Saturday, February 3, 2007
And you, gentle blog readers, can help me by pledging. Here's my pledge page for the 2007 MS City to Shore 150:
One hour twenty minutes hiking along the Valley Creek Trail and Mount Misery Trail in Valley Forge National Park. Distance, about 3 miles. The time was a lot less than on my previous hike on this trail in December. Then I needed to stop halfway up the hill for a rest; now I got it all in one go, although it was tough.
As I've mentioned in another posting, I was hiking with a fellow bike blogger, the Dan behind:
It was good to have a friend on one of these hikes. It was a little annoying that even with a 254 pound hiking companion I was seeing so much of his back. Obviously the search continues for someone with less speed and mobility than I have.
"I have a suggestion for you. Join a 'Team' for your MS-150 ride. A good team will typically have a number of training rides scheduled during which the more experienced riders will be more that willing to help you develop your skills."
And I replied:
"That's a good idea, and thank you for suggesting it. The drawbacks are that I wasn't planning on riding the entire event and that I am a beginner. Obviously if I'm strong enough of a rider by July I could ride the entire course. At the moment I've had 3 hours experience on a bicycle, period. Yes, I'll get better, but will I get THAT much better? As it stands I don't think I'm what a team is looking for in a member."
Post in haste, repent at leisure. Within a few minutes of the comment appearing on the blog I was reconsidering my position. I remember playing on a number of chess teams over the years. I often fond myself playing bottom board because my rating was lower than that of other team members. While the first board didn't spend much time kibitzing my games, I did learn from him and the other team members. And none of the team members regretted my joining them - after all, chess is fun. Brutal, tiring, emotionally and psychologically draining, but fun. I can imagine such an atmosphere prevails among the members of a team in a charity ride as well.
But what was troubling for me was that I instantly had a reaction of "I can't" to a proposal of "Why don't you...?" One of the problems I, and perhaps other, recovering obese people have is a negativity about our own abilities. "I can't this, I can't that, just let me eat and be fat" could serve as the motto.
Unfortunately, even though I've dropped 123 pounds and 12 inches off my waist, I still carried in my heart the negativity I needed to shed. Not the amount I used to have; if I kept it all I'd still be 385 pounds, or worse. But enough negativity was present that it was causing me to automatically say "No" to opportunities and experiences that could only help me improve as a bicyclist, and perhaps, as a man. My weight loss, my exercising, my hiking, my learning to ride a bike - all these were my saying "Yes" where I had said "No". And yet I said "No" again.
I brooded on this matter during the night. The next morning, I met for a hike with another bike blogger, the Dan behind:
Dan is one of the few people who have seen me on a bike. Despite knowledge of my abilities, he invited me to ride on his team at the MS 150 City to Shore in September. And I accepted the invitation.
So, my apologies to Geekcyclist. I'll not be so quick to say "I can't" in the future.
Friday, February 2, 2007
I spent yesterday in Baltimore, and I have some more non-scale
victories to report. I was visiting two friends, co-authors of a study
of possible sources for Shakespeare's The Tempest. One can determine
their real names by searching
humanities.literature.authors.shakespeare, but for my post I'll call
them Prospero and Miranda.
The first NSV I discovered on getting into my car, AKA The Neilmobile.
There's a lot more space between me and the steering wheel. If this
keeps up I may need to move the seat forward.
The drive from my home to Baltimore normally takes 2.5 hours. This trip
there was an accident on I-95 that added a half-hour to the commute.
Despite that, I had none of my usual road-travel fatigue. I was very
pleased at this discovery, for Prospero and Miranda are both active
individuals, and I needed to have energy to keep up with them.
My hosts for the day were very happy to see so much less of me. We had
last met in Philadelphia in April, back when I was 330 pounds. Miranda
opened the door and exclaimed
"Oh brave new Neil that hath so little fat on you!:
Perhaps the words were different, but the spirit was the same.
