Monday, February 27, 2006

Ugh! Sick Again

I was really looking forward to adding in swimming this week, but it looks like I'm going to have to put it off for at least a few days. I started coming down with a cold last night. This really pisses me off because I have been eating right, taking lots of zinc and exercising, and I still got sick. It seems that in the past year I have been getting sick quite often. It sucks! I think I'm getting them from my little 2 year old daughter. She plays with her friends and then brings the latest diseases home to me. It doesn't help that she always insists on drinking from my glass and eating off of my plate. And of course, she is such a darling no one could keep me away from her. However, I also think that I seem to be particularly vulnerable, because my wife and mother-in-law rarely seem to take ill, and they are around my daughter all the time. I think they have iron clad immune systems.

So what to do? This is precisely the type of setback that I anticipated, but the question is how to minimize its effect on my training. One strategy woulde be to train through it, but I may be sick for longer than if I rested. The other strategy would be to take a break from training and hope the cold goes away fast. I guess I need some advice on this one.

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Saturday, February 25, 2006

Week 2 Progress Report

The week is not over yet, but tomorrow is a scheduled rest day, so I can give a progress report. The goal was to continue and build a cardiovascular base while running. I had 5 runs this week, so I cut back the time to 35 minutes. I did want to keep at least one longer run, so today I went for 50 minutes. I have been debating with myself what sort of statistics I should keep about my progress. Some times I run at a straight speed, but more often than not I do intervals or run at a steady heart rate with a variable speed. In addition I some times add an incline and some times I do not, so it seems like I am much slower on some days when it was just a higher incline. This all makes much of the data useless for tracking progress, but I still want something to help motivate me and prove to myself that I am getting better.

I'm probably going to get a heart rate monitor watch in the future and that will have more options to display my progress. Until then a simple measure is just the miles run. Hopefully when I am faster, I will run more miles in the same amount of time. This method doesn't account for inclines, but I really can't think of any way to account for inclines anyways. This week I ran a total of 14.77 miles. Adding that to my prior miles gives a running total of 31.24 miles. Here are some fitness stats:

Current body weight: 260.5 lbs (down 3.5 lbs in two weeks)
Body fat percentage: 36 (down from 39% in two weeks)

I have to take the body fat percentage with a large grain of salt because it is taken on an old Tanita Scale, and I doubt it is very accurate, but it should be ok in showing relative changes week to week.

From a qualitative perspective, I could feel the difference when I ran two days in a row. At first I had a little problem getting my HR up on the second day. I had to pace my self a little slower and focus on my breathing and then my HR caught up with me. I did intervals on Thursday. That was after a rest day and for only 35 minutes so it felt really easy. I probably should go longer on days when I do intervals.

Next week I start adding in swimming. I can swim ok with my upper body but my kicking is really terrible. Usually I would just use a leg float and just focus on my upper body, but I really do need to fix this problem, so I am going to start right this time and focus on getting my whole body positioned correctly in the water. This means I can't expect to do many lengths. Normally I would be able to do 20 laps easy. My goal this week is to start out at 10 and see how it goes. Here is my new schedule:

Monday: Run 40 minutes
Tuesday: Swim 10 laps (500 yards)
Wednesday: Run 50 minutes intervals
Thursday: Swim 12 laps (600 yards)
Friday: Run 40 minutes
Saturday: Swim 10 laps (500 yards), Run 30 minutes intervals
Sunday: Rest

I'm still debating whether to put swimming and running both on Saturday or move the swim or run over to Sunday. We'll see.

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Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Inspiration from George Washington

I thought I would offer a quote from George Washington today in honor of his birthday.

Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people
who have the habit of making excuses.
- George Washington

I'm good at coming up with excuses. When I look back at my past attempts to exercise more and my attempts to prepare for a triathlon, I understand the reasons for why I stopped, but they seem rather weak now. To succeed, the first thought must always be, "there is a way" and then figure out how to get around the obstacle. You cannot allow yourself to use it as an excuse to stop trying.

I am a perfectionist by personality. This personality trait has oftentimes helped motivate me to do better, but often it has also caused me to give up. If I could not do it all, I would do nothing and then justify it with excuses. All right people, keep me honest! No more excuses.

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Monday, February 20, 2006

Diet Tri-ing

I'm not "tri-ing" to lose weight, but it sure would be a happy by-product. Losing those extra pounds are also a good way of getting faster. Just imagine ditching the 50lb. ballast around your waist and still having all of the endurance and strength of before. This is really just low hanging fruit.

