March Back to Fitness!

Back in my Army and West Point days, I never thought of marching and carrying a ruck in fitness terms.  It was a necessity.  What you carried on your back is what you brought into combat.   The more you put in, the more you were weighed down.  The less you put in, the more you ran the risk of being ill-prepared.  

Recently, however, I realized the fitness benefits of rucking for civilians.  I started carrying a weighted ruck in preparation for the Shadow West Point March back that happened last week.  The March Back coincides with the annual 13-mile march back of the United States Military Academy’s Plebe Class at the conclusion of summer Cadet Basic Training.  I and about 15  fellow members of the West Point Society of Central Texas finished the march last week. The March included loaded Rucksacks and the Texas Heat!   See the picture below.  The Weather Channel even filmed a piece about us! I will let you know when it comes out. 

Vets  Marching for Fitness

Rucking has many benefits and is my latest fitness obsession.  There is even a community of Veterans that go on rucking events.  It is called GoRuck and raises money for Veterans dealing with PTSD.  I am currently training for the next major event near Austin.

Here are the five major benefits of Rucking:

  1.  Low Impact.  Unlike running that puts stress on your joints, rucking is low impact especially if you pack your ruck correctly.
  2. Burns Calories.  It burns 3 times the calories that walking does (even more in Texas heat).
  3. Carry your Hydration.  A ruck provides a convenient compartment to store water and remain hydrate.  I fill up the bladder from my Camelback in my ruck.  It adds weight and prevents me from passing out int the Texas heat!
  4. Low Cost.  I bought my rucksack for less than 40 dollars on Amazon.  There is no need to get a specialized rucksack unless you want to.  To weight it down, I just evenly distributed 5 lbs. weights that I already had in pouches. 
  5. Fun and social.  I loved marching with fellow members of the Long Grey Line and being out in nature. 

Marching with a ruck is not just for the military.  Pick up your ruck, lace up your shoes and march back to health!

The Fab Four of Fitness and Football

This is the third in my blog series Heroes in Health.  The first two in this series (linked below) examined two recent heroes who have helped me and others on our path to health. https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/06/10/heroes-of-health-series-episode-2-corey-the-cycling-king/ https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/05/13/heroes-in-health-episode-1-mother-of-weight-loss-and-a-freestyle-life/

On this one I reach back almost 40 years to examine the lessons learned from four men who were then as they are now on the cutting edge of fitness and health: the four football coaches of Northern Burlington Regional High School in the late seventies – Coaches Charlie Pirrello, Hank Kearns, Carmen Pastore, and Gary Smith.  Beyond football, these four men taught me more than fitness.  They taught me and others how to be men, to put team before self, and to judge on merit not title, race, or creed.

Coach Charlie Pirrello, the head coach of the fab four is a legend in NJ High School Football.  The 2018 inductee to the NJ Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame he has led 7 teams to the State Championship in his 50 years of coaching.  The first of these was led by my 1981 class that won on the last play of the game.  Unfortunately, I had moved to Texas after my Junior season and missed it.  But I still felt part of the team and loved seeing my quarterback (I was a Center), Chris Warrington throwing the winning pass! 

Hank the Tank Kearns, the Defensive Coordinator and JV Coach, was equally a big influence in my life.  His nickname Tank was an understatement; he was more like the Hulk.  I still remember when the linebackers were not deploying correct tackling form, he jumped in there without pads and flattened the running back!  Hank is still a fitness inspiration to me.  I follow he, Coach Pirrello and Pastore on Facebook and Hank is either biking or doing some other fitness activity. 

Carmen Pastore was the Offensive Coordinator. A former college football quarterback Coach Pastore helped orchestrate our vaunted Veer Option Offense that first came into vogue in 1975.  It was cutting edge then as it is now. 

Last was Coach Smith who taught the backs.  My brother’s coach, I remember him for his humor.  One day I went up to look at the depth chart.  Instead of seeing Donnie and Gary Grier the names on the list where Abnormal and Normal Grier.  He gave me the nickname Abnormal because of my intensity, the fact that I was on the line, and the way I yelled at the top of my lungs “Huddle” when gathering the team.  I wore that name like a badge of honor since I was a gruff lineman and linebacker while my brother was a defensive and offensive back.

The Fab Four are great coaches and leaders of men for these four and many other reasons:

