The Folly of Shame

Brace yourself, I’m going to say something nice about Air Canada. Travelling to the Maritimes, we’re pretty much held hostage to Air Canada’s schedule. Yes, there are other domestic carries, but unless you live in Moncton or Halifax, you’re stuck with Air Canada to get to your destination.

I’m not going to recount the nightmare after nightmare flying with them during the winter months have been over the years. My most recent flight was my 6 am return to Ottawa from New Brunswick on Tuesday. I shared my row with a rather obese passenger, large enough they took up almost a quarter of my seat. As the passenger curled up to sleep through the flight and took up even more room, I spent the subsequent two hours thanking God that even at my peak weight I was never large enough to exceed the seat dimensions of an air plane. In fact, one of the lies I would tell myself was, “I fit in one of those tiny airplane seats. I can’t be too overweight.”

Around a year before I started my weight loss, one of my favourite directors, Kevin Smith, was kicked off a flight for being too big for his seat. Sparing myself this public humiliation and the logistical nightmare of rescheduling travel with the one airline that travels to my hometown may have crystallized my decision to lose weight.

I didn’t complain to my passenger or even ask the flight attendant to be reseated. It was a fully booked Dash-8 with all of 17 seats available to passengers (for some reason that remains a mystery to this day, row 2AC is reserved for the flight crew even though the one attendant on the plane has a seat at the front of the plane) and there was simply no seat to move to. I was also partially sympathetic. While I was never in that situation, it was only when I was travelling last year that I realized how big I was. Suddenly the seats on that little plane were … reasonably comfortable.

After the flight in my tired-ass wandering mind on the bus back to downtown , I started thinking. In 2009, the Canadian Transportation Agency recognized obesity as a disability and imposed a “one passenger, one fare” policy on the national airlines. Previously, if you exceeded the width of the seat (defined as seated with the armrest in the down position) you had to purchase the seat next to you. I don’t blame obese people for complaining. Buying two seats is a pretty expensive proposition, up to $3000. It would actually be cheaper to buy a larger executive class seat. Unfortunately, there’s no executive class seating going to and from Fredericton. None on the direct flight from Ottawa. None on the flights from Toronto and Montreal. Certainly none on the plane from Halifax. That plane barely has a luggage hold.

So, if out of the cause of reasonable accommodation, the airlines are forced to only charge a passenger a single fare regardless of the number of seats they use, is it also reasonable to make the partial seat that remains available for the 100% of the advertised fare?

I decided to investigate. I sent the following to Air Canada’s customer complaint e-mail (with personal identifiers removed):

On the above referenced flight, I was seated in 5D, an aisle seat next to an obese passenger who was large enough that the passenger would not safely fit into the seat with the armrest down. For the duration of the flight, the passenger took up about 25% of my seat. I didn’t want to cause trouble for the flight and, frankly, there didn’t look to be another seat available to move to other than 2A and C which are reserved for the flight attendant. I understand several years ago, the Canadian Human Rights Commission [Author’s note: further research revealed it was the Canadian Transport Agency] imposed a “one passenger, one fare” rule on Canada’s airline. With that understood, is it fair to make the seat available next to a passenger so obese he/she cannot fit in a single seat? Given that the Dash-8 aircraft only has two seats per row, there may be occasions where a passenger would need to be reseated. If an obese passenger is going to take up 25% of the adjacent seat, why should the passenger who has paid 100% of a fare for a seat not be entitled to an entire seat? Since there is the aforementioned row reserved for the attendant, who already has a seat at the front of the front of the plane, should not one of the passengers be reseated? It was just over two years ago that I was at my heaviest. While I was never so obese that I could not fit in a single seat with the armrest lowered, I did require come rather close to that size. Had I been at my previous weight on this morning’s flight, I would not have been able to sit in my assigned seat.

That was Tuesday morning. You know what happened? By Wednesday morning, Air Canada e-mailed me with a $150 credit for future travel as a gesture of goodwill. They explained their policy of “encouraging” obese passengers to buy a second seat when in economy class. The issue of the available row 2 which could be used to reseat a passenger remained unaddressed.

It might have helped that I selected the prefix “Dr.” from the drop down menu.

I started to think about some of the recent commentary on fat shaming. It’s basically the idea if you make fat people ashamed of being fat, they’ll lose weight. It made the news recently when this reporter responded to a viewer’s letter over her weight. Local Ottawa doctor Yoni Freedhoff even accused Disney of doing it earlier this year. There was even talk of it in the presidential race when New Jersey Governor Chris Christie was being coaxed into running for the Republican nominaton. It resurfaced when he was among the politicos shortlist for Romney’s running mate and again when he addressed the Republican convention. Not all of us are lucky enough to be consoled by Sofia Vergara when someone makes fun of us, but he seems like he can take it. He did, after all, paraphrase Machiavelli and then attribute it to … his mother.

The logic of shaming is ridiculous. If you tease and troll a human being enough, they’ll make a radical life change. As a guy with unusually high self-esteem, when I was called fat I usually retorted with “Just like how your mom likes it.” Guys aren’t bombarded with images of male perfection and forced to conform. In fact, it’s the opposite. My usual nemesis, KFC, now has an advertisement where their overweight, unkempt character walks around with a bucket of the new chicken product and eventually is surrounded by a harem of bikini-clad women. Unless rufies are the 11th herb and spice, there is no way this will happen in reality. Gluttony is increasingly becoming acceptable behaviour for generation of arrested developed males. 

