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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fitness Recap for 2010

This year I made a major lifestyle change. I got into shape. I was definitely sporting the middle aged office worker physique when the year started. I've trimmed down quite a bit in ten months.

Honestly, it wasn't vanity that caused me to start exercising. Well, not vanity of my physical appearance, at least. There were really three motivating factors. Last December, I was talking to one of my coworkers from Massachusetts who was an officer in the USMC. Him being a veteran of the wrong military branch notwithstanding, I respect and like this guy a lot. We were talking and he mentioned how he couldn't keep up with his old buddies though he still enjoyed visiting them and trying. It dawned on me that my own self-image was totally out of sync with reality. I view myself as a physically robust person who doesn't shy away from exertion. While I don't think I've ever really avoided physical exertion, my lifestyle had evolved into one almost devoid of it. I decided that 2010 would be the year I made my own self-view correspond closely to reality. I suppose I could have just changed my self-view, but I guess I'm just too vain to accept myself as your typical out of shape and overweight American.

Next, I'm not descended from people of great longevity. My ancestors have tended to die either at or younger than the average life expectancy. In my extended family, there are a number of chronic diseases that are heavily correlated with lifestyle choices. I have been diagnosed with one of those diseases. I'd already changed my diet pretty significantly to deemphasize meat and I've dived headfirst into the California mode of emphasizing fresh fruits and vegetables. I knew that becoming physically fit would improve my health and most likely increase my life span. I've got a good life going and I want it to last a long time. I don't believe in any kind of afterlife. Either I get it done in this lifetime or it doesn't happen. Sloth is just another word for decadence.

Finally, I've got two kids who are quite young. I am a very introspective, analytical person so I've noticed that I tend to follow the same micro-patterns my parents did. We ate a lot of fast food growing up and when I'm under stress I crave a hamburger and onion rings. I tend to gravitate towards sedentary leisure activities as my parents did. Consequently, I'm very conscious of the examples I'm setting for my kids. I want them to think it normal that people get out and physically exert themselves. I also want them to think it's normal that people set goals for themselves and then through disciplined effort over time, achieve those goals. As parents, we model "the normal way to live" with how we live. Your kids will pick up on what is important by watching what you actually spend time on. You can talk all you want, but seriously, you got to live it. Therefore, I consider showing my kids that fitness is important by making time for it and sticking to it to be an example of good parenting. I take nothing more seriously than my role as a father.

That's why I started exercising this year. I picked triathlons largely because it seemed cool and I like the idea of balanced fitness. I decided to enter events to anchor my fitness routine. I am a busy person. If I don't have actual events on my schedule the temptation to deprioritize exercise is very great. But, if I have a race I'm training for, the prospect of not finishing or performing poorly is a great disciplining agent. It injects accountability into my fitness regimen. It also makes for an easy, though flawed way to evaluate how much you exercised in a given period.

So, here's my event log for 2010, with a quick blurb on each:

  • June: Silicon Valley Sprint Triathlon in San Jose-- this was my first tri and my worst experience. I endured some minor injuries in training for this and was extra cautious in my training because of that. Still, I finished. Looking back it seems like such an easy event, but that first one was a bit intimidating. I may do this one again in 2011 just as a gauge on how much I've improved, but probably not. The course is very easy. 500 m swim, 10 mile bike (probably overstated actually) and 5k run
  • August 1: Sandman Triathlon in Aptos -- After the SVST I really increased my training intensity because of the difficulty built into this course. It's a 1200m ocean swim, 13 mile bike and 7 km beach run. I had a blast on this one. The scenery is beautiful, especially for the bike ride. I was very slow, but I finished strongly. The mechanics of my racing improved though I screwed up the nutrition horribly. My wife and kids were waiting for me at the finish. Finishing with them there was one of the most awesome things I've ever experienced.
  • Mid-August: Catfish Crawl -- a 1 mile swim. I missed a buoy and had to swim another 300 m at least. My time was disappointing and I ripped my wetsuit. Still, I swam a mile+ in open water. My performance was disappointing, but I still set new baselines in confidence and performance. Just finishing doesn't feel like an accomplishment any more.
  • Early September: Woodside Trail Run (10 Km) -- The organizers screwed this one up horribly as all the 10K runners got lost. Still, it was a good time. The scenery is very nice and at several points I got into a good running groove where I just enjoyed myself. I ran quite a bit further than 10K and climbed a lot more than I was supposed to.
  • Early October: Skyline Ridge 14K -- This was just a wonderful event. The marine layer cooperated beautifully and it would have been worth it to lug a tripod for photos. The beauty of the trail runs is that they're so steep at parts that you have to walk. So you quit worrying about your time. At least I do. Also, I was training for a half marathon at this point, so I was careful to not push too hard.
  • October 31: Silicon Valley Half Marathon. This is actually a pretty hard course for a road race. The finish is 500 feet higher than the start and the climb is pretty steady from about 5 km on. I had a plan to start kicking 5 km from the finish and I was doing just that, dropping people left and right. Then at 18 km my knee went and it became very painful to put any weight on my right leg. If I was younger with fewer responsibilities, I would have just grit my teeth, kept up my pace and risked injury. But if I'm incapacitated, I can't maintain my responsibilities to my family. So I slowed down and got across the finish largely intact. It probably cost me 7-8 minutes, but that's not important really. Overall, I really enjoyed the event. There was great scenery and until 18 km, I felt good.
All that adds up to six events this year. You'll perhaps notice that my last event, a straight run, was basically the same length as my first, a multi-sport event. That kind of puts things in perspective. I'm slow and I'm trying to be okay with that. The point of this is not to win, but to stay physically robust and set a lifestyle example for my kids. It's also to have fun, which I am.

I know there are two months left in 2010, but while I will train, this is the offseason for me. Frankly, my body needs to heal some. Next year, I'll up the distances and maybe do eight or nine events total. The only event I'm definite about repeating is Sandman. It really is that nice.

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