  1. Constantly striving for excellence through learning and adapting.   The coaches of NBC were constantly looking for new ways and techniques to get better.  I looked forward to each summer training sessions when the coaches would return with the latest fitness techniques.  Two I remember distinctly are the Total Fatigue Weightlifting Circuit and interval running with proper technique.  Total Fatigue included completing a circuit of weightlifting that went from largest muscles (legs) to smallest muscles (triceps).  I still do the regime today since it has become one of the key approaches to gain muscle mass and endurance.  Back then it was new.  They also emphasized negative training (2 seconds up and at least 4 seconds down).  Next was interval training where we first practiced our running form (I still attempt to run like Hank the Tank taught me to this day) before completing sprint intervals.  One last thing that sticks in my mind is there willingness to adapt when something did not work. One year our football camp included three a days and we really worked hard – overly hard.  The coaches realized that we worked out too much resulting in a few injuries.  The next year they adapted when they added a rest period in Coach Pastore’s pool which resulted in a better record. 
  2.  Inspiration is as important as perspiration.  Each year the coaches made a playbook that we needed to memorize from cover to cover and guard with our lives.  The secret sauce of the playbook was not just the cutting-edge plays from the Veer Option, it also contained fitness and nutrition tips and life lessons.  I wish I still had that playbook because the quotes were so inspiring.  But you can get a good feel for them by reading Coach Pirrello’s Twitter feed.  Here is one recent one.  “I am your coach. When you get discouraged, I will encourage you. When you come up short, I want to help you come up big next time. And I will never give up on you even if you give up on yourself.” Charlie Pirrello.  He never gave up on us and today I still draw inspiration from these four great men. 
  3. Judge each man by his merit.  The late Seventies and early Eighties was a difficult time to coach.  The drug culture was in vogue.  In addition, there was sometimes difficulties in race relations.  NBC had one of the most diverse teams in the state having McGuire Air Force base in our school.  Also because of McGuire Air Force Base, we had new people coming into team each year.  I remember distinctly the day Willie Drewery joined my class in my Sophomore year.  Unknown to the program at the time, he was welcomed in with open arms and became a linchpin. He later went on to a Professional Career.   The coaches never differentiated on race, creed or color. All that matter was your football ability and the content of your character.  One way they enforced this is making the team hold hands in the huddle and by teaming up weight training partners from different races and cultures.  Lastly, our pre-game ritual included listening to equal doses of Bruce Springsteen and Chic that had a big hit at that time.  In this way, we avoided the fighting that went on in some of our rival schools.
  4. Care for Each Player.  The coaches spent time with each player if they gave a 100% and strove to be a team player.  My brother was a football talent, playing Varsity his sophomore year.  I was less of a talent playing second team Varsity and first team JV.  Even so the coaches never neglected me and worked with me to make me the best player I could be.  ,They also were always there for you.  I still have the note from Coach Pirrello to my new football coach when I had to leave for Texas for my Senior Year.   I still choke up reading it and the care Coach P gave.  I was never going to break Franco Harris’s Freshman Rushing record like my brother, but he and his coaching staff still treated me with the same respect and care.  To this day, one of my greatest awards is winning MVP for the Junior Varsity team my Junior Year.  To me, winning that award for NBC was the highlight of my high school athletic career and one of the highlights of my life. 

One last thing to say.  Charlie was not only my coach.  He was more importantly my World History teacher and one of the best teachers I ever had.  He was just as inspirational and engaging in class as he was on the field. 

40 years is a long time and a blink of the eye.  Whatever the years, the fab four still shape the man I am today!

Fitness: A Corporate and Personal Responsibility

Accenture fitness walk to raise money for Vets
Memorial Walk for Veterans

I had the good fortune in my early adult life to be in the Army.  One of the perks in the Army is that you are paid to work-out every day.  It was part of your role description and responsibility.  An unfit soldier will put himself and his platoon at risk.   I therefore had the pleasure and pain both at West Point and later active duty to exercise on a regular basis.  Sometimes, it was exhilarating like singing cadence at the top of your lungs while on a battalion run.  Other times brutal, such as the yearly Obstacle Course administered by the Department with a Heart at West Point. All of it good, necessary and part of your job description!

This all seemed to change when I left the Army and joined the consulting world.  Early morning calls replaced morning PT.  Long hours on planes and in front of a desk slinging code took a toll on my health.  It seemed in my mind at the time that fitness and taking care of myself was no longer part of my job description or even opposed to it.  I and companies at that time did not yet see the impact of wellness on work.   The drive for more billable hours and seemingly higher productivity dominated.   This corporate culture (or my take on it) resulted in weight gain, lost health, and a decline in productivity over time.

Luckily the corporate culture and my thought processes have recently changed.  Corporate wellness programs, such as Accenture’s Truly Human Campaign are now focused on fitness and the human aspects of work.  To read about this campaign, look at my prior blog here: https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/09/04/five-accenture-wellness-programs-that-saved-my-life/

Like the Army, corporations have now come to realize that being fit is a necessary part of the job.  Indeed, wellness is almost as important to the survival and strength of the company as it is to an Army platoon.  Here are three reasons why:

