Week 121: Painful Truth

I woke up Thursday morning this week with a variety of ailments. After a good training session on Wednesday morning both my thighs and my glutes were aching. In the same session I ramped my bench press weight back up and my chest was pretty sore from that. I went for a long walk/run combo on Tuesday and ran as a warm up on Wednesday so my standard post-run hip tightness and soreness were there but not bad.

Then there was my foot pain on the second toe on my left foot. Back at the end of August I accidentally ran a half marathon distance when I had only planned a 10 mile training run. I did this with running shoes that I knew needed replaced. Since that day I have had a pain in my foot that I was concerned was a stress fracture. Though the symptoms seemed a little backwards from a stress fracture. The pain actually gets better and pretty much goes away when I am running.

My foot pain really concerned me because it was new pain that had continued for several weeks. On top of that I have a half marathon that I am running next weekend and will need to use that foot. So I had made a doctors appointment for Thursday to get it checked out, to discuss my hip pain and to follow up to see how my blood pressure is doing.

I will start with the good news from the appointment. He doesn’t think I have a stress fracture given the symptoms I described. It may be any other of a variety of things that are all less serious. The foot shouldn’t impact my ability to run the half marathon next weekend. That’s a relief!

Unfortunately there was a bigger story or message that came from my appointment. There was a reality check about my situation.

Over the past 121 weeks I have gone from a 325 pound couch potato to an amateur athlete about to run my seventh half marathon in about a year. I need to change any expectation that I have that I am going to live a life without pain. This is my painful truth.

My doctor has a history in sports medicine and has cared for many athletes over his years before moving into his current position. May of those athletes he has treated have been runners (like me) and have been weight lifters (like me to a lesser extent). They all have aches and pains and many are similar to mine with hip challenges, IT band soreness, foot issues and just generally sore muscles.

I have a 42 (almost 43) year old body that spent its first 40 years in a sedentary state before I decided to become an athlete. Soreness and minor pains are just a sign that I am pushing my body outside of its 40 years of comfort zone. They are a sign that my performance is getting better. Unfortunately they are also a fact of life and are probably here to stay if I continue pushing my body to grow athletically.

So what am I going to do?

First I am not going to ever go back to a life where I was comfortable because I wasn’t pushing myself, those days are over. I am going to keep pushing myself to do better.

Since I am not going to stop my progress I need to be a little more deliberate about portions of my fitness. Specifically I need to focus more on recovery. I need to plan for how to recover and make sure that I am not skipping that step in the process. Oh great, one more thing to track!

Finally I need to both accept the new reality that I am going to have some pain in my life and to listen to my body. If my body tells me “you should really not run today” I need to listen as long as that isn’t every day.

It is a delicate balance to push my body to do more and to properly care for it and maintain it. Hell I haven’t even mastered this with my car. But I am up for the challenge!

Thanks so much for reading and for your support. I sincerely hope that my experiences and my tips can help you achieve your own big goals. If we work together we can build a world where goals never die of loneliness!

Week 120: Numbers Matter

Two weeks from now I will have just finished running the Columbus Marathon’s half marathon. This will be organized half marathon number 3 and my 7th total half marathon distance run in 14 months. I just finished my last long distance run before the big day and will taper off to short runs and long walks for the next two weeks as I prepare my body for the big day.

Today’s long run was 6.52 miles (a quarter marathon distance) ran in 1 hour 7 minutes at an average pace of 10:18 per mile. Last year’s long run two weeks before the Columbus Marathon was 7.8 miles ran in 1 hour 29 minutes for an average pace of 11:29 per mile. I went on to run the half marathon, actually 13.42 miles, at a time of 2 hours 49 minutes at an average pace of 11:09.

My last organized half marathon was the Cap City Half in April where I ran 13.28 total miles in 2 hours and 24 minutes at an average pace of 10:43. So I ran less distance in preparation for this year’s Columbus Marathon but I am running faster. My goal is a) to finish, b) no injuries and c) to match or beat my pace for Cap City.

There were a lot of numbers in that summary. I also know exactly how many calories I ate the day before each of those runs, what made up those calories, how much water I drank, how much I slept and a whole slew of other information. Since I started my fitness journey I track lots of things about my body and my fitness every day.

Lord Kelvin famously said “if you can not measure it, you can not improve it.” This is one of the most important concepts in achieving any goal. Measure what matters, set small goals, track the numbers, make small adjustments along the way and achieve success.

Measuring my numbers is one of the most important strategies I have used to achieve success in my fitness journey. When I started my fitness journey I had decided that I wanted to life a fit life where I don’t give up anything. I wanted to live a life of balance and moderation and the best way to do that is to know the facts.

