Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Progress: two steps forward, one step sideways

It's the end of the month, so I thought I should publish a progress report, some way to keep track of where I've been and where I'm going. A really cool organized person would put a chart up here to visually indicate progress. But we're dealing with me.

Status: Good and bad, mixed report.

In the last five weeks (since I started keeping track again):
Weight lost: 11.5 pounds (gotta include that 1/2 a pound!)
Weight to lose: 79.5 pounds (yes, I'd settle for losing 69, or even 60)

Note: Taking myself off the thyroid medication has caused me to lose ten pounds in the last month. Which sounds great, but leaves me where I was before I started taking the damn stuff. So really this is the start of my weight loss program. Still, feels good to say I've lost ten pounds in a month.
    Changes made:
  • To help the knee, I switched to commuting on my road bike, a light-as-a-feather Bianchi Eros, so I skim up the hills now. Alas, the ... um... well, the downside is that my nether regions were used to the other bike's seat and... well... parts of me are bearing weight that were never intended to do so. Gotta get that commuter bike fixed soon.
  • Been good about cycling, bringing food from home and mostly eating it, even started doing the occasional Pilates and low-intensity aerobics videos. (Nothing that would jar the knee.) Pat on the back there.
  • The knee seems to be happier with the change in bike and also since I've started wearing flats at work. (Getting up while wearing high heels apparently was not the knee's idea of a good plan. Who knee knew?)
    Changes still need to make:
  • Need to make walking at lunchtime a habit. For that matter, simply taking a lunchtime break (rather than eating at my desk) would be a healthy move.
  • Want to throw in 20 minutes or so of aerobic exercise first thing in the morning. Since I'm going without thyroid medication, and I don't want to go back to drinking coffee for energy, exercise is the best way to keep my metabolism working. If I work out twice in the morning, once at noon, and once in the evening, I should have enough energy to make it through the day. (She said hopefully.)
  • Need to start weightlifting a couple of times a week. I might hold off on that for another month while I concentrate on the morning aerobic videos and lunch walking. If I try too much at once, I get overwhelmed, drop everything, and go in a corner to whimper.
Overall, progress has been made, and The Mary is happy.
How 'bout you?

Sunday, August 26, 2007

First roadblock

I ran across a terrific article on weight loss... and as soon as I remember where I found it, I'll reference it... wherein the author contended that the people who lost weight and kept it off were the ones who didn't see roadblocks as anything more than temporary.

I've just encountered my first roadblock. My knee has taken to hurting whenever I get up from a chair or push down on a bicycle pedal from a complete stop. I've been driving the evilSUV for the last few days, and I'm being extra careful with those treacherous chairs. The danger is that I'll lose my impetus, the forward drive that has kept me going so far. I don't want to slide into the couch potato patch again.

The things I'm doing to make sure I keep up my exercise program:
  • I've put my second bike up on a magnetic trainer, so I can pedal gently without having to put too much pressure on the knee.

  • I've finally unwrapped the Pilates DVD and tried it out. Yes, I can definitely feel it. (I know that's not aerobic exercise, but I want to feel as if I've been working out, so I'll still feel that I'm making progress.)

  • I've stopped riding my commuter bike, and I'm going to give it a tuneup. It feels harder to pedal in gears that have been comfortable before, so I'm wondering if I need to grease something or clean something or... well... do something to some widget. (Mental note: find wherever I put that bicycle repair book.)

I'll see if this helps.

It doesn't help that I'm up to my elbows in work at the moment. Makes it harder to prepare veggies and ensure I've got a healthily stocked refrigerator. (I'm apt to grab something fast foodish if I'm starving and there isn't "good" food ready at hand.)

Oh, @#$! it. I can stay up late tonight to finish the manual. I'm going to put myself first for a change. I'm going to go cook healthy vegetables. Now.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Aliens take over blog; film at 11

I can only conclude that aliens beamed down from the mothership to write that last post. Because when I got up this morning, I had an argument with myself about riding in to work. I almost lost.


