Friday, January 11, 2013

Got it

For the second time in as many days, I dropped off Miles at daycare while I was wearing workout gear. I'd like to think I'm preparing him for the embarrassment that will be his elementary school career but really I'm just trying to fit stuff in and sleep more.

As if that's possible.

Anyway, this morning Miles jumped out of my arms to antagonize his friend in the bathroom, leaving me to chat with one of the helpers. A mentioned that I looked comfy and I told her that I was headed to a class at the YMCA before work. (Yes, that class.)

"What kind of class is it?" A asked.

A little of this, a little of that, I told her. And a whole lot of making me feel like I'm out of shape. Seriously. On Wednesday, my arms felt like Jell-O as we did lateral and side raises with dumbbells - and that's with me modifying it and selecting lighter weights than the start of class. When it came time to do a push up-mountain climber combo, I was toast. Lying on the floor in a puddle of sweat toast. I walked out sweaty, defeated and wondering why I was taking on this class.

"It's just a challenge," said A, who is a smidge older and a lot wiser and always knows how to get in my head. "Just like the other stuff - the running, the BODYPUMP - was a challenge. You got it."

I gave her a smile and a sincere thank you, amazed that A knew exactly the right thing to say. A giant frustration with the class is that I can go out and run 8 miles on dead legs and feel OK but I'm ready to give in after five burpees. I forget that there was a time when running five feet was a challenge and lifting 2.5 kilos on each side for biceps was tough. With time and fortitude, gains were made. Just as gains (hopefully) will be made in RAW.

Before I left, I tried one last time to procure a hug from Miles. Yet another challenge to face. Thankfully, one of the other kiddos, a 2-year-old girl, is always happy to oblige my need for affection.

And then I left. Left for the YMCA, where I faced yet another butt kicking. Four circuits, with each circuit repeated three times. There were 72 tuck jumps, 30 squat jumps and 5 millions lunges in the workout. My legs screamed out in pain and my shoulders nearly gave out.

Despite A's assurance, I didn't feel like my body "got" it but, today, my brain did. Mind over muscle, baby.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Harnessing power of 'Instinct': A book review

If there was one thing people were hoping to find this time of year, it would be willpower. Whether they made a New Year's resolution to lose weight, save money or quit saying the "f" word, it is willpower that will help them reach their goals.

It's just a matter of finding it. Or, according to author and psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, it's a matter of developing it. 

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"The Willpower Instinct: How Self Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It" is based on a Stanford University course taught by McGonigal.

From the publisher:
Informed by the latest research and combining cutting-edge insights from psychology, economics, neuroscience, and medicine, The Willpower Instinct explains exactly what willpower is, how it works, and why it matters. For example, readers will learn: Willpower is a mind-body response, not a virtue. It is a biological function that can be improved through mindfulness, exercise, nutrition, and sleep. 
I've always thought of willpower as something you have or don't have. Like having blue eyes or the ability to run a 5-minute mile. However, McGonigal argues that not only does everyone have the capacity to use willpower as it was something that evolved in humans for survival but something that can be developed like a muscle.

I have never (successfully) read a book in the self help category, often turned off by the matter-of-fact way in which they tell you to do things. Yes, I will stop eating after 7 p.m. because you told me to and because you said it's bad. Rather than telling you to stop doing something because it's bad McGonigal explains why you want to do something bad - talking about what part of the brain allows us to use and develop willpower - and also the parts, the impulsive parts, that try to thwart us. It is my opinion that this knowledge and understanding that helps us change behavior.

In our willpower endeavors, McGonigal divides them into three categories: I want, I will, I won't. For the purposes of the book, I chose to say that I will budget my discretionary budget because I want to spend less and save money. I won't spend money on small, unnecessary things such as coffee from the shop near work. Even if the flavored brew of the day is Butterscotch Toffee. Throughout the book, McGonigal offers challenges to help develop willpower and achieve goals. Some of them are easy -merely thinking about your decision and meditation - to awesome, like getting more sleep.

And that's the beauty of the book: You get to choose your own goal and you find out how to achieve it and why those methods work. It can be a bit cumbersome to get through the scientific research if you are unaccustomed to reading non-fiction but chapter summaries and real-life examples help further make sense of our willpower. Or lack there of.

P.S. I haven't purchased a coffee all week though I did redeem a coupon for a free small coffee at McDonald's.

You can find out more about Kelly McGonigal's "The Willpower Instinct" and join the discussion on the Blogher Book Club Page. If you are interested in following Kellie on social media you can find her on Twitter and Facebook.

This is a paid review for BlogHer Book Club but the opinions expressed are my own.


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Heat wave

There are few things more comforting on a cold winter's day than a big bowl of soup. Somehow, through dark magic I assume, the mixture of vegetables and broth is able to warm you up from the inside out.

