Monday, September 27, 2010

Coughing my way through dead birds...

This past week has been a bit of a bust. Unfortunately, Seb had to postpone my training session from last Monday and we rescheduled to later in the week. By the time Thursday rolled around, it was official. I was sick.

I still am.

And I hate it.

Some people say that if your cold is contained above your shoulders, that you can continue to workout. If it moves into your chest, you're screwed. Normally I follow that 'rule', but this time I'm just too tired to do much of anything. And it's not just because I'm sick.

The past few weeks at work have been pretty hectic. When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them that I deal with dead birds. I'm neither a veterinarian, nor an animal rights activist. I'm a student services professional -- and I have the pleasure of dealing with dead birds.

Allow me to explain.

A colleague of mine once made the analogy of the work that we do in problem solving complex situations for university student being similar to that moment when the cat comes in the house, with a dead bird hanging out of its mouth. It comes to your feet, drops the bird (often still breathing, so not technically dead), and looks up at you as if to say:

"You're special. I like you. You're the only one who has what it takes to deal with this. Please. (Meow)"

And then the cat walks away, leaving you to clean up the mess -- to decide whether or not to resuscitate or put the bird out of its misery. It's a choice. And a powerful one. And a decision not to be taken lightly.


The first three weeks back to school have consisted of a lot of choices, and a few tough decisions. I've been dealing with some complex situations, and a lot of questions -- a lot of issues that to some people are dead birds to be dealt with. And sometimes those issues, to me, are not quite dead yet. I've had to so some workplace CPR. I've had to do some clean up. And in some ways, at times, it feels like I'm the only one who can deal with it. Yes, I feel fulfilled, and busy... but I also feel tired.

Being a dead-bird expert is exhausting.

And I think that's where the cold kicked in. I haven't been training a lot. I haven't been eating poorly. I haven't been eating well. I haven't had the best sleeps. So my system is weak. It's tired. It's vulnerable. I wasn't prepared for the back to school season to be this busy, or this hectic.

My system is a bit of dead bird.
And I'm taking some time to bring it back to life.

I thought that running the Scotiabank 5k on Sunday would help. This was the day that I was supposed to run my half marathon -- but I had decided after I got back from my bike rally that I didn't have sufficient time to properly and safely train. So, I withdrew from the half marathon, and ran the 5k instead.

Normally, running 5-km is not really a big deal. It is however, when you're on your race pace (of 4:50/km) and have to stop at kilometer #2 to spend about 3 minutes coughing and blowing your nose. My sinuses chose kilometer #2 to empty themselves.

It wasn't pretty.
It was kind of disgusting.
I'm glad I brought tissues -- I'm 'that' kind of a runner.

But I kept running. I finished the race in just about 30 minutes. I was aiming for 25 minutes, and started with a pace that would have allowed me to finish just under that. But the cold and sinus infection didn't help. I was disappointed by my performance, and even as I crossed the finish line with the marathoners, I was jealous. I was a bit remiss. There was a part of me that wished I had taken the time to train for the half marathon -- and I would have been able to experience that high, the elation of the finish.

Maybe that would have made me feel better. But I don't think it would have. I would have likely felt worse. Because I likely wouldn't have finished a half-marathon -- with my head full of snot, and my body too tired to function.

So even though I have added another finisher's medal to my collection, I sit here tonight, sniffling, sneezing, blowing my nose, putting lotion on my nostrils, and feeling like I'm swallowing glass. Apparently, I'm 'resting'. There's a big part of me that realizes that the rest is necessary. And there's another part of me that is pissed off that I had to miss my second workout with Seb in as many weeks.

I miss training.

I miss towelling off the sweat from a crazy set of plyometrics, instead of towelling off because I'm running a fever.

I miss the spike in energy that follows a training session... instead of hoping that my morning coffee gives me the spike I need to last through the day.

I miss feeling exhausted from a workout, instead of feeling fatigued from illness.


I miss it.
But I'll be back.

Just like the dead birds I bring back to life.

Chirp chirp.

Kia kaha,
Stay strong.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Big time.

Bless me bloggers, for I have sinned. It has been three months since my last blog post... And this is what I've been up to...

Now that I've got that flashback to Catholicism out of my way... I can get on with this post. LOL. Indeed, it has been three months since my last posting. And what an amazing three months it has been.

Why amazing? Well, two weeks ago, I started back into my regular training routine with Sebastien. Indeed, we trained together over the course of the summer as I geared up and prepared for my 600km bike ride. But over that period of time, we focused on building my cardiovascular and muscular endurance for the intensity of cycling from Toronto to Montreal. This meant that I had to train in a very different way than I was used to -- we cut out a lot of the intense weightlifting, and minimized the high intensity work I was doing, to ensure that I didn't get injured. Without a doubt, all of the training I had done up until this past summer had gotten me well prepared physically and emotionally for the ride, but my training and my diet had to be fairly specific and tailored for distance cycling as a very particular type of activity.

All of this also meant that in some ways, I was going to have to prepare myself for the reality that my body weight would change... in other words, that I would gain back some of those dreaded pounds that I worked so hard to take off.

And I did.
Big time.

Two weeks ago, I stepped back onto the scale for the first time in over three months. And I wasn't impressed with what I saw. I didn't just gain back a few pounds... I gained back about 30 of them. Thirty pounds in three months. Not bad... sure, not bad if you're losing. But gaining? Seriously? Again?

But what was intriguing in that split second moment in time, when I stepped off the scale, I looked at the number, looked at Sebastien (who was likely prepared for me to punch the wall), and said...

"I just had the best summer of my life. I enjoyed every single one of those pounds."

And I did.
Big time.

Over the course of three months, I spent tonnes of time outside -- running, cycling, and walking the dog. I also spent fantastic evenings and afternoons sitting on patios, drinking good wine, eating food that was even better than the wine, and dancing my ass off. I rode my bike over six days to Montreal for an amazing cause, and met incredible new friends along the way.

