The Most Overlooked Virtue of All

About two years ago, I started this blog because I had a message to share: You can reach your fitness goals by making a plan, finding stuff you liked to do, being realistic with your goals, and being disciplined. However, the most important quality of all? Patience.

Patience is probably one of the most under-appreciated, overlooked virtue these days. So much of what we do in the modern world happens at breakneck speeds–not just work, but also socializing too. I feel like the only time my peers slow down is when we eat, and even then, we pause only to take a picture of our food before moving on.

However, because so many parts of our lives sped up, I think that unfortunately also sets unrealistic expectations of what we can and cannot do. Yes, you can physically lose weight quickly (don’t eat). But are you prepared, mentally, for that? I wasn’t. I dropped a lot of pounds in about a year. It probably took me another year to get used to the idea that I was no longer “medically obese.” I also suddenly felt more aware–and judged–for my physical appearance than I ever did when I was chunky. I started caring about the potential opinions and thoughts of people who don’t truly “matter” to me. I played up to the character for a while, and I stopped being me.

In some ways, this was to be expected. After all, I was a different person. However, my mind hadn’t caught up to my body yet. It took time and patience. Maybe just as much as it did to physically drop the weight. After almost two years, I can finally say that my body and mind are relatively in sync.

Anyways. If you’ve read even just one post in this space (hello, my favorite teacher!), you’ll know there has been a dearth of writing here for a while. The biggest reason: I’ve had nothing more to say on this subject. As I said back in December 2014, what I did was simple and can be replicated by anyone. It’s hard, but it can be done. That hasn’t changed, and there are only so many ways to make the same point before it becomes tiresome.

For writers, one of the most important–and hardest–things to recognize is that when you’re done, you’re done. Well, I’m done. I can talk about this topic for a long time (and probably still will), but words are just words. At some point, you have to stop thinking and talking and just do it. And only you can decide when that time works for you.

This has been fun, but it’s time to move (onward and upward) to new projects.

Thanks for reading, friends. One last time… Keep pushing the pile.

– SS

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The Long and Short of It

Balance.

It’s something we all say we want. But I think that really, most of us say that as a hedge because we know that extremes–especially of the emotional variety–are ultimately unsustainable. Think back to the most joyous moment you can remember: You probably couldn’t recreate that feeling even if you reenacted everything from that time. Painful experiences may cut deeper and stick with you longer, but they too pass, eventually. AS part of the human experience, positives and negatives go back and forth, both due to circumstances in our control and out of it.

I say all this because balance is probably the hardest thing to actually achieve and can be just as fleeting as euphoric joy or agonizing pain.

I started this blog because I wanted to emphasize the most important lesson in living a healthy lifestyle: You must find whatever works for you and make it sustainable. That’s it.  Define what is “success” for yourself (and it’s OK if that changes–it should over time), and don’t compare your personal situation to others (as hard as that is).

That sounds easy and straightforward right? I think it’s good, solid, if unsurprising advice.

So let’s make it personal.

I would say I’ve been “not unhealthily overweight” for about two years now–just about 10% of my entire life if we exclude ages 0-8. Which suggests I’ve been unhealthily overweight (at least based on appearance and doctor’s opinion) for 90% of my life. In other words, being at a “healthy weight” is relatively new to me, and it’s something I appreciate a whole lot more than someone who has been in good  or even decent shape for most of his or her life.

However, being around a healthy weight–the primary objective for most regular people, the “sustainable lifestyle” if you will–isn’t always enough. Sometimes, you get distracted by short-term temptations. Like…

  • I want a six-pack in preparation for the summer
  • I want to gain more muscle so I can benchpress 225 lbs
  • I want to lose 10 lbs so I can fit that shirt
  • I want to lose that darn belly fat, so I’m going to only do ab exercises 
  • I am not going to eat lunch today because I don’t want a big belly in the afternoon
  • I am only going to eat steamed chicken and broccoli for the next three weeks because I’m going to Vegas soon

These are all thoughts I’ve had at some point or another over the past two years. And I don’t think they’re bad in and of themselves. But I also know that starving myself so I feel more confident walking around without a shirt on isn’t worth it (I found that out the very hard way).

So when I think sustainable fitness, what am I ultimately trying to achieve?

Here is an incomplete list:

  • Play my favorite sports with my friends and have the endurance to last hours, not minutes  
  • Manage my weight so I don’t have a huge protruding gut like I used to 
  • Walk for hours while listening to my favorite podcasts or talking with friends 
  • Burn calories to balance out my milk tea and beer consumption 
  • Wear the color white without feeling self-conscious about it 

As you can see, not all of these are noble, laudable ends–some reflect my own vanity and self-consciousness. But it also reflects my history and what I personally feel is important–and because I think it’s important, I know I will work hard to make them a reality.

