I’m breaking a rut by doing what I think I can’t

For the longest time, running seemed hard to me. Each progression in distance, each cut in my time felt like a challenge. I loved the thrill of doing things that had sounded impossible just weeks before.

Once I got used to running, that thrill was gone. I admit it: I got bored with trying to beat a time by 5 seconds at a time, with adding a mile to my normal runs when I knew I could run a half marathon without really trying. My times got stagnant, and I started slacking.

In the past month or so, something inside me woke up. I realized my boredom and the resulting slack in my development were holding me back from being my best self. I wanted to find something that made me feel like a beginner, and I wanted to live up to expectations of myself.

Enter Spartan training.

I know, I know. I’ve done a Spartan Race before. Thing is, I know I can do a lot better if I train, and I want to do a trifecta anyway. So, I’ve chosen to accept my own challenge and get to training for three races between now and the end of 2015. And I probably will have to do them alone (unless you’d like to join me… think about it!).

First real test: 300s

I started lifting weights consistently again in early March, and I did the 30-day lunges challenge. Then, I took on the 30-day burpees challenge. I’ve been rebuilding my strength slowly and making sure not to injure myself.

Today, though, I took on a challenge that made me nervous the way a 4-mile run once did. Apparently, it’s called a “300s workout.”

I did this 10 times in a row:

  • quarter-mile run
  • 30 burpees
  • 30 lunges
  • 1-minute rest

The running part didn’t bother me so much, even though the runner in me refused to let me slack off and knew I had to shoot for 2-minute quarters. But the idea of adding my two least-favorite exercises, burpees AND lunges, at the end of every quarter felt downright terrifying.

And that’s what I wanted.

Instead of going to a track (which probably would’ve been easier), I decided to run through my neighborhood and use my GPS watch to keep track of my distance. The first two rounds were pretty easy, or so I told myself. But by the end of round 3, I was thrilled that my route had taken me to a park equipped with working water fountains. I finished my 7 rounds after that at the park, running around flatter surfaces like soccer fields and using the relative flat spaces to do the rest of the circuit.

The workout was hard — really hard. And you know what? I loved it. I plan to repeat it at least twice a week for the next month, to see how much faster I can get and how many more “real” burpees I can do instead of up-down versions.

Training for a Spartan Race (or 3)

A year ago, I ran my first-ever Spartan Race. It was a life-changing experience. Training for the race forced me to commit to my own strength and flexibility, and I haven’t found that level of inspiration since.

Now, after struggling to recover my fitness equilibrium for the last 6+ months, I’ve decided to commit myself to a Spartan Trifecta. What better to get my body into shape than to prepare for three times the effort I put in last year, especially when I know how hard the obstacles were last time?

So, get ready to hear about burpees, nutrition, running, monkey bars. And get ready to hear about how my brother and my Sherpa from last year might be joining in the training of our lives. I’ll be checking in more regularly to keep myself accountable and hopefully help the people around me be more accountable, too.

Back to the matter at hand…

Well, the last few months have been, um, exciting to say the least. I’ve gotten a new job (yay!) and moved to the beach (well, a few miles off shore, but my new town has “beach” in the name). Yet again, I’ve started over.

After spending about a year and a half as a remote worker, adjusting to the in-the-office, 40-hour-plus work week has left me exhausted. I’m not nearly as healthy as I used to be, and I haven’t been on a consistent schedule since the summer when I searched for, traveled to interviews for and finally landed said job. Now, it’s time to get myself back on track.

That’s even harder than it sounds.

Truth is, I’m tired. All the time. So far, my body has refused to adjust to the idea of an 8 a.m. start time and rebels against any reason for getting out of bed other than “man, I gotta pee.” That means I haven’t been able to work out or run before work. After work, especially in the darkness of almost-solstice, I have no motivation either. All I want to do is sit around, and that’s not helping me at all.

I wish I’d returned to my blog triumphantly, reporting goal-weight accomplishments and stellar training stats. Instead, I’m here to report that I’m dragging my tired behind back to the starting line once again to improve my health a little bit each day. I’m here to report that I’m still alive, I’m still determined and I’m happy to be here.

