Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Report Card for #reboot2014

A review of my 2014 New Year's resolutions: five simple goals for better living that I called #reboot2014

-- Get weight down to 245/Body fat <20%   B-
47 pounds lost. 22 short of my goal with body fat percentage hovering at 25%. Most of my failing here is due to abuse of food. Rolling this one over to 2015

-- Read/Write 60 min/day:   C+
I did well for a while, even won a prize for a short story, but both activities tapered dramatically when I turned my attention to Frankenstein. I'm not going to lie to you: it was worth the sacrifice. But I'm blocking that hour a day off of my calendar again, starting, well, about 20 minutes ago, actually.

-- Exercise 60 min/day:  
Teaching has helped a lot here, and I have to say I feel more fit than ever, but certain data suggests I need to be more intentional about getting my own workouts in. (see goal #1 above)

-- Personal Contact with another human every day.  A
Of all my #reboot2014 goals, this was the one I was most faithful about, and it has returned great dividends in new and renewed friendships. I'm officially declaring this one an established rule for life. Never let a day pass without looking someone in the eye, and trying to see them, and allowing yourself to be seen.

-- Pray for the people I love every day. A-
No, not every day, but the days I skipped were pretty rare. I found this to be an especially healthy way to start my mornings, even before getting out of bed, I call to mind my friends and family, particularly those who are sick or sad or in trouble. I whisper their name. I hold them in my heart. I think of it as pestering God. I figure if I nag him enough, he'll help them just to get me to shut up. It also serves as a meaningful reminder that my life is not all about me. This one has also graduated from good intention to habit. I think I'll keep it.

Tomorrow, I'll share a few that I'm adding for 2015. Till then, Happy New Year, y'all!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Does Fitness Have to be Complicated?

Simplify, simplify, simplifyWhen I started thinking about fitness, I read everything I could get my hands on. I studied YouTube videos. I quizzed trainers and other people in the gym. I was like a sponge, and it seemed like every new idea or piece of equipment made its way into my routine. Soon, I was spending hours planning my training programs. I was using machines and barbells, a little bit of running, some bands, a few dumbells, swimming laps, swinging the kettlebell, riding the bike, and taking classes for Pilates. Yoga, TRX, and Spinning. I was like a new convert at church. If the gym doors were open, I wanted to be there. Sometimes I would be there for two or three hours a day. And yes, I felt great.

But the truth is, most of us have other things to do besides workout all day. The whole idea behind fitness isn't moving iron and spinning treadmills, it's about having the strength, endurance, and flexibility to do the things that make your life fulfilling and meaningful. Sometimes, simpler is better. As summer starts to wind down and schedules get busier, here are some ideas for workouts that produce results with a little less equipment, planning, and time.

You don't workout because you don't own any gear? Got a room with a wall in it? Here's a full body No-Equipment Workout from Self that you can do in about 20 minutes.

Ten minutes? Seriously? For this No Weights to Lose Weight Workout from Shape, all you need is a floor, and maybe a yoga mat. It would be a great way to start your day, to squeeze exercise into your lunch break, (or even your coffee break), or instead of that sugary desert after dinner.

Feel like something a little more hardcore? In this video, Kelly Lee from Grokker leads a turbo-charged 15 Minute High Intensity Interval Training Workout. This one is tough, and Kelly is a real drill-sergeant type, but if you want to build strength while you burn a ton of calories, she can help you get it done in a hurry.

Concerned about posture, back pain, that pooch around your belly or just maintaining stability and balance? Maybe you want to focus on your core. Core work isn't all about washboards and six-packs, you know. The system of muscles from your shoulders to your hips is your powerhouse. Healthways Fit offers 15-minute Workouts to Rock Your Core that will help keep your center strong, and tone up those muscles that make you look so good in a tight shirt.

Here's a 30-Minute, No-Gym Bodyweight Workout you can do in the park, on a playground, in the back yard, anywhere, really. All you need is your own body and 30 minutes. I like these little graphics from Greatist. I can imagine hanging this one up like a poster in the room where you exercise and just following along. And yes, you will be tired when you're finished!

Health Magazine calls this Your Perfect No-Gym Workout, but this is quite a little pile of bands, balls, dumbbells and rollers to keep around the house. Every decent gym should have plenty of these for you to use, and a lot more room than I have in my apartment to store them. This should take you 20 or 25 minutes, but be prepared to linger on that roller when you are finished. It can feel heavenly after a good workout.

