Friday, July 31, 2009

Oops, I did it again...

I've gone and done it. Again.

After setting a goal in January that I thought would tak
e until September to achieve, I met the goal in early May. Shortly thereafter, I was riding a pretty good high, and set my next goal with September 18 (my birthday) as my target: I wanted to reach 275 pounds.

Tonight I blew it out of the water.
A month and a half ahead of my target.

Tonight, I weighed in at 271.8 pounds. That's down 161.2 pounds since I was at my heaviest. Go ahead... do the math. I'm finally saying it publicly. There's no shame in saying that yes, I was once a 435 pound man. Not anymore!

Not only have I dropped 161.2 pounds, but I've a
lso trimmed over 70 inches of fat off my body. My confidence continues to grow. My strength improves each and every day, and my endurance is incredible. I train like an athlete. I am an athlete. I train hard at the gym. I run about 15km each week, and am picking up speed each and every day. My blood pressure is normal, and I've got the resting heart rate of a marathon runner.

Don't know what more to say... I feel amazing. I continue to learn more and more each day about my body, my spirit, and my self. I continue to push my physical and cognitive limits, and surprise myself at eac
h turn, learning that there is very little I can't achieve -- especially if I put my mind, my heart and my soul into it.

So there you have it... a quick update. Another moment of elation, of relief and of pride. And I can't say much more, because words cannot even begin to describe what moments like these mean to me.

(Sebastien and I after our sparring session tonight... always a good time!)

So, whatever your journey, whatever your path, whatever challenge you face, whatever battle you fight, I offer you again the two powerful words that my sister shared with me, and from which I draw tremendous strength and determination.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong, my friends. Stay strong.

PS. New goal... another 36.8 pounds before December 25, 2009. That'll be 200 pounds in 2 years. Talk about a Christmas present!!!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

On the verge....

Last week marked my first week back in the gym after a my vacation. My two weeks off were followed by a week where I had a pretty nasty sinus infection, so not much time was spent sweating out the calories or eating anything particularly healthy. You know how it is -- you feel like crap, and oddly enough eating comfort (sometimes crap) food is what makes you feel better... a bit better, that is.

So, just in time for a weekend training session with Seb, my sinuses cleared and I was ready to get back into my routine. I was feeling a bit anxious because I had been away from it for so long. In fact, looking back on it now, I was probably feeling a little depressed -- not only because I was sick, but also because I realized that I didn't miss working out as much as I thought I would while I was off. I mean, it was really easy for me to not go to the gym for three weeks. It was really easy for me to dig into a decadent cheesy pizza instead of my daily dose of raw broccoli. In other words, getting back to my 'old ways' was really easy... and I didn't think I would revert that quickly, or even that willingly. I was feeling a bit disappointed with myself -- not necessarily for having taken a break from the rigor of daily life... that we know, I needed. I was disappointed that I felt like I was beginning to slip. And when you've focused on staying strong for so long, that slipping feeling wasn't a pleasant one.

So, on a Sunday afternoon, I headed back to the gym for my training session. It was so great to see Sebastien again -- when you end up spending such intense time with someone, and when you develop what is an emotionally and intellectually intimate relationship with your trainer, it's tough to be apart for three weeks. My friends often joke that we have a wierd co-dependent relationship, but it is what it is. And I'm lucky to have it. I am blessed to have someone in my life who helps me refocus and get back into gear, so reconnecting with Seb was something I was looking forward to.

At our session, we spent a good chunk of time regrouping and discussing our next steps. Essentially, I am five pounds off my September 18 goal (again, ahead of schedule!), but am also heading into a really busy time. I'm back at work, I have classes two nights per week, and I've been out of sync for a while. So we decided that for the next four weeks or so, we'd ease back into it and take it easy. Yeah, right! That afternoon, Seb got me started on doing some hanging crunches, as well as vertical pull-ups using a block for assistance. While I'm not able to do a full chin-up from a hanging position yet, my arm, chest and back strength is increasing, and I'll get there before I know it. And that was our session. Later that night, he e-mailed me my routine: 3 days of full-body resistance training followed by some cardio, and two days of cardio work. If I can squeeze in one more cardio day, then it's all good. Given my hectic schedule, I was planning on doing the full-body resistance work on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, doing some light cardio on Tuesday and Thursday, and maybe squeeze in something else on Saturday. Sounds like a good week, right?

