Knowing You’re On The Right Path

What I’m doing is hard. It causes me to be tired and sometimes sore. There are easier paths in life, but the one I chose was the hard path.

The easy path led me to being morbidly obese. The easy path led me to Type 2 Diabetes, fatty liver disease, worsening vision (due to the Diabetes), tingling in my legs and feet, and circulation issues. The easy path left me breathless after a single flight of stairs and it led me to a mostly sedentary life.

But then I decided that enough was enough when I found I could no longer tie my own shoes without holding my breath. My stomach was too large and got in the way. This coincided with my cousin, a PA, who told me frankly that I didn’t have long to live unless I changed my lifestyle.

So, I chose the difficult path. The path where I had to be accountable to myself for what I ate. This was the path that led me to losing weight. I then continued on that path which led me to becoming physically fit enough to go back into the military after a 20-year break.

The path I am on isn’t easy. The path I’m on often leaves me tired, worn out, and wondering what the heck I’m doing at my age. But as soon as those thoughts creep in, I remind myself that anything worthwhile takes effort. The better the payoff, the greater the effort. It’s not easy, and that’s the point.; that’s how I know I’m on the right path.

Well Begun is Half Done

Marcus Aurelius proved that absolute power doesn’t necessarily corrupt absolutely. He had immense power, and yet when he became the leader of Rome, what’s the first thing he did? He appointed his brother to co-lead with him.

Meditations is nothing more than his personal journal, something he wrote into morning and night. He literally said in his journal that he didn’t want to get up out of his warm bed every morning, but he felt that we are meant, as humans, to do more than the lay in bed, warm and comfortable. We are meant to work.

One of my favorite things that he said, aside from “The obstacle is the way,” is “Well begun is half done.” This talks to me, today more than ever. The thing I have always struggled with most is just getting started. Not just with exercise or fitness, but with anything. Huge report? Long list of people to add to a security group? Edits on a novel? Just getting started is always the hardest part. But here’s the rub; the mere act of starting something properly is half the battle, and you’re already, in that instant, half done.

This morning, I went to the gym on post and as I walked over to the power rack, I wasn’t sure how motivated I was to get started. But, I was already at the gym, I was already dressed up, and I was there with fellow Warrant Officers. There was no way I was going to not get started. So, I began with stretches and started laying out my plan for the workout (StrongLifts 5×5 does this for me, mostly). I retrieved the weights I’d need, and I setup the rack as I’d need it for my workout. And then I started.

Me, after getting back to my little apartment on post after my workout.

I put everything into it. I started properly. I started by giving it my all, and by doing everything right. I made sure my stretches were long and deep. I made sure I was thoughtful with my movements. Being mindful during lifting keeps you from injuries (I’ve done lifts where my mind wandered before and it resulted in a pulled back muscle that took months to heal).

Before I knew it, I was done. I looked at my watch; 35 minutes had elapsed. That’s 35 minutes of good, solid work. That’s 35 minutes that all started with a simple decision: START.

My grandmother always said that everyone knows how to lose weight and get fit. If thoughts alone were good enough, everyone would be thin and would be fit. There would be no obesity and everyone would have six-pack abs. Anyone can do it. Everyone has the same ability. There are those with natural gifts, but even those people need the same thing the most unfit and unhealthy person needs: the desire to start.

Today is your day. It doesn’t matter what tomorrow holds. Tomorrow never comes; today is here. So what if the morning has passed. You have the entire day to fit in some exercise. You can start eating better with your very next meal. These are all things within YOUR power. The only person holding you back is YOU. Don’t be the cause of your inability to succeed. Be the force that propels you forward. Live each day as if it were your last.

Celebrate the Changes

My most recent selfie. I should have taken the pen out of my pocket.

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come, or how much progress we’ve made unless we remind ourselves. This is important, not for vanity’s sake, but for motivation. It’s hard to work at something that has no real end state when you don’t have feedback on your progress. This is especially true for me, as I’m not working toward a target weight, a target strength goal, or a target run time. I am working toward the never-ending and always-moving target of staying fit, staying healthy, and keeping old age at bay.

