Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Why I ride

I was climbing out of the small valley where the Soos creek trail runs, and my legs were burning. My breath seared my throat as it rattled past my teeth, and I pondered the replacement of my front chainring with something a little more reasonable. Only another 50 feet of climbing, I tell myself. Only another 40.

It's times like this that I remember my childhood. I remember the running, especially.

The first time my family moved to the US for any substantial amount of time, I was 10. That seems incredibly young to me now (no, really!) although my math is definitely correct. I remember it so vividly. We had the good fortune to be living in Connecticut, fairly far from civilization, in the beginnings of the Adirondacks. Connecticut is a beautiful state, neither flat nor featureless, as the Midwest often manages to be. The seasons are vivid, and distinct, the entire valley changing color in a matter of days. The area we were in made poor farmland, and was mostly covered in secondary deciduous forest.

I had one particular teacher who was obsessed with fitness. He was in great shape, and loved to run everywhere, and couldn't understand why we didn't want to do likewise. I just wanted to build go-karts out of lawnmowers and electric wheelchair motors and play games on the 386 in the library. Thinking back, I just wasn't old enough to get it. I liked sports, and was reasonably good at them, but had no desire to go running for no good reason other than burning calories.

Frankly, it hurt too much. I'm just not built for running. I'm fast over a short distance, but on anything longer than a few hundred meters, physics and genetics both dictate that I will be experiencing serious pain in short order. My legs aren't particularly long, and I'm not particularly slender. I've already complained about how the BMI system consistently rates me as 'overweight' (and probably always has). I was blessed with a fair amount of childhood fat, and nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I remember swimming specific strokes for tremendous distances one summer as part of a contest - by this same teacher, of course - with fitness components. I swam 2 miles of crawl without stopping. It took all afternoon. I racked up tens of miles of sidestroke in half-mile or mile increments. I was still fat.

Still, I loved swimming, and since that part of Connecticut is dotted with small bodies of water, I had ample opportunity. There were plenty of things that I enjoyed doing that burned calories, although I didn't think of them that way. I could (and did) swing a ax or a maul for hours. Boiling thousands of gallons of maple sap into syrup requires a fantastic amount of firewood. I learned to ice-skate in Connecticut, and when the local lakes froze over you could skate for miles over a glassy sheet, frozen plant life flashing past beneath your blades.

I still had to run. I guess the idea was that once you were forced to do something you'd come to like it. It didn't work. The neighborhoods of Norfolk are seared into my memory along with the soundtrack of my rasping breath. Staring at the houses as they go by, ever so slowly, desperate for something to distract me from the pain. Just another few hundred feet to the top of this hill... Just another couple hundred...

Sure, there are moments on the bike I wonder why I'm doing what I'm doing, usually once the gradient gets much steeper than 10% for more than a few hundred feet. But even at it's worst, the pain doesn't compare to running. The scenery, the smell of the tree leaves as the year turns to autumn, the endorphin rush after the climb - that's all still there.

So I ride because it's everything running was supposed to be for me, and everything running isn't.

I'm sure my teacher would be proud.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

10 Sets of 10 Reps

I've finally started hitting the weights in earnest, and have been rewarded by constantly sore muscles in my upper body to complement my sore legs. It feels great.

It's also a new feeling, for me. Granted, after a three hour windsurfing session, my entire body will ache from my toes to my neck, but that usually only happens at the beginning of the season. There really is no better full body workout than windsurfing. Swimming is great, but doesn't give you the incredible interval training that windsurfing can. That said, I've only been windsurfing a few times since I moved to the Pacific Northwest. Part of it has been the dearth of wind, at least by my standards.

Part of it has been that my wetsuit no longer fits.

Unfortunately, over the past year, I've become really fat - by my standards, anyway. For the first time in my life I broke 200 pounds, and not by a small amount, either. This is particularly sad given that I was down to around 155 two years ago, when I was windsurfing regularly (3 times a week, between 1.5 - 4 hours a session). My diet didn't change, although due to stress at leaving my job and planning a move 2500 miles across the country to a place where I had never been and where I had no friends or even acquaintances, I was eating as a stress reliever, and simply stopped exercising. Given that my job consists of punching keys on a keyboard, it's no surprise to me that I packed on the pounds. What did surprise me was how much I gained, and how quickly I gained it.

