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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

This is business...

It's official. As of tonight, I have now dropped 170 pounds. In just about 19 months, I have lost the equivalent of a grown man. After Sebastien weighed me in at the gym tonight, he started to giggle a bit. He giggles every now and again, and I just pass it off as him enjoying what we're doing. But tonight the giggle meant a little bit more than I thought.

You see, last week, I recorded my first 'gain' since Seb and I actually started tracking my progress in weights and measures. I had two pretty nutty weeks at work prior to our session last week, and was just happy to still be standing at the end of it all. I worked 17 days straight with no days off, and managed to squeeze in some training here and there. My diet was crap -- I didn't load up on fast food, but I didn't necessarily try to eat well either. Let's just say that my daily dose of raw broccoli wasn't happening. So last week when I weighed in, I had gained just over a pound. I had been regretting that moment for quite some time. I told Seb time and time again that if my weight remains the same, I'm cool with that. But I'd simply lose it if I gained.

Gaining just wasn't an option.

But after our weigh in last week, I was frankly too freakin' tired to even care. So I gained a pound. Big deal. I'd make up for it. So I refocused, we fine tuned my resistance workout, I concentrated on my training for the upcoming 5km road race, and threw myself into my new obsession: spinning. And my focus paid off.

Tonight, I made up for last week, and lost four pounds, to finally arrive at a 170-pound loss. That's the same amount as a grown adult male. Seriously. 170 pounds!?!

And that's why Seb was giggling.

I still remember the moment when I clocked a 100-pound loss. That was exhilarating. It was overwhelming. I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats. And over the past few months, we have both quietly watched the pounds drop off, as I've continued to reach my goals time and time again. I hit my next milestone, and we indeed indeed celebrated those moments. But we just continued cruising along -- me doing my thing, Seb challenging me to do more each time, and things have been tickety-boo.

But he started laughing tonight because 170 pounds is a huge deal. As he said, "I mean, 100-pounds was a big deal... but 170 pounds is, well... ." We started naming people around the gym who we thought weighed around 170 pounds, and I quickly began to realize what I've accomplished. Pretty remarkable. I think Seb could only giggle because it's kind of well... indescribable.

And then we jumped right back into things and started my workout.
Business as usual.

What's been interesting to me over the past little while is that week after week, I lose weight. I find new ways to challenge myself, and continue to learn more and more about who I am -- not just as a person physically, but about who I am in all of my dimensions. But this is business. I take this stuff VERY seriously. A woman at work the other day asked me how I've done it -- again, that there must be some sort of secret. Simply being serious about the choice I made to take control of my life is how I've done it. And it's how I'll continue to make it happen.

It'll continue to happen because this is business.

Being active is a regular integrated part of my day. I make very few adjustments to my schedule -- that is, I very rarely compromise my workouts (lifting weights, running, cardio, kickboxing, spinning) for something else. My health, my wellbeing and my happiness are the most important things in my life, and there's no compromise on that. That's what taking this seriously is about. That's what staying focused is about. That's what getting results is all about.

So, the latest goal I've set for myself is to have lost 200 pounds by Christmas this year. That's 30 pounds in the next 3 months. With commitment and focus, I can make it happen. The results are indeed possible. But if I don't hit the goal, I'll keep on keepin' on. I'll keep on grunting, sweating, kicking, running, spinning.

Regardless of the outcome in the months ahead, the only thing that matters to me is that this is business.

And it's business for life.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Living in truth... and running with joy

So, it's that time of year again... back to school time. I've always loved this time of year -- even as a kid, I would get excited about new pens, backpacks, notebooks.... you get the picture. Let's just say I shouldn't be left alone with the office supply catalogue at work -- there's no guarantee as to the damage I could do.

However, over the past 17 years, my excitement has been less about school supplies and more about reconnecting with people. Since my first year of university in 1992, I have been in some way, involved with helping people move into residence or with new student orientation (frosh week). This is my career. I work in university student services, and from my first days as a student leader, this has been the most exciting time of year for me. Again, not because of the school supplies... but because of the possibilities. Allow me to explain.

Since I first got involved in student leadership, I have had the opportunity to participate in a wide range of leadership training programs. As a residence don at The University of Waterloo, as a grad student at The University of Vermont, and as a professional at both Simon Fraser and the University of Toronto, this time of year has always been characterized by intensive work hours (I'm going on 15 days straight), facilitating lots of training workshops, and more than anything, connecting with young people -- university students -- who are new student leaders, full of potential, promise, and enthusiasm for what awaits them in the year ahead.

