Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Drop the hammer!

Yesterday, the power went out in the building where I work. This set off a fire alarm, so all of us where evacuated to the parking lot in the 90F heat. After awhile, when it became apparent that the power would not return (which means no computers, no phones, no network and NO AIR CONDITIONING!!!), most of us were sent home. Strangely enough, I spent my drive to work that morning fantasizing about an afternoon off and all the things I could get done if I had one.

And so I did. I cleaned the swimming pool, I lazed around in the sun for awhile, I completed some rebate forms that had been sitting next to our new computer monitor for two weeks, and I got to do my workout without having to rush. I still did it fast, but that was for intensity instead of necessity for once. Very timely thing, that power outage. There are those that believe that human beings can alter the fabric of reality through prayer, vision, meditation, or whatever you want to call it. I think I'm going to spend some time envisioning a million dollars and see what happens.

This morning, I got back on the exercise bike. I really wanted to work hard this morning since I didn't get to ride for real over the weekend. I took some new data as well, including calories burned at several intermediate points and heart rate after the third interval and at the end of the workout. This puts me in the dangerous position of having several statistics that I'll want to top on the next workout (it's a guy thing, what can I say).

I really believe in the power of vision. When I was 14 years old, I bowled in the Missouri State Junior Bowling tournament, in the team division. My team was made up of guys like me that didn't excel in any of the traditional highschool sports, like football, baseball, soccer, etc. I wanted us to do well so that we could have some "athletic" accomplishment of our own. I probably obsessed about a top three finish in our division for the better part of a month. I actually prayed for it. I envisioned making good shots and hitting all my spares. Well, we all bowled way above our abilities and finished second in our division. The following year, I finished 12th in my age group in singles.

So, what does one think about while riding an exercise bike? How about this...



(You'll have to paste this into your browser's address field. Apparently blogger does not recognize it as an internet link. Also, I had to split this into two lines. Paste the first line and then the second one, with no spaces in between.)

This is Lance Armstrong in the opening stage time trial of this year's Tour de France. The riders start at one minute intervals and ride individually against the clock. This is Lance catching and passing Jan Ullrich, one of the best time trial riders in the world, who started a minute ahead of him!

Inspirational! (to me, anyway)

Monday, July 18, 2005

Everybody into the pool!

Wow, right at this moment, there is a storm blowing right outside my office window. It's so dark, the streetlights are on, and the rain is coming down so heavy that I can't see across the parking lot. Until a few seconds ago, the trees were bent over with the force of the wind. Suddenly, they aren't blowing anymore, so the storm front must be through. It's still very dark, though.

The title of today's entry has two meanings. First, I did my workout in the swimming pool yesterday evening instead of on the bike. Cheryl was on the exercise bike and I didn't feel like waiting for it, plus I was already in my swimming suit, having just returned from a day at the lake. I started out just swimming a couple of laps of assorted strokes, just loosening up. Then, I did my intervals. I started with a three lengths of breast stroke, and then three lengths of crawl (or freestyle, if you prefer) at moderate intensity and then two laps of crawl flat out as fast as I could swim. Then I did a lap of backstroke and did the whole thing over again. I finished right at 21 minutes and then swam for another 12 or so. I don't think I burned as many calories as I would have on the bike, but it was nice to try something different for a change.

The other meaning has to do with me registering for the MS150 bike tour. A friend of mine challenged me to do it with him after he saw my Body for Life web site and read all the info about what I was doing and why. I'm a little concerned about the commitment and the fact that I really don't have time to train for it like I would like to. On the other hand, one of the precepts of Body for Life is to give something of what you've gained back to the community in some way. I guess this is a start for me. I have other things I want to do with my new fitness and lifestyle, but this is immediate and measurable, and I can't very well duck out of it now. I'll have a fundraising page set up for the bike tour in a day or two. I'll publish the address then.

One final note. Cheryl and I were at a friend's lake house this past weekend and, as I headed off to be a spotter in the ski boat, I was encouraged to leave my shirt off by my wife and the other women in the group. Hmmm....I guess I must look okay.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Another day, another yellow jersey

Lance Armstrong is in the lead in the Tour de France! (Okay, so this is a bigger deal to me than to most people.)

The Tour de France is a stage race. Each day, you race your bicycle from point A to point B. That's a stage. Some stages are flat and favor people that can ride with blinding speed and accelerate faster than the other guys at the end. Other stages are hilly and require some strategy, like when to put out your maximum effort to get the biggest gain. Some stages are mountainous, favoring the rider with the highest power to weight ratio (which is usually Lance Armstrong). At the end of all these stages, you add up the total time it took to complete everything, and the lowest time wins.

