Running for Beginners

Last month, I bookmarked an article on Lifehacker discussing how running isn’t cheap and the costs that come with taking it up as an workout routine. Thing is, unlike the Lifehacker of old, this article was just a complain piece to recommend and insert affiliate links to mentioned products, many of which aren’t necessary for beginner runners. $50 sports bras? $18 pairs of socks? A $40 hydration belt? Climate differences between my place of residence in comparison to the author’s, gear at those price points are for seasoned runners that are looking to keep pushing themselves further. While premium socks and a hydration belt would be nice to have on any run, my regular 5 mile route was mastered using regular ankle cut big-box store athletic socks and a $10 refillable plastic sports water bottle. Lifehacker of Gina Trapani’s days of yore would have posted an article with strategies and low-cost alternatives/DIY solutions. So rather than silently turn my nose up at it to myself, I decided it would be better put to use as motivation to write something myself — the piece that article should have been. Coming off a 2 month break from my old running routine, I’m finding the challenge of getting back in the habit to be not unlike how it felt when I first started running years ago at a starting weight of little over 250 lbs.

Gear Up

The Clothes

Running is just putting on clothes, shoes, and heading out the door, but those choices can make a big difference, and the cost of proper running gear can be very prohibitive. When I started running, I didn’t want to spend money on high-end running shoes and clothes because I wasn’t sure I was even going to stick with it. So, I ran in old cotton shorts and tees and whatever sneakers I had in my closet (90% of my shoe choices then were boots). It was sufficient, but unpleasant. Proper microfiber running shorts with built-in underwear and shirts ended up being a worthwhile upgrade. Rather than staying soaked and weighed down (and putting additional heavy wear on my day-to-day underwear).

Brand name apparel can be ridiculously expensive: $50+ for a pair of shorts $40+ for a shirt, $120+ for shoes. I’ve picked up some of that stuff at reasonable prices through online deals, outlets, and retail tent sales, and I’ve been thoroughly unimpressed with the return on that investment. I’ve done shoes by Adidas, Nike, FILA, and Asics, clothes by Asics and Saucony.

To date, the best return on the dollar for comfort & wear has been Hanes’s Champion brand of athletic wear. Running shirts & shorts can be found at local Target stores for $20 bucks each, $13–15 if they’re on sale (and a little more if you happen to find them on clearance). Lately, I’ve found some results on Amazon, eBay, and Wish that look promising, but haven’t lured me away from just sticking with Champion stuff.

Target Champion Shorts

For the shoes, Payless Shoe Source is a handy retailer to use. I actually joined their mailing list to get additional %-off coupons when their Champion running shoes go on sale/clearance. This brings shoes down anywhere from $12–20 a pair depending on promotions at the time.

Champion Gusto Runner Shopping ListingChampion Gusto Runner Shopping Listing

Champion Gusto & Gusto Cut-Out Runners, My Go-To Shoes

So even without discounts, you’re looking at approximately $20 per item, and one pair of shorts and a shirt will not cut it if you’re running multiple times a week. Shoes should also be alternated, so you’ll want at least two pairs. I don’t wash my clothes after every run, as I don’t require them to be freshly clean before I go getting them drenched with sweat again. I let them air dry between runs, and wash them every 3 runs. This prolongs their lifespan (wash/dry cycles are hard on these things), and if you’re in CA, nets you bonus points for being drought-conscious. One thing I’ve been meaning to do myself is get a small washboard so that I can gently handwash and air dry my running clothes on my shower curtain rod. They’re not made of absorbent materials, and dryer cycles seem to put the most wear on them.

Finally, there’s socks. You can invest in luxury athletic socks if you want, but I maintain that those are only really for 10k/Marathon runners. I buy various athletic socks online if I see a deal, but by default I’ll pick up a 6-pair pack of Champion socks at my local Target.

The Accessories

Armband

If you’re going to be taking your phone with you, you’re not going to want to have to hold it the entire time you’re out running. Out of the few that I’ve tried, I’ve been most pleased with the TuneBand products available on Amazon. Not only is it a quick and low-fuss option, it also has replacement elastic bands available for purchase. Over use, those stretch and warp, and it’s nice to not have to buy a whole case altogether.