It’s a lot different for girls. I remember one of my feminist sociology profs complaining about the objectification of women in men’s magazines, which had exploded in number in the late 1990s (a number of which no longer exist). At some point, I snorted, “Have you been to the magazine rack at Chapters lately? Seems like women are giving men a run for their money on the objectification of their gender.”  In our exchange, which included me asking my classmates who had men’s and women’s magazines with them (interesting moment, none of the men admitted to having a men’s magazine on hand, but 2/3 of the women had Cosmo), I argued that for all the barflegarp about empowerment in women’s magazines like Cosmo most teenage girls are seeing a stick thin waif on the model on the cover. Regardless of whether the title was “Maxim” or “Cosmopolitan”, in the heyday of Kate Moss, thin was in and being presented as the ideal.

With all that cultural pressure already on women to fit into a particular ideal, those that try their whole lives and can’t get there are already pretty miserable. If you call sending young girls to the bathroom after dinner to puke their guts out a success story, give yourself a pat on the back, asshole. All you’re doing is just giving people with already low self-esteem another pummelling. I bet you make fun of the disabled, too.

For all your smug, self-appointed, self-righteousness, here’s the truth: you’re a bloody failure. You shame, society has gotten fatter. Unless there’s some immediate health concern (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc), most fatties don’t think they’re unhealthy. As I wrote at the beginning of this journal and reiterated last week, as obesity rates go up, most fat people think they’re normal and thin people are starving themselves. The truth is both extremes are full of stuff and malarkey (I wrote this after watching the VP debate).

There’s no magic bullet to get someone to lose weight. I didn’t think I was unhealthy when I was 250 lbs. The first time I was that heavy, I certainly knew it and had the sleep apnea diagnosis to prove it. It was overloaded public buses that started me losing weight and the encouragement of good friends to find ways to make a little loss into lifestyle change. Just because what I did worked for me, doesn’t mean it will work for someone else.

Don’t let the potential for failure deter you from attempting success. Even shedding a few pounds or a few inches in size will add years to your life. They might be Denis Leary’s “adult diaper, kidney dialysis years”, but you’ll enjoy your time here and now so much more.

Taunting and teasing won’t help. Shaming just leads to a persecution/victim complex which just reinforces negative behaviour, like stress eating or starvation.

You’re just another bully. You don’t even have the guts to say it to someone’s face. Having a Twitter account doesn’t elevate your thoughts to genius, it just exposes you as a coward and a buffoon 140 characters at time.

I honestly hope the passenger who sat beside me on Tuesday finds it within to start their own journey. Their life will be better for it.

Allons-y!

PS – you may notice that I’ve changed part of the title of this blog. It is no longer my year of not being fat anymore. That year ended last week. I’m going to keep writing about this journey because I’m still learning and I think I still have things in this noggin worth sharing. It’s now my life of not being fat. Hope you still enjoy the ride. I am.

Once again,

Allons-y!

My new normal

When I started this journal of my weight loss journal, I argued with rising obesity rates that obese was the new normal. It’s been almost two years since that entry, but the Globe and Mail caught up last weekend.

As this week passed, I reached a new milestone. It’s been a year since I reached my goal weight. This year, I celebrated, but nowhere near as bad as the two week food bender I went on during my downtime between finishing with my trainer and joining Greco. Since I had just completed my second half marathon and was in recovery mode, I had a few indulgences. Well, not really. Kalin and I did splurge at St. Louis a couple of hours after our race, but we had just run 21.1 km. I think we can handle it. Might have had some junk last weekend, but other than that I’ve kept to my usual good habits.

I’ve had a number of questions about how disciplined I am in my eating habits and exercise routine. The truth is, I’m not. I don’t feel disciplined. I pretty much eat what I want. The difference is what I wanted then and what I want now are two different things.

When I started this last year, I truly needed discipline.

The biggest change to my eating habits was the no starchy carbs. In fairness, it was the only change. The nutrition plan I was on didn’t keep me from eating meat and most of the vegetables I like, but gone was the baked potato with the steak, the spaghetti carbonara with my chicken, the pizza crust with my pizza.

I needed the shock therapy. Starting from scratch with new eating habits helped me build a new routine that would not just get me out of the fat suit I was living in, but keep me out once I got to my goal weight. I was also working in a relatively fast paced environment in the Senate of Canada (I know most Canadians reading that last sentence are probably gobsmacked to see the word “fast” in any sentence referring to our Senate) which forced me to adapt my routine to the workplace. I was lucky to have a kitchen with a fridge and microwave where I could store and re-heat meals. There was also a cafeteria on the fifth floor and the Parliamentary Dinning Room (but staff rarely go there without their Member/Senator).

The main thing I learned very quickly if I was going to be successful: bring dinner, too. Some days were harder to judge to when it’s going to be long day so be prepared to have dinner at the office. A routine sitting day can become a long sitting very quickly. I might have to fill in for my boss at an event or represent him at a reception. Stuff like that. While the cafeteria stays open until the House rises, anything remotely healthy would be gone after the supper hour rush. If you have your own dinner on hand, the worst that can happen is that you don’t need to use it. In that case, it’s there for lunch the next day and you have a slightly less heavy bag to lug. Some days, I would eat before I left just so I wouldn’t have to cook when I got home. There were also days where I was hanging around the office between the end of the workday and when I would go to my Running Room clinic so I would eat then. 

As some carbs and fats were added back in, I found the ones I used to eat frequently I no longer craved. I like my whole grain pasta, particularly on the Friday before  a long run on Sunday, but I don’t covet it. For all the talk of bacon in the news these days, I’ve bought all of 1lb since January 2011. Don’t blame me for the impending shortage.

Exercise was another routine I had to start from scratch. I wasn’t a total coach potato when I was fat, but I couldn’t/wouldn’t sustain a commitment to an exercise routine to save my life. When I started with my trainer at Free Form Fitness, I started with two sessions a week for six weeks and then went to three. I also needed to find a time that wouldn’t get continuously pre-empted by my professional duties. For me, the sweet spot was the morning. I was not a morning person, but I realized that I was only going to make it to my sessions if I scheduled them for the times when I knew I didn’t have to be at the office, prior to 8 am. Paying for the service also helps. I can be rather spendthrift, but I want to get my money’s worth. Showing up to my appointments was the only way to do that. Having started this new routine in January, it meant beginning and ending my days in darkness.