If you have any advice for getting up in the morning, please share it. That one shift would mean a world of difference for me.

Update: Going old school led to old habits

A few months ago, I decided to put down my phone and pick up some paper and a pen to track my to-do lists and, more importantly, my nutrition and fitness. While the old-school approach did help me focus more on important work, I also gained 10 pounds since May. I knew I had to correct my course, so I renewed my commitment this week and am starting fresh.

What happened?

On one hand, tracking my food on paper made me focus on different aspects of my health. I noticed how often I waited more than 8 hours to eat, how I took fits of wanting nothing to do with anything that grew in the ground, that sort of thing. That was great, and it has helped me address some deficiencies in my diet. (Example: I now eat more spinach in a week than Popeye did. And mine isn’t canned.)

On the other hand, tracking my food intake on paper had zero influence on my decisions unless I analyzed what I’d written and figured out what changes I needed to make. When it comes to tracking my nutrition, technology has a distinct advantage over paper — it thinks for me. It does math for me. It tells me exactly how much sodium I consumed, the ratio of protein and carbs I’m ingesting. In short, it does all the work I’m too lazy busy to do.

My exercise regimen also suffered from May until now. When I was tracking exercise in an app that converts exercise to calories, I would go for a 20-minute jog just to earn enough wiggle room for a larger steak or a cookie. That motivation, as misguided as it sounds, kept me active. That didn’t translate to the written exercise log at all.

In fact, writing down my exercise reminded me exactly how much I loathe writing down exercise, particularly weightlifting progress. I learned that tracking reps and weights and supersets makes me loathe the process so much that I’d rather check the “Oops, missed it!” box and move on with my day. I fell into the habits I had before I lost 60 pounds — inconsistent workouts, permissive indulgence (read Sure, you can have the extra steak, why not?).

Without the immediate feedback an app provides, I was creeping back to a lifestyle I thought I’d left behind. The moment I realized that, I slammed the tracking notebook shut.

What now?

I know I am way more likely to reach my goals if I track what I’m doing. That’s true regardless of the project. In this case, I am the project, and I need to hold myself accountable.

So, I’m going back to my LoseIt! app for now. It isn’t ideal, because there is way more to life than calorie consumption, but the app is easy and does a lot of high-level tracking for me. I’ve updated my settings to track sodium intake as well as macronutrients, and I’m also tracking things I didn’t before — water intake, coffee intake, that sort of thing.

As for the rest of my life, I have had great success knolling tasks using a personal kanban board. (Well, it’s not so much a board as a blank wall in my dining room.) I use color-coordinated sticky notes to help me see when my expectations are out of balance, and I get passive reminders to stay focused on my priorities today every time I walk past the wall to or from the kitchen. (That’s why I used a wall in the dining room instead of my office.)

That’s not to say that I’ve abandoned my tech love at work. I use AgileZen to collaborate on my freelance projects, for example, and I’m using OneNote to track everything from my bills to notes about my clients’ progress. The big difference? I’m not bouncing between apps all day. I use my touchscreen laptop/tablet more and my phone less to manage my day, and that has made a huge difference in my productivity.

Grocery lists and the like are still tricky for me. Right now, I jot notes to myself on a whiteboard, so I don’t have to touch my devices with messy fingers. I take a picture of the whiteboard with my cell phone before I go to the store, and that works fairly well. Still, if you have a recommendation for simplifying my process, I’d love to hear it!


Leftovers are a huge commitment

Right now, I’m cooking some gluten-free oatmeal. It’s 6:25 p.m. P.T.

No, I didn’t skip grocery day. As a matter of fact, I had planned to make coconut curry chicken over rice. So why am I stirring blueberries and walnuts into mushy oats right now?

Because I have commitment issues.

For the last three years or so, the vast majority of the food I’ve cooked has been for myself. Sure, I made dinner for friends, family, the occasional boy-type-friend. But mostly, the cooking has been for me.