What I’ve found does help me, however, is to take any small victory I can and celebrate it. This morning as I got ready for work, I walked into the closed to pick out a shirt to wear for the day as I do every day I go into the office. This time, my eye was drawn to a shirt I always liked to wear, but have been unable to due to weight gain/swelling after my surgery. I tried to put this shirt on about a month ago and could barely get it buttoned over my midsection. It made me sad, and honestly, left me kind of depressed for a few weeks afterward. I was terrified that this new body shape might become a new normal.

Well, after seeing the changes in how my trousers fit, I decided to give the shirt a try. I pulled it off the rack and took the shirt off the hanger. As I put my arm into the sleeve, I braced myself for disappointment. I watched carefully in the mirror as I buttoned each button, and to my surprise and pleasure, I was able to not only get the shirt buttoned all the way, but it fit properly. Not too loose, not too tight; just as it used to fit prior to my surgery. There was one change, however, but this is one that I will happily accept: my arms fill out the upper sleeves a bit more. If I flex, my arm fills the shirt completely and actually stretches it.

So, I’m gaining access to much more of my wardrobe. Fortunately, I like the clothes in my closet, so I will actually wear them all again. It’s amazing how much better I feel about myself, my health, my fitness progress, and life in general. I shouldn’t be so concerned with my body shape, but honestly, as someone in the military whose career partly depends on my physical fitness and adherence to height/weight regulations, it is always in the back of my mind.

I had an outstanding lifting session and run yesterday, and afterward, Sherry and I went out to eat some Indian food and I ate a spicy Vindaloo that was phenomenal. This morning, I tried a new Paleo-friendly cereal with a coconut/almond milk blend, and it was quite tasty (although I ate too much of it; a little bit of this “cereal” goes a long way).

I am actually looking forward to my lifting and run tomorrow afternoon, as it’s getting fun again. I finally got past the “Getting back into it” phase and I think I’ve psychologically and physically moved into the “This is fun; let’s keep building” phase.

Seeing and feeling the fruits of my labors realized by being able to wear this shirt really has helped me immensely. I’m glad I took a chance on this shirt. Oh, I think it looks pretty snazzy, too, so there’s a bonus.

Dedication and Starting Over: Don’t Overthink it

People say that it is hard to start a new lifestyle. I used to believe that it’s even harder to restart when you had a good run but had to stop for some reason. While I never stopped eating well and paying attention to my diet, I did have to stop exercising for two months as I recovered from my surgery and that led me to some serious anxiety over my ability to get fit again.

My silly grin after a great bike ride.

Going into the surgery, my biggest fear wasn’t the pain, the discomfort, or even the recovery. I wasn’t even afraid of dying. I was most afraid of the hard work it would take to get back into shape, to get back to being able to pass the ACFT.

I realized too late that our thoughts are very impactful on the outcomes of our efforts. I made it out to be so hard and difficult, and that progress would be slow and cumbersome. And, to no surprise, it was. But the more I thought about it, the more I came to realize that it was only being slow and cumbersome because I had predisposed my mind to believing it was so. I seemed to forget that I didn’t get into top physical form in mere weeks; it took months of hard work, day after day.

I wish I could say I realized this sooner than I did, but honestly, it’s something that came to me today. I was looking back on my progress (I write down and track my physical fitness results) and realized that I’m making progress at the same rate I did the first time I decided to get fit again. I’m not making slower progress; I am making progress.

After my run on Monday. It wasn’t fast, but it was faster than similar runs before it.

I also made another realization: even if that progress was, in fact, slower, it’s better than no progress. Every bit of progress is movement in the right direction and preferable to no progress. Seeing the lines in the graphs trending upward was a good wake up call for me to stop being negative and start embracing the progress and how awesome that is.

Right now, my goal is to lift weights, do my crunches, pull-ups, and run three times a week. On the “off” days, my plan is to ride my mountain bike for about 45 minutes to an hour (at an easy pace that keeps my heart in the 140-145 bpm range). The reality is that I’ve been lifting about twice a week and riding my bike once or twice. I need to fix that with re-dedicating myself to my fitness, and to motivate myself to keep going.