Today, I’m working out at Greco LeanandFit four times a week (and may ratchet it up to five) and running three times a week. I’ve completed two half-marathons, both with sub-two hour finishes.  

Speaking of running, I’m instructing again. I’m leading the 5k clinic at the Slater St. Running Room. Kalin is helping me as a pace leader. One of the big challenges with instructing the 5k is it’s the gateway drug to running. Some are using it get back into the sport after years off or recovering from an injury while some are new to running altogether. As such the groups spread out rather quickly on the runs and it’s difficult to effectively supervise everyone. The faster may get out of earshot rather quickly and may run longer their body is ready for. I’m glad she’s going to help where she can. Wednesdays can be long days for work, but I’m thankful for the help.

Going back to shorter distances and slower speeds is going to mean some modifications of the routine. Probably going to have to work out a little bit more to earn that Mello’s breakfast on Saturday, but at this point it’s more “Been there. Done that. Bought the T-Shirt.”

With Thanksgiving upon us, I’m hitting the road for the weekend. No, there’s subterfuge this year. Mom knows I’m coming home for the weekend. It’s a testament to the fact that I’ve so altered my routine that I can go to the old haunts and not succumb to the temptation to indulge … or at least space out the indulgences to fit the routine.

I’m a creature of  habit and my habits sucked. Only by starting from scratch and building new habits, could I succeed. Succeed I did. Succeed I continue to do.

Allons-y!

Who’s going to run this town tonight?

Another race. Another Jay-Z lyric as a blog title.

When it comes to the Army Run, just like the song goes, the answer, of course, is:

We are.

A wet Friday and Saturday thankfully gave way to a cool, sunny Sunday. I got pretty soaked during a downpour in the middle of the friendship run on Sunday. Kalin came with me but decided to skip the run. She had just returned from a work trip abroad the night before and thought it best not to goof things up for the sake of a warm-up. The rotten weather gave us an excuse to have a pre-race carb meal of brunch at Mello’s in the market. Actually, we don’t need an excuse. We’ve been regulars there for a months. One of the cheapest and best breakfasts in the Market.

Sunday morning, it was probably 4 degrees and sunny when Kalin and I left for the race. It might have warmed up during the run, but not by much. We arrived at city hall with plenty of time to check my bag and make a run to the bathroom before we hopped into our coral and wait for gun time.

At the Army Run, gun time is actually cannon time.

The run started off with some technical difficulties. Like the last race, I decided to run with music. Unfortunately, my damn earphones wouldn’t stay in my ears. The only difference between this race and the last one was the fact I was both a hat and sunglasses. Those extra millimetres seemed to keep the earphones from resting in place. It was annoying enough that by my second walk break, I had given up the ghost and yanked the earphones from the iPhone and stuffed them in a pouch.

It may have made a difference. I kept my concentration on the run and listened to my body. I was also more aware of my surroundings and the people around me.

With the massive crowd at the start line, it took a while to get into my pace. The 2 hour finish pace when you’re doing 10 and 1 run/walk intervals is 5 min 27 secs per km. I wanted to go a little faster than that so I would at least match, maybe best, my previous time.

I went a lost faster. Here’s what the Garmin recorded.

Instead of that pace, I was averaging a little more than 5 min/km by the time I hit my third interval. I managed to keep it up until about the 13K mark. I hit the 10K mark, which was mid-way through the incline of the Alexandria St. Bridge, at a little past the 53 minute mark on the Garmin, 4 minutes faster than my 10K split.

One goal I had set for myself for motivation: catch Laurence Wright. Laurence, you’ll remember from the post on the Kilt Run, is the manager of the new Running Room in Westboro and was the pace bunny for the 1:55 continuous pace group. I set catching up to him as my goal for the race. If I could catch up to him, and maybe even pass him, I knew I would break my own personal best. I would also have the thrill of beating one of my mentors.

Lord knows, the only time I’ll ever have a chance of beating him is when he’s holding back as pace bunny.

It was not to be. I started too far back, a full four minutes between gun time and when I crossed the start line, but I came pretty close. He was the first person I saw congratulating everyone as they emerged from the recovery area.

While I didn’t catch up to Laurence, I did better than him. My final chip time was 1:53:17, over 4 and a half minutes better than my personal best.

The Army Run is truly an inspirational event. Running with members of our armed forces is truly an extraordinary experience. As I rounded the corner on Sussex Dr. before Guiges heading back toward Rideau, I ended up taking a walk break along side an amputee runner from Army. I quickly grabbed a drink, popped a gel and as the break ended, I turned to him and said, “Thank you.”

“For what?” he asked.

“For doing what I couldn’t.” My break ended and I went on my way.

I even got a high five from the Governor General. After running the 5K race and seeing us off at the start of the half marathon, he returned to Rideau Hall to cheer on the runners from the front gates of his home. As I ran by, I raised my hand just on the lark that he might give me a high five. Not only did he, he shouted “Keep going, Michael!”.

I’d like to think it was because he recognized me from this photo:

December 2010 – Royal Assent Reception with Rt. Hon. David Johnston, Governor General of Canada.

Let’s face it, most people who know me today don’t believe that’s me in that photo. He knew my name because it was printed on my bib. More than one stranger saw it and called me by name. Thank you. It helped get me to the start line.

Thanks to everyone who helped get me to the start line and the friends and strangers along the course who came to cheer me on. You helped me make it to the finish line.

