Saturday, April 27, 2013

What's New, Buckaroo?

Five year update!!  One handy thing about having a blog it makes it much easier to remember what life was like at a distant time.  What was I doing five years ago? What was I thinking about?   What was important to me?  Definitely not the same things as now.  I think everyone could say that though.  Five years is a long time.

In 2008, when I last put up a post, my kids were in grade school, I had been doing Ashtanga yoga for eight years, I drove a BMW convertible and I pretty much thought I was on top of my world, or pretty close to it.

Now, in 2013, all three of my kids are in or soon will be in college (aka: bankruptcy), I've been a couch potato for almost all of the last five years, I drive a Prius and I am beginning to realize that I'm old (55 years fwiw).

Sometime around the time of my last post, I was getting kind of disenchanted with Ashtanga.  I was approaching what I perceived to be the limit of what I could do given the practice opportunities (or lack of practice opportunities) that I had to work with.  I was ok with flexability. I could do second series at an acceptible level, I could do many of the third series poses, I was able to get my heels in kapotasana, I could do front and side splits, though usually needed some prep work to do the side splits, I could have my hands pulled to my ankles in back bend.  But..., I hadn't been given a new pose in at least two years.  In fact, I was given the Nakrasana twice, showing me that I really wasn't someone that was being paid attention to.  I also had no core strength.  Despite eight years of pretty regular practice, I still couldn't jump back, I could drop into Karandavasana but could not lower into it and could not get back up at all (in fact, I don't think I was ever able to even get my knees off of my arms, much less moving back and up).  I struggled with most of the arm balances, or at least the exits.

To try to break out of the rut, I decided to try to get stronger.  I had read about Crossfit training.  There was a Crossfit gym in Encinitas and it was run by an ex-navy Seal who sometimes came to the yoga studio to practice.  I went on line and looked at some of the workouts.  I started doing some stuff at home to try to build a base before showing up and trying it for real.  I was amazed at how weak I was.  I couldn't do one pull up.  I was okay on pushups but nothing like what I was able to do when I was young and in the Army.  I decided to start taking classes anyway.  Sometimes, what it takes for a breakthrough is committing to something, just jumping in and going for it.  If anyone is unfamilar with Crossfit, their workouts involve a wide range of exercises and activities.  They are designed to be intense for even the most fit person in the gym.  For the untrained and unfit, most of the workouts are undo-able unless they are scaled way back.

This particular Crossfit gym took the intensity beyond what most places would do. Navy Seals being navy seals I guess. They would amp up standard already difficult workouts.  For example, a standard "benchmark" workout in the Crossfit world would be "Angie":  100 pullups followed by 100 pushups followed by 100 sit ups followed by 100 squats.  At this gym, they would do 'running Angie' where you had to run a mile after each of the exercises.  Instead of doing a single benchmark work out, they would combine two.  I think the first workout I ever went to was Frannie, a combination of Annie: 50 reps of jumping rope with the rope going around twice for each jump (aka a double under) then 50 sit ups, then 40 of each then 30 etc down to 10, then Fran, a short but brutal workout designed to induce muscle failure and near cardiac arrest:  21 reps of 95lb thrusters (going from a squat with a 95lb barbell to standing and pressing the weight overhead then back down to a squat, repeat) then 21 pull ups, then 15 of each, then 9 of each.  I couldn't do double unders so I had to do 3x single unders (150, 120, 90, 60, 30 reps).  after all those jumps and sit ups, I was already drained.  I was unable to push the bar up even once.  They quickly jumped in and stripped me down to an empty bar (45 lbs) and I struggled even with that.  I couldn't do any pull ups.  I was exhausted.

Long story shorter, I ended up hurting myself by pigheadedly trying to do too much and not scaling stuff back to make the workouts more doable.  I strained or pulled a rectus muscle.  It wasn't that big of a deal initially so I kept trying to do yoga and doing lower intensity Crossfit work outs.  I eventually had to stop the Crossfit and a week later stopped the yoga because I couldn't do anything that involved ab contraction (everything).  I sat around playing video games for a couple of months letting the weakness resolve.  By the time the abs felt better, I realized how much it would hurt to restart the Crossfit and the yoga too.  I had been losing yoga motivation well before that but after the time out, I just didn't want to do it any more.  I didn't see the point.

When I joined the Army after high school, I weighed 125 lbs. I college and med school, I think I was around 140 or so.  I'm pretty sure I was around 155-160  in 2008 when I eventually stopped doing Ashtanga.  When I took these picturesa couple of years ago, I think I was around 180.

Sometime around last June I weighed 197, so way more obese than in these photos.  I know I had to have gotten up to 200lbs.  I had no dress clothes I could wear.  None.  Not even a belt.  I would just wear shorts/t-shirt, sweats when it was cold and hospital scrubs at work, so I didn't need to fit any clothes.  I did have to bump up to extra large scrubs though.  One time I had to go to court for a hearing.  After going through almost every thing in my closet, I had to stop at Men's Wearhouse on the way to the hearing and get a coat, belt, slacks and shirt.

When I stood around, I could rest my arms on my gut.  Why in the world would I let this happen?  No idea.  It just did.

