Exercise Philosophy, Physical

Can slow and steady win the race?

It depends on the rules of the race and whether you’re set on winning at this one moment — this one race.

We started the Biggest Loser at work, and in 3 weeks I’ve lost 8 lbs so I’m back at my post-vacation weight. I’d like to think, though, that I lost 9 lbs because I’ve gained 1 lb in muscle. The burpee half mile was a first, and it was stupendous and stupid (because I could’ve hurt myself due to no preparation).

I’ve started off on a good note with the first battle, but here’s where the war starts. And there are a few wars going on here:

Although there’s no I in TEAM, there’s ME.

My team of 7 went from 1380 lbs total to 1356, with a difference of 24. Two people ended up not losing any weight. Knowing the percentage total weight loss of everyone and using basic math, I can deduct that my remaining four teammates lost between 2-7 lbs. It’s decent, but we lost.

Teams are great if everyone is invested in the process and sees the big picture. To be clear, I’m not laying blame on anyone. After all, we were grouped randomly and not everyone enjoys receiving texts from a coach telling them to do things (even I didn’t do what my coach encouraged us to do because I like doing my own thing). Additionally, we all have our own reasons for joining: to commit to being fit, to lose weight, to meet others and/or get to know them outside of work, to support a fellow friend (because our entry fee was donated to someone in need).

If I really wanted to win this race, I would’ve maintained my weight after working hard the first week (not knowing that the first week wouldn’t be an elimination week). Reason being, I can only lose so much weight in three months, and I’d be betting that someone on my team lost less weight percentage-wise. Of everyone who’s participating, I’ve been led to believe that I weigh the least. So if I lose the same number of lbs as someone else, I would’ve lost more weight percentage-wise. And since I’d be maintaining my weight, no one would have thought much about it. But I’d know. I’d know that I was only in this to win it, and I’d know that I wasn’t building lasting habits to sustain my weight loss.

Even if integrity and healthy habits weren’t the bottomline issue, it’s disturbing to hear how Biggest Loser participants who lose a lot of weight end up regaining their pounds after the show. There was even a NY Times article about how the body fights back against weight loss.

In any case, if I’m doing this for me, I’m going to do it in a way so that I can look back and be proud of what I’ve done.

So why did we lose the team battle?

In part, team psychology likely had to do with it. We had been provided the results of our second week into this, and my team was winning. Maybe we rested on our laurels. Maybe we trusted each other too much. Maybe the opposing team captain riled up his team (I can’t think of a reason why he wouldn’t). My guess is that if the results weren’t made available, my team would’ve won. Information is powerful, and we can see in TED talks that how we present information is key.

Or, I’m going to be honest here, it could be that I have a weak team captain. Even though we lost the team battle, I have yet to see a comeback let’s-get-our-game-face-on message, or any message at all. We’ll see what happens at the next weigh-in for elimination this week.

What happens after being eliminated?

The whole point of grouping us in teams is to encourage camaraderie and to motivate one another. Furthermore, I feel accountable to my team. But what if I’m eliminated?

Personally, I don’t like eliminations. It’s like going through the scenario where you “failed” and are now facing the consequence for what’s likely a minor setback in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, can it provide enough of a reason to reflect and make changes? I guess that depends on the person.

For the person who’s been eliminated from my team, or potentially even for me, I’d still want the team companionship. So I’m spearheading weekly challenges. This week’s focus is squats.

On Making Exercise a Habit — Slowly but Surely

Other than being excited to take a variety of fitness classes included with my gym membership (and is the main reason I joined a gym), I wanted a way to exercise without using the gym — especially on days when I oversleep or don’t feel like going to the gym. Here are a few ways I’ve come up with so far (check and check for today):

1.) Get up and moving with Just Dance

I’ve done this to warm up when it’s cold in the house, or when I need a pick me up in the morning. I don’t look nearly as good as the person on the screen, but at least I dance like no one’s watching.

2.) Trigger an automatic response to a location or action

I’m in the kitchen a lot because it’s in the middle of where I need to go and because I like eating. So I’m trying out a rule for this week’s challenge: if I’m in front of the refrigerator, I’m going to do 10 squats.

I’m also going to work on strengthening my wrist and forearms while reading. Why not, since I can have a hand or two free? This will help me with burpees later.

Back to the Bigger Question

Rather than asking, “Can slow and steady win the race?”, maybe we need to be asking ourselves, “Who do I want to become?” A shero to whom others (including myself) can look up  and relate.