I relaxed.
I had fun.
I lived.

And in the words of my trainer...
I chilled the F*$@ out.

So, chilling out meant that I put on a few pounds. It's not a huge deal. It really isn't. Sure, my clothes are a bit tighter (which I initially blamed on the dry-cleaner for shrinking my shirts). Certainly, I feel a bit heavier. But mentally, I'm confident. I'm strong. I know how I got to this place, and I know how to get out of it.

How did I get to this place? People have asked me: How, when you ride your bike to Montreal, do you still gain weight? Essentially, in preparing for my ride, I did nothing but cycle for endurance. I rode my bike outside. I did indoor spin classes. I ran... every once in a while. I hardly lifted a weight (one of the magic secrets to weight loss). And while I ate well, I ate a diet that was much more dense in carbohydrates that I had eaten in a long time. I also drank cold beer... ate great burgers... and fell in love...with Cold Stone Creamery Peanut Butter Perfection Ice Cream.

But that's what summer is about, right? Barbeques. Sunshine. Ice cream. Relaxation. Did I mention, ice cream? Mmmm....

The other reality is that when you train in this way, coupled with a week of intense riding, and three weeks of 'recovery', because I was exhausted at a cellular level, that my body responded by hanging onto lots of calories... good and bad. And from that exhaustion, I made the smart decision to not run my half marathon next weekend, because I knew I wouldn't have the appropriate time to prepare.

And I also put on some muscle.
Lots of muscle.
Have you seen my legs lately???
I got legs... big time.

All that said, I'm ready to get back into the swing of my training routine. I'm looking forward to building more muscle and shaving the Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream from my mid-section. I'm excited about getting back to lifting weights at the gym, teaching even more challenging spin classes, and living life.

I'm back.
Big time.

This also means I'm back to blogging. Admittedly, I needed a break from the thinking... the processing... the writing about myself and my life. And I come back to this medium refreshed, revitalized, and rejuvenated in the knowledge that not only did I have the best summer of my life, but I also had the best year of my life. On this weekend, as I celebrate my 37th birthday, I reflect upon my accomplishments... my successes... my friends... my life.

And I loved every good, bad, challenging, emotional, messy, jubilant, celebratory, stressful, incredible moment of it.
Big time.

Absolutely, big time.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Six days, six hundred kilometers, six thousand dollars...

It wasn't soon after posting my last blog that I began to receive messages from readers telling me not to be so hard on myself, to be proud of what I've accomplished, and in once case, to chill the F&%K out. First of all... thanks for the feedback. Secondly, I realize that I am incredibly tough on myself. I'm a Type-A personality with high expectations of others and myself. And over the past two years of course, I've been moving full speed through my life, knocking past my goals one by one. Getting to my most recent goal, being 200 pounds for my charity bike ride to Montreal has been VERY slow coming... yes, I'm developing lots of muscle (have you seen my legs lately? LOL!) and my measurements are still going in the right direction. So, I've had to shift my thinking quite a bit about what success looks like, and what indicates whether or not I've achieved my goals.

That said, while I've been spending time in my head shifting my expectations of myself, I've also spent a lot of time out on the road shifting gears on my bike. I'm riding in the 2010 Friends for Life Bike Rally -- a 6-day, 600km bike ride to raise money for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation, an incredible organization that provides tremendous support through direct service programs to men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS. My friend Jonathan convinced me to participate in this year's ride, and since I now live my life in possibility, and trying to do one thing a day that scares the crap out of me, I agreed. Granted, Jonathan is an incredible cyclist, and agreed to run the half-marathon with me in September if I agreed to do this bike ride with him in July. That said, I never knew I would come to enjoy riding outdoors so much.

Over the past two months, I have gotten back in the saddle, and taken all of my hard work from indoor cycling to the road, experiencing a degree of power and freedom like never before. I've travelled over 1000km in training rides so far, and even cranked out 170km this weekend alone in a 24-hour period. I've seen parts of the greater Toronto region that I had only seen through the car window, and met a crew of fascinating and inspiring people who are passionate not only about cycling, but also about this important cause.

And surrounding myself with passionate and powerful people is just what I needed to give myself a kick in the a$$.



Two weeks ago, I was riding on this incredible stretch of highway north of Toronto. We were about 30km into our training ride (of which there are two each week), when I broke away from my pack of fellow riders to tackle the road ahead. Taunton Road is a long stretch of rolling hills, made up of slow climbs and long descents that can challenge many riders, and make many more excited by what it takes to make it through that leg of the ride. As I turned onto Taunton Road, a friend told me that this leg almost made him cry last year -- and that made me want to tackle it even more.

As I rode along the road in the blazing sun, there was no one behind me and no one ahead of me. Cars flew by me at 80+ km/hour, and the generous shoulder on the road provided me with a comfortable and safe buffer from the vehicles sharing the road. My goal for this stretch was to maintain a steady pace -- about 80 rpm -- that would allow me to ride efficiently and powerfully. And as I started out on the first gradual incline, I felt the energy flow through my body and provide the fuel I needed to ride fast, ride hard, and ride strong. I felt a bit of tightness in my quadriceps, a quick indication that I needed to adjust my pedal stroke and drive through the heels of my feel, thereby activating my glutes (they're looking pretty fab too, these days... LOL!) and giving me more muscle strength on every drive. I remembered what I tell participants in my spin class -- I tightened my core, relaxed my shoulders, and neutralized my pelvis, bringing me into the most comfortable and powerful riding position to conquer this stretch of road.

And then I took a deep breath... and began to power through the ride.

My breathing was deep and strong. My heart rate monitor was comfortable, and my cadence was strong. I pedalled along at about 75-80 rpm, with the only thing keeping me moving being the power of each push and pull of my feet on the pedals. I focused my energy on my breathing, and remembered that
every stroke begins with a breath (yet another tip I tell all of my spin participants), and allowed my breathing to drive my pace.

