Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Before and After

Every few days, a Facebook "Timeline Memory" reminds me how fat I used to be. It's as if they want to keep me sufficiently ashamed of my past overindulgences. Which is a stupid reaction on my part because I don't own a time machine (I'm waiting for one to go on sale!). Even if I did, the conversation with my younger self would go as follows.

"Look at how sexy and ripped you become! You should start right now and get sexy and ripped even sooner!" Now-me would exclaim excitedly.

"Oh sweet! You must get even more gorgeous ladies than I do!" Replies younger-me.

"Well... No. I exercise too much to have time for dating. I actually met way more women... Um, when I was you," I'd reply, rubbing my scalp. "But look at these shredded abs!"

"Hmm, but with all the exercise you do, you probably get to eat tons of pizza and drink tons of scotch!" He'd say, throwing me a bone.

"Well I... er, quit drinking. But yeah! I eat tons of pizza! I mean, I have to starve myself for a few days to save up the calories first. And I kind of hate myself aftewards. But you know, totally! Pizza!"


"You're at least, like, happier, right?" He'd say, trying really hard to understand the benefit.

"Uuuuuh, I kinda had to make myself insane. And now I battle that insanity on a daily basis. Like.... trying to not be too crazy... But crazy enough to keep exercising every single day. Does that make sense? But like, you're not totally happy all the time either, right?"

"What are you talking about? Did you forget? I ride around on my motorcycle all day, then I come home and eat a giant bowl of cereal or whatever the heck I want for dinner, then I invite a bunch of friends over and we drink beer and whiskey in front of the fireplace. Then some of them start playing music and we end up staying up all night and I call in to work sick the next day. My life is amazing."

"Oh dear lord I want to be fat again!" I weep.

I want to be fat and happy like younger-me!

This post just backfired on me.

I'm not saying I want to go back to that point in my life. I mean, parts of it were pretty cool. But the stuff younger-me said above were the highlights, kind of like the pics on Facebook which only show the good stuff in your life. When one of those memories pops up, it makes me think, "man, why did I ever stop doing that? I had so much fun."

My memory sucks.

That's why I try not to second guess my decisions. I made the hard choices and jumped on this painful and difficult journey for a reason. If I was generous I could say younger-me was more carefree. But really he was just stupid. And if I think about it for more than a second, I don't envy him anymore.

The joy of eating a bag of potato chips only lasted a few minutes. That gut was hanging off me all the time. The euphoria of being drunk lasted maybe a few hours. The hangover lasted half the next day and the general lethargy a couple days past that. The joy of throwing a party and having a bunch of people laughing in my house lasted an evening. The loneliness from knowing that I only saw most of those folks at parties lasted much longer.

I may not have the same peaks as often anymore (except when I conquer another hard race, or pick 500 pounds up off the floor). But I also don't have those big valleys. And I'm not constantly yoyoing between the two at an ever-increasing amplitude. What I'm going for now is health, strength, satisfaction, and pride in myself. Things that last.

Hernias last too, ya know!

I can't eat pride. I can't get drunk off of pride. I'm not going to get a bunch of frivolous attention because of pride. But I tell you what, that feeling, that dignity and self-respect... nothing gets close to it.

And that's what I wouldn't be able to explain to younger-me. That's why I couldn't travel back in time to convince younger-me to change (ignoring the scientific impossibility). It's something I had to learn purely through experience. And it's something I know deep down inside. Even when I put it into words, like I'm trying to do here, most folks will go, "wow!", and then eat a doughnut.

You see a lot of Before-and-After photos online. Most of them are lies: Advertising. A few of them are true. And a very tiny number stay true.

Many many people want to lose weight. Dieting is a $60 billion industry. But despite the fact that more and more people are trying to lose weight, the obesity epidemic in this country is only getting worse. And the vast majority of folks - 95%, maybe even higher - who lose weight gain it back. That's bad enough that many would say, don't even bother. Some doctors say that losing weight and then gaining it back over and over is actually worse for you than just not trying at all.

That sounds pretty grim. And the statistics are pretty terrible. And I don't care. I don't care if 99% of people fail to stay at a healthy weight. As long as I'm in the 1% that do. For comparison, only half of one percent of the U.S. population has completed a marathon. So I'm no stranger to breaking the odds. Do you know what percent of people have broken a red house brick with their hands? I don't, but I imagine it's microscopic. And it's very very hard to do. And I've done it.

