I chose to do this in the first place and why I stuck with it. I did it because I had to and I stuck with it because running, biking, and all of it is fun and a better way of life for me. I am genuinely happy right now. Much of that comes from the realization that I really can achieve my goals if I simply stick with them. My life is the best it's been in a very long time.