Both of my parents had heart attacks, were obese, had diabetes, had cancer and died from the accumulation of these problems.  What's the most difficult river in the world to cross?  De-Nial.  It was slow suicide, the gastronomic equivalent of smoking cigarettes.  Worse, I deal with obesity in the care of my patients and have a difficult time with empathy when it affects their health.  And yet, here I was doing it too.

Somehow, last summer I decided to change, or to at least try.  I knew that it was mostly going to be an issue of behavioral change, specifically changing how, what and when I ate.  I also knew I wanted to be in better shape.  I was really worried about dying from heart disease and of getting diabetes.  I've taken care of people who get sequential amputations due to diabetes, lose their vision, their kidneys, etc.  Where I was health wise and age wise, I had to change then or I would have few chances of being able to avoid those problems as I got older.  I'm still not sure what the lever was that got me off of the couch,got that bag of Lay's and the channel changer out of my hands and got me up and out doing things but something did.

I joined the Encinitas YMCA in July 2012.  They have a pool, a lot of work out areas, aren't too crowded, they are very in-expensive and are pretty easy to get to.  I didn't really do much working out there.  I started off with jogging and swimming laps.  I accepted early on that I wouldn't be able to do much of anything.  Initially, I was able to run a two to three blocks but would get out of breath with the least uphill slope.  I accepted run-walking.  I did not want to try the "be tough and just do it" approach because it thought I would probably not stay with it if it was miserable.  So, I went until it hurt , then I walked until I was better, then would jog some more.  It took me three and a half months to be able to eventually make it around a fairly flat four mile loop without stopping.  In that time, I lost 25 lbs.  Once I was able to do that flat section, I started trying to do hills.  The route from the Y to my house is almost exactly 10K and in up and down hill the whole way.  I got that done in November.  I then learned a number of people at work were going to do the Carlsbad half marathon in January 2013.  I figured, what the hell and bought an entry.  Most of my training runs sucked going up to the run, but as most people said would be the case, the energy of the event made the run much easier than the training.  I ran a steady 10 min/mile pace and finished in 2hrs 10 minutes and change.  I got passed by some people wearing tu-tus but didn't get passed by any children, thank god.  I weighed around 160 by that time, down 40 lbs in seven months.

Shortly after that run I decided to ramp up my running.  I planned to do two other half marathons in the San Diego area in the next 6 months.  I also wanted to do some trail runs.  I went ut on a check it out run for a 10 mile trail run in the Black Mountain area.  I had to walk the hills but about 5 miles in, I started to get significant pain on the outer side of my right knee.  I didn't know it at the time but quickly learned that I had IT band syndrome.  I opted stop running altogether rather than make the mistake that many do of worsening the problem by "running through it".

I wanted to strengthen the supporting muscles so I stared doing some Barre classes and joined a Crossfit gym near work.  I took a much more cautious approach to the crossfit this time.  I never did a workout as prescribed.  I always scaled it way back.  I got into it, in fact i started going too much, sometimes did two work outs a day.  Some aspects of it worried me though.  I didn't want to get injured an dthen have to sit out a long time again.  The weight lifting worried me about injury.  Moving weights around rapidly is an invitation for serious injury if it's being done carelessly or incorrectly.  I opted to get some separate training in Olympic lifting.  The person who runs the Olympic lift class at my crossfit gym is the part owner and a trainer/coach at an Olympic lifting /crossfit gym in San Diego.  It's not too far away so I decided to start going there to learn how to do the complex lifts correctly.

In addition, I was starting to do yoga again.  Initially, I just took some classes at The Y and at one of those hot yoga places near home  I couldn't do that for long though.  I would get too angry with the instructiors ruining the yoga with their constant idiodic yammering.  So I started back at the Ashtanga center.  I was no where near where I had been, especially with back bending, but I hadn't lost any where near as much as I thought I would have.

Eventually, it became too much.  I first dropped the running, then phased out most of the yoga.  Now, I'm not even doing the crossfit that much.  I can't think of an activity in which I would be more out of place than going to an Olympic weightlifting gym, but that's where I'm at right now.  I'm trying to keep my mouth shut, stay out of the way, not look too much like an idiot and learn what I can.

It's pretty humbling to be this weak.  There is no one in the gym who lifts as little as I do.  Every woman there moves more than I can, most of them a lot more.  The guys all pretty much lift multiples of what I can move.  I just keep telling myself that I have never done anything strength wise in my life so I shouldn't expect to be able to do much.  The lifts are complex, to me any way, so I need to focus mainly on technique while I hopefully build some baseline of strength.  That said, in the 2013 Master's National Weightlifting, the lifter who won the 69 kg body weight class in my age group didn't lift that much more than I can do now.  Granted he was the only lifter there in that age and weight class.  But still, a win is a win.

I'm happy to be trying new things, something I try to get my kids to do.  I'm happy I'm no longer slowly dying on the couch.  I just hope I didn't die too much already.  I'm glad I'm back on the yoga mat and running and getting stronger, however slowly it takes.    It's better than what I was doing before.  And, my old clothes fit.  Well, actually,they don't.   I went to a retirement party recently and I had to choose a different set of slacks as the first pair I tried was too large.  Cool.