This hurt a lot.

I mentioned near the top, only half jokingly, that I had to make myself insane in order to keep exercising and to maintain a low body fat percentage. That's true. I've become obsessed with turning myself into a person that I can respect and love. Is that unhealthy? I don't think so.

And it's an addiction I intend to keep feeding for as long as I can. I mean feeding metaphorically. Metaphorical food has zero calories.

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Things I'm Thankful For

I'm writing this mostly for myself. I've been writing a bunch about depression, the challenges of exercising, not eating nearly enough ice cream... and realized it paints a somewhat grim picture. For the most part my life is pretty awesome. You can just skim this list or not read it at all. You can instead look at videos of puppies tripping over things. Don't worry, they're mostly made of fluff and cuddles, and don't actually get injured.

  1. The people in my life - I'm listing this first because it's the most important thing. And I often forget it. Last night I saw a friend that I hadn't seen since New Years. Even though I don't drink anymore, we went out and had a good time just talking. He had a beer and I had a decaf coffee.

    Whenever we had hung out in the past, we would smoke pipe, drink scotch, and play game after game of Race for the Galaxy into the wee hours of the morning. I don't know anyone else as addicted to the game as him and me, so it sits untouched for months until the next time I see him.

    I've shared amazing experiences and have great stories involving just about everyone in my life that I care about. Late nights of impromptu music in my living room. Totally illegal swimming beneath cascading waterfalls. My sister giving birth to her amazing daughter in my home. Introducing dear friends of mine to one another and seeing them fall in love and get married. Looking for my adventurous brother on the streets of St. Petersburg at 4am, just hours before we're supposed to be on a plane. And of course countless hours of just sharing and talking.

    Everything I do really is meaningless without someone to share it with.

    And I really do forget this far too often.

  2. My health and fitness - Despite many years of partying, drinking, and bad decisions, I'm lucky enough to not have killed myself or done any lasting damage. And even though I've broken a bunch of fingers and toes and had a few bumps and strains along the way, I've never hurt myself too badly.

    Not for lack of trying though
    I complain (often) about races that I ran too slowly. Or that my ripped abs aren't ripped enough. Or that I can't arbitrarily double my exercise from the previous week without burning myself right the frig out. But the fact is that I'm blessed to be able to do what I do. And I'm in the best shape I've ever been in.

    My expectations seem to grow faster than my strength and endurance. That's kind of like winning a million dollars and being upset that it wasn't two million. Rather than appreciating what I have achieved, I often focus on the parts that I didn't feel I achieved enough.

    It's OK for me to be excited about the future. It's not OK for me to judge myself for not having gotten to that future yet. But when it comes down to it, I'm truly thankful for where I am today.

  3. Stability - This means having a job that lets me live comfortably. It means having a car that I don't have to worry will break down in the middle of nowhere. It means having a home that won't vanish if my luck changes. It means having a schedule that lets me pursue my missions and hobbies without any juggling.

    A lot of young folks will spend years chasing their dreams, whether it's to be a musician, an artist, famous vlogger, or champion warcrafter of worlds. Then one day they're 30, eating ramen out of a pot with an ice cream scooper on some stranger's hammock, and think, "dang, I could really go for some stability right about now."

    It's not glamorous, sure, but it's pretty freakin' awesome. It's as awesome as routine, another thing I'm super thankful for. It's great
    to have drive and gumption; but if your life doesn't have any structure, it's super hard to pursue your ambitions.

    So while I may daydream of backpacking the world as a bohemian spelunker, it wouldn't last. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with traveling or... spelunking. But if you're not starting from a foundation of stability, you'll quickly run of cash, and end up telling your coworkers at Burgerplace about the stalactites in New Zealand.

    "That's cool and all, but it's your turn to clean the fryer."
    Image source:
    Stability is about freedom. And I'm super thankful to have that freedom to live the life I want.

  4. The ability to introspect and to learn - This may be a weird thing to be thankful for. Isn't introspection just a fancy way of saying "thinking about stuff"? I constantly question and re-question my beliefs and choices. I always assumed that everyone does this.

    But I've come to realize that that's not true. There are folks who blindly accept what they were taught when they were 6 years old. There are folks who staunchly hold on to an idea, even if it has failed them repeatedly. There are those who attack things they don't understand, rather than learning and experiencing those things for themselves.