Tune Band

Headphones

I’ve tried various $20–30 bluetooth headphones off of Amazon, and they’re all been consistently underwhelming. Their maximum volume isn’t high enough, audio playback occassionally stutters, their weight makes it hard for them to stay in place (even using Comply foam tips). If you’re going to go the bluetooth route, go with a pair of Jaybirds or some other big name in that space. I can’t vouch for those, but I can say the 5 star reviews the afforadble options get on Amazon are certainly generous.

I recommend sticking with wired headphones for the time being. Even then, you’re still going to have a hard time finding the option that works best for you. Here I’ve used quite a few different sports headphones — YurBuds, Sennheiser, Skullcandy, Sol Republic, and JLab, to name a few. My input here is to be wary of headphones marketed as sweat-proof; most of the time, it ends up not being the case. Headphones with good sound quality and an inline remote/mic make it easy to change tracks/volume without having to distract yourself with your phone’s screen, something that can be really hard to do when it’s strapped to your bicep at an inconvenient angle and your fingers are moist with perspiration, but they’re also the ones most prone to failure. I’m not a profuse sweater, but even so I’ve ended up returning far too many pairs of headphones due to sweat causing them to trigger pause/play and volume controls at random without any actual button presses taking place. If you can find a pair that holds up, great. I prefer to avoid the potential for failure, and stick to headphones with no mic/remote these days.

The other big issue I’ve had with headphones are fit. It’s distracting and annoying to have to constantly fiddle with earbuds and put them back into place. I’ve noticed sport headphones these days now come with stabilizing ear tips, but mileage can vary with those. The best consistent solution for me has been to buy a pair of Comply foam tips. Those expand in your ear canal after you pinch and insert them, so you get a great seal that results in firm placement and great sound quality.

Comply Foam Tips Webpage Screencap

Going with the absolute low cost option, a solid $10–15 pair of headphones and $10 for a pack of foam tips will have you covered.

JLab Jbuds 2 Shopping Listing

JLabs JBuds 2 are my current running headphones and have gone down over 50% in price since I bought mine. The supplied stabilizers don’t provide as solid a seal as some Comply foam tips would, but they’re  good enough to where I haven’t had the need to buy some.

The Maintenance Supplies

Another “hidden” cost of running is the stuff you’ll need for personal care; as a result from the conveniences and comforts of modern life, running puts certain strains on your body as it adjusts to the habit of doing what nature designed it to do, and you’re going to need a few thigs to help along the way.

Sunscreen

If you’re running at any time of the day that isn’t dusk/night, you’ll want to make sure to apply this. It’s common sense. My skin tone and genetics don’t leave me pre-disposed to sunburns, but I still pass on the unnecessary UV damage nonetheless.

Lubricant

Whether it’s just petroleum jelly or a water/oil-based personal lubricant, you’re going to want something to minimize the friction on your skin. At the beginning, I had a bit of an issue with chafing due to all the fat on my thighs. After burning a lot of it off and taking up longer distances are higher frequencies, I still found it necessary to avoid a burning agitation of my nipples.

The Oatmeal Comic

(©2016 Matthew Inman)

Dracula kisses do not feel like kisses. They feel like bee stings. Be kind to your nipples. Lube ’em up if you’re going for more than a couple miles.

Salicylic Acid or Callus/Corn Shaver

Running puts a lot of pressure and friction on your feet. Despite whatever preventative measures you take, they’re going to rough up a little bit the more you do it. In order to keep your feet from looking ragged, you’re going to have to get that dead skin off. I started with salicylic acid (about $5 a vial), but as the rough patches got bigger and harder with time, I ended up needing to do multiple coats to get them off. Eventually, spent the $10 on a safety razor to just trim it off. It’s very safe and practically impossible to cut yourself with one, and takes far less time than applying salycylic acid and waiting for it to dry.

Corn Shaver

Tips

Let Your Imagination Run With You

When you’re running for an extended period of time, you run the risk of getting bored. You’re not speeding by at 60 MPH like you in a car, so the things that are off in the distance take a while to actually get to, especially when you’re starting off and haven’t developed your pace.

My workaround to this was to employ that good ol’ childhood imagination. I’d let myself pretend I was a character in one of those high-action worlds of powerful protagonists — in my case, that fell to my favorite video game franchises.