At this point it's probably a good idea to mention a blog that's been a source of motivation in this effort: the Fat Cyclist. Elden is a funny guy, and not really as fat as he claims to be. The confessional style of his early blog postings is not only wildly entertaining, but inspirational. Really.

So, I've been duly inspired to post about my own weight loss experience, in somewhat less excruciating detail. You're not going to get pictures of me, since I have no desire to subject anyone to such things, and weight measurements won't be included as any usable metric. You see, according to BMI calculations, I'm obese. Like, more than borderline, actually well within the category. On the other hand, BMI measurements are an incredibly generalized metric that doesn't take into account body type. Even at my most fit several years ago, wearing pants with a 30 inch waist and very little abdominal fat, I still weighed in at 155-160, placing me in the 'overweight' category. That's absurd.

So, BMI calculations aren't going to factor into this. However, I still want to set a target weight of 175, because I think I can reach it, although it might take a while. Yes, this still puts me in 'overweight' territory, but I don't care, because of my strategy for losing weight.

My strategy: add muscle. That's it. This requires the least lifestyle change for me, and as lifestyle changes that are dictated only by the requirement to lose weight are always doomed to failure (for me, anyway) this has the best chance of working over the long term. This definitely differs from most people's weight loss plans, including Fatty's. Let me explain why.

  • Diet. I already eat a relatively healthy diet, and have cut down on grazing activities. The only meats I eat are various fish that I consider sustainable, and most seafood. I eat eggs and cheese provided it's a small quantity and non-processed. If it's sheep or goat cheese, so much the better. Most of my/our diet in this household consists of Asian cuisine, and I'm not talking about Chinese food. I'd say we eat at a Vietnamese, Thai, or Japanese restaurant almost every day now that we live in the Seattle area. It's not just an addiction, it's healthy and it's cheap. Bientu, of course, eats nothing but raw meat and organs, but she's a dog. I hate candy, and anything with corn syrup or artificial color in it is a non-starter (another household rule). I generally eat two proper meals a day, one of which is breakfast. So, I'm not sure I want to change anything. I did forget to mention beer, which can amount to 200-800 calories a day for me. I refuse to alter that part of my diet.
  • Exercise. I'm not relying on the things I do for fun to provide the increase in calories burned. This is because I want to continue to do these things for fun, and not to lose weight. I ride my bike for fun. Yes, all my miles are junk miles. Hah! I windsurf for fun, although it's hard to imagine windsurfing for any other reason. I snowboard for fun. I simply refuse to run, ever again, for any reason. I did for a while, and it did very little for me. My knees are still in good shape, and I want to keep them that way, thanks. Besides, the more over your target weight you are, the more you're trashing your knees. No thanks. So, my strategy is simple: interval training on the mountain bike for the lower body, weight training for the upper body in the gym that's conveniently located half a mile down the street. I have a route that I ride every day that includes some hard climbing for short periods interspersed with nice rest intervals. I'm spending an hour in the gym five times a week. If this doesn't work, nothing will.
So, if BMI metrics are pointless, what will I use to gauge my progress? Well, in the spirit of beth bikes!, I'm going to include a bunch of measurements of an specific muscle group. Actually, a bunch of muscle groups. There are lots of bodybuilding resources on the net, and I stumbled across a male "Grecian Ideal" calculator, that will give you your ideal measurements based on the size of... your wrist.

No, really!

So, based on my wrist size (exactly 18 cm) here are my ideals:

neck43 cm
chest117 cm
bicep42 cm
forearm34 cm
waist82 cm
hip99 cm
thigh62 cm
calf40 cm

I don't know, compared to my target waist and quad measurements, that's extremely close. The others... Well, I guess I just have to see. Here are my current measurements:

neck39 cm91% of ideal
chest102 cm87% of ideal
bicep32.25, 33, 32.6 cm77% of ideal
forearm31.25, 31.5, 31.4 cm92% of ideal
waist95 cm115% of ideal. ewww
hipi'm not sure how to measure this
thigh58.5, 60.75, 59.6 cm 96% of ideal
calf40.25, 40.75. 40.5 cm 101% of ideal

Hey, that was actually interesting. Aside from the obvious (I'm pathetic) there's clear evidence that cycling has been a good idea. My upper body, on the other hand, needs a lot of work.

Oh, my weight? 200.5, yesterday. Scary.