The clash between where you want to be now and where you want to be in the future will cause you to question yourself. Don’t ignore what you want in the short term, but also don’t neglect to ask yourself if it’s what you really want, too–and if you’re prepared to pay the necessary price to get it.

Keep on pushing the pile, friends!

-SS

Do It the American Way: Be Scared

A couple of weeks ago, I was reading an article about American workers’ tendency to not take a vacation. Specifically, this line stuck with me:

“Americans’ focus on work reflects ambition, insecurity and personal identity.” (emphasis mine)

That word–insecurity–confused me initially. What? Americans insecure? We are probably the most outspoken, confident group in the world (at least that’s the popular perception). When I think America, “subtle” does not make any Top 10 Adjective lists.

But upon further reflection, “insecure” makes sense. When you’ve worked really hard for something, I think a natural fear is losing what you just achieved. So you do everything in your power to protect what you earned. That ethos is etched into the American psyche.

Why do I say all this?

Because I think it’s a very effective way to stay motivated during your fitness journey.

I’d love to tell you that once you start working out and make tremendous gainz, your worries will go away–that you’ll be good and that you’ll have all the momentum of a snowball going down the mountainside.

But that won’t often be the case. You will suffer setbacks. You will fall into stretches where doing nothing sounds a whole lot better than going out for a run or to the gym or to a class. What’s missing one day at the gym, in the grand scheme of things? You may feel be feeling a bit sore from a previous workout and tell yourself that it’s important to rest, right?

During times like this, you need to fight through the complacency. You know what’s one of the best motivators? Fear. Fear that you will lose your gainz; that you will get slower; that your pants are feeling a little snug, or your shirt seems to be fitting a little tighter around the torso than you’re accustomed.

Is that a healthy way to look at the world? I don’t know–I’m not here to tell you what’s good from a self-esteem point of view. I certainly can see that an extreme version of this mindset isn’t healthy, and that if you’re in a lot of pain, your body is sending you signals you should adhere.

But breaking old habits and making progress isn’t easy. It isn’t comfortable. Reaching the next level requires battling not just your body but your mind as well. And scaring yourself is a pretty effective tactic to get going.

So do it the American way. Be scared of the prospect of losing, so you’ll do everything you can to win.

Keep on pushing that pile, friends!

– SS

 

Get Your Gainz Like a Gamer Would

One of my best friends perfectly summed up why I ran so much last year: “Is it like having brand new gear, and you just want to go out and use it?”

He was referring to “gear” in the context of gaming, aka playing a video or computer game. For the uninitiated, “gaming” is a broad umbrella term, and the community is pretty diverse. I can’t do it justice here (and by no means am I an expert), but just so we’re speaking the same language, think of “role-playing games” (RPG) like Zelda or World of Warcraft, where you play as a character in the game’s world. You usually start off with limited, basic  skills and gear, so in order to improve, you must accomplish certain tasks or objectives. Doing so will give you capital, whether it’s in the form of currency, experience points, etc.

This can be a bit of a slog. Sure, some of it can be fun–especially when you’re still learning the game–but for a lot of people, it’s easy to lose patience. Like, all you want to do is cast spells and fight demons and dragons. Why do you need to spend so much time collecting gold and stomping on Goomba-like characters? Can’t you just get to Level 50 right away and start wreaking havoc on the world with your friends?

Unless you use some cheat code or hire someone to do the grunt work for you, the answer is no: You must go through the process to maximize your character’s powers, and then you can go about being a destroyer of worlds.

However! It isn’t all bad, either. Yes, after the initial high of starting off, it may be a struggle to continue going. But if you stick to it, you accumulate more and more powers, and the more powers you get, the more the game opens up.

For those thinking about starting to work out, I suggest applying the same sort of logic: The beginning is going to be difficult: you just need to accept that. You will struggle and you will get bored and your body will dislike what is happening because you are forcing it to break homeostasis. That’s uncomfortable, and resisting the change happening to your body is normal. But know that if you remain dedicated, remain on the proven path, and remain focused on a goal, it gets easier because your body is getting stronger, too.

I can only use my story, and I’ve referred to it several times in this blog before, but in a nutshell: I ran my first 5K because I wanted to prove that I could do it. It was brutal, and when I was training, I failed to complete 3.1 miles multiple times. But I looked it like this: How else could I complete a 5K if I didn’t actually run? There is neither a cheat code to trick your body into liking run nor can you hire someone to take over your body to run. You need to do it yourself.

That sounds like a scary thought, but I think it’s pretty damn liberating too. Your performance is directly in your hands, so your failures are yours and your successes are yours, too. And if you stick to it, and you start leveling up, and your body starts getting used to being more and more active, you will soon be rewarded with new “gear.” The better gear you get, the more fun it all becomes, and not only will you find past activities more enjoyable, you may even learn you like totally new things too. Like being a destroyer of worlds.