Finding a place for a fitness ball in your house can be a challenge, but a big rubber band will fit in your jacket pocket. Resistance bands are inexpensive, easy to find, and available in many different forms and levels of tension so it's easy to increase intensity when your muscles outgrow those beginner level bands. Those folks at Greatist offer yet another nifty poster of 7 movements that will build a great 30-minute workout. If you get bored and want to mix in some other exercises, they've also included descriptions of 33 Resistance Band Exercises You Can Do Anywhere.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Get On UP

I saw Get On Up last night, and I can't say enough about how fantastic I thought it was. It is an unfailingly engaging biography of the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, and I don't think you will be disappointed if you get your funky self to the theatre and check it out.

And speaking of getting on up, there has been some important news published this week about the dangers of our sedentary lifestyle. Believe it or not, your chair is a murderer. I have not read Get Up! Why Your Chair is Killing You And What You Can Do About It yet, but believe me, it's on my list. Dr. James A. Levine says sitting has become our favorite drug, and it is toxic.

Chair addiction -- like the alcoholic thirsting for another Scotch -- is the constant need we have developed to sit. We slouch from bed to car seat, to work seat, to sofa. The cost is too great; for every hour we sit, two hours of our lives walk away -- lost forever. 
In an interview with Rex Huppke of the Chicago Tribune, Levine, a doctor and director of the Mayo Clinic/Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative explains that we were never meant to sit. 
Rather, we are structurally and physiologically intended to be upright, running from saber-toothed tigers and gathering wood and tending crops and such.
In the modern world, we are rarely called to choose fight or flight. And while our farm dwelling great grandparents usually only sat down to eat or read at the end of the day, we spend most of our time in the unnatural and, according to a growing body of research, suicidal posture of sitting.

Consider the chilling findings of a study recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Sitting can be fatal. It’s been linked to cancerdiabetes, and cardiovascular disease... Researchers examined close to 70,000 cancer cases and found that sitting is associated with a 24% increased risk of colon cancer, a 32% increased risk of endometrial cancer, and a 21% increased risk of lung cancer. 
The really bad news: You can’t exercise away the habit’s harmful effects. “Adjustment for physical activity did not affect the positive association between sedentary behavior and cancer,” the authors write. Even participants who achieved the daily recommended levels of physical activity were at the same risk as those who spent their day sitting. 
Think about that for a second. You already know you can't out-exercise an unhealthy diet, but this study suggests that a sedentary lifestyle is so destructive to our physical health that it cancels out the benefits of exercise.

So what can we do? How can we save our lives from the soft seated murderer waiting for us in the office, on the bus, and in front of the television? Osteopath and best selling author, Dr. Joseph Mercola puts it simply, "Defy gravity with intermittent movement." Here are a few exercises you can do right in your cubicle to keep your body in motion, not reclining slowly toward an early grave.

  • Standing Neck-Stretch: Hold for 20 seconds on each side.
  • Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Round your shoulders, then pull them back and pull down. Repeat for 20-30 seconds.
  • Standing Hip Stretch: Holding on to your desk, cross your left leg over your right thigh and "sit down" by bending your right leg. Repeat on the other side.
  • The Windmill: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, then pivot your feet to the right. Push your hip out to the left. Raising your left arm skyward, and your right arm toward the floor, lower your body toward the floor while looking up, and then raise your torso back to standing position. Repeat on the other side.
  • Side Lunge: Starting with your feet together, take a medium step sideways, and bend down as if you're about to sit. Use your arms for balance by reaching out in front of you. Return to starting position, and repeat 10-20 times. Repeat on the other side.
  • Desk Push-Up: Place hands a little wider than shoulder-width apart on your desk. Come up on your toes to make it easier to tip forward. Do 10 repetitions.
  • Squat to Chair: With your feet shoulder-width apart, sit down, reaching forward with your hands, and stand back up in quick succession. Do 15-20 repetitions.
  • Single Leg Dead Lift: Place your right hand on your desk, and place your weight on your right leg. Fold your torso forward, while simultaneously lifting your left leg backward. Do 10 repetitions on each side.
  • Mountain Climber: Get into a push-up position on the floor. Pull your right knee forward to touch your right wrist or arm, then return to push-up position. Repeat on the other side. Try to pick up the pace, and do 20 quick repetitions.

