Thank You, Super Asian Man

Inspiration, I think, is a tricky word. While it has a powerful short-term impact, its effects tend to wear off relatively quickly, particularly as the monotony of reality sets in. However, while that initial burst of inspiration may mostly dissipate, it’s always possible that some of the remnants will remain, and if you can remember them, they can be a fun reminder of your overall narrative. So, in this season of thanks, I would like to share one of my inspirations: Super Asian Man.

Who is Super Asian Man? I don’t know, actually. I can’t remember his name, where he’s from, or what he’s doing now. I couldn’t even tell you exactly when I heard about him. I encountered him when I was in high school or college, reading the newspaper at my parents’ dining room table (I was reading a hard copy of the paper, so it was probably in high school).

It was a short article–a piece in the “Bay Area” section of the SF Chronicle or its equivalent that highlights something cool a local did. Super Asian Man’s story is pretty inspirational: He was a guy (mid-30s, perhaps?) who was overweight his whole life. He suffered from some minor health ailments that doctors warned would develop into something worse (e.g., diabetes). However, he turned his life around when he got into running. At first, he began with a short race–he may have been prodded into doing it by a friend or family member. But he eventually became addicted to the “runner’s high” and did more and more runs. He may have also done some fundraising for all the races he participated in. Seems like a great guy, overall.

Now, these feel-good stories aren’t unnecessarily uncommon. However, here was the distinctive quality about this dude (and why I call him “Super Asian Man”): He wore some sort of superhero garb during his races. I can’t remember when he started doing it or what exactly he wore (it may have been just a Superman shirt, it may have included a full get-up with cape and everything). But the reason he started doing it was because he wanted to inspire. He turned his life around and wanted to share that message with everyone: That anyone could be “super.” As cheesy as his outfit may have been, his intentions seemed genuine.

As I read this piece, I thought about how awesome this guy’s story was. I saw parallels with my life and his initial story: Overweight for the majority of our lives, doctors telling us to lose weight “or else”, struggling with all the issues chubby Asian dudes face (Buddha jokes stop being funny the first time, don’t touch my belly for luck). It didn’t make me want to drop everything I was doing and start exercising–I still hated running at that time–but it was inspiring to see a dude turn his life around, not through any tricks or shortcuts, but just hard work and “doing it.”

Fast forward to today, and my past two years may seem like a rerun of Super Asian Man’s story. I similarly got my physical life and body into order after getting addicted to that “runner’s high.” Granted, I don’t wear a cape at races (that would probably hurt my time), and I’m not running to inspire other people: The crux of why I run is because I’m a competitive son of a gun, and I love the challenge (and beating other people. I’ll be honest). But if my story can also help plant a seed of inspiration for either a friend or stranger–whether it happens immediately or in the distant future–then that’s an even greater award than any personal record or accolade.

So thank you, Super Asian Man, wherever you are. Your super story continues to inspire to this day.

Keep pushing the pile, friends!

Ball Is Life

Flag Football Gear
From my team’s playoff game this summer. I fell short on a two-point conversion because I didn’t extend the ball and break the plane. It still haunts me. Not really, but that was a fun game. 

I love football. If you know me, that may be the biggest “duh” statement I could make. If you don’t know me, here is a quick anecdote: When I was a wee lad, I would get the miniature toy football helmets from the toy dispensers (with the crank, that costs a quarter) at the supermarket. After I gathered enough helmets, I would spend evenings and weekends simulating plays and even playing games, using a little rubber super ball as a substitute pigskin. More recently, I had football season tickets for my college team for nearly a decade until I gave them up this year (and naturally, team is now doing well. Go Bears). When it comes to football, the basketballer’s mantra is apt for me: Ball is life.

You know what’s even more fun than talking about or watching football? Playing it.

First, some caveats. By “playing football,” I mean flag football–I have no interest to tackle or be tackled, because that stuff hurts. And more specifically, I mean co-ed flag football. I don’t say that because the ladies in my league aren’t good (the ones on my team will probably beat me up for even saying this is a caveat), because they can catch, throw, and run like the guys. But the co-ed league, while competitive, is also more casual and less bro/testosterone-fueled. I’ve played in an all-men flag football league before. I was the second-smallest guy in the whole league, probably the slowest, and in one memorable play, when I tried to defend an opposing wide receiver, the gust of wind he created as he jetted by knocked me on my butt.

