Remember when I used to blog?

Life has been…different, lately. And very busy. I don’t know that I’m actually doing a whole lot, but it sure feels like I’m spending every moment on something. It occurred to me that it’s been awhile since I actually blogged, so I thought I’d put down some sort of update.

There are several new people in my life, friends I’ve made through the Welcome to Night Vale fandom and through Sean. It has been so wonderful getting to know them and sharing things with them. I’ve been doing a lot more chatting recently than I had for years. I’d really missed it. So many of my new friends are artists or writers, so we’ve been inspiring each other to create fanworks, and it’s been so much fun.

My online life has sort of shifted; I used to spend a lot of time on social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, but now I hardly ever look at those two sites. I’m enjoying the chatting a lot more—it’s more personal, and it’s with people I care a lot about. (Sometimes on social media I get a bunch of updates from acquaintances and barely anything from my closest friends.)

I have a trip coming up soon; I’m going to New York City! I’ve only been once before, during Sean and my visit to New York state in 2011 (which I never finished writing up, alas). I’m really excited to see the city properly. I’m going to a Broadway musical, even! But the best part is that I’m going to meet someone very special in person for the first time. :)

I went home to visit my family over Labor Day weekend. It was nice. I didn’t feel like doing much, so I hung out in the office with Mom most of the time. On Sunday, the day before I left, we had a cookout, and AJ let Connor and Logan invite a bunch of their friends. Mom and Dad’s yard was filled with teen and pre-teen boys, swimming, playing horseshoes, tossing beanbags, and helping with the grill. It was amazing. Eventually we all sat down to eat wherever we could find a spot and one of Logan’s friends, Cade, entertained us with jokes. Then he and Logan challenged each other to eat various food items with lemon juice squirted all over them. It was funny.

Ben had no idea I was visiting, so I didn’t see him at all. Gah. Next time I will be sure to tell him myself that I am coming!

My daily writing challenge has kind of faltered. Some days I have been too mentally exhausted to write. Some days I just haven’t been in the right headspace. I’m still trying to write regularly, but it seems like every day isn’t sustainable. I’m trying not to beat myself up over it, and instead to enjoy the writing I’m doing.

So far the vast majority of my writing has been fanworks. I’m trying not to feel bad about this, either. For some reason I feel like I should be writing original stuff, like the work I’ve done isn’t “real.” But people have enjoyed what I’ve written, and I’ve enjoyed writing it. There’s value to it. I’m trying to break out of the “if it can’t make money, it’s worthless” mentality.

(Of course, I’m also nervous that I’m just scared to try to write something original, because I don’t feel like I can do it and I don’t want to fail…)

Sean and I eat out a lot these days. Neither of us is a big fan of cooking. For Sean, it’s mostly that it takes so much time. For me, there’s the added issue that Sean is fairly picky, so there’s the danger that I’ll spend forever making something and then he won’t like it. So we tend to get takeout or fast food, or just go to a restaurant.

We have been trying to make healthier choices, at least. I’ve been getting Starbucks’ Protein Bistro Box for breakfast pretty regularly. It comes with a hard-boiled egg, two slices of white cheddar cheese, a small multi-grain pita with honey-peanut butter spread, apple slices, and grapes. It is so yummy! Much nicer than a sausage or bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, and healthier too. It’s a struggle not to just eat one every day. (I’ve been thinking that I could probably create my own version at home that would cost less. Maybe I’ll do that.)

Exercise-wise, neither of us is doing much of anything. We have to go up a flight of stairs to leave our apartment, and I take the stairs in the parking garage at work, but that’s about it. I’ve been thinking about getting back into walking or running in the mornings now that the weather is cooling off again, but I’m not sure I want to get up any earlier than I already do. My evenings feel pretty short already, especially since most of my friends stay up late.

Yesterday one of my friends linked me to a couple of videos: the pilot short and the first episode of the miniseries Over the Garden Wall. I had never seen it before, though I knew a lot of people were fans. It was absolutely incredible. So unique and charming. Creepy and cute all at once. The music is spectacular. At some point I need to sit down and watch the whole thing. (I was disappointed that both of the two main characters are boys, but my friend says there are important girl characters in the show, so I will hold out hope.)

Otherwise, I haven’t been watching or listening to much of anything lately beyond Welcome to Night Vale. I’ve heard of a couple of podcasts that sound great, but it’s hard for me to find time to listen to podcasts. I need to be doing something with my hands, but it can’t be something that takes too much mental energy, because I’ll get distracted from the show. Maybe if I start walking again, I could listen then. I’ve also been thinking about learning embroidery, or at least cross-stitch. I could listen to podcasts while doing that, maybe.