Part of my route involves crossing a long bridge that passes over a wide highway. I would recreate the Clash on the Big Bridge scene from Final Fantasy V in my head as a Hollywood calibre production, and project myself into the midst of it.

only like:

 photo Squall_Vs__Sephiroth_DISSIDIA_by_th.gif

If you decide to give that whole “power of imagination” thing above a try, then having a fitting soundtrack will really help with immersion. For the video game crowd, studios will usually publish soundtracks and remix/rearrangement albums for games. In addition, the indepedent music scene at Overclocked Remix has a treasure trove of additional tracks to make use of. I highly recommend their various Mega Man remix tracks. So explore with different things, and run yourself through your favorite movie, book, or game.

(OR Let Your Mind Work On Real Stuff Instead)

If the imagination option sounds like it’s outside your wheelhouse and not something you’d enjoy doing, real life can be just as effective an escape as fantasy; many a run of mine have doubled as a workout and a self-therapy or productivity planning session. Rather than focus on how hard it is, how tired you are, or how much longer you still have to go, plan ahead what it is you’re going to do after your run.

Get the RIght Rhythm to the Burn

Following on the theme from the talking point above, variety is important in order to keep you from losing interest in going on a run — going running shouldn’t necessarily mean putting your mind to work. Sometimes, you do just need a good music playlist to zone out to and focus on your run. Put music to your workout — hardly anything new and groundbreaking here, most everyone does this by default. Thing is, your choices can impact your performance negatively as well as positively.

By all means, listen to whatever you motivates you to get out the door. But as you start pushing your endurance and pace, give yourself that extra boost by picking something upbeat that drives you. Some people like curating playlists for themselves, and a collection of fast-tempo tracks would take a very small amount of time to make. For anyone looking for a no-fuss option, I highly reccommend Spotify’s running originals. They have adjustable BPMs, and auto-set themselves at the start by using your phone’s sensors to match your pace. Just pick a theme and go — I myself am partial to Burn, Chase, and Escape mixes.

Spotify Running Webpage

Use Apps

Another good tactic to motivate yourself would be to make a game out of your workouts. I used to use ZombiesRun as a good way to add atmosphere to my night runs and drive me to tie the laces and get out of the door, but these days I prefer to just run to music and log using an activity tracker — meeting a certain number of miles each month is game enough for me.

Searching the app stores for phones will bear no shortage of running apps. I’ve tried pretty much all of them, and would recommend anyone new to them to just skip ahead to RunKeeper. It’s the most well designed, easy to use, and integrated with other health tracking apps/services. With the more recent updates, they’ve really done a good job of integrating Spotify, so you can fire up RunKeeper, pick a Spotify running mix, and start your run without having to manually switch between apps.

Run Keeper

Bring a Buddy

I’m not really much of a social exerciser. I usually prefer to be able to move at my own pace and not have to worry about keeping up/not leaving behind others. However, the times that I have gone running with other people, it’s proved to be a delightful change of pace. The only reservation I would have about this approach is becoming too reliant on the social aspect of it and not wanting to go out for a run alone.

If you happen to know other people who run and use the same tracking app as you do (or at least cross-post to another social network you follow each other on), you can still have a social component to your running even if you’re going out alone. I’ve had a few friends pop up as recommended Runkeeper buddies, but no one seems to actively use it as much as I do.

Breathe Smart

One of the biggest hurdles I had to overcome when I started running regularly was the issue of breath. I was an obese smoker, and running a mile under 15 minutes was a big deal for me. As second-nature as breathing is to us, doing it optimally for physical activity is not an automatic response. Some people will run and try to breathe entirely through their noses, others with just their mouths. Some huff and puff rapidly, while others will take slow and deep long breaths between strides. While everyone’s body responds differently, what I’ve found to be best, after experimenting with the various breathing tips you can find online, is making sure that you are concurrently breathing through your nostrils and mouth with each inhalation & exhalation. It takes some getting used to doing it naturally, but it doesn’t take long.