At first, I used cooking for myself as an exercise in self-love. I was suffering the first pains of separation, and I saw cumin-crusted lamb chops and sautéed spinach as one way to prove to myself that I matter to me as much as my marriage did. At the time, I needed that reminder that taking care of myself was (and is) my top priority.

After around a thousand days of taking care of myself since then, though, I am over it.

When I make dishes like coconut curry chicken, I have vats of food left over. The same is true for spaghetti, BBQ, carnitas — things that were once staples in my weekly menu. So, cooking delicious meals for myself now means that I will be eating the same meal for DAYS. Lunch and dinner. Sure, I could make meals for one, such as lamb or steak. But eating like that gets expensive pretty quickly.

So here I am, eating oatmeal for dinner. Oatmeal is easy, it’s tasty, and it doesn’t ask me to live with it for a week at a time. It’s the Friends with Benefits of food — I don’t have to commit.


I’m giving up my cell phone (at least at the gym)

For the past year-plus, I’ve used Lose It!, an app on my phone, to track my calories in and calories out. I’ve also tried using weight-room apps to keep track of reps, weight, etc.

While that combination worked out for me for awhile, in the past few months I’ve noticed two things:

  1. No matter how religiously I adhere to logging my food and exercise in my apps, the scale (and my jeans size) have not budged in more than 6 months.
  2. It is becoming increasingly difficult to convince myself to adhere to the calorie guidelines in the app. Sticking to the guidelines or blowing them completely has made no measurable difference in my progress, especially in the gym.

What’s a geek to do?

I’m a tech geek. I love how portable technology, in particular, has enriched my life. I love my calendar, task list, music, entertainment, distractions and everything else contained in that tiny little machine in my pocket.

But in recent months, I feel fragmented — my task list and notes in Evernote (with no easy way to check off tasks — ahem, user experience); my gym schedule on a clunky website; my conversations spread out across Hangouts, texts, Facebook, email; my food plans spread out across Lose It!, Pinterest, my calendar (for nights out), whatever. I can’t stand how I feel like I’m spending my days bouncing between little buttons on a little screen. I do a lot, but I don’t feel like I accomplish a lot.

So, starting this week, I’m going old school. I know I can’t go TOTALLY old school — email, texting and the like aren’t going anywhere — but when it comes to accountability and being organized, I’m returning to the basics. Here’s my plan:

For health tracking, I’m using a Fitbook. Yes, paper and pen. I started using it yesterday, and I’ve noticed already what I was missing on those apps — a daily snapshot of what I ate (including handy trackers for stuff like water, veggies, etc.), strength training, flexibility, cardio, timing of my meals, mood and sleep. Seriously, each two-day spread is eye-opening.

I am aware Fitbook has an app. But that app tracks calories, and I know how negative that sort of tracking has been for me on the Lose It! app. (I did an hour of yoga, for example, and the app said with that hour I got a whole 124 calories extra to eat? Makes no sense.) Never mind the evidence that calorie counting doesn’t work long-term, especially for people like me who are shooting for a magic number of pushups rather than a magic number on the scale. Don’t get me wrong, dropping on the scale would be nice, too, but calorie counting is soul sucking and impossible to maintain for a lifetime.

For my obligations, I’m taking a unified approach and putting all my tasks — professional and personal — on one piece of paper. I am using a white board to sketch out my week, and the final tasks go onto a handwritten checklist with expected durations next to them. Why? Because in my fragmented state I’ve been scheduling 32 hours of stuff into an 18-hour window (I need 8 hours of sleep!), then getting pissed off at myself for not meeting my own expectations. Right now, I’m balancing freelance work, personal stuff and exercise. I am losing sight of balance, and it’s time to fix that.

Still, I can’t get away from technology completely. To supplement the paper planning, I’m still using my Google calendar to schedule appointments. I appreciate that buzz in my pocket that tells me it’s time to, say, get dressed and head to the gym. But instead of bouncing from there to my grocery list to my task list to my calories app to my… whew!… I’ll just scoop up my paper and go.

Who wants to bet how long this paper thing will last?