So I have achieved my goal now and I am effectively in “maintenance mode” so when will I stop tracking everything? Never. Maintaining good health like achieving good health depends on knowing the facts. Plus, like many people, I am terrible at estimating and keeping track of my nutrition and activity in my head so I turn to technology to track everything. That’s not something I plan to ever stop either because I am not planning to slip backwards in my progress.

Just keep in mind that diligently tracking numbers as you progress towards your goal is important outside of your fitness life. Tracking progress is an important part of achieving success with all of your important goals. So figure out how to measure success and track it every day.

Week 119: Reality Can Be Frustrating

Social media, blogs and the like are usually a method for people to show off the highlight reel of their life. When you follow somebody on Instagram or Facebook or just read their blog you usually only see a curated version of things they want to brag about. Sometimes a blog may just be somebody’s woe is me complaints or rants but usually you just get the best of their life.

My goal with my blog is to help people achieve their big goals. If I just talk about the most positive aspects of that process I am doing an incredible disservice to my readers and may actually be hurting instead of helping. So this week’s post isn’t about all the fun, positive parts of my journey. This week is a different message.

Sometimes reality in a fitness journey is frustrating. There are times when this new healthy and fit life doesn’t seem to be going the way I would hope. And that is just reality.

This week I saw the memory of social media of when I achieved my 50 pounds lost milestone just 2 years ago. I shared it and celebrated that I lost 50 pounds in just 100 days. I was super excited and felt unstoppable back then. Every morning I would step on the scale to see just how much weight I lost since the previous day. I would always lose and was just melting away – thus the name Operation Melt.

The fast daily progress during my weight loss journey was amazing. Every day I would hit some new low weight, some new exercise milestone or some other achievement. It felt great and I became pseudo addicted to constant, measurable progress. This is just how my competition-focused brain is wired. Unfortunately that level of daily success is absolutely unsustainable. Fast progress and daily achievements are a thing of the past. And that sucks!

Starting with my weight, which I know is just a number, I am not exactly where I hoped I would be right now. Once I hit my low weight at the end of last year (194) I decided that I was going to maintain in the 189-199 pound range. Unfortunately that has turned out not to be practical for my body. As I started building more muscle mass my lowest practical weight is a little higher than I expected.

My maintenance weight is closer to 200-201 pounds which is still 125 pounds lower than where I started. It is healthy and I am proud of it. But it isn’t where I wanted it. Plus I feel like my weight goes up a pound overnight if I just look at a salt shaker because I am very sodium sensitive from a weight perspective despite consuming over 140 ounces of water per day (a sign that I am at my lowest healthy weight). This is all super normal, it is reality, it is nothing to be frustrated about but that isn’t how my brain is wired.

I logically knew that the weight loss was unsustainable but maybe I wasn’t as emotionally convinced.

As I have talked about many times I became a runner through my weight loss journey and have learned that I love running – I also love long (4+ mile) walks. When I first started running I was predictably slow but I kept getting faster and faster. I got consistently into a 9:00 to 9:30 per mile pace. I was expecting to get to a consistent 9:00 or faster pace for 5k and 10k runs. That has turned out to also not be the case. I am not getting much faster as I am running. There is nothing wrong per se, this is healthy, but that doesn’t feed my hunger for achievement.

Increasing my running speed is going to require a committed effort and it will be slow. When I impatiently try to force myself to get faster the result tends to be pain. Overdoing things in attempt to achieve a quick victory is a recipe for disaster. So much so that I fear that I may have given myself a foot injury, potentially a stress fracture, just a few weeks before my next half marathon.

On top of not speeding up in my runs I have also taken a break from ramping up my weight lifting capacity. I need to focus on correcting some things with my lifting form before going back to ramping up the weight. If I don’t do this I could injure myself and that isn’t what I want. Pausing on ramping up weight to ensure I stay healthy is the smart, safe, right decision but it doesn’t help feed my achievement hunger either.

Through my fitness journey to date my body has changed. I have see a significant increase in muscle size and tone. I have seen a massive decrease in my size. I continue to see my body taking shape and am happy with my progress. But as you can imagine, I tend to focus more on the problem areas that I don’t’ make me as happy. Those are the areas I see by default.

Yes I am happy and proud of my progress. Yes I am living my healthiest life ever. Yes I love where I am. But my love of rapid progress with self improvement still tends to dominate my emotional brain. So that means that reality can be a little frustrating.

Week 118: Why I Believe in My Vision

I just finished a run that I really didn’t feel like doing. I thought it was going to feel crappy. It, in fact, felt a little crappy. I was up too late last night. My nutrition wasn’t good yesterday. I didn’t drink enough water before I went out. I was still a little sore from Friday’s run. Plus I waited too late to go out (after sleeping in) and the sun was up and a little too warm.

If I knew it wasn’t going to be a good run why did I go out?