    I see a lot of fear. People fear things that are different. They fear things they can't comprehend. They fear ideas and choices which are not the same as their ideas and choices. And if you've been following the news at all, you will see that - sadly - this fear often turns to hate and violence.

    Preach it, my man

    Any time I hear something I don't agree with, I think about why I disagree with it: If there's even a good reason for it. Any time I'm afraid of something, I force myself to engage with that thing, whether it's the dark, kumite, or a marathon. Any time I start judging people for their preconceptions, biases, or discriminations, I stop and think, "wait, do I feel the way they do? Am I judging them because I have the same bias?"

    I try not to accept anything at face value. I expose my most deeply rooted beliefs to the sun. I explore my own hate and anger, try to understand where it comes from, and try to conquer it. I never say, "oh no, I'm not like that," and just blissfully go along my ignorant way. It's too easy to pretend to be something if you've never been truly tested.

    I'm thankful that I can quiet my ego and look into myself. Much of what I have learned in life has been in silence.

  5. Pain - Few enjoy pain. But I honestly don't believe I'd be able to appreciate all of the things above if I'd never experienced pain. If you've never endured the hard things in life, you can't really enjoy the good things. If you've only ever lived a life of luxury, it becomes kind of meaningless. But if you've worked hard and suffered for every one of your achievements, they become true gifts. All of my strength and growth has come from pain. I believe this so strongly that I deliberately inflict pain on myself on a daily basis. I cause myself physical pain with exercise. I cause myself mental pain by challenging my own ego every day. I cause myself emotional pain by thinking about those I've hurt so that I can become a better person.

    You can't achieve this without mastering pain.
    Src: Pumping Iron

    I'm not afraid of pain. Not anymore. I know that it doesn't have any power over me. Pain is a tool. Torn muscles heal stronger. Shattered beliefs grow into more valuable ones. A broken heart swells to accept more love. This isn't true for everyone. Some break in the face of pain.

    But I welcome pain into my life. And I am thankful for it.

  6. My cat - Just look at her!!

    She's thankful for the mouse she's about to murder.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Exercise Induced Depression

I'm often hard on myself. I get mad at myself if I run a race slower than I wanted to, despite 90 degree heat, massive hills, or some other totally valid reason. I get pissed at myself for having a low mileage week, even if I'm tapering for a big event. I get exasperated at myself for gassing out on a 50 mile bike ride, even if my previous longest ride was only 25 miles.

I hammer myself emotionally for really stupid reasons.

I'll curse myself for not spelling "address" correctly (too many double consonants!). I spew vile vitriol at myself for tripping over a sidewalk. I bash my head against a wall (figuratively) for putting my shirt on inside out. The most trivial thing in the world will make me feel worthless.

Part of the reason for this is Exercise Induced Depression.

I Googled that phrase and it's a real thing; not just something I made up to sound smart. Working out for a really long time can mess up your hormones. It will deplete your blood sugar. It may leave you tired and less able to deal with stress. The cumulative effect can leave you feeling depressed.

Sometimes it feels like this.
Art: Hercules Killing the Hydra by Cornelis Cort

It's ironic (I'm convinced there's no actual correct way to use that word, unless you're a 16th century bard) that something that's supposed to help alleviate depression can actually cause it. Part of the problem is that I often exercise too much. Of course I tell myself that I'm a lazy sack of shit and I should do even more. But my rationality has long since flown out the window.

When I feel shitty about myself, I tell myself logically that there's no good reason for it. I pushed myself too hard, didn't eat enough, and drank too much coffee. But when you're in that state, "logic" doesn't really help. I can tell myself that I'm totally fine and life is great. But that doesn't magically make me feel better. And of course when I'm already angry at myself, I won't just allow myself a piece of cheesecake, even though it would probably make me feel a million times better.

Which only compounds the issue. I may be 2000 calories under budget for the week and losing weight faster than a mountaineer with a broken leg trapped in the Peruvian Alps, but because I'm already cranky I won't let myself eat a snack. I quit drinking recently, which means I really should eat more food, but it's been a difficult adjustment. I'm really glad I quit drinking, but I do miss feeling overflowingly cheerful, even if it was only temporary.

Exercise Induced Depression is a physiological condition. But it gets all tangled up with emotional depression. You're never sure which is which. And one can exacerbate the other. If you're not careful you can tumble into a self-hating spiral, one whose only cure is a bucket of ice cream slathered in caramel sauce and peanut butter cups (true story).