I couldn’t believe it when I crossed the line and the gun clock said 1:57:13, 40 seconds better than my last chip time. I knew I smashed my last result. The question was now how much. I waited for Sportstats to update my Facebook status and gave me my chip time. As my body realized the race was over, I could feel my grandfathers patting me on the back. I knew I had done good.

I received my finishers medal, modelled after the CF’s dogtags, thanking the soldier who placed it on me and made it through the recovery area. Instead of thermal blankets, they gave out white zip up hoodies that resembles the coveralls Walter White wears in Breaking Bad. There was also a box of snacks instead of the usual collection of fruit and stale bagels. Good call on both. A lot of the goodies had nuts so Kalin and I would trade nuts for non-nut products. I got more out of that than she did.

Speaking of Kalin, her race went well, too. I managed to get back to the course from the recovery area in time to see her finish. She finished her first half marathon at 2:40. She would have liked to have finished sooner, but there were a lot of obstacles in her way. The ankle is still bothering her from the accident. A couple of weeks before the race she got sick with a cold. Days before, she spent 9 hours in economy class flying back from Europe. The summer humidity was murder on her lungs, still recovering from her cancer treatments. Not the best situation to run her first half marathon in. Just a year and a half after was declared cancer free, however, she made it to the start line and then the finish line and is happy with the result. Everything else is details.

We made a quick swing by Booster Juice for post race smoothies and then went home to change. Steve, the 1:50 pace leader had organized a post-race get together at St. Louis on Elgin. It served as a graduation of sorts for the clinic. Instead of robes, the dress code was race shirts and bling.

I got to chat with a lot of the people in my pace group. Seems like everyone enjoyed the race and made their goal times. Roger even gave me a bottle of wine as a thank you. I’m glad I played a part in their success. So many played a part in mine.

Now it’s on to the next one.

 

20120928-093137.jpg

Allons-y!

Once more unto the breach

Best rally speech ever. If plays were rap battles, Henry V is the one where Shakespeare drops the mike afterwards.

Speaking of Shakespeare and rap battles:

It’s time for the Army Run. I really enjoyed the 5K last year. It’s a great event for a great cause, our wounded troops. Proceeds go to Soldier On and the Military Families Fund. If you would like to donate, you can click here.

I’ve always admired our soldiers. My grandfathers had both served in World War II. I didn’t know Tom Read Sr.; he succumbed to cancer when I was just a couple of months old. He served in the home guard and remained on base in Sydney. My mother’s father, Donald MacEachern, was a combat engineer and served in Europe. I’ve mentioned before that he didn’t talk much about the war. None of his generation did. At least in front of the kids and, later, grandkids. Their wives forbade it. Fittingly, the only story he ever told us was the day he was wounded. That story he even saved until years after Grammie Ellen had passed away. He would carry a physical reminder of the war for the rest of his life.

Growing up minutes from CFB Gagetown, you get to know a lot of people in the Canadian Forces.   When I volunteered with St. John Ambulance, I got to work with many of the base’s medics. I always admired their dedication to their brothers-in-arms and their community. My cousin, Read Coleman, also served in the CF and did a tour in Afghanistan. I’ve had a number of friends who did tours in Afghanistan. I thank God on a routine basis that they made it back alive and unharmed. Unfortunately, I can’t say that for that for their brothers-in-arms.

It’s for them I’ll be running.

I decided years ago that I couldn’t do what they do. Part of that was my size and overall lack of fitness. My public service would be through politics.

Before you can run the race, though, you have to train. It was the last week of our clinic which means the runs were at race pace.  Race pace runs can be a real confidence booster the week before the run. They can also provide a moment of reckoning. Thankfully, my runs were more confidence boosting than reckoning.

Sunday was nice and cool for a quick 6 km up and down the canal. The group was a little fast. With the faster short runs, it’s tough to keep the group together. The clinic gathered for an end of clinic brunch afterwards. It was nice to chill out and relax with the gang. It was even better when the clock struck 11 and we could order beer. It gave me a chance to buy one of my runners a beer to pay him back for one he paid for at Mill St. back in August.

Tuesday went long. The clinic topic was race day preparation. There’s always a lot of questions from people who are running the race for the first time. A lot could be answered by simply going to the website, but it was pretty obvious that there were a lot of nervous runners in the room. Just wait until they have to jump over the pit of starving velociraptors! We didn’t get out for the run until 7:15 pm. This time of year, it’s dark rather early and we had 10k to run. We banged it out like champs, but it made for a long-ass day.

Wednesday was another 6K at race pace and our last run night before race day. It was a larger group than usual. I even got to run with a friend from NB who was in town for business. Like Sunday, it was fast. Most of my group kept up. The few that fell behind were well within the normal range for a 2H finish. I know they’ll well on race day.

As we ramp up for race day, I got a lesson in the need for proper nutrition. One of my runners told me she wasn’t feeling well since we hit the 20K mark in distance two Sundays earlier. She was feeling sluggish and tired like she was running out of gas. I asked what she was eating and it seemed like okay food. Then I asked how much and how often. That’s when we hit the target. Her portions seemed rather small (I can never really tell though when it comes to vegetarian meals how many legumes equals a proper protein serving) and she was only eating three times day. On run nights, her last meal might be at lunch. I suggested she eat five times, with little mini-meals as snacks. Hopefully we caught that in time she can enjoy the race and get a result she trained for.

I’m also tapering this week which means cutting out the cross training. Translation: no Greco this week. I’m also taking next week off to recover. I’ll be hitting my anniversary during my recovery period. Not sure what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ll catch a movie … on cheap night. Haven’t had a Tuesday night free since February.

Looks like it’s going to be mostly sunny with slight chance of showers for race day. All I can say now is: bring it. I’m going to have a good run on Sunday and hope the folks I trained with these last few do so as well.