After lunch in Mt Washington, Prospero lead us on a mile and a half
hike at Lake Roland. I thought I did quite well even though I wasn't
dressed for hiking. (Note to self - buy hiking boots for next trip.) I
wasn't in the least bit tired, even though the hike involved climbing
hills, and I could keep up with Prospero as he lead us up those
cloud-capp'd towers.The rest of the day was spent in more sedentary
pursuits, but again I had no tiredness or that sense of dull-wittedness
that obesity can bring. Not that I would be foolhardly enough to debate
Prospero over a matter of Shakespeare in his apartment....
In fact, the only time I experienced fatigue the entire time was during
the trip back home. I left at nearly 9:00 PM, and as a precaution I
stopped at the Maryland border to 'caffinate'. I reached home about
midnight, tired, but tired from a full day of activitity, not tired
from carrying the weight of two people. It was time to round this
little adventure with a sleep.
To some, this pageant I've described must seem insubstantial, but for me
being able to participate in life's simple pleasures - a hike along a
lake, a trip to a nearby city - and having the energy to enjoy them, is
the goal of weight loss. And I hope these revels never end.
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Last night I attended a concert by the Reading Symphony Orchestra. It's
the first time I've been out to a concert in a number of years. It was
a triumph, not only for the RSO and guest conductor Robert Franz, but
myself as well. Here's my list of non-scale victories I celebrated yesterday evening:
- I could drive the hour-long trip to Reading (and back) without
- I parked eight blocks from the concert hall and managed the hike
without being winded or tired in my legs. Incidentally, I parked in a
part of Reading that I wouldn't normally choose to walk through. Lucky me!;
- I wasn't excessively warm in the packed hall;
- I fit neatly into my seat, and I could get in and out of it and my
- I had no difficulty climbing the steps to the balcony section;
- I looked good! The suit I was wearing was three sizes smaller than
those I wore a year ago. Yes, I looked big, but not BIG.
- I managed a very quick walk from the concert hall back to my car
without being winded, tired, or robbed. (Sorry, but as a fat,
middle-aged, well-dressed male in that part of town I felt like I had a
sign on my back that said "Mug me.")
that the main work on the program, Dmitri Shostakovich's Symphony #5,
was written by a man who had terrible problems to overcome.
Shostakovich had, a few months before the symphony was written, been
attacked in the Soviet press - see
for the article itself. It's hard for us, living in a free society, to imagine the danger
that such disapproval in a Communist Party organ betokened. The possibility of
becoming the victim of one of Stalin's 'purges' was very real.
The 5th symphony is Shostakovich's best known, and
arguably best, work. The instant popularity the work enjoyed restored
Shostakovich to the good graces of Stalin and the Party loyalists. The
composer worked hard, and through hard work overcame his problems. And, as I was
listening to the last movement of the symphony high up in the balcony,
I couldn't help but think that I had something in common with Dmitri.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
I began by setting an ambitious goal: lose the remaining 75 extra pounds I carry and become a good enough bicyclist that I can ride in the MS Bike-a-thon. Oh, and do both by July.
So far I've taken a great leap towards one of those goals. I've lost 13 pounds this month! That's the second largest loss since I started last year. (Largest was 25 pounds in the first month.) My month ending weight was 262, 123 pounds less than my weight on January 3, 2006. The new, lower calorie totals and stepped up exercise has helped. I don't expect the 13 pounds a month rate to continue without some more intervention on my part. We'll see.
The bicycling hasn't progressed as rapidly; I've only been on the bike a couple of times this month, due to the weather. I've been concentrating on improving myself physically so when good bike weather returns, I can "hit it hard", as my friends at the gym say. Unfortunately, I don't foresee any good weather in February, so I might not be able to get the practice I need until March. At that point it becomes important I "hit" the bike "hard" every day, learning to control it, maneuver it on the bike path, ride in traffic, ride with a group, and get stronger and stronger. That's five months. An ambitious goal in a short amount of time. But I'll make it. And you can read all about it here.
38 minutes of walking, fast pace.
