Friday, June 27, 2014

Summer Progress

Now that we are in summer, there are more kids—playing tennis, swimming, shooting hoops—at the Club, while I seem to see familiar faces less frequently.  They are on vacation, spending time with children on summer break, or working out in the wonderful weather.  It’s awesome to hear what my new friends having been doing!

I myself have had a week of fantastic progress.  On Saturday, I came within seconds of beating my record mile time, finishing in 11:14.  Having completed Laurie’s group circuit training class on Tuesday evening, I had worked out for eight straight days before taking a well-earned day off Wednesday.  Thursday, Laurie worked me out on the TRX suspension trainer and, feeling that had gotten strong enough and light enough, taught me the last TRX move that hadn't been able to do in class—the abdominal movements.

To do these you must be able to support your whole body weight on your shoulders and have enough core strength to simultaneously keep your form and do the work required to complete the motions.  I won’t say it was easy or I have a thousandth of the grace Laurie has while doing it (or doing anything, really) but, as one must start at Base Camp before ascending Everest, in just being able to maintain the pushup bridge I've gotten my foot in the door.

And this, I can tell you, is a real confidence booster.  I no longer am the one person in class that has to modify an exercise because he can’t do it.  Sure, there are thing Laurie doesn't have me do—like reverse lunges and burpees (as Sisyphean a task there is this side of the Underworld)—but she’s taught me them and doesn't have me do them to avoid stressing my embarrassingly sensitive big toes or irritating my patella-creaking right knee.

As I wheezed my way around the circuit stations Sunday morning, having completely sweated through my shirt and shorts, I realized that working out never gets easier for an earnest exerciser.  You can do more, push yourself harder, the more fit you get.  I could do the same level of work I did in February, but it wouldn’t be a challenge to me and would be waste everyone’s time.  It’d be like futzing about Base Camp instead of where I really want to be, working toward the top of the World.  Here’s to getting ever better, to doing still more!

Friday, June 20, 2014

Eyeing Eleven Eleven

In addition to continued weight loss, the next goal I have set for myself is to beat my record mile run time of 11:11.  Last Saturday I completed the mile in 11:31, 21 seconds faster than the previous week.  If I were able to shave off another 21 seconds, then this new iteration of a better Mark would have the record!  I would no longer have to look back at having once done it better; rather I’ll be in uncharted territory with a lot of headroom to get better and better, pushing personal bests up and up along the way.

But I shan't put the cart before the horse; first 11:11.  I’m far from a natural runner, and the mile runs have been far from easy.  All this week I've worked on the three biggest things I feel will most improve my chances of sailing past my goal.  Most important is improving my breath.  I have enough muscle energy and endurance to complete the mile, and my heart rate isn't redlining.  It’s getting winded that forced me to slow to a walk four times week one and twice week two.  To improve this I've done a lot of high intensity interval training (HIIT) on the stationary bikes and tough, full-body pumping on the elliptical machine, really focusing on training, above the fat burning heart rate zone, in the cardiovascular zone, where the body’s endurance is increased.

I've also noticed that my abs have to work overtime keeping my belly up and in control, so I’ve been doing a countless variety of core work.  Abdominal exercises on the Swiss Ball, the Bosu ball, squishy mats of all shapes and sizes—I've done a little of it all.  It’s a shame that they say spot training is a myth, because I’d commit to that regiment if I could have a six pack for Christmas!  Where I rarely feel sore from exercising the abs (I think I don’t have good sensitivity in the area, or that I’m naturally strong from hefting around my weight), my midsection has been sore the last couple of days.  Today’s soreness is tomorrow’s muscles and, when I can run without an anchor about my waist, it will be well worth the effort.

Finally, I worked on my form and footwork.  While I clobber along like a Clydesdale, spritely Laurie has the footfalls of a fairy.  While Laurie’s shoulders are loose and allow for her arm movements to be fluid, mine are squared forward and locked in place, allowing me all the arm movement of a T-Rex—it’s ridiculous.  So there is room for conscience improvement. All throughout the week, I’ve been working on staying light on my feet; whether it was padding up the stairs, jogging half-strides up The Hill, or hopping around the heavy bag in kick boxing class.