Well, for the past few months we've been doing circuit work. Essentially, you do a set of exercises in a series, with little or no rest in between each set. The goal is to maintain an elevated heart rate, ensuring that your resistance work helps to build not only muscle and strength, but cardiovascular endurance. You proceed through a series of exercises back to back, take a one minute rest, and then do the series over once or twice again. Pretty straightforward, right? Well, on Monday night, I set out to do the routine for the first time, and here's what it looked like:
Warm Up: Run on the treadmill at 5.0 mph for 15 minutes

Light Stretch of legs, arms, chest, back.

Resistance: Do each series in circuit, 2-3 sets of each circuit:
Series A
Leg Press: 15 reps x 540 lbs
Chinups: 15 reps
Bench Press: 15 reps x 135 lbs
Standing Dumbbell Shoulder Press: 15 reps x 25 lbs
Standing Bicep Curls (both arms same time): 15 reps x 30 lbs
Bench Dips: up to 30
Rest: 1 minute, repeat twice

Series B
Squats: 15 reps x 185 lbs
Seated Row: 15 reps x 130 lbs
Pushups: 15-20
Lateral Raises: 15 reps x 15 lbs dumbbells
Bicep Bar Curls: 15 reps x 60 lbs bar
Tricep Ropes: 15 reps x 60 lbs
Rest: 1 minute, then repeat twice

Core: Do these exercises in circuit, rest where indicated. 2 sets of each circuit
Hanging Knee Raises: 15
Decline Bench Situps: 30
Ball Crunches: 100
Rest: 30 seconds

Cardio: 20 minutes elliptical at level 13, 20 minutes on bike level 12 (random)

Cool down stretch. Then go home and eat.
So that was the workout. It looked completely reasonable on paper... and totally achievable. I mean, this was nothing I hadn't done already. Well, remember those moments when you realize that your eyes are bigger than your stomach??? This was one of those moments! Diving back into it after three weeks off was TOUGH!!! That night, I burned close to 2200 calories doing this workout -- insane!!! But it felt incredible. And I was looking forward to ploughing through the same routine the next Wednesday with Sebastien.

On Wednesday, we met up for my session, and following my warmup and stretching, we dove right into it. We had an hour to get through the two series of circuit work -- totall do-able. And it was at that moment that I once again realized the tremendous value of working with a trainer.

I have been working with Sebastien for just over a year now, and I can honestly say that I have never had a session where I worked harder than I did last Wednesday night. I was able to do so becuase he was by my side encouraging me, getting me through everything I needed to do, and reminding me that all of this is entirely possible. Not always with words -- sometimes being there is all you need from someone. And that's what you would expect from a trainer, right? I mean, I've watched pretty much every episode of The Biggest Loser and a lot of other weight loss shows, and have seen their trainers work them just as hard. But I've also wondered how contestants get to the point where they either throw up, or simply lose it and start crying.

Well on Wednesday night, I was on the verge of both. Sebastien had me working so hard, that I was working at 88-92% of my maximum heart rate for about 40 minutes. Insane. That was the ultimate test of my endurance, and I am thrilled that I was able to keep pace. But it didn't come easy... not at all. How would you be able to tell? Well, I'm one of those guys at the gym who doesn't like to make much noise. Yes, I recognize that grunting and moaning sometimes helps you squeak out one last rep -- but I have never been very 'vocal' in my workouts. On Wednesday, I went home with my throat feeling hoarse from all of the grunting and shouting. Yes, I turned into the weightlifting meathead who makes a lot of noise... but it's what I needed to do. It's also what I feel like I needed to do to avoid falling to the floor in a puddle of tears.