I am running my next half marathon, the Columbus Marathon, in less than a month. I have a goal of finishing with a time faster than my last half marathon. I am way less likely to achieve this goal by sitting on the couch and not trying.

This idea is at the core of the vision statement I built for Operation Melt: creating a world where no goal dies of loneliness.

I almost had a different life story. I was on the way to an early death because of not taking care of myself. I was 325 pounds, had undiagnosed high blood pressure, high stress, poor nutrition and a slew of other things I have since corrected.

Making the situation worse is that I watched this happen with my dad. I watched him live his entire life dramatically overweight. He developed diabetes and he had to have a back surgery caused in part by lack of movement. He was confined to a walker and a scooter and he was only in his 50s! Then I watched as he faded away over a few months of going back and forth from the ICU to a skilled nursing facility due to some unexplainable illness followed by aggressive hospital-acquired infections. This all led up to those final moments when I was in the room as he finally faded away from the world at age 59. I was on this same path though not as dramatically as him.

My weight had always bothered and embarrassed me. Growing up as the fat kid you get picked on and bullied through your childhood. Then you grow up and it continues in much more subtle ways. You become very sensitive about it because it dominates your life. Will that chair support my weight? Where can I find new clothes that fit me? Why did I eat all of that?

For years I wanted to fix my weight but I never did. I was on a path where the goal of fixing my weight almost never had a chance. I almost didn’t even try.

When a goal that is important to somebody is never even attempted that goal dies of loneliness. I want to help stop this from happening. I want to stop it for myself and I want to  help others give their goals the attention that they deserve.

This doesn’t mean that every goal will be a success. Failure is ok. It is respectable to set a goal, give it your best effort and fall short. It isn’t fun and it doesn’t feel good to fail. But it is definitely better than never even trying.

I finally chose a different path. I chose to give my goal life and I achieved and exceeded it. Now I am living my healthiest and happiest life and I couldn’t be more proud that I did. By choosing not to let this huge goal that seemed completely out of reach die of loneliness I also proven to myself that I can do anything. That makes me unstoppable!

Do you want to be unstoppable? Join me in building a world where no goal dies of loneliness.

Week 117: New “Normal”, Too “Normal”

I spent some time this week analyzing my running so far this year. My hypothesis was that I am running less frequently or shorter distances and am slacking a bit. I was speculating that this was why I wasn’t reaching my speed goal so far this year. My logic was that I wasn’t running enough to keep improving.

The results of my analysis: I am wrong.

I am not running less. I average about 30 miles per month of focused, non-race running time minus any treadmill runs. I excluded treadmill runs because I tend to do those about once per week as a warm-up for my weekly personal training sessions and I tend to experiment with run/walk intervals so that would skew my results. I also excluded the miles upon miles of exercise walking that I do every week (15+ miles this week alone).

So why did I think I was slowing my frequency and distance. When I include races and treadmill runs I am averaging about 10 miles of running per week. How did I think I was slacking off?

It is because this is my new normal!

When I first started running it was out of character for me. It was always new, different and a stretch for me. I was always excited when I could run a mile. I thought it was a major accomplishment. But this is in the past and the newness has worn off.

Each week I run nearly 10 miles, I have a personal training session where I push myself to keep increasing my weight-lifting capacity and I walk at least a half marathon distance per week in exercise walking. That is a lot and it is more than most people do. But, in my mind, I thought I was trailing off because new normal feels too “normal” for me now. I have improved so it feels more comfortable than it used to so it doesn’t feel like I am doing anything impressive.

The lesson I learned this week: I judge myself very harshly for getting better despite the fact I am still killing it.

I let negative self-talk and self criticism fool me into thinking I wasn’t doing a good job.

So what can I do (and you do in your own journey) to counteract this? How does somebody continue to see the reality that what they are doing is, in fact, impressive and not just slacking off? To start with I know I need to purge phrases like “I only ran 5 miles” and “my run was pretty slow” from my vernacular and celebrate my continued commitment to my goals instead. I also need to stop assuming that I am doing less work simply because I am adjusting to my new “normal” in my fitness life!

Finally, embracing the way my head is wired, I need to keep looking at the data. I need to not let the runs just get intermingled with the other exercises. If I want to keep improving I need to pay particular attention to my running history. If nothing else it will stop me from making gut-feel hypotheses that I am not working hard!

On a related note the Columbus Marathon is just 7 weeks away! Not sure if I am ready but the calendar stops for nobody. I know I will finish, I know my time will be decent, I know that it should be better than last year (this will be my 7th 13.1 run in just over a year) but will it hit my stretch goal and be faster than the Cap City Half?

Thanks so much for reading and for your support. I sincerely hope that my experiences and my tips can help you achieve your own big goals. If we work together we can build a world where goals never die of loneliness!