Well, that’s basically what’s going on in my life right now! On the whole, things are really good. Love, family, friends, hobbies, adventures, happiness. :)

More and more

To start my new tradition of working out when I get up, I just did the TurboJam 20-Minute Workout. I chose that video because I wasn’t sure I could make it all the way through Cardio Party, which is about twice as long. But I found myself doing the entire video “high impact”, jumping around, punching and kicking full force, positively overflowing with energy. I sweated and got a little out of breath, but I never felt like it was too difficult or that I couldn’t finish. If anything, I felt like I could do more.

This stands in stark contrast to my previous experiences starting up this video series. I always found it challenging and had to build up to where I could finish a workout at low impact. I never did an entire video high impact, not even the 20-Minute Workout.

My weight loss surgery has given me an amazing gift. Losing those 120 pounds has made me able to accomplish things I never could before. It’s given me a huge leg up in physical fitness. I feel like I can do anything now!

Not everything is going to come this easily, and I will have to keep planning and working toward my goals step by step. But today’s workout showed me just how far I’ve come, and how much I have to be thankful for.

Traditions and willpower

In the course of rearranging and organizing everything in my life, I’ve dusted off some goals and study materials that have been foundering or never even used and started making clear plan lists for using them. My Japanese language plan is the most robust so far; it includes steps for my WaniKani reviews, TextFugu, the collection of study materials I purchased from TheJapanShop, and reading and translating various Japanese-language manga and short stories I own. When I logged back into TextFugu for the first time in months, it reminded me that I had purchased the 30 Day ebook, a system for making oneself a better Japanese learner. So I added that to the list too and read Day 1.

The first day’s assignment is to make a task I dislike into a tradition rather than a chore. The idea is that if you have to force yourself to do something, you’re using mental energy that could be used elsewhere, and the more you can turn tasks into traditions, the more you’ll be able to achieve. I find this extremely interesting.

Since willpower is a finite resource (meaning the batteries only have so much juice before needing a recharge), being able to not use willpower becomes very important especially over time. If there’s a task you do every day with your Japanese, creating a tradition for it will essentially allow you to use your finite willpower to do something else, increasing the amount you can do and get done. Over time this adds up, so there’s no better time to start than now.

The mission is to pick any distasteful task, Japanese-related or not, set a time for it, and make it happen. I’ll probably go with “When I get up, I work out.” I don’t have a problem with doing laundry or the dishes these days…I just sort of do those things. (They’re already traditions!) But working out has always been a struggle. If I can turn that into something I just do, I bet I’ll feel a lot better about doing it, and I’ll have mental energy left over for other tasks.

I hope I haven’t chosen too difficult a task to turn into a tradition.

One-month personal training fitness evaluation

As I mentioned previously, my weight loss post-surgery has decelerated. This is to be expected. As planned, I looked into gyms and picked one and started working with a trainer. I see him once a week and supplement that activity with other workouts the rest of the week (though I need to be better about that). One nice thing about the gym is that it has a three-lane indoor pool. Another nice thing is that the gym is not prohibitively expensive, like the “athletic clubs” in this area.

On July 5, I weighed in at home at 140.2, a weight that put me in the “normal” BMI range for my height. At that point my total weight loss since surgery was 116.8 pounds.

As I wrote on Facebook,

Now my goal is to turn more of my body weight from fat into muscle. I’ll stop worrying about weight and BMI and start looking at body fat index. On June 8 my body fat was measured at 31.8%, and my goal is 17.4%. I started working with a personal trainer on June 19. I’m looking forward to building up more strength and endurance :)

Today I had my one-month fitness evaluation. The baseline was taken June 18; I didn’t start personal training until over a week after I signed up due to a trip out of town. (Not sure why June 18’s body fat percentage is 0.8% less than the percentage taken on June 8.)

Baseline
6/18/12
1 Month
7/13/12
Body fat % 31.0% 29.9%
Weight 144 144
3 Min Step Test 138bpm 138bpm
Upper Body Strength Test 25 lbs, 15 reps 25 lbs, 26 reps
Lower Body Strength Test 50 lbs, 8 reps 50 lbs, 11 reps
Flexibility 10 in 6 in
Muscular Endurance (Wall Squat) 50 sec 40 sec

I’m very happy with already coming down a whole percentage point on body fat! The weight measurement isn’t accurate, because the first weight was taken at home, in the morning, before I ate anything and without any clothes on, and the second weight was taken at the gym (and was actually 146, but he took two pounds off). I don’t really care about the weight measurement, anyway.

I’m not sure what the 3-minute step test heart rate measurement is supposed to be looking for. It consists of doing the stair climber for three minutes. Today I felt like I was strong throughout, whereas for the baseline I was barely able to finish.

I was unhappy with the lower body strength test, because I had just done ten minutes on the Precor (sort of a cross between an elliptical and a stair climber) and then three minutes on the stair climber, and my legs were tired. We did the lower body test before the upper body test, and I don’t think my legs had enough time to recover. Also, the trainer who does the fitness evaluations has a bad habit of “helping” you lift the weights, and I think he might have been doing that the first time, and not this time.