Dr Levine suggests that you can help yourself by moving as little as ten minutes per hour. A study by the American Diabetes Association found measurable benefits from breaks that were as short as four-and-a-half minutes. If you don't want to use one of the recommended exercises, take a walk around the building. Climb the stairs. Have "strolling meetings" instead of sitting down at at coffee shop.

And if you won't take advice from the doctors, listen to Soul Brother Number One.


Friday, August 8, 2014

Zucchinipalooza! 2014
Every gardener knows the story. It's a beautiful August morning. You've just poured the first cup of coffee. Standing over the sink, taking in the beautiful morning light through the kitchen window, you glance at your little plot and gasp. Good Lord! Where did all that come from?

Every gardener's neighbor knows the story, too. You open the front door, and there's one on the porch railing. You reach into the mailbox, and find a green giant stuffed in there with the Rent-A-Center circular. You climb into your car, and find four of the things on the passenger seat. By the time clock at work, there is a carton piled high with a sign begging, "Take all you want. Please!"

It's Zucchini season. You cant escape them, so you might as well learn to love this meaty, tasty, giant squash while they are plentiful and vine fresh. Here are a few ways you can celebrate...


(I hope you'll share your own favorite recipes in the comments section!)

Zucchini Fritters,
Zucchini Cobbler,
Pici with Summer Squashes and Tarragon,

Chilled Curry Zucchini Soup,

Zucchini and Spinach Lasagna,

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What You Eat in Private...

Some of these Facebook memes can sting a little, huh?

As July comes to a close, I realize that I have made very little progress toward some of my goals. My weight is just about where it was at the end of June. Why? Pain and cheating.

Knee pain continues to keep me from running. While  walking and the classes I teach are continuing to improve my cardiopulmonary performance, I'm just not generating the strength and caloric deficits that running would give me. I had my initial visit with a Physical Therapist today. I was happy to discover that he is a runner and a student of running mechanics. We are determined to get me back on the road with more strength and stability to protect my joints from future damage. I could easily have gotten a surgeon who was eager to open me up or a therapist who only cared about getting me back to minimal functioning. Meeting Jeff was a providential match.

Oh, yeah... calories. At the same time that I'm not burning enough fuel, I've been keeping the tank filled to overflowing... or at least to the break-even point. In spite of the fact that my mental health is as good as it has been in years, (or maybe ever), I've been doing quite a bit of cheating:  nervous eating. Or maybe a better word is "mindless" eating You know, the chips you munch while watching Netflix. The cookies you take with you to your favorite reading chair. The meatloaf sandwich that's on my desk right now as I'm typing this. Cheating episodes are a lot like telling lies: after the first one, they just keep getting easier to do.

I've done well eliminating one toxic influence a week from my life: Pop, Dairy Queen. Candy. Computer games. It may be time to add "eating on the go" to that list. Time to move meals from the desk or the bed to the dinner table. Maybe nutrition is too important for multitasking.

As I alluded to earlier, one area where I have made encouraging progress is my inner life: spiritually, mentally, and emotionaly. I have embraced the discipline of daily prayers, and am reading or writing nearly every day. I am learning that I am not quite as socially clumsy as I thought; people often enjoy my company, and I enjoy theirs. Maybe most importantly,I am practicing the skills I need  in order to accept and make room for negative feelings without allowing them to stop me from living a rich and fulfilling life.

So, no, the weight isn't where I'd like it to be, but I'm very happy about the foundation I'm building during #reboot2014. My hope is that by staying on course on the inside, the outside won't fall apart as easily as it has in the past.

I have much to celebrate about July, and much work still to be done in August. Today, I'm just about the best Pennsy I've ever been. I'm grateful and excited to discover what the Dog Days have to teach me.


Sunday, July 6, 2014

Born to Walk

Walking has always been a part of my running life. Frequent walk breaks on long runs have allowed me to keep going and to stay injury free. I really don't think my current knee pain is a result of overuse, as much as just the normal aches and pains of a geezer with my medical history. We'll see what the orthopedist has to say next week. In the meantime, I've resumed jogging a little, continued walking a lot, and noticed some meaningful differences between the two.

The most obvious difference is the amount of time you spend on the road. The miles take a lot longer to cover when you're walking. I might schedule an hour for a 4 mile trainer during the week. A four mile walk is liable to take half again as long. So a walker has to plan the day a little more carefully. On the other hand, going for a walk isn't as much of a production as going for a run. You don't need as many specialized clothes. You don't come home a sweaty, exhausted mess. And it is easy to break your miles up into several shorter sessions over the course of the day. 