Now, this love for playing football isn’t new. I organized casual games with my college friends, and I’m always down to toss around the football at the park. But this year, I’ve played in two leagues with the same group, and in a word, it’s been awesome. For one, it’s competitive. I’ve scored on deep ball patterns, and I’ve been scored on, and that balance is enjoyable: It’s encouraging to do well, but you also want to always improve and get better. Two, my team is one of the most fun groups of people to be around: We laugh, we complain, and then we score touchdowns. It’s all pretty great.

But most importantly, playing football has been just another step forward for me in my personal journey–in line with the whole “Onward and Upward” theme I have been espousing. I’ve talked about running quite often in this blog, and while I’ve grown to enjoy it, it’s almost an entirely solo activity. Some have recommended that I join a running club, and perhaps I will in the future, but at the moment, I prefer running by myself or casually with friends. However, being a contributing member of a team–in a sport that I love–is something else entirely. In some ways, it’s validation that I must be doing something right these days.

A couple years ago, I would spend my Sundays during football season in front of a TV for the whole day, my laptop loaded up, and munching on tortilla chips while tracking both the Niners and my fantasy football team. That was a lot of fun. But now, instead of agonizing whether Michael Crabtree or Drew Brees gets a touchdown, I can go score one myself. Why focus on fantasy when you can do it in real life instead?

Keep pushing the pile, friends!

Beginner Running Advice From a Beginner Runner, Part 2: Equipping Yourself

For Part 1 of this series, click here. Or scroll down a little until you get to the second most recent post. Reader’s choice.

Last weekend, I ran the second half of the SF Marathon, my third half-marathon. It was a widely attended run, probably one of the biggest–if not the biggest–running event I’ve participated in. For most larger runs, they usually host an “expo” event where you can pick up your materials before race day, mostly for convenience for both the runners and race organizers (and it gives sponsors a chance to hock their wares). So on Saturday, I went to Fort Mason to pick up my bib, timing chip, and shirt. What I saw there astounded me. Imagine a huge warehouse filled with various booths and vendors all selling various running-related products. Attire. Wearable tech. Food and drink. Products and services to help you both prepare and recover. Admission to future races. Basically, if it had anything to do with running, it was there (and for a one-time, great deal, too!). And the only thing I could think:

Why?

Now don’t get me wrong–I’m not knocking any specific product or service. I’m sure they all do wonderful things, and if I keep on doing this running thing, I may start using some myself. But one of running’s main appeals to me is its simplicity: As I said before, you probably have everything you need to go for a run right now, without having to buy anything special. Even more true for beginning runners! Plus, you probably won’t know if any of that cool running gear works for you unless you actually, you know, run regularly. In my humble opinion, if you find the act of running loathsome and a drain on your soul, a compression shirt and super-tight running shorts aren’t going to make the experience significantly more enjoyable. So for beginner runners, I recommend doing a couple of short runs (a mile to two miles to start, at whatever pace you’re comfortable at, and at least once a week for several weeks) wearing whatever you’d exercise in.

However, if you find that you enjoy running–or at the very least, you want to keep doing it–then I do recommend looking into one running-related product: running shoes (even if you’re perfectly fine with what you use now). Not because I think they’ll make you “faster” or it’ll make running easier; rather, it’s a health thing.

Here is a quick anecdote about my experience with running shoes.

When I was preparing for a 10K run–my second “official” race–I ran probably two-three times a week in my regular Nike “Free Run” shoes. After several runs, I noticed a dull ache in my left knee that would flare up. It wasn’t the normal sort of workout ache you know would feel better the next day, and while the pain wasn’t excruciating, it was also worrisome. After talking with some more experienced runners, I went to my local running store (“On the Run” in the Sunset!) to get fitted for a running shoe. I’m not going to pretend like I understood the specifics (something about “pronation” or “amateur-nation” or whatever), but scientific explanation aside, the way I walk/run requires a shoe with a lot of support, cushion, and stabilization. By constantly pounding my legs into concrete (I mostly run on concrete rather than dirt trails), I was putting a lot of stress on my feet, which traveled up to the knee (and other parts of my body). And the shoe they suggested (The Beast by Brooks, which indeed looks very beastly. As in ugly, not Marshawn Lynch-strong) would help alleviate that stress. I also got an in-sole to go with it, and after breaking in the shoes, that particular pain went away–a huge relief. For one, nobody wants to be in pain, but two, if you know you’re going to have a particular pain arise, it may discourage you from running–so my new shoes gave me the confidence that I could go on a longer run without worry.