As a professional, I've had the chance to visit various institutions and deliver training workshops and keynote addresses related to leadership. This past weekend, I delivered two. On Saturday, I travelled to Huron College at the University of Western Ontario in London, where I delivered a 4-hour workshop on diversity, advocacy, assertiveness, and conflict mediation. It was a bit of a training mega-session, and I hope that the 16 student leaders who participated learned something. My sense is that they were pretty tired from a full week of training, and the last thing they wanted to do was do a 4-hour session on heavy issues like equity, bullying and conflict resolution. I didn't feel like I really connected with them. Even though exploring leadership and its connection to issues of diversity and equity is my research focus in my doctoral studies, I didn't necessarily feel like I was speaking to them from any place of relevance or truth. I don't think they were 'into' it, because I wasn't really 'into' it. In spite of the fact that dealing with this range of issues is such a huge part of my day to day work, they didn't resonate in a way with that sort of authenticity that would allow me to connect with a group of 16 young adults in as impactful a way as I thought I could.

That said, I took the train back to Toronto with a bit of a heavy head... and a heavy heart -- feeling like the keynote speech that I was to deliver the following day at Brock University in St. Catharines was destined to bomb.

I started my day off with a leisurely stroll outside with Rosie, and then a 50-minute spinning class at Legacy Indoor Cycling in Toronto. Spinning is my new addiction. I love it. My friend Liza introduced me to it two weeks ago... and I'm hooked. It provides me with an incredible workout... and it a blast at the same time. But I'll talk more about that in the weeks ahead. So, I started my day off on a good foot.

St. Catharines is 123 kilometres away from my house. And on all-highway driving, it should take just about 90 minutes to get there. It took me 3 1/2 hours to get there... traffic was insane!!! My stress level was on the rise... and I was already feeling anxious because I hadn't done as well as I had hoped the previous day. Even though I spent a few hours the night before fine-tuning my speech (which was about leadership, motivation, and change), I was still worried that it wouldn't go over very well. Add my anxiety from the drive to the mix... and well, you get the picture.

I arrived on campus with one minute to spare before I started my speech.

And I was a wreck.

My colleagues who invited me to speak got my laptop connected, I took a few quick moments to use the loo, and eventually found my 'centre'. It was time to begin. To a room of about 125 students, I spoke about my experiences as a student leader. I told them the story of how my roommate in first year urinated in my closet. I shared with them how I was inspired by a group of students who coloured their residence building as a Pride-flag in response to some homophobic incidents on campus. I told them about how learning with humility and leading in justice were among the keys to success for them.

And then I told them about how living in possibility was what leadership was truly all about. I told them that living in possibility was about doing one thing every day that scared the shit out of them.

And I showed them one of my kickboxing videos.

I showed them that kickboxing with Sebastien was in many ways about scaring the shit out of myself. Not only because it was about the sissy-gay boy learning to kick, punch and fight back... but most importantly because it represented how far I had come in this incredible journey towards better health.

And then I showed them my before and after shots.

They cheered. And they clapped. And a few of them rose to their feet.

I had connected with them. Unlike the day before, where I didn't feel like what I was saying made much sense, something I had said connected with this group. Was it the stories about my time as a student leader? My story about being the target of homophobia? The account of my journey towards better health?

It could have been any of the above... or a combination of them all. But as I drove home from Brock, feeling more joy than I have felt in a very long time, I realized that the connection I made was based on one thing, and one thing alone.

My truth.

My truth is about my journey. My truth is about sharing my story with the people around me. My truth is about being honest with myself and with others and realizing that the only way that I will continue to grow is through being comfortable with my own vulnerability, and scaring myself into realizing my own possibility. My truth is about being 'on display' and exposed. That's what clicked with them.

And I know it clicked because after my talk, I was approached by many of the participants who shared their congratulations with me. They told me I had inspired them. They told me that what I had said and done made so much sense. They encouraged me to keep on going. And one young woman even told me how my story resonated with her because of her own issues with disordered eating. Many of them shook my hand. Some even asked if they could hug me. A few had tears in their eyes. I had never experienced a reaction like this before. It was kind of overwhelming. But so very much needed. Their reaction did more for me than I ever thought possible.