A battle lost or won is easily described, understood, and appreciated, but the moral growth of a great nation requires reflection, as well as observation, to appreciate it.
—Frederick Douglass

Quests

So We Meet Again, My Archenemy (Pushups)

My archenemy’s name is Push Push (PP). Now let me answer three questions off the bat:

1.) Why did you give it a name?

Because I want to kick its rear end someday. I can’t really kick pushups, but I can kick the personification of it. Think about the self-help books that say quiet the inner voice in your head that spews out negativity and hurls insults faster than the speed of light. They’ll tell you to give it a name so that you can talk to it like someone who’s sabotaging you.

2.) Why Push Push?

Because I wanted an easy-to-remember name close to pushup that’s not a real name, and because Push Push sounds cuter with the repeated word (think of how “hi hi” and “dum dum” came to be). Pushups are hard and can be intimidating, so I wanted a name that could soften the blow. Nowhere will you find a villain named Hush Puppy or Care Bear… or maybe someone will flip the concept someday.

On another, perhaps tangential reason, there’s a new trendy song out there with accompanying gesture, thanks to Kpop yet again (think of Gagnam Style). TT by Twice (at 1:42) has helped to popularize the emoticon for crying T_T. What I’d like to do is to replace TT with PP, and give a one-two punch and another pow at the end to keep with the song’s rhythm.

3.) Why are pushups your archenemy?

I’ve never been able to do a pushup in proper form because I don’t go down all the way. My arms remain bent around 120 degrees. Any further and I more or less drop completely. It was hard back when I was a kid, and it’s hard for me now.

Pushups require a lot more than arm strength, there’s also the chest muscles, back muscles, and core muscles. At this time I lack the latter three, so I’m compensating somewhere and might injure myself without some assistance (i.e. doing an assisted pushup). I liken this situation to tower defense games. The only way to survive is to build up defenses to all of your entrances to ensure that nothing gets through. I’ve guarded one entrance up until now, and I’m overwhelmed at all my other entrances.

So you have a plan to defeat it once and for all, right?

I could, but I don’t. Why? Because I’m bogged down with life. Pushups are my archenemy because not only did I let it become one, but I also let it stay as one. While this blog and becoming a shero is a way to affirm my commitment to fitness in general, I have other priorities in my life. At this time, I’m in the best shape of my life. I want to do better, but I should also work at keeping my healthy habits.

Nevertheless, I have some initial thoughts on how to defeat PP. There’s the brute force way of doing pushups anytime, any place in order to build up the muscles to finally do one. However, brute force is rarely efficient. I could have a personal trainer to guide me and provide a training plan that will help me achieve this, but that’s costly. For now, I’m fine with going to fitness classes like tabata cardio and BodyPump, which always help to strengthen my core and work muscles I don’t usually work.

How’d we start on the topic of pushups anyway?

Remember how this week is burpee week and how the thought of a burpee mile tickled my fancy? Curious about how many burpees it takes to travel a mile, I set out to complete a quest (aka answering this question). Of course, when I arrived at my local track, it was closed due to weather conditions (T_T). Thankfully there was a stretch where I could do burpees without disturbing too many people.

I measured the stretch to and back to be about .12 miles, so I started on my merry way. There was a whole lot of rests after stretches of burpees, and I did run into a few people. The first was a dad with his two kids who wanted to race him to the end of the stretch. The second was a pair of women who cheered me on, “You go, girl! Don’t stop.” The third was an older man with headphones on who went about doing air exercises while slow jogging.   About 4 rounds of burpees, I checked in on Google Fit. 1 hour and 11 minutes of biking 2.67 miles. Thanks, Google. It probably had to do with the fact that I had my phone in my pocket as opposed to being latched on my arm.

Despite this #fail, 386 is the magic number. That’s how many burpees it took to go about a half-mile.

So close, yet so far away

Halfway to the supposed end, I decided to end this quest and pursue it again another day. I hit the wall that anyone that hasn’t properly prepped would hit. Towards the end, I was feeling the tightness in my arm muscles. Specifically, I was feeling the pull when trying to shoot web like Spiderman does (raise arm in front, turn hand towards the ceiling, and bend the wrist towards the floor).

I’ll continue to strength train and work my way to do this again — on the race track.

stay-strong-and-burpee-on

I don’t know how my story will end, but nowhere in my text will it ever read,”I gave up.”

Physical

In Search of Motivation

At this time I’m focused on losing weight for the Biggest Loser competition happening at work. Since being eliminated means that we would lose our coach, I suggested having weekly challenges so that there’s something else to look forward to after being eliminated. This week is burpee week.

