Ok, so after Bloomberg recently published this article it has a bunch of people in the triathlon community outraged and yes, I am one of those people. Considering that triathlon saved my life. First to be fair to the writes of this article before I go completely nuts, please read it so you have some context.
The article tries to make a few points. That there is a heart risk for people over 40 that get into the sport and put too much strain on their body. They cite people that have a heart attack during the event and die. But if you look at CDC data for the leading causes of death Heart Disease is right up there for people over 40 anyway. More people die having a heart attack doing nothing on any given Sunday than all of those that have a heart attack during a marathon, triathlon, pickup basketball game or whatever. More people die because of the Big Mac they ate than a triathlon. 1 out of every 4 deaths in the US is related to heart disease. They cite that 60 out of 11 million marathon runners dies of a heart attack. If anything, those numbers show the benefits of healthy lifestyles. I would take those odds. You have a better chance of dying in a car accident on the way to a triathlon (sorry, but it is true.) While it is tough when an athlete dies. Many times they find out that the heart disease was going to get them if they ran or not (genetics, damage was done too early, whatever.) The main problem with this article is lack of data and science, but welcome to journalism on the internet. If you look at tribes in other countries like the Tarahumara. Running and extreme exercise has been part of their culture and lifestyle and they have 60+ year olds that can throw down with the best high school track teams. Now they don't eat the crap that we Americans do and that is probably more the point.
The second premise you get from the article is that people are out doing this triathlon with little to no training. While yes, there are those that will do that and I am HIGHLY against that, almost everyone trains for a triathlon. Yes, open water swimming can be hard, so you train for it. Yes, all three sports can put stress on the body, so you spend months working up to that. If I showed up for a Nascar race (driving, not watching) and had never trained to drive in a race, would anyone be surprised if I ate the wall and likely did not walk away? Would you be surprised if I was in a full body cast after taking a hit in an NHL game if I never played hockey in my life? Again if you are thinking, "hey, I have been sitting on the couch for 10 years and I am fat and overweight, you know what I am going to do … go compete in a triathlon", stop right there and know just like everything else, you have to train and work up to it. But there are thousands of 40+ year olds that have trained and conditioned their body. Now the doctor in the article makes a good point and that is that sometimes people don't listen to the signs their body is giving them and that is true of anything, but that does not mean that everyone should give up the sport because a few people just can't stop. All athletes have that drive and it is hard to stop when the body says stop. Again, this goes for Tennis players that play past the signs and do long term damage to their elbow. Are we calling for all country clubs to stop people over 40 from playing tennis?
I mentioned it saved my life, so let me get to that. As off the writing of this I am 38 and when I was 30 years old, I was 100 pounds overweight, in bad shape and had a minor heart attack. Not because of triathlon, but because of all the fast food, too much beer and sitting around doing nothing. I had to get active and start exercising. So I started riding my bike to get active, then I added running once I had dropped almost 50 pounds. Then to add some different low impact exercise, I added swimming. Friends convinced me that I needed to try a triathlon so we picked a small Sprint race and I trained for it. I trained for the 90 degree heat I would be running in. I trained for the open water swim. I trained for the mass start that I would be dealing with. I trained for the transition from the bike to the run and even did brick workouts (workouts where you do all three exercises so you know what you are in for.) I had huge benefits of being active, eating right and being around other people that had a healthy lifestyle. Had I not done these thing, the next heart attack would have been the big one. Is there a risk? Sure, there is risk with everything, but I have a greater chance of having a heart attack doing nothing sitting on the coach playing the XBOX than I do in a race. Recently I was hit by a car on my bike and one could argue that I should not ride a bike because the risk is I could die out there. I hate to tell ya people, but our ticket is all going to get punched at some point and we all just try to avoid the ones that are of serious risk (smoking, shark wrangler, hemlock taste tester, eating bacon for every meal) and go with the ones that have lower risk (running, swimming, biking, hiking) As I approach 40, do I plan to give it up? Nope, I will keep going. And if I have a heart attack out there at 40+ then so be it, because to be honest, I would have had it a long time ago without triathlon and every year I have now, is a year that I probably should not have had.
