Thursday, December 31, 2009

Impossiblity... is impossible.

It’s that time of year again when many people reflect upon the previous year, wondering what could have been, and contemplate the year ahead, dreaming of what could possibly be. While I’ve never been a huge fan of resolutions (mainly because I’m no good at keeping them), two years ago, I promised myself I would try to make a change that would last a lifetime.

Two years ago, I was a 435-pound man.
And for the last time, I resolved to get healthy.

And while I had tried almost every diet, gimmick and trick out there, I was not thoroughly convinced that surgically wrapping an elastic band around my stomach was going to be the solution to my problems. Why? Well, it wasn’t modern medicine’s fault that I was a morbidly obese. Over the twenty previous years prior, I made a series of bad choices in terms of my eating habits and my inability to manage my emotions. So while I didn’t resolve to go on a diet, or read yet another self-help book in search of the secret to happiness and weight-loss success, I did resolve to do one thing very differently. I made a resolution to hold myself accountable to my own choices.


I chose to live my life differently. Quite simply, I chose to live.

Because 20 months ago, I used to pray at night that I wouldn’t die in my sleep – feeling the weight of 200+ extra pounds, depression, sadness, disappointment, and anxiety pressing down on both my body and my spirit. And I made a deal with myself on April 19, 2008 – that if I woke up the next morning, I would not only choose to make a change, but I would actually do it.

And I haven’t looked back since.

I hired an amazing trainer, and surrounded myself with people who motivated me.

I actually applied everything I had learned from 20+ years of dieting, to fuel my body in healthy and wonderful way.

I learned to enjoy sweating…running, indoor cycling, and kickboxing. I’ll try anything now, and in the process, likely grow to love it.

And most importantly…

I’ve dropped over 200 pounds of body weight -- the old fashioned way

I’ve lost 7.7 feet (yes, feet!) of fat from my body’s girth measurements.

I’ve learned to take control of my life, and forgive myself for the consequences of negative choices.

I learned that the problem with all of my previous resolutions was that they weren’t about making a change in how I think, or how I see myself in the wonderful world around me. They were focused on changing something that existed externally to who I am as a person, in hopes that changing that one condition alone would create an imbalance in my already chaotic life that could prompt much-needed change. I was so intent on blaming so many things around me for why I was so overweight that I had completely lost touch with the fact that I was a grown adult with the capacity to make choices. And more significantly, I was a grown adult with the responsibility to hold himself accountable for his choices. So, it didn't matter how many times I told myself that I was going to change my behaviours -- I still hadn't committed to changing the person that I am.

And that's been the most challenging and compelling part of this journey.

So many people -- fitness experts, health gurus, diet programs -- say that success is about making changes in your eating and exercise behaviours. Now, while I don't totally disagree, what the fitness industry doesn't spend a lot of time telling you is that success hinges most significantly on your ability to critically examine who you are as a person, and decide how you want or need that person to change. Unless you make a conscious choice to examine, understand, and transform the person within, you will never realize success in transforming the person on the outside.

And doing so is a process. A long, long process.

It's a daunting and somewhat frightening prospect when you think about it. But unless you attempt to understand why you make negative choices, which lead to negative behaviours (over-eating, not exercising, over-drinking, etc.) you will never even scratch the surface in truly comprehending where things went wrong in the first place.

Now, I admit that I didn't dive into critical self-examination off the start. The beginning of my journey was indeed about making incremental changes in my behaviours. It was also about learning to make good choices, and about understanding that I don't have to beat myself up over making bad ones. Eventually, I began to question why I was making negative choices in the first place... which led to a desire to more fully understand who I was as a person on the inside. And once I began to understand what makes me tick, what makes me trigger, and what makes me want to ravage a plate of nachos or a large pizza without coming up for air, it got easier and easier to make good choices. It was easier to convince myself to engage in positive, constructive behaviour. And it was extremely liberating to forgive myself for everything I didn't do in the 20 year prior -- the 20 years of resolutions gone bad -- and free myself from the limitations of my own thinking.

It helped me to accept that the idea of impossibility was... well... impossible.

So reflecting back on this amazing year, I consider the fact that I have conquered so many things that I once thought impossible. And I know laugh in the face of any challenge ahead that would have one forced me to retreat into the safety of my own self-doubt and trepidation. As I sit here, 3 hours from the turn of the new year, I realzie that the resolution that mattered the most – the best one I ever made – was about not feeling victimized by my bad choices, but instead understanding that the most powerful thing I have as a person is the power to choose. I can choose to live my life in whatever way I wish. And once I made the choice to eat more healthfully (I still eat burgers!), exercise daily, and forgive myself and others for everything I had been hanging onto for so very very long, I drew more strength and motivation from that choice than I had ever found before.

So, in 2010... I can choose to do many many things.

I've chosen to do a 600km bike ride for charity with some fantastic new friends.

I've chosen to become a certified indoor cycling instructor.

I've chosen to run a half-marathon to celebrate my 37th birthday.

I've chosen to become a certified fitness lifestyle coach.

I've chosen to live life. To it's fullest. With all of its highs and lows. With all of its love and laughter.

That's my choice.

And I'm going to stick by it.

Because I realize now more than ever... that the only way I'm going to make the changes I want is if I choose to do it. No one else is going to make it happen. Except for me. Lots of people to support me... but I have to do the work. ALL of it. And that includes forgiving those who I felt I've needed to forgive... it includes drawing myself closer to people I want to be closer to... and also requires that I let go of everything that has ever held me back before... to create space for new and exciting things.

(Thanks for that one, DP)

May 2010 bring you the same power and inspiration – from your own power to choose.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The only way to never go back...

I've done it once again. Six months ago, I set a goal to lose another 50 pounds in 6 months -- an ambitious goal, yes. But not an impossible one. Why 50 pounds? Because dropping 50 pounds in 6 months would bring me to a very special place -- to a monumental moment in my journey when I would have achieved something that twenty months ago was completely inconceivable -- to lose 200 pounds.

And tonight, I did it.
In fact, I lost 201.6 pounds.
And I've still got three more weeks to go before the 6-month mark.

When I first started training with Sebastien, he told me that this was going to be a 5-year journey -- and the thought of taking five years to lose the weight that I've wanted to get rid of for so long was completely daunting and almost impossible. But as of tonight, I weigh less than I did in high school. I wear a large t-shirt (not a 4XL like I did 20 months ago). And I can do absolutely anything I put my mind to. Again -- it was truly inconceivable. But I made it happen.

I made it happen.

That's what Sebastien reminded me of tonight as we sat in the office at the gym, after a killer workout and realizing that I had once again achieved my goals and conquered my fears. I did it. I did the work. I made the sacrifices. I am responsible for every drop of sweat, every tear, every grunt and every moment when my determination surpassed my doubt and made all of this possible.

I made this happen.
And that's what feels so unbelievably incredible.

You see, when I built up enough courage to seek out the help I so desperately needed, I thought I was beyond help. I was at my rock bottom. I used to pray at night that I would live through the night. And I promised myself one night that if God let me live, that I would take the necessary steps to take control of my own life. But I was fully expecting to find someone who would figure it all out for me. And at the end of the day, one of the biggest challenges was having to figure it all out for myself.

Losing weight is a powerful experience. Facing your fears is scary. Accepting your own truth and your own responsibility for what you do in your life is perhaps the most intimidating thing of all. And a few days ago at the spinning studio, a fellow member asked me what the toughest part of all this has been -- was it the food? The exercise? My response, plain and simply was -- getting up every day believing that I can do this and knowing that I'm the only one who's going to make it happen.

And I did. I made this happen.

As I've learned over the past 20 months, and as I've often written here, so many of us are looking for answers and solutions. We're looking for secrets to success. We're looking for inspiration. We're looking for truth. And once you take the courageous step to cut through all the noise, all the crap and all the fitness propaganda, you quickly realize that everything you're looking for is pretty beautifully packaged in one very special place -- within yourself. Accepting that your soul is the place where your own possibility lies can be very difficult to do, especially when you've got baggage, emotions, and body weight to get through. But over time, at each step along the journey, you can't help but expose yourself to, well, yourself -- and quickly learn that everything you've been looking for has been within you all along.