Another problem I frequently had when I started running was the dreaded side stitch, which nobody knows to be its definitive cause. One article I read suggested slowing your pace and exhaling in step with the foot opposite the side you feel the pain on in your abdomen. I had limited and varying degrees of success with that. One thing I did find that my body responded well to was employing the Ujjayi breath of yoga at a slower pace. If you’re not familiar with it, see if a local yoga studio offers free trials. Here in San Diego, there are plenty of Core Power Yoga franchise locations that you can do a week for free at. It’s good to take up yoga not just for the breathing exercise, but as a supplemental workout you can do at home to improve your strength and endurance for running. If group activity isn’t your thing, Gaiam’s Yoga Studio app is a great way to practice from the comfort of your own home. That app worked well enough that when I went into my first heated yoga class at Core Power, most of the movements were already familiar and managable enough to perform and hold in unison with everyone else in the room.

Make it Minty

Another tactic that I found to be helpful for me was to hit myself with mint before and during my run. When I first started running, I would have a mug of hot green mint tea, and take a cold bottle of water with a few millileters of mint extract mixed in. I also would pop in a couple of sticks of mint gum (those who don’t trust their lingual kinesthetic awareness enough to not end up biting off their toungue chewing while running would be better off substituting hard mints to suck on or those dissolving breath strips). You know how deep breaths taste sweet and cool when you have mint? It makes running breathing that much more pleasant as well.

Advisories

You Will Suck

If you start out as I once did, largely sedentary and extremely overweight, you are not going to perform like an athlete. You already know it, but you’ll still feel lousy for it. I would always think of middle school PE class, how target times for running a mile — 3 laps around the adjoining community park — were 6–8 minutes. The really athletic kids could do it in under six. The non-athletic under 10, and the overweight & obese like myself at 12–15 minutes. I picked up running right when activity apps started hitting the nascent App Store, and would be highly disppointed with my times still matching up with those from back when I was 50lbs heavier in grade school. It felt like no matter what I did, no matter how hard I trained, I would be the exception to the rule. I wouldn’t improve over time, I’d always be stuck in the bottom tier as an abysmal runner.

But stick with it, it gets better. I say it to people all the time: if I, overweight as I was and (still) with a smoking habit could do it, anyone else can too.

You Will Ache

Beginning running was hard not only because of the high fat-to-minimal-muscle ratio, but also because of the other stresses it puts on the body. It was not uncommon for me to feel my leg muscles ready to go for another run, but unable to do it on account of all the blisters and pains on my feet. During the intial phases, it’s a good idea to double down and wear two pairs of tighly pulled on socks. For additional protection, Johnson & Johnson makes a friction block stick that you can apply to your feet much like deodorant.

As your legs and core become used to the motions of running, you’ll build up a small degree of muscle mass. This, along with learning to moderate your breathing, will allow you to overcome (and eventually, eliminate) cramping up with a side-stitch.

You Will Quit

The ratio of phases you’ll have where you’re wanting to run versus those where you don’t are stacked in favor of the latter. You’ll think of things you have planned that you don’t want to be tired and sore for. You’ll negotiate with yourself and think you’ll eat light and make up for it later. You’ll be demotivated by how slowly you’re improving, and unwilling to deal with the muscle soreness and the blisters. And after a while, all those mental acrobatics will become just as unpalatable as the thought of exercise, and you’ll settle for just not doing it and getting back to it “later”.

This is one thing that may get easier to manage over time, but doesn’t ever really go away. And in order for it to get easier, you have to overcome it a few times and fight yourself for the victory, you have to exercise willpower and commit. I didn’t really start to get better at my running until I started planning my day around it, what else can I do in a day if I have work for 8 hours and 1.5 hours set aside afterwards for exercise? Sounds simple, but it’s not.

Myself as an adult without any pets, children, or significant other, assuming 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours at work, and 1 hour commuting to and from those points per day cycle theoretically leaves only 7 hours of the day to use for personal time — eating, using the bathroom, cleaning, bathing, getting dressed, exercise, phone/internet time, etc. Since those are spread throughout the day and not in a continous block of productive personal time and there’s real world time limitations to consider, it’s really easy to lose track of that time and not use it as productively as possible. You leave work at 5 PM and get home at 6PM. You want to running, but you also need to grab groceries and will need to cook dinner and eat it; going on a run first means you won’t be done until 7:30–8PM, and driving to the store, shopping, and driving home won’t put you in the kitchen starting on food until 9PM at the earliest. By the time you’re done, you’re eating dinner past 10 PM, left with less than two hours before a late midnight bedtime, and still have a sink full of dirty dishes to deal with. So it’s easier to tell yourself working out is something you can’t afford, go buy groceries, eat & watch TV, and go to bed.