I lifted/ran on Monday, and rode my bike yesterday (without a crash for the first time in four bike rides). Tonight, after work, I will lift and run again. I know it’s going to be tough, and I will be a little tired, but I am motivated by my progress thus far considering the lackluster effort. When I think back on the progress I made before, it was because I was very strict about the 3x a week lifting/running regimen. Now, adding the biking in at least twice a week in conjunction with the 3x lifting and running, I should be just fine for my military service this fall.

I’ve come a long way, and I will never go back to being unhealthy and unfit without a fight.

It’s easy to think negatively. Starting anything at all is the hardest part of doing it. A fellow blogger said that long runs were much better after they were done, and it’s true; I typically don’t really enjoy running while I’m in the act of running. I sometimes even dread running before I start. But once I start, it’s just a matter of time and effort before I’m done, and once the run is over, I feel great.

Minor Setback and Motivation

This is the picture I took of myself on Monday after my run.

I felt defeated, angry, and upset. It was the first time in five years that I had to cut a run short due to pain. I was annoyed and I had negative thoughts almost all the way home. I felt like a failure.

After about a half mile of walking, I decided to try running again to see if the pain was still there; it was not. But I stopped running and continued walking that last mile home. I didn’t want to re-injure it, or make it worse. I figured I’d give it time to heal for my next run.

I thought about it a lot on that walk home, and after I let the anger and frustration go, I thought objectively about where I was in my fitness journey. I was still just weeks into getting back into it after a major surgery. I was pushing myself harder than I should again; something I told myself I wouldn’t do. I needed to dial it back a bit and allow my body time to adjust and strengthen at it’s own speed.

My next scheduled run was supposed to be yesterday, but a lack of sleep the night before kept me from exercising. I have found that every time I’ve injured myself in the gym or on the road has been after nights where I didn’t get enough sleep, so I’ve learned that it’s better to skip a day if I’m not rested than to push it and risk an injury which could set me back.

Last night, I still got to bed later than I wanted to, but I felt rested when I woke up. I feel motivated to lift weights and to run later today, and I’m actually looking forward to it. I’ve been making great progress with my pull-ups and sit-ups. I’m up to 10 assisted pull-ups and 125 sit-ups. For someone who had their abdominal muscles sewn back together just two months ago, that’s pretty good.

My strength in weightlifting has also been improving steadily and safely without discomfort. StrongLifts 5×5 really does work, and it’s a great beginner program. Coupled with my own fitness program, I will definitely be ready for WOBC in October/November.

Setbacks happen. Sometimes they’re serious, and other times, they’re minor. Either way, the hardest part is getting over the psychological damage those setbacks cause, and getting “Back up on that horse.” We’ve all heard the motivational phrases, so I’ll spare you that here. But, I do use those motivational phrases on myself. I start repeating them over and over until I believe them. I motivate myself by reminding myself how lucky I am to be able to exercise, to be able to lift weights, to be able to get out on the road and run. There are so many people who can’t do that for one reason or another, especially at my age. But here I am, suiting up, hitting the gym, and then going out in the heat and getting it done. Even if I’m slow, I’m not on the couch. I haven’t surrendered, and I never will.

I will always work to be better today than I was yesterday, whether that’s in how I deal with people, my diet, or my fitness. I just want to continue to be better. Sure, I’ll hit roadblocks and setbacks, but I’ll never quit. I may lose a battle, but I will not lose the war. I may have cut a run short this week, but that won’t be my last run. I will keep going, and I will keep running.

Really, REALLY Didn’t Want to Do It

Me after my latest run.

I really didn’t want to work out or run today. I was actually dreading it. I had ZERO motivation, and all I could think about was not doing anything. But the more I thought about skipping today, the worse I felt. I didn’t want to deal with the guilt of skipping my workout, and with allowing myself to skip it.

Because the guilt would eat me up, I went ahead and suited up and went upstairs and did my usual StrongLifts 5×5 workout along with 8 assisted pull-ups, one unassisted pull-up, and 80 sit-ups.