Sometimes all you need is someone or something to help you figure that out.
And I am fortunate and blessed to have had that chance.

As regular readers of this blog will know, Sebastien my trainer has, and always will have, a very special place in my life. He helped me unlock and open the door to my own potential -- a door I had barricaded with my fears, sadness, anxiety, ego and lack of self-esteem. He helped me find the key, unlock it, and march on through. And it was a slow march at first. Tonight he reminded me that when we started working together, that I could barely last 45 seconds on an elliptical machine before I thought I was going to collapse. Tonight, I nearly broke the damn thing because I was working so hard on it! Twenty months ago, I could barely walk a few kilometres on a treadmill without gasping for air, and dripping in sweat. Tonight, I cranked out a 15-minute run (not a jog... a run) as a warm-up to yet another intense and gratifying workout. My trainer.... my friend... has helped me to realize the limitless possibilities of my own potential, and has uncovered a machine... someone who now wakes each and every day wondering what sort of activity he's going to do. And sometimes it's hard to decide... so I do more than one. But that person didn't exist twenty months ago. Twenty months ago, my own depression wouldn't have even let me get out of bed.

And it's a pretty amazing feeling to look back on that now and realize that...
I made this happen.

Another tremendous source of encouragement has been Andy and the folks at Legacy Indoor Cycling -- my new addiction. The energy I draw from my fellow riders is phenomenal. The level of investment that Andy has shown in my progress over the past few months has been remarkable -- and I believe has helped me push through these final last few pounds and realize a goal that I thought would never ever happen. And if nothing else, the promise of our favourite meal at our favourite greasy hamburger joint was always fantastic motivation... ;) Square Boy Hamburgers, here we come!!!

So now that I've achieved this goal, what's next? People have asked me "When will you be done?" My answer: "Never." This is me for life. Sure, I think from here on in, my focus will be less on weight loss, and more on further developing muscle and training for new and exciting things. My life from here on in will be less about dreaming of being 200 pounds lighter -- but more about imagining the possibilities (and realizing them) of what a 235 pound man can do. A 600km bike ride? Sure! A half-marathon? Definitely. A triathlon... don't underestimate this guy... I'm already figuring out when I'm going to re-learn how to swim!!!

All that said, one of the things I'm going to have to figure out in the months ahead is how to keep all of this momentum going. Yes, I have made many sacrifices, and am surrounded by people in my personal and professional life who afford me tremendous support and flexibility. But at some point, things have to re-balance. And with that need to re-calibrate my priorities and what I spend my time on, comes the occasional glance of doubt, where someone around me, or even myself, will ask... "How long is it going to take for him to put it all back on???"

Right now, I don't think that's ever going to happen. I won't let it happen. I can't let it happen. But I'm human. I'm going to screw up. I'm going to make mistakes. And in the difficult task of re-balancing my life, things may not happen as easily as I wish. However, through it all, I have to remind myself of the fact that the only way to ensure that I never go back, is to keep looking forward. Even at times when what I want seems so very very far away and out of reach, at least I know it's there. Not behind me... in front of me. And with every step, every stride and every pedal stroke, I will always move closer and closer towards a re-imagined and renewed reality for who I am in this world.

And above all else...
I will make it happen.
I've done it already.
I will do it again. And again. And again.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

PS. New before and after pics coming soon!!!!

Monday, November 16, 2009

The secret to inspiration

I say this a lot, but it's a tough journey. And over the past few weeks I've come to realize once again what an incredible journey it has been. I've been taking some time to reflect on the past 20 months and continue to reaffirm the fact that even though weight loss takes a lot of physical work -- the working out, the sweat, the exertion -- that it's the emotional work that can be the toughest to conquer.

As I near the fulfillment of my next goal (losing 200 pounds before Christmas), I get more and more people asking me what I've done to make this all work for myself. I've met so many incredible, supportive and wonderful people along the way -- people who inspire me in so many ways. And I've come to learn that I've inspired them.

Hmmm. Now there's something to wrap my head around. Maybe that's how I've done it...

I can understand how what I've accomplished would inspire someone. It's not every day that someone sets out to lose weight, and drops nearly 200 pounds in just under two years... without gimmicks. So, that part I understand. But what has been challenging to wrap my head around is understanding that who I am as a person -- not necessarily what I've accomplished -- is what's inspiring. And when I make a sour face or look puzzled when people give me that compliment, I have begun to wonder why I'm having this unusual reaction.

I have realized over the past few weeks that it takes a really strong mind to make the shift from being the one who seeks to be inspired, to being the one who inspires. I can't count the number of times I would sit at home after watching an episode of The Biggest Loser or some other show, and feel inspired. I however, would end up feeling crappy about myself, because in spite of the inspiration, I would be mad/upset/jealous that I didn't have someone filming my journey for a television show and somehow letting me in on 'the secret'.

At the end of the day, the secret is about balancing desire, hard work, and dedication. As I said before, it's about "
knowing that I not only gave myself the chance to succeed, but that I actually believed that I could do so." In many ways, it's about realizing that no matter how many episodes of The Biggest Loser or whatever show we watch, at some point, we have to decide to be our own inspiration.

For people like me who have struggled with weight and other issues, accepting the fact that you're a strong, beautiful, competent, and perfectly imperfect human can be tough to do. Years and years of beating yourself up for being out of shape, fat, and unattractive take their toll, and make it really tough to accept the possibility that you will ever become a different person altogether. And no matter how much we surround ourselves with support -- trainers, fitness instructors, therapists, coaches, family, friends, the list goes on -- at some point, we need to channel the energy we draw from those around us, and direct it towards fueling and finding our own inspiration. Undoubtedly, the support we draw from the people around is irreplaceable -- research (apparently) shows that engaging in a weight loss / fitness journey in the context of supportive relationships is more likely to yield a positive result. Yet, in spite of the tremendous amount of support that has surrounded me for example, one of the most difficult things to do has been to accept that support and turn it into something I can work with.

For some strange, twisted reason,
accepting the fact that people give a shit about you can be really tough...especially when it feels like other people care more about you than you care about yourself.

And I guess that's part of the secret, too. As I go further along my journey, I realize that such a big part of the secret is not only
making a conscious choice to embrace the possibility that you, as an individual, have the capacity and capability to not only make change in your life, but most importantly, to care enough to do so.

It's about making the choice to live life differently.
It's about truly living in possibility as opposed to living in fear of it.
It's about finding a way -- in whatever way possible, to discover, accept, and be proud of the fact that you are your own and strongest inspiration.

That's a pretty powerful thing. Couple the strength of that decision -- that unshakable, unquestionable determination -- with the resources and opportunity to eat well, exercise, and truly live our lives, and the secret is no longer that much of a mystery: No gimmicks. No quick fixes. Just a lot of work -- work of the body, the mind, and the soul, to make a decision that you will never regret.

That's the secret. That's the key. That, apparently, is inspiration.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Fat? or Fit?

I can't believe that it's already November. The past few months have literally flown by -- and it's hard to believe that in just about a month and a half, I'm going to be heading out west for Christmas break at my parents' house in British Columbia. I'm looking forward to the getaway, but I'm also looking forward to seeing my sister from New Zealand, who I haven't seen in three years. She and I are quite close, and traveling this journey towards better health is something that I always thought I'd do with her by my side. Needless to say, the first moment that I see her is likely going to be an emotional one -- but it's going to be amazing.

I also had a reveal moment last week. My parents came to visit me here in Toronto for a week. I saw my dad in July at a family wedding in Pennsylvania, but I hadn't seen my mother since last Christmas. And even though I was already well on my way at this time last year, I was 110 pounds heavier. So I don't know what I was expecting, when I picked them up at the airport, but I was more than thrilled to know that she didn't recognize me and at one point wondered why my dad (who I saw first, coming out of the arrivals area) was hugging a strange man. Knowing that I look like a completely different person is something that I'm learning to get more comfortable with, but I have to admit that I still have moments where I wonder if I've really changed.