  1.  Improves Decision Making.  The enemy of all good decisions is stress.  Exercise and fitness help relieve stress and keep away fatigue. A simple 20-minute walk will provide a few minutes to clear your mind, allowing you to focus on the problem on hand.  Better yet, get up and walk around the office when taking a phone call meeting when things get heated. The simple step of standing up will shake off the cobwebs that tend to collect during back to back calls. 
  2. Builds Comradery.   The best thing about the Army was the comradery.  One way it was built was through morning PT.  While I am not advocating each company go on a company run each morning, I am recommending a common fitness program like Accenture Active.  This program has really helped me to know my colleagues better through fitness events (MS 150, Annual Veterans Walk, etc.) and programs (active rewards programs, Fitbit competition).  One example was a random competition that I and some colleagues engaged in on one Saturday.  One of my friends started a Fitbit weekend competition and although we were all in different states, we kept apprised with the others’ progress.   We all engaged in friendly and sometimes hilarious banter through the Fitbit app as we each surpassed 10 miles.
  3. Cuts Down on Sick Days.  Staying fit helps to keep you out of the doctor’s office and in yours during working hours.  Research conducted at Brigham Young University, the Center for Health Research at Healthways and the Health Enhancement Research Organization, suggests unhealthy eating is linked with a 66% increased risk of loss of productivity while lack of exercise is associated with a 50% increase risk of low productivity. My experience bears this out.  Before returning to fitness, I was habitually hit with bronchitis and, at least twice a year, pneumonia.  Both resulted in sick days and loss of productivity when I worked through it.  Since returning to my target weight in Nov. 2015, I have had neither bronchitis or pneumonia.  Not sure how many days have been saved but approximate it as at least a week a year.  And, an increase of productivity on those days that I should have been recovering and drove through and worked despite my illness.

These are just the top three reasons why you should consider staying fit as part of your role description as a consultant.  Increased productivity, esprit de corps and better decisions are just three reasons exercise is an imperative in the working world.  Let me close with a cadence I wrote for my team as we run from one project to another:

Everywhere we go,

people want to know,

who we are,

where we come from,

so, we tell them,

we are Accenture,

Pivot Wise Accenture,

Future forward Accenture,

focus on the human Accenture.

Hooah!

The Essentialist’s Playbook for Weight Loss

Most people try anything and everything to lose weight when first starting.  They will try the latest supplements, liquid diets, eating only select foods (cabbage soup anyone), the hottest fitness craze, eating at only certain times – you get the picture.  Let’s do A through Z and sticks to the wall and un-sticks my diet.

I was a proponent of the more is more approach for years and it didn’t work.  Over the years as my weight climbed and my hope failed, I tried everything, many simultaneously, from being a vegetarian (failed because M&M’s are not meat!), popping Green Tea pills, cleansing in various ways, the latest exercise craze, and on and on… Then I discovered two things.  Weight Watchers (WW) and the book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18077875-essentialism .  Both teach the same thing – Do less, but better.   The key to weight loss and a better, more successful life is by correctly assessing the few important priorities, focusing on these priorities exclusively, and dumping the rest.  Mr. McKeown provides how to do this in his book and WW in its classed for a Essentialist’s Playbook for Weight Loss.

 You can lose 170+ pounds like me by not doing everything but these three things:

  1. Track everything you eat or drink.  The best way to know how to lose weight is to track what you eat.  By consciously tracking your food intake, you will better understand portion control and the trigger foods you need to avoid.  You use this along with weekly weight tracking to find out what works and what foods to avoid.  That way you focus on what works, rather than trying everything that doesn’t!
  2. Be kind for yourself.  You can’t focus on what is important if you are unhealthy in body or your soul.  It is therefore important to focus on your health both mentally and physically.  Take time to journal positive thoughts, rest, and relax.  A few minutes a day of being kind to yourself will not only help you lose the stress that sabotages most people’s health.
  3. Take time to exercise.  Study upon study have shown that sitting is the equivalent or worse to smoking for health.  It does not take much to get the exercise your body needs and craves.  Get up for 10 minutes every hour and take a walk.  Also, block out 30 minutes in the morning to recharge and energize. 

Bottom line:  You do not need to do A through Z to lose weight and be a better you!  All you need is the essential 1-2-3!  Go out and practice Essentialism to gain a new body and soul.

In Just Spring

In Just-

Spring   when the lame

middle-aged man

runs   far and    wee!

And the ground-beneath

is puddle-painful

From too-much running  too-soon,

As the hobbled, middle-aged man

limps slow—ly   far and wee!

The above is my take on e.e. cummings’ classic  “In Just Spring” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/47247/in-just after my first run in Spring. Everyone wants to get out and lose those 10 pounds of insulation gained during the Winter months.  But before you go out and become the little lame woman or man, here are three rules to follow In Just Spring.

Take it Slow – It is always tempting to walk that extra mile or two when the weather gets warm and the bluebonnets are out.  That is exactly what I, my wife, and our dog Boots attempted to do on the trails on Brushy Creek.  Even with a stop at a sandwich shop for a quick bite, we ended up struggling to make it back to our car.  We ended up dragging our 70 lbs., huffing Bernese Mountain dog the last few yards.  We are still recovering!

The lesson learned is simple.  Do not overdue it with the first flowers of spring.  In the winter it is a struggle to get out and about (read how so in this blog https://weightlossleadership.com/2018/12/09/baby-its-cold-outside-but-exercise-anyway/ ).  Now that the weather is more conducive to exercise don’t try to catch up all in one day.  Take your time to slowly build up your miles, so you too don’t become the little lame woman or man (or dog!).