And at that moment, I fell into the most comfortable and powerful zone I have ever felt on my bike.

Remembering that I only started to cycle outdoors two months ago, I began to feel the freedom that the bike provides. More importantly, I began to realize the power that my body possesses. The only thing that was going to push me along that fated stretch of road was knowing that the synchronicity of my thinking, my breath, my muscles and the technology upon which I sat. And that realization was liberating.

Quickly, I became incredibly proud of myself. With every grinding climb and long descent (especially the one I took at just over 60km/h), I remembered that two years ago, I never would have been able to experience power and speed quite like this. I never would have heard the depth of my breath coming into rhythm with my pedal stroke, which was only matched by the sound of the wind blowing past my ears and the heat of the sun bearing down on me.

And then I realized how addictive cycling could be.
Forget that.
I realized how addictive cycling had become.
And I never anticipated that I would like it so much.

If you've followed this blog, you've read about how much I love indoor cycling. But imagine taking the high you get from that one-hour intense workout and magnifying it with the momentum of a bike that actually moves... and the feeling of conquering a real hill... the exhilaration of racing down a decline... the satisfaction of knowing that you've reached your destination on no more than two wheels.

Imagine that and you'll begin to appreciate why I'm loving this so much.

I'm spending time outdoors in the company of people who love cycling as much as (if not more) than I do. And I'm learning lots from them in the process. I'm breathing in fresh air north of the city that I've not taken into my body in a very long time. I'm getting the tan I've always wanted (and the tanlines to match), LOL!

It's a truly wonderful experience... helping me to transform my thinking (yet again) and take my sense of self as a physical person, as an active person, as an athlete, to a whole new level.

And I can't wait to ride to Montreal.

So back to 'the ride' (as it's come to be known...)

Seven weeks from today, I will hit the road with hundreds of other men and women, riding to raise money for the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation. Each participant has to raise a minimum of $2200 to participate -- and I met that goal a long time ago. I have set a new goal to raise $6000... 600km, 6 days, $6000... it has a certain ring to it, doesn't it? When I meet my goal, I'll get a 'top fundraiser' gold cycling jersey (I'm a sucker for accessories), and I'll have the pride and satisfaction of knowing that I not only surpassed my initial goal, but more importantly, that I've raised a wonderful amount of money that will go far to help people in need in my community.

All that from riding a bike... pretty incredible, eh?

That said, if you're interested in helping me meet (and surpass my $6000 goal), visit my donation site here, where you can make an on-line tax deductible donation. While 'the ride' will take me on a 600km ride between two of my favorite cities in Canada (Toronto and Montreal), it will give me the opportunity to work harder and stronger than I ever have before.

I hope you'll take advantage of this opportunity to help.

Kia kaha (Stay strong)

Friday, May 7, 2010

It feels like I'm dragging my feet....

In the past four months, I will admit that I've been neglecting my blog a bit. Well, quite a bit. I haven't been taking the time to think, to write, and to reflect as much on this journey because.. well, I think subconsciously, part of me thought the journey had come to a bit of an end. As you recall, in early December, I shattered my weight loss goal and dropped a phenomenal 201.6 pounds ahead of schedule. The elation, the satisfaction, and the pride were all happening at a magnitude that I have never before experienced.

And so was the feeling of relief.
Let me tell you what I mean...

For the weeks that followed that December 2 night, I gave myself permission to relax a little bit. I eased up on my exercise routine. I cheated on my food a little bit more than I had in the two years prior. I gave myself the space to live life a little bit more freely than I had before, and in some ways, I was subconsciously 'testing' the idea of what my new 'normal' in life would be like. I was testing whether or not I could trust myself to live my life in a little bit less of a regimented way, and in many ways, I was testing just how slippery the slope back into an unhealthy lifestyle would be.

I learned that my slope wasn't very slippery at all. It's got lots of traction. The past two years have given me tremendous traction in the form of good eating, exercise and mindfulness practices that have helped me not only to be successful, but more importantly, to truly transform my way of being in the world. And it felt fantastic to know that I had not only the knowledge, but also the willpower to know what it takes to 'never go back'.

But what's been interesting, is that over the months that have followed, in spite of not going back, I don't necessarily feel like I've moved very far forward.

Early in the new year, Sebastien and I sat down to define some new goals for the year ahead. One of those goals was to weigh 200 pounds in time for my 600km bike ride to Montreal. This was a very achievable goal... I had given myself 6.5 months to lose another 35 pounds. Given what I had accomplished in the years before, I thought it would be easy. Sebastien warned me that these last 35 would likely be the hardest... but I didn't believe him. I mean, I had the skills. I had the knowledge. How could I not achieve the goal?

I'm not sure I had convinced myself that I wanted to actually achieve it.

You see, in the past four months, my weight hasn't changed very much. Well, it has changed quite a bit... all within the same 10-pound zone. I've gained. I've lost. I've gained, and lost again. And even though I know... cognitively... that the number on the scale isn't the only indication of my success, I can't help but now realize that it's really starting to get me down.

And it's not like I don't have an explanation for why it's happening.

It's happening because I feel like I've been really dragging my feet for the past few months.
Because I'm tired. I'm really really tired.

In fact, I think I'm a little bit exhausted.

A lot has gone on in the past four months..
  • I became a certified indoor cycling instructor.
  • I've started teaching regular spinning classes.
  • I've started leading a small but mighty weekly running group
  • I hosted a really successful fundraiser for the bike rally with my friend Jonathan.
  • I wrote my comprehensive exam for my PhD (and passed).
  • I ran the Mercedes-Benz Oakville 10k road race in a time of 1:01:45, in 5 degree weather, pouring rain and 25-30km headwinds.
  • Six days later, I ran the Toronto Sporting Life 10k in 57:45:00 in 19 degree weather, 98 percent humidity, and even stopped for a moment at the 7km mark to pay my respects to a fellow participant who was on the receiving end of full chest compressions from a heart attack.
  • I've even had my first sports injury (bruised carpals in my left hand) from kickboxing.
So, yeah, I've been busy. I'm still achieving. But I don't feel like I'm achieving what I'd like to be achieving. I don't like the fact that in just under 3 months, I will be heading out to Montreal on my bike...likely not at my goal weight.