But remember, triathlon is a serious event and ordeal and it can be stressful on the body. You need to train for something like this and train for the race conditions you will face (if the race ail be hot, don't do all your training early in the morning or if the swim will be in open water, get out of the pool and do open water for a few swims.) And finally, listen to your body. If you are coming from a sedentary lifestyle (have not exercised before) then make sure you have your doctor check you out to make sure there is not something wrong that increased stress could make worse and if it hurts or does not feel right, stop.
What is the worst thing to come back to when you return from vacation. A lawn that needs mowed. What is the second worst? An email box that shows several hundred unread emails. I just got back from a week off and did not check work email the entire time and came back to almost 300 emails waiting for me. I have learned how to clear that fast and get on with the week and here is how I do it.
Notify in advance
A week before I go, I email those people that email me the most and give them a reminder or heads up that I will be gone, for how long and who will be covering for me while I am out. This eliminates a ton of email that they won't send because they know you are gone and minimize Friday at 4pm firedrills when you are trying to get out of there. A tool like Xobni even shows me who I get most of my email from so I can make sure to include them on the reminder.
Prepare your email before you go
There are a few things that I do before I go on vacation to help minimize what will be in there when I return. First I set a rule for any email that I am CCd (carbon copied) on and have it go to a folder. Those are FYI only email and will not require any action when I get back. I can read those when I get time. I also set up similar rules for emails that are marked urgent, from my boss and from my team. That way when I get back I can deal with urgent first, then my boss, then my team and so on. Finally I set the out of office message to be clear and informative as to who they can contact in my absence.
The Monday Morning Drill
When I get in on upon my return, I go right for the urgent folder and clear that first. Now one thing that can happen is they sent you an urgent message, got your out of office, saw who to contact and contacted them. I don't want to do a ton of work when they found help elsewhere. So I will respond with something like, "Saw your urgent message and I am back in the office now. Did you still need a response or was someone else from my team able to help you?" Copy that last sentence because you will use that a lot when responding to emails that you don't know if they still need a response or not. Then I do the same for my boss and team.
Then it is time to clear the junk. Chances are you get marketing emails based on your job and in my case, they are always trying to offer to sell me marketing lists. So I do a search for all emails with the word "list" in the subject or body. Then I can mass select them (sometimes hundreds at a time) and delete them. I view my inbox and multi-select (hold the control key for PC and commas key for Mac and lick the messages) and get all of them and then delete. I do the same type of thing with my newsletters that I subscribe to and again view my inbox in a list and multi-select. Instead of reading each one and figuring it out how to deal with it or worse yet, reading it right then. In my case, the removed about 60 right off the bat that I did not need to waste time reading right now.
Then it is time for the rest of the email and as a huge follower of Getting a Things Done I follow my folder principle but you can do the same thing only simpler. In my case the email goes in one of 4 places. Action (I need to follow up or do something), Read Later, File (in a project folder) or delete.
Then I move on to the action folder and just deal with those for the day. I am not distracted by FYI emails or articles people forwarded me. I can do that later when I have time. And most of my response on the action emails is to see if they still need action. No point doing all the leg work if they don't need a response anymore.
Bonus Tip: If you can train people with your out of office to re-email you if they got help elsewhere to let you know they don't need a response that is a huge time saver. I use something like "if you are able to get help from another member of my team, can you email me back and let me know so I know your item has been addressed, that would be a big help."