I overslept and didn't have time to get to the gym. So I improvised by taking a hike through the surrounding countryside. I covered about 1.5 miles, I think. It's good practice for tackling Mount Misery on Saturday.
But they aren't the only way. And this is where "non-scale victories" come in.
A non-scale victory is something that you've done or are able to do that you wouldn't have been able to accomplish before you lost weight. It doesn't need to be a gigantic task, such as climbing Mont Blanc in winter or winning a stage of the Tour de whatever. Usually most non-scale victories are small milestones, things thin people take for granted but fat people can't. For instance, fitting into a booth at a diner. Having to adjust the driver's seat in the car forward. Dropping clothing sizes. Running further and harder. Biking further and faster.
Non-scale victories are easily forgotten. How often do you pat yourself on the back for fitting into a diner booth, for instance? But they should be remembered, especially at those times when the number on the scale doesn't budge or goes the wrong way. After all, you aren't losing weight to make the number on the scale smaller. Numbers are important for measuring. But living better is more important.
Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Hmm, this might be the motivation to order those bib shorts readers have suggested. I already have the jersey.....
30 minutes on elliptical trainer
20 minutes on spin bike
12 minutes on recumbent exercise bike
Hip abduction machines
This was a trial exercise session , a chance to test out more changes in my life. Just as beginning to exercise was a major change to my life, so has starting physical therapy initiated a new era for me.
I promised I wouldn't list my structural flaws, but in order to make sense of my exercise choices, I think I should bring them up. Also, these are problems other recovering fat people may encounter, so I'll share them here.
My right knee is knocked, and the foot is twisted outward. This has unbalanced the pelvis, giving me a limp and a right hip with 30 degrees less mobility than the left. My left hip is higher than the right, and my body's tried to compensate by causing my right shoulder to be higher than the left. Oh, and 30 years of obesity have given me a forward bending spine and flat feet. To top it off, my head leans to one side. (Please, no jokes about my not having my head on straight.)
My initial physical therapy session was devoted to bodyweight exercises to strengthen the neck and shoulders, and develop more range of motion in the right hip. The neck and shoulders work should help end the upper back pain I am experiencing.
As part of my physical therapy, I am now practicing correct posture. I've been slouching forward for three decades or more, and that's aggravated whatever original structural problems I've had. It's damn hard, let me tell you, to learn how to sit and stand properly. None of this is automatic, and I need to constantly be conscious of my posture. However, there are some benefits; I'm now actually 6 feet 1 inch in height, for instance. I'm taller than some people I used to think were about my height. And my head straightens itself out once it's correctly balanced on a vertical spine.
Part of posture starts at the feet, and so I now am wearing arch supports. Again, this takes getting used to. It won't solve the problem of the knocked knee, but perhaps it will prevent me from looking like an accordion as I walk, lessening the effect of the knee collapsing inward on each step.
I can say the arch supports, as odd as they feel, passed the exercise test with flying colors. I has no trouble with them on the elliptical trainer. On the spin bike, they made my cycling shoes a little tight, but nothing uncomfortable.
Some people might think I'm dwelling on negatives by discussing my structural problems. I prefer to think I'm being positive by doing so. As a friend wrote to me after one of my too-frequent whining emails, "the limits of what you can do are decided by you. You can decide to let all the obstacles slow you down or stop you, or you can decide to make them motivating factors."
I'll let you, the readers, guess the decision I made. Meanwhile, I'm down to 262, making two pounds lost this week, and in my workouts the next two days I am preparing for another assault on Mount Misery, taking place this Saturday.
Tuesday, January 30, 2007
22 minutes on recumbent exercise bike.
Calories 2000, 19 per cent fat, 51 percent carbs, 30 percent protein.
The physical therapy is going to be long and hard. I'll spare you the list of structural problems I have. However, I'll list the exercise routines in the daily reports. Meanwhile, I'm preparing for another hike, this one on Saturday at Mount Misery - weather permitting, of course.