After the gym workout, I hit the road for a three-mile run. I wasn’t fast by any stretch, but I was consistent and I got it done. I was tired, but again, not sore. I didn’t feel bad, just worn-out.

I showered and relaxed for a bit and then had dinner with Sherry. She made Paleo Pizza, and afterward, we split a Crave 007 cupcake. It was the perfect dessert for one of my favorite dinners.

The most rewarding part? Knowing that I got my workout and run done. I didn’t allow myself to skip, and I stayed consistent with my workouts. I have to make sure I’m ready for my military training in October, and I lost a bit of my speed and stamina due to the surgery, so consistency and determination are going to get me back to where I need to be.

The hardest part of working out is getting started; getting past the self-doubt, the laziness, and the ease of sitting around and not working out. I get it. I am there more often than not lately because it’s hard to get back into shape. But my health and fitness are more important to me than the slow death of comfort. I prefer the active lifestyle, and I prefer staying fit. It was totally worth the effort today.

Getting It Done in the Heat

It was 96 degrees Fahrenheit outside when I ran.

I’ve been asked why I run outside when it’s so hot, and why I don’t run on my treadmill indoors during the heat. It’s because I need to make sure my body is prepared and able to run during the worst conditions at all times. As a member of the military, I won’t get the privilege of dictating my environmental conditions during exercise or operations (combat or otherwise). If I can exercise in the worst of conditions, then operating in any condition not as severe will be much easier for me.

It was nearly 100 degrees Fahrenheit here. There is no time off for heat.

I don’t over-hydrate before runs, either. I never have. Why? Same reason; my body is accustomed to running at my normal hydration levels (and I admittedly stay well-hydrated throughout the day). If I run for anything more than an hour, then I’ll definitely drink before a run, and I’ll drink water with DropDrop ORS in it to replenish electrolytes and other nutrients, but for a normal workout? One half of a banana before exercise followed by another half of a banana is all I really need.

I must stress that when I run in the heat, I dial back the intensity. The hotter it is, the more I dial it back. My goal becomes completing the distance, not making a pace or time. When it cools down (under 83 degrees or so), I push myself harder because my body is able to utilize sweating to cool down enough, but otherwise, if it’s really hot out, I literally just take it easy and pay attention to any warning signs that may appear (no longer sweating, feeling dizzy, headache). If any of those symptoms come up (and they haven’t yet), then I will stop and seek shade, water, and assistance.

I also only run on the “Track” around the lake in front of my house when it’s very hot out. That way, if I need help for any reason, I’m no more than 100 yards from my home at any time. It’s also a very visible area, so if I were to go down, I’d be seen pretty quickly.

Another thing I do is run with LiveTrack on my Garmin Forerunner 945 watch. This watch sends out a beacon to my wife, daughter, and son and let’s them know I’m exercising, and provides them with a link to actually watch my progress as I run. If the device detects that I’ve fallen, my heart rate become erratic, or that I’ve stopped quickly with no further input, it notifies them and tells them there’s a problem.

I have found in the past that running in the extreme heat, while not very fun or comfortable, has prepared me well for cooler weather. Since I am needing to be ready for the ACFT in October, I don’t have the luxury of taking time off during the hottest times. “Then why don’t you use the treadmill in the A/C?” For a few reasons.

First, I vary my pace. Everyone does, actually, when running outdoors. I prefer being able to adjust my pace on the fly without needing to push buttons and trying to match a pace with how well I feel. I find that when building speed and stamina, it’s much more important that I can push my pace here and there naturally when my body feels like it’s up for it versus running a single pace for a long time. My treadmill is smart and has some workouts built in, but they’re not organic. I base my running pace and effort on how I feel. If I am energetic, I will push it. If I’m tired, I can dial it back.

Second, I have a hard time focusing and staying motivated to complete runs on the treadmill. I’ve watched movies, TV shows, YouTube videos, and music videos while I ran to try to keep me distracted long enough to complete a run, but my mind doesn’t accept it. It becomes drudgery, and I end up lowering the pace just to get through it and I don’t get as good of a workout with it.

So, running in the heat, it is. The kicker is that my runs follow a weightlifting session in my gym, so every time I go out and run, it means I’ve already completed my weightlifting and pull-ups/sit-ups/push-ups.