One day driving the evilSUV and I'm out of the bicycling habit.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

It had to happen sometime...

I suppose it had to happen someday.
Wanted to note down that today was actually the day it happened.

It's a beautiful day, by the way, cool, clear, with that hushed early morning feeling when everything is still and beautifully calm. The kind of day you'd get during summer vacation when you'd want to head to the beach, or to explore the forest, or just get out and Do something.

I am feeling cheated because I can't ride my bicycle to work today. I have to drive the evilSUV.

Yes, it's true. I actually WANT to exercise.

Next January I want to come back and re-read this post. No doubt to shake my head in wonder.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Math is a four-letter word, actually

Don't believe those trouser labels that say 'one size fits all.' After the third or fourth person, you can't fit any more people in.

I've been spending time surfing the net diligently researching fitness and weight-loss blogs. Mostly interesting, and a good source of motivation. Apparently Blogland is filled with hard-working people trying to change their lives. It's not all about pr0n.

Once you read past the blog post itself and get into Commentland, however, the tone often changes. Someone will write about their difficulties losing weight, another commenter will weigh in (no pun intended) with advice or sympathy, a third will offer a different method to try.

And there will always be someone who logs in to tell the rest of the commenters that they are making the subject of weight loss far too difficult. What's wrong with them? It's simple. Math. Calories in < Calories out = Weight Loss. No big mystery. Just go do it.

Yeah, well some of us were English majors, buddy. Math is a mystery. For that matter, I find human physiology a mystery, even though I did take several classes in college on the subject. (Or maybe because...) Expecting a series of complex biochemical reactions to result in a simple straightforward weight-loss line on the chart is simplistic to the point of... takes a couple of deep, calming breaths. Just don't tell me it's simple.

Case in point. Last summer, I was in fairly good shape. Spent three or four months cycling 50 miles a week (commuting 10 miles a day to work). Extended my regime to include longer weekend rides and followed a fairly healthy diet plan. Had some pretty strong leg muscles, not to brag. (Well, not to brag too much.)

In addition, I:
  • Weighed my food, measuring the portions, figuring out how many calories, writing it all down on a computer program to know exactly what my caloric intake was.

  • Invested in an odometer for my bicycle, which told me the distance and rate of my workouts. Calculated the amount of calories burned for someone my age/weight.

One weekend, I did two bike rides, 30 and 20 miles respectively.
I calculated all the food I ingested that weekend. (Keeping within my calorie requirement, not undereating or overeating.)
According to MATH, I had a calorie deficit each day of 500 calories. A total of 1,000 little calories were burned off that weekend. Granted it takes 3500 calories to equal a pound of fat, but I was feeling pretty darn good about myself Sunday night when I went to bed. Got on the scale Monday morning with a smile on my lips.

Only to find that I had gained two pounds.

Since it is unlikely that the food I was eating suddenly acquired more calories just because I was the person doing the eating, I strongly suspect that the amount of calories burned is the point where the equation falls down. Yes, I do have a whacked-out thyroid thanks for asking. Quite probably I do burn fewer calories than the "average person of my age/weight" will burn. That doesn't mean I can't lose weight, but it does mean I'll have to research how much more I'll need to do to lose weight. (Life is unfair. Wah. Okay, let's go on.)

My point is that it is not always simple. One math formula does not fit all, because people burn calories at different rates. And if you have thyroid issues, insulin resistance, or a highly stressful life, you might have to try different approaches to weight loss before finding one that works.

If what you're doing isn't working, try something different. Example: currently I bicycle 40 miles a week commuting to work. My muscles don't ever feel tired from this exercise. A couple weeks ago, I decided to take a walk at lunch. Walked a couple of miles, not pushing myself by any means, just enjoying a beautiful afternoon. Damn, but when I got back to work I could actually feel it in my legs. They weren't sore, but they definitely felt the change. I started walked every afternoon, just for a couple of miles. And I lost two pounds that week! Doing something different, surprising my body with new exercise, is a trick that worked for me.