So it is with these three improvements that I’m am gunning for my goal; wish me luck!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Some Highlights from My Busy Birthday Week

This past week, the week in which I celebrated my 27th birthday, was a wonderfully fun time that, as unfairly and inevitably happens, went by far too quick.  I feel blessed to have so many supportive people in my life, so grateful to be liberated from the downward spiral of depression and overeating.  It’s been so long since I’ve really had fun that I’d forgotten, it’s fun to have fun!  Here are some of the highlights of my fun birthday week:

*On Saturday Laurie took me on a run in the neighborhood across from the Club.  I hadn’t run for about decade, but Laurie thought that I was ready.  So with a goal of a 13 minute mile and having readied our GPS running apps, I set the pace of our jog.  Adrenaline and nervy energy made the first half mile seem quick and easy; the remainder of the mile was completed by will and by Laurie’s the encouragement and instruction.  

I had to slow into a walk a few times, but I jogged much longer than I walked, and, with a quarter mile to go, I thought that I might be able to match [be truthful, Mark!...beat] my all-time best of 11:11.  But late in the effort I had to re-tie my right shoelace and, like California Chrome at Belmont, I just didn’t have the oomph in the final stretch.  I finished my mile in 11:51, under my goal and a faster pace than my best 5K!

*Laurie went on a well deserved vacation, so there was no group class Tuesday evening, and I was able to go to Trivia Night at the Village Tavern in Montgomery.  It is a weekly tradition for my brother and, as all our family holidays includes a compulsory game of Trivial Pursuit mano-a-mano, he felt that I’d be an asset to his team.  I am in it to win it with what I’ve been eating, so I forced myself to abstain from the diet devastating deliciousness that is bar food (Draft Guinness, boneless wings, and fried macaroni’n’ cheese—it’s torture even thinking about the goodness!). 

With a reputation to uphold and a game to win, I used all my collected minutiae, learned from all the time spent reading and clicking the interconnectedly hyperlinked articles on Wikipedia, to bring my team to second place at half time and tied for first going into the final bonus question.  After booting the bonus, in which we had to determine a series of four cities based on a group of their suburbs—eeh…—we finished third, and I earned an invitation to team up with them anytime.

*Wednesday had a distinctly Japanese theme, as mi Mama took me to see the movie Godzilla.  It was so full of action-packed awesomeness that it gave me a headache!  Afterwards, it was only appropriate to honor the destroyer of Tokyo by eating sushi at an authentic Japanese restaurant.  Kyoto is a proper sushi shop, complete with a bar, miso soup, and nary a Western utensil.  I learned how to use chopsticks pretty quick, when the ability separated me from enjoying my food.

*Thursday was the big day, my birthday and, of all the things we could have done, we went to a comic book store.  My family loves the Big Bang Theory and, with nearly every episode including a scene in Stuart’s comic book store, my dad had wanted to go to one in real life.  I had wanted to tack it on to Wednesday’s itinerary, but my mom declared that this would make it too geeky for a mother to bear.  So father and son made the trek to the city’s undisputed comic book king, Up, Up and Away!, in Cheviot, on Cincinnati’s west side.  We nerded out for two hours, feeling our way through this new world.  I picked out a handful of current series and twenty $1 bargain issues, of all different kinds of stories, in order to only begin to take in the whole panoply of graphic storytelling.

For my birthday dinner, we ate at my favorite restaurant, a Mexican joint, with my family.  I had arroz con pollo, which is a tasty amalgamation of chicken, rice, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and ooey-gooey queso—Mmm!  My sister wanted to split a virgin strawberry daiquiri, and when it came out so too did the birthday sombrero.  My dream dinner having been thoroughly enjoyed, the house brought out a birthday sundae and reaffixed the birthday sombrero atop my head; then the whole restaurant sung Happy Birthday to me.  On any other day I might have been embarrassed, but this day was my birthday and nothing could take away from it.


It has been a great start to my 27th year—the first year of a truly health Mark—hopefully the beginning of big things.  The week was a nice respite from what might possibly become drudgery, but I look forward to ever challenging myself and staying focused by doing so.  Here’s to a great year!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

2014 Newport HeartChase

As quickly as my team came together it also fell apart.  As I stood in the Newport on the Levee parking garage, lacquering myself with spray suntan lotion, I wondered if I had made the trip for naught.  “I’ll just enjoy the festivities, do some people watching,” I reasoned to myself as I walked up the two flights of stairs to the Levee’s ground floor.  Anything I did in Newport would be better than being bummed out at home.