Do the essential – A corollary to the first rule is to focus on the essential.  In his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less, Greg Mckeown says that the key to success to health and life in general is to do “less but better”.  When waking up after our winter fog, it is tempting to try everything at once to get fit.  It is understandable, we are excited to get swimsuit ready for the summer.  So we take up the latest diet, try a myriad of fitness fads, and buy the newest exercise equipment from Amazon.  But it is better to focus of the essentials.  Track the food you eat diligently, get plenty of sleep, and focus on the now.  Don’t do everything! Do the essential well to enjoy the Spring and the new you.

Be in the Moment – The flowers are in bloom and the sun is out.  It is time to focus on the now and enjoy the new life of Spring.  One way to take it slow is to take in nature.  Sit on a bench.  Take a picture.  Lie in the bluebonnets like Boots the dog!  Clear your mind of anxiety and enjoy the blooming beauty all around you.

Dog in Bluebonnets

Follow these rules to avoid becoming the little lame, middle-aged woman or man.  Spring into the season and a new you!

Don’t Stop Believing: A Weight Loss Journey in Three Intervals

Over the last few months, I have been training to be a Spin Instructor.   The thought that I could be a spin instructor a few years back was unimaginable.  Cresting at 358 lbs., I could not ride a bike for more than a few minutes without one of two things happening.  Either I would throw out my back, or so much pressure would be applied to a certain area that it would become numb, worse yet.

Guy on Cycle
I am on the Edge of Glory

I only started to do spin after I had dropped some weight.  Then, I fell in love with spinning.  Part of it was the music, part of it was the exhilaration, but most of it was my instructor, Corey Ellis.  You can read more about this hero of health in this blog. Heroes of Health Series, Episode 2 – Corey the Cycling King

I knew I had to go that extra step after finishing 4 hours of spinning during Lifetime Fitness St. Jude’s Fund Raiser – Ride for a Reason.  I decided to get certified as a Spin Instructor.  The added benefit is I get to be trained to Corey.  See the picture of me, Corey, Kaisa, and another cyclist after the Race for the Cure.

lifetime

On October 20th, I will get the chance to teach part of a Spin Class for the first time and I am totally stoked.   I have come up with my Simple Set (a series of spinning intervals timed to a music) that speaks to both my weight loss journey and obstacles that we all need to overcome in life.

I have come up for a title and a subtitle for my Simple Set.  The main title is For Excellence We Strive.  The secondary title is called “Don’t Stop Believing, Even When You Are Living on A Prayer, Because You Could Be on The Edge of Glory” (a careful read will tell you the name of my songs!).  Here is the meaning of the two titles.

The main title is “For Excellence We Strive” for two reasons.  First, it is the motto for my class at West Point, the class of 85 (more later).  The second reason is during the training, the cyclist will have three opportunities to strive for excellence only to be beat it in the next interval.  Why?  Because the excellence of today is the mediocrity of tomorrow.  You must always strive for excellence, and when you achieve your goal, it is not time to revel and become complacent.  No, it’s time to strap on your cycling shoes, clip in, and race to beat your previous best!

I will not repeat the second title but instead tell you why I picked the three songs:

  • Don’t Stop Believing – Journey. This first song represents the start of my weight loss journey and simulates climbing up a hill that slowly ascends.  As you make the first few steps on the path to health, it is important not to stop believing you can do it.  Even though the climb is getting harder after the first few moments of success, you need to keep pushing.
  • Living on a Prayer – Bon Jovi. This second song is prefect for the mid part of any weight loss journey.  Three times in this song, you climb up as you pray that you overcome the next obstacle that is in your way.  And three times, you reach the exhilaration as you find success; only to meet the next hill.  I also picked this song because it has the lyric “Oh your half way there, oh Living on a Prayer”.   I remember my half way there moment on my weight loss journey.  It was at my 30th West Point Reunion when I had lost one half of my weight goal (see picture below)

Picture of Classmates
Half Way There – West Point Reunion

Also, many times as I got stuck, I was Living on A Prayer.  Praying that I would not give up.  Praying that I could do it.  Praying for a New Life!

  • On the Edge of Glory – Lady Gaga. I will not lie.  I picked this last song as a tribute to Lady Gaga after seeing her performance on a “Star is Born”.  But, then I realized how well it fit.  Ask any Lifetime member of Wellness that Works (the organization formerly known as Weight Watchers) and they will tell you the last few pounds to your goal are the hardest.  But it is essential not to stop when you are on the Edge of Glory.  The song is perfect for this last set because during the verses you climb large hills but then at the end you feel the exhilaration of the chorus as you spin out at 110 RPMs!

So, there you have it.  I am on the Edge of Glory and hopefully I will achieve it on October 20th.  If interested, message or text me when we solidify the exact time.  It will be at Lifetime Fitness Austin (still trying to figure if it is North or South).

Heroes of Health Series, Episode 2 – Corey the Cycling King

This is the second of my heroes of health series which recognizes people that helped me and others to be healthy and happy. You who follow my blog know that there have been two institutions that were critical in restoring and now maintaining my health: Weight Watchers and Life Time Fitness.  In my first of this episode, I wrote about my foremost hero at Weight Watchers – Julie Faircloth (read here Heroes in Health Episode 1: MOTHER of Weight Loss and a Freestyle Life).  In this one, I write about a guy who has not only encouraged me to take my health to another level but soon will be my instructor in doing so for others – Life Time’s Spin master Corey Ellis.