Working out at my intensity and pace (at that of a full-tilt athlete) takes not only a lot of physical endurance, but also an incredible amount of mental stamina. This journey has been an unbelievable victory for me -- a victory over a battle that I have tried to fight so many times beofre in my life. And the amount of sweat equity it takes to make this much of a change is matched only by the 'tear equity' -- that is, the amount of emotional fortitude and strength it takes to get it done. So when you've got your trainer telling you to crank out five more reps, when all you want to do is turn around and punch him in the face with the barbell (I'd never do that, Seb), your strength has to come from somewhere. And it's not from your muscles.

It comes from your heart. It comes from your soul. It comes from a place deep within where you find and contemplate travelling "the avenue of gain" (to again use the words of choreographer, Li'C). And sometimes it comes out in tears. Those tears start in that same place where self-determination and belief, and often the lack of both, come together to help me to crank out those next few reps, knowing that when I make it through to the end of the routine, I'm going to feel a feeling so incredible that it will be worth every drop of sweat.

Well, the interesting thing is that I didn't feel that increidble feeling right away. Not only was I on the verge of tears a few times, but as we neared the end of our session, I seriously thought I was gonna hurl. I was cranking out my last set of tricep pulldowns, and when I got to the 10th rep, I could feel something brewing inside... and it wasn't good. So, like every determined athlete, I kept going. I realize now that when I get that feeling, I should stop. But I was five reps from the end. So I had to finish it out. I wasn't going to quit. And when I got to that last rep, I was done. I was spent. I had nothing left inside, nothing more to give.

And I didn't throw up after all. Close call, though!

But I did go home that night, sat on the couch for a bit and reflected on what I had accomplished. And at that moment, I moved beyond the verge of tears and had a good power cry... you know, the therapeutic cry that makes you feel better. And these tears weren't because I needed them to help me crank through a few more reps of my routine. They were there because I was so friggin impressed with myself that night. I never imagined that I would ever be able to work this hard. I never envisioned a time that I would train near the pace of a professional athlete, and still be standing afterwards. I never fathomed the possibility that I would consider myself as being an athlete. I mean growing up, that was a word reserved for the people who, from a quiet distance, I wanted to become, but never ever thought I would ever be.

Well, I am now.
And it feels friggin' incredible.

So, getting back into my routine was tough. And powering through my workout on Wednesday night was even tougher. But it was possible because I've got the guidance and support of an incredible friend and trainer. More importantly, it was possible, and will continue to be so, because I've got something now that I never had before -- the unshakeable belief that I can do anything I want to do.

So bring it on.

I'm supplementing my strength routines with 5-kilometre runs. I've done three 5K runs this week alone. And my legs feel great. Seriously. I'm beginning to both educate myself more about running, and wrap my head around my goals that lay ahead: a 5K road race in September, a 10K next spring, and a half-marathon in Fall 2010. I think I'm going to hop on a bike and ride to work someday soon -- it's only 33k each way! And in the fall, maybe I'll take up karate.. who knows? The possibilities are endless -- endless because I've learned to face my demons head on, even when I'm on the verge of tears and throwing up, and know in my heart and my soul -- again deep down in 'that place', that I will always win.


Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Relaxing with Meryl...

Without a doubt, I've been working hard. I've had this intense focus on health and wellness for over a year now that has been almost unshakeable. And it has been fantastic. But what has been even more exciting for me, was the prospect of taking a break from it all -- work, home, working out -- and chilling out while doing something I absolutely love... travelling and watching great theatre.

It feels like it has been a couple of years since my last
overseas adventure, and this year, I decided to stick closer to home than I normally would. But I decided to do something that has always been a bit of a dream -- spend days soaking up the lights and energy of Broadway in New York City. As I'm a bit of a Broadway musical junkie, so many people have a hard time believing that I've never been before. But after finding amazing deals on hotel and airfare, and show tickets, one of my best friends Tony, (that's him and I on right outside of NYC's Schubert Theater) and I set off on July 6 for 4 days in the Big Apple.