The Emcee and Me
As I met my friend Joseph Pinnell, chairman of Newport HeartChase and the day’s master of ceremonies, I could see that it was show time for him.  In the limelight Joseph is a rock star.  Greeting newcomers, directing preparations, fielding queries from all quarters, Joseph was unflappable, not hesitant or stumbling a bit.  “Mark! How’s it going?” Joseph asked with exuberance.  “Eeh.  Not good.  My team’s at home…”  I returned, with the low energy that often accompanies embarrassment.  Joseph made a sort of head nod that said, “Say no more,” and instantly had an answer.  “Why don’t you team up with Brett and his daughter CeCe.”

Team Five Seasons: CeCe, Jason Coleman, moi, Brett, and (B) Kristyna Pinnell
A wonderfully fortuitous solution, Brett DeCurtins, the debonair and gregarious general manager of Five Seasons, and his sweet and photogenic daughter, CeCe, are veterans of the HeartChase.  Having previously played the game they had an advanced grasp on strategy, and teaming up with them greatly reduced my learning curve.   

The Cutest Roadie in the Business.  Kristyna readies papa's mic stand 
The event was officially opened with Joseph’s words of welcome followed by comments from a doctor of cardiology who framed the essential reason of why we were there—to prevent heart disease.  Leave it to a doctor to make us take our medicine, but he preached the truth, sobering and mood altering though it was:  Heart disease is the number one killer in the United States.  It affects women more than men, and accounts for more deaths than all forms of cancer put together.  Kentucky has the 3rd highest rate of heart disease, mainly due to a high rate of smoking.  Where just across the River, Ohioans with heart disease typically incur symptoms in their mid-50’s, people of the Bluegrass State will experience the onset of heart disease in their mid-40’s.  

The doctor’s recommendation was to not develop the deadly habit of smoking as a young person; and if you reach 25 and are not a smoker, you will in 98 cases out of a hundred never start.  The second best way, he continued, to prevent what in 80% of cases is preventable is to do what we were doing today—getting out and staying active.  With this prescription for better heart health, we dismissed the good doctor to the work of saving lives.

Joseph immediately went to work bringing the energy of the crowd up again.  Thanking the participants, recognizing the sponsors, and explaining the rules of the game, Joseph readied us  for the Chase.  Brett is a natural fundraiser, and by raising so much money we were awarded the “Jump Start Your Heart” card, enabling us to get a 10 minute head start on our competitors.

Determined strides brought us to the gallery building, to the "Jump Start Your Life” checkpoint.  There we were guided by training automated external defibrillator (AED).  CeCe shock a dummy back to "life," as Brett and I assisted.  Like busy super heroes having just saved a life we were off to do more good. 

Poor dummy was dying all day

After scanning the QR code to bank our 400 points with the HeartChase app, we climbed up the escalator, making double time, to the Mezzanine Level and our next station, “Groove is in the Heart.”  To proceed, all three of us had to dance a song in Just Dance for the XBox One, attaining at least two stars in the process.  Now I have seen my little sister play the game, but I had always thought myself to manly and too cool to prance about; and now when we started, Brett and CeCe to either side of me and in front, myself skulking behind, I was tanking it.  

Look who started the game in first place!
Brett wondered aloud if he was the was the lagging score, but seeing that he was dancing like a Saturday Night Fever extra, I knew I had to try harder.  To not do so meant having to do it all again and, with the ten minutes elapsing, we quite likely would be doing it for an audience.  Better to be a dancing queen alone than with a laughing crowd, and I flailed towards two star score just in time. 

After winding our way down two levels, then outside and around the building, we next attempted the “Wheel O’ Health.”  Each of us spun a wheel to select an activity guaranteed to get our tickers bumping.  CeCe led off, landing on twenty burpees.  "Poor girl!" I thought, seeing her get down to the push up position, popping up to a deep squat, then jumping up.  All that is one and, having not yet progressed to this torture touted as a healthful exercise, I prayed I wouldn't have to do the same.  

A short throw on the wheel--click, click, click--yielded me twenty jump ropes, an outcome that luckily kept me upright.  I tell you, jump roping requires good even jumps and rhythm in the swing of your rope--skills for which I lack.  If it were twenty jumps in a row, our day would have been done, but after watching me struggle for about a half a minute, Brett stepped up for his spin: a minute of hula hooping.  It was a race to finish my rope jumping before his minute expired, and we finished about the same time.  At least I wasn't hindering the team!

