Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Chase is On!

With online registrations for the HeartChase 2014 Newport, KY closing today (You can still register the day of the event!), I pressed and prodded my loved ones to join my team—You’re busy Saturday?  Busy, how?  Will you join if I help you do that on Sunday? / Do this for me and I’ll do [shuddering] that for you / IT’S.FOR.AN.EXCELLENT.CAUSE!—and I tell you, I have honestly fallen for my persuasion pitch. 

The HeartChase is a unique event for people of all age and levels of fitness; an adventure game where a marathon mama, a couch potato papa, and the kids can all team together—something you’d never find in a half marathon—in order to chase away heart disease.  These teams of 2 to 5 people compete against other teams in a chase around the community, facing 10 checkpoint challenges and locating hidden donations.

Newport the Levee, right above the Ohio River and anchoring an area full of shops, paths, and parks, is the perfect host for transforming the everyday into an adventure.  The weather is to be perfect; the HeartChase is to be fun.  I’ve got the HeartChase Mobile Game app downloaded to my phone; my outfit is laid out.  I’m excited.  I’m ready.  Unlike with my successive 5K races, my goal is not to beat my best; my goal is to raise money by having fun.  How great is that!

Game on!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Year One

Tuesday marked one year since I made the breakthrough in meaningful weight loss, coupling exercise with diet.  I weighed in at 331 lbs, down 110 lbs in a year!  I’m especially pleased because my weight loss averaged just over 2 lbs a week, a number, I've heard, over and over, from concerned doctors and diet experts, which is a healthy rate of loss for sustainable reduction.  This is due to the fact that if you are able to constantly lose this amount over a long period of time, you are developing healthy habits that you can maintain, not for a week or a month but, for a lifetime.

At my Heaviest

In my first year of healthier habits, I've incorporated resistance training into my exercise routine, which boosts my metabolism and replaces fat with lean tissue.  I've completely changed the way I eat, leaving behind the delusional days in which I tracked my daily sweets into my food diary.  I am sticking to a schedule—up and at ‘em in the AM, beddy bye shortly after dark—and am many folds more productive.  And finally I am continuing a concerted effort to broaden my horizons by lowering my guard; trying to be less emotionally sensitive and more adventurous, in order to experience more that the world has to offer.

Down 110 lbs!
If I don’t start to look sickly before I get there, my goal is to break the 220 lbs threshold.  At that weight I would no longer be obese under the body-mass index criteria and, by continuing to exercise, I will be much leaner, and much, much healthier.  The thought is exciting and I feel like going out to sprint a mile to that end, but I realize I’m on the long track journey—the path without short cuts or easy alternative routes.  It took a year to get halfway, and I anticipate it taking at least another year, probably more.  This is the test that’ll prove whether I am a true new man, and it is a test shan't fail!  

Friday, May 16, 2014

Journey Up Hell Hill

To make me stronger, fitter, and healthier, Laurie continues to push me.  Exercises that in the first weeks felt impossibly hard are now those during which I catch my breath.  That I am out of breath today is due to new more taxing exercises or due to more difficult variations of exercises mastered.  And now these feel impossible hard, and I have the feeling that I will never best them.  It is a pattern I recognize but am still amazed at how much better I’m getting, how well my body is responding, changing my body composition by gaining strength and not wearing down.

It is a testament to the expertise and great effort of Laurie, for, though I am willing to work hard, it is Laurie who is molding me into a better form of myself.  In this way, she has my complete trust.  I may not know where I am going, but Laurie is my Moses leading me to the Promise Land.  So when she told me that I was walking about as fast one could possibly walk and that it was time to start jogging, I called upon my faith in Laurie to put aside my trepidation in order to submit an earnest effort.

At the very beginning of my weight-loss journey, when I was just starting to walk around my neighborhood, I would be so sore in body that it hurt as much to merely walk as it did to jog.  So I would jog a very short distance, until my breath gave out and I was forced to stop.  I remember how much my 440lb+ body would rumble when jogging, how my superfluous fat would jiggle in every direction but forward, and how much harder jogging was from when I last did it in high school.

This is what I was thinking as we walked toward the back of the club.  “Are you ready?” Laurie asked me, bending over to prop open the back door that would otherwise lock us out.  ‘Twas not time to make reply, nor reason why; ‘Twas but time to do or die.  Onto Hell Hill jogged the three hundred pound man.

The path to the club’s outdoor tennis courts is a series of hills.  Leaving the club we went downhill toward the pool area.  Laurie, who, despite a sore IT band, registered at the last moment for Flying Pig Half Marathon and finished in a flat out sprint, could run circles around me, so she let me set the pace and instructed me on how to improve my running form.  Shorter strides, land on the heel of the shoe and rock forward, pushing off the balls the feet—like with all exercise, good form is paramount.