This morning, for example, I arrived at the spinning studio a bit early. It was a gorgeous fall day -- the perfect day for a run. So, I had decided to go for a light run before my spinning class. I arrived at Legacy, and one of the women who was there for this morning's boot camp class said that she didn't recognize me at first. I commented that it was my legs (because I was sporting a new pair of running tights, thanks to Dr. Steels!), and another one of the members said that it wasn't my legs. She could see a noticeable difference in my mid-section. Spinning has been a fantastic workout over the past two months. If you've read my two previous blog entries, you'll know what I high I get from them. In fact, I've dropped about 25 pounds since I started spinning, so I'm pretty thrilled with the results. And I do indeed notice a difference in the strength of my core, my flexibility, and also that my shirts, jackets and coats have a more generous fit through my mid-section. But at the end of the day, I still have moments where I take a look at my gut, and wonder if anything has really changed.

I carried a large percentage of my weight around my mid-section. As such, I've got a flabby belly, and the skin around my stomach is the least 'resilient'. Skin around other parts of my body has been quite elastic -- responding well to the work I've been doing, and nicely embracing the new and toned shape of my body and muscles. But my mid-section? Not to much. I was soaking in the tub the other night after an intense leg workout, and noticed just how much 'belly' still remains. And even though Sebastien tells me that the belly fat is the toughest and last to lose, there's still a part of me that wonders if it will ever really go away. Will I ever really get rid of it???

After spinning this morning, my friend Patsy and I took some time for one of my favourite weekend rituals: a coffee at Red Rocket Coffee in Toronto. As we were sitting outside enjoying our post-workout drinks, we were talking about all of the various things we've been doing to get fit. I always love a good long talk with Patsy, because she gets it. She understands where my head is at, and is always enthusiastic about trying new things. Over the course of our chat this morning, she stopped me at one point and said "We need to work on something. You have to stop calling yourself 'fat'."

I still think of myself as a fat man. I've dropped over 180 pounds and I still consider myself fat. I eat better than most nutrition books (except for the Skor brownie last night), and still refer to myself as fat. I ran 5km this morning and cranked out an intense spinning workout, and I still call myself fat. Combine all of these things with the fact that I still get disappointed because my gut is big and flabby, and I begin to wonder: "Will I always be 'fat'?"

There is a big part of me that thinks I will always be a fat man -- if not physically, then cognitively. And I'm not so sure I ever want to let go of that. I've been told (by others and myself) for a large part of my life that I'm not worthy of many things because I'm fat. I've been ridiculed, harassed, and objectified because I'm fat. And it's only in the past year or so that I've actually grown more comfortable calling myself 'fat'. I think there's a bit of reclamation happening here -- that I'm reclaiming the word 'fat' and using it myself to take the negative power away from it. And growing more comfortable saying the word, and describing myself in this way, I think has helped me to reach out to more people and advocate for fat people who want to actively make change in their lives. So I don't ever want to forget who I've been for the past 36 years -- and changing one word in how I describe myself is going to be much harder than I ever thought it would be.

There's a lot of power in language. There's profound meaning in the words we use to describe ourselves, and in how those descriptions link ourselves with people around us. And I still cringe sometimes when Sebastien calls me an 'athlete' or 'fit'. But it's going to take time for me to embrace these new ways of knowing and understanding myself -- especially at a time when I don't feel like the word necessarily matches who I am. How can I be 'fit' when I've got a big lump of flab around my mid-section? How can I be an 'athlete' when I weigh over 250 pounds? There is still a big part of me that's struggling to embrace the new person that I've become -- in part because I've programmed myself into thinking about who I am in only one way for so long. All I know is that it's going to take a while to re-program myself and my thinking to match the person I know I am well on my way to becoming.

So even though I run 5k, do spinning classes, and have such strong focus on my health and fitness, this is still a tough journey. It ain't easy. I still have moments where I have to stop myself in my thought patterns, and reprogram what I'm saying to myself so that I don't fall into old habits. I still have days when I'd love to stay in my pyjamas, and not go to the gym at all. And I still have moments when I'd love to devour unhealthy food in hopes that it might make me feel better than I'm feeling at that moment in time.

And that's the key.

Each time that I think about not working out, not eating well, or spiralling into some screwed up way of viewing myself and the world around me, I have to recall my past experience and know that if I don't workout; if I eat that pizza; or sit around calling myself 'fat' that I'm not going to feel any better at the end of the day. However, if I do workout; if I do eat a really healthy meal; or if I do take a moment to try on a new suit and admire the athletic figure before me, inevitably, I feel better. And that makes a whole lot more sense.

But I'm still working on it. And that's what matters most.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Finding my hero...

As many of you know, I have recently taken up indoor cycling as an amazing way to crank up my cardiovascular training. Things were getting a bit boring on the elliptical machine at the gym, so I went to a spinning class, and got hooked instantly. I wrote about it in a recent blogpost, and since then have grown more and more excited by the prospects of getting stronger and better at this new activity. I suppose that one of the reasons why I get such a great kick out of it is because I feel like I'm part of a community of sorts. I know that many people participate in exercise classes, go through the motions, and don't necessarily feel any sort of connection to the people around them. But there are many people who do... so let me tell you about why the people who sweat by my side are such an important part of my journey.

In my previous post about spinning, I talked about what it's like to do a ride with a group of other spinners. The energy is palpable, and sometimes the shared sense of dread can be kind of intense. But at the end of the hour, you take a look around and see the satisfaction and pride on everyone's faces that you had accomplished something -- that somehow today, you worked harder than you did the day before, and you're a better person for having done so. That's such a huge part of what drives me to go to a class 4 or 5 days a week now -- yes the workout is fantastic, but the sense of community is close to spectacular.

Over the past year or so, I had also taken up a kickboxing class -- a weekly meeting of some people at my gym who hammered out some amazing kicking and punching sequences on a couple of WaveMaster bags. The class was fantastic, but over the past few weeks, I haven't been totally feeling it. I've gone, I've punched, I've kicked, I've sweated. I've done everything the instructor told me to do (and then some), but I wasn't feeling that great at the end of it all. And it is only in reflecting upon my spinning classes that I have begun to understand why.

Sebastien and I were talking about this very topic this past week, and we both realized that to a great extent, this journey has been a pretty solitary one for me over the past 18 months. Yes, I have tremendous supporters and people behind me every step of the way, but most times I am alone for a few hours at the gym cranking out my weightlifting or hammering through a run on the treadmill. It was only in the past few months that I started working out with other people -- my weekly runs with Alison and Lisa were not only a wonderful way to train for our 5km road race, but also a wonderful opportunity to shift the paradigms of some of my relationships. My friendships over the past year are no longer centred around social connections that focus on dining out or going for drinks. In many ways, my social connections happen more in the context of physical health and fitness, and that's a very empowering way for me to no longer feel so alone in this battle.

Where does spinning fit into all of this? Well, I have learned that I am at a point where the physical challenge of indoor cycling is defined by two things and two things alone: the extent to which I can crank up the physical resistance on the bike, and my mental/emotional willingness to actually do so. And there have been days (like today) when all I want to do is go to a class, take it easy, and blend into the background. But when you get a group of people around you who are cranking their dials, hopping out of their saddles, and grunting and cheering -- you can't help but get motivated by that. And at Legacy Indoor Cycling, having Andy pounding out the routine on his own bike to the music pumping from the speakers, you cannot resist the urge to crank up the dial and try to win the race -- the race between you and your body.

But last Friday, I was reminded how this is more than just a race between me and my body. As much as Andy challenges us to 'break the bike' and hammer it out as hard as we can, indoor cycling is about more than just pushing the actual limits of my physical capabilities, it's about continuing to push the limits of what I actually think I can do.

And winning the race against my own mind is often the toughest one to win.