On a whim back in November 2017, I decided to try my hand (or better yet my bottom) at Spin Class.  Back in 2015, when I topped out at 358 lbs., riding a bike would have been unthinkable.  I could only sit on a bike seat for a matter of moments before my back (and other things) would become compressed. You can read more about those times, my first small steps at fitness with Water Aerobics, and the role Life Time played in getting fit enough to spin in this blog.  Forward to F.I.T – The Tale of Pam *2

Now with my health tenuous but restored, I decided to shake it up and try something different from the usual elliptical training and walking that I did.  I walked into the 11:15 Sunday Spin class, not knowing what to expect but eager to start my next fitness addiction.  Little did I know how hooked I would get.

I was staring at the bike not knowing how to size it or stick my feet in the cages and up walks a guy that looked like a linebacker from the Cowboys – Corey.  He offered to help me which I thought was a nice gesture from a fellow classmate.  He sized the bike and showed me how to strap in.  While he was doing it, I noticed a bunch of people coming up to talk to him and say hello.  I soon realized that he was not a fellow classmate, but the instructor.  Not only a Spin class teacher, but one of the most accomplished at Life Time, certified in all three types of Spin Class, EDG, Power, and AMP (essentially dancing on a bike).

Corey is a phenomenal motivator, teacher, and Spin instructor (as well as all around good guy).  I cannot explain the exhilaration that I and the rest of the packed class feels at the end or the fun we have during it.  But I am going to try to distill down into three points why I consider Corey to be a hero in health.

  1. The Ultimate Professional – Corey is the ultimate student of spin and he takes his craft very seriously.  He is always attending conferences and training sessions to bring best practices to work out more efficiently and bring the latest and greatest to the class.  Just today, he took us through a new technique that he learned while at a conference in Houston.  In addition, he demonstrates his professionalism through he pre-class preparation.  Each song is selected for its timing and the rhythm is matched to the needed RPM and Watts.  When he says the next interval will be 1 minute from the press of the stage button, it is!  In addition, he explains exactly the method to his madness, so you understand the reason for the workout.
  2. An Innovator – Corey also has a background as a music DJ and producer. He uses this background to bring innovation both to our exercise routine through precise timing and rhythm.  Also, the music itself is innovative.  He has a saying that Brittany Spears goes with anything and proves it.  He has made mixes with Brittany and other artists that you would never think would go together.  He also has made whole spin session sets aligned to a theme.  I loved his session during the Super bowl when he had competing music from Philly and Boston.
  3. Making Fitness Fun – The best part of the spinning with Corey is that it is fun. He always interjects humor while we are sweating away.  He is a Master of Music and will throw in several interesting points about each singer.   He also throws in some jokes about the theme of the day. Also, he knows almost every person by name and brings out interesting facts about your fellow classmates.  We also have interesting competitions like who can get to a mile first.  Lastly, he shares his life with us.  We all had the pleasure to meet his mother who is his biggest fan and who on occasion calls in or attends the class.

Because of Corey’s professionalism, innovation, and proclivity for fun, I have reached new goals.  See below the picture of me, Corey, Kaisa and another participant after the St. Jude Challenge.  This was a 4-hour spin class that Corey and others led, and I was pleased to finish!  Lastly, Corey has inspired me so much that I have signed up to take Spin Class certification.  Not sure if I can match my hero but I am going to try.

lifetime

Go Big to Get Small – The Art of Improbable Goals

For the followers of my blog, this is the short form of this blog.  The longer form is here. Long Form

My son Kyle turned me on to Tim Ferriss, the podcast king, a few years back.  What I love about Tim and the stories he tells is he always strives to do something new, something impossible.  Just to name two of the incredible things he has done is teach himself to swim a mile in one week and to become Jujitsu World Champ in a few months!  You can listen to more of Tim here! Tim Blog

Another one of my favorite podcasters is Father Mike Schmitz.  Recently he did a series on the definition and examples of courage.  According to Father Mike, “Fear is not taken away, courage is given!”  To paraphrase, you cannot be truly courageous without fear.  Courage is striking out even when you have that dry pit in your stomach.   Indeed, being fearless is a bit of a misnomer.  You must drive through your fears to become a better person, a better you.

To be like Mike and to take on Tim, I started the practice a few years back to declare improbable goals and then set out a plan to accomplish them.  I used these goals and the efforts to reach them to overcome fear, gain confidence, and lose weight.  The best example of this is finishing a Kennedy Walk – 50 miles in 20 hours or less.

When I started my weight loss journey in 2015, walking 50 yards was hard enough.  I was 358 lbs. with a distinct fear of throwing out my back even walking around the block.  I tell you all this to understand just how impossible this goal seemed at the time.   To me, it was just short of climbing Mt. Everest.

I needed something big to compel me forward, something with my back history was just a bit scary.  I wanted to walk a long distance.  I started to research on the internet what was equivalent to a marathon but for walkers.  And I found it –  the Kennedy Walk.  The Kennedy walk was established by John F. Kennedy to demonstrate the fitness of the Armed Forces.  It must be completed in 20 hours.  Bobby Kennedy famously completed the walk one winter’s day in his loafers walking along the Potomac.