I have known a lot of people who tried a little exercise, or a little dieting, only to give up saying it didn't work. I don't believe that. I don't believe there are people who cannot ever lose weight. I do believe there are people who don't think they can find the time to exercise enough or follow a diet that's mostly vegetable-based. But if you give up, nothing will change. If you keep trying, you can find a method that gives good results. You can still do one thing today that will improve your situation. Pretend the elevator is broken, and climb the stairs at work. Eat a cup of carrots before you let yourself have that slice of pizza. Make it a game.

Might as well have fun, if you can manage it, while you're at it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A bridge too far...

I swore I wouldn't do it again this year.
I swore if Hell froze over and I did do it again, I would train first.
By the time I was 3/4 of the way through, I was just plain swearing.

The Portland Providence Bridge Pedal is a chance to ride across all 10 of Portland's bridges. Traffic-wise it's a nightmare for motorists: the city shuts down part of I-5, restricts traffic or completely closes all of the city's bridges, and everywhere you look there are people on bicycles who normally don't ride. (Picture a freeway filled with cars, all of them being driven by people who not only don't know how to drive but have never seen anyone else drive.) This year 20,000 people went for the bridge rides. At its most crowded, it's not so much a bicycle ride as it is a movable party on wheels.

The ride is divided into three groups: a 6-bridge ride (14 miles), an 8-bridge ride (24) and the full 10-bridge ride (36 bloody miles). I had done the 24-mile ride last year, and it wasn't much fun because it was packed, we're talking packed like sardines, with people who didn't know how to ride a bicycle. Don't get me started on this topic, but the words "clueless" and "dangerous" sum up my feelings toward this group. So this year I determined that if I did the ride at all I would get up early and do the full 10-bridge ride.

I started out with good intentions and caffeine. Up at 5:30... in the morning... yes, that's what I thought too. But as a reward, I was treated to a Portland sunrise. This picture shows the sun rising over the Willamette, silhouetting the Hawthorne bridge.

The start time for the 10-bridge ride was at 7 a.m., but people were already lining up at 6:30. This was a wise move. By 7:15, the line stretched back hundreds of feet. (They stagger the riders at the beginning of the ride to keep people spaced out.)

I spent about 15 minutes edging my way up to the start, which was the beginning of the onramp to the Morrison bridge. A bit of a steepish climb to do while virtually at a standstill -- even staggered, there were a lot of people climbing with me. But the early group were experienced cyclists. For example, if they wanted to move over, they'd check to see if someone was already in that space. (Inexperienced cyclists tend to move over and then look surprised when they get into an accident. It's okay, I'm not obsessing on this topic. Well, not too much. Really. I'm much better now.)

The first part of the ride I went much faster than usual. I'd forgotten the energy you get from being in a group, especially such a large group as this one. The excitement and general feeling of enjoyment was contagious, and I went at a much faster cadence than my plodding going-to-work speed. Fun!

The 2nd bridge was waaay to the south of all the others. Only the 10-bridge cyclists include it on their route, it's so far out of the way. The Sellwood bridge is about 80 years old; there is talk of it being torn down. I'm glad I got a chance to ride it on this occasion, 'cause there's no way in Hell I'm going to ride down that road when it's open. (I told a friend "This is not a good bridge for cyclists." Her reply was, "Hell, it's not a good bridge for cars!") I think cars were narrower 80 years ago.

I had my picture taken on the bridge as proof that I made it this far.

The trouble with trying to photograph bicycle rides is that when I'm actually riding, I don't want to stop unless I'm about to perish from thirst or exploding-bladder-syndrome, so I don't take too many pictures. When I'm riding, I want to go! So I'm making up for the later dearth of pictures by throwing two in at one stop. This is a view of the Portland skyline from the Sellwood bridge.