I’m extremely happy with the upper body strength test. I know my arms are stronger, and they certainly look it. My flexibility seems to have improved as well–for that I just try to touch my toes and the trainer eyeballs how far my fingers are from the floor :>

The wall squat started hurting my knees, and my legs were pretty exhausted. I’m unhappy that my time was lower than it was before, but it is what it is. The gym usually also does a situp test, but since I can’t do ball situps the way they want (I have to support my head or my neck has severe pain), we skip those.

Now for the most interesting data: the measurements! These were, of course, taken before I started all those strength tests above.

Baseline
6/18/12
1 Month
7/13/12
Neck 13 12.5
Chest 38 37
Shoulders 40 39
Waist 31 31.5
Hips 40 39
Bicep (R) 12 11
Bicep (L) 12 11
Thigh (R) 21 20.5
Thigh (L) 21 20.5
Calf (R) 15 15
Calf (L) 15 15

So, nice losses everywhere except the calves (which is unsurprising) and the waist (what is up with that?). On the whole, I’m pleased, especially with the arms, and I’m looking forward to seeing more improvement.

We finished out the evaluation with cardio. The trainer told me to do the Precor machine for as long as it took to burn 250 calories. When we did this for the baseline, he said 200 to 250 calories. It took me 31 minutes to get to 200 calories and I was bored out of my mind, so I quit there. Today I was still bored, but determined to do better, and so I ramped up the resistance and my speed when I could and just forced myself all the way to 250. And what do you know? I managed it in 29 minutes.

It looks like personal training was the right choice for me. It gives me direction and motivation that I couldn’t provide for myself. I still need to work on getting to the gym more and/or doing other exercise, but even with my uneven workouts outside of training, I’m getting results. That’s really inspiring :)

Weight loss and health update

Today I am three and a half months out from weight loss surgery. This morning I weighed in 67.6 pounds lighter than I did the morning of my surgery. I also passed under the 190 pound mark; almost exactly a month ago, I made it under 200 pounds.

Here’s a graph of my weight loss to date, courtesy of SparkPeople, which I’ve been using to track weight, protein, and exercise:

Weight loss graph 9/26/11 - 01/16/12As you can see, there is a precipitous drop at the beginning, then a steadier decline past that, with some near-plateauing around the holidays.

I obviously haven’t reset my goal line in quite some time, so please ignore it. At this point I think my goal is 140, but I wouldn’t say no to lower. I’m not sure how low a weight I can actually achieve, though; I have a feeling it might be tied to my weight as an adolescent. I was in the 140s in high school, until senior year, when I quit kung fu and ballooned. I’m not sure what my weight was in middle school. When I had cancer, the lowest weight I hit was 145. And I looked good at 145, so I won’t complain if that’s where I end up. I just don’t want to shoot myself in the foot if I can possibly achieve more.

For the first three months, I had to be careful of my stomach and focus on healing. I couldn’t lift heavy objects or even reach over my head much. Exercise was limited to walking. Since my Christmas week appointment with the physician’s assistant at my surgeon’s office, though, I have had the go-ahead to do ab exercises, so long as I stop immediately if there’s any pain. I’ve started out with the Wii Fit and some old workout videos I used to much success back in 2008. (I’d gladly name them, except their distributor is a supporter of SOPA.)

It really surprised me how winded and sore I was after my first 20 minutes of Wii Fit. I commented on Facebook, “You know you’re out of shape when…” But the next day I did a 20-minute workout video, and while it was difficult, I got through to the end. And then the next day, I went back to Wii Fit, and I was already stronger and had more endurance. The truism from my old kung fu class keeps coming back to me: The more you do, the more you are able to do.

I went back and forth between Wii Fit and the 20-minute workout video for a week. The next week, Sean and I went out of town for five days, and I only exercised for three of those: the elliptical one day, then a load of walking on the following two as I explored the historic city of Birmingham, Alabama. (There will be blog posts and pictures from this trip later.) When we got back, I resumed my Wii Fit/video routine immediately without too much trouble.

I’m already starting to get bored, though, which has always been my problem with exercise. If I want to keep up my weight loss without losing muscle tone, I need to work my muscles, so I’m going to have to go ahead and change up my routine some. My goal will be to come up with various routines that don’t burn too many calories (since it’s difficult for me to replenish them) but still give me a good workout and build muscle tone. SparkPeople has some weight routines I can use over at the apartment complex’s fitness center, for example.

One hope of mine has been to build up to the point that I can start Jillian Michaels’ 30-Day Shred once I’m six months out from surgery. I’ve heard amazing things about this video and seen some incredible before and after photos online. I bought it before I even had the surgery, but I haven’t tried it yet.