CeCe with a smile on her face; what a trooper!

On the way to the “Fireman 50 Yard Dash” checkpoint on the Purple People Bridge, we found our first hidden donation tag, one of 100, each worth 40 point apiece.  In the spirit of good sportsmanship, I resisted the urge to bury the tag in the planter, and we turned our attention to the next task.  We had to put on a thick fireman's coat and pants and run as quickly as we could 50 yards down bridge to a pile of tangled fire hose.  We then had to find both ends and couple them together before heading back.  I don't know if the organizers realize it but the heavily insulated fire cloths make it quite hot!  How happy I was to be out of them, how glad I was when I considered that I donned them near the beginning of the day and not the sweaty end!

Next was back to the Aquarium courtyard for the “Sponsoring Your Health” checkpoint, a series of four sponsor themed challenges.  From Microsoft we had to take pictures of one another using Nokia Lumia Windows Phones that instantly streamed to Microsoft Surface table PCs (pretty cool!); for St. Elizabeth's CeCe did 30 seconds! of the most perfect jump roping and we had to wait until her pulse dipped back below 100 beats per minute.  Five Seasons appropriately had us volley a plush tennis ball on a mini court for a rally of ten, which CeCe and I took down in our first attempt.  At the final station, Cincinnati Children's Hospital had us roll a big die to determine what type of locomotion we would implement in order to take a variety of food cards to their corresponding food group bowls.  Lunges, gallops, grape shuffles, and skipping took us there and back.  

CeCe puts on a jump roping clinic

The Butterbean of Tennis

Silly walking to the correct food group

After completing the four-part challenge, CeCe and I headed down towards the river and prepare for the “Stayin’ Alive” checkpoint while Brett went around putting in hidden donation tags strewn throughout the courtyard.  This was the party challenge, as the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive" was rocking the St. Elizabeth Cardiovascular Mobile Unit.  We were ordered into the truck to watch a video on CPR "until we had a grasp on the compressions."  The interpretation of this command was telling as to the final outcome; as CeCe and I spent minutes earnestly discerning the intricacies of CPR, the group of ladies that would place third popped in to say what's up before turning around for the second part of the checkpoint.  It'd hate to need CPR from those ladies!

As Brett rejoined us, we all administered 100 compressions on CPR dummies to the rhythm of the Saturday Night Fever theme.  CeCe dressed up as a seventies nurse, earning the team bonus points!
Ah, ha, ha, ha, Stayin' Alive!  Blinky had his eyes closed in both photos
Northeast on Riverboat Row brought us to the “Tire Flip” checkpoint.  We had to flip a big truck tire to the first lamp post and back...twice!  Again CeCe and I started as Brett banked the hidden donation tags for us.  CeCe was surprisingly strong for a girl, and by the time Brett rejoined us, it was time for the two alpha male to punish the tire.  As Brett squat lifted the tire from behind, I pulled up on the tire's inner rim from the side.  While we two manly men accomplishing this, the group of girls that ended up winning started after we did, over took us, and was done and off before we cross the finish list.  Beat by girls--C'est la vie!   

We next reverse course on Riverboat Row and came to the “Fireman Stair Climb” checkpoint.  This was a tellingly difficult course, as it took teams a long time to compete and competitors were queuing up to tackle it.  Since there was a water station, and we were making great time, and could have used a break, we decided to wait our turn.  As we looked at the miserable planker, we started to put together what was required of us: one member of the team starts at the bottom with two 25 lb kettle bells.  He takes the kettle bells up a flight of stairs, and leave them there to go all the way down the staircase.  If he's tired he can tag one of his teammates, who have been planking the whole time, or he can continue advancing the kettle bells up a story at a time, then coming all the way down.  Waiting there, I think how it kind of reminds me of some an obstacle structure I saw at Paris Island's USMC boot camp.  Oorah! it was our turn.
How six minute planks naturally end up looking 
Up, Up!  Keep Going!
 Brett volunteered to take the kettle bells first, so CeCe and I were planking.  I don't know many granite ab-ed individuals who can do a six minute plank, so even the best of the plankers were switching from the plank to the push up bridge and back.  I on the other hand used my loose shirt to obscure the fact that my belly was propping up my plank.  Then in order to avoid having the judges wonder how that big guy was doing a perfect plank longer that anyone else, I planked from my knees.  All of us on the yoga mats were uncomfortable, so what's the difference, 'ey?  As Brett came down, I could see that his part of the task was even starting to wind a fantastically fit tennis pro.  There was no way I was going to finish this task feeling fine, so, for the good of the team, I decided to let Brett take it all the way up.  Whatta guy!