That being said I have never had much success on diets, and I have sure tries a number of them. I lost thirty lbs. on Atkins, but slowly gained it all back when I could no longer live with the severe restriction. I simply can't give up pizza, pasta and bread forever.

It is simply fundamental that to lose weight you have to burn more calories than you eat. All diets work by either raising metabolism or by effectively lowering the number of calories that you eat. You would think that with all the training required for a triathlon you could eat all that you wanted, but it doesn't really work that way. After a long work out, you get really hungry. It is also very possible to eat too little and really starve your muscles of the fuel they really need to perform. What is needed is a way to eat in such a way that accounts for the training and the metabolic changes that happen when you train and consistently have a small calorie deficit.

My solution is DietPower. It essentially is a metabolism calculator. Here is a screen shot of the program.

Each day you enter the food you have eaten, exercise you have done, and your body weight, and it calculates your metabolism. The food is entered through a large menu of preprogrammed food items. The reason I choose DietPower is that it has the largest food dictionary of any program I know of. You can also add you own foods and add “recipes,” which are essentially collections of foods. Here is a screenshot of the food log.

You set a target weight (lose, gain or maintain) and the software gives you a daily calorie target. If you stick relatively close to you target you will reach the goal. It’s almost magic. The software can also track user programmed variables such as body fat percentage, waist size, or whatever you want. Here is a screen shot of someone’s weight history. Since I’m just staring the program again I don’t have a history yet. But just you wait. . .

In addition to calories the software will also track most nutrients. You can see where you are lacking and perhaps what you eat too much of, sugar or sodium, for example. I plan on keeping close track of protein intake since I’m training.

All of this is very useful, but the software is not without its drawbacks. First it can be a pain to enter your food every day. It gets faster once you have been doing it for a while, but it still takes a few minutes every day. You also have to measure everything you eat, or at least have a good idea of how much you are eating. Foods with many ingredients are a pain, because if they are not in the food dictionary, you have to add them one ingredient at a time. For some foods this is just impossible. Because of this the software has a perverse tendency to promote eating pre-portioned food such as frozen and canned foods or fast food, simply because nutrition information is readily available and easy to enter.

I have decided that 240 lbs is a reasonable goal for the end of 20 weeks. Be sure to stay tuned and see how it all works out.

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Sunday, February 19, 2006

Week 1 Progress Report

Week 1 is done. One down, and 19 more to go! I'm following the beginner's plan at SlowTwitch. The plan is a 21 week plan, but think my first Tri will be the San Diego Int'l Triathalon (subject to change folks!) and that is in 19 weeks. The goal this week was to focus on cardio capacity while running. This is what I did:

Monday: Ran 45 minutes, 3.27 miles, Ave. Heart Rate 140, Incline: 0
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: Ran Intervals 45 minutes, 3.3 miles, Ave. Heart Rate 145, Incline: 0
Thurday: Rest
Friday: Ran 45 Minutes, 3.4, Ave. Heart Rate 150, Incline: 1
Saturday: Ran Intervals 20 min, Straight Run 35 min, 3.5 miles, Ave. HR 150, Incline: 1
Sunday: Rest

I can already see some improvement which I am excited about. I'm slowly getting faster and can sustain a higher heart rate without crashing. I should also put out some other stats regarding my over all fitness.

Body Weight: 262 lbs.
Percent Body Fat: 38%

When I started this training program I was 265 and 39% body fat, so that is a small but noticable improvement. I'm not sure what my resting HR was, but I'm going to want to track that in the future. Here are the new goals for the week.

Monday: Run 35 minutes
Tuesday: Run 35 minutes
Wednesday: Rest
Thursday: Run 35 minutes
Friday: Run 35 minutes
Saturday: Rest
Sunday: Run 50 minutes

There is going to be fewer rest days this week, so I'm lowing the time for each run. The times are actually already over the Slowtwitch plan numbers, but 20 minutes seems too little. The fewer rest days will also help to prepare me for week three were I will introduce swimming, and will only have one rest day each week.

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Thursday, February 16, 2006

Why Tri?

I have wanted to try a triathlon for several years now. I have never been a very athletic person. This is partly because my family was never into sports and thus never encouraged me to participate in organized sports and partly because I attended a very tiny primary school that did not offer any organized sports while I was in attendance. I did play a lot of kickball, softball and tag football during recess, but rarely in a sustained and practiced way. The only exception to this was a brief period in junior high when my school joined a softball league. We were horrible. We lost every single game. This was not a promising start in school athletics.