Another difference is in the calorie burn: according to this calculator on, my hour long, brisk walks only burn about 60% of the calories that a light jog uses in the same amount of time. A runner who switches to walking will need to make some changes in the kitchen or risk adding pounds, in spite of the hours spent on the road. On the other hand, walking any length of time burns 100% more calories than sitting on the couch watching Netflix, so don't underestimate the power of this low-intensity exercise, especially if you're just getting started.

That lower intensity is important, because while a runner needs to build plenty of recovery time into a training schedule, a walker can be out there every day, several times a day. Vigorous exercise strengthens us, but it also beats up our bodies. Days off are crucial. Walking feels more like it is built into our engineering. Walking is the way we were designed to get from place to place. With apologies to Bruce Springteen, it seems to me, Baby, that we were Born to Walk.

It's in the mental experience of walking that I start to find more meaningful differences. The famous "Runner's High'" is a real thing, a kind of endorphin intoxication that is really quite transporting. But it also takes a long time to achieve. Grete Waitz, the legendary marathon champion said that she never felt it at all. I have experienced it myself maybe four times, and always somewhere out around mile 18 of a race or long slow training run. So the euphoria of the "Runner's High" really isn't something that comes along every day.

But I do experience a kind of trance-like state almost every time I run. The rhythm of foot fall and breath, the heightened heart rate, the passing pavement below, the rush of the air in my ears all work together to take me to a place beyond thought. 

That doesn't happen to me with walking. In the absence of the powerful physiological affects of running, my mind is much more active. Some days, my thoughts wander, drifting aimlessly from place to place, person to person. At other times, I focus on a particular issue or subject that might have been gnawing at me. Now, that can be dangerous: I can find myself latched onto some pretty negative self talk. It takes a certain amount of mental discipline to choose just where I want to turn my attention.

Running is spiritual meditation for me. My mind quiets, and if I am aware of anything, it is of my presence as a participant in creation. When I run, I feel God's companionship, as if we were training partners. I frequently sense God speaking to me when we run together, but our walks are more like conversations. I am more than just present, I am aware of the world. I notice and  acknowledge fragrances, colors, and sounds that can zip right past when I'm puffing along on a run.

Walkers see and greet neighbors differently, too. It's easy to jog right past the porch-loungers and stoop-smokers when you're running out in the street. But up on the sidewalk, even at a brisk pace, it feels odd not to smile and wave, to acknowledge the presence of another human. When runners meet, they almost always nod, but non-runners have more mixed reactions. A lot of folks think we're crazy. People are more likely to greet a walker. There's just something more normal about us. 

I am in love with running. I'm proud to be a runner. And I won't lie to you, there is a certain amount of ego gratification in trotting along a street or a country road as the cars speed by. The drivers might think I'm crazy, but they know I'm out there doing something that a lot of people don't have the will or the ability to do. I hope I'll always be able to run. 

But in the past few weeks, as I nurse my arthritic knee back to health, I'm learning the joys of walking, too. I think I may have a new sweetheart.

Which reminds me... I've got a date with four miles of sidewalk before dinner. Maybe I'll see you out there, huh?


Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Magic Mile

Meeting Jeff Galloway at the
2012 Iron Horse Half Marathon was
one of the highlights of my running life.
The Magic Mile is a keystone in legendary running coach, Jeff Galloway’s approach to training. Whether your goal is getting healthier, running a 5K for charity, or setting a new PR in the Marathon, The MM is the tool you use to benchmark your strength and endurance, and to set your goals. Here’s how Jeff explains it on his website,
  • Warm up with a slow one mile run.
  • Do a few acceleration-gliders, [short speed intervals, followed by easy jogging.]
  • Pace yourself as evenly as possible on each quarter mile.
  • Run about as hard as you could run for one mile – but no puking!
  • Keep walking after the time trial for 5 minutes.
Plugging your time into the calculator on Jeff’s site gives you your training pace, and predicted finish time for all the major distance events.  I’ve used it over and over again, and yes, it works. So yesterday, as the spring chapter of #reboot2014 came to a close, I decided to take my running pulse on the Legacy Trail.