Allons-y!

Never Alone

One week before showtime!

We finished speed training this week, which marks the second-to-last phase of the half marathon clinic. Twitter followers already know of my Garmin fail at the end of the workout so no link to the activity report. Lesson learned: the seven day period you’re doing a combined 38K  (20K LSD, 6K Tempo, 12K speed training) is probably the week you should not rely on a single battery charge.

D’oh!

It’s probably for the best. I can’t remember if I had remembered to pause it when I had to go … umm … err… “find a golf ball” in the woods after the first 1 mile repeat. I thought I left my “golf balls” back at the “pro shop”, but it was pretty apparent my “golf bag” was full and wasn’t going to wait until we were finished “our round”.

Wow, that’s more about golf than I ever want to write about.

I tend to wax nostalgic towards the end of clinics. You don’t spend training with the same people three times a week for 17 weeks (or longer for the repeat offenders) without building a few bonds. Every pace group is different and they’re usually quite fun. There’s always a few rabbits, but that usually works itself out. With just a few practice runs left, looks like everyone in my group is going to make it to the start line (knock on wood).

It’s important to remember while we are on our own on race day, the race is not a solitary experience. Among the thousands running with us are the friends we’ve trained with. During race weekend, I probably spotted and managed to say a quick hello to most of my pace group from that clinic. There’s also the friends cheering along the sidelines as well as the ones at home checking Facebook and Twitter for that ever important finish result.

There’s also the people we do our “other” training with. Like most runners, I cross train. Regular readers will know that I currently do my cross training at the Greco on Sparks St. I certainly wouldn’t have made it this far without them. Going to the early morning classes gave me an excuse to drag my ass out of bed in the morning four days a week while I was unemployed. Now waking up at 7 for the 8 pm class seems like sleeping in. There’s a pretty good crew of regulars there for the morning workouts. Sometimes we’ll tell the folks coming in for the 8 am class what they’re in for, especially the bonus rounds, only to have the trainers change it up a bit. We’ll never embellish, though. If anything, we undersell the workout to lull them into a false sense of security (I think they know better by now).

Unfortunately, one of the guys is leaving to go backpacking for a few months through Asia. Since this morning was my last workout for a couple of weeks (usually take two weeks off to taper then recover for the race), he’ll be gone by the time I get back. Wish him the best and hope to see him in the new year when he’s back.

This run will also be special in another way. It’s the week of my one year anniversary of reaching my goal weight. Who would have thought when I posted my first note about my weightloss in January of last year that I would have made it to my goal, exceeded it and maintained a healthy lifestyle?

I didn’t.

Truthfully, there was a lot of upfront trepadation and it took a few weeks of settling into my new routine of morning workouts and following the nutrition plan before I had the confidence in myself to know I could do it.

I’ve said it before, I wouldn’t have made it without my support system, my friends and family.

Whether it was lifting the weights at the gym or running a race, I was never alone.

Surround yourself with your friends on your journey and neither will you. 

Allons-y!

Motivation

Hey, remember me?

I’m back.

Yeah, it’s been a few weeks since I last wrote anything substantial. While Lance Armstrong’s cop-out did throw me for a creative loop a couple weeks ago, I was just plain busy the last couple of weeks. While I haven’t had an actual vacation this year (no, unemployment doesn’t count as vacation), it seemed like a good time to take a little vacay from the blog.

There’s quite a bit coming up for me. The Army Run is fast approaching. The following week will be the one year anniversary of reaching my weight loss goal. I have to admit that I have not stepped on the scale in what seems like forever. The clothes I bought last year still fit. If anything, they’ve gotten looser.

With the Army Run coming up, training is ramping up. We’re on the second week of speed work. As before, we run to the track at Immaculata High School and do 1-mile repeats on their outdoor track. It makes for a bit more than 11 km in total distance for the night. My legs don’t seem as sore the next morning as when we do hills. It’s probably because it’s easier on the legs to run 5:15 on a flat track than whatever pace we ran (I was a little faster than tempo) up the hills.

As usual, the long runs are getting longer. I actually like it when we get into the double-digits on LSD runs. It seems like the longer the runs, the more we use the trails instead of the city streets. That means less waiting for traffic lights, the bane of the runner.

Thankfully, the heatwave that hit Ontario this summer has broken. Two Sundays ago we did a  great 18K run that again took us through the conservation area and around McKay Lake. Unfortunately, the humidity made a return appearance that morning. Most of my runners made it through, but I noticed it was bad enough that some of the marathon runners were ending their runs early (they were doing 28k).

Last Sunday, we had a nice and cool run along the Rideau River until it met the canal, where we headed up to Little Italy (my old neighbourhood) and through town until we were back on the trail, this time along the Ottawa River.

As we ran back to the store, the trail took us past the hill at Fleet St., the scene of most of our hill training. As we approached, I shouted, “Okay, ten hill repeats!”

No one gets my sense of humour.

One of the questions I’ve been getting lately is what keeps me motivated? It’s been almost a year and as time and distance pass, it’s easy to slack off and regress. Many do. So what keeps me going?

I like beer. It makes me a jolly good fellow.  I like food, too. The greasy shit I used to eat pretty much churns my stomach now. I still like to eat. I know if I want to have beer or a meal out, I have to earn it. Since most of the meals I don’t make myself are post-run meals, I think I earn them. I also have healthier take out meals than I used to. I am still very capable of making very stupid choices when I’m coming home late and occassionally sin, but my morning workouts at Greco provides as good a penance for food sins as church does for the other ones.