I never planned for my workouts to be structured this way, but when I tried to lift weights and run on alternating days, I found my muscles didn’t have a chance to recover (since every day is leg day for me). When I combined the weightlifting and the run days and allowed for recovery days in between, my progress became much better and I experienced far less fatigue and pain in my muscles. It turned out to be fortuitous: the Army Combat Fitness Test is a 6-event test that combines strength and cardio. My fitness plan actually compliments this well.

As a Warrant Officer, I have to be ready at all times for any job they give me.

So, when you see me running in the heat, know that I’m being safe, and that there are many good reasons for it. I take my job as a Soldier in the Army National Guard very seriously, and I feel that I need to be as prepared as I can be physically and mentally. Running in the heat helps me stay prepared and ensures that I can be relied upon to accomplish any task put before me.

Feeling More and More Like Me

I might not look too happy in this picture, but I was “In the zone,” so to speak.

My fitness re-boot has been going a little slower than I’d hoped in the beginning, but if yesterday’s workout is any indication of how things will be going, then I’m really excited. I started with my StrongLifts 5×5 workout with 75 sit-ups (total) done between my squats and 7 assisted pull-ups (up from only 4 on Friday). I also did some barbell curls during and after the workout.

Holy smokes it was hot out there! But I got it done, and I didn’t die!

I then went out and ran 2 miles in the 95-degree heat. It wasn’t nearly as hard as it was on Friday, and that made me feel great. There was one point during the run where I actually felt okay. Not great, and nowhere near a “Runner’s High,” but I felt good. My first mile pace was also the fastest since my surgery, and my overall two-mile time was also the fastest.

What gave me the most hope, however, is how I felt afterward: I felt good. My limbs had that “Recently worked out” feeling to them, but I wasn’t in pain. More importantly, when I woke up this morning, I felt decent. Again, I still had the post-workout soreness, but nothing more.

That bodes well for the rest of the next three months as I prepare for Warrant Officer Basic Course (WOBC) in October. I need to be able to participate in daily PT, and I need to be at a decent level of fitness to not embarrass myself. Now, I’m confident I’ll get there.

Tomorrow, I will outline my fitness plan in detail. It’s something I developed through trial and error, and it’s a plan designed primarily for people over 50 (but truthfully, I think it’ll work for anyone and will even give better results for younger people). It’s been proven to work for me three times, and now on my fourth time, I’m seeing the same results already only three weeks in.

Tightening Screws is Always Hardest

Sherry and me in Washington, D.C. this past weekend.

It has become readily apparent to me that it’s time to buckle down, tighten the screws, and get back to eating healthy and exercising without anymore excuses. I’ve allowed far too much alcohol into my diet as well as making sketchy food decisions while drinking.

It’s not that I drink a lot. I honestly don’t. But this summer has had many occasions that socially led me to imbibe alcoholic beverages, and when I’m drinking, my self-control slides away and I find myself eating in a way that is not conducive to my best health. It’s not that I go completely off the rails (except sometimes), but I tend to over-eat. Even healthy foods in large amounts results in too many calories.

So, starting today, I’m back to my very strict Paleo diet. If it’s not compliant, it’s not going in my mouth, and that includes alcohol. I’m also sticking to the healthy portion sizes and not going for seconds. It’s going to be tough for the next few days as my body has to get used to the reduced calorie intake, but it’s become necessary.

I’m also starting my 6-day/week exercise plan. Don’t worry; I’m not going, “All out.” I’m still being very careful and slow with my progress, but I am increasing the number of days I’m committing to the exercise.

I’ve had to resort to the “Fake it ‘til you make it” mindset when it comes to my running and weightlifting. I keep repeating to myself throughout the day, “I get to run. I get to lift weights!” in a positive manner. It’s kind of funny. Even though I know I’m not all-in on feeling motivated, repeating it over and over actually has an effect, and I do find myself more motivated and excited to get started. Attitude is so important.