Sadly, by the time we turned back northward, I was starting to feel the ride. We'd probably only done seven or eight miles, for pity's sake. I began to slow down and think about pacing myself, which I should have been doing all along. I think this was also the point when I began to regret my inability to eat breakfast at 6 in the morning. You need fuel if you're going to ride a bicycle.
A brain wouldn't hurt either. I knew better, and still I didn't force myself to eat.

About 12 miles into the ride, we were back in the central bridge-crowded section of Portland, crossing the Hawthorne bridge (from the sunrise shot). The roadway was covered with plywood planks. Presumably this was meant to make it easier for people to cross, rather than the iron gridwork that's on the road itself. But in practice when one cyclist was getting off a section of plywood, the other end would tilt up, making it a challenge for the next person to get onto the plywood. It worked out okay when people were spaced out, but I'm told that people later on had to end up walking across this bridge instead of pedaling.

So far things had gone pretty smoothly. But not any longer. For what faced us next was the Ross Island bridge.

I'm going to take a moment to say a good word about the sponsors. This ride must have been a logistical nightmare to plan, and by and large it went very well. The routes were well-marked, the volunteers were plentiful and helpful, the rest stops had lots of food, water, and port-a-potties.

But in this case, they screwed up royally.

The road leading to the Ross Island bridge was the section where people from all three rides (6,8, and 10-bridge routes) all converged. And the bridge was restricted to one cycling lane. 20,000 people, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, all trying to get across a bridge lane that was two-cyclists wide.

I think I waited in line about ten, fifteen minutes. I was lucky. A friend who was farther back in the ride waited half an hour. I'm told the people who started the ride later on had to wait an hour or so before they could cross. A nice thing about Portland -- even though people were clearly not happy with waiting, they made the best of it. I understand the hour-long crowd turned it into a standing party. They did the Wave and things like that.

Not that everybody was a happy camper.

Once I finally got on the Ross Island bridge, things quickly went back to the normal pace. I'd managed to scarf down a meal bar while in the line for the bridge, so I figured between the food and the rest I would quickly be feeling like Speed Racer again. Or so I hoped.

We started circling back up hills to get to the onramp to the Marquam bridge. This bridge is where the I-5 freeway crosses the river. This is the part that I thought was the coolest thing about the whole ride. I just get a kick out of this visual of cyclists taking over the I-5 freeway.

This shot was a bit blurry because I was coasting down the onramp myself at the time. (Yes, it was a ride-by shooting.) In case you've never tried it, I can thoroughly recommend riding a bicycle down a car-free freeway. Very smooth, no potholes or cracks, no worries about broken glass or intersections. At this point, life was blissful, even if my muscles were reminding me of their existence in a mild, polite manner.

Next we crossed over the Burnside and Steel bridges. One thing about doing these bridges by bicycle, I felt that I was starting to tell them apart finally. You really notice things when you're cycling, things that you're oblivious to when you're in a car, closed off from the world around you.

By this point I was also starting to worry a bit about time. To do all 10 bridges, you have to maintain a certain speed. Closing down these bridges is a hassle, traffic-wise, so the authorities are understandably anxious to minimize the time they're closed, or even partially closed, to traffic. (Luckily this ride occurs on a Sunday morning, when traffic downtown is relatively light.) I'd had to slow down my pace so I could keep to a steady speed without getting too tired. And thanks to the Ross Island snarl, I was now behind schedule. The farthest bridge, the St. John's bridge, was due to close at 11, and it was already after 10. I would have to hurry.

The Fremont bridge was the one most people were anxious to cross. Apparently it's closed to cyclists the rest of the year. When I got there it was practically closed to cyclists now as well. Almost the whole bridge was covered with people standing around: talking, taking pictures, phoning friends. ("Hey Joe, guess what? I'm standing on the Fremont bridge!") It took a great deal of care to slowly wend my way through the packs of people without actually dismounting. I was going about 2 miles an hour, but I was on the bicycle. The rest stops had bands playing cheerful music; this bridge had men playing the bagpipes. I wish now that I had stopped for a picture. Just beyond the bagpipe players was a sign about Suicide Counseling. Coincidence? You decide.