I searched for ways to get psyched about burpees, and the most popular phrases were:

When life knocks you down… do a burpee!!!
Keep strong and burpee on
Burpees don’t really like you either
“Those were some enjoyable burpees!” said no one ever.

Let’s just say there isn’t much out there (or prove me wrong. I’d love that — really!). Nevertheless, something special came out of this search: the burpee half marathon. Who knew?

While it’s not really a new concept, as there are some crossfit and spartan videos and even videos with college athletic teams out there, it’s new to me and that’s what counts. That’s in part because I now have a lofty yet attainable, I’m sure, goal. Can I do a burpee mile? And how many burpees will that take? Rest assured, I will have answers… later.

Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.
—Jim Ryun

Physical, Quests

You’ve Got Nothing But Bones on You… Seriously?

I joined the biggest loser at work because, well… I wanted to be healthier, and I wanted to win. When I tell others, they let me in on a huge secret, “You don’t have much to lose, you know?” Really? #thisis2017

Back in Hong Kong, I’d be considered fat. Not overweight, because that would have health implications. But fat — simply calling it what it is. Being thin or fat is relative. What’s more important here is that I want to be fit, and here’s a way to be accountable to both myself and to others.

Other than the two races I ran last month, I’ve led a fairly sedentary lifestyle. I might’ve made it to some fitness classes (late) for 30-40 minutes every so often, but I’m back to my typical weight hovering over 130 lbs. Back in the fall when I took a 2 week vacation, I was down to 124 lbs by simply walking everywhere all the while eating out — even at two all- you-can-eat places. At the very least, I know that I can lose 6+ lbs .

In the first week, I lost 5 lbs already, but it really took a lot. I logged about 25 miles of jogging and cycling, but mostly jogging. I also spent 2.5 hours shoveling snow and took maybe around 5 fitness classes. I had two delicious burgers for lunch and dinner along the way, and now edamame is my new go-to snack. Some might chalk it up to me being younger, but I really worked for it.

I know I won’t lose as many pounds this week since I’ve been less active, relatively anyway, yet I still want to make a good showing. I took tabata cardio today sweated like the athletes in a Gatorade commercial. I also rediscovered my love of feta and can’t wait to make this kale salad.

If I can’t lose weight every week, I’m aiming for the perseverance award, which is given to the person with largest difference in body weight % from beginning to the end. My goal is to lose about 20 lbs more by the end of three months, back to the time before I intentionally gained my freshman 15. That’s a story in itself.

And hey, who cares if I don’t win anything? So long as I made a concerted effort and did my best, getting back in shape is worth it. After all, a shero is someone who’s fit and not necessarily thin or light.

“Always listen to experts. They’ll tell you what can’t be done, and why. Then do it.”
—Robert A. Heinlein, Time Enough for Love

Exercise Philosophy, Half Marathons

Race to Be Last — On Perseverance

Going through a time of transition professionally and personally is rough, but we all make it through eventually and grow stronger because as a result. January was my wake up call. February will be my awakening.

On Mindfulness

Last month, I went to the library and borrowed a number of audiobook CDs from Jack Kornfield, simply because he had the most CDs on mindfulness and meditation. That way, I could listen on my way to work and get in my 15 minutes of mindfulness.

At its very core, breathe in, breath out — with intention.

I’ve come across exercises where you might stagger the breath out, or where you breathe in through one nostril and breathe out through the other nostril. The one I like involves breathing in for 7 seconds and breathing out for 7 seconds. It’s simple, it’s easy, and doing this 4 times amounts to just about a minute. Eventually I’ll work my way up to being mindful for longer, continuous periods of time. This is a good start.

Oh the memories…

After practicing mindfulness at a bare minimum, one of the first things I noticed at my next pilates class was that my right hand’s range in motion was relatively more limited than my left. I hadn’t realized that I didn’t fully recover after an accident about 4 years ago where someone t-boned me because he was only looking for traffic coming from the other side of the street. My car did a 180 and deployed its safety airbags. I got out of the car unscathed and didn’t feel any pain — until the next day.

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When I went to the hospital, the doctor examining me said that the pain is typical and that I’d recover after a few weeks, so long as I didn’t do any heavy lifting. At the time, I was taking a chemistry class, and to this day I remember tearing up a bit seeing how painful it was to pick up a test tube during lab. Because I took the class alongside a friend who I had met the previous semester and who wanted to stick it out with me, the decision to withdraw from the class was that much more difficult. I did it for me, and I have no regrets whatsoever.

