Sunday, January 4, 2015

How My Wife, My Brother, and My Bike Saved My Life and Why I Hate New Year's Resolutions

I have a friend who says I like to piss all over everything good.  She says I take something simple and enjoyable like Valentine's Day or a pot luck dinner and pull it apart.  Well, Christy, allow me to piss all over New Year's.

New Year's resolutions are a terrible idea.  Philosophically, we are short-lived sacks of organic matter, crowding a smallish rock in outer space that is circling a medium-sized star.  The universe doesn't give a fuck about the brief periodic episode of sunshine that hits our portion of the planet every 365.24 rotations around the sun that we call "New Year's Day."

Yeah, Just went all Carl Sagan on your ass.  Science.
Divisions of time like years, days, and seconds are constructs of our sensory primate brains, all merely relative to our own mortality.  We use these constructs to help us understand and arrange our brief and fleeting time in the sun.

Algal blooms like the sun too.
Point is, each day is as good as the next.  If you want to better your evanescent experience, why wait for a specific day?  You probably knew, long before, that you needed to make a change.

In fact, waiting for New Year's Day to start making life changes is almost sure to fail.  It probably means that these are changes that you don't want to make because they're difficult and unlikely to succeed.  In fact, a study by the Journal of Clinical Psychology recently found that of the 47% of Americans who make resolutions, only 8% will succeed.  The number one resolution?  To lose weight.  But, as Dean pointed out in the COMBO blog recently, most people don't really want to lose weight, because it's hard. 

I too want to lose weight.  Again. 

My old friends know that I used to be bigger.

It was hard to find this picture.  I avoided cameras when I was this big.  Mirrors too.  I knew something was wrong, but I hid from it, ignored it.  Hard to hide when you're that big though.

Now, I was never skinny, but as an adult, I wasn't too fat.  But I also didn't take care of myself.  I used to joke that I wouldn't run unless someone was chasing me.  Humor was a defense mechanism, I think.

During undergrad, I started eating more and moving less.  Kids followed, and my life got busy.  I used this as an excuse to not take care of my health.  Being busy is no excuse.  But, you've heard this story before, right? 

By my second year of law school, I had ballooned up to 287 pounds.  On my 5'11" frame, this was ruinous.  I was headed for heart disease.  My cholesterol was high, I would get gassed walking up the stairs at Ohio Stadium, and I was on my way to type-2 diabetes. 

Reminds me of my favorite line from the spy cartoon Archer, when he is assigned to assassinate Spirodon Skorpio.

Malory: Locate a stolen shipment of Red Eye missiles and kill the arms dealer trying to sell them, Spirodon Skorpio.

Archer: Whoa! What, is diabetes busy? 

After law school, I decided to change my life.  I was starting a new job, so I figured that it would be a good time to incorporate new habits, like exercise.  So, I started going to the gym and using the elliptical machine or stationary bike.  Some weightlifting too.  It was hard going at first, but I saw good results.  Couple years later, I was down to 245.

Better, but the cardio equipment was getting easy, and I had plateaued on weight loss.  Plus, I hated the gym.  It was a hassle.  Pack, drive, exercise, shower, change, drive.  Really inefficient - like two hours for 45 minutes of cardio.  Plus, it was a crowded, hot, gross box.  But I didn't know any different.

Then, eight years ago, for Christmas, my wife asked for a bike.  She worked only a couple miles from home and she thought it would be simpler and more enjoyable to ride a bike to work some days.  I bought her a used steel mountain bike from the 1990s, a Scott Arapaho, that I put road tires on.

My wife never pressured me to ride with her.  But she set the example, and she told me how much she enjoyed it every time.  It was making a positive change in her life - not weight loss, but just general happiness.  It was good for her to get the fresh air and the little bit of peaceful ride.

So, one day, I decided to try riding it to work myself.  Why not?  It was a nice day, and I was tired of the gym.

That ride changed my life.  True, I had to stop twice to rest on the 7.5 mile ride.  And true I was slow, wobbly, and sweaty.  I rode on the sidewalk instead of the road.  I must have looked like a hot mess.

But it was fun!  It brought back all of the joy of riding a bike as a child.  The freedom, the fun, and, even better, I wasn't sitting in a car for the short, but frustrating drive to work.

I was hooked.  I bought my own crappy 1990s steel mountain bike (a Trek 760) and started riding it everywhere.  The path to freedom cost me the princely sum of $65.

Reflectors for everyone!
When it got cold, I didn't stop riding, I just dressed warmer.  I learned how to dress for rain.  And when the snow started to fall, I could have packed it up, but why?

Eventually I could ride to work without stopping.  I wanted to go further.  My brother, nine years my senior, is quite an athlete.  And, at this time, he was regularly racing in triathlons and was training for a marathon.

Hi Jon
I bought my first road bike - a crappy Univega from the 90s, complete with downtube shifters and platform pedals.  My brother started taking me on weekend road rides.  In retrospect, this must have sucked for him.  He was used to 45-60 mile Saturday rides at a 20 MPH pace.  For me, he had to slow down to 13-15 MPH and 20-30 miles.  But he never complained.  And he was always available.  It was due to him that I learned to love long road rides, with sun baked and wind chapped skin, and that muscle heat that comes from sustained exercise.  We still ride together, although I keep up now.

And my body started changing again.  Biking is a gateway drug.  Road riding led to running, which led to swimming and triathlons.  And, to keep in shape in winter, I started mountain biking - a pursuit that has become a full-blown obsession for me.

The result?  An adult low weight for me of 193 pounds.

Of course, it wasn't just exercise.  I had to obsess about eating right too.  It was hard.

A couple years ago, I ran a marathon.  I also raced in an Olympic triathlon, and a half dozen other triathlons, duathlons, runs, and bike races.

But I quit all of that to focus on mountain biking.  Also, because running and swimming are boring.  And I have taken my eyes off my diet again.  Guess what happened?

Yeah, so I have 20 pounds to lose to get back there.  That's 10% of my body weight.  Shit.  But I will lose it.  I am resolved.  Just don't call it a resolution. 

What about you?  Be brave.  Or at least be resolute.  


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