By the time I was in high school I was significantly overweight and very weak for my size. I remember dreading PE where we would run around the field. I absolutely hated it. For me it was probably the worst aspect of high school. With all the horrible experiences that can occur in that vulnerable time, this is saying something. Years later, I learned to appreciate it and am glad that the school forced me to get the exercise that it did, but at the time, I found it loathsome. In high school I did have very brief fantasies of joining the wrestling team and even toyed with the idea of playing badminton, but I was so out of shape I was too embarrassed to ever really try.

By the time I was a senior in college, my six foot frame weighted over 235 pounds. Prior to that time, I had never really tried to diet or exercise, but a good friend of mine, Susanne, invited me to go swimming with her at the college recreation center pool. It was a great pool. It is probably still the nicest pool I have ever been in. It used ozone to sterilize the water, so it did not reek of chlorine, and it was nice and long, so you could get really long laps without interruption. It was also usually empty which was a plus. It also certainly did not hurt that there were always pretty co-eds sunbathing around the pool either. I enjoyed my time at the pool, and swimming with Susanne quickly became a regular activity for me.

I never lost much weight from swimming, but it certainly made me feel better. I noticed that my body was more toned, and I felt significantly stronger. I decided that more exercise was really what I needed, so I started jogging in the mornings before classes. At the time I lived in a rural area along the central coast of California, and while I cannot say that I ever really enjoyed pounding the pavement, the experience was made more pleasant by the beautiful scenery. I would run along back roads winding through shallow hills alongside fields of horses and livestock grazing. I slowly became more competent and began running farther and farther. The running and swimming, along with eating better, helped me to lose 20 pounds.

Another friend of mine at the time was a semi-pro cyclist, which gave me the idea to add cycling to my exercise routine. I figured that by adding cycling, if I kept at it, I could eventually do a triathlon. This goal seemed a far fetched fantasy to a person who never really exercised significantly his entire life, but it would give me a goal and focus to all this exercise. I went out and bought a used road bike, the one I still use to this day. I eventually could ride to the ocean and back, a distance that previously seemed impossible to me. Admittedly it was only about 20 miles, but it was huge accomplishment for me at the time.

I really enjoyed having a goal and feeling the accomplishment of moving toward that goal. Training also gave me a feeling of mastery over my body that I had never felt before. I have accomplished many goals that required the use of my brain, but for the first time I was developing real discipline over the entire self, body and mind. This gave me tremendous satisfaction. I had serious difficulties at that time in my life, such as serious financial problems, and a long drought in romantic relationships, yet I had my friends and my health, and I remember it as one of the best times of my life.

It all ended when I move to Los Angeles to go to graduate school. I was attending the University of Southern California, which just does not have good exercise facilities for students who are not on a team. I later found out that UCLA is the same way. The facilities suck. Nor were there much in the way of alternitives. I could not afford a membership at a gym with a decent pool on my meger graduate student stipend. It was also difficult to find places to ride my bike. Before I carried my bike down the stairs from my apartment and off I went into the hills. Now that I was living in a slum in Hollywood I did not feel safe to ride my bike on city streets. Between the homeless people lying on the sidewalk, the gangbangers staring at you, the potholes, gravel, and uneven pavement everywhere and the drivers that really could not care less about your safety I was taking my life into my hands every time I went out on the road. I did not have the money to keep my car operating to drive to decent cycling lanes. I still tried to run, but inhaling car exhaust became too much for me and eventually that too passed.

Years later after getting married and gaining over 60 pounds I decided to start training again. I was inspired by an article in Men's Health magazine about doing a triathlon. It brought back all kinds of good memories of my days training in college, and I decided to go for it. Unfortunately, I was a law student at the time. When finals came around I was a wreak, and I simply could not keep up the training. I started up again in the summer, but I had lost too much time and was not able to be ready for the triathlon I was training for. Frustrated, I quit striving for a trithalon. I thought just simply exercsing for health would be enough, but that never lasted for long. I have tried to start training since then, but I guess I never really fully committed myself. This is probably because I did not believe in myself and also partly because I did not want to set myself up for another failure.