One of the common questions I am always getting asked lately … “What are you training for?” Right now, nothing. “So why are you running, swimming and lifting like you are?” Probably because I don’t know how to do anything else. Probably because it is my relief valve and I need it. Probably because I feel better when I do. Probably because I get to eat stuff I couldn’t eat if I was not working out. But mostly, because I want to be on throw down shape. What is throw down shape? When toy call comes in that a group is going for a long run, could I go? If a 60 mile bike ride comes together at the last minute am I in shape to do it? If a friend wants to do a 5K, can I run it with them at a moments notice? If a Sprint tri pops up one weekend, could I play? That is throw down shape. I can throw down up to a 1/2 marathon, 60 mile ride or Olympic Tri with next to no notice. Sounds crazy, but it takes the pressure off training for something. I am training to be ready. Take this exchange on Friday between Ryan and I.
Turned out to be a great 13.5 miles and great conversation. That is what I am training for.
So one of the things I hear people say, "I can't work out, I have too much to do." Bad news … we always have too much to do and there is never enough time. But what I have found is that I actually get work done during my workout. For the hour, with the headphones in my ears, I can block the world out. No interruptions from email, phone calls, text messages or anything else. While I do focus on the workout, I do let my mind wanter to other things that I need the focused brain power to tackle. Now I am in marketing so much of my job is coming up with ideas and some of my best ideas have come during my workouts. I have developed my sales presentation on a run and when I came back, I had my agenda all worked out and what I was going to say. But even personal stuff like a vacation to-do list or that idea for the local fundraiser comes to me as I am swimming laps in the pool. Now I don't run with my phone or anything to stop and jot this stuff down so I also have to flex my memory building to remember these ideas while I run, bike or swim. But I have notepad on the kitchen table and the minute I get in the door, I dump all of this stuff on paper and then hit the showers. If my workout is indoor (treadmill or weights) I have a small notepad that I can jot stuff down as I come up with it. But I don't view my workout as a tradeoff between exercise and work, I view it as an extension of my day and without it, where would my good ideas come from?
This was too funny to pass up.
It has been almost 7 years since I dropped the weight and as time goes on I still get the question, “is it still a struggle?” The short answer … yes. I wish I could say it is now easy and that maintaining the weight is simple, just eat right and exercise. But the issue is that I got fat for a reason. And that reason was deep down, I liked sitting around playing video games (I still play video games, just after my workout) and gorge myself of foods that one might expect to gorge themselves on. When I wake up in the morning, my craving is for biscuits and gravy with bacon, pancakes and hash browns. When I drive past a McDs I could easily pull in for a Big Mac and Chicken sandwich value meal (yes, both of them.) It is still hard for me to sit and watch a football game without 25 hot wings, fries and 6 beers. When I go to birthday parties and see cake, I want to take half of the thing. I hate holidays because they usually revolve around food and there is so much stuff and it is all I can do to control myself. Even last night I am sitting up at 2am thinking if I should get up, get dressed, leave the hotel and walk to the gas station next door and raid the snack shelves (I am traveling this week.) So yes, it is still a struggle. But I have to force myself to think about what is the right choice, and actually make that choice. Then once that battle is over, I move forward until the next one. No I will say, it has gotten better over time, but it is still a struggle.
Tomorrow (Monday) is one of her busiest days in most gyms around the US. Why? Well, many of us make the New Years resolution that this is the year we are going to get in shape, lead a healthier life, or get back down to our College, pre-marriage, pre-kids or whatever weight. Now, one of the most common things people do is join a gym. The gyms will get very crowded and those of us that go on a regular basis all place our bets, "give it 3 weeks and it will be back to normal." Also the gyms make out because they got your money or you dropped the coin for a year commitment because this is the year you are going do it. And despite what feeling you get from the gym rats (die hard gym people) they really are rooting for you, because they all started somewhere and stuck with it, and that is the badge of honor you want to achieve. So here are some of the most common mistakes that people make that cause them to give up in the first 3 weeks and how to avoid them.
1) The Land of Confusion - you walk in on the first day and you see what can best be described as a room full or torture devices and by the end of your workout, you will feel that you have confirmed your suspicions. There are many different ways to work different groups of muscles, and everyone has an option (machines, barbells, dumbbells, cables, kettle bells.). So the best thing to do is get a tour of the gym and ask them to show you how to work the stuff. Don't stand there looking at an elliptical machine realizing that you need an engineering degree to turn the thing on, ask. All gyms will be more than happy to give you a tour and show you the ropes and if you get in a situation, you don't know how to use something, ask a fellow gym rat, just don't do it when they are halfway pressing 400 pounds.
