Saturday, February 28, 2009

Presenting "Toy" Number One

Well, this is what it's come to. I'm consistently exercising and eating right, and everything is going well, but I have nothing interesting to say. (OK, OK, even less interesting to say than normal.) So I'm going to "review"/describe one of my favorite "toys". Yes, I'll confess that my wallet hates my lifestyle change. I, on the other hand, love the gadgets and tools. Maybe we'll reach a compromise soon. (Note: Nothing you see here is an affiliate link. I'll let you know if that ever changes.)

So, up first: The Blender Bottle. (If you search around, you can probably find it cheaper through another site.)

Let me tell you: This is no gimmick. The little whisk ball you see in the picture zips around the inside of the bottle (powered by your shaking, of course) and mixes it all up. And I mean it all.

Note: I've tried the others. The ones with a little mixing grate near the top. Even one with a battery-powered blender at the bottom. (Well, actually, that one worked well but had no way of closing, so it wasn't exactly portable.)

It's truly a thing of beauty. Protein powder? Blended. Powdered greens? Smooth. Powdered egg white? Well, there we have one problem. It whips so well that my egg whites become frothy. So, yes, one could complain that it works too well.

Aside from the too-frothy egg whites, I also haven't been able to quite figure out how to drink right after shaking without dripping stuff off the lid. I've resorted to slurping off the lid before I sip. No biggie; it's clean.

Some nice touches:

  • Measurements on the side for easy-ish reference. (The -ish is due to a clear choice of form over function, as the marks are formed in the plastic and not drawn on. This means that they will last and don't clutter the design, but it also means that they're quite often hard to see and read.)
  • Incredibly easy cleaning. It's top-rack safe, but you can also fill it with hot water and a drop of dish soap and let it "self-clean" by whisking, rinsing, and repeating until water is clear.
  • Easy-open and stay-open top. It stays in whatever position you place it. This means you don't get any green, purple, or whatever gunk on the tip of your nose from the cap falling shut. This should, theoretically, also help provide a way to reduce the drips, but all I can cause it to do is save the drips in the groove of the lid. See slurping, above, for my solution. No matter; this is a small price to pay.
  • Smooth mixing. Did I make that clear earlier? Seriously, I'm not kidding. I recently added some protein powder to a relatively thick green smoothie, and it blended the powder evenly in seconds. That's probably the hardest challenge I've given it, and it passed with flying colors.

How I use (or have used) it:

  • Before I bit the bullet and bought a high-powered blender, I'd buy a whole juice such as Naked Juice. Use half the bottle (8 oz.) of juice, add a little more water, mix in powdered greens and protein powder or egg white. Give it a few shakes, throw it in the work bag without fear of opening, store it in the mini-fridge until my morning snack time, remix for a few seconds, and enjoy.
  • Ready-to-go reduced yolk egg mix. I mix something like three whole eggs with powdered egg whites equivalent to 1.5 cups, an appropriate amount of water, and mix away. (The fact that there's yolk in there cuts down on the frothiness.) Store it in the fridge and use on demand for many uses, including omelets, fried-rice, and breakfast mixes in my rice cooker (oatmeal or rice).
  • Now that I have a blender capable of whole-fruit/vegetable smoothies, it's the perfect tool for bringing my smoothies with me. I pour half the smoothie into a glass for part of my breakfast and pour the other half in the blenderbottle. Any settling is easily repaired with a few flips of the wrist, and I'm ready to freak out my students with my often-green fruit/veggie smoothie. (They still want me to blend spaghetti and meatballs, but I keep telling them that they're missing the point.)

You can also use it for things like mixing salad dressing, but I've never seen the need. Honestly, with just the uses I've listed above, they've already been a fantastic value. If you make smoothies, protein drinks, or any other drinkables that need to be well mixed, I've seen nothing that beats this. Drink up.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Random Observations

So here are some tiny things I've noticed lately.
  • My skin is clearer and smoother.
  • I swear I can feel muscle on my upper arms. (I hope no one notices me massaging and admiring them.)
  • My belly is significantly more "jiggly". (I don't admire this in public.)
  • My hips can no longer touch both sides of the bathtub at once. (Yes, they would actually block the water.)
  • My belly no longer juts out as if no mere pants can hold it back.
  • My back fat doesn't stick out over my pants and around my bra... as much.
  • I don't crave sugary sodas.
  • I drive by fast food restaraunts without even thinking about them.
  • I am aware enough of my body to actually feel when I'm stressed out enough that my blood pressure rises.
  • My cheekbones are starting to emerge.
  • I can feel my collarbones again.
  • I see just a hint of that beautiful "cut" line my calves had in my major cycling days.
  • Clothing that used to fit is becoming just a bit too loose.
  • Those shirts hanging in my closet gathering dust because they were just a bit too tight are now fitting just about perfectly.
  • More and more frequently, I like what I see in full-length mirrors.