During any given stage (except the first one), the person with the lowest total time, the race leader, wears a yellow jersey. It's an honor and a burden. But here's the strangest truth about being the race leader, the yellow jersey (yes, the person becomes synonymous with the jersey in bike speak). If you're the yellow jersey, there are stages where you have to shine, to be the best rider out there (like Lance Armstrong is in the mountains), and there are stages where you just have to keep up with the other guys. There are even people you can ignore and let get ahead of you on a given stage because you know they will be no threat to you in the long run. In fact, you can even let one of them be the race leader for awhile, knowing that you will outshine them later and take the lead back. It's a strange sport, but it's a lot more like real life than many others I can think of.

Right now, I'm not on my best game in Body for Life. My real struggle is keeping my diet while working and rehearsing. Also, my workouts have not been as intense as they could be since I'm usually rushing through them, and I haven't had time to do much extra cardio. So, I'm like the yellow jersey at the moment. I'm on a road that doesn't let me show my true strengths, so I'm just "keeping up with the other guys". When this play is over and I have a better situation, I'll be in a better position to let things rip.

The most important feat of the yellow jersey is that he has to race every stage. He doesn't get to sit out the ones he's not good at. In fact, it is often how he handles those stages he doesn't excel at that determines if he wears the jersey again tomorrow.

Speaking of schedules, I must run home and deal with a few things before I go to rehearsal. Allez, Lance, Allez!

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Life on the Run

Today is a weight workout day. I leave work about five minutes from now, at 4:30pm. With luck, I'll be home before 5pm, hit the weights by about 5:15pm, finish my workout by about 6:00pm, ingest my supplements and nutrition shake and hopefully get in a quick shower so I can leave the house by about 6:20pm so I can be at the theater for a 6:45pm warmup and a 7pm rehearsal. Tomorrow morning, I'll try to get on the exercise bike by about 6:05am so that I can do my workout, get ready, drive to work and be at my desk close to 7:30am. In another week, this whole schedule gets a notch tighter when the show enters what we call "tech week", which consists of longer rehearsals while the technical things like lights, sound effects and scene changes are all added and fine-tuned. I'm way behind on sleep, but I'm determined to keep this going. Once the show's over, it will probably feel like I have an entire extra day every day!

I bought two CD's over the weekend. One is I on U by Neil Schon, lead guitarist for Journey. It's a sort of "rock meets jazz" thing, very good to workout to. The other one is the debut from the band Keane, which you might have heard on the radio. I listened to the CD at Borders and decided to buy it. Even though I play the guitar, I love the piano. Five for Fighting is another recent favorite of mine because of that (their new one, the Battle for Everything, is another regular to workout to).

Well, I have to run. I'm late, I'm late, for a very important....weight....workout....nevermind....

Monday, July 11, 2005

Gearing back up

Well, last week was supposed to be the start of my second Body for Life challenge. I started out the week doing just that, but my adherence to the eating plan was erratic, I missed a workout, and we didn't get our pictures done. So, I decided to trash that week and start this week. I was worried that I would really have problems getting in all my workouts while the play was going on. Now, I don't have to worry about it so much, since I'll be done with the play only a fourth of the way through the challenge. This also gives us time to get our pictures done. The other thing is that we were right at the limit of the last day we could officially enter the 2005 challenge. Now, we will be in the 2006 challenge instead. This means that, if we were to win, we would not know for well over a year, but I don't see that happening and it wouldn't matter if it did. It's not the reason we're doing this.

I still haven't updated the web site with our final pictures. We got the last of them back last week. There are some good ones. But this week became devoted to visiting with friends and getting our bikes out on the road and I decided the web site could wait. I want to make some major changes to it anyway, so I feel I should take some time and think about it.

As I mentioned in the last paragraph, Cheryl and I got back on our bikes this weekend. Incredibly, it was for the first time this summer. I'll tell you right now, my new fitness has translated into some serious gains on the bike. I really felt strong and fast. We did 22 miles and didn't push the pace much, but I felt very comfortable on the bike and actually looked forward to the few hills on the route. Of course, my power to weight ratio is probably better than it's been since I was 25.

I saw two of my college friends over the weekend. We were comparing stomachs and I had the flattest stomach of the three of us. Neither of these guys is in bad shape. In fact, all three of us work out regularly. I think I'm the only one who's doing anything with diet, though. When I described what I was doing, the others didn't think it sounded too hard. The truth is, it's not. At least for me, it's not.