But besides eating food, a lot of things help. Going to bed early, which I've been doing the past couple weeks, helps. Weightlifting helps; it pumps you full of sexy hormones without burning up all the glycogen in your body. Taking a break from my desk or whatever I'm working on helps. And weekends are always great for all those reasons.

Pump me up with sexy hormones plz!

My days get into a cycle. I'll feel low because of the exercise I did the previous couple days, then I'll exercise and I'll feel good for a few hours. Then I'll feel down again the next day because of the exercise. It's not a great pattern, I admit.

You may be yelling at your monitor now, "just exercise less and eat more you idiot!" Sound advice my friend. A few years ago I was a fatass. My pattern then was similar, except replace exercise with drinking and eating. I would stay up late snacking and drinking and would feel awesome. I wouldn't want to go to bed because I was enjoying the high too much. And then the next day I would feel hungover and lethargic. Rinse, repeat.

Once I started losing weight and getting fitter and stronger, I loved what I was seeing, and didn't want to stop. So I kept pushing myself harder and harder (and still do), so I could keep seeing those delicious gainz. And now I'm at a point where I can't rewind. Not just yet anyway.

Some day I will. And I'm OK with that. I have a goal in mind for my weight, and I should achieve that within a month. After that I can increase my food budget, so that I have plenty of calories for my next marathon. And after race season ends, I'll do another lifting challenge, and will likely eat more to put on some weight.

Real men have a bit of heft.

A big challenge, for me, is that this is all still pretty new to me. I've only been thin for a couple years. I've only been exercising on a daily basis for about a year. I've only been sober for less than a month. So I'm still adjusting. We humans are slow to get used to things.

And I have to accept that.

I'm pushing myself hard now because I've made a lot of progress and I now see what I'm capable of. And I'm learning a lot. And there will be a point in the future when I find a balance. My expectations will be more reasonable. I'll be OK with failures. My goals will be less lofty, because I will have achieved most of the ones I have now. I will still strive to conquer new challenges, but I will give myself more time to do so. I will learn to enjoy the process.

And I realize all this. But as I mentioned above, you can't really logic away your feelings. So I'll continue to be crazy, for now. I'm not ready to take a break just yet. But just knowing that I have the power to guide my life in whatever direction I choose is empowering. And even though I may be angry at myself in any given moment, I just have to remind myself that it's not permanent. As a whole, my life is constantly improving.

Even though it's a large mountain to climb, at every point of the way I can look back and see how much I've already climbed, and that's inspiring. And I realize, you know what? I don't really have that much left to go. The summit is within my reach.

Ending the post with a bang! </cheese>

Monday, June 20, 2016

Getting Started is the Hardest Part

For someone who doesn't exercise, or only exercises erratically, the hardest part of working out is getting started in the first place. The second big challenge after that is forming a lasting routine. After that, the remaining challenge is avoiding burn-out.

When I say getting started, I'm not talking about the first couple weeks. Usually folks will get a burst of motivation and they will be really excited in the beginning. This may be due to an ad on TV (does anyone watch TV anymore? Maybe I should say an ad on Facebook), a friend who just started a new program, a new Crossfit studio opening down the street, or whatever. And of course New Year resolutions are a classic.

I started karate because my mom thought Bruce Lee was - like - super cool (he totally is). I started lifting weights in college because I had no life and a lot of free time. Considering I had a demanding program at an Ivy League university, that means I really had no life. I started running because I got a husky and either she got exercised or she literally devoured all of the furniture.

So, you know, reasons.

But for many folks - if I was a dick I would say most folks - that motivation runs out and they quit. They make an excuse like, "oh, I got this thing at work and my aunt is visiting and my toes got sore... But I'll totally get back into it, like, super soon. As soon as my toes feel better. And I'm no longer working. And my aunt moves to another country."

Excuses are easy.

It's not an excuse if it's true!

I constantly have excuses floating around through my head. For example last Wednesday, I got up at 6am, lifted weights, and ran 2 miles before work. I left work early and bicycled to a lake, swam for 45 minutes (and didn't drown!) and then bicycled back (22 miles total), and then I ran 2 more miles. All in all I exercised for 3 hours in the middle of a work week.

At 6am my brain said, "sleep in! You'll need strength for later!" At work my brain said, "you can't go home to exercise, you should stay and do more work!" At home my brain said, "you should drive to the lake instead of bicycling! This is your first open water swim and you should be fresh!" When I got home my brain said, "are you f#$king kidding me? You want to run now? I literally can not feel the rest of my body!!"