You see, part of why I started indoor cycling is because my friend Jonathan has challenged me to join him on the 2010 Friends for Life Bike Rally -- a 600km bike ride over 5 days from Toronto to Montreal. I told him I'd do it, but shortly thereafter began to freak out about how I was going to train for it. Enter indoor cycling -- and Jonathan has now started joining me at spinning classes, along with another rider friend of his, Andrew. Jonathan also promised (tonight in fact... so note the date) that he would join me for the half-marathon next October if I rode with him next July. Perfect. And to be honest, observing the training that John did last summer, along with how he used the experience of the ride (which raised close to $1-million for programs/service for people living with HIV/AIDS) to connect himself to one of the most significant health issues facing not only the gay community, but people everywhere... well, watching all that happen was pretty inspirational. And my spinning class last Friday night helped me remember that fact.

Last Friday was a bit of a special day. Normally I would do two of Andy's classes back to back (incredible workout of well over 1500 calories!). But last Friday, James Gekko (a Schwinn Master Trainer, and a bit of a spinning guru) was teaching the second class. So I went to Andy's class at 5:30, which he claimed was the 'fluffer' class -- a warm up for what James had in store for us at 6:30. And he promised us that what we would experience in James' class would be pretty spectacular.

And it was.
But not for the reasons that I thought it would be.

Physically, it was challenging. But again, the extent to which I challenge myself in a spinning class is determined by my dial, and my desire to crank it up. The instructor is the coach -- encouraging you on, and helping you visualize what it's like to take it to the next level. But the 'work' happens on the bike.

On Friday evening, a lot of 'work' happened in my head.

James started the class with a great warm-up (I was already warm from Andy's class, which in keeping with his reputation, was not at all easy) and then took us through three different rides. Rides consist of a series of terrains (hills, steep climbs, flat road, mud, rapid declines) that are simulated by how you position your body and how manipulate the resistance on your bike. Now, I don't recall the physicality of the terrains -- because again, it wasn't the physical experience that resonated with me most. It was what I visualized along the way that was indeed the most powerful.

On the first ride, James (whose soothing coaching style instills great confidence in you as a rider) asked us to close our eyes and imagine riding with our best friend -- riding with someone who you enjoy being with, and whose presence was going to bring you joy. My mind raced through a number of different people who I consider among my closest friends -- some of whom I've never been on a bike with, and others who were in fact by my side that night. But it wasn't them I was thinking about. I began to think about one person in particular. And then I started to feel a bit overwhelmed. So I focused more on the ride and less on the person and hoped that we would quickly move on to the next stage.

Shortly thereafter, James asked us to think about riding against our greatest rival -- the person who was most competitive, who would rub it in our faces if they ever won a race against us, or who would never let us live down the fact that they had pulled ahead on a steep climb. Again, I thought of many people in my life who I have considered rivals -- some of whom I would even consider enemies. And I tried to visualize them riding by my side, each with his/her own sinister look on their face, as they pulled ahead of me, and I powered through the ride to catch up. I overtook every person I pictured in my mind's eye. Victory! But then another rider -- another rival who I never expected to be in the race pulled up behind me, met me shoulder to shoulder, and then powered on ahead of me. This rider's skill, speed and endurance drove me to push harder, pedal faster, and find the desire somewhere to beat him. Eventually, I pulled ahead -- however, feeling even more overwhelmed to the point where I thought I actually had a few tears in my eyes. So I pulled my cap down over my face, and thankfully, James moved on to the next stage in our ride.

In the third stage, he dimmed the lights and described riding at sunset -- at a time when dusk was upon us, and we had to try to make it home before nightfall. It wasn't going to be easy, but riding beside us he asked us to visualize a person who has inspired us -- who has been supportive, encouraging, and who has always been there. Again, I thought of many people -- my friends, my family, my trainer, my spinning instructors, my fellow spinners. I was at no deficit here. I have been surrounded by so many fantastically supportive people over the past 18 months, yet none of them seemed to 'fit' for this last leg of the ride. And then I pictured someone in particular -- riding closely by my side as night fell and as the air got cooler. And having him by my side gave me tremendous confidence... great happiness... tremendous peace. And I'm glad my hat was pulled over my face because at that moment, amid the grunting and sweating of the ride, I really did begin to cry. Not tears of sadness. They were tears of joy. No, I wasn't sobbing... but I had a moment of incredible emotional release when I came to experience great peace about this ride -- about this moment -- about the past 18 months.

Why? Who were these people? Why did they provoke such an emotional response in me?

In all three cases, the other rider was me.

The past 18 months have helped me to grow more close in my relationship with myself -- to better understand who I am, what's important to me, and why I matter. In the past 18 months, I've learned to be my own best friend... and it has helped me be a better friend to those around me.

The past 18 months have helped me to overcome my own self-rivalry -- to appreciate that I need to focus on challenging myself in positive ways, and discourage myself less. I have learned not to rub my face in my own failure, but instead learned to create opportunities for me to experience success.

And finally, the past 18 months have helped me to draw a tremendous amount of inspiration from deep within me. I am surrounded by so much encouragement, support and love that at times, it is indeed overwhelming to imagine. And the energy and inspiration I draw from my fellow spinners each day goes unmatched by any other group fitness experience I've ever had -- and for their energy I am tremendously grateful. But at the end of the day, I have learned to rely more upon myself. To find motivation from my failures, and inspiration from my possibilities. To take the time each day to think about what I am doing and how I can do better -- in every part of my life. I've learned to be my own hero.

And I've never felt more at peace.

At the end of the ride with James, we did our stretching and cool-down, and I quietly went to the locker-room to change. Once back in my civvies, I made my way out of the studio -- and I normally take a few moments after each class to chat with Andy and thank him for a good class. But on Friday night, I threw on my coat, tossed on my hat, gave a quick wave to those who remained in the studio and made my way home. I wasn't yet in a place to begin to truly articulate how important that class was to me. I knew it had been a powerful experience, but I couldn't really describe why. So, I didn't get a chance to thank Andy or James right away. But I hope that what I've described in this blogpost conveys how grateful I am.

Andy and James

At each class, Andy tells us that this is a race between us and our bodies. After Friday night, and at every class since, I am mindful of the fact that it has the potential to be a bigger race than that. Just like my 5km run, this experience of personal transformation is a race against my physical, emotional and cognitive self. And it's a race I know I win each and every day. Because after every workout -- weight training, kickboxing with Sebastien, running on the boardwalk, walking the dog, or spinning at Legacy...

I know I've won because I smile the whole way home.
Doesn't get much better than that.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Friday, October 9, 2009

It is what it is.

I've taken a bit of a break from running in the past two weeks. I did my 5km run and am still feeling incredible about my accomplishment. But, the weather has been crappy, and life has been a bit nutty. My landlord decided to put the house up for sale, so for the whole of last week, I hardly got to spend any time at my place because teams of agents and potential buyers were coming through for private viewings and open houses. This surrender of my home really threw a wrench in my week. My friends Liza and Lindsay were a tremendous help with my dog -- Rosie was able to go hang out at there house during the day while complete strangers walked through my house (without taking off their shoes), opening cupboards, closets, and one person even used my toilet. Not sure how I feel about that. So, the surrender of my home also meant a temporary surrender of my routine for that period of time, too.

Last Wednesday, I went out to for a belated birthday celebration with my friend Jonathan, his boyfriend Elliot and Jonathan's cycling amigo, Andrew. We went to comedy night at a local bar, had lots of beer, ate pizza and nachos, and had a fantastic time. I stumbled home late that night, got a little bit of sleep before rising early to vacuum, sweep and prepare the house for private showings that day. I also didn't have much of an opportunity throughout the week to cook my meals. It's difficult to begin whipping together a culinary wonder when the phone rings and an agent is 'in the neighbourhood' (i.e. outside the front door) with a potential buyer. So, let's just say that the eating regimen got put on hold as well. And I didn't get as much time in the gym as I would have liked.

All of those factors combined, and yesterday, when Seb weighed me before our workout, we realized that I had put on just under three pounds.