One key element for establishing a large goal was done, I now had the target.  But I needed a second element – a reason.  The reason in this case was more important than the goal.  I wanted to honor a former colleague in the Army who was lost while serving this country in Afghanistan – Richard McEvoy and to raise money for returning vets.  Dick was KIA in Afghanistan on August 22nd, 2015 while training the Afghani police. He was a contractor after serving 28 years in the service. Col McEvoy (then Captain) and I served together in the 3-60 Infantry Battalion. He was the epitome of the USMA motto: Duty, Honor, and Country. In honor of Dick, the walk served as a fund raiser for the Merivis Foundation, a non-profit that trains returning veterans in Austin for the IT industry and the Young Marines, a service group in Austin.

With a worthy cause and a goal firmly established, I set out to complete a 50 mile walk in 20 hours or less.  But I could not do it all at once.  So, I broke it out in sizeable chunks.  I also picked a venue – the Lady Bird Lake trail in Austin – that could be walked 5 times to equal 50 miles.   So, in the spring of 2016, I started to train for the first Annual McEvoy Memorial Kennedy Walk.

Every Saturday, I took an increasingly longer walk.   Lady Bird Lake trail was the perfect venue.  It is shaded much of the way, had adequate rest rooms and water and the city was immediately reachable.   I started breaking up some of my longer walks by stopping at a restaurant or store to eat some healthy food/snacks (and ok a beer).  Slowly, I went from 3 to 5 to 10 to 30 miles!  I was ready.

I finished the 50 miles, McEvoy Memorial, Kennedy Walk on Nov. 5, 1986.  Here is a video of me introducing it.  Kennedy Walk

Here is me at the finish.

cropped-don-finish-e1514210274247.jpg

I made it in approximately 16 and a half hours.  The drive to finish the walk gave me the impetus to reach the Lifetime distinction at Weight Watchers.  As I walked along the path, I thought about how striving for big goals helped me to serve a great cause and to become smaller in weight and more confident in my health.  I came up with these three major elements that commend the art of setting improbable goals.

  1. Compelling Purpose to Move Forward – Setting a major goal that seems improbable gives you added motivation to stick with the day to day difficulty of staying on track.  Once I set the goal, I could not let myself, the Veterans, and the memory of my colleague down.  Life is indeed 90% perspiration, but you need the 10% of inspiration to compel you forward to a better you.
  2. Decomposable into Smaller Chunks – You cannot achieve monumental goals in a day or a week (unless you are Tim Ferris who makes a living out of it).  For ordinary people such as myself, the only way to achieve something big is to plan to break it down into smaller chunks.  In this case, the selection of the Lady Bird Lake loop was the perfect venue.
  3. A Cause Worthy of the Effort – When you are selecting an improbable goal, it is important to back it with a worthy cause. In this case, the cause was worthier that the effort.  Our Veterans, both the fallen and the living, protect us and sacrifice for a greater purpose themselves – the freedom and liberty of the United States.  50 miles is not nearly enough to walk for sacrifices they have given.

On Memorial Day, I will do a five-part sequel to this blog with the words that I spoke at each 10-mile mark in 2016.  Never forget our soldiers and service people this Memorial Day.

Every Journey to Health Starts with the First Step!

Today I was starting my normal Saturday practice that I initiated about two years ago.  Each Saturday, I get up about 5 AM and go to Life Time Fitness in North Austin followed by a Weight Watchers meeting in Round Rock (read more about this practice here The Saturday Texas Two Step!).   Normally I half groggily climb the steps to the gym in a daze.  But today I noticed something different.  On each step there was one word which when put together made this sentence: Every Journey Starts with the First Step!

Those words brought back to mind my first tentative steps in beginning my weight loss journey.  3 years later, I am 170 lbs. lighter and a whole lot happier and healthier.  But when I first started out I felt a little like Bilbo at the start of The Lord of the Rings when he left the Shire and hummed:

“The Road goes ever on and on,

Down from the door where it began.

Now far ahead the Road has gone,

And I must follow, if I can,

Pursuing it with eager feet,

Until it joins some larger way,

Where many paths and errands meet.

And whither then? I cannot say.”  J.R.R Tolkien

Indeed, the first steps of any journey are exciting but a little scary.  Here are a few hints for you that are starting out on the Road to Health:

1. Get a good check-up before the Journey:  Most people before they take their car out on a long trip get the oil changed or a tune-up.  Before embarking on a weight loss journey, it is important to get a check up of your own.  For me this was my first step.  I, like most guys I know, hate to go to the Doctor.   And when they do, they do not follow up.  But in my case, I could not avoid it any longer.  My shoe size had increased from a size 11 to a 12 ½ in a little over three months.  I also was feeling tired.

What was shocking was when I first got my checkup, my blood work all came back great.  Hard to believe but at 350+ lbs.  my cholesterol and sugar levels were normal.  But I knew something was wrong and my Doctor provided me with referrals to specialists that correctly diagnosed what was wrong.  A few weeks, and a few appointments later, I had the medication and the CPAP machine that I needed.  These two items collectively helped to get my shoe size back down to an 11 and take off 20+ lbs. of water that was slogging around.   My advice to all new weight loss journeyers:  Before starting out, get a checkup and take action on recommendations.