And one of the things I've learned about myself is that when I start to get off track... it's easy for me to veer far off the track... and struggle to get back on again. So, in spite of still working hard at the gym, and running lots, my food has been the pits. I told Sebastien on Wednesday night that I couldn't remember the last time I ate a salad. I hadn't put raw broccoli in my system for weeks (although I had 4 cups with dinner tonight... steer clear of me.... I'm a bit gassy). And for the first time in 2 years, he looked me directly in the eyes and said nothing.

The look said it all.
Kind of like one of those looks only your Mom can give you.
But this one came from my trainer.

This look said:
Chris, you can do better.
Chris, you know you should do better.
Chris, you deserve better.

And it's interesting, because I've had that look etched in my mind for the past two nights. Yes, it's helping me get back on track, but I have to realize that getting back is going to take a bit of time. I can't jump whole-hog into my old (intense) regime. Because the pace and intensity of the past two years is still fatiguing me. Physically. Mentally. Emotionally.

I wish it were easier for me to just get away. To escape for a little while and take a breather. But I feel like that's what I've been doing for the past few months. I've relaxed a lot. I've discovered the joys of Cold Stone Creamery Ice Cream. I've been eating out... a lot. And I've developed a taste for a cold pint of Blanche de Chambly beer. So yes, I'm living life. But I'm a bit unreconciled about doing so. Because I'm not feeling as great as I used to feel. Yes, I still train like a maniac... but my feet are dragging because the food I'm consuming is not fueling my body or my mind in the ways that I need it to.

All that said, tonight, I am recommitting myself to getting back on track. My friend Sammie Kennedy has issued a challenge to followers of her blog, and participants in her boot camp programs through BootyCamp Fitness. And I think I'll follow along...

I'm giving up:
  • refined sugar
  • dairy
  • alcohol
(so, bye bye to Cold Stone and Blanche de Chambly)!

I'm adding
  • one LARGE salad into my eating plan every day

and I'm going to promise both Sebastien and Sammie that I will do 3 minutes of belly breathing EACH and EVERY day. (Sammie's challenge only requires one minute, but I know that 3 minutes works better for me). If you don't know what belly breathing is, check out Sammie's video. It's an incredibly easy way to deepen your core workout and complement all of the other great things you should do to work your abdomen. I swear... when I do my belly breathing correctly, I feel that abdominal burn in such a wonderfully intense way.

And that's what I'm going to do to get back into the game. Why? Because Sammie is doing the same thing as she prepares for her upcoming fitness competition, and she works out just as (if not harder) than I do. And also because it's what I know I should do to be feeling better about myself. I know that when I eat right, am active, and feel that deep burn in my core (from an ab workout, not from a plate of nachos, LOL!) that I feel fantastic.

So I know what I have to do.
Now, i just have to do it.

And I'm going to stop dragging my feet.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Monday, April 12, 2010

"You must feel sooo different!"

This is not an uncommon thing for me to hear these days... and it's something I've been thinking about for the past two months or so. That's partially why I haven't posted anything in that time. But I've also been terribly busy. I finally wrote my comprehensive exam for my PhD, and have been spending time trying to get a sense of what 'normal' feels like. My mind has been racing with so many things -- and I've often wanted to turn to the computer to put my thoughts into words. But it has taken me a while to do so... my apologies for taking so long!

That said, the whole idea of 'feeling different' has been on my mind for a long time -- not only because I am reconciling what it's like to be in a new body, but also because the comment "You must feel soooo different" is the most common thing people tell me these days. Over the past two years of my transformation, people tend to tell me 1) how great I look and 2) ask me how different I feel.

My response to both comments tend to be: 1) "Thanks very much, it's been a fantastic experience." and 2) "Yes, I feel great."

But to be honest, I'm not sure if I feel 'great'. I know I 'feel'. But I'm not sure how that feels any different that how I felt as a 435-pound man.

Because two years ago, I'm not so sure I actually 'felt'.

I have written in this blog about my experiences in facing my fears, coming to terms with things like anxiety, understanding that depression was a part of my life, and feeling joy. There's a lot of 'feeling' packed into all of those things, but I can't necessarily say that I know what things were like before.

Over the past two months of experimenting with the idea of my new 'normal' lifestyle, I have taken up yoga. My instructor Edward McEneany, also spins with me at Legacy Indoor Cycling in Toronto, and twice a week, he offers an ashtanga vinyasa yoga class. I had been doing the Biggest Loser Yoga video in the sanctity/privacy of my living room for a while, but had never ventured into an actual 'class'. And Edward convinced me to give it a try.

I was nervous at first, because when I do yoga at home, I curse like a sailor. I grunt. I moan. I yell at Bob Harper on the TV when he tells us to move into 'downward dog' or 'warrior 2'. My muscles feel tight. My body feels contorted. Physically, I feel what I'm doing. But it was only when I started taking classes with Edward that I have begun to truly connect what I feel 'physically' to what I feel 'emotionally'.

I am the type of person who has a hard time hiding his emotions: stress, anger, happiness... whatever the emotion, it shows. And the negative emotions, over so many years of being obese, have taken their toll on my body. My friend Tony once told me that the body holds emotion, and that as I lost weight, I went through a period of feeling like my emotions weren't under control. I literally was crying into my quinoa. And I ended up spending some time with a great therapist, and came to better understand my feelings of anxiety and depression. But I never made the mind-body connection of those emotions, and continued to carry them with me physically. No matter how often I found myself occasionally having a good 'power cry' in the car on the way to/from work, I still didn't come to a full realization of how my head, my heart, and my body are so strongly connected. And it was my inability to see that connection that allowed me to continue carrying the emotion on my body -- in my shoulders, in the back of my jaw, in my lower back and hips -- all areas that my massage therapist and now my yoga teacher, tell me to loosen, and stretch and strengthen because those are among the many physical places where I hold my stress and emotion.