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And it is for that exact reason that I made a big batch of taco soup on the week in January when Northeast Indiana is going to see temperatures in the 50s.



I'm such a winner.

Really, I am. Regardless of whether its warm outside, my taco soup is a delicious, hearty meal. The protein from the ground turkey and beans and the fiber from the beans, corn and tomatoes are sure to satisfy. It has a bit of heat from taco seasoning and green chiles but is mild enough to serve the kiddies.

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Oh, and it makes a ton. I'll have this soup for lunch four out of five days this week and still have enough leftovers to give some to my mother-in-law and freeze a few bowls. And let me tell you, having  soup in the freezer makes it much harder to justify eating greasy fast food on break because you don't have time to put something together.

If you are worried about finding this time to put this slow cooker meal together, let me assure you that this recipe is my favorite type of slow cooker meal: open and dump.

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Skinny Taco Soup


1 pound lean ground turkey, browned and drained (optional or substitute protein of choice)
2 cans pinto beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans kidney beans, rinsed and drained
2 cans corn
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes
1 (7-ounce) can diced chiles
2 cups chicken or vegetable broth
2 tablespoons taco seasoning or 1 packet of low sodium mix
1 packet ranch mix
Salt and pepper, to taste

Add everything to the slow cooker - tomatoes and corn are undrained - and cook on low for 8-10 hours The longer the better here. Serve with corn chips, chopped cilantro, shredded cheese and plan Greek yogurt. Freezes very well.

Note: If you actually thought of those things before going to the store.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Spring Training: Week 1

I had so much documenting my training for the Columbus Marathon in weekly recap posts that I thought I'd do the same for my spring half marathons. The Spring Training posts will discuss my training for the Run the Bluegrass Half Marathon on March 30 and my "A" race, the Wisconsin Marathon half, on May 4.

This week, in training:

Monday - 5 miles, hill repeats (6x: 2 minutes at 4%, 2 minutes at 6%, 2 minutes @ 4% with 4 minutes recovery)
Tuesday: Rest
Wednesday: 4 miles, intervals (6 x 400 repeats) + RAW class
Thursday: 4 miles
Friday: RAW
Saturday: Bodypump
Sunday: 7.68-mile run (outside!!!!!)

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People say that it's the taper period of any big training cycle that will make you crazy. Doubt yourself. Wonder whether you are even a runner. And while I went through my own manic period before Columbus, nothing has compared to this week.

This week being my first spent almost entirely on the treadmill, in the basement, at 5 a.m.

The weather here has been less than desirable, and a winter storm last weekend covered our street in a sheet of ice that refused to melt or become safely passable by car much less feet. While a previous version of myself might have toughed it out, the idea of traversing the precarious conditions at 5 a.m. in temperatures in the teens didn't sit well with me ... more Mark. So I resigned myself that it would be far safer to stick to the treadmill.

I will whine far and wide about my disdain for the treadmill, with my No. 1 complaint being that my pace suffers incredibly when inside. A 9:30 pace feels easy on the roads but I have to keep the treadmill at 5.5 to feel comfortable and 6.0 (10-minute pace) feels like a tempo effort.

Regardless, I toughed it out in the name of miles. I ran hills as the Lexington course is of the rolling variety, not minding much as it's hard to find good inclines suitable for repeats near my house. I did 400 repeats, feeling good that I was able to "crank it up" to 7.0 at the end.

But come Thursday, when I hit the treadmill after dinner for an easy-ish run, I freaked. It just felt hard, and I hated that my 2013 training log didn't seem to be reflecting my fitness level. I messaged a running mentor, crazed that my now slower pace would somehow become the norm and once I got back outdoors, I'd slip to 10:XX instead of speeding up to 8:XX. Oh so wisely, she explained the mechanics of running on the treadmill versus running outside and advised that as long as you don't rely only on the treadmill, you are fine.

Her assurance did little to assuage my fears, and I was a bit nervous going into my first long run of the cycle. The weather had warmed enough on Saturday that much of the ice had melted and what was left was more slushy, making it safe to head outdoors. Still, what if I couldn't do it?

I took it slow as I headed toward the park as I was sure it was plowed. I focused on form, breathing (tried nose breathing as Scott Jurek suggests in "Eat to Live") and footing. I told myself to not look at the MOTOACTV as pace didn't matter. It's all about time on the feet, covering the distance and feeling good.

And feel good, I did. I was surprised that once I got acclimated to the cool air, just how fantastic it felt. It was nice to look at ice-covered branches instead of peeling paint and see the sun rather than a dim light bulb illuminating my path. There was a god number of runners out, all courteous and smiling as they passed.

I had seven miles on the plan but had that rare, "wish you could bottle it" feeling that I could just keep going and going and going. I ran a bit farther but kept my bonus mileage to three-quarters. Denali was getting lethargic, and I didn't want to worry Mark with a delayed return. Nor did I want to risk injury by increasing my mileage too quickly, too soon.

