Wednesday, October 29, 2008

the never-ending battle

I've battled with weight for a substantial portion of my life... in 2001 I hit the weight equivalent of "rock bottom" - alcoholics and addicts use this term to indicate the turning point in life where they recognized there was a problem that could only be resolved with some serious life changes.

November 2001. 317 pounds. Three hundred seventeen pounds. It's hard for me to believe I was ever that size, but it's true. I wish I had more pictures of that time - I'd use them as cues, inspirational tools to keep me on track. (If anyone reading this has some, send them my way - you'll be doing me a favor.)

How, you might ask? Several things:

Sedentary College Student Lifestyle
Unlimited Meal Plan in the Dorms
Daily Sonic visits - 44oz drinks = ridiculous, Frito Pies aren't health food.

Combine those with a guy who's already ~30lb overweight at 250 and you've got a ticking time bomb. Wash, rinse, repeat for five semesters and you've got your payload.

In the fall of 2001 I lost a grandfather to a heart attack. He was, by all accounts, healthy as a horse. Grandpa Clay was no gym rat, but he was a wise man that recognized the benefits of a lifestyle that included proper nutrition and exercise... this made the circumstances of his death all the more relevant... if a guy like this, a guy who's doing everything the way he's supposed to can have a heart attack, someone who's in my position at my age doesn't stand a chance in forty years.

It took a couple of months, and I don't even think it was a conscious decision, but I decided to make a change.
I wasn't going to destroy my life before it started.
I would start using my body.
I would stop filling it with garbage that made me feel like crap.
I would find balance.

Balance takes a long time to find.

March 2002. Skiing, Lake Tahoe. You can see it in my face. ~300lb

June 2008, after crossing the finish line at the Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon. 240lb.

I'm in the best shape of my life in the second picture. It took me six and a half years, but I did it the "natural" way, no surgeries, no pills. I wanted it, fought for it, and through trials and tribulations made it. It wasn't easy, there were many plateaus, peaks, and valleys... the details of these aren't important, but the lessons learned are - at least to me.

Lesson 1 - short term weight loss goals are not a means to an end. I'm no expert, but I figured out that you can't just keep losing weight gradually over time. it all looks good on paper, but it just doesn't work that way. you get burned out, frustrated, and need to let your body rest in the new shape it's discovered. I didn't take a scientific, nor guided approach to doing this - had I done so, I'd probably have accelerated my timeline. I'd lose some, gain a bit back, lose some more, level off, lose some more, gain some back, and on and on.

Lesson 2 - diets are for quitters. How many people do you know that are "always" on some fad diet or another? Low Carb, No Carb, Beach, Cookie, Drink, Grapefruit, blah blah blah. I'm a marketer, and I think that helps me see the integrated, multichannel campaign that you're eating, one forkful/packet/bar/shake/cookie at a time. There's tons of money to be made in this space - it's evident if you watch off-peak television. I wonder how much money has been made on ab gadgets alone... it's gotta be in the hundreds of millions.

Lesson 3 - this shit isn't easy. It's a struggle. Candy doesn't get less delicious, chicken wings are just as tasty... if anything, those things taste BETTER because you're not eating them all the time. After a long workout, you want to pig out - but you can't. Weight loss doesn't work unless you run a caloric deficit... burn more than you shove in your mouth. It's impossible to out work your mouth (especially my mouth!) at the gym. The human body was designed to feel "full" based on a given volume of food, assuming that food is of a reasonable caloric density. Many modern foods (like mayo) FAR exceed what I call a "reasonable" caloric density.

Lesson 4 - you need to want it. reasonable goals and reasonable timelines are key here. training for an endurance sport is a fantastic way to set a long term goal. I've used the Chicago Triathlon as my long-term improvement metric. in 2006 I finished in 03:13:53. 2007 I cut almost 14 minutes to finish in 02:59:17, and in 2008 i cut off another 2.5 minutes to finish in 02:56:42. I plan to shave time in each subsequent year to gauge progress.

My weight has fluctuated and will continue to - but fat and muscle density vary substantially. The 265lb I am at now is MUCH more lean than the 265 I was at several years ago, and I'm able to athletically perform at a level that I never dreamed I'd get to. I'm thankful for the fact that my young metabolism allows me to make these changes over the course of months, not years. I'm cognizant of the fact that it's only going to get harder, and that's intensifying my efforts.

I'm setting a "stretch" goal for myself now - I want to be under 230lb for xXx's winter camp come March 2009. I've 35lb to lose and five months to lose it. I'm going to start tracking calories, something I've never done before. It'll be hard to resist all the candy in the office, but I need to figure something out there. I want this. I want to not be the last person atop the wall this year. I want to summit Black Mountain. I want to win a cat 4 race, look good in a skinsuit, and not think twice when I take off my shirt to play volleyball at North Avenue Beach.

In short, it's on like Diddy Kong. Let the losing begin.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I've never been doored, and for that I consider myself lucky. I do know people who have lost bike-door battles, thankfully I don't know anyone who's died from it... but that doesn't make diminish the reality that it can happen to anyone.

Drivers, look out your mirror before you open your door. Make sure your passengers don't open the door until you give notice that it's clear to do so (this IS your responsibility as the driver!).

Cyclists, be vigilant and ride defensively! Look ahead into parked cars, into mirrors to see if there's a person in there. Make sure your position in the roadway is one where you can take evasive action to avoid a collision. Stay out of the door zone as much as you can, and don't be afraid to take the lane if it's not possible for a car to pass you safely!

the good folks over at anti-dooring are running a collection to print up another batch of stickers based on the below design... click this link if you'd like to help out.