It falls to you to take whatever measures you can to make your exercise happen for the day. In the scenario above, order groceries online during your lunch break. Get your shopping planned and done for the week during the weekend. For every problem that can get in the way of your workouts, there is a solution to be found — you just have to make the effort to find it.

In Closing

Skimming over what I’ve written, I can’t think of anything that I’ve forgotten to mention. Above are the most affordable & reliable options for running gear I’ve found, and the pitfalls and strategies I’ve come across along my journey as a runner. This is the pamphlet I would give to new runners. I never imagined I’d be able to run as long and far as I have. Adopting running as a regular part of your life isn’t as easy and simple as it sounds, but it doesn’t have to be a cost-prohibitive necessary torture session. With enough persistence and the right frame of mind, it can become something you enjoy and grow to love.

No-Measurement Monday Check In

It’s Monday morning, and I’ve instructed myself to crank out a quick update before heading into work to get the week started. Looking at the blog archives, I see that it’s already been two weeks since the last time I posted something. Typically, Mondays are the days where i’m supposed to crank out a weekly measurement/stat/photo update on the progress with the weight loss efforts, but the thing is…I really hate doing it. As much as I’d like to be the type of person that’s really into physiological quantification, rigorously tracking activity and nutritional intake and steadily heading towards peak physical fitness, the reality that’s become very evident over my past updates is that I’m not. Even with all the tools I’ve collected over time, from analog tools like tape measures and body fat calipers to smart phone apps and wifi connected smart scales, there’s no out-the-box solution to fully automate that capture. At some point, it still requires sitting down in front of a text editor and compiling all that information. Like most people that aren’t professional athletes/body builders, it’s not exactly my favorite thing to do, especially since body changes, even when implementing a better diet and copious amounts of physical activity, is still a gradual process that fails to deliver on the instant-gratification level modern life has made us accustomed to.

Much like I wrote at the beginning of the month, I’m still back in the high 190/low 200 lb range that I spiked up to at the end of August. For the majority of this month, I’ve been avoiding even stepping on the scale — knowing that the number it’s going to read out lacks context and doesn’t account for the trade off in fat to muscle that my increased running and body weight training has been causing, it feels pointless to take a measurement that I know is inherently inaccurate. I tell myself that I should at least fall back to the tape measure & photographs, but those are tedious and time-consuming to take as well. Yet, despite the lack of activity with written updates, activity in real life has stayed steady. I’m still steadily moving ahead with that pursuit of personal purpose and power I most recently wrote about. I’m looking at 10 miles a day for the rest of the month if I’m going to meet the 200 mile goal again for this month (which I fully intend to), and have been upping my game with the non-cardio workouts; over the past week and half, I’ve been spending a lot of time with a new friend who’s a professional yoga instructor, and he’s both forced and inspired me to raise the bar for myself. In addition to the body weight routines and 7-minute workouts I’ve been doing, I’ve also (finally) started actively targeting abdominal/arm muscles and general flexbility with the aim of being able to pull of advanced yoga poses and handstands like he can.

Even 90°+ degree weather won't stop me
Even 90°+ degree weather won’t stop me

More noteworthy than any set of measurements and photographs I could post is the feedback I’ve been getting in direct conversations with people, having recently started making a change from my ascetic & hermetic ways of the past few years. Though I regularly allow RunKeeper to cross-post my activity logs to my social media accounts, outside of the occasional Facebook Like and Twitter Favorite, I don’t usually see much by way of commentary. Yet, in “catching up” with old friends & acquaintances conversationally, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see it routinely being brought up by the other party.

Kyle convo

Greg running conversation

It’s validating to hear that my desired intent, to inspire even just one person on even the smallest level, is taking place out with these updates, even if I’m not immediately made aware of it.