I’m a pretty goal oriented person. I think spending most of your adult life in univeristy meeting assignment deadlines does that to a person. The Running Room’s programs, with their weekly schedule of runs, does a good job of setting up daily and weekly goals to get me through to my larger goals. Videogame makers created achievements/trophies/whatever Wii calls them to draw in goal whores like me. Since I pretty much use my XBox as a DVD player during the non-winter months and as a replacement for my paintball addiction during the frozen months, the whole affirmation junkie scene never drove my activity. In fact, I’ve never actually played any of my game’s online multiplayer modes.

Races provide me with the medium-term goals that I need to motivate me to lace up the runners every Sunday morning. My performance goal for Army Run is to simply repeat Ottawa Race Weekend with a sub 2 hour finish.

I can be a pretty competitive person when I want to be. Every hero needs a villian. Batman needs the Joker. The Doctor needs the Master. My Master is…

Fat Michael

I wasn’t unhappy when I was fat, but I wasn’t happy either. Like a pig that rolls around in his own excrement, I assumed I was happy from lack of knowledge of the alternative. Now that I know the difference, I’m not going back.

Remember, no Algernons here.

Just have to make sure I don’t become a total prick like Charley, too.

For that, I have my friends to help me on my way. They lift me up when I’m down and give me the swift kick in the arse I deserve when I get too high on my horse. I’ve said it often, but it bears repeating. Iwouldn’t be here without them and the friends I’ve made along the way.

Allons-y!

It’s so

 

Another week’s blog has been overtaken by events.

I grew I grew up in Nova Scotia during the Marshall Inquiry, so I’m well aware that even the most innocent of men can be beaten into submission by a system of wanna-be Lt. Gerards determined to get their man. That written, during his courtcase to have the USADA’s jurisdiction quashed, Armstrong’s team would  have likely gotten a sneak peak at the case against him during pre-trial motions. Knowing what they had would likely been made public through the arbitration process, this is the route Lance Armstrong has taken.

Bruce MacArthur’s column pretty much sums it up for me. Since pretty much every one of his peers has been exposed as a cheat, this makes him more of a hypocrite than anything else. The last dirty cyclist from a generation of dirty cyclists has been exposed.

I also grew up in the 80s and 90s when much of the anti-doping work so commonplace today was in its infancy. Ben Johnson would be the tip of the iceberg on how dirty sports was. It seemed like one athlete hero after another was eventually knocked off his pedestal as a cheat. I think that’s the reason I have so few of them today, prefering to seek my inspiration from my friends and family who have done extraordinary things.

Celebrity athletes will you leave you like the teary-eyed kid in “8 Men Out”. “Say it ain’t so, Joe. Say it ain’t so.”

Lance gave up his last chance to say it ain’t so.

Responsibility

I was going to leave the Olympics behind and write about something else this week.

This morning, though, I read this article and had another idea.  It’s actually a recurring theme of mine: personal responsibility. For those that don’t want bother to click the link, it’s an interview with Jared Connaugthon, the Canadian Olympian who inadvertantly left his lane for a few steps in the 4×100 relay and turned a bronze medal finish into a disqualification.  My own thoughts watching that race was something akin to “Here we ago again. Another rule that was barely enforced in qualification heats is suddenly Gospel in the finals.”

Say what you will about that night, but you have to admire that Jared’s first instinct wasn’t to moan or bellyache about the uneven application of the rules but to man up and take ownershio and responsibility for his mistake. Perhaps it’s telling of our modern society without shame or guilt that the simple act of saying, “I made a mistake”, has become a testament to character.

Lord knows uneven judging seemed like it was going on like mad in London. I tried to re-find an article I read on some of the more egregrious facepalms in officiating over the last couple of weeks, but gave up when “london 2012 officiating mistakes” garnered 10,800 hits.  Who would have thought that boxing would be the new figure skating? Any large, global event is going to seem to have a disproportionate amount of lousy refs and officials. Whether they are actually worse than usual or not  is almost irrelevant. With the magnifying glass of the worldwide media at every event, one mistake will inevietably be blown up. That said, they probably should be. A lousy official on the world stage, is probably a lousy official back home. A sport is only as good as the fair application of its rules.  The more lousy officials exposed and sent home in disgrace, the better.

I doubt London was worse than any previous Olympics. The Salt Lake City games brought us the scandal of fixed figure skating competitions, something that was well known in the sport for years. Any sport that is based on subjective judging is a prime candidate for corruption. That same games, in the women’s hockey final with the US, our  team faced such a disproportionate amount of penalty calls from an American ref that even the Americans in the arena began booing. In a scored sport, there’s a simple, yet not necessarily easy, solution to overcome one-sided officiating: score more than the other team.

As we saw our athletes not make it to the podium, or in some cases even the finish line, we often saw them take to post-event interviews, social media, etc., and apologize. It’s not that they actually did something wrong, but their own sense of disappointment is magnified a thousand fold by the feeling they had let down the hopes of their country. At  the root of their apology is taking responsibilty.

One of the reasons I find the trolls so nauseating is that I know as bad as the insults the armchair quarterbacks are tossing out, the atheletes are beating themselves up even more.   Making fun of pro athletes one thing. They’re paid by very rich companies to win games. Don’t like them, they probably didn’t hear you over the sound of their bling. Trolling our Olympians, though, has about as much class as making fun of the disabled. They’ll spend the next four years replaying those moments in their head and figuring out what do next time to get that medal around their neck. Trolls hit “post” on their 140 characters of mental masturbation and move on. With blogs, Facebook, and Twitter, we’ve become a society of theFat Comic Shop Owners from the Simpsons.

Brain to mouth filter? In the age of social media, it’s the brain to keyboard filter.

When I decided to take responsibilty for my own situation and start this journey last year, there were several times I missed a personal goal. Whenever a weigh-in didn’t go as hoped, the light at the end of the tunnel moved back just ever so much. When my ref, the scale at the gym, gave me a lousy call, I didn’t call it out. I doubled down. I worked harder, ran faster, ate better. It took longer than planned, but I got there.