Now again, everything in that anecdote is specific to me. I’m not saying you need to get running shoes. Nor am I saying “stabilization” shoes are better–I know runners who do better with a “minimalist” type of shoe. It all depends on your particular foot and how you run and walk. However, I look at it like this: If you are going to get into any hobby or activity–and depending on your commitment–you need to equip yourself properly. If you wanted to play guitar, what makes the most sense for your purposes: a cheap one from a big retail store or a fancy one from a music shop? I can’t answer that for you, just as I can’t tell you which shoes are “best.” However, if you are going to get into running, then I do believe an appropriate pair of shoes is the most important decision and investment you can make–and really the only one you need in terms of gear.

To close, one more personal take: At the end of every race, I take a picture of myself. Most of the time, I’ll look like a Nike advertisement–Nike shirt, shorts, compression pants, socks, whatever. Because let’s face it: The Nike brand is cool. And most of us want to look cool. However, I have one exception: my shoes, which are either Brooks or Asics. And considering Nike made its bones as a shoe company, I can’t help but find that amusing. When it comes to the most important gear, it doesn’t matter how cool and flashy it looks (and my running shoes look like senior citizen shoes) as long as it gets the job done. Seems like an applicable lesson to many parts of life.

Keep on pushing the pile, friends!

– SS

Beginner Running Advice From a Beginner Runner, Part 1: How to Start

So it’s been a while since I’ve posted anything… Mostly because I haven’t had anything new to say. But after fielding the same question from several different people, I now have a great topic. That question is: What running advice do you have for someone just starting out? When people ask me this, my reaction has four parts:

  1. Why are you asking me? I’m not a runner.
  2. I’m flattered you think I’m a runner, though!
  3. Well, when I think about it, every other post I make on social media is of me after a run, so…
  4. Maybe I do know something about running!

Now, if you just met me in the past year or so, you might think all I do is run, exercise, and wear tight, flashy activewear. Not true! Actually, for most of my life, the only running I did was to class or to the TV to catch a sports replay I missed because I was busy getting another soda (while wearing baggy cargo shorts, or, for a while, baggy jean shorts). As such, I feel particularly qualified to speak to those of you who have little to no experience with doing anything physical for “leisure.” I am no former amateur athlete (though I did play two semesters worth of IM basketball in college) or someone who even enjoyed running until recently, so I’m here to say, “Yes, no matter your experience, you can get into running (or any other physical activity) and grow to embrace it.”

Full disclosure: I am no running coach. Everything I’m about to share is based on my own running experience. I don’t belong to any running clubs, I don’t know what the best running form is (right foot, left foot, right foot, left foot works well for me), and I couldn’t even tell you a famous runner unless his name rhymes with Insane Colt. I’m just a dude who had one goal in mind when he started running about two years ago: I just don’t want to walk.

With that, I will break this topic into (at least) three parts:

  1. How to Start
  2. How to Stay Occupied
  3. How to Equip Yourself

Let’s begin!

How to Start

To answer this point, I will share a story. My running journey started in June 2013. I signed up for the SF Giants 5K (3.1 miles) with my buddy, scheduled in late August. In June, it hit me–this run is coming up, and I don’t think I can run a block without dying, let alone 3.1 miles. So I gave myself this modest goal: Don’t walk or stop during any part of the 5K. I didn’t care about time or pace. I simply wanted to not walk.

How does one prepare to not walk? Unfortunately, the answer isn’t glamorous: I went to the local track twice a week, endeavoring to run/jog 3.1 miles. For the first month, I probably stopped at the 0.75-1.5 mile mark each time. I simply couldn’t go further. My lungs burned, my feet hurt, I felt dizzy–not fun. I was also much heavier at that time, which made running even more difficult. However, I also knew that if I let the pain get to me and I stopped, there was no way I would achieve my goal. Thus, I kept at it–twice a week, plodding along the track, thinking about how much running sucks and how being overweight sucks and other self-pitying pejoratives. It’s part of it, and it’s OK to be angry and hate it. What’s important is not losing sight of your goal–whatever it is–and trusting the process. For me, I knew that if I kept running, eventually, my legs would get used to it and it wouldn’t be as painful–human beings are wonderfully adaptable creatures in that way.

And one day in late July, it finally happened. When I approached the stretch I normally stopped at, my brain urged me to keep going–that I had this, don’t stop now. That new confidence boosted me, and I ended up finally making it through my 3.1 mile run. I was the only person at the track that early Saturday morning, but as far as I was concerned, I just won Olympic gold. I overcame a huge mental barrier, which was probably the toughest hurdle of all. (I’ll write about the actual 5K some other day, but spoiler: I ran the whole thing.) Once you know you can do something once–and that you worked for it and earned it–nobody can take that from you.