A friend has also been talking and blogging about the Tracy Anderson Method recently. I’ve been very impressed by her results. I think once I get closer to the end of my weight loss, this might be the way to power through those last pounds, and maybe get my weight down lower than I thought I could get it. Of course, there are two things I have to remember. One is that if I start a difficult workout program to lose weight, I will need to keep doing it to maintain my weight. I can’t just hit my target weight and then go, “Okay, I’m done!” and stop exercising and eating healthily. While the rearrangement of my insides should keep me from easily becoming obese again, it will not keep me from packing on extra weight. So I will have to consider whether I want to add a difficult workout routine to my daily life forever. Perhaps the answer to this question should be yes. I do want to be active for the rest of my life. I love biking and I’d like to try running again. I want to go on long hikes. I want to climb one of those indoor rock climbing walls, though I’m not sure I’d actually try climbing an actual rock face. In any case, I want to be capable of physical feats. If I want those things, it naturally follows that I should incorporate rigorous exercise into my everyday routine.

The second thing I need to remember is that the lowest weight I hit during this “rapid weight loss” period is not the weight at which I will stay. I have been told to expect that I will lose and lose and lose, and then it’ll stop, and then I will gain some back, and that will be my true weight for the rest of my life (assuming I maintain it properly). So even if I do the Tracy Anderson Method there at the end and lose a bunch of weight and get down to the unimaginable weight of 125, I have to realize I won’t stay there. To maintain 125 for the rest of my life, I’d have to go down to 115 or something even more ridiculous, then go back up.

To be honest, I’m not even sure what I’d look like at 125. I got that number from a couple of online “What should I weigh?” charts that asked for my age, sex, and height. On BMI charts, my own arbitrary goal of 140 is at the upper end–right at the cusp of being overweight (BMI 25-29.9). 125 is pretty much right at the middle of my “healthy” range (BMI 22).

Having been obese (BMI 30+) for most of my adulthood and into class III obesity (BMI 40+) for the last few years (until recently), and having weighed in the 140s as an adolescent, I’m not sure I can reach the “magic number” of 125, or if I even want to, especially given that I would have to lose past 125 to ultimately get to 125. But part of me is still curious.

At this point, I think the best thing to do is to decide what sort of lifestyle I want and not worry too much about numbers. I’ll continue to track my weight and celebrate loss milestones, but I won’t set a “goal”. And I’ll think about the sorts of physical activities I want to do and how to start incorporating them into my life, and what tools would be the most beneficial.

And I’ll remember that this is something I’m doing for me. Not for the people who make BMI charts, not for a cultural conception of beauty. I’m doing this, ultimately, to be healthy and happy and able to continue hearing people’s stories and exploring this beautiful planet.

Before and after weight loss photos

Nurturing old habits

This weekend I’ve been doing a lot of chatting on IRC and AIM, something I haven’t done in years. I pretty much stopped chatting when I started working in TV news. I stopped doing a lot of things when I started working in TV news. But now that situation is over, and I can sort of feel that I’m coming back to myself in various ways. I am also trying to blog more, as you may have noticed.

I’m getting ready to have weight loss surgery, which will change my life. I can’t wait for the results, but I know it’ll be a lot of work. To that end, I’ve been thinking about healthy habits I used to enjoy, and how to re-incorporate them into my life. For a time in the 2008 era, back when I lost the mythical 50 pounds, I used Wii Fit to interject some fun and interest into my workout routine.  Today I decided to revisit it, and it’s been really rather good. The yoga and strength training exercises vary in intensity enough that I can ease in and then get a pretty decent workout–at least right now. Eventually I hope to be in good enough shape that I’ll be beyond the exercises in the game.

When I got to the aerobics section, I was completely shocked to discover that the two running activities, which I had only tried once and never really cared for, are locations seen in Wii Sports Resort! I’ve been playing Resort a lot lately, especially Island Flyover, and I know that fictional island like the back of my hand now. It totally blew my mind to see The Candle and Summerstone Falls in the icons for the running activities in Wii Fit. A quick Wikipedia search informs me that Wii Fit is Wuhu Island’s original appearance. Neat!

In any case, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with old chat friends and with myself. I’m really looking forward to what my life is going to be like once I shed this excess weight, and I want to make sure I’m ready!

Runnin’

Last Monday I jogged five kilometers without stopping. It was my first time ever doing that, and I was very pleased. I decided to try to run an actual 5K race that weekend, so I didn’t run again until Thursday. I ran a fair distance, but didn’t push myself; I didn’t want to overdo it before the race on Saturday.

The 5K didn’t go as I’d hoped. Part of the problem was the temperature; it was about 15 degrees warmer than I normally like it to be when I run, with no shade for the first 2/3 of the course and barely even a breeze. The terrain was also different from what I’m used to; I run on pavement in my neighborhood, and the Swamp Stomp course was dirt, grass, and gravel. Another problem, I think, was that I started out running too quickly. Having a huge mass of people pass you like you’re standing still can do that to you.