I have some goals for the coming challenge. One is to lose the remaining abdominal fat. The second is to build more muscle. To get a little more specific, the body fat scale and the calipers give different results for my body fat numbers. The one-site caliper test is the lowest and seems to be the most consistent. At the end of the first challenge, it showed me at about 15% body fat. I would like to get that down to around 11%. I know that doesn't sound too ambitious, but I also want to add ten pounds of muscle. The combination of those two will be very difficult. It means I will not have as large a calorie deficit to play with, so my margin for error will be very small (one slice of chocolate cake would probably exceed it). I also have to factor in the week of my latest play, which will probably mess up my workout schedule. Plus, we're going to Florida in about seven weeks and I want to look good for the beach (yes, I know, vanity is a terrible thing), so I want to manage some worthwhile gains before then.

My plan, as far as I've formulated it, is to work the diet and aerobics hard until the play is over, and just try to get my weight workouts in as well as I can. Then, when I have more time available, I'll hit the weights harder and see if I can build up. I don't know how we're going to manage in Florida without our home gym. We might have to find a fitness center there and pay the daily rate.

Sorry, just thinking out loud....well, not really out loud, unless you count the sound of me typing...

Monday, July 04, 2005

Living on the bring of...sanity

I guess I expected to have a lot to say in the last week of my first Body for Life Challenge, but it turned out that I was consumed with actually finishing it, which didn't leave a lot of time for contemplation. Likewise, I thought I would have some big emotional wrapup at the end, when all was said and done, but I found that I wasn't so much transitioning back to my normal life as beginning a new kind of life. Because of this, I didn't ever really have a large emotional epiphany. I finished my last official workouts, we took our pictures, and I went on with what's now become my practice of making my physical health a priority through sensible diet and regular exercise.

Well, as I've stated several times, it has been my intention from day one to do the twelve week challenge twice, back to back, with only a minimal break in between. Well, I start my second challenge tomorrow. And so, after almost two weeks, I find that I have something to write about again.

There are a couple of seemingly-unrelated things going on in my life right now that coalesced this morning into a more-or-less coherent understanding of why Body for Life has become so important to me. First of all, the 2005 Tour de France started on Saturday. It's an event that I grow more fascinated with every year, a multi-colored, multi-ethnic display of savagery and chivalry that, to me, is a showcase for the human spirit and all it's successes and failures.

At the same time, I'm reading several books in the series by Spider Robinson that began with Callahan's Crosstime saloon. The series is basically revolves around the question of what happens when you put ordinary people in the most unusual of circumstances. It basically posits the answer that in human nature, there is an innate tendency to rise to (or above) any occasion, no matter how extreme.

Also, last night, a member of the theater company that I work the closest with, the O'Fallon Repertory Theater, won a 2005 Arts for Life Best Performance Award in the category of Featured Dancer. His name is Ryan McGowan, dancer extraordinaire and member of the clan McGowan, and a finer bunch of people you will never meet. This award was something of a breakthrough for our little group, since it's our first win (although there have been a number of nominations, including two for my very-talented friend, Tanya Burns). Let me explain. Arts for Life presents it's best performance awards for outstanding performances in local community musical theater. In this local community, many of the other theater groups have larger budgets, better facilities, and access to a larger range of resources than our group. So, for us to get nominated by this organization and even win is a huge accomplishment. It's sort of in the same class as David slaying Goliath.

All these things have me thinking about human potential. In the movie The Natural, one of the main characters says, "I believe we have two lives, the life we learn with and the life we live after we've learned." I think in some ways I've finally reached that second life. I'm still learning many things and I realize I have a lot to learn still, but I feel like I'm finally ready to embark on the business of living.

A friend of mine, who has been a distance runner like myself, told me that the hardest transition is going from training for the next race to training for life. To put it another way, it's the difference between attaining a level of fitness to reach a certain goal and having the level of fitness be the goal. This particular friend, who's a little older than I am, said a lot his training buddies are shooting for things like being able to walk a daughter down the aisle in ten years or being able to play with the grandkids in fifteen or twenty. Sure, neither of these things apply to me, but I get the idea and I'm beginning to understand it in my own life.

I look at myself right now and I see an all-around level of fitness that I never had before, ever. I have more to accomplish in this area, but I'm closer to getting there than I've ever been. And this gives me a template, a starting point, for accomplishing goals in other areas of my life.

The coming Challenge is going to be just that, a challenge. I'm in the middle of a play which is only going to get busier, and I have several other demands on my time right now. But I'll work it out. I know I will.

We don't have all the final pictures back from our final photo shoot. Even so, I will attempt to get the web site updated later this week. More soon....