I felt like crap. I had just dropped over 5 pounds the prior week, bringing my total loss to 177 pounds. And after a week of little routine, not a lot of structure, and an awesome night out for my birthday, I put some weight back on.

Not good.
Or is it???

Of course, my initial reaction was not positive. I went silent, pulled my baseball hat further down over my eyes, and sat with my arms crossed in frustration. Clearly, my body language indicated that I didn't want to talk about it. But Sebastien tried, and we processed what I was thinking/feeling a little bit. We even checked the scale twice, and it still showed a gain.

"It is what it is," I said.

It is what it is.

I've been saying that quite often over the past two years as a way to help me accept the fact that whatever happens in my life, is likely something over which I have little control. So why obsess about it. If something bad happens, there's not a lot I can do to change it in that exact moment. But there are many things I can do to better deal with it the next time it happens.

So I gained three pounds.
It is what it is.

I gained three pounds because I was stressed.
It is what it is.

I gained three pounds, because I unclenched about my routine, relaxed a little and allowed myself to enjoy an amazing night out with friends in celebration of my birthday.
It is what it is.

The more I think about it, I like what it is. Why do I like the fact that I gained weight?

Because now, more than ever before in my life, it's not the end of the world. My weight fluctuates. It always has and it always will. I've come to accept more fully the reality that weight is just a number -- not an indicator of overall health, wellbeing, and more than anything, self-worth.

For example, I now weigh in at about 260 pounds (which I haven't weighed since the 12th grade, by the way). And last week, I had to go to the emergency room because I got my finger closed between two car doors. Long story, gory at the beginning, all good now. When I met with the intake nurse, she looked at my finger, took my temperature, and then put a gadget on one of my other fingers to take my resting heart rate. She let the machine do its thing, and then she said, "I want to try this on another finger."

I realized at that moment what she was doing.

Sitting before her was a 260-pound man, who had just had his index finger slammer between two car doors -- a mildly traumatic experience. She likely assumed that my blood pressure would be through the roof. She likely assumed that my resting heart rate would be very high. I mean, I'm still a big guy.

And even after taking the heart rate for the second time, it still read: 49 bpm.

Yes, my resting heart rate (even when stressed) is 49 beats per minute.
My blood pressure is totally normal.
My weight is under control.
I'm healthy, I'm happy, and I'm pretty wise.

So, three pounds is not such a big deal after all.
If other people still get hung up on their assumptions about who I am and what I'm like. Well, that's their problem. At the end of the day, I don't care a whole lot about what they think. The only opinion that matters to me, is mine.

And that's why it is what it is.

I'm coming to this conclusion not only because I've finally made an important reconciliation in how I think about myself, but also because it's an important time of year. This weekend is Canadian Thanksgiving -- a time of year when we celebrate the harvest and reflect on all things for which we are thankful. However, over the past year, I've tried to remain acutely aware of all of the abundant things in my life for which I am thankful. And I make sure people around me know it more than just once a year at times like these. But indulge me if you will, and allow me to share my list of things for which I am most thankful.

I am thankful for...

My family, who is incredibly wonderful, fantastic, supportive and loving. And even though my parents and brother live in British Columbia, and my sister lives in New Zealand with her husband and three kids, they are always with me each and every day, each of them in his or her own special way.

My close circle of friends (Tony, Liza, Lindsay, Alison, Jonathan, Lisa, Patsy, Steve, Adina) who provide me with an unending level of support and love knowing that this physical and emotional transformation is the most important work I will ever do in my lifetime. I am particularly grateful because run with me, spin with me, workout with me, indulge in bad food with me, walk with me, drink coffee with me, and make me feel more incredible each and every day. They also understand me more than anyone else in my life. That understanding is a pretty powerful thing.

My dog, Rosie. She's a dog. She thinks I rock. She licks my cheek every night when I come home from the gym. What more could you want?

My trainer and friend Sebastien. If you've been reading this blog regularly, you know how important he is to me. I hope to have the opportunity to one day truly thank him for all he has done for me. But I think he takes great pride in knowing that he's created a monster. He's ignited a fire. He's taken a 435 pound man and tranformed him into an athlete. More than anything though, he's helped me learn, accept and celebrate the fact that out of all of the bullshit I deal with in life, that above it all, I am the most important thing out there.

The rest is, well...
It just is what it is.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.
And Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

My really 'big' run

The day finally arrived. I've been talking about running the 5km race of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon for some time now, and my friends Alison, Lisa and I have been training for it. Last night the three of us got together with Lisa's sister Kim, who was also running with us, for a pre-run dinner. No, we didn't dine on mounds of pasta -- we dined on a scrumptious sushi dinner. A couple of spicy tuna rolls, some veggies, and a tasty rainbow roll later, I felt well loaded with protein and carbs to fuel the next day's run.

Alison drove in yesterday from out of town for today's run, so she stayed at my place. We work early today, had our coffee, tea and breakfast of champions (steel cut oatmeal with raisins, walnuts, and some peanut butter), and watched the start of the marathon on the news while we contemplated what awaited us. As the newscaster spoke of the 20,000 participants (marathon, half-marathon, and 5k), and the approximately 30,000 spectators, we both started to get a bit anxious. You see, we've been training in the peaceful seclusion of a trail system running along a river by our office, so cranking through a run in front of a crowd wasn't something either of us were quite prepared for. But there was no turning back. A few final adjustments to our attire (the weather was pretty great, about 16 degrees Celcius, overcast), we headed out to catch the shuttle bus to the start line.

Alison and I before the race...

The race was to begin at 10:20am, and w
e arrived at around 8:15 or so with plenty of time to spare. As we walked past the finish line towards the shuttle, the announcer proclaimed the fact that the leaders of the marathon (who had started just over an hour earlier) were now at their 19th kilometre, and were well on track to set a Canadian record. In fact, the winner did set a record today, coming in at 2 hours and 8 minutes -- the fastest marathon ever run on Canadian soil. Incredible. As we strolled along the last kilometer of the course, the magnitude of it all began to settle in. And that's when I started a long-line of what was to become a series of 'nervous pees' over the next hour or so.

We met up with Lisa and Kim, and hopped on the shuttle to the start line. And big surprise, I had to pee. Upon arriving at the Canadian National Exhibition, I bolted to the loo, and was instantly relieved. We hung out inside for a bit, and gently stretched in anticipation of the race ahead. What we
quickly realized was that not only was it a 5km run, but it was also a walk for charity. So, it appeared that some of the walkers were to be in the same start corral as us -- this was going to make for an interesting start. Maybe we shouldn't have been as modest in our estimated times (we said it would take 45+ minutes, which put us in the slowest corral with the walkers). And as this was the first year that the organizers had put together a 5km component, the split between walkers and runners wasn't very clear. So after a few more quick visits to the loo (3 more to be exact, thanks to the big mug of coffee I had with breakfast), we headed outside to join the thousands of people who were about to start the course.

As we stood outside, I started to get a bit quiet. I started to think about what I was about to do. I started to realize that what I was about to begin was something that I never ever thought I would do in my lifetime -- run a
road race. Yes, it was a 5k, but you have to remember, that about 19 months ago, I could barely walk on a treadmill. Alison pointed out to me that someone was wearing a shirt that said "I lost 100 pounds." I thought to myself, "Bah! 100? Try 170.... they ain't seen nothin' yet!" But I had to catch myself for a moment there, realizing and remembering that we were all doing this for a wide range of reasons. Some of the walkers who were supporting various charities wore shirts declaring that they were running in support of research on cancer, asperger's syndrome, or other diseases and disabilities. Some local politicians (we have a mayoral race on the horizon) brought their campaign crews. And there were some serious looking runners in among the crowd. As I looked at their shirts, I began to wonder if I should have worn a shirt declaring what I was running for. We joked that we were all running for brunch -- there was a well-planned brunch of Eggs Benedict awaiting us later that day! But, really my shirt would have said one thing and one thing alone:

I'm running for me.