2. Play “Body May I?”: When I was young kid, back before video games (or even videos), we used to play the game “Mother May I?”  For those unfamiliar with the game, one person (it could be Mom) stands facing away from a line of kids.  Each child the takes turns asking, “Mother may I take . . . steps?”  And the child who is mother replies yes or no. The game ends when the first person makes it to Mother.

Now it was up to the person that played Mother to allow the step or not.  And there were different strategies to win.  One strategy was to go big first and ask for “Two Giant Steps”.  Often this strategy would fail because the Mother did not want the game to end and even if they granted you two giant steps at first, would decline the next few requests.  Another strategy was to ask for some crazy, wacky step that the Mother wanting to see it, would grant.  My favorite was the double twisty, flip flop step, which would be two cross over of my legs, followed by forward roll (my version of a flip/flop).  This may win the first game on a good day, but usually Mother would disallow it or never allow it again.

No, the strategy that usually worked were a series of baby step requests, followed by a medium step or two to win the game.  Mother would allow it because you were not being greedy.  I would ask for it like this “Mother May I take one little, bitty baby step please”.

Now what the heck does this have to do with Weight Loss.  Here is the metaphor.  When you are starting out, instead of Mother May I, you need to ask Body May I.  If you ask for two Giant Steps out of the gate before you are ready, you are likely to not be able to take any other steps due to injury.  Likewise, if you go on a fad diet or exercise routine (the equivalent of the double twisty, flip flop step), you may lose weight for awhile but in the next part of the journey it all comes rushing back.  No, when playing Body May I, you need to start off with Baby Steps and then progress to Medium Steps.  That is what I did.  I could not walk far because of my joints so I did low impact water aerobics.  I then progressed to the medium step which for me was the elliptical trainer.  By the end of the journey, I was doing 4 hours of Spinning non-stop or walking 50 miles in one day.  Remember start out with baby steps and then progress.

3. Pack the Right Provisions: Before you embark on any journey, it is necessary to pack the right provisions.  This is doubly true when trekking to your weight loss goal.  The first thing that I did after learning about healthy foods from Weight Watchers is clean out my pantry of Peanut M&M’s and Cheeto’s and replaced it with fruit and other healthy snacks.  These nutritious, yet energy packed foods, helped me grow stronger along the way.

4.  Bring a Buddy: A trip is always better if you take it with others.  Continuing on with the Lord of the Rings theme from earlier, Frodo did not face the Black Riders by himself.  No he brought Sam, Merry and Pippin!  When I started out, I had several groups that traveled with me along the way.  These groups include Weight Watchers Saturday Morning group, my Sister in Law Sherri’s fitness group, and my company group Accenture Active.  

In closing, you can’t complete the journey until you take the first step.  So like another old 80’s Christmas Show, “Just Put One Foot In Front Of The Other, And Soon You’ll be Walking Out the Door!”

one foot 2

Put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking ‘cross the floor.
You put one foot in front of the other
And soon you’ll be walking out the door.

You never will get where you’re going
If ya never get up on your feet.
Come on, there’s a good tail wind blowin’
A fast walking man is hard to beat.

If you want to change your direction,
If your time of life is at hand,
Well, don’t be the rule, be the exception
A good way to start is to stand.   Rankin/Bass

Fat to Fit Again! The Power of Habit

My last blog told the story of how I went from a fit Army officer to a 358 lbs. behemoth sprawled faced down after tripping leaving work at 3 AM with broken glasses and bruised pride.  You can read it hear. Fit to Fat: Lessons Learned While Doubling My Weight

At basically the nadir of my 50+ years, I decided to turn my health and my life around somehow, someway.  I did not get all the way at once.  I still had the bout with my colleague when I was gasping for breath after climbing a set of two sets of stairs. Read it here.  But at least at that point I decided to do something, somehow.  This is the story of how I went from Fat to Fit Again by killing the 7 deadly habits that explained in my most recent previous blog.

Before I discuss that let me talk to you a bit about Habits. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg linked here  The Power of Habit is a must read for anyone that is seeking to change the habits that caused them to gain weight (or any other nefarious thing).  I listened to the audiobook half way through my 178 lbs. weight loss journey (wish I read it earlier).

If you are struggling with any bad behavior DROP EVERYTHING AND READ IT NOW!  The proposition from the book is we are creatures of habit.  The book can be summed up by this quote “There is nothing you cannot do if you get the habits right!”   On any given day, you do at least 40% of anything by habit.  For example, you get up, your breath is sour, and you smell so you brush your teeth and take a shower.   Depending on what is more important to you (I brush my teeth first), your habit is consistently the same.  Every habit is triggered by an event (halitosis from sleeping with your mouth closed), followed by the habit (brushing my teeth for 45.7 seconds followed by mouth wash) to gain a reward (the ability to hopefully kiss my wife without her turning away!).