With such a constant barrage of bullshit pummeling me at all times, it would be really easy to cave and just eat ice cream instead.

But I don't.

The next challenge, once you've started a program and survived your waning motivation, is to form a routine. Running every week is great, but it's hard to maintain if your schedule is constantly changing. Even if you've decided that it's super important for you to do, and you ignore your brain's constant whining, and you "just do it", real life can still get in the way.

That's why it's important to have a set time every day when you exercise: A time that's set in stone. This could be in the morning before work. It could be at lunch time. It could be after work. Or it could be in the evening after whatever creatures reside in your house have gone to bed. I personally work out both before and after work. I don't have a "work" on weekends, so I just exercise for a really long time at whatever time I sufficiently hate myself for still being in bed.

Although nobody could hate me as much as these horses.

A routine can be hard to form because it may force you to do something you're not used to (yet!). A morning routine requires you to get up earlier. Exercising after work requires you to wait longer before you get to jam your face with sweet sweet calories. Exercising at any other time will require you to finagle whatever else you did at that time. It takes about a month for a new thing to become a habit. And during that period you'll be forcing yourself to get up while other sane people are still sleeping, or what have you.

Interestingly, the solution to the first problem - getting started - is to make yourself do the second one - form a routine. Don't wait until you're motivated to start exercising. Instead, look at yourself honestly, and decide - logically - if exercise is something that would add value to your life. Pick the thing that seems the most engaging (running, biking, swimming, lifting, martial arts, or in my case all of those things). Pick a time during the day when you can best stick to. Then just start doing it, every day.

Some folks will tell you not to run, or lift, or whatever, every single day. Fine. But if you decide to exercise at X time 4 days a week, then pick something else to do at X time the other 3 days. If you run 4 times a week at 5PM, then do some sit-ups, or planks, or stretching the other three days a week. The point is to maintain a routine where - every day at 5 - you have to do something. It's like brushing your teeth, going to work, or keeping the creatures in your house alive. It's a thing you have to do.

Once you've formed your routine and gotten used to it, you should be pretty golden. You'll see improvements, break previous records, and watch your body transform into a gladiator's. That will let you know that you're on the right track and will keep you going forward.

"I'm just a crocodile. I have no reason to be here."

The third problem is one that you probably won't encounter for a while. But, believe it or not, at some point you will have met many of your goals. You will be toned and sexy. You will be blasting races faster than you'd ever imagined. Your colleagues will be awed by your achievements - I mean, secretly awed at least. And then one day you'll think, "umm, ok I'm pretty awesome now. I've pretty much plateaued on the race times. I'm pretty sure I can stay skinny with only half this exercise. And do I really need to spend 10 hours a week breaking my legs? There's a lot of streaming TV to catch up on. I hear there's a good show about zombies out there."

And those nagging excuses that you've learned to ignore suddenly come roaring back. "That's right!" Says brain. "You don't need to keep nuking yourself all the time! You're great now! In fact, you can afford to put some weight back on! You know, in case all the food in the world vanishes and you need to survive on your fat stores. And really, all your friends are tired of you constantly flaunting your superheroic victories. When's the last time you even saw your friends?"

Don't listen to brain! Brain is an asshole!

Instead, do something new. Something different. You've kicked ass on your last half marathon? Do a full marathon! Full marathon no sweat? Do an ultra! Not your cup of tea? How about a triathlon! Prefer to do something with obstacles? How about a Tough Mudder or a Spartan! Or maybe you'd rather put on some muscle and fill out all those race shirts that take up half your bedroom. Start lifting!

There's a ton of options. Even a slight change to your workout routine can add a whole new level of vigor and excitement.

And then you can keep pissing off your friends and loved ones for years to come.
Keep pissing them off
with sexy towel pics.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Pushing the Mileage

On Saturday I did a 3 hour run. On Sunday I did another 3 hour workout: 1 hour of swimming, 1 hour of biking, and 1 hour of running. You would think I'd be totally fried today. But this morning I got up at 6am like usual and did 6 sets of deadlifts. And I feel good right now.

When I trained for my first "real" marathon (not counting my first disastrous experience as being "real"), I was worried about the long runs. And when considering whether or not I would want to get into triathlons, I was worried about the volume of training for that too. But this past weekend made me realize that my body can handle long workouts, and they don't even kill me.