I am searching for something to do in addition to StrongLifts 5×5 and my running. I’m not sure yet what that will be, but I feel like it’s just not enough. I do ride my mountain bike on the “Off” days from lifting, and I don’t want to add anything for those days, but on my “On” days, I feel like I need more. I’ll continue to investigate the options and I’ll report back here when I find something.

I haven’t weighed myself yet. I’m not sure I’m going to, to be honest. While the scale is the easiest measure of our overall health, I’m going to forego that. I, instead, will be focusing on how my clothes fit, how I look, how I feel, and how fit I am. I’m less concerned with a number and more concerned with the holistic approach to my health: the sum of all the different measures. The scale has a lot of power over how we feel, and I honestly want to avoid that this time. I’m not sure how it’s going to work out, but time will tell. I’m optimistic that this is a good approach.

I will be going on active duty in the military starting in October, and I need to be in good shape by then both physically and in terms of my fitness levels. I have very specific goals to reach, and I’m going to do my best to reach them without sabotage. So, while to some, what I’m starting today may seem very strict and restrictive is actually a path toward liberation and freedom. Liberating myself from a lack of good fitness right now, and freedom to do whatever I want physically without restraint.

I get to run. I get to lift weights.

First Truly Comfortable Run Since my Surgery

Me after my run and cool-down walk.

This morning at 5:30 a.m., the alarm went off for me to wake up for my run. I really didn’t want to do it; the bed was comfy, it was warm, and it just felt nice to lay in bed. But, I have set Alexa to tell me the weather when I stop the alarm, and something she said stirred me; “The temperature is 71 degrees. Expect thunderstorms and a high temperature of 89 degrees with a low of 71.” I knew what this meant; 71 was the coolest it was going to be all day.

I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to get a nice, cool run in. Especially here in Texas where it gets very hot in July, taking advantage of cool mornings is not something you take lightly. I pulled myself up and out of bed and got dressed. I stepped outside and felt the cool, albeit humid air, and smiled. “This run is going to be perfect,” I thought to myself.

As soon as my GPS watch was synchronized with the satellites, I took off for my run. I’ve been running a 2-mile course during my recovery and rebuilding period, and I set out for that same course with a goal of being a little faster than the last three runs. With that said, I didn’t really push myself hard. It’s not time for me to do that yet. But I did make sure that I was moving well.

When I hit the half-way point, I found that I’d cut over a minute off my previous one-mile time. That felt great! I knew my second mile would be slower, but that didn’t deter or dissuade me from continuing with a comfortable pace, pushing only as far as to run within my comfort zone. I also decided that I was feeling amazing, and that adding a little bit of distance would be a good thing. My goal is to run 4 miles per run, so adding a little distance every few runs is part of my long-term plan. I added a quarter of a mile, and when I finished, I found that I’d cut two minutes off my two-mile time.

I did my quarter-mile cool-down walk, and when I got in the house for my shower, I found that I felt great. No muscle pain, not winded, and generally mentally sharp and ready for my day.

As I look back on the series of events that took place this morning, it’s funny to me that there was a moment when I almost stayed in bed and skipped this run. I’m glad that I didn’t.

Mentally, I’ve been struggling with motivation. I’ve allowed myself to talk myself out of runs lately, and I found it’s because I’ve had an aversion to adding to the pain my body is in. I decided to go back to an old trick I used when I first started running; I tell myself repeatedly throughout the day whenever I think about running and start feeling any kind of dread that I am fortunate that I can still run; I get to run.

I get to run.

In other words, I am not only able to run, but I’m healthy enough to be able to run. I’m physically fit enough to run. I’m not injured, and I’m not disabled. I’m not wounded and I’m not dead.

I get to run.

So I run. After I repeat this to myself over and over throughout the day, I find that it changes my mindset and when the time comes to make the decision to run or not run, I am far more likely to decide to run. The decision is easier, and it even affects my attitude and performance throughout my run.

Our mindset is the most important ingredient to our success. We become what we believe, and what we think. If we think we can’t do something, the chances of us being able to do it are decreased.

If you want to make a serious change in your life or just get back to some good habits, start telling yourself that you can do it, that it’s a good thing, and that you get to do it. There are many out there who don’t have that ability or luxury, and you should treasure it.