Sunday, July 25, 2010

Blog<Running> 2 Months Later

I've been running for about 2 months now, so I figured I'd share another update on the little successes (and failures) I've had along the way.


The distance is coming along slowly. I started with a .5 mile runs, and after about 3 or 4 weeks increased that to 1 mile. Since then, I've generally been trying to stick to the 10% rule (increase distance by no more than 10% every week.) Yesterday, I ran 1.3 miles, so I'm on track to break 2 miles in about a month and a half.

I have to say that the progress at this point is almost unbearably slow, but it's not just the arbitrariness (arbitrarity?) of the 10% rule that I feel is holding me back. Once I reach the 1/2 to 3/4 mile mark I kind of hit a wall where I'm suddenly not having much fun anymore. Part of it is the Dallas summer heat, and part of it is the fact that I'm not a morning person (but I have to get up early to beat the heat). And another part is that I'm just not physically conditioned for running yet. I don't feel in sync when I get to this point, like I can feel all 205 lbs of myself at every step, like some self-conscious, lumbering giant. A giraffe with lead boots. It's a big difference from the stealthy ninja feeling I have at the beginning, and I really have to concentrate to keep it smooth and relaxed.

And now I'm talking about the things I feel for the entire duration of my runs, but I'd rather not be self-conscious the entire time, especially if I ever get the point where I can run for more than 20 minutes. If it's anything like swimming, there's a point where your brain turns off while your body goes through the motions. It's kind of relaxing, almost meditative. If it exists for running, I hope I get there soon.

Barefoot Running

A couple of weeks ago, I decided to take off the VFF's and go for a real barefoot run. I mentioned it a couple of posts ago, as a way to help improve your form. Well, I tried my hand (foot?) at it a one more time since then, and it was a total disaster.

First, I made the mistake of trying it after work one day. The temperature outside was about 95 degrees, and the temperature of the sidewalk was probably 10-15 degrees hotter than that. Second, I made the mistake of only running on the sidewalk (which is a way rougher surface than the road, which I had stuck to on my previous barefoot run). And my last mistake was that I naively thought I could run the same distance as before without any problems, despite the difference in my environment.

I ran about .3 miles when I started getting "hot spots" on the balls of my feet. I pushed through it a little bit, which in retrospect should have been my sign to stop. I ran a little further when I noticed the ball of my left foot felt like it had some kind of air pocket stuck to it. I could feel it squishing a little when I landed on it. Actually, forget that. Sure, there was certainly a squishing feeling, but it was accompanied by its good friend, pain, who managed to deliver a much more intense sensation. So I stopped after only making it .4 miles, and hobbled the short distance back to my house.

The heat and friction of the sidewalk had created a blister from my 2nd to 4th metatarsal on the ball of my left foot. It was like the skin on the sole of my foot had separated from the flesh underneath, and the resulting pocket had been filled with some clear fluid. I made the mistake of popping it and then putting hydrogen peroxide on it. The peroxide actually went inside the blister where it created a layer of tiny popping bubbles, which slowly expanded to fill the void. I could have swore my foot was on fire if not for the fact that there was no accompanying seared flesh smell.

It took 3 days to heal to the point where I could walk normally again. Needless to say, I probably won't be going for any more barefoot runs after work.

Maybe in November.