First you must realize your trigger, then the habit to give your reward.  If you can realize the trigger (sometimes it is deceptive so use root cause analysis) and the resulting reward, you can change the intervening habit to get a similar award.  We are not Pavlov’s dog, but we are sure close.  The key things with humans is you can discern the trigger, change the habit, and earn the same or similar award.  So now I will tell you how I dealt with the 7 deadly habits that changed me from Fit to Fat again.  In all seven, I list the bad habits I had, the trigger that caused it, the habit that I changed and the reward that I still got even though the habit was changed.

  1. Bad Habit: Binge Eating of Peanut M&Ms. New Habit: Eating filling fruit.  I told in the last blog how I would drink cup full of Peanut M&M’s to sustain me from long nights of driving my team to create software.  I changed this habit in three ways.  First, I tracked the number of Weight Watcher points associated with a cup of peanut M&M’s (27 WW Smart Points per cup– more than 4/5 my daily allowance).  Then I figured out the trigger.  It was at approximately 3 hours after lunch when I felt tired and needed to get out of the chair.  The habit was to walk to the front desk and fill a coffee cup with Peanut M&Ms and the reward was a burst of energy from sugar.   What I did once I realized the trigger and the reward, I just changed the habit to get a similar award.  An Apple has natural sugar but is zero points.  So, I walked a similar distance to the break room and grabbed an apple.
  2. Bad Habit: Overworking New Habit: Delegating and mentoring. One of the main reasons that I gained weight is I tried to do everything myself and ended up working 16+ days.  The trigger was an overwhelming sense of responsibility to my job and the satisfaction of a successful project.  Beyond the ancillary consequence of gaining weight since I put my health secondary, I was not fully utilizing my team or giving them a sense of accomplishment on their own.  So chiefly for selfish reasons, I realized I could no longer be an iron man and started to delegate.  I adopted an approach of Mentoring and not Mangling with dictates and proclamations.  This not only gave me time to focus on my health, it also allowed us to accomplish the mission, thus fulfilling my sense of responsibility.
  3. Bad Habit: Not Sleeping New Habit:  Sleeping more (but still not enough!).  Delegating helped me to get more sleep.  But I also took other measures.  Instead of working or listening to books on one of the many plane trips that I took, I did a mindfulness exercise (in my case as a Catholic I said a Rosary), then calmed I went to sleep on the plane.  Also, exercise helped to induce me to get more sleep.  I also monitored my sleep habits with a Fitbit.  Despite all these efforts (and another effort I will mention later), I was only able to up my average sleep to 6.2 hours from a paltry 5.1.   But it is progress.  Sleep by the way is one of the most important factors to weight loss.  Almost every week I failed to lose weight on my weight loss journey it was due to a lack of sleep.
  4. Bad Habit: Stressing out New Habit: Working out.   Stress was one of the triggers to so many of my bad habits.  Depression and binge eating are too in particular.  There are two ways I countered the trigger of stress.  When I felt it coming on, I made sure I planned a Beer Walk after work.  That is where I would make a 2-3-mile trek to the Banger’s Bar that is just off trail in Austin Town lake.  I would have a beer and then walk back.  Here is a picture of me returning from my most recent beer walk and enjoying an Austin sunset!   IMG_3391The other thing I do is I sing Karaoke with an app called Sing Smule.  I don’t do it in the office (well at least not normally).  But singing a few tunes is a great way to get the stress and the fat invoking Cortisol down!
  5. Bad Habit: Not going to the doctors New Habit: Doing exactly what the doctor told me.  In my previous blog, I talked about how I skipped going to the doctors because of work and paid for it.  I paid for it in two ways.  I had Sleep Apnea and an undiagnosed condition that caused me to retain 25+ lbs. of fluid.  Once I finally went to the doctors, I kept going.  And I did what they told me.  That meant living with a CPAP for a year and taking it to all my favorite Midwest states for work (don’t try to get distilled water at midnight in Topeka).  I also took my meds.  These two simple things took off 25+ lbs. in water weight and reduced my shoes size by 21/2 sizes.
  6. Problem: Depression Antidote: Being Thankful and Grieving. I had a lot of things go wrong in 2012 most importantly losing my Mother – my last parent.  I drove on and tried to work myself out of the grief.  Bad idea.  After a year of trying that, I pulled myself out of my funk by taking time to grieve and being thankful for all the good things that were coming my way (Kid’s graduation, daughter’s wedding).  When you are sad, look for something for which to be thankful but more importantly take time to remember the person you lost!  Here is the blog I wrote about the thankfulness I felt on another sad moment. Life’s Game Changers – The Power of Thanksgiving
  7. Bad Habit: Not drinking water and drinking Coke. New Habit: Drinking flavored Sparkling Water.  This sounds weird, I do not like drinking water.  But I love carbonated drinks.  Once I realized I was drinking a lot of calories, I decided to try zero calorie, sparkling water.  To save money, I got a soda stream machine and I buy flavor pods available in the store.  Water along with sleep.

And there you have it.  I changed my habits and transformed my life.  178 lbs. gained and then lost and never, ever coming back again.  You can go from Fat to Fit like me with the Power of Habit.