But these sensations are still relatively new.
And it's interesting to begin answering question #2 (How different do you feel?), with:
"You know... I don't know if I feel different. Because two years ago, I don't think I actually 'felt'."

And that answer makes for a great conversation.

I know that two years ago I felt sad. I felt fat. I felt heavy. I felt angry. But those adjectives are merely descriptors of how I felt... I'm not entirely certain that I know what those feelings were actually like. So, it's difficult to say that I necessarily feel different.

My new answer is that "Now, I feel."

Spending Tuesday evenings and the occasional Sunday in a series of sun salutations and other yoga postures (which recently included a handstand!!!) has forced me to come to a place of quiet -- a place where I "start by stopping" and focus on breathing.

And being.

And by consequence, I focus on feeling.

I'm learning to understand how I attach and detach from different things in my life -- physically, emotionally and cognitively. I don't think I was ever able to understand how these things felt in these ways because I had over 200 pounds and 10 feet of body fat in the way. Literally. It's hard to know how you feel on the outside when there is literally feet and inches between the surface of your skin -- that exterior that shows the emotion that is so hard to hide -- and your inner core where the emotion and feeling truly exists. So the idea of feeling 'different' is a bit abstract.

I think it's now about feeling 'new'.

I realize that this whole commentary may seem a bit etheral... a bit abstract... a bit 'in my head'. But that's where it's been for a while. And thanks for indulging these few moments to let me get it out. It has been fantastic however, to spend time in my yoga classes trying to master a series of postures knowing that I am working my inner self just as much as I am beginning to work my physical selt.

I know.. it sounds very 'granola'.
It sounds very 'earthy'.
It sounds very 'yoga'.

But I guess I'm becoming a bit 'yoga'. I'm an athlete. I train hard. I run. I ride. And now, I spend time contorting my body and my soul into new positions that provide an incredible level of physical and emotional release and challenge that I've never felt before. And I look forward to my yoga class every week -- because as a 'work out', it consistently works out all parts of my being.

And I'm pretty damn lucky to be taking my transformation to this whole new level.

Kia kaha (stay strong).
And Namaste.

PS. I promise to write more in the next two weeks... I've got updates on my training for my 600km charity bike ride, new stuff about spinning, my training for two 10km-road races in the next three weeks... but first... next week... a new kickboxing video!!! From yoga to kickboxing... I'm a renaissance man! Screw it. I AM A RENAISSANCE! ;)

Saturday, February 20, 2010

...and the student becomes the teacher. Literally.

So, I realize that I've not blogged for a little while... it has been a few weeks at least, and admittedly, there's a part of me that wants to only write when I feel like I have something important to say. And since my last post, I've accomplished one of my goals for 2010.

I am now a certified indoor cycling instructor.

Very cool. As you know, I took up indoor cycling (spinning) last fall, and found very quickly that it helped to push me through a plateau in my weight loss journey, and catalyzed a motivation in me that propelled me to my goal of dropping 200 pounds before Christmas. The experience of indoor cycling has taken me out of the gym in many ways -- it has helped me move from feeling like my fitness experience is a solitary journey into one that includes being a member of a community. My fellow participants at Legacy Indoor Cycling in Toronto are motivating, inspiring, and fun to be around -- and the teachers there who have helped me accomplish my goals compelled me to take the certification course and head down the path of sharing my enthusiasm for this fitness activity with others.

So last weekend, I spent 10 1/2 hours at the Legacy Studio, under the tutelage of James Gekko (a Master Trainer with Schwinn) and the watchful eye of Andy (Legacy's patriarch), and soaked up what I needed to learn to become certified. I learned a lot about technique. I learned about how to structure a meaningful class for participants. I also learned that becoming an instructor presents me with an opportunity to do something that I think is going to be an important part of my journey from here on in: now is my time to really pay it forward.

I continue to acknowledge the tremendous fortune I have had in meeting people like Sebastien, the staff at Riverdale, Andy at Legacy and so many others who have been such an influential part of my journey. Call it serendipity. Call it luck. Call it the universe providing in some way shape or form... but my encounters with these fitness professionals, and the numerous other people who are fighting the good fight against obesity, have helped me to become the success story I am today. And while I recognize that I've still got a little ways to go before I get to what I think is my eventual weight loss 'destination', I can't help but feel like I am primed and ready to start actively coaching, sharing, and helping other people around me see the potential in themselves that so many other people have helped me to see in myself. And becoming a certified indoor cycling instructor was an important first step.

If you have been a regular follower of my blog, you will recall that one of the biggest struggles I've had over the past two years has been around feeling like I 'belong' in the world of health and fitness. For over 20 years, I've felt like an outsider to this incredible world in which so many people come to realize their fullest potential. And I've had many mental, physical and emotional breakthroughs along the way that have helped me to finally feel like an insider. Last week, someone approached me during one of my workouts and told me that I was their 'hero'... that they really admired how hard I worked, and that I 'showed up' for each and every workout -- physically and emotionally. I explained to them that it took me a while to get there, but that it's once you're in this incredible zone, it's a pretty powerful place where change and transformation can occur.

So, I guess I'm in the zone now. In a 'certified' kind of way.

And the zone felt really amazing this morning. Today, I had the opportunity to teach an indoor cycling class at a studio in the city -- I have taught one class in this location before, and knowing what I was in for, I invited Sebastien and his partner Sammie (owner of BootyCamp Fitness) to join me for the class. Always enthusiastic and supportive of the different things I've wanted to accomplish in this journey, Seb and Sammie were in from the start... and I have to admit, there was a part of me that was a bit nervous about having them do 'my class.' You have to remember... Sebastien has been my trainer for over two years. He has helped me get to where I am... and beyond. And to finally turn the tables a bit, where I was responsible for taking him through a training experience, was a bit daunting. Add Sammie into the equation (who's a bit of a fitness rockstar), and before I knew it, I was starting to feel queazy about what I had gotten myself into. Teaching an indoor cycling class to strangers was one thing -- teaching a class to two people who you admire for their ability and what they've accomplished in the world of health and fitness is something different altogether.