Improved Form

It's crazy to look back to when I first started out with the forefoot style of running and compare my form then and now. Here's a small list of some of the things I've learned:
  • It's okay to let your heel touch the ground. Actually, the sooner it touches the ground the better, as it means you are spreading the impact across the entire surface area of your foot, and you won't put as much strain on your calf and achilles tendon. I would venture a guess that it's probably better to land on the entire foot simultaneously, but it's really hard to do without hitting heel first.
  • Don't spring off the ground with your toes. This causes a lot of stress (pain) on the top of the foot and in the ankle, and introduces an unwanted up and down motion. Instead, lift the toe and heel off the ground simultaneously. This is actually a pretty difficult motion to learn, and the slight pain in the top of my foot means I'm not good enough at it yet.
  • Focus on moving forward, not up and down. Vertical movement wastes energy. Not only that, but it adds extra stress to your foot landing. Normally, when something starts hurting (like my shins) it can be immediately remedied by minimizing my up and down motion. Bent knees help a lot here. Bend them to the point that it feels almost like you're sitting down.
  • Fast cadence with shorter strides is better. 180 steps per minute (or quicker) is recommended. With my long legs, I find this really difficult, but it does seem to keep my form smoother.
  • Don't try to control the natural inward roll of your foot. As someone with flat feet, I tend to over-pronate. For a while, I tried tensing up my foot and ankle muscles to prevent my foot from rolling inward. This just caused horrible ankle and foot pain, and gave me a bruise on the sole where I was landing. By letting my foot land naturally, I quickly ended the pain.
  • Along the lines of the previous point, don't fight through pain. Pain is there to tell you that you are doing something wrong. Continuing to repeat the painful motion will only make it worse and lead to injury. If it feels like something in your joints or bones, or like your muscle is about to give out, then either something is off in your form (you should change it up so the pain goes away), or you are doing more than your body is ready for (you should stop and build up gradually).
  • Running works your abs like crazy. A few weeks ago, I noticed that I had a mild stomach ache after a run. I thought maybe it was just a cramp, or maybe gas. When it persisted after each run, I thought that maybe my body just wasn't made for running and that my stomach was taking some kind of revenge for shrinking it down to a normal size. Well, it turns out that running with good posture and minimal upper body movement means your core has to do some stabilization, and as a result it gets a great workout. On my last run, I pressed a few fingers to my stomach and felt an almost constant low intensity flex, with a stronger flex on each step. Whatever thoughts I had of moving my ab days to coincide with my running days have now been thrown out the window.
What's next?

As I mentioned in the last post, I want to be able to run 5 miles by the end of the year. If I can keep increasing the distance by 10% every week, I'll be doing 5 mile runs in 16 weeks. However, if my recent running experience has taught me anything, progress will probably be a little slower. In any case there are 23 more weeks left this year, which seems like a reasonable time frame. Feeling motivated!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Blog<Losing Weight> Goal Achieved!


Last week I talked about how close I was to achieving my weight loss goal. I normally do my official weigh-ins on Sunday morning, but I was so excited at the prospect of finally getting there, that I couldn't wait. My weight this morning was 205.6 lbs. That's a loss of a little over 60 lbs since January! Here are a few fun facts.
  • Total weight lost: 60 lbs
  • Time taken: 6 and a half months
  • Avg. weight lost per week: 2.14 lbs
  • Total calories burned: 210,000
  • Avg. calories burned per week: 7500
  • Change in BMI: 32.38 - 25.07 = 7.31
  • Change in BMR: 2505 - 2131 = 374 cal
Before and After

My reason for trying to lose weight was because I looked in the mirror and didn't like what I saw. In January, after over-eating at Thanksgiving, Christmas, the New Year, all of that Winter-time hibernation-mode eating, piled on top of a few years of not getting enough exercise and eating fast food all the time... after all that, I looked in the mirror and realized I needed to make a change.

Half a year ago, I used to start breathing heavily while walking up stairs. I used to get a rash from my thighs rubbing together. My feet used to get sore after standing for half an hour. I used to get acid reflux at night. The Texas heat used to bother me more. I used to struggle to lift heavy objects. I couldn't run a mile if my life depended on it. I used to depend on caffeine to get me through the day. The only positive thing about being so overweight and out of shape was that my clothes fit better than they do now.

That's not to say that the past 6 months have been peachy. I've suffered nearly every non-serious injury/malady you can think of while exercising and dieting my way into shape: shin splints, dehydration, friction blisters, runner's trots, pulled muscles, exercise-induced nausea, hyper-extended knees, crazy foot/ankle pain, hunger, caffeine-withdrawal headaches, and more sore joints than you can shake a stick at. But despite the setbacks and minor (sometimes major) discomfort, it was all worth it to get to where I am today.

Now I look in the mirror, and I don't cringe. I'm not completely happy with how I look (yet), but I love how I feel.

The Pictures

Before I started my weight loss plan, I decided to take some pictures so that I could compare my old flabby body with my new toned and firm one. It is with great embarrassment that I am now posting these pictures. Hopefully you don't need me to tell you that "old and flabby" is on the left, and "toned and firm" on the right, but I just did... so there.

Body - Front

Body - Side

Face - Front

Face - Side

What's Next?

As I mentioned earlier, I feel great, but I'm still not completely satisfied with how I look. I still have a roll of fat around my belly that I'd like to get rid of, and I'll be damned if I can't melt it off by the end of the year.