The Synovial Capsule: Doc says Pennsy's is a little bit squished
First, a little background: I started training for a May 17th 10K race back in the icy days of late March. One morning in early April, after teaching a water fitness class, (the lowest of low impact aerobics,) I felt a sort of popping in my left knee. My 54 year old joints do the snap,crackle, pop quite a bit in the morning, so I didn't think much of it, but when I climbed up the ladder and onto the deck, the added gravity let me know this was no ordinary Old Guy noise. A mild ache started that morning, just under the interior side of the patella, and even now, sitting at the keyboard four months later, it is still there. I started treating it with RICE:  rest, ice, compression, and elevation. I even watched the Cats lose the NCAA final game to UConn with my leg iced, wrapped, and up on a cushion. But it didn't seem to get any better. My race training changed gradually from running to jogging to limping to walking. I noticed that low impact movement seemed to help, but the knee would stiffen painfully when I sat still, even for just a few minutes. I made it to race day for the sake of the kids I was mentoring, but have not run since then. Two weeks ago, I saw the doc. She took some x-rays and found a little arthritis and some compression in the interior capsule of the left knee. So the good news is there's not soft tissue damage and nothing requiring surgery. The bad news is that there isn't an easy way to make the pain go away. I'll be following up with the sports medicine clinic, but for the present, a painful knee is just going to be part of the deal for me.

Lexington's first Full
May 17, 2015
I was determined not to let pain stop my progress toward my weight loss goals for the year or my May 2015 Marathon, so I walked instead of running. I've discoverd some big differences between walking and running, which I'll be exploring at length in future posts, but the most practical difference is that walking takes a lot longer. I had been training at 11-12 minute miles. Each walking mile can take me as much as 20 minutes. On the other hand, I have a lot less time to snack. You can always find a silver lining.

I found that I felt much better after teaching in the pool or the exercise studio. Soaking in the whirlpool after a workout seemed to give comfort as well. I can't take a lot of aspirin because of the blood thinners I've been on since chemo/radiation buggered my platelets, but the folks who make acetaminophen are always happy to see me.I also bought a small heating pad for post workout recovery. After a month of this regimen, the pain started to lessen and I began planning for the Magic Mile I had on my training schedule. 

Here is how I planned the splits for my 4 mile training run:
  • One mile of brisk walking
  • One mile of 0:15/0:45 run/walk intervals
  • One mile run (The Magic Mile)
  • One mile of 0:15/0:45 run/walk intervals
I followed this with 30 minutes of deep water running at the Y, a 15 minute soak in the whirlpool, then I drove home for some OTC pain pills, a nap, and about an hour with the heating pad. 

How did it go? Better than I'd hoped. I ran the Magic Mile in 11:31, about 2 minutes slower than my personal best, but let's face it:  I am a long way from my best today. More importantly, I ran without pain for the first time since April. I'm not ready to run regularly yet: I calculated my training pace at 16:58, which is a steady 3.5 mph walk. This morning, the knee was stiffer than it has been in a while, but a 3 mile hike downtown and back made it happy again.

Eyes on the Prize: Raising $10,000 for LS@Y
Looking into my crystal ball, I see 14 miles on the schedule this week, which should be easy to reach. I'll be skipping the Independence Day Bluegrass 10,000 for the first time in several years, but still have hopes for the 5K Midsummer Night's Run in August. I wanted to have a couple of Half Marathons under my belt before May, but have not committed to any yet. My real goal for my marathon is to raise $10,000 for LIVESTRONG at the YMCA, and if that means saving my knees for one last long push, then that's what I'll do. I don't want to do more damage to my body; I want to be smart; I'm getting the best advice I can, and being very conservative. Dropping pounds can only help, and I'd like to lose about 25 more this summer. In future posts, I want to talk about how the pain is affecting my plans, my form, and my mental discipline

I want to finish with something my shrink is teaching me: pain is a part of life. The only way to live without suffering is to keep yourself numb: that's how an addict thinks, and I've seen enough to know that addiction is a doomed strategy. The key to living a rich, full, and meaningful life is knowing your values, committing to action that leads you toward them, and embracing both the pain and joy that are part of your life's journey. 

You can't obliterate suffering. You can't ignore it. But you can learn to accept it when it comes, to make room for it in your life, and carry it along with you as you travel toward becoming the person you want to be. 

And that's the thinking I hope can keep the Fat Man Running: at least for a little while longer.