With the keening of bagpipes fading away in the distance, I sped north to make it to the St. John's bridge before it closed. This was by far the worst part of the ride. This stretch of the route wasn't the nicest. For the most part the surroundings were warehouses and heavy industries. There was a headwind slowing down the pace. It was getting cold (unusual since I'd been riding for a couple of hours now) and it was starting to sprinkle rain. And I was running out of energy.

There's a phenomenon in cycling knowing as the Bonk. The name sounds funny, but the experience is not. Physiologically your body has run out of glucose and is burning fat. The trouble is that your brain needs glucose to function; it doesn't burn fat. So while this might sound like a great way to lose weight, you feel like crap. Believe me, it's not worth it. Eat first, then cycle.

I wasn't quite at the Bonk stage yet, but I was getting there. I could feel my pace getting slower... and slower... people were passing me all the time now. I kept waiting to see a little old lady on her walker hobble past me, so slow I was going. Time was ticking away, the bridge wasn't getting any nearer, and my muscles were seriously complaining now. The hell with being polite, they were screaming. And I knew that the worst part was yet to come. The road up to the St. John's bridge is the steepest section of the whole ride. I found it a bit challenging last year, when I was in shape. This year, with no energy reserves and no training, the thought was daunting.

I probably should have packed it in at this point. It was almost 30 miles into the ride; if I'd turned back I still could have claimed that I'd done a 36 mile ride. But I wouldn't have crossed all ten bridges in a day. I don't know why I kept going, but I did; slow as molasses, I pedaled my way steadily to the damn hill and then I kept -- on -- going -- until -- I -- made -- it.

It's a funny thing, climbing hills. I remember hills back in California that I could only manage to climb if I didn't look at the hill while I was climbing. I'd fix my eyes on the pavement, or a few feet in front of me, but I would not look at the steep hill. If I did, my brain would tell my legs that the thing was clearly impossible, and so I would fail. I used that technique here as well. It works.

When I got to the top I was too tired to stop. That sounds like a paradox, but the best thing to do is to keep going if you can. Momentum and habit are the best ways to get where you need to go. And it was a marvelous feeling to know that the worst was over. I'd made it to the bridge despite everything. It was downhill from now on. My legs still felt like hell, but it was easier to keep pedaling.

The road led me back south, along steep bluffs overlooking the river and through neighborhoods with interesting houses. I tried to keep interested in the view and the architecture because I was really starting to fade at this point. Even chocolate wasn't helping.

It seemed like eternity (but if so eternity is only about five or six miles long), before I was going downhill again, blessed relief to be going downhill, and then across the last bridge, the Broadway bridge. Then winding my way through a couple more streets toward the finish.

I made it.

I got off the bike and sat down on the curb to watch the world pedal past. Technically I was waiting for my friend, who was 30 minutes or so behind me in the pack, but there was a lot of World pedaling past my view. And it was pure bliss to be off the bicycle, to know that I'd made it. I didn't have to do anything any more.

Watching the riders file past the finish line gave me a chance to see the ride from its Moveable Party aspect. There were a lot of riders with decorated helmets and also a lot of creative-looking bicycles.

This picture is a little confusing at first. This is a tricycle with three add-on cycles added on one after another (redundancy, I know) so that all four of those children are on what amounts to an extended tandem bicycle. What makes it confusing is that the black bicycle in the foreground is actually another add-on cycle, making this a five-seater bicycle. According to their vests, these children were on the 24-mile bike route. I think it must take a family that reeeeally gets along to pull that off.

People who finished the ride chained their bikes up to any available surface, or sometimes just clumped their bikes all together and chained the clump, and went off to the party. At the end of the ride, at Waterfront park, the annual Bite of Oregon was being held. Restaurants from all over Oregon set up booths and offer food. If you've been on the Bridge Pedal you get into the Bite for free, so basically it serves as an end-of-ride party, with food and music and contentedly tired cyclists.