As a driver and a cyclist, I find that there are a good number of shitty cyclists out there - there's a good number of shitty drivers, too. Just because your mode of transportation does or doesn't weigh a couple tons/use fossil fuel/go fast/make you feel protected/get the girls/look good shouldn't infringe on other's rights to using the roadway. Some people are going to ride no matter what, some will drive no matter what. We all just need to learn to get along to our destination, and safely.

please visit for more information.

a tip o' the helmet to dispatch 101's for posting this first...

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Cuyahoga Valley National Park / Ohio & Erie Canal Towpath

This weekend I came to a few conclusions:

1) Summer is over, It's Fall.
2) The journey can be the destination.
3) Fun comes at any speed.
4) Crashes come at any speed.
5) These kick ass:

I struck out to Century Cycles in Peninsula, OH this morning with my lovely lady at my side - we rented some Electra Townie 3's ($8/hour, what a deal!) with plans to explore the Erie & Ohio Towpath through Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Century's Peninsula store is adjacent to the towpath and right in the middle of the park - ample parking, easy to find, and great to deal with.

I hadn't ever ridden a bike equipped with Shimano's Nexus internally geared hubs before, and now I wonder why I don't own a bike with one. Holy Fun. When you get on the bike, you find yourself immediately laughing as soon as you take your first pedal stroke - it's like you've been transported back to your childhood... I think Electra's "flat foot" geometry does a great deal to make the bike FUN first.

We set out northbound on the towpath and were treated to nature's fall fireworks show in progress.

Peak color in this area will be in a few weeks, but the maple trees have already started changing. About 10 minutes out on the ride, TK broke this one out of mental "storage":

Erie Canal

I've got a mule, her name is Sal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal
She's a good old worker and a good old pal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal

We've hauled some barges in our day
filled with lumber, coal and hay
And we know every inch of the way from
Albany to Buffalo.

Low bridge, everybody down
Low bridge for we're coming to a town
And you'll always know your neighbor, you'll always know your pal
If you've ever navigated on the Erie Canal.

We better get along on our way ol'gal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal

'Cause you bet your life I'd never part with Sal,
15 miles on the Erie Canal.
Git up there mule, here comes a lock,
We'll make Rome about 6 o'clock
One more trip and back we'll go, right back home to Buffalo.

That continued for about an hour... I continued our reversion into childhood with the "50 States" song where you sing them in alphabetical order. Yeah, these bikes were THAT MUCH FUN.

on our way north: you can see one of the locks at the end of the clip

We then started into a discussion about how damned fun it was to ride these bikes, and how we were glad that we'd left the helmets in the car... we certainly weren't being good role models, but with our speed averaging around 8mph we figured "what could happen!?"

We figured that one out about 5 minutes later. I was cruising behind her and went to smack her butt as I passed... I passed a little close, she freaked out a bit, and our handlebars struck... next thing you know I'm face down in the gravel with two bikes on top of me, and she's on top of both bikes. We're both happy that nobody saw it happen, though I'm sure it would be youtube gold. My stem was rotated around and the bike had a few new scrapes on it, but it was otherwise ok. I scraped up the palm of my hand, my knee and a couple knuckles, and tore some holes in the elbow of my baselayer (saves the day, every time!). TK was fine, having had the benefit of using ME to cushion her fall. I was kind of surprised nothing broke on either bike.

We rode in silence for about 3 minutes until the bickering started about who caused the crash. This would continue for quite some time. We kept at it for the next 8ish miles until we reached the Canal Visitor's center in Independence, Ohio. We stopped to check out a lock that NPS still uses for demonstrations on how the water could raise/lower barges... pretty cool considering that this was built around 1825, and that labor was paid with a jigger of whiskey and 30 cents an hour.

we make this lock look GOOOOD.

At the canal visitor's center we rode over to the Depot to board the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which works with the NPS to provide cyclists with one-way fares of $2. With multiple stations along the towpath trail, this is a great option for individuals who may want to explore one direction by bike, but another direction by rail.

We hopped on the train for our trip south and bought sandwiches for lunch. The trip south took about an hour, though there were 5 or 6 stops where the train would sit for a few minutes to allow for bikes to be loaded/unloaded. The railroad offers tours through the valley, including Murder Mystery rides and "Grape Escape" wine tasting events.

the view from the train: the towpath trail goes through the wetlands in the distance via boardwalk.

Once at Botzum we hopped on the bikes and set out northbound to peninsula once again. Parts of the towpath in this section were very close to roads, and you could see that the locks had been destroyed to make room for the road to travel through.

We discovered a produce stand and corn maze about halfway there...

We stopped and were promptly attacked by giant spiders. Shouldn't have stopped.

Since we didn't have bike locks we didn't want to leave the bikes in order to explore the produce stand, so we kept moving. The remainder of the trail passed some very interesting areas between the farm and Peninsula, mostly areas where the canal's engineers had to deal with wetlands and streams bisecting the route like Furnace Run. Flooding was apparently a major problem and would destroy critical sections of the canal, but it was the railroads that destroyed the canal's business model.

In all we had a blast. I highly recommend the towpath for anyone who's looking for an actively lazy saturday activity where you can enjoy a beautiful day. The opportunity to learn something about the history of the area you're pedaling through is always a plus, too.

For anyone who's thinking about this ride, know that going northbound on the path is at a slight downhill, where southbound is a slight uphill... make your day easier and ride north, let the train take you back south. If you're looking for a workout, check out my posts on the Cleveland metroparks rides.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Beagle v Debate

Far more interesting than the second half of the debate that's going on right now. for the live tweets.

are you registered to vote? get it done soon.