That's all for now. And that's good enough for now.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A Gentler Path to Running

OK, so I made it to week six of the c25k a while ago. Technically, I made it past that. But, really, it was torture. So it's no surprise that I stopped. (Well, to be fair, I also began swimming a lot more because I really began to get it.)

And then it hit me: I have a 5k in, um, seven weeks!

Well, now, that could be a problem.

So, I have two options: Restart and continue the c25k or select another way of training for the 5k. (Well, technically I have a third option of not running the 5k in April, but come on... that's not really an option, now is it?)

As much as I like the c25k, it came with one major problem: I would push myself very hard. I have a habit of doing that. I think I've admitted before that I'd rather die than be last on a hike. (Actually, I did get over that with last week's snowshoe hike with the Sierra Club; I decided that being last would, indeed, be a bit better than having to be rescued by a helicopter.) But my point still stands: I push myself hard.

With the c25k, I'm frequently running in the 165-175 bpm range, even reaching up to 180. (That's quite high for someone with a historical max HR of 185 bpm. I'm still working up the courage to truly test my MHR.) According to everything I'm finding, that is actually in the anaerobic range, and I'm not truly building my aerobic base. Instead, I'm torturing myself in a range referred to as "hot", which does build the lactate threshold, but which even very fit people have difficulty maintaing for long. Well, isn't that interesting?

Warning: technical and yawn-inducing stuff follows. Grab a cup of coffee. That is, of course, if you don't already know my blog well enough to have a cup in your hand already.

So, what to do? After reading around, I've decided two things. One, I'm going to start using my heart rate reserve (HRR) to compute my training zones. This makes sense for me because I've always found given heart rate ranges based on percentage of max HR to be too wimpy, and this gives me somewhat higher ranges. Two, I'm going to use HRR training to spend more time in specific HR zones. I'll have hard days where I'm training in zone four (which still should keep me below 173 bpm, so it will be less torturous than before), and I'll follow it up with easy days in zone three, maxing at 159 bpm. (I don't know whether I should do anything other than warm-ups and cool-downs in zone two.)

Today I went out on a zone three run/walk. (That's the (fuzzy) data you're looking at on the right. Yes, there was much more walking than running, but that's OK. (I also went out on a slightly hilly trail, so that was an additional factor.) In the end, I could tell that I worked out, but I was never really breathing hard. In fact, I felt energized when I got in my car, rather than beat down. According to every resource I own and every one I could find on the internet, that means I was in the perfect zone for increasing cardiovascular fitness. (Isn't that weird? To train aerobically, I should never be breathing really hard. Sort of counterintuitive, isn't it?)

So, here's the basic goal: Go for a set distance for each run/walk while maintaining a target heart range. Try to run more and walk less each time. If everything I read (and believe) is correct, I should be able to slowly transition to running the entire distance.

Now, will this get me to running my 5k by April 11? I'm not sure. But I can always run/walk it. More importantly: Will this get me to running at a pace I can actually maintain and enjoy? That, I'm pretty sure, is a yes.

Comments and suggestions are more than welcome. Assuming anyone kept reading to this point. It's OK if you needed a second cup of coffee. I understand.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Crappy Healthful Food: Precursor or Step One?

A thread gone very wrong over at Gyminee got me thinking about a past food pattern. Let's sum up the heart of that thread as: turkey hot dogs, fruit shakes, and low-calorie snack foods do not make a good diet regardless of calories. There was more, but we'll leave it at that.

So, looking back, I noticed that there's a pattern to my behavior right before going off healthful eating (and back to daily Jack in the Box meals): I stop eating predominantly whole foods and start eating nearly 100% packaged "healthy" crap. Luna bars (yum!), balance bars, 100-calorie snack packs, frozen dinners, etc. Shortly thereafter, I dump all facade of healthful eating (because, let's face it, that really isn't healthful) and go back to the drive-through diet.

(Don't get me wrong. There's a place for those healthful packaged foods, but they cannot and should not make up 100% of one's diet.)

Now, I'm not sure which comes first - the diet dominated by packaged products or whatever flawed mentality I have that leads back to overeating - but I think it's an interesting correlation. Kind of like an alcoholic drinking light beer before dumping back into polishing off bottles of whiskey.