2) The Wanderer - you just wanted around moving from machine to machine and work out with no structure or purpose. Then when you don't see the results or you feel like everyone is watching you, you leave and ever return. While the internet is great, there are a lot of people giving advance that have no business giving advice. Most gyms have certified trainers, ask them to help you develop your program. They can make sure you are working the right stuff and the right intensity. Most people quit after the first few weeks because they are not seeing results, but they are not working out so that they will get results.
3) Sometimes I feel like everyone is watching me or laughing at me - look, you are going to see that guy with ripped arms, or gal with a butt that is causing every guy in the gym to look at her butt. What were we talking about? Oh right, and let's face it, you are there because you want to improve. Everyone is there for the same reason, just some have been doing it longer. And deep down, we are all rooting for you, and even if they are laughing at you, screw them, this is about you.
4) My everything hurts - you are going to be sore after your first few workouts. That is a fact, that is your body adjusting to the new regime. But the best way to get through the soreness is to keep going, work through it and then don't stop. But too many people are sore after that first workout,take a few days off to let the soreness go away, then are sore again when they do go back, rinse, repeat, quit.
So if this is your first week back at the gym and you just dropped some major bucks for the membership, make sure you get the most out of it and you are more likely to stick with it and get past the 3 week barrier.
Photo by David Sands
Well, I survived another year and racked up some interesting stats. For the most part I weigh the same I did this time last year, so I held fast, which was the goal. I set my fastest Half Marathon (1:36), did my first trail race and knocked out a few more triathlons to add to the list.
I ran over 1,300 miles (New York to Oklahoma City) and ripped through 4 pairs of shoes doing it. I put another 1,500 miles (Portland to Kansas City) on the bike, which was a light year by comparison. I spent over 50 hours in the gym and 50 hours in the pool and have the prune hands to show for it.
I have no idea what 2013 has in store, but I know that I am at least doing GOBA again in 2013 (already paid my money.) I had a blast doing trail running this year so will likely try a few more of those races. And of course I will pick a few triathlons. It is in my blood now and by moving from one event to another forces me to stay focused on my eating and exercise.
It has been 7 years, 5 months and 20 days since I started this journey and I wish I could say it is easy. As every day goes by it gets easier, but if a Reese's truck broke down in front of my house, it might look like a scene from 28 Days later (fast zombies.) But I like the way I look and feel and at 38 years old, I feel better than I did in my 20s. So I keep going, one day at a time, one meal at a time, one workout at a time.
I saw that quote and I fell in love with it. When we are trying to loose weight (fat really, I have never heard anyone tell me they want to loose some muscle) how do we measure our progress … the scales. I like the scales and I use the scales, but it is not the only measurement I use. Why? Because scales can lie! I know we have all yelled and cursed at a set of scales before. I used to always hear my wife scream from the bathroom, “YOU LIAR!” When she did not trust the scales. Well scales should not be the only measure, because they tell you how much you weight, but how much of what? Our body weight can fluctuate on a daily basis due to many factors that are not fat. For example, I have seen 2 pound swings from day to day and many times it has to do with the fact that I ate something really salty and my body is retaining some more water to help process that salt and it is not 2 pounds of fat. So how to I measure my progress? With 3 tools actually …
1. Scales. They are the fastest and quickest way to gauge progress. It takes me 3 seconds to jump on them in the morning and they tell me if I have gone up or down. I weigh myself every morning when I first get up. It does not matter when during the day you weight, but you want to be consistent. I weight more in the evening than I do in the morning (not surprising because I have eaten all day) so if I weighed at different times each day, then the weights will vary and I do not get consistent results. I want to make sure I am making progress. The next thing is that I always use the same scales. I don’t want to keep using different scales all of the time because I don’t want to have to try to factor in if they are the same as at home. The scales at home my be 2 pounds off from the scales at the gym, so I want to use the same scales so I am not discouraged by an accuracy problem with the scales. Mine at home may be 2 pounds off, but then I know every morning when I step on them that they are 2 pounds off.