Of course there are some triathletes and ultra-marathoners who regularly do 5 hour workouts. One of those events can take 12 hours to complete. A 100 mile ultra can take 24 hours.

When I first started running, it was a challenge just to finish a mile. It was no problem for my 3 month old husky, who would leap and pounce through snow deeper than her head. At the time, I could not have believed that I would one day measure my training in hours rather than minutes.
Don't let the cuteness fool you.
She's an expert pouncer.

I've had several folks ask me how to push the mileage on their runs. They are able to run a certain distance, but are frustrated to find that they can't go any farther than that. They feel comfortable on the runs they do now, and don't understand why they can't add miles. How do I run farther? They ask. The answer is always the same.

Slow down.

It sounds simple, but for a lot of people it's anything but obvious. They start running at a certain pace. They can run 3 or 4 miles and feel good. But then when they try to add miles, they can't. The reason is because they're still running at the same pace. These folks believe that the longer they run for, the farther they'll be able to run at the same pace. And it's simply not true.

If you want to run farther, you have to run slower. And the same goes for any kind of training. That's why there exists the concept of a "training pace", not to be confused with "race pace".

Most of my runs are slow. If you look at my running stats, you would expect me to run a half marathon in over two hours. I can run a half marathon in a hair over an hour and a half. I have some friends who do all of their runs fast (I call them genetic freaks). And it surprises them when they see the huge difference between my training speeds and my race speeds.

"Slow" used to be the only setting for my chubby ass.

Training is about time spent on your feet. Every single run improves your strength and endurance. Every run strengthens your bones, joints and muscles. Every run strengthens your heart and cardiovascular system. Every run helps fine tune your central nervous system and your brain's ability to optimally utilize your body. Every run psychologically pushes you to run farther and faster. Every run helps turn you into an expert in pain tolerance.

That's not to say I never do speed workouts. Speed workouts are necessary if you want to be able to run faster, and not just farther. But a speed workout isn't just about running as fast as you can as far as you can. It has structure. For example with an interval run, you alternate between running fast and running slow.

The hardest interval run I've done was at the peak of my marathon training last year. It was ten intervals of half miles at about my 5K pace. So that was a total of 5 miles at nearly my fastest possible pace. But it wasn't all at once! I alternated between a half mile of super fast running, and a half mile at barely a jog. This allowed my body enough time to recover in between each sprint. The workout was much more effective in this way because I spent more total time running hard.

The point is that even when you do run fast and hard, you have to do so intelligently. And you should only have about two speed workouts per week. The rest of your runs should be long and slow. And that's how you push both your speed and your endurance.

I do want to add one more thing. I don't want to turn into the type of guy who says, "drinking is bad." I had a ton of great experiences while drinking. But, I've found that it's become a lot easier to get up early on the weekends and to do a long workout now that I've quit. I hadn't realized how much strength drinking had sapped. I wrote a post not that long ago titled, "Sobriety Makes me Slow." I realize now that it's total bullshit. I was sick most of the winter, and that's likely the real reason why that month sucked.

And some experiences I don't remember at all...

Back to the topic. If you do push your mileage, make sure you do so gradually. If you're reading this post and it gives you a sudden epiphany (if only my words had so much power!) then take care of your newfound power. You should only increase your mileage by about 10% per week. Any more and you risk injuring yourself, no matter how slow you go. 3 hours on your feet is still 3 hours on your feet. That's a lot of stress to put on your body, and you have to work up to it carefully.

Getting better and stronger requires constantly pushing yourself. You may be reading this and thinking, "I will never run that far." But you can, if you want to. Do you really want it? Because if you do, your body will be able to handle it.

Of course posting super vain selfies is a bonus

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Morning Exercise? That's crazy!

Do you set your alarm for five minutes before you have to be at work? Oh, you don't. How much time do you give yourself? An hour? Two? Do you happen to set your alarm for an extra half hour just in case? I suspect a lot of people do.

And what do most folks do when the alarm rings? No, they don't jump into the air full of vigor and excitement for the coming day.

They hit the snooze button.

I know I've done it. Many times. And I know some of my friends do it. Sometimes I would lie in bed. I'd close my eyes for a few minutes because it felt good. But then I'd open them, because I didn't want to accidentally fall asleep. Basically I just lay in bed until I had to get up. I'd rush through my morning routine, brushing my teeth while pouring way too much food into my cat's bowl (she's gotten really fat).