Regardless of what caused it, I ended up walking after barely completing the first half kilometer, and never got back into a good running pace. Mari was with me; fortunately she didn’t mind all the walking we ended up doing.

I was feeling a little dejected about the 5K when I went running Tuesday morning, and that may be why I felt so crappy. I may also have still been recovering from the 5K. Regardless, I felt like throwing up and my legs were dead weight–very sore dead weight. I barely managed to run at all.

Yesterday’s run was much better. I decided not to worry about distance, but instead focus on speed. It had occurred to me when checking my running times for the last week that sometimes I actually walk faster than I run. If I ever want to finish a 5K in under half an hour, I’m going to have to increase my speed. So I focused on that–not too crazy, just faster than I normally run–and went until I was out of juice. I felt really good afterwards, like I had accomplished something.

That brings us to this morning. I again worked on speed at first. I’ve also been thinking about my form, and trying to avoid landing on my heels. This emphasis on the balls of my feet has been making my calves feel the way they did when I first started running–like blocks of wood. My calves gave out long before my cardiovascular system did, which made me feel a little better about myself. I’d been starting to worry that I’d lost all the progress I’d made on heart health, especially given the way I was gasping for breath on Tuesday.

In any case, I ran until my calves simply could not go on. I wasn’t even winded and really wanted to continue. So I walked a little to give my legs a rest, and then ran again. I’m pretty pleased that I didn’t give up after the first run.

Going forward I’m going to focus once again on eating more properly. I’ve really let my eating habits slide the past several weeks, and the scale shows it. I’m all the way up to 251, meaning I’ve pretty much negated everything I did in 2008. I think rather than obsess about the weight, though, I’m going to focus on heart health. That’s what worked last time. I want my heart to be healthy so I can accomplish physical feats like running a 5K in under 30 minutes, rock climbing, doing pull-ups, etc. Maybe if I keep thinking about those things instead of the vague “lose weight” goal, I’ll have success again.

Since races give me tangible goals, I’m going to concentrate on speed and distance. With that in mind, I’m going to quit logging my warmups and cooldowns in RunKeeper and just record when I actually run. That will make it easier for me to see at a glance what I’m currently capable of.

I’m also going to start keeping track of how I feel after each run, through the Notes area on RunKeeper. Hopefully remembering the good running feelings will help me get through the bad days.

Japanese used in my karate class

A fair amount of Japanese is used in the karate class I recently joined. Here are the terms I’ve heard so far.

End of class

First the teacher says “line up” in English. The students get in line in front of the mirror in order of rank, with white belts to the left and brown belts to the right. Students stand with feet shoulder width apart and hands in fists held out down and to the front. The teachers stand along the left wall.

The teacher says the name of the highest-ranking student, who is of course standing on the opposite side of the room. The highest-ranking student says:

気を付け! 【きをつけ】 (ki wo tsuke) – Attention!

Students slide their feet together and swing their hands to clap the backs of their hips.

礼! 【れい】 (rei) – Bow!

先生に礼! 【せんせいにれい】 (sensei ni rei) – Bow to the teacher(s)!

先輩に礼! 【せんぱいにれい】 (senpai ni rei) – Bow to your senior(s)!

The first bow is to the mirrors. Students turn left to bow to the teachers and spin around to bow to the higher-ranking students.

Forms

In karate, forms are called

型 【かた】 (kata)

The one kata I’ve learned so far is called taikyoku 1. I believe the Chinese characters for taikyoku are 太極, but I’m not positive. Here’s some information about the taikyoku kata.

Sensei Beall’s school has a traditional way of opening and closing a form. To begin a form, you stand with your left foot held lightly in front, similar to kung fu’s cat stance. Your hands are held flat in front of you and down, left hand on top of right.

This position has a name. At first I thought the senseis were saying

娘 【むすめ】 (musume)

which means “girl” or “daughter”. However, it’s apparently something like issume. Since I don’t know the exact pronunciation, I haven’t been able to find the actual word or what it means.

After this position you 気を付け (ki wo tsuke) and 礼 (rei) as described above. Then you bring your left hand up about a foot in front of your face, palm facing inward and fingers held at a height just below your eyes, so you can see over them. Simultaneously and silently, your right fist slides up behind your flat left hand, palm facing you. The senseis seem to be calling this position “ready” in English. You then lower your hands, keeping them together so that your left hand rotates on top of your right, until your arms are straight down in front, hands still together. This is also called “ready”.

From there you go right into your form.

Once you’re finished with your form, you go out by stepping your feet together, slapping your fist into your left hand for the first “ready” position (you can make noise with your fist this time because you’ve defeated all your opponents), and shifting into the second “ready”. Then you 気を付け (ki wo tsuke), 礼 (rei), and step into the “line up” stance.