Because the day before, while on the train home from London, I was chatting with Sebastien, and shared with him that I was feeling pretty vulnerable with 'my story'. I've been getting incredible feedback, but I had started to feel like I've been a bit on display. But I am a victim of my own creation, right? I mean, I've been pouring my soul out on-line for the past year, and over 1000 people have visited this blog to read more about my journey. And I've had incredible, wonderful, touching responses from so many readers -- but yesterday, during my talk, was the first time I feel like I really put my story on public display. The story was told by me. On my time. In my voice. And yes, I've been doing that on this blog for some time now, but speaking my truth out loud and in front of an audience is a very different experience. And the incredibly powerful response I got from those student leaders helped me to realize that being on display isn't necessarily a bad thing. My story -- my truth touches people. And it does so because my truth is hard to question. It's hard to argue with. It's hard to deny.

I was chatting with Sebastien tonight (yes, we talk a lot) and I was sharing this experience with him. I wanted to tell him about it, because these students also gave him a cheer and a shout-out because he's an alumnus of Brock University. They're pretty proud that one of their own helped me realize my own greatness... that Sebastien is "kind of a big deal" because he helps me to "be my own big deal" (another key message about leadership I shared with them). Anyway, tonight our conversation helped me to further understand what my 'truth' is all about.

He helped me understand that my truth is irrefutable because my truth is about being full of conviction. I've had to face battles in my life -- coming out as a gay man, dealing with homophobia, learning not to internalize the looks and stares as the former fat man, dismantling my depression, and controlling my anxiety. I've had to learn to fight. And that fighting spirit -- that determination -- is now such an important part of my truth. Embracing challenges head on, and doing what I once thought was impossible is part of my truth. And not being afraid of my own potential and possibility is the cornerstone of my truth.

After our conversation, I was fired up. I needed to do something. Even though I learn a lot from Seb during our training sessions, it's our conversations throughout the week or after our workouts that are the moments where I truly understand what I've been learning. And I always feel like I can conquer anything. I guess that's one of the benefits of having a personal trainer.

That said, I needed to do something with the energy. With the determination. With the conviction. Earlier today, my friend Alison and I went for a run after work. We've been running about 6 kilometers two days a week in preparation for the 5km run on September 27 that is part of the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Neither of us were really 'feeling it' tonight. So we decided to do the distance at a brisk walk, knowing that doing something was better than nothing. I mean, I hadn't really planned on doing anything today -- I've been working 15 days straight, haven't been eating very well (two burgers for lunch today and some decadent cranberry-white chocolate cookies), haven't spent any time at the gym in the past two weeks (even though I've been spinning and running), haven't slept a whole lot, and was starting to feel really sluggish and crappy about not having been on my game for the past two weeks. So, at the end of the walk, we were feeling pretty good.

But my chat with Seb made me feel even better. And I have to say I was feeling a bit fired up. I was full of conviction. I needed to do something. So I threw on my shoes, and headed down to the boardwalk for a run. I've been training for this 5km run for the past two months, and this will be the first time I've ever participated in anything like it. I've written about my goal of running a half-marathon in October 2010 -- this 5km run is the first step. A few weeks ago, when Seb and I were chatting about it, he suggested that I simply crank it out at the run and do the 5k as fast as I can. I told him my goal was to finish. In my mind, doing it 'fast' wasn't an option.

Until tonight. I was feeling cranked up.

So I headed to the boardwalk, started my watch, and ran. Most days, I tackle the 5k in intervals, taking a total of 45 minutes on average. But tonight, the run was
over before I new it. I set what runners would call a 'personal best'.


That's nuts. Five kilometres in just over 30 minutes. And that was after weeks of crummy eating, no activity, and a 6km walk five hours prior. The whole time I was running I had Seb's voice in my head, saying "I think you should just crank it and run as fast as you can." So I did.

Tonight... after getting in closer contact with my most authentic self -- with my truth... the day after I gave what I believe to be the best keynote speech I have ever given in my life... 18 months after my first attempt at exercising on an elliptical machine at the gym, when I couldn't last more than two minutes... Tonight, I reconnected with my truth and realized once again that never before in my life, have I been my best possible self.

Life has never been better.
Life has never been more joyous.
Life has never been more true.

So in the next 20 days (before the official 5km run), I'm thinking about getting in under 30 minutes. Thinking about it. I set goals slowly... but at least I'm putting it out there to the universe. I'll decide the night before if I want to do it. Or maybe I'll decide at the start line. Either way... I'll decide.

And it's a decision that the 435-pound man I was a year and a half ago never thought he would ever make.

And that's what I told Seb tonight. My truth is in that moment where I decided I had finally had enough. My truth is in my power to choose.

My choice is clear.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.