For now, the diet and exercise have become such an integral part of my life that I probably won't change much from what I've been doing. I plan on focusing more on running and generally trying to have fun during my workouts so that I can eventually transition into some kind of weight-maintenance mode.

So, my new goals for second half of the year are not quite as extreme as the first half:
  • Get down to 190 lbs (16 lbs over the next 24 weeks should be easy)
  • Be able to run 5 miles

That's it for now. See you next time!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Blog<Random> Writing, Weight Loss, and Running Barefoot

Just some stuff I've been thinking about.


I'm a little embarrassed by the story I posted yesterday. There's a kind of self-conscious debilitation that usually prevents me from writing as soon as the idea pops into my head. Like I'm a hack, trying to keep my secret from everyone. It's part of the reason for this post, to push the story down a little, off the front page. At least now people will have to click a link or scroll down to find it.

But, I liked the idea, and if I didn't write it down, it would be rotting in my brain. And if I didn't post it here, it would be rotting on my hard drive. Now it can rot on the internet.

Your welcome, the internet.

Personal embarrassment aside, please fire away with your critiques. I'd like to get better, so don't hold back. After writing this one, I've got a few ideas along the same lines (immortality, fear of dying, existence, etc...), and I'd like to not feel quite as embarrassed the next time.

Weight Loss

I'm a week or two away from my goal. If it weren't for the 4th of July weekend (gained about 3 lbs!), I'd probably be there already. But I knew I'd have to work off all the food before I ate it, so it wasn't really a surprise. Once you get comfortable with your diet and exercise plan, the only thing that really surprises you is when you lose more than you thought you would. There's always an explanation for weight gain.

On the motivation front, the past couple of weeks have been difficult to keep a schedule. The week before the 4th of July, I only got 3 workouts in. Then, we got back from the vacation on Tuesday, so I only had 3 days this past week. On Thursday, I almost skipped my resistance training (I hate weight lifting.) I was halfway to my car before I made myself turn around and go back to the gym.

Hopefully this week I'll get a solid 5 days in (plus a run on Saturday), because I'll be going on vacation again the following week. It would be nice to put this goal to bed by then.

Running Barefoot

Last week, I went for a run in my Vibrams. I could feel some slight shin splints pain almost immediately. I ran for about 1/4 of a mile and decided to start changing up my form to see if it would make a difference.

I bent my knees more (kind of like sitting in a high chair, with your feet hanging down to touch the ground.) I also focused on moving forward instead of springing up and down. I noticed an improvement right away. The shin pain didn't go away, but I could tell that I wasn't making it any worse. I kept up this new form for about another half mile before it started slipping. The remaining 1/4 mile back to the house was a battle of concentration.

The experience of changing my form and feeling relief was pretty exciting. I opened my favorite web browser and found a pretty awesome site about barefoot running. The founder of that site, a caveman-looking dude called Barefoot Ken Bob, has run over 75(!) marathons completely barefoot. He recommends not wearing minimal shoes (like the Vibrams) when you are just starting out because, even though they're thin, the sole keeps your foot from feeling the ground and still allows you to pound a little.

He was right! This morning, I decided to do half of my mile run completely barefoot. I could tell immediately that my form in the Vibrams wasn't as smooth or low-impact as I thought. I know that I've gushed about the feeling you get in the Vibrams before, but it really doesn't compare to actually going barefoot.

I'll probably write more about it next week, but if you are thinking about taking up running in minimal footwear, I highly recommend trying it completely barefoot. Just remember that the goal is not to push through any pain you feel, it's to avoid pain. And you can only avoid pain by improving your form and by slowly building up your endurance. So, don't go further than your feet are ready for. 1/2 a mile was my limit today.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Blog<Fiction> ReBorn

Lisa 314 lay in the hospital bed, waiting for what seemed like an eternity.

Of course, Lisa, of all people, knew better than to use words like "eternity." Still, some long-dormant neuron was firing; a thought bubbling up from her subconscious mind. This was taking longer than last time.

Her doctor must have seen her fixating on the clock. "Don't worry, everything is still on track. We always schedule Transfers with an extra long window. Even with all of our experience and fancy machines, nature still finds a way to surprise us."