Keep on pushing the pile, friends!

– SS

 

End of the Run

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After a year, it’s time to chuck up the deuces.

Last year around this time, I was talking with a friend about the new physical activities I picked up as a result of my new active lifestyle–in particular, running. As a hypothetical, she asked, “Would you be upset if you had to give up running? Is it something you have to have in your life now?” I thought about it for a little bit, and then shook my head no. I never considered myself a “runner.” Runners are super-intense athletes who wear weird tape on different parts of their bodies, belong to a club or organization, and can easily recite their splits. I’m just a dude who participated in a bunch of races because I liked the challenge and the competition. But if you told me I couldn’t run (i.e., as an activity/form of exercise, not the actual act of moving my legs rapidly) anymore, I wouldn’t be devastated.

Of course, I then proceeded to run a ton more the rest of the year, culminating in the completion of a marathon at the end of 2015. I also started off 2016 running at an even more furious pace than I did compared to the prior year. So you know, watch what I do, not what I say.

However, I still believe in what I said to my friend last year: I wouldn’t be upset if I had to give up running. I never loved the act of running at a steady pace for extended distances (to be fair, I don’t know anyone who really does, either). Rather, I enjoyed the effects of running. One, it’s a great form of exercise, and it has played an integral role in my whole weight-loss journey. Two, it’s an incredible mental challenge–demanding your body push through its fatigue is a rewarding battle to win. And three, it’s a terrific conversation piece. Lots of girls run or are interested in running, so talking about a recent race has been a surprisingly effective topic to spur on discussion.

Thing is, if you don’t love something, eventually it’ll grow stale (even if you love something, it can grow stale–always gotta mix it up). I realized this after I ran the San Francisco Rock and Roll Half-Marathon last month. It was the first race I did a second time (I’ve done the SF Giants race event multiple times, but all different distances. Same with the Urbanathlon). A mere 20 or so seconds separated my 2015 and 2016 times. Now, that could be due to any number of factors, but as many seasoned runners will say, to improve your time, you must train differently (e.g., incorporate speed work with your distance runs). You can’t simply just run the same amount over and over and expect to get better, because eventually, you’ll plateau. I plateaued.

In order to reach the next level for anything, you need to commit the time to doing so (we aren’t all Allen Iverson). To improve as a runner, I would need to focus even more on running–otherwise, I would have to be content by ending up with the same result over and over again. Settling for the status quo isn’t in my nature, so it’s either doubling down on the running or  pursuing a new challenge.

I’ve decided to pursue a new physical challenge. And I’m absolutely stoked to begin learning, failing, and persevering all over again.

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’m going to stop running altogether. I have at least two more Rock and Roll races to run this year (because I bought the 3-pack, so I’m financially committed). And if a cute girl wants to run, I’ll lace up my Asics more quickly than you can swipe right. That’s one of the big benefits of running as much as I have: I know exactly what I need to do to prepare my body to run again. But as far as I’m concerned, I’ve conquered all I wish to conquer in the running world. New worlds await!

What Is “Fit”?

Last Sunday, I ran in the Oakland Running Festival’s “Run the Town” challenge: a 5K at 7:30am followed by a half-marathon at 9:10am for a total of 16.2 miles. I wasn’t feeling my best physically–I had a really bad cold, exacerbated by allergies, but I can be a pretty stubborn determined bugger–but overall, I did better than I expected. I was really happy with my 5K time (20:47) but I struggled with the half-marathon. I expected a finishing time of 1:55 – 1:58, so I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my official time was 1:50:34. Combined, I completed the challenge in 2:11:22 (how’s that for some fun coincidental math?).

Those numbers probably don’t mean much to you unless you run regularly, so here is some more context. ORF said it expected 10,000 participants this year, for all their races. Out of 189 “Run the Town” participants, I finished 14th overall–and ahead of the top female runner (the overall leader finished in 1:51:46). I found this factoid astounding (and a huge ego boost, not gonna lie). Like, being in the Top 25 of any list seems like a big accomplishment, though that may be my college sports fandom talking (being #14 means I get a decent bowl game!). But heck, I’m Top 15! And among my peer group–I fall in the Male 25-29 group–I finished #4. That’s Final Four status!

Now, the rest of this post isn’t me cherry-picking other flattering stats to show how great I am. Because after I was done patting myself on the back, I thought: “This is cool, but I still don’t have a six-pack.”

Isn’t that a depressing thought?  No matter what you can actually do physically, many of us still define physical fitness from a pure “look” aesthetic. For men, the prototype is the “V” shaped torso–broad shoulders and chest that narrow down into a slim waist devoid of flab. If you know me personally, you’re likely familiar with my weight loss story, when I essentially went from an XL t-shirt to a Medium (and in some cases, Small, if I’m feeling particularly brash). I know it’s a tremendous accomplishment, and it’s probably the greatest thing I’ve ever done for myself. But while I’ve remained around the same weight for more than a year now–and it’s a range I’m comfortable in–I also contemplate slimming down further, in pursuit of that ideal “look.”