I went home happy.

Exercise note: I think it must have been the lack of food that made me feel so awful towards the end of the ride. After chowing down at the Bite, I had to get back on my bicycle to make it back to the car. At one point I rounded a corner and saw a steep hill. My only reaction was "Oh, this looks interesting," and then I charged up the hill like it was a fun challenge. Damn but I could have used some of that energy on the St. John's hill. Oh well. Next time I'll do it better.

Um... not that I'm going to do this again next year, I swear.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Why am I here? For that matter, why are you?

The trouble is that I always want there to be a Reason for everything.

There has to be a point for a blog. I've read that most blogs have only one author and only one reader -- and they are one and the same person. Basically they're online diaries. Why are these people posting their private lives online, making them public?

  • Many blogs out there are exercise/diet diaries; the poster putting the minutiae of their daily life out for public view for anyone or no one to see, presumably as a way of keeping themselves on track for their goal.
  • Writers post blogs that serve this function too, as well as keeping their readers involved in their progress.
  • Some blogs are public rants; the poster holds forth on their opinions about all and sundry.
  • Some blogs are private parties; the poster or posters hang out online with their physical and virtual friends. (I've enjoyed a couple of these blogs myself; you meet some good peoples online.)
  • Some blogs are the online year 'round equivalent of a Christmas letter: the poster uses the public forum to keep their friends and family au courant.

Some of these blogs are well written, some are not. A lot have spelling errors and typos, so many that the impression is given that the poster doesn't care what they look like to the world. (It's the editor in me, but I can't fathom that. Would these people go out in public with their hair unbrushed or their clothes wrinkled and askew?) But all of these blogs seem to be posted by people who really believe in what they're doing. There's the rub.

Maybe the problem is that I can't quite believe in myself enough to think that my musings will hold much fascination for anyone else. Even the dog curls up for a nap when I start telling her my troubles. My family nods politely, eyes glazed over, when I tell them about my exercise schedule or dieting struggles. Why would posting a blog be any different?

Perhaps the only way to find out is to blog about something. Here. I'll tell you what, Dear Reader. (I'm presuming you exist.) I'll try a slice of life (low cal, just a dash of chocolate on top):

I'm sitting here typing and out my window I can see planes flying back and forth, jets passing low overhead, helicopters buzzing the trees. (Okay, one helicopter.) You'd think I was in the middle of a Baghdad neighborhood, but in reality it's just the local air show. The small airport is actually about four or five miles away, but there's always some overflow. Usually I enjoy looking at the planes going by. When I go shopping, I can see the acrobatic biplanes doing loops and crazy stunts, safely thank Heaven. I'm hoping to catch sight of the Blue Angels. But this year I'm also a bit nervous. My newly developed fear of flying has extended to when I'm on the ground and they're in the air. Last year a friend of mine went on a garden tour with another friend. When they got back to the other woman's house, they found it on fire. A plane had crashed into it, killing the pilot and setting two neighboring houses on fire. My friends had been running late that day; they'd originally planned to have returned about fifteen minutes sooner, in which case she wouldn't have been around to tell me about it. The moral of the story, to me, is that's it's not always a good thing to be on time.

There. I've now created a slice-of-life blog post. Maybe next time I'll try posting my diet and exercise schedule.

p.s. I've just discovered a blog that has tips on how to blog, if you're interested.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Is this thing working again?

I don't believe it. Months of firewall frustration seem to be over.

I couldn't log in to my own blog because the firewall tossed me into a whirlpool of revolving webpages. First I logged in, then I was automatically re-directed to another page. But the firewall wouldn't let that page load fully: it would start to load, then I'd be re-directed back to the original login page, which immediately re-directed me back to the page that wouldn't load completely before I was tossed back to the original... the only way to stop this cycle was to shut down Firefox completely.

And now I'm back. Maybe. If this thing really is working. Might be a fluke.

Ah, technology.