Her doctor's name was Sophia 121, a ReBorn like Lisa. She seemed to be at home in her scrubs, surrounded by expensive equipment. Lisa wondered how many generations of her Lineage were spent as doctors. Not that experience really mattered these days, she thought, the machines practically run themselves. Maybe the only reason we work anymore is because we still need to feel in control.

She tried to shut off her brain. Think about something else.

There were a few other people in the room. Another ReBorn doctor. A handful of technicians, all Zeros. Lisa felt bad for them. They would live such short, unfulfilled lives. In her younger years, she might have tried to help a few become ReBorn like herself. But that was impossible now, and a good way to get a Death Sentence.

Of course, it had been this way as far back as Lisa could remember. Money and resources were limited, so only a small percentage of the population were able to get the procedure. Now, after generations of savvy investments and compound interest, the ReBorn run everything important; hospitals, politics, the news channels, entertainment, schools, and most importantly, who gets to be ReBorn . If it can be controlled and manipulated, the ReBorn probably have their hands (and money) deep in its machinery.

It's all designed to keep us in charge while the Zeros do the work, Lisa thought. Maybe women don't run things any better than men after all. Hell, maybe men never actually ran anything. It was difficult for her to remember back to a time before Lisa and her sisters were in charge, and she knew better than to depend on her ReBorn history lessons.

But she knew that in the early days things weren't so controlled. Back then, the machines were new, and the kinks and limitations were still being worked out. A lot of women died, or might as well have. The failure rate was an astounding 58% during that first generation.

For Men, it was impossible. In the 500 or so generations since the advent of the Transfer procedure, none have succeeded. It took years of failed attempts before the Surrogate program was finally shutdown and outlawed as cruel to Man, Woman, and Child. An unsolvable mystery. Or maybe just intentionally unsolved.

Today, the Transfer is only available for the ReBorn, but that doesn't keep some Zeros from trying. Just this morning, there was a story about an increase of illegal procedures. Performed by unregistered doctors, using out of commission machines, the chances of success are only slightly better than the early days. Eventually, the odds will catch up to these girls. Their long-term chance of surviving is near-zero.

And they won't be registered anyway, so what's the point?

The only real option is to wait for a ReBorn to die. There's a list, a national registry, similar to the transplant list. Only instead prioritizing based on need, it's about money and connections. But even with all their power and wealth, the chances of getting off the list are small. Last year, there were only 103 new openings. Most of them were from natural causes: accidents, a senseless act of violence, a few Death Sentences; but there are always a few that make the conscious choice to live out the rest of their lives. A self-imposed Death Sentence, a suicide of old age.

Lisa thought about her two daughters. They are somewhere on the list, but Lisa didn't have the money that a lot of women did. They probably won't ever be candidates while their bodies are still viable.

"Only a few more minutes now," Sophia said. "Everything is right on schedule."

Sophia and her team of technicians began positioning a large metal helmet onto Lisa's shaved head. She suddenly felt very alone. Was she making a mistake this time? She thought of a million things that she should have told her family yesterday, when she couldn't find the words. It will be years before she would even remember who they were, or what they meant to her.

Were. Meant. With a pang of regret, she realized she had already let them go. She couldn't remember if it felt this way last time; if it would feel this way every time.

"Okay, we're ready. I need you to push." The doctor's command snapped snapped Lisa out of her self-pity.

She brushed her emotions aside. Chalk it up to the pregnancy, she thought. She knew why she was doing this. She wanted to be young again. She was going to live forever. She thought about her future self, about her perfect clone that she created 9 months ago. She wondered how different her new life might be.

"She's crowning." Lisa felt the doctor put something cold and metallic between her legs, a smaller version of the helmet fastened to her head. Somewhere behind her eyes, she could sense flashes of light. With each flash, she felt more relaxed. Her vision began to fade, along with her sense of smell, her hearing... her touch. She tried to remember something, but it was just out of reach.

For a moment, everything went dark. She was sinking under a vast ocean. A slight sensation of unease, like being in two places at once. Finally, a calm.

Another flash of light. No, this was more brilliant than before.

Before what? This was new. Everything was new.

She blinked and saw a blurry face smiling back at her. She felt something cold on her head. She tried to tell the face how cold it was, to take it away from her. She tried making a noise, but it came out wrong, a shriek.

"Time of death, 10:16 PM," the face said, still smiling. "In a couple of years your memory will return, but for now just try and enjoy that new world smell."