But, like all of my other challenges, I faced this one head on... trash talking and all.

For the past week, I've been taunting Seb that this was finally my moment of redemption. He has made me sweat, grunt, shout and sometimes cry... but he has taught me how to work... and how to work hard. Andy from Legacy has also taught me the same. He's the one who got me hooked on indoor cycling, and has coached me through my technique and helped me find a passion for this that both of us never imagined would have been there over a year ago. So, to honour both of these guys, I knew I had to bring it.

And I'm pretty sure I did.

I spent a good amount of time prepping my class. Knowing that this was Sammie's inaugural indoor cycling experience, I had to balance wanting to not work her too hard, with my desire to kick Seb's ass. Remember, the guy has put me through the paces for two years. And for the past week, I have taunted and teased him with the idea that today would be the day of redemption.

But it ended up being redemption in a different way altogether.

When the class was about to begin, Seb and Sammie were the only ones there -- which was a bit of a boon. It meant that I could stick to my game plan of offering a challenging class: a combination of interval springs and intense power climbs to two of the fittest people I know. I also had to remember that the role of an effective coach is not to 'kill' his students... but instead, my job is about presenting them with a challenging course, and helping them conquer it through instruction on good technique and coaching them to their limits and beyond. So, I left my quest for vengeance on Seb at the door, and embraced the opportunity to do what I had been taught to do -- coach these two people through a great class, with the goal of having them finish the intense cardio workout with a smile on their faces.

And I think I accomplished my goal.

The class unfolded in three sets... and after giving each student some basic instruction on how to ride, we were off. Admittedly, I was a bit over-zealous at the start, and had to scale back my own intensity on the bike; remembering, this wasn't my workout... it was theirs. Keeping that in mind, I settled into the role of coach -- encouraging, instructing, challenging. Of course, I had to take a few savoury moments to tell Sebastien to turn up the resistance on his bike a few extra times... I mean, who wouldn't relish the moment to make their trainer sweat!!! But by the end of it, I was thrilled that we slogged our way through three huge climbs, some intense intervals, and raced in to the finish of the course...all in an hour. 998 calories burned... with me as coach, riding by their side the whole way, ensuring that we got to the finish line as a team.

Even though Seb's grunting and the sweat dripping off Sammie's brow brought me tremendous satisfaction (because I knew each of them was working hard and pushing themselves), what brought me even greater satisfaction was the fact that I was up there... teaching a class to two people who have taught me a lot... and doing so with the confidence and stride of a professional.

I was comfortable.
I was myself.

I felt like... I belonged.

That's the redemption I wasn't expecting.
And it felt fantastic.

And so another chapter begins... while I still have weight to lose, and goals to accomplish, I am now thrilled to be playing with this new way of 'paying it forward'. In some ways, blogging has enabled me to do that to some degree -- to share my experiences with others, and hope that there's something to be learned from what I've already been through. But the experience of being in a room with motivated people who want to work hard....who aren't afraid to sweat...and who are willing to face a challenge head on and push themselves to the limit and beyond is a pretty spectacular moment.

Now I know why Andy gets such a high from it at Legacy. Now I know why he sometimes feels like he's king of the world.

'Cause I kind of felt the same way today. And hope to feel that way a whole lot more often.

Kia kaha.
Stay strong.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Support me with my next goal... Riding 600km and Raising $2500!

Dear Family, friends, and followers....

The past 2 years have been phenomenal for me. I’ve managed to realize what is perhaps my life’s greatest accomplishment (so far) with your help and support… I know now more than ever, that even though I’m the one who sweats off over 200 pounds, I couldn’t do it without your support and encouragement.

For those of you who’ve been following my story on my blog you will know that one of my goals for this year is to participate in the 2010 Friends for Life Bike Rally. My friend Jonathan convinced and encouraged me to participate, and I am writing to you today to once again invite your support.

From July 25-30, 2010, I will join hundreds of other people in a 600-km bike ride from Toronto to Montreal to raise money for a wide range of accessible, direct and practical services that support men, women and children living with HIV/AIDS. And I hope that you will consider helping me achieve my fundraising goal of $2500.00.

Since the mid- to late-80s, AIDS as a disease has completely changed the ways in which we connect and relate to one another in the world. It has brought to the fore a wide range of difficult issues that society has been forced to contemplate and reconsider, and in so doing, come to better understand the ways in which we see people living with disease. HIV/AIDS is not just a disease affecting gay men – it is a disease that affects people from all walks of life, and the ways society treats and supports people living with HIV/AIDS inevitably shapes the ways we deal with people who live with any sort of disease or illness. This is part of why I’ve chosen to take on this significant challenge.

The other reason why I’ve chosen the Friends for Life Ride as a goal this year is because over two years ago, I never imagined that I would ever be able to ride a bike – let alone ride a bike 600 km between my two favourite cities in Canada. Doing so with wonderful friends by my side will be amazing. Doing so knowing that what I’m doing isn’t just about me achieving another goal, but will allow me to make a significant financial and symbolic contribution to an important cause is phenomenal.

So how can you help? There are two ways that you can help me to make this happen…

First of all, I invite you to consider a monetary donation to this important cause. Secure online donations can be made with your credit card by clicking on the link below:

http://my.e2rm.com/personalPage.aspx?SID=2457248

Once completed, an electronic tax receipt for any donation over $20 (CDN) will be sent to you by email within a few minutes.