When you think about it, the act of running is pretty simple: You’re moving your legs at an accelerated pace for as long as you can. There really aren’t any shortcuts around it. Just like with anything else, you get better by actually doing it. Reading blogs or asking for advice about training for a 5K wasn’t necessary from my perspective. I knew how to run. It was just a matter of doing it for 3.1 miles.

Quick side note on race training in particular: I’ve heard some training programs say you don’t even have to run the length of the race (e.g. 13.1 miles for a half marathon) before race day itself–that you build up to it and your adrenaline will carry you through the rest of it. While I understand the logic (and now that I run regularly, I have a much better gauge of what I need to do to prepare for a race), I think that if you’re a new runner, you should try reaching that distance before race day or whatever your deadline is. Knowing you can do something is most of the battle, and contrary to what Allen Iverson believes, practice is how you discover what you can and cannot do.

So, the primary lesson: Don’t let the early struggles knock you off your path. Fight through them and trust that you can overcome a tough day, or week, or month. Running doesn’t necessarily become easier; you simply get stronger.

Keep pushing the pile, friends!

– SS

Why I Run

“Why I Run”

Note: I’ve been running (ha ha) around this topic for over a month because my answer kept changing. And I didn’t want to publish something unless I felt 100% comfortable with it, leading to many revisions. At the same time, you could edit your writing forever. So I’ve given myself a hard deadline to finish this post. Here is the result.

Recently a former teacher/current friend asked, “If you couldn’t run for a month, would you go crazy?” I thought about it for a second and responded, “No, not really.” Which may seem odd, given how I’ve spent much of my free time over the past seven months. In a nutshell: I ran. A lot. Since September 2014, I’ve participated in 10 running events: four 5Ks, two 10Ks, one 12K, one 15K and two half marathons. And that doesn’t count all the running I’ve done in preparation for a race or just cuz. So, I reflected on my friend’s question a bit more.

I used to frequently complain that I “hated” running, followed by the rhetorical question, “What’s the point?” At least if you’re playing a sport, there’s a purpose to the running, right? Touchdown, fast break dunk layup, scoring from second base. But after all the pure running I’ve done, I clearly don’t hate it anymore–doing something that makes me miserable would be a horrible way to spend my evenings and weekends. So I’ve thought more about the question and arrived at some answers.

Here are some of the major reasons why I run:

1. It’s simple to do

If you can walk, you can run. Just move your legs faster. Viola! You’re running! You don’t need any special equipment or clothes or venue or anything. You probably got everything you need to go for a run now. Run around the block, or heck, run in place in your living room–same idea. I exaggerate a bit of course; if you just took a shower, you probably don’t want to get all sweaty right now. And if you’re wearing heels, it will probably be more difficult and uncomfortable than if you had sneakers on. Point is, you can go running anytime, and the convenience factor is nice.

2. It’s practical

Running has practical applications to your life. Like, being able to swing a baseball bat or golf club might help you chop down wood in a forest, but I fail to see how that swinging motion makes sense in a modern urban lifestyle. But if you can run, you can chase down a bus (which I’ve done before–it was sweet. I Tweeted about it). Or if a cute girl drops some papers and the wind blows them away, you can run’em down, give’em back to her, and she’ll be so impressed that she’ll treat you to a cup of coffee (I’ve never done that before, but I’m ready–it also sounds sweet, and I would also Tweet about it).

3. It’s an excuse to eat a lot

I know nothing about nutritional science. I know lots about eating. Specifically, I know I love eating carbs, aka, one of the most delicious food groups because it includes bread, rice, and noodles. And from what I’ve heard and read, carbs should be eaten in abundance before a long run (I’m no expert, I just go with what the experts say). Life is all about tradeoffs, and if I need to run so I can gorge on delicious carbs–while still maintaining the physique I desire–that’s fine with me. Now, it may not be OK with me when I’m older, but for now, I can live with that.

There are other reasons too: You have an excuse to wear bright, flashy colors, which is great for a peacock like myself. And I also hear running is “good” for your health, and health is important too, I suppose–I’ve never seen my circulatory system, but I reckon keeping that in tip-top shape will benefit me. But here is the number one reason why I run:

It is an intensely personal endeavor, and you–and you alone–decide how far you go.