"Welcome back, Lisa 315. "

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Blog<Bad Software> Why I hate iTunes

I've decided to take a break from the fitness stuff this week because something else has been on my mind.

Let my start off by saying that I absolutely love my iPhone (3GS), so I'm not just bashing Apple because I'm some Microsoft (or Google, or whoever) fanboy. However, iTunes is one of the worst pieces of software I've ever used. In fact, it might be the thing that pushes me over the edge to a different phone/provider when my AT&T contract expires next year.

Or maybe I'm just doing it wrong.

iPhone and iTunes - Syncing purchases

The iPhone has the ability to run fairly sophisticated software. There is an iTunes app that lets you browse music, podcasts, basically anything that you can buy from the iTunes store. In fact, you have to log into the same account that you use from iTunes on your PC or Mac. All of your account info is stored on Apple's servers so that they can keep track of your purchase history and other information.

The problem is that anything you purchase through your phone has to be synced with your Mac or PC version of iTunes (for some as-of-yet undisclosed reason.) Basically, if you purchase and download an app or song to your phone and then delete it before syncing with iTunes, it's gone forever. If you want it again, you have to buy it again. But why? I mean all of that information is being stored on Apple's servers. They know you bought it, and they know you "owned" it at one point. It would be as easy as confirming your account info and sending you the 3-6 file MB again. The only excuse for this practice is corporate greed. It's anti-consumer and one of the reasons why I rarely buy music through iTunes.

Also, since my account info is online, why am I limited to a single computer for syncing my iPod/iPhone? Why can't my library exist on more than one machine? In the age of the internet, this is a ridiculous requirement.

iPhone and iTunes - Podcasts

Through iTunes, you have the ability to subscribe to a podcast's RSS feed. Every day, iTunes will check for a new episode and automatically download it for you. You would think that since the iPhone can download files from the iTumes store, that it would have a similar feature to subscribe to podcasts.

Instead, you have to either download each new episode manually (by searching the store and determining if it's new or not based on the publish date), or you have to sync your phone to iTunes on your PC or Mac (which is subscribed to the podcast.) To make matters worse, if you do both of these things, iTunes will override what is on your phone with what is on your PC. So, let's say you are away from your computer, but you have a long drive ahead of you and you want something to listen to, so you manually download a podcast. Then later when you sync with iTunes on your computer, it will replace the podcast on your phone with the one in your library. This has the annoying side-effect of resetting the "new" indicator, as well as the current paused position if you weren't done listening to it yet.

iTunes - A Giant Piece of Crap

None of these issues would be so horrible if it not for the fact that iTunes is a pain in the ass to use. As a music purchasing/management application, it's not so bad. Sure, it uses a lot of memory, and it comes with a ton of features that I'll never use, but it's serviceable. I can make playlists and buy music and transfer songs to my portable device. That's about as much functionality as I need.

No, the real problem with iTunes is the update and installation process. It seems like every week there is a new minor update to iTunes. You get a little popup window asking if you want to download the new version and it takes you to Apple's website. Then, when you start the download, you realize that it's pulling down a 90 MB installer file. 90 MB, are you freaking kidding me? All it's doing is managing and playing media files.

For comparison's sake, Blender, a fully-featured 3D modeling and animation suite is only a 10MB download. VLC, a media player that can play virtually any video or audio file known to man, is only 18MB. The main problem here is that Apple want's to put as much of its own software as it can on your computer, even if you have better alternatives. Bonjour? No thanks. Quicktime? Go f*ck yourself.

So once you have downloaded the installer, running it is an adventure in itself. On my 4 year old laptop, it takes anywhere from 30-60 minutes to install. It appears that Apple decided to create about 40 different installers and pack them all into one file because I get to see the same "checking for space", "installing", "verifying installation", "removing installation files", "ruining your experience with Apple software forever" progress bars over and over and over again.

So, why do I bother putting myself through all this?

As I mentioned at the top of this rant, I love my iPhone. If I want the latest OS or bugfix, there's no other way to get it. And not only do I have to have iTunes, but I also have to have the latest version, which always coincides with said OS update or bugfix. All because my phone, which is basically a miniature computer in my pocket, is somehow incapable of running some extremely basic software.

This brings us to the end of our regularly scheduled Two Minutes' Hate. Have a happy 4th of July.