Other

During forms or drills, any time you’ve done a series of the same maneuver, you shout on the last one. The word traditionally said is

気合 【きあい】 (kiai)

which literally means scream or yell, and also means fighting spirit. Sensei Beall says the point is not to say 気合 (kiai) perfectly, but to let out air rapidly so that if you get punched, your opponent can’t knock the wind out of you. The yell should come from your gut, not your throat.


I have to tell you, being in a situation in which Japanese is used regularly makes me want to speak Japanese! I’m afraid one night I’ll slip and say はい (hai) instead of “Yes, sir!” :)

Frank Beall’s US TAI Karate

This week I went to a martial arts class for the first time in 15 years.

I took kung fu for about three years when I was in high school. I still look back on class as some of the best–and worst–times of my life. I accomplished a lot, learned a lot, and was in great physical condition. But I was very down on myself in high school, and that affected my happiness with myself and how I was progressing in class. When rising costs and other factors caused me to quit my junior year, I didn’t seek out another class.

When I first moved to Augusta in 2003, I searched online for local martial arts schools without much success. I actually found an essay written by a female soldier who was highly unimpressed with the classes she’d investigated here, and that turned me off towards local schools. I thought about simply practicing the things I’d learned in kung fu–back then I still had my notebook with detailed information and instructions–but I never ended up doing so. The most martial arts have been in my life in the last 15 years has been through movies and the occasional pondering on situational self-defense.

Now, seven years later, I seem to have found a good school: Frank Beall’s US TAI Karate. My friend Brandon from work trained under the late 10-dan black belt and TAI Grandmaster Virgil Kimmey, Sensei Beall’s teacher, back when he was a kid. He’d thought about it off and on ever since, and last August he started back again at Sensei Beall’s dojo.

Last week I watched a class to see what it was like, and this Tuesday and Thursday I participated, in blocks and katas respectively. Obviously I couldn’t expect things to be the same as my old kung fu class, but enough of the core values are the same that I felt very comfortable there.

Senseis Beall and Long both create an environment of respect and diligence. They are also quite obviously experts in their art. Both are black belts, but nowadays that rank seems to mean less and less. In watching them execute various movements and simply observing their general bearing, though, it’s apparent that they’re the real thing. Instant reaction time, fluid, efficient, strong. And when they teach, they explain exactly what they’re doing and why, they’re very patient, and they pay close attention to students, answering questions and correcting form.

On Thursday I was especially pleased when Sensei Long said movements in forms should be executed just as they would be in a match–full strength. Too often I see martial artists flowing through their forms without putting any power into the punches. To me, that defeats the purpose of learning forms. Forms are pretty and impressive to watch, but the main purpose is to build muscle memory. If your muscles remember weak movements, you’re going to be in trouble in a real fight.

It’s kind of rough going directly from work to karate, but I’ve felt so good this week. At this point I’m leaning towards formally joining the school.

Attending this class has brought back a flood of memories and sparked much thought about martial arts. I’ll be writing more on this soon.

New plan: Simplify

Looking back, my weight loss efforts have all had one thing in common: complexity. I tried to adhere to a regimen that didn’t lend itself to a non-stressed schedule, and to a detailed tracking of everything I ate that, while effective, was inconvenient and time-consuming. Every time I’ve tried anything like this, I’ve slipped out of the regimen and dietary tracking and gained weight back.

I’m always euphoric whenever I start a new weight loss plan, filled with motivation and certainty that this time, it’ll work. That’s why when my friend Mari told me once that she didn’t want to try to track what she ate because she knew she’d never keep it up, I thought, “That’s fine for you, but I will keep it up, and I’ll lose weight!”

I think I’m finally coming around to her point of view.

A person’s drive only lasts so long. Then, once it’s over, it’s way too easy to slip, or to just stop. You feel terrible, but it seems like so much work to get back into it that you give up. I personally tend to get bored with an activity after I’ve been doing it for a few weeks, and that makes it even harder to keep myself motivated.

Plus, an elaborate food and exercise tracking plan can be gamed. I’d work the numbers like crazy to try and fit in greasy food or sweet snacks. And exercise tracking never quite seems accurate; a tiny tweak of the numbers and the total calories burned can change by 100!

What I would like to try going forward is a simpler way of looking at food and exercise. Here’s what I’m thinking.

Food

I would like to try to eat something every two or three hours. That something will just be one serving of one thing.

I’ve noticed that I tend to order a lot of different things at restaurants. This is because if I just have a lot of one food, I get bored. I’m going to try to use this to my advantage. If all I can eat at any particular moment is this one thing, then, paradoxically, perhaps I will eat less of it than I would if I also had other stuff to go with it. And even if not, I still will only be eating that one thing.

Under this plan, I will no longer eat big meals. When I go out to eat, I will order one a la carte item or side item. And I’ll have to get Sean not to make me a big dinner anymore–or eat the dinner he makes one item at a time over the course of several hours.