Secondly, if you happen to be in the Greater Toronto Area, you may want to consider joining me and my two co-riders, Jonathan Steels and Andrew Siegwart on Saturday, April 17, 2010, as we host a 3-hour spin-a-thon for Friends for Life. Bikes can be reserved for the 3-hour event for a donation of $150, and individual riders or teams of three riders ($50 each!) will have the opportunity to experience my newest fitness obsession! I discovered indoor cycling in September 2009 at Legacy Indoor Cycling Studio and have found a tremendous sense of energy, spirit, and community in this exciting activity. The event on April 17 will be fantastic – the opportunity to ride with some of the city’s best instructors (including me as a newly certified instructor!), to the most amazing music, with the chance to win a wide range of prizes… all while supporting me, Jonathan and Andrew… cannot be missed. There are only 27 bikes available, so if you’re interested in participating, email us at legacyfriendsforlife@gmail.com.

I realize that as we all come out of difficult financial times, deciding where to direct your charitable dollars is an important choice. I assure you that not only is this a worthwhile cause, but it is also one that provides direct benefit (through services like foodbanks, health support, advocacy, and income support) for thousands and thousands of women, children and men living with HIV/AIDS. More than anything, I assure you that for every dollar donated, I will work harder, strive higher, and continue to achieve goals that I once thought were unachievable.

I hope you will help me achieve this goal for myself, and help make the aspirations of thousands of other people a reality. If you have any questions about the Toronto People with AIDS Foundation, please feel free to visit www.pwatoronto.org. If you have any other questions or concerns, please feel free to email me directly at phd2011@gmail.com.

Kia kaha (Stay strong)
Chris

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Objects in the mirror are closer than they appear....


So, it has been almost a month since I last posted. For some reason, I haven't had much to say. To be honest, I think I've been taking it a bit easy -- that is, I haven't been in my head too much about losing weight. I've been spending more time trying to make a big mind-shift. Knowing that I've got some big goals in the year ahead, I want to kick off this year in a good frame of mind.

Easier said than done.


The Christmas holiday break was a bit stressful. I loved seeing my family -- but I realized that 24 days was not only a long time for me to be away from home, but it was also a really long time to be away from my life. I managed to have some great workouts while I was in BC -- I found a rickety old spinning bike at the Rec Centre, and cranked out some of my own routines. I broke through my 5km limit on my runs, and ran a few 10km routes, which felt amazing. I spent an amazing afternoon with my Dad, niece and nephew, tubing down some runs at Mount Washington ski resort -- feeling a level of joy, elation, and speed that I haven't felt before. It was pretty spectacular, and liberating, all at the same time. But I missed my gym. I missed my spin bike. I missed my peeps. However, since I've been home for the past few weeks, I've been spending some time re-calibrating my workouts and figuring out my action plan for the year ahead. Sebastien and I have hammered out some solid goals, and 2010 is going to be a big year...

In the next 11 months, I will:
  • Weigh 200 pounds by July 25th -- the day when my friends Jonathan, Andrew and I set out for a 600km charity bike ride to Montreal
  • Bench press 250 pounds
  • Leg press 900 pounds
  • Deadlift 315 pounds
  • And.. do the splits.
All before my 37th birthday (September 18).

Furthermore, I will celebrate my birthday one week later on September 26th, by running the Toronto Waterfront Half Marathon, that's 13.1 miles or 21 kilometers... and hoping to do it in under 2 hours.

I'll also be going for my Schwinn indoor cycling instructor certification, my lifestyle fitness coaching certificate, and plan to make progress on my PhD.
Yes, 2010 will be a BIG year. And I'm starting to feel a bit of pressure.

All self-imposed... of course!

And I think one of the reasons why I'm feeling a bit of pressure is because I know that I need to change my mindset. Losing 200 pounds before Christmas was huge. And even though I knew I wasn't 'done' with my weight loss, there is something in me that seems to have leveled a bit. I still want to lose about 35-40 pounds (taking me under the 200 mark for the first time since probably the 8th grade), but there's a bit of me that also feels pretty damn content with where I'm at right now. Could I live the rest of my life happily at 235 pounds? Hell yes. But for what I want to accomplish, for the person I want to become, there is still work left to do.
And balancing that idea of 'contentment' with still wanting to make progress is a bit challenging.

In order to accomplish all of this, my motivation has to be monumental. Not only is it going to require a lot of dedicated training, but it's also going to require me to settle into a new way of seeing myself in the world. And I think that's what is leaving me a bit unsettled more than anything.

For months, Sebastien has been telling me that I'm an athlete. I train hard. I work hard. I am determined. I do things that I know my trainer can't do. And I do things that professional athletes do. I have boundless energy and unlimited determination. Once I'm in 'the zone', I have the unshakeable focus of a pro. That I know. But I still haven't accepted the fact that I'm 'an athlete'.


Until this past weekend.

About 10 months ago, I cleaned out my closet. I packed up all of my 'fat' clothes, and put them in my spare bedroom. The pile grew each and every day as I got dressed each morning...not removing an article of clothing because it was too small, but instead, because it was too damn big. At one point, all I had left in my closet was a couple of golf shirts. And shopping for new clothes has been both joyous and traumatic, but even the jeans that I wrote about here are now too big. In fact, over Christmas, I tried on my letterman sweater from high school. It hasn't fit me since the 10th grade. It fits me now.
So even though I did this monumental purge of clothing, I didn't throw them away. I was convinced that I was going to sell them on-line or donate them. I had some shirts that were worth about $150... and even a few pieces that still had tags on them. What I realized this past weekend, was that I was hanging on to all of these clothes because deep down inside of me, I am afraid that I might need them again.

But I don't want to need them again. Ever.


That said, many of my friends have offered to come over and help me get rid of the clothes. Some have even threatened to come into my house while I was away for Christmas and clear them out for me. I made them promise not to do so, because I knew that off-loading that much clothing was something I needed to do myself. Just as I was the only one who could lose over 200 pounds, I was the one who had to do the work of getting rid of these clothes. And after doing so this weekend, I now understand why that was the case.