Now I am trying again. What is different this time? My life is more stable now. I am no longer in school. I am working as an attorney and thus have more resources. I am married and have a daughter, so my home life is more stable as well. I feel that most of my life is really successful, but one area that is totally out of control is my body. I have cycled between 260-280 pounds for the last 5 years. I owe it to myself and to my family to take better care of myself. It seems that I have tried every diet under the sun, and in doing so I have learned a lot about my body and about nutrition. But I have also been beat down by repeated failures. What I have learned about myself is that it is mastery of my body that I am truly lacking. I am under no illusions. Training for a triathlon is not a magic bullet for my weight problems, but finishing a triathlon would be a transforming experience for me. I feel that it would give me confidence in what I can accomplish, introduce me to a more active lifestyle, and would enable me to get in much better physical health regardless of my ultimate weight.

Why a blog? Part of the reason that I never was able to keep training in the past was that I allowed obstacles to weaken my commitment. By announcing my intentions to all my friends and really to the world I hope that it will solidify my resolve and give me motivation when my commitment is at its lowest ebb.

That is why I Tri.

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Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Inspiration from Teddy Roosevelt

It's the middle of the week, humpday. Energy is lagging and sometimes we wonder if we can meet our goals for the week. It is the perfect time for some inspiration to get us through the week. This is quote that was brought to my attention by a colleague of mine, and I think it is perfect for the start of this adventure.

It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes short again and again, who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause, who at best knows achievement and who at the worst if he fails at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.

Theodore Roosevelt, from a speech given in Paris at the Sorbonne in 1910.

Let's do it!

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Monday, February 13, 2006

Polar Heart Rate Monitor

Since I am a newbie, I do most of my training at the gym. Running on a treadmill just isn't the same as pounding the pavement, but it does have some advantages. First of all, many of the treadmills in your local gym will work in conjunction with a heart rate monitor strap to measure your exertion. This works really well and is especially useful when you are first starting out. It is really easy to push yourself too hard and crash while on a run if you don't have the experience of listening to your body. Keeping your heart rate in check allows you to pace yourself, and thus put in more time. It is also a good way to keep track of your progress, calories burned, etc.

The monitor that I have is a Polar WearLink. I had another brand, that seemed OK, but it wouldn't work with any of the equipment at my gym. Precor, LifeFitness and other manufacturers are all compatible with Polar. The WearLink also has special encoding which prevents interference from other nearby heart rate monitors. It fits very well, and unlike my other monitor, it always works. Highly recommended.

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Sunday, February 12, 2006

First Run!

I had my first run yesterday. I did some interval training with a heart-rate monitor for 45 minutes. I ran-walk from a heart rate up to 155 beats per minute and then down to 135 and back. I'm trying to play it pretty conservative and take it slow. Here are my first stats!

Average Speed: 4.3 mph
Distance: 3.27
Incline: 0
Average Heart Rate: 140

Not bad for a fatty! I am a bit sore today, but not too bad. I will probably be very stiff tomorrow morning and will need a good, long stretch.

I'm looking forward to these numbers going up! This week I'm starting Stage One of my plan. I will try to run four times this week for 45 minutes each time.

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Friday, February 10, 2006

The Plan

An old Chinese saying reminds us that a journey of the a thousand miles begins with a single step. But even so, it is important to have a plan before we even make that step. My plan is largely a modification of the beginner's plan at Dan Empfield lays out a very flexible and realistic plan for the beginner.

I would divide the plan into stages:
  • Stage One: Start running, or even just jogging really. The goal is to build cardiovascular capacity. Start at 4x per week.
  • Stage Two: Add swimming. Focus on technique and slowly build length. Start at 3x per week.
  • Stage Three: Add spinning. Focus on cadence and just put in the time. Start at 2x per week.
  • Stage Four: Add in reality factors. For example add in running on pavement rather than a treadmill. Get out a real bike. Try swimming in open water.
  • Stage Five: Supercompensation/Alternate rest weeks. The goal is to really stretch in each activity and get faster.

Sounds like a plan!

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Thursday, February 09, 2006

Welcome to my blog!

It has begun. After many false starts I'm now on the path to training for a Triathlon. Certainly I am a long way away from my goal. In all seriousness I haven't even exercised regularly in about eight months, and excercise has never been a large part of my life. I have always been a "big boy" but since being married I have seriously ballooned. Funny how love does that to you. I am well below my max of 280 lbs., but at 263 lbs., even simply jogging is difficult. Nevertheless I am not concerned. Everyone has to start somewhere, and this is where I am. Stay tuned and join in the adventure!

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