The main problem area in my workday eating appears to be lunch. I often get a takeout lunch instead of packing something. Another area to work on.
Monday, January 29, 2007
"My father, in his desire of proving my friend through life, gave me
what Americans call a beautiful "plantation," refreshed during the
summer heat by the waters of the Schuylkill River, and traversed by a
creek named Perkioming [Perkiomen]. Its fine woodlands, its extensive
acres, its fields crowned with evergreens, offered many subjects to my
pencil. It was there that I commenced my simple and agreeable studies,
with as little concern about the future as if the world had been made
"While young, I had a plantation that lay on the sloping declivities of
a creek....I was extremely fond of rambling along its rocky banks..."
- John James Audubon
For my first "official" hike, I chose Mill Grove, first home in America
of painter and naturalist John James Audubon. It was a fitting place to
start for many reasons. First, the park surrounding the Audubon home is
small, and the trails are relatively short. Secondly, it is close to
where I currently live. Thirdly, Mill Grove was holding its "Holiday
Tree-ditions" open house today, with extended hours. And I couldn't
resist the connections of the "firsts"; it was here, in 1803, Audubon
discovered the American wilderness. It was here he began to study
American birds, and to paint them. It was here he experimented with
bird-banding to track migration, the first man to do so. And it was nearby, 160 years after the
young Frenchman left Mill Grove in 1806, that a little boy named Neil
began growing up in a town bearing Audubon name. So for these
reasons, it seemed an apt place for an older and not so little Neil to
begin his hiking journey.
The John James Audubon Center at Mill Grove, to use its full name, has
somewhere between 5 and 7 miles of trails over 175 acres of land. This
includes the paved bike and walking path, the Audubon Loop, that
connects with the Perkiomen Trail across the creek. I arrived before
12:30. The Center didn't open until 1, and no maps of the trails were
available, so I simply followed the signs into the woods. Trails signs
were spray-painted on trees. So I had no difficulty in hiking from the
house to the far end of the park on Egypt Road. Most of the hiking was
through the woods, although towards the road I had no choice but to
take the paved Audubon Loop. I did hike along an unmarked trail in the
park, bringing me to a feeder stream of the Perkiomen Creek. Meanwhile
the marked trail was over 100 feet above me, rambling above the creek's
Even though I was foolhardy, or foolish, enough to hike without a trail
map, I did try to follow the advice I picked up on ASD; I brought
water, and drank before I was thirsty; I walked at a steady pace; I
wore my good-fitting boots; and I enjoyed myself. As a result, I hiked
somewhere between 3.5 and 4 miles in 2 hours, and still had the energy
to tour the Mill Grove "plantation." The house is a small three story
building dating to 1764, and stuffed with Audubon prints, preserved
birds and animals, first editions of his books, including a volume of
the first printing of Birds of America (the so-called "double elephant
folio"), and relics of Audubon and his family. Mill Grove is
administered by Montgomery County, and the Center is run by the
National Audubon Society
For more on John James Audubon:
or twice. But I was well on my way to 385 pounds, so I never went any
further than touring the Audubon house. While it was nice to see the
man's home, hiking through his woods was seeing the man's world, so to
speak. Unfortunately the woods I hiked in wasn't the same woods that
Audubon rambled through. Audubon, Pennsylvania, is a typically noisy
overdeveloped suburb. Much of the surrounding woods have been cut down.
There are far fewer birds today than in Audubon's, and some of them,
such as the passenger pigeon, exist only in a glass case in Mill Grove
and in Audubon's art. The Perkiomen isn't fit to drink or swim in. Still, I'll
glory in what's left of nature. And I am glad that by losing weight I
am being given a second chance to do so. Who says you can't go home
This afternoon, I climbed Mount Misery in Valley Forge National Park. It was 1:15 PM
when I left the Neilmobile at Washington's Headquarters, and I
staggered back to my car at 3:30. During that time, I hiked up the side
of Misery, arriving at the top by a little after 2:30. The trail was
extremely rocky; last night, online, I stumbled across a description of
Pennsylvania trails as "where boots go to die", and I now know the
truth of that saying.