My friend Patsy was visiting, and we were going through some of the clothes that she thought she could give to someone she knew. I was more than happy to give away a few items, and before I knew it, she had talked me into getting rid of all of it. She challenged me on my excuses (I have no garbage bags to carry them in... the donation centre might be closed... I'm not ready yet....) and I finally gave in.
We quickly loaded all of the clothes into bags, and before I knew it, the pile was gone. The pile was once close to 6-feet high. And it was loaded up in garbage bags.

Unreal.


Before we cleared everything out, Patsy held up a pair of my old jeans, and looked at me in amazement. She started to giggle, because it was amazing to see the change in who I am as a person. When she held up the jeans, I was shocked. I wanted to cry. I wanted to throw up. I wanted to stop packing everything up.
And I realize why. For so many years, I had fooled myself into thinking that I didn't have a problem. I had such a dysmorphic view of who I was physically -- I used to see other morbidly obese men on the street, and quietly say to myself "Please God, tell me I'm not that big."

But I was.

And when Patsy held up the pair of jeans, I realized....I was huge.
And that hurt. It made me sad for a moment. I never really acknowledged just how bad things really were.

And those pants weren't even the biggest pair in the pile.

So for fun, she had me try them on... and we quickly realized that the 235 pound Chris can now fit into one leg of the 435-pound Chris. The proof is in the picture. I can now fit into ONE LEG of my old jeans. And it took 2 hands to keep the pants up.

Insane.

So we laughed, packed up the rest of the clothes, and drove them to the donation centre. It was closed, so we left them outside, and off we went.

And the clothes were finally gone.

I could erase them from my mind, and getting rid of them could create space for new things. New clothes. New identity. New me.
But it didn't end up being that easy. As we were dragging the bags to the car, we remarked how heavy they were. And tried to estimate how much they weighed. I guessed over 200 pounds... but the Type A person in me had to know for sure. I realized at that moment that I hadn' t had my final good-bye to those clothes. I wasn't done yet.

So, after Patsy dropped me off at my house, I went inside and found my bathroom scales. I hopped into my car, and drove to the donation centre, where the garbage bags filled with the artifacts of the 'old' me were still there. I quickly placed each bag on the scale, and after the quick math, I laughed out loud, and then began to cry a little...


I just off-loaded 218 pounds of clothing.


One month ago, I had lost 202 pounds of body weight.

This month, I lost 218 pounds of clothing.

That's 420 pounds of loss.

And I'm only now starting to feel like I've lost the 'old' me. All 420 pounds of him. I realized that even though I was losing body weight, I was still hanging on to pounds and pounds of objects that represented the security, fear, anxiety, and sadness of the person I used to be. And to think that it was possible to find even the slightest degree of comfort in who that person once was, has put me a bit off my game. Until I started to connect the dots a few days ago.

Late last week, as Andy at Legacy and I were talking about the upcoming instructor training, he said to me, "I wish I could have talked to you a year ago." I didn't understand why he said that. But I quickly realized that it would have been amazing for him to have tried, last January, to convince me that I was about to do the things I plan to do in the year ahead. A year ago, I would have never imagined that I would be planning on being a spinning instructor. A year ago, I would have never imagined that I would have lost 200 pounds. A year ago, I would have never imagined that feeling this much happiness was possible.


And all of it was possible.
It is possible.
It is.

Fast forward to Monday morning, when Andy gave me the stage for a short while, and allowed me to teach the spinning segment of his Monday morning boot camp. I had done lots of preparation, and gave Andy a dry run of the music for my set two days prior. Admittedly, I was nervous... because in order to do my 'thing' on Monday morning, I needed to see myself differently. I had to let go of my identity as a 'participant' and take on the role of being a 'coach'. This wasn't my workout. This was a workout for the people who were there to work hard. And as I saw the participants crank up the dials on their bikes at 6:45am, sweat dripping from their brows, it felt incredible. It felt amazing. It felt... a bit like home.


And I don't mean 'home' in the sense that I could live there. But I felt 'home' like the same sense of comfort and security that my excess weight, sadness, and anxiety used to provide. In other words, I was settling into the 'new me'. Not only did I feel that comfort and security, but I also felt challenged, excited, invigorated... and proud. Not only proud of what I was doing in that moment in time, but also so proud of the participants who showed up to do the hard work it takes to make a change in their lives.


And I had fun.


A year ago, I wouldn't have imagined that I would be saying that. But I did. I had a riot. Having the opportunity to engage with other people in that way felt pretty spectacular. And it has helped me to see myself differently.


Now I guess many people might not understand why I struggle to see myself differently. Admittedly, I look in the mirror, and in spite of having lost 200+ pounds, I still see myself as 'me'. I don't always see the change. People always ask me how different it feels... and what it's like to see myself in such a different way. But I have a difficult time actually responding sometimes.

Because for so many years, one of the ways that I coped with my morbid obesity was by completely dissociating myself from my body. My mind and my soul were so disconnected from my body, that I didn't even know what I felt like. It's easy not to 'feel' your body when there is close to 8 feet of body fat between your body and your soul.


Insane.


There's no other way to say it. I was so out of touch with who I was as a person -- physically, emotionally, cognitively. And only now do I see myself differently.
And seeing myself that way -- visually, and in my mind -- feels pretty damn spectacular.

I see the 'skinny bitch' (as Jonathan and Andrew call me) who fits into one leg of his old pair of jeans.

I see the guy who works out harder than his own trainer.

I see the guy who, in spite of still having 35 pounds to lose, can do things that most people are physically incapable of.
I see an athlete who can.. and WILL...accomplish everything that awaits him in the year ahead.


Quite simply, I see...
Me.


I was there all along. Even though I used to think the idea of the person I wanted to become was so far away, it wasn't. It was real. It was possible. It was achievable. And now, I can't stop looking in the mirror. LOL!

Apparently, the object in the mirror WAS closer than it appeared.

Kia kaha.

Stay strong.