Now, as this isn't a blog about travelling, I'm not going to spend too much time yammering on about how much I fell in love with Ne
w York. But I'm only going to say it once -- seriously. That city is incredible. Here's a quick list of the highlights:

We saw four stunning shows: Next to Normal (a musical about bipolar disorder), In the Heights (a musical about life in the latin community in NYC), 9 to 5 (a musical version of the famous movie starring Dolly Parton),
and Blithe Spirit (a play featuring Angela Lansbury and Rupert Everett). All the shows were fantastic -- we laughed, we cried, it was better than Cats.

  • Although we had a lengthy list of things to do, we didn't overdo it. We hung out in Herald Square, had lunch on the Lower East Side, shopped at Macy's, and just soaked up the city. We didn't do any tourist attractions... saving those for my next 10 trips.
  • I fell in love with the Upper West Side... and got my photo taken in front of Will & Grace's apartment building.
  • Oh, and just a minor detail. We met Meryl Streep. She had dinner at the table next to ours. We waited outside the restaurant for an hour for her. We shook her hand, said hello and soaked up her stunning brilliance. She smells floral. Seriously. I haven't washed my hand since!
All that said, the highlight of the trip to NYC was the fact that I learned to let go, and relax. I was a bit nervous heading into the trip because I knew that I wasn't going to be able to work out as much as I have been. In the week leading up to the trip to NYC, I had a one-week 'staycation' here in Toronto, and gradually weaned myself off the gym in preparation for a week-long hiatus. Seb and I went for a 5k run on the boardwalk, my friends Mo and Jim from BC did a 25K bike ride with me along the harbourfront, and I also ventured out for a solo 5K run along the beach. I hadn't spent that much time being active outside for as long as I can remember, and it felt fantastic!!! The off I went to NYC...

I brought my gym gear with me, with every intention of getting up in the morning to do a quick bit of cardio at the hotel gym. On the fi
rst morning, Tony woke up and headed up to the gym, while I stayed in my cozy bed at the hotel. It felt good to say 'No, I'm not going to go to the gym today' and to roll over and fall back to sleep. I didn't think it was going to be that easy to say 'no', but I did. And it felt nice. Although part of me is wishing that I had gone to the gym that morning... not because I missed the workout, but because I missed Tony choreographing his own broadway musical on the treadmill, much to the delight of the contruction workers looking into the gym from the adjancent building... but that's another story altogether!!!

We walked all over NYC and enjoyed the abundance of
tasty food that the city had to offer. I didn't completely overdo it on the food front, which for a self-proclaimed foodie, was a tough thing. But we had some amazing pizza at Li'l Frankies in the East Village, started our days with 'cawfee' and donuts from Dean and Deluca, or strudel and blintzes from Zabar's, and I "found Jesus" in a pastrami on rye from Katz's deli, ironically the same place Meg Ryan had her fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally. We had a Jamba Juice before each evening play we saw, and had reasonable dinners -- sometimes a quick slice of pizza, a sandwich, or as we did one evening, some gnosh, wine and dessert at Angus McIndoe's Restaurant, where we dined next to the incomparable Meryl Streep. I did say that I met her, right??

I had one of the most enjoyable vacations I've ever ha
d -- because I unclenched and I relaxed. I didn't worry about what I put in my mouth. I didn't worry about the fact that I was missing my workouts. I didn't worry about the fact that my routine was shot for a week. Why? Because I was thoroughly relaxed and enjoying myself. I was living one of my dreams... 4 days of Broadway in NYC!!! Nothing could wipe the smile off my face!

But I did start to frown for a short while during our trip. Before I left, I did a bunch of clothes shopping to get ready for both the NYC trip and a subsequent family wedding in Pennsylvania. I ha
d everything I needed except for a summer-weight v-neck sweater to go with my newly acquired seersucker shorts from Joe Fresh. Yes, i've become a bit of a fashionista. I saw a v-neck at the Gap here in Toronto before I left -- perfect size, a 2XL, and decided not to buy it in case I saw something better in NYC! But after searching at a few stores, including Macy's and Century 21, I decided to head back to the Gap in NYC and buy the v-neck sweater. But when I got there, they didn't have any 2XL sweaters! This was a bit unsettling, because US retailers tend to carry more 'extended sizes' than Canadian retailers. But they didn't have ANY 2XL menswear, so the v-neck sweater was history. Until the next day.