Passing the pool on our right we cross the bridge over a creek, itself a little hill.  Coming off the bridge in a downward incline, I gained momentum just in time to take a right turn onto the big hill.  The hill is completely under tree cover, blocking sunlight and making it cool, but these virtues are reduced to nil due to the challenging grade of climb.  As per Laurie’s directions, I leaned into the hill, increasing my strides, and pushing off using my quads.  It was tough going, and I quickly shifted into low gear. 

Following the path upward and ever curving left, I was whooing and heeing about halfway up, out of breath and looking to stop.  A desperate glance toward Laurie told me it was okay to walk, and Laurie said “Great job!  That was awesome for your first time!”  The path then levels off somewhat, and I thought if I had just gone a little further I could have jogged the rest of the way.  But then the path turns into its steepest grade and its greatest challenge.  I struggled to crest it in a walk. 

At last we reached the top, and I felt like the King of the Hill!  Passing the tennis courts on our right and around a loop in the path, it seemed as though I was home free—all downhill from here.  Yet, as when resisting the return motion of a weight while lifting, gravity made it much harder than I imagined.  A jog downhill could quickly turn into a run, and then the run could quickly turn you into a runaway truck without an arrester ramp.  That was too advanced for me, and Laurie had me take small strides, standing bolt upright, engaging my core and working on my form.

Finally returning to the back door of the club, I had an easy flowing sweat and shins that were starting to ache.  Fluids are easily enough replaced, and the shin muscles will toughen to meet the requirements of running.  I can’t wait until Hell Hill will seem easy, but then I shudder to think what next horrors Laurie has up her sleeves!

Saturday, May 3, 2014

The 2014 Cincinnati Flying Pig 5K

The Pig hath arrived.  In my group of racers I was joined by Joseph, my fantastically fit friend, and his daughter Kristyna, his genetic facsimile who in the sweet voice of a ten-year-old's while possessing the articulation of a thirty-year-old.  As we walked down Joe Nuxhall Way, we passed the "Pig Pens", corrals of runners grouped by expected finishing times. 
The Project and the Pacesetter 
Passing Pens A, B, and C, I saw the exceedingly athletic and the supremely fit.  If Joseph and Kristyna were to stand in the corrals indicative of their ability, they would have surely left my side, but thankfully they were foot-to-foot-to-foot with me in support.  In Pen F (Expected finishing time of 45 to 49 minutes), I felt as comfortable as a pig in mud. 

I was amazed at the diversity all around me--big and slender, young and old, the stiff jointed and the lithe--all happy to be there and excited for the starting pistol.  I looked around and saw groups galore--student with their schools, military veterans, people walking for the deaf, the blind, the disabled.  Joseph pointed out a group of little old nuns, dudded out in florescent green shirts and workout clothes.  "I had better beat them," I chuckled to Joseph.  There was a great casual feeling in the back corrals, where if someone had just a very little bit of fitness they could have a very good deal of fun.

Bang! went the starter's pistol and everyone who had been joking and funning about now faced the front with a new focus.  The mass of racers all started to bear in one direction.  It felt like a march of troops as we all took little measured steps, working our way, left on Second Street, towards the starting line and out of our initial bunching.  In just my second 5K, I still found it surreal to be walking on a street I was traveling down, just yesterday, going 55 miles per hour!

If we had been cars, would have been going the wrong way on Second, and then, descending the ramp, on Third Street.  All along Second and Third Streets, onlookers shouted cheers of encouragement and I, indeed, seemed to transfer the goodwill into usable energy.  For some reason--whether it was because I was still warming up, not yet mentally fatigue enough to ignore the physical feedback of work, or because I had to enter short bursts of running, sometimes laterally, to avoid closely bunched racers while catching up with my pace setter Joseph--I found the first third of the race unexpectedly difficult.

The further down Third we got the more the course opened up, and knowing the race's biggest upward hill laid just ahead, I decided to open up into a run.  I felt fine for the minute I was able to do, but Joseph cautioned me that I was on the balls of my feet the whole time, thus explaining why I have been getting the blisters on my feet.  Sure enough, as we started our ascent around Lytle Park, I felt the telltale tendering on the front of my foot pads.

Shocked Candid; or, Profile of a Startled Walker
The race's halfway point was marked in the park, and a station of water and Gatorade provided a half moment's respite as the race slowed down.  Then it was back to reality, back into the bunching.  "It's okay this time," I thought, as it gave me time to catch my breath.  We were heading back downhill and, knowing the course was leveling out, I started thinking about the finish.

Walk, Jog, Tire, Walk, was the pattern I exhibited as we rounded Butler Street to Calvert.  It seemed like we were passing a lot of people--a lot of pretty girls, alas!--who when passed tended to stayed "passed", as it were.  As I trundled toward the home stretch, looking towards Pete Rose Way, what did I see but an arc of little red balls.  A middle aged, skinny joker was juggling while walking the race!  If I can't finish before the court jester that's pathetic, I thought.  Toss, toss, toss; short little throws, fast towering ones, dropping not a ball.  Hoots and hollers all around as everyone seemed to love him, save for one red-faced curmudgeon.  "...rear mirror.  Goin' to put you in my rear mirror," I chanted in thought.  As I worked my way--pushing myself with no though as to reserves--up to the silly man he, as if sensing a palpably hostile energy nearby, caught all the balls with both shorts pockets, showoff-like, and SPRINTS far, far, far into the distance.  "Can't win 'em all," I think, wheezing.