I imagine many folks go through a similar process every morning.

Several years ago I lived only 5 minutes from work. And I would still get there late. I was lazy and overweight at the time. I didn't exercise regularly. I stayed up late snacking and drinking every night, and would wake up feeling lethargic. I'd be sleepy all day at work, dozing off in meetings. I had trouble focusing.

This Monday morning I got up at 5:45am. I was outside by 6am with a cup of coffee, waiting for my friend, David to arrive. Then the two of us lifted weights for 45 minutes. We did five sets of squats, and an equal amount of benchpress. Tuesday at 6am we did crunches, pull-ups, and some other exercises. Then we ran 3 miles in the cool morning air. Today was curls, reverse fly, and more running. I was at work early every day.
Making good friends with the weights.

I'm not a morning person. The "real" me is the person above who'd prefer to lie in bed until 5 minutes before I have to be at work. The "real" me is also the person who wants to stay up late drinking. I'm not that person anymore. I don't snack. I don't drink. After I get done with running after work, I watch some Netflix. By 9:30pm, I get bored. And with no booze or other worthless distraction to tie me up, I go to sleep.

The sun wakes me up before my alarm does. I don't languish in bed. I get up immediately. I did this for a few months for my 80 day deadlift challenge. I dropped that routine for a little while. I could throw a bunch of reasons and excuses at you for why, but they don't matter (although Daylight Savings Time really did screw me until I got used to it). The fact is I had forgotten my lesson.

Not too harp on it too much, but drinking was a big reason I'd stay up late and have trouble getting up at a decent time. So, you know, take that how you will.

Anyways. You may be thinking that getting up early sucks. You're right. If you're not used to it. But I can tell you from personal experience that on days when I stayed in bed late and then rushed to work, I was exhausted and scatterbrained all day. And on days when I get up early and work out, I feel really good. All those chemicals that get dumped into my bloodstream in the morning do wonders for me for the rest of the day.

Most people - possibly everyone - complains that they don't have enough time in the day. I'm not immune to this. I still manage to work out before and after work. Of course, I also don't have kids. So I understand that it's more difficult for some people. I have a friend with two kids who gets up at 4am every day to exercise. My friend Meghan has two kids and is currently training for a triathlon; she works out twice every single day (and still works a full time job). I have friends who run ultra marathons who do their long runs before the sun comes up.

Some do an ultra marathon of pollen collecting.

Even if you have kids, a full time job, and other commitments, you can find the time to exercise. The great thing about exercising in the morning is that you can get up as early as you need to. And if you have kids, I doubt they stay up partying till midnight every night. Go to bed when they do. And then once you work out, you'll feel rejuvenated for the rest of the day.

We get addicted to our little habits. For those of us who work, and then have to run errands or be with our families after work, it can be hard to go to bed early. We want to unwind with TV or a book and cup of tea or a glass of wine. You need that you time. But you know what else makes for great you time? Exercising. When you're running, you're entirely by yourself. You can think, breathe, prepare for the day, enjoy your solitude, and just feel free. And you can enjoy every moment of that freedom. I know when I watch TV, that episode goes by in a blink.

It's hard to change a habit. When you first start out, it's going to feel like you're replacing relaxation with work. And yes, exercise is physical work. But it's physical work that makes you stronger and better capable to handle whatever the day throws at you. But more importantly, it empties and relaxes your brain. Watching a movie may feel relaxing, but your mind is still working, processing pretty colors and loud noises.

Exercise lets you process this pretty color.

Once you've formed the habit of regularly exercising, you will feel more relaxed. You may feel sore sometimes, sure. But you won't feel like you're going to collapse in your office chair from the weight of your own body (I've definitely experienced that). And you'll be able to focus.

Best of all, that time when you're pumping iron or smashing the pavement is entirely solo time. Even if you live with other people, people who typically demand your time and attention, they're all going to be asleep. That's not the case if you're staying up late reading a book. Kids wake up asking for snacks. Spouses stomp all over your personal time asking what you did with their socks.

Socks, man. The bane of every relationship.

But get up with the birds and the rising sun, and you'll feel like the only person in the world. There's no traffic, no other humans. Maybe just a nurse on her smoke break at the retirement home down the street. But even if the other 23 hours of the day feel like turmoil, for that one hour you feel powerful and in control. You do what you want. You make yourself healthier and stronger. You rejoice in your humanity.

Nothing else compares.