While at the summit, I hiked a little bit along the Horseshoe Trail,
and signed the trail register. I'm estimating that I walked about four
miles today, much of it climbing.
I still have a lot to learn about hiking. I didn't bring enough water,
for one. Also, I was far too heavily dressed for the unseasonably warm
weather. Halfway up the side of Misery I stopped and removed my jacket
and shirt. Fortunately, underneath I was wearing a T-shirt. So in
addition to the beauties of nature, other hikers got to see the
spectacle of a fat middle aged man with the phrase "I am the kid your
parents warned you about" printed on his chest.
To see some of the Horseshoe Trail and other trails on Mount Misery,
visit this site:
Sunday, January 28, 2007
15 minutes elliptical trainer
23 minutes recumbent exercise bike
30 minutes spin bike
Seated leg press: 2 sets of 16 reps @ 270 pounds
Rotary calf: 2 sets of 16 reps @ 170 pounds
Leg curls: 2 sets of 16 reps @ 70 pounds
Leg extensions: 2 sets of 16 reps @ 70 pounds
Hip abductions: 1 set of 15 reps @ 90 pounds, 2 sets of 15 reps @ 110 pounds
Back extensions: 1 set of 15 reps @ 110 pounds, 1 set of 15 reps @ 130 pounds
Arm curls: 1 set of 15 reps @ 30 pounds, 1 set of 15 reps @ 40 pounds, 1 set of 10 reps @ 50 pounds
Arm extensions: 2 sets of 15 reps @ 60 pounds
This may be the last workout before I begin physical therapy for my upper back on Tuesday, so I tried to make it count. I was under a double constraint, however; I was tired from my hike yesterday, and I still have the back pain to work around. So I did my normal lower-body workout, and added in a few upper body exercises that didn't stress my upper back and shoulders. For that reason all my exercise was on machines; I didn't want to do any free weights since they involve multiple muscle groups. I haven't done any upper body for three weeks now, and my workout has suffered. My arms are telling me they aren't happy.
However, I'm pleased at how well the spinning went. At first I thought I wasn't going to last five minutes; my legs were screaming from the cardio I did this morning and the hike the day before. But then I lowered the resistance and just pedaled. When I stood up on the bike, I concentrated on form - heels down as I pedaled, keeping the hips stationary. I gradually increased the resistance as far as I could, and kept pedaling. And pedaling. When 20 minutes came around, I told myself, "Five more, Brennen." And I repeated the remark at 25 minutes. By the time the half-hour came around I called a halt because I had other things to do today; I could have gone another few minutes.
This workout and the hike on Saturday have helped restore my confidence, which has been badly shaken with my recent injury and diagnosis of scoliosis. I fear any prolonged absence from lifting will hurt my weight loss. Having come so far, I don't want to stop short.
Also, as vain as it may sound, knowing I have a structural problem isn't as bad as knowing I am the last person to discover I have a structural problem. Friends have confided they knew from our first meeting I had a limp, my shoulders weren't even, etc. The knowledge that the first thing people notice about me is my twisted leg or uneven shoulders is disconcerting. One reason I have worked so hard to lose weight is that I was tired of being seen as a fat man, and just a fat man. Being first seen and considered as a man with a bum leg isn't what I wanted. I've compared my weight loss to a Russian doll; each doll has a smaller one inside. Well, in my case the smallest doll has a bad leg and is bent over.
All this was at the back of my mind as I rode the spin bike. Fortunately the mirrors in the room with the bike showed me a different image. Not a great image, mind you; I still have the belly. But my legs, tired as they were, moved with confidence and energy. I may look a little odd to some people, but the damaged parts of me still get the job done. And that's what important. That, and the fact that I'm not giving up or giving in.
Calories for the day are 2200. In the future, I'll try to give percentages of fat, protein, and carbs along with the calorie totals.