Everything after the fireman climb seemed easy, and “A Balanced Life”checkpoint was a breeze.  A gentleman playing the riddling sphinx asked three heart health questions that I answered correctly.  Brett and CeCe then had to go through a mini-hurdle course while keeping a tennis ball atop a platter connected underneath by a rod, much like a torch.  There were three markings on the rod and, having answered three questions correctly, my team got the easiest hand position.  This coupled with the fact that it was a tennis pro and his daughter, meant that they completely control the tennis ball and we were off without further ado.

Riddle me this, Batman!
We then went away from the river and uptown to the tree shaded lawn of the court house for “F.A.S.T.” checkpoint.  Behind a cannon from the War of 1812, we were tasked with picking the five healthiest selections from a lunch bag full of foodstuff.  We picked four of five, and had to put on a dress shirt and button with one hand a button for the pick we had missed.  I was slightly less dexterous that Brett and CeCe, but this gave them time to find the Hidden Donation Tags around the park.

Across the street lay our next checkpoint, entitled “Ain’t She Sweet,” next to Newport's grand World Peace Bell.  Here we had to order eight foods according to their glycemic index.  I had the vaguest notion what that even meant--something to do with complexities of sugar carbohydrates; the more complex, the more filling--and was completely clueless when it came to the foods.  We got all eight wrong, but the punishment was fun so I didn't mind a bit.  We had pantyhose with an orange in it tied around our waists, and we had to knock over eight water bottles without using our hands.  I pretended to be a wrecking ball--it was a blast!
CeCe beneath the World Peace Bell

CeCe plays Godzilla


In what we thought was our final stop, we went to the “Noodle Javelin” checkpoint in the Newport School playground.  The concept was simple: throw a pool noodle threw a hoop.  I found flinging the noodles to be quite challenging.  Each team member only had to throw once, but you needed four to move on, six for bonus points.  Brett sunk one through the hoop, but it was CeCe who proved to have a natural throwing ability.  Like being able to throw a football with a spiral, it took a certain touch which CeCe exhibited every time.  Every toss was straight and level, and she soon calibrated an accuracy as well.  Five times she nailed the hoop, and we finished with the bonus!

Or so we thought we were finished.  Looking at the app, we noticed that we had missed a checkpoint.  Ticking off the map the challenges we'd completed we finally came to one: the "Speculate N’ Shake."  Off on the edge, we had overlooked it, but now had to hurry to get it and then get back before the deadline--Being late meant automatic defeat.

The Checkpoint in a Porsche Car Show
Hustling through a parking lot full of luxury roadsters, we approached our final challenge.  We had to estimate the calories for a serving of Cap'n Crunch and milk, a third of a frozen pizza, a serving of baby carrots, and a big-fat jelly doughnut.  As the ever-dieter on a team of fit people, I ventured the guesses.  Tallied we were off by just 169 calories; my health coach, Mindy will be so proud!  "169!" a competitor exclaimed.  "We were off by over a thousand!"

Lucky by comparison, we had to work a pedometer up to 169 in order to move on.  To do so, running was faster than walking, but shaking the pedometer like a crazed craps shooter was faster still.  CeCe again turned out to the most ablest amongst the alpha males, and I traded pedometers with her after hers breezed past 200. Turning in our pedometers, we were done with the tasks and headed back to headquarters.
The Human Paint Shaker

All that hustling, jogging, and strategy and we ended up in 19th place!  As Brett and I sat wondering what we could have done better, I concluded that the 18 teams ahead of us must have just deserved it.  It was a great game, great fun, and awfully close.  I think I already have my strategy for next year!

I goad Brett into asking for some friendly dispensation

Joseph hears our appeal

...And returns his verdict!

Joseph, helpers Hannah and Kristyna, and Amanda Mills prepare the awards presentation

"Your First Place Winners!"