2. Measuring Tape. And no, not the measuring tape out of the toolbox. A measuring tape designed for measuring body measurements (found at any sewing supply store for $3.) I take my measurements every Sunday. It is too time consuming to do it every morning since I usually have to get help from my wife so I know it was done properly and that I measure the same way week to week. Why is measuring important? Well, the scales may say that I have not lost any weight for the week, but I could have lost fat and replaced it with muscle (that is still progress) so by looking at the measurements I can see if I am truly stuck or still making progress. I had a two week span where I did not loose a pound, but I had lost ½ and inch from my waist and increased my leg diameter by ¼ inch (because of muscle) so while I had not lost pounds, I knew I had lost fat which is the goal.
3. Body Fat Percentage Scales. If you have to get new scales, you might as well shell out the extra $30 and get a set that can also tell you your body fat percentage. That comes back to the idea of I weight 193 pounds right now, but 193 pounds of what (Fat, Muscle, Bone, Water.) I am at about 27% body fat right now and would like to get that between 15%-20%. They are pretty cool as they shoot a current (you don’t feel a thing) up one leg and back down the other and based on how much fat you have in your body, it tells how long it takes (or something like that I think.) Either way, it works and I can then see what I weigh, how much of that is fat and the one I have will tell me how much of that is water so I can see if I am retaining (my wife loves that feature so she knows what a 2 pound fluctuation really is.) You can also get calipers or if you belong to a gym that either have the scales or have the tools to measure your body fat for you, that is fine as well. There are also some body fat calculators that can give you a rough estimate based on your measurements. Not as accurate, but if you don’t want to have to replace your scales it is a good alternative.
Between these tools, I have a pretty good idea if I am heading in the right direction.
Research has show that it takes between 30-60 days of doing something to form a new habit (or break a habit.) I realized why I failed in the past was that I was focusing on way to many things (exercise, counting calories, measuring food, recording what I ate, ect) It was way too much work and I quit not because the exercise was hard, but because I was trying to do to much.
When I decided to get back on the program and actually do it this time, I had one simple principle, KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid.)
PHASE1 - My Eating
Now, after eating the junk for so many years, it is not like I was going to be able to "cold turkey" and give it up. I knew I would not be able to. So I had to take it one day at a time. On Monday, I will eat a healthy lunch. That's it, one simple goal. I will worry about Tuesday on Tuesday. After a week of healthy lunches, I added breakfast, then a week later it was dinner. I never worry about what I am going to eat tomorrow, just what I am going to eat today. After 3 weeks (and it was tough) I was in the habit of eating healthier and honestly, I don't crave that stuff any more.
PHASE 2 – Exercise
I knew that getting up at 5am to workout and still be to work by 8 was going to be tough. I dreaded the first day and I wondered how I was going to do it. Again one day at a time. On Monday, I got up and did my hour, I will worry about Tuesday on Tuesday. I never focused on the week or the month, just that day. Again, the first 3 weeks were hard, but now I actually feel guilty if I don't work out.
That is as complex as I am going to make it. Eat right one day at a time and exercise, one day at a time. And after a few weeks it got easier and new habits were forming. Once once I had new habits, then the odds that I could do it for the rest of my life dramatically increased. Now, my morning workout is reflex. I don't think about it much anymore, it is just something I do every morning (like showering.)