The thing is, looking fit doesn’t perfectly match up with being fit. I think by a wide-range of definitions, I’m fit, and not just because I run regularly: I also lift weights, walk a ton, and my diet is fine overall. To get that six-pack, most of the work would be on the diet end, restricting my caloric intake while maintaining or increasing physical activity so I would lose weight overall. However, such a diet doesn’t discriminate–I would lose both fat and muscle, and monitoring your calories is a LOT of work (I’ve done it before, and it’s not fun). I’m not saying the payoff isn’t worth it–having girls and perhaps some guys gawk at my impressive physique seems like it would be fun (at least for a while), and looking at the mirror would be more pleasant too. However, getting the physique isn’t necessarily the hardest step. That would be maintenance, and considering I sit at a desk for most of the week, I don’t have ample opportunities to burn calories. In other words, it would be very easy to lose that six-pack physique. So would a glorious summer of shirtless photos be worth months of nibbling on protein and avoiding delicious carbs? Maybe, maybe not–but I haven’t been convinced that the payoff is worth it. I also don’t possess the necessary motivation right now, as beer and milk tea present a wonderful counterargument.

Look, I’m definitely not complaining about my current lot. Three years ago, walking up a long flight of stairs wiped me out and left me in a pool of sweat; my friends (God bless them) actually worried about my future health. Today, I can do pull-ups, I’ve been playing flag football for a year, I’m about to start playing recreational basketball, I hike with friends–it’s been a heck of a time to be alive. Heck, I ran 16 miles for fun last Sunday and was one of the best at doing it amongst people who choose to run for fun. Yet, I’ll admit, I’m still self-conscious about my undefined midsection that carries a layer of stubborn flab. But hey, to be human is to notice that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence. I’m pretty sure cows just see grass.

Keep on pushing the pile, friends!

 

An Ode to The Beast

This is our last hurrah, dear friend. After this, you may finally rest. 

You were the unsung hero that powered my rise. An essential piece to completing the puzzle. The support I needed to reach higher heights.

When I first laid my eyes on you, I winced. You weren’t cool, and people like me care about cool. But they said you were the best, and that we would make great partners. I was skeptical, but I usually defer to those who know better.

Though our introduction was forgettable, you soon validated the claims about your abilities. Watching you in action was like nothing I experienced before. Prior partnerships held me back–you encouraged me to go further. Faster. Stronger. More confidently.

After we conquered our first mountain, the success spurred an unprecedented flurry of events. We went to battle together, you and I. After each bout, we came away the victor, looking more and more impressive. The people cheered; I smiled; you remained quiet, unassuming, content outside the spotlight. Even when I tried to share the light with you, you refused, allowing it to fall on me. Thank you for your unselfishness.

As my conquests expanded, I aimed to preserve you where I could. However, when it came to the most important campaigns, I turned to you–and you always answered the call. When I decided to go forward with my biggest challenge yet, you knew it and I knew it–this was likely our last ride together. But what a ride it would be!

The preparation pushed us past our previous boundaries, into uncharted territory. We stumbled; we failed at times. Though I questioned secretly if you still had enough, I always knew where I was going to turn, no matter what.

This is our last hurrah, dear friend. After this, you may finally rest. 

I whispered those words to you the cold morning of December 6, as the rain began falling. Dramatic and hyperbolic, as I am wont to be.

And so it began. We left. One last time. Together. We cut through the water, clamored up the hills, shimmied down the streets. We started fast, as the adrenaline coursed through my veins. My glee could not be contained from our strong start. But I think you knew. It is, after all, a marathon, not a sprint.

The struggles started around halfway in. You felt like you were laboring, grinding. I felt this from you before, and it’s a foreboding sign. But I pressed on, confident we would make it. After a rough stretch, you persevered, and we continued.

Then the afflictions started laying into me. Fatigue. Weakness. Burning. Questioning. Why was I out here? Why am I doing this? Should I stop? Will I break? This was the ultimate test, not one of physical endurance, but mental fortitude. But I knew I was strong enough to keep going, and that while the pain was real, it would only be temporary–the glory would last forever.

So we forged on. I remember begging you, please, just last four more miles. Three more miles. Two more miles. One more mile. As we made the final turn together, the finish in sight, I used the last bit of energy I had in my body to burst through the end. Because we don’t end on a whimper–we end on a bang.

We did it, my friends. But not just 26.2 miles on Saturday, December 6th in Sacramento, CA. Not just 20 races over the past 16 months. We proved that “impossible” is just another problem waiting to be solved.

Now you may take your well-deserved rest. You took me through an amazing first chapter–thank you. You won’t be forgotten, you magnificent Beast.