I will also try to eat more “good” stuff than “bad” stuff in any given day. I might get a chicken soft taco at lunch, but that’s cool as long as I’ve been eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy soups, etc. the rest of the day. I’ll try to eat more natural stuff and less processed stuff.

My hope is that since I’ll be eating every few hours, I won’t feel hungry, but because I’ll be eating smarter, I won’t be eating as much.

Exercise

Instead of coming up with a specific exercise regimen, I will instead work towards the goal of 30 to 90 minutes of physical activity every day. This does not have to happen at the gym, and the time does not have to be consecutive. For example, I could do 15 minutes in the morning, 15 minutes at lunch, and 15 minutes in the evening for a 45-minute activity day.

Compared to the thought of going to the gym for an hour each morning, this sounds like a piece of cake. I really feel like this is a sustainable model.

Under this plan, I won’t worry about the type of activity I’m doing or how many calories I’m burning. Instead, I’ll pick fun activities and then work myself as hard as possible.

Logistics

In order to make this work, I will have to do some planning. To eat every few hours, I will need to pack or purchase four to five items each workday. I may try setting specific eating times, but ultimately I think it’ll be easier to just note the time whenever I eat and make sure I have something else within the next three hours.

Bananas, yogurt, and pretzels are some examples of the types of food I can pack, but I know I’ve gotten bored with healthy snacks before, so I will need to try to have more variety.

To facilitate ongoing physical activity, I think I will need to break down and start keeping exercise clothes and shoes at work. It can be something of a hassle to remember to bring things home to be washed, but packing and bringing workout clothes each morning is unsustainable. Ultimately, having at least the shoes there will ensure I have no excuse to skip that day’s physical activity.

So that’s the plan. Wish me luck!

Run for it

Every so often after a workout, strong and accomplished during my cool-down, I’ll feel the lean, toned, powerful, fit body beneath all the fat. This morning I felt it as I strode back up the hill from my 5K training–a muscled stomach pulling my pelvic bones forward as my legs carried me solidly back home–and I was glad that despite the chance of rain, and despite wondering if my legs might be too fatigued, I’d decided to run today.

I’m into week 6 of Running Mate Media’s 5K 101 training program. This week consists of two 12-minute intervals of jogging each day. Last week I did three eight-minute intervals, and next week I’ll jump to three 12-minute intervals.

It has seemed during this program that Mondays, the first of three days of training, are always the easiest. Even though Mondays always involve a leap in intensity, I tend to feel energized throughout and almost overconfident when they’re over. By Friday, I can still do the workout, but there’s less excitement and more fatigue.

On Mondays, I’ve typically had two days of rest between training sessions. I usually try to go for a long walk or hike on Saturdays, but while that does work my legs, it doesn’t have the same impact as running. Sunday is my rest day, and I don’t work out at all. On Wednesdays and Fridays, of course, there’s only been one day of rest in between runs, and I’ve had cardio and strength training on those “rest” days. It’s possible that the continued effort begins to wear on me by the end of the week, and so the two-day break is what makes Mondays seem so easy.

However, this Saturday I actually participated in a 5K. It took about 50 minutes, so that’s roughly an average of 3.7mph, and I believe we ran about half of it, which is about the same amount of running I’d done on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. This essentially means I had an extra day of running training last week…but yet again, today, Monday, I felt comfortable and confident and not at all overwhelmed by the jump to two 12-minute intervals.

I don’t want to discount the rest theory entirely, especially since I did have a day of utter rest after the 5K, but I think there may be another reason I feel fatigued towards the end of the week: boredom. I’ve never been the type to handle monotony well. By the time Friday rolls around, I have the music and the cues memorized, so it’s not as exciting as it is on Monday, when everything’s new to me. That may cause me to be more aware of how my body is feeling and less able to focus on the music or my pace or breathing.

Fortunately, so far I haven’t gotten so bored by the end of the week that I’ve given up. I’ve made it through each week of the 5K 101 program without stopping to walk when I’m supposed to be running, which means I haven’t had to repeat a week at all. I’m not sure I would have been that successful if there were more than three identical runs in a row, though.

The 5K 101 program only has eight weeks in it. Next week I’ll bump up to three 12-minute intervals, and the following week I’ll be running for a full half hour. That last week seems like quite the jump, but then, so does next week. I’m not sure how it’ll go, but I’m excited to find out.

I’ve been surprised at how long I’ve stuck with this training. I always hated running when I was younger. I’d get shin splints and stitches in my side within five minutes, and I’d be gasping and out of breath, and it always made me feel like a loser. I’m not sure what changed, other than perhaps I’m not trying to run so fast so soon. My pace is actually rather slow…but rather than worrying about that, I’m focusing on meeting the goal of completing this training program. Once this one’s over, I’ll find a new one to do–there are many running resources online now, available in iPhone applications and podcasts.