For runners who don’t enjoy running regularly

Walk. Seriously, just walk. When I asked on a Facebook group what I could do if I enjoy the high of completing a half marathon but would rather take a gym class to stay fit than run, someone responded straightforwardly, “Running a half-marathon and not running very much don’t go together.”

For the remainder of this entry, please know that I do not endorse this across the board. What works for me does not work for everybody. You know your body best, so listen to your body.

If I have to run or jog somewhere, I need to have a purpose. I easily become bored running the same stretches on a short rail trail, or even running around to the same cluster of pokestops in Pokemon Go. You might say collecting items at pokestops could serve as the purpose, but can items in a virtual game truly help me achieve a higher purpose? I’ll jog and run to the library to return and borrow books, or the gym to take a class for health and wellness, or the grocery store or post office.  It’s uncannily similar to my philosophy on some weight training equipment that aren’t worth your time. Namely, if I’m training muscles that have no functional purpose, why would I do it in the first place?  For vanity? No thank you.

The other method to keep myself on track with my goal to be able to run a half marathon every year is to continue signing up for half marathons. I’m a stickler for making sure I get my money’s worth, so if I sign up for one, you’ll bet I’ll be there regardless of whether I’m ready for it. That’s what happened with the Chilly Willy in Seekonk, MA and the Boston Prep 16-miler in Derry, NH.

It’s The Climb

This song by Miley Cyrus pretty much sums up my race experience this past month.

Typically people gradually build up to be able to run a half marathon with training programs like couch to 5K. What did I do? I took a 3-month hiatus from the gym over the summer because I thought I’d run outside more in good weather. In September, I committed to taking various cardio classes at the gym at least 4 times a week. In October, I ran my second half marathon ever with some pain in my legs like I experienced at my first half marathon the year before. The day after I felt runner’s knees for the first time and had to work from home for the next few days. So make note, cardio classes are not a substitute for running.

I thought avoiding this kind of pain again was enough motivation for me to go out and run regularly for the next half marathons I signed up for, but my conviction to do so never materialized. Even when I signed up to run the 16-miler 3 months from when I signed up, I never made it a point to run regularly to prepare for the race. Miraculously I haven’t felt runner’s knees since. “How?” You might ask. It’s because I signed up for a number of 10Ks and half marathon’s along the way: one at the end of October, two at the beginning and end of November, one in mid-December, and then another on new year’s day. Again, I don’t recommend this for everyone.

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Thankfully these runs happened when the weather was unseasonably warm. This was me trying to take a picture of the Happy New Year sign and temperature of 44 degrees (F). I even decided last minute to leave my running gloves behind. When my hands became cold, I told myself that I was building character.

On these runs, it’s fun to look at what others wear. It’s how I know about ManBearPig on South Park. This time around, I read on the back of someone’s shirt, “Know your limits. Destroy your boundaries.”

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There was chili, bananas, snack bars, and water (of course) at the end. There was more, but I don’t remember since I wasn’t as hungry as I usually am after a race, probably due to having late night chinese takeout hours beforehand.

As for the moderately challenging 16 miler, this was a different story. When I arrived about 45 minutes prior to the start of the race, the first img_20170129_093151parking lot was already full and the second would’ve been full had I arrived 10 minutes later. As I was walking to pick up my bib and swag, I looked down and saw this –>

I had forgotten my running shoes, and all I had to look forward to for the next few hours are blue skies and steep hills, even before the race has begun.

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This was a hilly course with a number of horse farms to gaze at along the way, even at the start. About a mile along the way, one runner jokingly asking, “Does it only go up?” because we had been running uphill for a while.

Because the course could’ve been closed at the organizers’ discretion after 3 hours, 3 hours and under was my goal. I was feeling okay at the 5 mile mark, but I realized I wasn’t going to make it to my time goal at the 10 mile mark timer. Even if the course were closed, even if I was the last one, I wanted to finish.

There were stretches along the way where I was the only one, and every so often there’d be a volunteer gesturing me towards the right direction and even providing how far I have to go. The last 1.5 miles felt the longest, but I made it (!). The food afterwards was replenishing with chili, chowder, hummus-filled veggie sandwiches, milk, yogurt, bananas,  and water. The best perk at the end of the race is the 5-10 minute massage you can sign up for. If you came towards the end like I did, it’s best to eat and then sign up for the massage. By the end, I felt the massage even resting my legs on the foam roller.

Longest run of 15.9 miles now shows up on my Google Fit app. Oh yes, I definitely walked up some steep hills. After all, I’m human, too.

Live by your hopes, not your fears.
—Tavis Smiley, 50 for Your Future