The August 200: A Month of Workouts in Review

Torso Shot, Side View

August was a very active and noteworthy month for me. As I detailed in a DayOne journal entry I shared on the 31st, I walked/hiked/ran a cumulative 200 miles throughout the month, most of them running, an average of 6 per day without any daily lapses in physical activity. It wasn’t until the last week and a half that I realized how close I was to 200 mile mark, and really started pushing myself, bumping my daily range from 3-5 miles up to 8-10 miles. That, and the arm &and core training I started trying to take up, really put the beat down on my body — but it was well worth it, for it’s a lot stronger than it used to be.

August 2015 Weight Trend
August 2015 Weight Trend

In regard to weight, I burned off about 10 lbs, and apparently put them right back on. At the start of the second half of August, I was weighing in at the low 190’s — 191.7 lbs was the lowest I saw register on the scale during my weigh-ins. As I started aggressively chasing that 200 mile goal, running longer distances in spite of chronic lower back & leg muscle soreness and starting bodyweight/dumbbell workouts, my weight started to trend upward again. At the end of the month, I was back to weighing in between 197-199 lbs. Still being mostly unfamiliar with the degrees to which muscle growth affects weight, it felt like I hadn’t done enough working out to explain so many pounds gained. I pulled out the tape measure and took my usual targetted measures, and didn’t find myself changing input values much from the last time I took them.

Yet, despite what the scale and the tape measure imply, those pounds have got to be mostly from muscle. My legs, from the glute down, have an improved tone that I didn’t have last month. Even though I still have a relatively high concentration of abdominal fat, the paunch is smaller than it’s ever been. And where it used to muffin-top out in all directions, now it only hangs (slightly) from the front; the “love handle” flabs have significantly reduced.

Torso Shot, Side View

When I take a glances in the mirror these days, I can see the beginnings of musculature poking through the body fat I’ve still got left. If I poke my fingers in towards my abs from the front, they travel through far less fat before hitting the muscle wall. Despite the lack of a massive shift in quantitative inch and pound measurements, I feel much more compact and hardier than I did just one month prior, and the improvements in my physical form & awareness (and pant fits!) show it’s been a vast improvement.

Yesterday I took the day off from all physical activity and took in calories indiscriminately. Today, I’m going to focus on easing myself back into activity with walking & yoga; tomorrow, it’s back to regular training. Let’s see if I can make September a 225-250 mile month.

(Return of) Measurement Monday

As I wrote in yesterday’s update, I recently passed my “break even” point and started consistently recording new record low weights on my digital scale, which means there’s now actual progress to update on. Rather than inputting everything into a spreadsheet/HTML table like I usually do, I decided to give the bodytrack.it app a try and log things straight to my phone. It’s rough around the edges (read:buggy) and data input took much longer than it should have. I’m not sure I’ll be using it again, and will probably stick to data tables and notes for record keeping.

Body Measurements 07/13/2015

 

Since it’s been so long since I’ve updated, I feel as though I should add photos…but I really hate taking them. Maybe next week.

Pushing Past the Plateau

Things on the physical front have been moving along in the same manner as my cognitive-behavioral efforts have: undocumented online, but still moving along steadily. I clicked into the cateogry archives to see when my last weight loss related entry was posted, and was surprised by the category description that loaded in the page header:

 

After some quick elementary school level mental math, the realization that I’ve been at this for three years now and am nowhere near completion started to nag at me. I haven’t updated since April to give myself time to focus on doing the work so that I’d actually have an update to make – March & April, I was having another one of those episodes of “unhelpful thinking”, and I overeat as a stress reliever in that mental space. For the past three weekends, I’ve kept telling myself “one more week” of activity before I start posting again.

Comparing my measurements and photos now to those back in March/April, there isn’t much difference on a surface level. I’m consistently weighing in a couple pounds lighter, and the targetted measurements at each body part is still more or less in the same range as before. Even though I’m still a ways off from a flat stomach & abs, all the activity has definitely had a great effect on me below the waist: I’ve started to build that desired “thigh gap”, and all of my leg muscles feel far more toned and strengthened.

Even though my running activity is higher now than it was when I first started occassionally running a couple miles as far back as 2010/2011, my body isn’t as responsive to my running activity as it used to be. Even with increased activity and dietary improvements, I’ve hit a wall. Though most people balk at the fact that I run 20 miles a day and would label me as highly active,, my insights from AddApp – a third party health data aggregator/parsing service – tell me otherwise.