And as I sat in those moments of quiet, making final a
djustments to the playlist on my iPod, I started to fell myself getting a bit choked up. This was a big deal for me. I remembered something Sebastien wrote to me in a note on my Blackberry earlier that morning:
"Take a moment before the race and savour this moment: you can do ANYTHING you want now... you're free. Consider the first steps of this run the passage into your new life, and when you cross the finish line, thank yourself for everything you've done to get to this point. Much respect."
This really was the start of something big. And as big as it felt at that moment in time, it was about to feel a whole lot bigger.

Shortly after that moment, the gun fired, and we began to walk towards the start line. There were throngs of charity walkers ahead o
f us. And I began to worry that I wouldn't actually get to run. I didn't come here to walk. I came here to run. And I started to get kind of frustrated. So, after about 3 1/2 minutes, we approached the start line, and began to run at a very light pace. Before we started, the four of us settled details on where we would meet up at the end of the race -- each of us was going to run his/her own pace, and take this opportunity to do our individual best. So, I turned on my iPod, started my heart rate monitor, and began to run.

My playlist had been designed with the pace of my run in mind. I don't normally run with music, but I figured I would benefit from some
good tunes in my ears. The music would help me focus and not get distracted by everything around me. So the playlist I put together included:
  • September (99 Remix) by Earth Wind & Fire
  • Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap (Tiesto's In Search of Sunrise Mix)
  • Paparazzi by Lady Gaga (Moto Blanco Remix)
  • Sexy Bitch by David Guetta featuring Akon
  • Fame 09 (Reholder Club Mix) by Naturi Naughton
  • My My My by Armand Van Helden (Funktuary Radio Mix)
  • Hung Up by Madonna
  • All Things by Widelife featuring Simone Denny
(Yes. I like the dance music. Get over it. LOL!)

After Andy at Legacy got me thinking about pacing my run, I began to think about how the music could get me through it. I typically run in intervals of running and walking. But today I wanted to split my run into two intervals only. And the music would help carry me through it.

And it did.
Until I realized I had to pee. Again.

So, out of the start line, I tried to get going at a good pace. But I was surrounded by walkers, and found it difficult to get into any sort of stride. The first few hundred metres felt like a very light trot of sorts -- and I found myself weaving between walkers, some of whom strolled along the route in a broad line, bearing banners and signs in support of their respective causes. I think it's great that they were there... but I started to get a bit aggravated about how much 'space' they were taking up. After about 500 or 600 metres, I felt like I finally started to get a bit of a stride and pace, and in looking at my watch, realized that I had just wasted about 5 minutes trying to weave through walkers and actually get started. In order to come close to my 30-minute goal, I knew I'd have to run at a pace of about 6 minutes per kilometer, and given that I was moving at about half that pace, I started to get a bit frustrated.

And then I took a deep breath.
"Focus," I told myself. "Get over yourself. Quit looking for excuses. Just run."

And I did. I set into my stride, and before I kn
ew it, I had run the first three kilometres. I hadn't made up for my lost time at the start, but my pace felt good, and I was quickly passing all of the walkers, and many of the runners. Now, when I drive my car, I tend to drive in the passing lane. Driving fast feels good. Passing slow drivers feels even better. Running the same way was feeling pretty spectacular.

As I approached the 3 1/2 km mark, I kept my eyes out for a portable washroom. Because even with my renewed focus, I still h
ad to pee. So I slowed my pace to a fast walk, thinking that I would find a loo on the horizon. But amid the water stations, I saw no washrooms. So I kept running.

Not only because I was there to run... but also because I still had to pee.

In running along the next stretch of the course, I began to fixate on the fact that I had to go to the washroom. Would I be able
to discretely run to the side of the course and go there? Then I began to think about how grossed out I would be if I saw someone doing the same thing. Maybe I would just wet my pants. I could toss a cup of Gatorade on myself from the water station -- it was lemon/lime flavour, after all -- and claim that I had an 'unfortunate spill'. But no. I wouldn't do that. And then I remembered something that Yvette, a trainer from the gym wrote on my last blog post:
"Mind/ the time if ever one wants to give in, remember the other is ready to KICK IT UP!!!...TUNE INTO yourself....make the switch, take the flip and kick some*ss!!!"
At that moment, I realized that my mind was taking over. I was completely fixated on the fact that I had to go to the washroom. I needed to get that out of my head, because I could my pace begin to slow. I needed to pick it back up.

So, I got back into my groove, and began to really run again. I looked at my watch and realized that I was behind pace -- and likely wouldn't make my goal of 30 minutes or less. And quickly, my mind began to take over again. I had to remind myself of where I was... and from where I came. Getting to this point in my journey was already a big deal. Finishing my first road race was the real goal. The time was irrelevant.

I then dropped my shoulders, took a deep breath, turned up the volume on my iPod and got back to business. And it was going to feel "like buttah" from there on in....

As I turned off Lakeshore Boulevard onto Bay Street, I was searching for the 4-km mark, but didn't see it. I didn't really know where I was at in terms of distance, but in the distance, I could see Toronto's Old City Hall -- just to the left of which was the finish line. I looked at my watch, and it read: 28 minutes. And I looked to my left and saw a 500-meter marker. Could I crank out the last 500 meters in 2 minutes? Could I possibly make my time? I thought about trying to run the last stretch as fast as I could. And as I took a deep breath to pick up my pace, I looked around me and saw throngs of people lining the course. This was the point where the full marathon route and the 5k / half-marathon route merged. So the energy and excitement was much bigger than I had anticipated. And it quickly got more overwhelming than I imagined.

Just as I had taken that breath to pick up my pace and run hard, my breath got caught in my throat, and I started to get choked up. There were people cheering me on. I never thought I would ever feel how incr
edible that was. I was the one who always stood by the sidelines and cheered other people on. And today, they were cheering for all of the runners. Even though they didn't know me, they were still cheering for me.

That's where this experience got really big.

I needed to get back into it. I had no desire to approach the finish line as an emotional mess. I could have my moment to myself later -- I wasn't going to have it in front of thousands of people. But I could feel deep within me that this was a major moment. As much as I had said, and cognitively realized that this was something I never thought I would ever do, that moment -- that moment when the cheering began to blur, the music began to rise, and my stride began to lengthen -- was the first time I had actually felt how really big this was.

And it felt unreal. And I started to giggle. And I knew I was good.

So I got my focus, and began to scan the crowd for my friends Jonathan and Elliot, who were going to try to catch me at the finish line. I found myself scanning left and right, unsure of where I might see them. And realized once again that my brain was taking over. Time to focus again, and let my legs
do their thing.

Turning the corner at the 100 metre mark

I picked up my pace, and approached the 200 meter marker. I thought to myself, "I can't believe this is actually happening." And as I made the slight turn on the course, at the 100 meter mark, the finish line came into sight.
I decided to really run. And just as I did, I looked to my left and saw Jon and Elliot standing at the top of the bleachers cheering me on. I gave them a quick wave, and then began to sprint towards the finish.

Passing by Jon & Elliot en route to the finish...

Moments later, I crossed the line. My time from the official start was 35:57.9. I turned off my iPod and Nike+ sensor, and my watch, and realized that my actual time was closer to 32 minutes. I remember thinking to myself:

32 minutes.
I didn't hit my goal of 30 minutes.

32 minutes.
Friggin' walkers at the start.

32 minutes!
Holy shit, I just ran a 5-k in 32 minutes!
32 minutes!!
Holy shit, I just ran a 5-k!!

32 minutes!!!

My actual chip time was 32:10.3. I figured that with the slow start (yes, I have yet to forgive the walkers...), that I probably would have come in closer to 30 minutes. And after checking the pace of my run on my Nike+ sensor, I ran at a pace of 6 minutes per kilometer. So, I'm adjusting my time to 30:10.3. Yes, I'm adjusting it. Remember, I'm not trying to qualify for Boston here. ;)

My other run stats (yes, this is coming from a guy who doesn't like to deal with the 'numbers' of this whole weight-loss journey):
  • Of 4249 5-km participants, I placed 1659 overall.
  • In my category of men aged 35-39 years, I placed 86th out of 158.
  • Out of all of the men, I placed 769th of 1481.
Not bad for a guy who used to weigh 435 pounds, eh? I think it's pretty friggin' spectacular, if you ask me.