My running has jumpstarted my weight loss and fitness efforts, which had been stagnating since last Thanksgiving. I think having a real goal and a timeline and a guide through each step has truly helped, now that I’m beyond the point of simply becoming active. I hope to keep this momentum up through the rest of the 5K 101 program and whatever other systems I decide to try.

So…yeah.

After that low point with the cheeseburger, I just wanted to let you know that I’m redoubling my health efforts. (Again.)

I’ve been a member of SparkPeople since February, but yesterday I decided to really use the site. Here’s my SparkPage, which among other things lists my weight. Got to motivate myself somehow.

The fact that I can’t afford to eat out anymore is hopefully going to help me pack lunches regularly again. Aside from the burger slip-up on Tuesday, I have packed my lunches this week: frozen dinner on Monday, frozen dinner plus veggies on Wednesday, and today I crumbled the leftover hamburger from the dinner Sean made last night into some stroganoff noodles and packed some leftover spinach to go with.

I’m also going to make sure to work out in some capacity every day except Sunday. Yesterday I took a half-hour walk at Riverwalk over my lunch break. It wasn’t much, but it was far better than nothing, and it put me in a much better mood for the rest of the day. Tuesdays and Thursdays I see my personal trainer in the morning. My trainer is going to give me a yoga video to do at home. I also have those TurboJam videos and my Wii Fit to keep things interesting. So I should have no excuse not to keep myself moving.

I’ve started over and failed so many times now. I hope using SparkPeople will make the difference this time, by giving me that extra push I need.

Motivation

I have been pretty lax in my weight loss efforts of late. I’ve been working out with my trainer on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but otherwise I haven’t been doing much of anything, and I’ve been eating whatever I feel like eating. It shows, on the scale and in my clothes.

Shopping for jeans that would actually fit this morning gave me a good motivational idea. I could set up a schedule of when I can buy new clothes. Then, if that time arrives and I haven’t gone down a size, I won’t be allowed to buy any.

A tangible, specific goal like this–come down at least one size before the next shopping trip–would probably be better motivation than the generic “lose weight”. We all know how well that one works.

I just need to decide what a reasonable time frame would be.

Finally fall

I stepped out into a cool, lightly dewy morning with a bright yet unwarm sun and felt refreshed. N, I noticed, was wearing a zippered sweatshirt. I was in my usual stretchy pants and t-shirt, my bare arms already tingling.

It wasn’t long into this finally fall morning workout that N was tying her sweatshirt around her waist. Our bodies provided all the heat we needed as we walked, squatted, and kicked our way around the track. 50 leaning pushups and a quick jog later, we held plank on the ground, shifting our weight back and up through the core, breathing in the scents of water and soil. The damp grass left my hands raw.

I drove home with the window all the way down, my arm hanging out into long sought autumn air, and when I arrived I simply sat, watching the shadow patterns the gentle breeze spun through waving leaves on the wall.

The amazing potential of Augusta Mall

Today I took a leisurely walk around the Augusta Mall. Outside, that is. The walk convinced me that the mall has some serious potential, if they would make a few key changes.

It took about 40 minutes to get around the mall. Unfortunately I didn’t use my GPS so I’m not sure of the exact distance, but since I was probably going 2.8 mph, we’ll say it’s roughly a one and three quarters mile walk. That’s a nice distance for people who are just getting back into shape, but long enough that people can do several circuits without getting immediately bored. 

However, there are places where walking is difficult. There are stairs in a few places that you’d have to go the long way around to avoid. And there isn’t always a sidewalk, so I had to occasionally make my way through parking lots or across the grass. I felt badly about the latter because the grounds at the mall are so beautiful–perfect scenery for a nice walk, with flowers, greenery, and lots of shady trees.

With that all in mind, I think the mall could benefit from designating a walking trail, perhaps in brick to match the existing outdoor promenade, with clearly-marked crossings and perhaps a tunnel or two for handicapped ramp access. This would not only enhance the storefronts of the larger shopping areas, but would also attract routine walkers to the mall.

People who might not initially be interested in shopping would be drawn to the scenery, safety, and convenience of walking at the mall. While walking inside the mall is possible, it’s not quite as appealing as being under the sun. It can get crowded, too, and interfere with store business. Creating a place right outside for walking would ease shopping traffic flow and give serious walkers more room.

The mall could then capitalize on the influx of serious walkers with water and sports drink vending machines, fitness kiosks, and signs directing walkers to healthy choices at the food court. They could even go a step further and offer a membership or pay-as-you-go gym right inside the mall. (There would probably need to be rules about showering before entering the mall proper.)

Another option would be to offer a full-service health spa, with massages and soaks and such.

Make the mall attractive in more ways than simply a place to buy things, and the people who come for one service might stay for another. The mall could become an oasis for Augusta living.