I’m still there and staying there. I like it there. As I’ve pretty much gone all in with running and moved into half-marathons, I still can’t slack off on the food now that I’m at a healthy weight. It’s not like I won’t burn off the occasional junk food with my training schedule, but I won’t have the adequate fuel to get through it. At this part of the  schedule, it’s pretty typical for me to burn about 1200+ calories on a Sunday long run. My breakfast will be a bowl of steel cut oatmeal, almonds and some berries. I’ll have some electrolytes in my water and take some energy gels starting around the 8k mark.  If that bowl of oatmeal is going to get me to the 8k mark, I’m going to need to eat properly the night before, too. That’s not to say I’m not going to have fun on a Saturday night, but I’m not going to be an idiot, either. One of the reasons I took on pace leading in my Running Room clinics is the additional responsibility to show up because others are depending on me to help them reach their goals.

My body isn’t a temple. It’s supercar. I need the high test gas, not regular.

Allons-y!

The agony of victory and the thrill of defeat

When did cycling become the Thunderdome? I suppose given London’s notoriously wet weather some Olympic events that in previous games had been held outdoors were designed to be indoors this time around.

I was watching the women’s omnium finals when Canada’s Tara Whitten narrowly missed winning the bronze medal. The CTV announcer stated as the medals were awarded, “And Canada’s Tara Whitten failed to make the podium.” (Emphasis mine)

Failed? The fourth best woman in a sport I hadn’t heard of until Tuesday was just told by some faceless voice, that she had failed.

Really?

Between the sportscasters casually dropping the “fail” word and the usual collection of armchair coaches and haters on Twitter and Facebook, I was getting annoyed. I even posted on Twitter:

Let’s banish the word #fail when talking about Olympians. They failed to medal? Dude, you failed to get off the sofa.

It’s easy to criticize when you’ll never face the consequences of your words. You won’t do better because you’ll never be on that stage. You’ll never miss the podium because you never played the game.

Reminds me of this diddy by none other than the one true captain:

Paula Finley finished a triathlon injured. She came in last, but she finished. While some cartilage in her hip may have failed, her will, her instinct to finish the race did not. In recent months, I’ve become something of an expert on the subject of tough gingers. Paula, you’re up there with the toughest.

A high school classmate of mine, Jane Thorton (then Rumball), knows this subject far better than I ever will. She was on the women’s eights rowing team in the Beijing Olympics. I kind of boycotted those games because I thought the whole process of awarding those games was ginned by the IOC to pre-determine the outcome. Well, that and I’m a bit of an artifact from a previous generation that sometimes has to be reminded that the Cold War is over and, thankfully, we won (an effect of having spent a disproportionate amount of my adult life on the last enlaves of Marxism in the western world, university campuses).  I followed the rowing events because of Jane. It was the only event where I had a proverbial dog in the hunt. Due to the time zone differences, the events were almost always on while I was at work. Thankfully, my office had a television. I even went so far as to put the rounds and what channel they were on into my Outlook calendar so I wouldn’t miss them.

All my co-workers and pretty much every New Brunswicker working on Parliament Hill crowded into my office to watch Jane go for the gold in the final. When she came up just short of a medal, fourth place, I was pretty sad for her. Having worked so hard for so long, I could only imagine how she felt. She recently posted this article from another Olympian that pretty much summed it up for her.

As that afternoon went on, I thought to myself, “Someone you’ve known since a teenager is on the fourth best rowing team … in the world! Whow. That’s pretty awesome.” I was pretty proud of Jane that day. I still am.

We haven’t crossed paths in forever, so if you read this, Jane, I just wanted to tell you that your success was part of the inspiration I drew on when I decided to change my life last year.  Whenever I felt a case of the quits coming on, usually when the alarm was going off on a dark winter’s morning, I would think of the inievatable early morning rows that you probably did to get Beijing. If you could get to an Olympic final, I could at least my arse to the gym.

One of the armchair experts responding to my tweet mentioned that our athletes are paid to train. True for the ones in high profile sports that can get corporate sponsorships or some money from Own the Podium. Of course, the ones who aren’t so lucky, like discus or any of the events that involve guns, are part-time athletes. We don’t have the glorified  Spartan agoge that China seems to train all its athletes in. We let our athletes seek out the best available trainers. For many of my east coast friends, getting the quality trainers that can get an athlete to the games meant leaving the Atlantic provinces for Montreal, Toronto or even the United States. It’s not just jobs we leave home to find. Since there are so many more events in the summer games than the winter games, the vast majority of our athletes are part-timers. Since we concentrate our funds on the events that have the likeliest chance of medals, if they’re going to be able to train for an event we don’t traditionally do well in, they’re going to need to earn a living.

The pay to train model may in fact be exasperating things. Look back to Paula Findley. As Simon Whitfield pointed out, she was injured for the past year to the point she had not actually competed in the last year. Yet, her previous coaches trained her while injured. He didn’t come out and say it, but the implication is if she took time off to have the injury treated properly, they wouldn’t get paid to train her.

I write this as someone whose pastime is training for races I have no hope in hell of actually winning. I’m not a 110 lbs Kenyan in my early twenties. I’m a 160 lbs Acadian-British-Scottish Canadian in my mid-thirties.  I may have exceeded even my own expectations Ottawa Race Weekend and every other race I ran, but I didn’t win. By the Ricky Bobby-ian logic of the haters, I failed.

Strange, it never felt like failure. It didn’t feel like the silly “participant” ribbon they give out on sports day in elementary school (I always found that rather condescending). It actually felt pretty damn good. Unlike the winners, who I would see being escorted off the track in wheel chairs, I actually get to leave the race grounds under my own power (at least until the adrenaline wears off). I wouldn’t even call the thousands of runners who finished after me failures, either. They crossed the start line and the finished line. In doing so, they did something very few people ever attempt. The failures are the thousands more who could do it, but never try.