We were strolling through the Upper West Side, after having taken some photos in front of Will & Grace's apartment building. Passing by yet another Gap store, we went in to check for a 2XL men's v-neck sweater. Again, no 2XL sweat
ers. I was starting to feel sad. Just when I was starting to feel like I 'fit' in 'normal clothes' from 'normal stores', I couldn't find what I wanted. Now I know that many of you are probably thinking that it's just a sweater, but when you spend a lot of your life shopping at Big & Tall speciality stores, finding nice clothes that fit well is really difficult. Now, Tony sensed that I was started to get frustrated, and suggested that I should at least try on an XL sweater. I rolled my eyes and told him 'no'. He told me just to try it. So, I made him hold my man purse (er, I mean 'European Men's Carry All') and my sunglasses, while I reluctantly pulled the size XL sweater over my head.

It fit.

Like, seriously. It fit. I couldn't believe it. I have NEVER worn an XL sweater from the Gap. When the Gap came to Canada, I already outsized their inventory. This was pretty remarkable. I mean, 18 months ago, I would have been buying a 4XL men's sweater with no style or shape. And I got the XL I thought I'd never fit. And I haven't taken it off since... well, I have... but I still haven't washed the hand that Meryl Streep shook. Did I mention that I met her? Did I mention that she smelled 'floral'???

By the way, this photo was taken in front of one of the Big & Tall stores where I thought I would shop on my first trip to NYC... Ironically, nothing there fits!!!

So, all in all the trip was relaxing... and rewarding. I got my elusive grey sweater. I had a blast. I truly relaxed. After four days in what is one of the most amazing cities on the planet, I set off on the train to Pennsylvania for my
cousin Brian's wedding. I was a bit anxious because there were many family members there who hadn't seen me in a long time (i.e. since the beginning of my journey)... and my Dad was going to be there -- he saw me this past Christmas, but that was about 80 pounds ago. So, I was a bit anxious, but exicted at the same time.

After a long nap on the train and the shock of leaving
Manhattan to arrive in Amish Country, I arrived in Lancaster, and my Dad met me at the train station. He was thrilled to see me and didn't stop giggling for a few minutes - I'm assuming out of excitement for how good I looked. Relatives who I hadn't seen in ages remaked at how amazing I looked. Many people asked me what my 'secret' was... and I was thrilled to tell them that it was a lot of dedication and hard, hard work. I sent many of them here, to my blog, or specifically to my last post, to get an idea of how much work it takes. And their amazement and admiration made me feel incredible.

So, all in all, this was an incredible trip. I chilled out. I relaxed. I fulfilled a dream. I met Meryl Streep. I spent 4 days in NYC with one of my
best friends. What more can I ask for??? Oh, I know! For the first time in 10 years, I flew on an airplane without having to ask for an extension for the seatbelt! The regular standard seatbelt fit around me, with tons of room to spare. That was one of my goals -- to comfortably sit in a 'coach' airline seat.. and I did. And it felt amazing.

All that said, I'm proud of myself for having taken the time to relax and to fully celebrate what I've accomplished. It has been a long long haul so far, and I've still got a long way to go. But I needed this break. I truly truly did. And as one friend commented, "Man, you fu**ing deserve it."

He's right. I did. And I do.

Kia kaha.

Stay strong.

PS... Stay tuned for my next post about getting back to the gym after being on vacation and having a week-long sinus infection! The transition back has not been easy. And I promise the new post come much sooner than this one!!!

PPS. Another photo... this is the hand that Meryl shook.
You know, Meryl Streep. Did I mention that I met her? And yes, I've washed my hand since. Lightly, but it's clean. I mean, seriously.