I tried every diet fad and workout program I could find and they never worked. One of the biggest challenges I had is that I did not know what I was doing. I did not know how to loose weight or even how my body worked. For example, until I did the research, I did not know that when I exercise, I need to be within my target heart rate to get good results. I could workout for an hour, but if I was not in the target, I was not getting the biggest calorie burn for that hour. I also learned that I could workout too hard and my body would not burn fat. I did a lot of reading online from reputable sources. A pound of fat = 3500 calories. So for me to loose, I have to reduce my intake and increase my output with exercise (depending on your goals, you may be able to do it with one or the other, but the combination is working for me. Here are some great tools that aided me in my research.
1. Find out how many calories your body needs per day, and reduce that.
2. Find the calories contained in many of the food items you eat. You can also look at the website of many of the food manufactures to find out their nutrition information or read the labels on the package. You don’t need to write it down, but it gives you an idea what you consume in a day.
3. Find out how many calories you burn during popular exercises. This is how I ended up choosing the bike.
Now, I did not count calories everyday, but I had a rough idea how much food I was eating vs. should be eating and what kind of exercises made the best sense for me so I was creating that deficit. If you don't change the math, then the results don't happen, just don't obsess over the exact numbers. Then I developed a plan. I knew what a healthy breakfast, lunch and dinner (and proper portions) should be on most days and then just took it one day at a time.
One of the things that made me accountable was this blog. During my journey I had all of you watching and reading and if I failed, then I had to do it publicly. I also had friends that were checking in on me and encouraging me and I did not want to let them down. Now does that mean you should start a blog? If that is what you think you need to do, go for it, but there are other ways to be held accountable. Use Facebook, Google+ or any other social network platform to hold yourself accountable. I have seen people that just post daily how they did (good or bad) and even if nobody is reading it. That fear of having to post "I did not do it" can be powerful motivation. Have a friend that is going to check in on you from time to time. I have some people that I email every week to see how they are doing and knowing that they have to tell me and that email is coming is enough motivation to say "well I better not eat that, because I have to tell him." Some people get personal trainers for that same reason. I even have a group that gets together for breakfast once a week and nobody wants to disappoint anyone else, so we hold each other accountable. I found this was a powerful tool to keep me on track and sticking with it.
When I look back at why I had failed at my weight loss in the past, it was riddled with excuses. "It's hard", "I like the food I eat", "I can't eat healthy when I travel", "Gym memberships are expensive", "I don't have the time" and my favorite, "I'll start tomorrow." When I failed, it was easy to find the excuse and blame someone other that who needed blaming, and that was me.
I came to the brutal realization that NOBODY CARES! While I can come up with all of the excuses I want, if I drop dead tomorrow because I am fat, other than my family, nobody really cares. The only person that should care is me. So, on July 11th, 2005, I decided, NO MORE EXCUSES!
"It's Hard" - NOBODY CARES!
"I like the food I eat" - Fine, be fat then
"I can't eat healthy when I travel" - Bull@#$% people do it all of the time
"Gym memberships are expensive" - Then do something else, walking and running are FREE.
"I don’t have time" - Make time!
"I'll start tomorrow" - Start today, worry about tomorrow, tomorrow.
Most resolutions fail because they are a pipe dream, not achievable or so overwhelming that you never know where to start and give up before you try. "I want to weigh what I weighed in High School," "I have never run before, so this year I will do a Marathon," "Or something else so ridiculous that I can't think of right now."
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time. So you may want to weight what you did in High School or run a Marathon, but start with something smaller, get the win and use that to fuel the next goal. Set the goal at 20 pounds or a 5K and then once you have checked that off the list, there is nothing that says your next goal can't be bigger.
Nobody is going to be able to do it for me (or you for that matter.) I had to have some motivation or reason for doing it. Now, my motivation was fairly easy as at 270, I was killing myself and I was going to have a heart attack within 10 years at the rate I was going. Death is a pretty good deterrent, but it was not the death I though about. It was missing my daughter’s graduations, weddings and possibly grandchildren. It is also amazing how much more energy I have and that is benefiting everyone around me. So what is your motivation and is it strong enough the make you do it? Are you doing it for someone else or are you doing it for you? SPOILER ALERT: If you don't want to do it for you, then the odds are stacked against you.