My 5.2 miles that I try to do daily is only half of what I apparently should be doing each day. And both in my writing and to myself, I’ve been saying for a good while that I need to step up my game. Lately, I’ve taken to trying to wake up early in the morning to go for at least a short 3 mile run, clocking in over 8 miles for the day once the evening run is completed. So far, it’s definitely been testing my endurance and resolve. For the past couple weeks, my calves have been screaming at me for a break as soon as I step foot out the door.

Even then, that’s just a start. I did a search on bodybuilding.com for profiles that had my age/height/goal weight and a “fit” target body fat percentage, and pulled four random photos from the first page of results.

While I’m definitely much closer than I was a couple years back, there’s still so much more to go before I get there. I’m going to have to start implementing weight training, yoga, and crossfit into my routine, both long overdue additions. Not having much core/upper body/arm strength, I’ve been procrastinating and focusing soley on running to avoid dealing with the heavy soreness and pitiful performance that you have to overcome when you’re first starting to build muscle groups.

It’s a struggle, this quest for physical fitness. One of the biggest things I’ve learned from the process is a broader sense of compassion and understanding to extend to others. I know very well how hard it is to get motivated, to take that intial action, to stay focused and not fall back into bad sedentary & dietary habits. Then there’s the time, mental, and financial investments. Learning basic nutrition and anatomy, building a diet, having to go grocery shopping, having to cook, having to clean up, having to track of perishables and minimizing waste…it’s a lot of extra minutae to have to deal with. It makes me especially sympathetic to single parents who don’t have a family/friend support network to fall back on. The demands of modern life can easily make daily survival and personal health mutually exclusive.

Bringing my focus off the world at large and back on to myself, all there really is left to do is to get it done – and according to my Withings smart scale, I’ve officially hit the point where there’s actually a point in post updates to this blog category as of July 2nd. Time to push on up to the next level.

Regaining Momentum

Last month, physically, was a massive setback. Most of the first quarter of 2015 has been spent wrestling with light medical complications, stress eating, personal disinterest, and good old fashioned laziness. In the process of clawing my way out of the recent funk I’ve been in, I’ve been treating my workouts less like to-do list items and more like militaristic mandates – get the work done, no matter what.

In truth, what really helped snap me back into focus was an email update I got from Memoir resurfacing a post from last year. Finding myself in the present weighing almost 10 lbs more than I did back then, I immediately started to get back to running regularly, in addition to adding light dumbbell and body weight activities.

When I stepped on the scale this weekend, I was fluctuating between 198-202 lbs., which is halfway back to where I left off when I was on top of my game late 2014. Normally, this is where I’d put together one of those “Measurement Monday” posts, but I’m not exactly eager to begin quantifying myself since I’m still in the process of losing weight I’d already very recently lost before.

Even without the numbers, there’s still some noticeable improvements taking place. Though I’m not back to my record lightest at 192lbs, my clothes fit me closer to the way they did then rather than the last time I was in this present weight range. The dude-boobs are withering away and starting to take on the shape of pectoral muscles, I’m starting to form curvature in the gluten and getting rid of my flat “office ass”, and I’m slowly and steadily building the lump on my arms.

As long as I don’t falter on my commitment to not breaking again, it shouldn’t be before long until I’m back to the old peak shape and pushing the record further.

Shedding the Winter

In the time since my last post, I’ve been keeping myself busy mostly with work, personal studies, and getting back in form with my running. Between all the big meals over the holidays and the running days missed because of the cold and my insufficient willpower, my times, stamina, and even the drive to get my route done has noticably suffered. That same night I made my last update, I had a friend comment on my run, asking when I’d be posting photos:

I’ve been meaning to do just that, in addition to the measurement tables I used to post in my old “Measurement Monday” updates. Thing is, I know that there hasn’t been any overall progress since the last time I updated them – I’ve been staganating and fluctuating in the same weight & BMI range. In preparation to get back to doing those updates, I’ve been clocking in more time with the pull-up bar and body weight exercises in addition to my running route. In a couple weeks time, I’ll be back to my pre-winter state and ready to push further, adding regular resistance training into the mix as well as a complete dietary overhaul.

On the writing front, things haven’t been moving along as fast as I’d like due to some extentuating circumstances in the personal life that go beyond the scope of this update. Still, I’m preserving the momentum, and look forward to the results I’m going to start seeing in all areas of life in the coming months.