Forget winning. I’m failing.

I’ll probably never make the Olympics. I’m the age when Olympians retire. I doubt I’ll ever win a half marathon. That’s not going to keep from either the start line or the finish line. Want to call me a failure? You’ll have to get to that finish line before I do to earn that. Unlike the Olympians who want to save their sponsorships, I’ll tell you what I think about you, too. You may have noticed, I have a gift for words.

Allons-y!

The Olympics and competition

It’s been a busy week. On top of work and training, Kalin has been getting ready for a busy weekend. Her mom is visiting, along with her grandmother, a great-aunt, aunt, and a cousin.

That’s right. It’s time to meet the family. 

Pray for me.

The drought continues. We had a nice thundershower on Tuesday, but it was just that, a shower. The brief deluge subsided by the time we got through our 4K tempo run. Oddly, the humidity rolled in after the storm. It wasn’t so bad Wednesday for our 6 hill repeats. It was sunny and hot, but not terribly muggy. 

I could still feel the hills in my legs Thursday morning when I went to Greco. I may have to re-think my schedule as the hills ratchet up.

Or

I could not be an idiot and start the circuit at something other than a leg station. It was a reverse lunge off a bosu ball with a bicep curl. Probably not a smart exercise to start off with. 

That might work.

It’s that wonderful time that only comes once every four years, the Summer Olympics. Frankly, I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with the Olympics, be it the Summer or Winter. While not one for watching professional sports, I do enjoy watching amateur athletes compete. For many of them, the Olympics is the pinnacle of their sport.

Well, that’s pretty much the case for all the summer olympians except the basketball players. There’s not exactly a professional synchronized diving league. 

What I don’t like is the obscene amounts of money the IOC rakes in. Precious little goes to the athletes. I understand it’s up to the competing countries to fund their athletes, at the same time the members of the IOC live pretty high on the hog. It’s history of corruption is a matter of public record. I don’t expect athletes from rich countries, like Canada, to accept the handouts from the IOC. We have government funding. Corporations sponsor athletes. What about the poorer countries? Of the couple billion McDonald’s is shelling out to be the official food vendor of the games, how about kicking some into a grant program for athletes from developing countries. 

Or better yet, have the IOC members from those countries fly coach.

Like the rest of us.

By the way, what kind of mixed message is the Olympics sending by having McDonald’s as the official food vendor? While I’ve written somewhat favourably about MickeyD’s, or McRotten’s, healthy options before, having them as the only option at the Olympics is like having a single mother preach abstinence.

Oh, that’s Bristol Palin’s claim to fame? It’s not like Dancing with the Stars ever had actual stars. 

I love competition. Despite only be a recent convert to healthy living, in what sports I did play, I always gave it my all. This was mostly summers spent playing paintball. For some reason, paintball has yet to become an Olympic sport. There are plenty of shooting sports at the Olympic, but none where you get to shoot back. This is wrong.

I’ve missed out on my paintball the last couple of summers. Being carless in Ottawa doesn’t lend itself well to participating in a sport where the fields are out in the suburbs.

Sting. My A5 with a flatline barrel, fresh from the box. Before I added the response trigger, the double trigger, comp air kit …

Even if my gear was in Ottawa, I use a Tippmann A5 marker. It looks like a submachine gun. I may have made a few modifications to that effect. Point being, it’s not something I can take on the bus. I may be tempted to use it on some arsehole. I’d play at the Sunday walk-ons at Capital City Paintball. It would make Mondays at the office interesting. The running joke in the summer at the university where I worked was how many new bruises I had.

The great thing about walk-ons was that you would never know who would show up. Sometimes it would be a bunch of experienced players. Sometimes it would be a bunch of little kids. The little ones were the worst. They’d just hide behind a tree and spend twenty minutes trying not get shot or even take a shot. So much for Operation: Newbie Shield. 

One of my crazier moments was when the field’s manager, Bryan, and I were playing speedball on opposing teams and had separately decided to throw the other team for a loop by charging the centre. Back then, we were both big and slow. I’m happy to report that is no longer true for either of us. Back then, we relied on the range of our markers and the speed of our trigger fingers to pick players off the break and suppress the advance of the opposing team. No one would have expected either of us to charge the middle. I remember saying to my team, “I bet they’re so stunned they don’t even shoot.”

I guess Bryan had the same idea. As I charged forward, so did he. Spheres of paint zinged passed us. As we slid into opposite sides of the centre bunker, we raised our markers and fired upon each other … point blank.

Both our shots connected and broke. Bryan landed in a better position and had the drop on me. I, on the other hand, had somehow managed to grab the flag. Actually, we probably knocked it out of its hole and it happened to land on my side. The point is, it was on my side. Bryan would have to leave cover to come across to get it. So when Bryan said I got shot first and was therefore out, I replied, “Okay, see you in the deadbox.”

I ball hit the hopper of his marker before I finished the sentence.

In many sports, sometimes you sacrifice your individual position to give your team the advantage.

You can guess what I can think of the news of teams throwing matches outright so they can get an easier ride in their tournaments or avoid a trip to Scotland. This is the height of your career. You only have this chance once every four years. Bring your all or move aside for someone who will. If formerly fat me can charge through field of paint zipping past me at 300 fps, you can swing a raquet at a plastic shuttle.

In running, I only have one competitor. It’s my last finish. When I’m in queue to start with 7,000+ people, I know I’m not crossing that line first. Unless it’s a really small race, I’m probably not winning in my age category either. My only competition is myself.

He’s a bit of dick, too.

Allons-y!