After I turned in my race chip, I made my way to the meet & greet area, and connected with Jon and Elliot. Shortly thereafter, Lisa, Alison and Kim came in... and we had all run our best races! We had trained for this... and it paid off. So we gathered as a small group, and took a moment to soak it in. Something that each of us had thought at one point was going to be difficult or challenging, was finally very real. And very exciting.

Me, Alison, Lisa and Kim, enjoying our accomplishment at Toronto's Nathan Phillips Square
So there you have it. Shortly thereafter, we cleaned up, met up with our friends and had an amazing brunch. Ironically, I didn't have the Eggs Benedict. I had a steak & cheese omelette, home fries, and grilled corn bread. Do you know how much fat is in hollondaise sauce?!?! Oh, I also had a celebratory shooter. ;)

An incredible way to spend a day. Brunch with friends. A road race with training partners. And declaring victory over my own self-doubt and uncertainty, which have been the fuel for my demons for so many years. Again, this wasn't just a race against the clock for my best time. It was a race against myself -- my mind, my body, my soul. And today the three all worked together to leave me with a feeling of excitement and elation that I've never experienced before.

And I hope that one day, all of you who read this experience the same feeling. In whatever way you can.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

PS. Yes, I finally went pee. ;)

Friday, September 25, 2009

Leap of faith

So the final preparations have begun for my first road race this coming Sunday. It's a 5km run -- the first I've ever done, and I'm starting to get psyched for what Sunday might bring. In true Virgo style, I'm taking care of the details -- checking the weather report, making sure I've got meals appropriately planned, having my gear all in place, creating the 5km playlist on my iPod, and basically, I'm relaxing.... as much as you can when you're about to do something you never thought you ever would ever do.

Rewind 19 months... remember, I was 435 pounds and could barely crank out a 10-minute walk on a treadmill at the gym. I never thought I'd get to a point where I was preparing for a 5k run, and thinking that this is but the first step in may more runs to come. What I once thought was unimaginable is now close to being very real, and I'm pretty excited by the possibility.

The 5km run is happening on a pretty flat course, and it's part of a marathon and 1/2 marathon series that is run in Toronto each year. Mentally, I'm trying to treat the run just like any other 5k training run I've done. I should be well fuelled, well hydrated, well rested, and relaxed (hopefully). But I can't help but get a little bit anxious and excited about what awaits me in just under two days.

My bib number for the race is 16459. Holy crap! Does the numbering start at 00001? Does that mean there will be over 16000 people running on Sunday? That's a lot of people. That's a lot of people running. I'm looking forward to the anticipation, the excitement and more than anything, the adrenaline. Because I'm hoping that the adrenaline will give me the extra push I need to reach my goal on this one.

You see, I've really only been running for about 3 months. Sebastien and I took our first run on July 1 -- a hot Canada Day run along Toronto's Boardwalk. And since then, I've been running several days each week; sometimes alone, but most times with either my friend Alison or my friend Lisa, both of whom are running on Sunday as well. This is going to be an exciting day for each of the three of us, because we've each got our own reasons for doing this, and I'm looking forward to sharing our success together at the finish line... and celebrating it over eggs benedict at brunch later that day!

But the brunch plans aside, I'm excited about Sunday because I know that my running has been getting a lot better. The cardio and strength conditioning in the gym and in the spinning studio has helped build my endurance. I can run longer, farther, and faster than I ever imagined. And since I've clocked my personal best run at 31:04 just a few weeks ago, I've decided that my goal for Sunday is come as close as I can to getting my 5k in at or under the 30 minute mark. We'll see how that goes... I'm not sure that I'll see that happen.

This past Wednesday, Seb and I did my last official training run. We had scheduled my workouts and runs over the past two weeks so that I'd have a few days of rest before Sunday. And Wednesday's objective was to run the best 5k I could, and hope to come in close to the 30-minute mark. Well, Mother Nature was not on my side that day. I had watched the weather report the night before, and in spite of the lovely autumn weather we've had over the past few weeks, Wednesday was close to 30-degrees Celcius with the humidity. And even though we were running along the lake, the air was thick, and I couldn't catch my breath. I was anxious off the start -- first of all because this was the first time I had run with Seb since our July start, but also because the humidity was not going to make it comfortable.

We got started, and from the first few steps, I began to feel the fatigue from my full-body resistance workout I had done the night before at the gym. My legs were good, but my arms, chest and back were tight. And my chest was even tighter after each stride because I didn't feel like I could get my breathing pattern down pat. I was breathing too high, and couldn't get a good deep breath going from my gut... so everything felt very tight altogether. And breathing from your chest makes your arms tight, your shoulders tight, your back tight... and basically makes for an uncomfortable stride. And overall it didn't improve. If Seb hadn't been running with me, I probably would have stopped and walked home, but I had to finish. I've made a pledge to try to never give up, and when Seb's willing to run alongside me, I feel like I have to respect that and give it my best.

And I did. We ran the 5k -- talking at some points, running in silence at others. But that silence was powerful. His stride helped keep me on pace, and kept me moving at many moments where I just wanted to stop. And beyond the sound of our feet hitting the wooden planks of the boardwalk, the only other thing I really felt like I could hear was the shallow breathing that I knew wasn't making things any easier.

But I didn't choose to do this because it was going to be easy. Tackling a 5k was about doing something that was going to challenge me and force me to be uncomfortable -- because I know that from that discomfort comes growth and change. And that's what I kept telling myself with each step towards the end. If this was easy... I wouldn't be doing it.

We got back to the car, sprinting the last 100 metres or so, and I stopped my timer. We finished in 34 minutes. So, we hadn't hit the target of 31 minutes or less. And initially I was pissed off. I began to blame Mother Nautre, for having no breath and too much humidity. I felt like I ran a crappy 5k -- and Seb quickly pointed out that 19 months ago, I never imagined that I would ever say that I ran a crappy 5k... let alone a that I ran 5k to begin with. That made me feel a bit better.

So I've been resting the past few days, per our plan. I did a spinning class tonight at Legacy because I couldn't bear to not do something active tonight. I took a day of rest yesterday, and I'll have another one tomorrow. But I had to move my butt tonight. I was once again the only one who went to the late class, so I fortunately got more 1-1 training with Andy, who put me through a workout tonight with endurance in mind, knowing that I have the run ahead of me on Sunday. We didn't do much power work, but instead focused on endurance -- I rode for about 45 minutes straight at varying intensities. And it felt fantastic. Andy helped me think through my pace, my timing and more than anything my focus.

One thing in particular that Andy told me was that the race is not about running against other people -- it's about trying to get my goal time, and as such, is a race against the clock. For the most part, I agree, since my goal is to come close to or under the 30-minute mark. In so many other ways though, this is a race against someone else. It's against one person in particular -- the ghost of the person I once was, who, 19 months ago never ever thought I'd become the person I am today.

Do I really need to run a 5k race to know that I've already won that one? No... but it will sure be sweet in continuing to prove the point. :)

All that said, I sign off with the text from a card a friend sent me today, wishing me well for the run on Sunday.

It's called a leap of faith
because there is strength in daring to take the leap.
And the faith happens just before you realize
That you've begun to fly.

The run ahead of me on Sunday will definitely be a leap of faith -- letting my body do what I've trained it to do, trusting that what I've done thus far has prepared me well It's also about putting my brain to rest for the 30 minutes it will take for me to achieve yet another of my goals -- to not overthink what I'm doing, and simply let my body take over. And trusting my body is not something I'm used to doing. But It's something I'm learning to do more and more each day...

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

And now... I spin.

Now, for the past few months, I've been getting a bit bored with my cardio workouts. Even though I've taken up running, and am officially one week away from my first ever road race (the ScotiaBank Toronto Waterfront Marathon... I'm running the 5-k), I have found lately that my cardio sessions, which are about an hour a day, have been mundane. I know this not only from the fact that my mind begins to wander, and I am not fully 'present' in the workout, but also from the fact that my calorie burn and heart rate output hasn't been as high as I would like. So for a while, I tried to vary my cardio sessions, by doing a circuit of 10 minutes of running, elliptical, and stationary bike work, but it was still a bit dull. That said, I had started to disengage a bit with what I was doing.