As the jogging juggler was undoubtedly crossing the finish line, we turned onto Pete Rose Way, the final straight.  It made sense to give it all you got, to leave nothing on the course, to finish fast, finish strong; so Joseph and Kristyna entered into a full jog, and I, with my stupid toe run, entered my fool jog.  "Markie ain't got much," I thought.  "Gotta stop, can't stop, gotta..."

The gotta's got it as I had to stop--I was tired in my muscles, tired in my breath, tired in my cognition.  "Oof, what was that?" I thought, as I felt a flutter of faintness.  Fading right before the finish line, I didn't want to be like the poor wobbly legged fellows I've seen who crawled across the finish line.  Fat guy finishes Pig race on all fours--Oink!--That had devastatingly embarrassing viral video written all over it.  Disappointed, I returned to my brisk walk, watching Joseph and Kristyna put distance between us.  "Aww, don't look back, don't look back!" I pleaded, watching Joseph.  Sure enough he looked back to check on me, but instead of a look of disappointment to match how I felt, Joseph gave me an earnest smile and words of encouragement.  It felt great.

So great I wanted to give it one last try, to cross the Finish Swine in a run.  Feeling like a full grown boar bearing toward the finish gate, I tried to strike the ground in straight, measured strides, take deep breaths, sipping the succor of the cheering crowd; but I had a feeling of weakness from my chest: instincts dictated that I had to slow down.  It was the wall I could not break through.  I finished the race walking across the finish line...

But at least I was upright!  And I finished in 46:16, beating my goal by almost four minutes, while shaving six minutes off my Heart Mini time!  Let not the perfect be the enemy of the good, and having done good I feel great!  As we entered the ebullient atmosphere of victorious runners and their families in Yeatman's Cove, I was amaze how quickly I recovered, what satisfaction coursed through my veins.  The Pig proved to be a tough slough, and I couldn't have done any better this day.  To best my best again, I'm going to have to continue to lose weight, to get stronger and push myself.  I can't wait!

Took the also-ran to Kristyna's gold medal.  Beat by a 10-year-old girl!  Rematch Requested!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Pig's Eve

I just got back from the Packet Pickup for the Flying Pig 5K!  I had been to the Duke Energy Convention Center for the World Choir Games and this year's Heart Mini Expo, but have never it as packed as it was for the Flying Pig.  The doors opened at noon, and whether people were coming on their lunch break or making it a three day running holiday or both, it was packed! 

A skywalk across the street took me to the Millennium Hotel second floor, bustling with runners.  There were lines that didn't lead anywhere and, having followed a few, it was like a maze without walls.  Nuff of this!  I said to myself and, acting as officious as I could, sideways slipped my way into the Grand Ballroom.  The collected participants made the Grand Ballroom feel more Baby Grand, as there was little room to maneuver; progress was made by the decisive, and I wish I were a little more decisive.

Everything is new for the first timer, and one should expect to make mistakes.  I got in the 5K packet pickup line only to realize that I had registered late.  I stood in the Late Registration line for a while before a helpful volunteer explained that "late registration" in this sense meant those who wished to sign up today.  I was then directed to the "Blue Table".  I don't know why it's blue, if it's blue at every race, or if it's the blue table because you're depressed you're in the in the longest, serpentining queue in the room, but the third line proved to be the charm, and I now had my packet.  Time to get downright piggish, swag time!

The Pig's Packet: Packet, Number Bib, Race Shirt, and Poster

The Expo was an amazing collection of running products, community event booths, a personal appearance by WWE Hall-of-Famer "Mouth of the South" Jimmy Hart, and samples galore!  I felt like a kid on Halloween, with my Flying Pig bag filled with goodies from P&G, sports foods I hadn't yet come across but am eager to try, and a water bottle from the American Diabetes Association.  There were so many interesting looking running products: drinks, fuels, shoes, inserts, apparel, music accessories, after-run mending goods.  Last but certainly not least was the race t-shirt and poster pickups.

Whew, I'm exhausted already!  What hustle, what bustle, what a great day.  I am now thinking about what I call "the walk" and others call "the race", anticipating what to expect but not trying to psych myself out; examining the course elevation, while attempting not to blow up the soreness in my left big toe from planking.  "I'm going to feel fine and do awesome!  I'm going to feel fine and do awesome!" is my mantra for tonight, and I hope, hope, hope I'm going to get a good night's sleep.  I know I'm not--I never do--but then it's adrenaline and grit that gets me through tough workouts.  Here's hoping for the best!