For me, running reflects more of the mental fortitude of a person rather than physical strength–it reveals how much effort and sacrifice a person is willing to make to accomplish a goal. Unlike other physical activities or sports, running is a pretty level playing field. Basketball, you are at an inherent advantage for being taller; football, strong; baseball, golf, tennis, hand-eye coordination. And yes, I know some people are “better” or more “natural” runners than others, but really, just think about what the act of running is: You moving your two legs at a quicker pace in order to reach a destination. That’s it, whether it’s a sprint, jog, or long run.

At the end of the day, you can’t blame anything or anyone else for your time: You choose how far and fast you go. Besides your physical training, you must also be just as strong mentally to keep going. Ultimately, you are competing against the one person whose opinion should matter the most: yours. It’s a battle, it’s a grind, but you completely control your fate, and in my life experience, I’ve found that all you can really ask for is the chance to give your best shot. Running gives me the opportunity to keep improving what my “best shot” is.

Keep on pushing the pile, friends!

-SS

Spring Is Here!

It’s the first day of spring! Rejuvenation! Rebirth! Everything’s blooming! All that crap.

(That’s a nod to you Seinfeld fans out there.)

For those of you in the Bay Area, it’s basically been like spring/summer since our one rain storm a month or two ago. Just another day in paradise.

If you’re elsewhere, it’s probably still snowing and/or miserably cold. But take heart! You will soon have one or two weeks of super nice, Bay Area-like weather before it becomes unbearably hot.

No pontificating from me today. If you have nice weather, go outside and enjoy it.

A Flashback to Reality

So far, most of what I’ve written on this blog has been advice/encouragement. Because, as I wrote here, there is no secret to what I’ve done to improve my fitness, health, and physique: I exercised more and took in fewer calories. It’s an extremely simple formula, though practice is obviously hard. The struggle is real, as the kids say, so most of my posts have aimed to put everything in perspective: think long-term, it’s a marathon not a sprint (wow I linked to three old posts and I’m not even done with the first paragraph. This is the blog equivalent of a clip show!). I can spin that advice a bunch of different ways, but it’s not going to change.

But as someone who’s been pretty successful at reversing his fitness fortunes, let me tell you–the struggles also don’t go away even when you think you’ve “made” it. They just change. After I got to largely where I wanted to be weight-wise, I still wasn’t happy–I felt like I should lose more. Or be stronger. Or, or, or. And when I caught myself thinking that way, I had to remind myself why, exactly, I was trying to get into better shape. Remember my goals, in other words (OK, last time I will link to a past post, promise). This battle is ongoing, even today. Here is a story about it.

Last week, some friends and I did some hiking in Berkeley. After taking fun pictures at the top of some hill, we decided to  eat lunch and hang out near the Cal campus area for the rest of the afternoon. Super chill, brought back some fun memories of when I was a student there several years ago. However, as I tossed the football around with my friends on Memorial Glade, I couldn’t help but think: “What if I was a student NOW?” Or, “What could have been if I was in good shape THEN?” And that led down a very slippery slope indeed–all the potential opportunities that I missed out on, all the girls I could have met, all the … Well, to be honest, I stopped there and focused mostly on the girls I could have met. And I started feeling down on myself for a bit–why was I such a bum in college? Why did I not care about my health and physique? Why, why, why?

After feeling sorry for myself for a while, I forced myself to think logically. I had no counterfactual to prove my life would have been “better” if I was as active and healthy then as I was now. (In case you don’t know, a counterfactual is an example where the situation is completely the same but you make a different decision and could see how it played out. Like, you may wonder what life would be like if you chose a different college, but unless you’re able to rewind your life and play it out again knowing only what you knew then, then you won’t ever really know what it’s truly like. I think I did a bad job trying to explain that, but the term can be confusing). So, nothing really productive could come from such an exercise.

Is it tempting to think of what could have been? Sure–I do this with sports all the time. What if the 49ers ran one time instead of throwing several fades to Michael Crabtree while in the red zone against the Ravens? What if Kaepernick didn’t underthrow Crabtree against Seattle? What if Kevin Riley was able to call timeout against Oregon State in 2007? (Sorry, a lot of bitterness still. Go Giants and Go Warriors). And afterwards, you likely feel worse than before.

But at the end of the day, all that matters is reality, not hypotheticals. Here’s my reality: I was overweight for most of my life. In 2013, I decided to change that. In 2014, I made some significant progress. And in 2015, I’m writing about what I’ve done, partly for myself (because I like writing) and partly for friends/readers who may find my experiences helpful in achieving whatever goals they want to achieve. Some “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is inevitable, but pointless too. It tells you nothing about where you are now or where you’re going next–that is largely in your control.

Keep on pushing the pile, friends!

– SS