Then, a few weeks ago, my very dear friend Liza asked me if I wanted to try a spinning class. Spinning (or indoor cycling) is a low-intensity cardio workout done on a high-end stationary bike. I figured this would be great training, because I have set another goal of joining my friend Jonathan on the Friends for Life ride -- a 5-day 600-km bike ride between Toronto and Montreal in July 2010 to raise money for people living with HIV/AIDS. The difference between a spinning class (which lasts about 50 minutes) and simply doing a ride on the bike at the gym however, is that the instructor takes you through a multi-terrain workout of sprinting, hill climbs, all-terrain rides, and interval power rides that push your body through a wide range of work and recovery periods that provide for a pretty incredible workout. As the rider, you control the intensity of your workout, but cranking up your dial -- adding pace, resistance and intensity to your ride, that allows you to be fully in control of where you take your body on any given day. It's a pretty cool experience that really forces you to be connected to what you're doing with you body; to know your strength, your weakness, and most importantly where you can capitalize on the opportunity to push your body that little bit further and burn lots of calories. Now, add into the mix a group of about 10 or so other riders (all of whom have differing skill levels) who are all committed to challenging themselves to take their workout to the next level, and a leader who is part night club DJ, part coach, part instructor, and part beneficiary of the benefits of spinning, and you end up with a pretty cool workout.

So Liza and I went for our first class a few weeks ago, and Andy, the instructor at Legacy Indoor Cycling took the time to make sure we were properly fit on our bikes, and that we fully understood how everything worked. This was reassuring, because another friend had tried a spinning class a few months prior, and ended up with a bruised tailbone and a whole lot of pain. I had heard spinning horror stories -- it hurts, it's hard, it's intense. So, I didn't know what I was necessarily in for. But, given all that I've accomplished in the past 19 months (dropping 170 pounds) and my new mindset that healthy living is business, I was excited about the possibility of this new experience.

Liza and I made it through our first class. Andy told us our goal was to simply keep moving -- don't try to keep up with him, don't try to pace ourselves by the people around us. Liza joked that her goal was to not fall off the bike... deep down inside, that was my goal, too. Andy shared his own experience of how spinning had helped him get into shape and lose weight -- and told me that I would likely find it helpful in the same way. I told him what I had already lost at that point, and to myself said, "...and you ain't seen nothing yet!" But my confidence aside, this was something new, and I was excited by the possibility. The class stared, and I got into the pace of the ride. I experimented with 'the dial' -- the only thing standing between me and realizing my fullest potential. And I was in control of it. The dial controls the resistance on the bike's flywheel, and it's from resistance and pace that one can reap the tremendous benefits of spinning. Even though the goal was simply to finish the class, after a few minutes, I couldn't help but get sucked into the energy of it all.

So we finished the class, walked back to Liza's place and did a bit more stretching to make sure our legs didn't turn to goo. The first class was free, and we chatted about whether or not we would go back. After a while, we concluded that we'd give it another go, and see how it felt.

I went back the next day.
And I've been hooked ever since.

Over the past few weeks, I've been concentrating on improving my technique. Now there's an old addage that equates the simplicity of many things in life being "like riding a bike." It's something that is pretty intuitive, straightforward, and rudimentary, right?. Now, indoor cycling isn't incredibly complex, but it does take some attention to proper technique and tuning your mind to what your body is doing at any point in time, so that you can minimize the potential for strain or injury. And that's been my focus for the past few weeks.

And this morning, I feel like I've got it.

My workout regimen consists of working out 6 days each week. On three days, I do a combination of weight training and cardio. On the other three days, I do 60-90 minutes of cardio. And very quickly, indoor cycling has come to take up an important spot in my routine. I've replaced three of my cardio segments with spinning, and am also managing to get in my weightlifting and training runs for my 5k. What I have then, is a wonderful amount of variety in my workouts that not only maintains my interest, but also keeps my body 'guessing' at what I'm going to do next. And it's the physiological uncertainty -- that ability to challenge my physical being, that keeps my metabolism on its toes and burning those all important calories and body fat. In other words, I feel like I'm in control of my body...and that my body is longer in control of me.

And it feels good...really really good.

What has helped my technique in the past few weeks is the opportunity for some concentrated instruction from Andy. On two occasions, I've gone to the spinning class not feeling totally into it, but committed to showing up knowing that if I simply get there and get started, I'll feel better. The first time this happened, there was one other person in the class, and as beginners, Andy spent time helping each of us fine tune our technique.

And the class each of us did the day after was incredible.

Then, this past Friday, I decided to fit in a class before I went out for dinner with friends to celebrate my 36th birthday. I figured that since I was planning to consume lots of decadent things (beer, lamb shank, gnocchi) that I should fire up my metabolism and give my body its best shot at burning what I was about to put into it later that night. So, I got to class a bit early and joined the session that was already underway. I rode for the tail-end of that class, and then eagerly awaited the arrival of other participants to join me for the 6:30 class. And no one else showed up. So there I sat on the saddle, hoping to have a bit of an easy ride (it was my birthday after all, and ironically, it was also Lance Armstrong's), and Andy looked at me, grinned, and said he was going to teach off the bike. Normally he's at the front of the room on his bike, donning his headset and microphone, coaching our team through the ride. But that night, he stood in front of me and took me face to face through a 45-minute class.

And it was awesome.

I cranked through 842 calories in 45 minutes. I had sweat pouring off the end of my nose. My shirt was soaked, my muscles were tight (in a good way), and my legs felt like 'buttah'. I had the opportunity to talk to Andy about where I was 19 months ago, and what got me to where I am today. He shared that his experience was similar in some ways, and I realized at that moment, that once again, I had stumbled serendipitously upon someone who 'got it'. Like Sebastien, the folks at Legacy have a tremendous amount of respect for the individual journey each of their members. I mean, how lucky am I to have come upon a trainer, a gym, and now a spinning studio where I am not pre-judged for who I am, but am instead encouraged to be the best possible person I can be? I really have struck the jackpot on my fitness journey, in so many ways.

Furthermore, one of the beautiful things about spinning is that, as a fitness modality, it designed to meet you where you're at -- physically and emotionally. And the class environment creates the context in which you can take yourself to the very next level... and beyond. The people who are in the class are all there to support one another. We go through rides as a team -- not unlike Lance Armstrong and his riders -- using our collective strengths to get one another through the course. Some riders lead, others follow. Some riders recover while others lead the pack through the next bit of 'terrain'. Some of us grunt (I do that a lot), some of us go "Woot!", and some of us close our eyes and create a picture in our mind's eye of what we're doing.

It's a pretty cool experience.

Today, there were twelve of us in the class... at 9:30 on a Sunday morning. The energy among the riders was palpable. Some participants were first-timers, others were seasoned riders, and some were in that middle space (like me) where we're still figuring out and enjoying every push of the pedal along the way. There are moments when Andy encourages use to crank up the dial. And there are likely many of us who think "I'm not sure I can give it one more turn." But you look across the room, and see one of your team-mates cranking up her dial. Her legs slow at first, but then begin to power through the resistance of the flywheel. And you reach down, turn your own dial, and do the same. And you crank, and you pump, and you ride.

And you feel fantastic.

You can't help but feed from the energy of other people in the room. When you're feeling like you may not have much more to give, there's always someone else -- riding alongside you, or just ahead of the pack who, with a grunt, a 'woot' or a smile, gives you that extra boost you need to keep spinning and take it to the next level. And you get to the end of class, dripping in sweat, smiles on faces, and congratulating one another on a job well done -- something that
sitting alone on a stationary bike at the gym is incapable of providing.

It's pretty spectacular, when you think about it.

I'm hooked. Seriously hooked.

Kia kaha,
Stay strong.