My therapist (in our extremely short time together so far) has surmised that my weight problem is one consequence (symptom?) of my not liking myself enough to take care of myself. Well, that's a significant oversimplification, but you get the idea. (I find it humorous because, when I was a child, my mother told me that I'm overweight because I don't like myself. I responded with something like, "No, Mom, I'm overweight because I really like food. Ah... was I not witty as a child?)

Nevertheless, my point: If one overeats because of a lack of self-care/self-love, can one not begin eating within caloric limits and starve oneself nutritionally? Eliminate all the whole foods out of a diet, and the body and mind, surely, would suffer in a similar way as they would suffer under all fast-food crap. Calories don't enter into it, really.

So, while all calories may be created equal on one level, they certainly are not on another. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Food is fuel. The body needs fuel. Now I'm realizing the greater importance of this: Not any fuel will do. Quality counts.

Monday, February 02, 2009

It's OK to drop back (sometimes)... just don't drop out!

The title is my new motto. I realized that I had been pushing myself too hard with the c25k. Let's face it, running at 227 pounds is harder than running at 200 pounds. Does that mean that I shouldn't? Heck no. It just means that I need to have a respectful relationship with my body. I push, but listen when it's just hit its limit. Come to think of it, shouldn't that relationship always exist? Even "real" athletes know where the boundary is and don't berate themselves for paying attention to it. Of course, they don't let that boundary sit there; they shove it back.

Back to the point. Before hopping on the treadmill, I had decided to drop back to week six. It had been over a week since my last run, and that one was a bit of a struggle. (Did I even finish it as written?) Turns out that I dropped back a bit further, but I'm going to blame the ridiculously high heat in the gym today, with no fan available. Really, it felt like I was running in a sauna! Nevertheless, I was close enough that I'll stick on week six, day one for a while, then move up.

I hit the pool and instantly felt how drained I was. The last two swims, I was finally "getting" it. The swim method I was learning was beginning to really click. Today? Not so much. As the author of the method would say, I was practicing struggle. So, what to do? Darned right: cut the swim short. I'm learning how to swim efficiently; I already know/knew how to flop around in "freestyle", desperate for air, so I didn't need to practice that, for heaven's sake! No shame in climbing out, though, as I did 500 good yards in twenty minutes before stopping. I'll do more next time.

So, all together now: "It's OK to drop back... just don't drop out!" There, doesn't that feel better?

Sunday, February 01, 2009

She floats on snow!

Sorry I haven't posted for a while. Nothing much happened. (And for three days, that's literal.) But I haven't jumped off the wagon. I was absolutely drained for three days, and barely able to make it through work. No excuses, though, so despite not exercising, I ate within limits. I'm trying to figure out what caused the "dainage". Current hypotheses: learning to balance work/home/active lifestyle; insufficient protein intake; problems with priorities; or - possibly - low iron (it's been a while since I ate beef). I'm addressing the last possibility by beginning Centrum Performance supplements again. They have iron, and I have to believe that I won't overdose on iron (a legitimate concern) from a common supplement.

Now, on to yesterday's adventure: snowshoeing! My district's wellness program hosted a snowshoe hike and I gathered the courage to go. (I'm still smarting from the humiliation I suffered at the first wellness adventure years ago.) The leader reassured me, and fellow hikers were more than supportive.

While I could certainly feel my body working, it was never anything I couldn't handle, and I could likely have gone harder and/or farther had I needed to. That's good.

In fact, I enjoyed it so much that I ran off and bought (another) pair of snowshoes. Wait, I hear you protest, if you had a pair of snowshoes, then why are you wearing rentals in that picture? And why do you need another pair? Well, yes, Eagle Eyes, I do own a pair.... good for up to 200 total pounds. (I bought them a while ago, when I was much closer to that weight limit and falling fast). Currently at 227 pounds, and unwilling to snowshoe naked, I had to rent from REI.

That brings me to an interesting (to me, at least) tangent. As I was getting the rental, the man explained the feature that would help on steep ascents. Inside, I chuckled; do I look like someone ready to hit that level of ascent, I jokingly wondered. But wait, the rest of my brain later argued, isn't that exactly what I've been wanting: people who don't judge my ability based on my body shape? Well, yes. So, to the anonymous REI clerk, I say: well done. You weren't coddling me, and you weren't simply humoring me. You were genuinely giving me information that you saw me as possibly needing, regardless of my weight. Well done, indeed.

Back to the trip, the ridge was lovely. That's Lake Tahoe in the background, in case you don't recognize it. There's a moonlight hike this coming weekend, and I'm considering joining again, weather willing. I'll have my very own snowshoes to break in for that trip, you know. I suspect that the view won't be as lovely for that trip. Or, maybe, it'll be even lovelier. Only one way to find out.