Resumption

Updates on a project are not fun to write when there isn’t any progress to report (and, logically, also pointless). During the downtime in July from a prolonged IT band flare-up and, immediately after healing from that, a recovery period for my calves, I packed some weight back on. It’s hard to avoid when you’re couch-bound during a record hot summer, when heat-induced sloth and gluttony start undermining your willpower. As much as I hate losing progress made and having to compensate for results that were already achieved, this last time was particularly upsetting due to how close I was to breaking into a new weight threshold. At the end of June, I was weighing in at 192, and on the cusp of breaking into the the 180’s. By the end of July, I was back on the verge of crossing into the 200’s. After the first week of August, I aggressively set off towards getting myself back on track. Over three weeks of continuous running later – a couple of them my new extended 10 mile route – I got back down to my end-of-June range between 192 and 193 lbs.

Aug-Sep-14-Runs
All-Out Attack

This past week, I broke the chain. My run on the 9th earned me an entire set of blisters on my right-foot toes, which was a bit perplexing since I didn’t get any the first time I ran the long route and I hadn’t taken any protective measures that time. Even though new blisters rarely elicit any sensations of pain at this point, the sheer size of it made me hesitant to keep going at full effort and risk unnecessary and serious aggravation.

Right foot blisters
Let’s just go ahead and give them some time

In addition to the blisters, I also came to realize on Thursday afternoon that I’m dealing, for the first time ever in my life, an inflammation of a different kind of a much more personal nature that’s also been prohibitive to my distance running. Today marks the fifth day that I’ve been on break from my training, resting and recovering with generous applications of ointments and heat/cold treatments in all my afflicted areas. It’s getting close to the end of the day, and I feel like I’ll be back in prime form to resume the running madness of the past few weeks. At the end of June, I was 192 lbs and wearing size 36 pants. Last week, I was at 193 lbs and fitting size 34 pants. This next week will likely end up being damage control for the past five vacation days, and by the start of October I should see myself under the 190 lb mark and in the 180s. Not only will that finally put me under the tolerance threshold I set for myself years ago before I’d allow myself to grow my hair back out, but also in the weight range where my fitness plan expands it’s focus on cardio & weight loss and into more active weight training and muscle growth.

More importantly, the more I’ve been actively working on this aspect of my life and achieving measurable progress, the more inspired I’ve been feeling to actually sit down and write an update. Good stuff is happening, transition is in full swing.

Good Old-Fashion Wrecked

Two days ago, I skipped my usual stretching routine in favor of a more physically engaging warm-up. I bookmarked An Oldtime Strongman’s 15-Minute Morning Routine over at Art of Manliness back when it was posted in May, and decided to finally give it a shot. Since they are indeed “odd” exercises that don’t feel particularly strenuous compared to other workouts, I gave myself the liberty to do more repetitions/time with each exercise than recommended in the article. It was Plate V, exercises “for strong ankles” that really did me in. When I went out on my 6.5 mile run, my legs started sending fatigue pains as soon as I was only 2 residential blocks out on the route.

Yesterday, my calves felt sore and tender. I ended my night with a hot shower and a generous application of Bengay. Today, I woke up expecting them to feel better, only to find them deep in that agonizing “second-day-soreness”. Even in a resting position, my legs feel like they’re locked in a state of full extension. Actually standing up and moving around so uncomfortable that I couldn’t even bring myself to head down the steps to get to the car and head into the office today.

Adrian Peter Schmidt - Art of Manliness
Adrian Peter Schmidt: His Old-Time Routine is Not to be Trifled With

With all the running I do regularly, I never would expected my calves (specifically, my soleus muscles) to end up as sore as they are from that routine. Yet, I’m now facing the literally painful reality that although I’ve trained my body well enough to run long distances, in all other activities/motions my body is laughably weak. It’s something I’ve acknowledged to myself in the past, and a large reason why I’ve been so cardio-focused and not actively training in muscle-building exercise. Now that I’ve started, I’ve got no choice but to keep going. I’m going to need to learn to become familiar with this burning sensation and still function in spite of it, because I’m going to be feeling it everywhere over the course of the coming weeks.