I came inside, stretched and synced the MOTOACTV. Lo and behold, the average pace was 9:27 with the fourth mile at 8:59. So much for being "slow."

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The healthy alternative

Tis the time of year when pledges to eat smarter and move more are renewed, and women find themselves eyeing that non-fat, no-sugar, whole wheat, vegan, raw recipe to make for dinner. With great gusto, they prepare low-calorie meals aimed at helping them reach their goals.

But there are grumbles.

Grumbles from the kids. Grumbles from the husbands. Soon, the fight to eat healthy gets lost in the fight to get people to just eat. And shut up.

It is in that spirit that I asked Mark to write a guest post about what it's been like for him to eat with me as I went from obese to healthy and the many culinary side roads we've taken along the journey.

Take it away Mark ...

When of my fondest (read: scariest) memories of my dearly departed grandfather was when my sister and I would sit around the table with our whole family. We never did the whole “say grace” thing, but before we dug in, my grandfather would grit his (false) teeth and mutter, “Eat what you take, take what you eat.”

I get that now. It took me until my early (OK, mid now) 30s to grasp this and embrace his hardened-by-the-Great Depression outlook on eating. He was only trying to help us. Well, lo and behold, I marry a woman that embraces not that exact ethos, but Kim doesn't waste food. She doesn't mess around with alternate meals, and we don't let Miles eat “snacks” (read: chock full o' processed sugar cereal bars) before or during dinner. Kim makes a meal and if we don't like it, we're sort of on our own.

 And so I provide you with this meandering anecdote for a very good reason. Kim approached me about doing a guest spot on her blog about what it's like to be a skinny, not-so-eager-to diet kind of guy who is often offered healthier alternatives to his generally craptacular diet. I'm 1XX pounds soaking wet, so I don't exactly have to eat anything she makes for Miles and me. But gosh darn it, I'm here to report that what she makes .. .I can live with. Well, most of the time.

Case in point: Kimberly recently prepared my favorite dish, spaghetti and meatballs, with (gasp!) whole wheat pasta and turkey meatballs. I noticed both right away and immediately I weighed internal dialogue that I often have with myself. (I'm not crazy, seriously).

The following is an excerpt from any terribly cliched episode of “The Biggest Loser”:
Trainer Bob: “Look what's on the counter! Oh, wow! It's potato chips. Oh, wait. No, it's not. It's Ore Ida's imitation kettle chips. With half the saturated fat and a third of the calories, they'll help you snack your way right to the top of our scales with a big smile on your face!!!” (Insert cheesy, So-Cal whitened teeth flashing at the camera) 
OK, so even if I'm not Trainer Bob, there are some foods that even a ridiculously semi-fit, metabolically ludicrous guy can live with. Kim is generally never quite so blatant with her substitutions as she was when she rolled the dice with her spaghetti and meatballs concoction. She is quite the subtle one when it comes to substitutions.

Turkey sausage is one of Kim's favorites. With a slightly sweet flavor and texture that resembles pork sausage, the turkey variety is used with much gusto around here. Such favorites include turkey sausage and peppers, turkey burgers, and turkey goulash with a smidge of that darned Greek yogurt just to yank my chain. Turkey burgers are a perennial favorite in our house, and I always crack Kim up when she asks me for my suggestions for the upcoming week's menu.
Kim: So, what would you like for dinner this week? Any ideas?
Mark: Umm, I don't know. How about turkey burgers and fries?
Kim: We just had that two weeks ago. Wait, we have some in the deep freeze. OK. 
Another substitution that I think I tolerate just to appease her is wheat flour in her always tasty pancakes. Miles doesn't seem to mind the difference, and it's socially acceptable for him to just spit out what he doesn't like.

Oh, don't get me wrong, Kim makes a wicked wheat flour pancake. But doesn't it defeat the purpose when your humble author smothers wheat flour pancakes with butter and blueberry syrup from Cracker Barrel? I guess that's akin to ordering a Diet Coke with a #2 at McDonald's and deluding yourself that Diet Coke makes the choice better.

I'm really quite proud of the eater that I've become. Kim has transformed me into a guy that actually eats vegetables, Greek yogurt (well-masked) and yes, turkey meatballs. So, sometimes I ask myself why I choose to eat healthier alternatives, if I don't actually have to. I think it's because of two reasons: 1) However cliched it may sound, if it ain't broke, why fix it? The healthier alternative tastes good. Why change your technique when you've just qualified for the Boston Marathon? If it feels right, just do it. 2) I feel like I need to set a good example for my son. What will I say when someday Miles asks me, "Daddy, why do I have to eat this wheat pasta when you're eating regular?"

Now, if she can just get me to dive into that salad bar at Pizza Hut, Kim would be in business.