Sunday, August 27, 2017

Long Ride

A long bike ride is a lot like work.

Or, maybe it's how work should be.

On Saturday, I had a destination ride; that's going to be a "new thing" that "we do" in my family. The other two drive someplace and I ride my bike to meet them. I don't want to make it sound like a chore; it isn't. Not at all. I love riding my bike, love being with them, and love going to new places.

But it is very much how work should be.

Let's break that down.

First thing to do is to define the goal. On a lot of bike rides, the ride itself is the objective; to de-stress from the harsh realities of life and relax, or break free from technology for a little bit, or something else that defines the journey. Saturday's ride, though, was about going someplace. In this case: Asgard Brewing in Columbia, TN. It is about fifty miles, give or take, depending on the route.

Which leads me to the second task: define the path. This is where many projects break down. In order to map out your route from point A to B, you have to know all the parameters: resource availability and competencies, tools and their limitations, obstacles, etc. For my ride, I had options of anywhere between 48 and upwards of 65 miles, or more. But that's the realistic range for the ride. And part of this calculation is to understand where I was, fitness-wise. I had it in me to do 65 miles; but that was the max. I picked a route that was just around 49-50 miles, trying to avoid major roads since I didn't know the bike lane situation (project "known unknowns" are important to understand).

Then there is executing to the plan. If a project hasn't broken down on the path definition phase, then there is a strong risk of trouble happening in the execution phase. In my case, three things happened that almost derailed the plan.

Execution issue one: I had a bike wreck. Not a bad one. In the Belle Meade neighborhood of Nashville (that's where all the old money rich people live), there is a creek that crosses a number of streets. I had planned to take one of those; the water was a bit higher than expected, though, and while I've been on those roads many times, I didn't anticipate the added force of just a few more inches of water. As I rode across the concrete, which was covered in algae, the force of the water swept my bike out from under me. I landed hard and was soaked top to bottom.

Execution issue two: I took a wrong turn. Two, actually, almost back-to-back, and rather than turn around and take the right turn, I kept going. It didn't add more than a mile to my route, but when you're already pushing your limits, every mile counts.

Execution issue three: I didn't properly understand the topography of my route. I had planned on meeting my wife in no more than 3.5 hours. That gave me plenty of time, and I wanted to go to the small coffee shop in Columbia that's supposed to be really nice, and there eat a muffin or something. But while the route I had chosen avoided the major highway and its unknown bike lane situation, it went up and over a ridge into a tight valley, and then back out again before heading into the town. Also, the roads were much rougher than I was prepared for, and then I took another wrong turn because I missed the road sign.

Every project should have it's postmortem analysis, and here's mine related to my bike ride. In the end I reached my destination a half hour late, and asked my wife to meet me at the brewery rather than the coffee shop because I was pretty tired and wanted a beer more than a muffin. My wrong turns had added almost seven miles to the trip; still well within my acceptable bookend of 65 miles, but at a cost. Not understanding the landscape hurt me; literally, as my right hip was in pain and my bicycle's rear derailleur was slightly bent, which made shifting tricky and forced me to ride in a harder gear on hills than I'm used to. In the end, I think that worked out; sometimes we need that sort of situation to make us understand that we can, in fact, push our boundaries without any issues. On the good side, I had brought enough water and nourishment, and my breakfast (two sunny-side-up eggs over quinoa, along with a cup of oatmeal) more than carried me through the almost four hour ride.

The day ended as every difficult project should: with beer.

How often do we, in our jobs, fail at exactly the same points? In my ride, I was still within my acceptable parameters; but in work it seems we often don't know those parameters, or the parameters shift. Imagine, for example, if you were in the middle of a bike ride and someone came along and took away your front wheel, maybe (if you're lucky) changing it for one that's larger or smaller than the bike can take. Sure, it's still a wheel, but you can't ride efficiently. That sort of thing makes it impossible to adapt to the changing road conditions. My bent derailleur is another example; had I not known how to bend it roughly back into position, the ride would have gone much worse. Yet at work do we not often launch ourselves into situations unable to adapt to the problems that arise?

My lesson today is to go into your projects prepared. Understand the lay of the land. Know your resources and resist the urge to change them. Work within the acceptable parameters, which should be defined in your project plan.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

The life change

In March of 2017 - March 9, to be exact - I made a pretty big change in my life. Not many people outside of my inner circle of friends knows this.

I was at Starbucks in Brentwood, TN with a couple of friends. One of my buddies had lost a good bit of weight, and was talking about the Keto diet he had been on. I jokingly said "I won't eat another doughnut until I've lost ten pounds" and we laughed, because I had a doughnut just that morning (Starubucks' doughnuts are awesome when you get them warmed up and put cinnamon in the bag and shake them).

Ask anyone and they'll joke about my fascination with doughnuts. It is, I tell my customers, the only true way to bribe me to do anything. I might run into a burning building to rescue a good doughnut. It's an obsession.

At work I told my coworkers, and they joked about it. And then one young lady said that she, too, was trying to lose some weight. She used an app called MyFitnessPal to track her food intake. I downloaded it; the app is owned by Under Armour, who also makes MapMyRide, the app I use to track my cycling.

That doughnut I had eaten was just under 500 calories.

It hit me harder than I thought. I cannot explain it, but that one doughnut was 25% of the calories I needed for the day. And since then I had eaten a few Snickers Minis; each one is just under 50 calories. I was, by the way, still hungry at that moment, even though I had consumed over 700 calories before lunch.

That was the last doughnut I ate for over two months.

It was the last time I ate any high-sugar candy bar to date. (I have had some very dark chocolate: 90% stuff.)

That evening I weighed myself at 196 pounds. Earlier that year I topped 200.

Like a lot of folks, I believed that I was active and that was all that mattered. I was strong. I could bench press x-pounds.

But my ankles hurt every day, with most steps I took. My knees complained. My back hurt. I was very slow when I rode my bicycle and got tired easily. "I'm getting old," I told myself, much like we all do.

And it pissed me off.

My family didn't believe in me, to be honest. And I cannot say that I blame them. I'd tried to lose weight before. Only ... I learned that I really hadn't tried before. I only said "I want to lose weight!" and thought that was enough.

For the rest of that week I logged everything I ate. I studied diet and nutrition methodologies. I prepared. I cut out everything that was made using added sugar. My carb intake goal was to stay around 50 grams of carbs a day, and for six weeks that's what I did. I ate tons of chicken, turkey, and yogurt. It became an obsession. And in six weeks I lost 20 pounds.

That was amazing to me.

I was 175 pounds for the first time since graduate school in the 1990's.

Somewhere in there my son (17 years old) explained two other concepts that changed my life. First, I started working out to maintain a steady heart rate less than 140 beats per minute (roughly 80% of my max). Second, I worked out to eat, not the other way around.

That first change was harder than I thought. Like many of us, I grew up in an environment of sports where you pushed as hard as you could for as long as possible. Think of the television commercials that preach this. Sweat sweat sweat. Only that isn't right. When I started focusing on my heart rate, I could ride my bike maybe 20-25 miles without feeling like crap, and at a pace of 13 mph. Within two months I was up to 40-50 mile rides that felt great at a pace of almost 16 mph. So yeah. It worked.

That second change was maybe more difficult. How many times have you eaten something and said, "I'll walk that off later" or "Oh, I'll go to the gym, so I can eat this muffin now." That's not how it works, though. If you eat a muffin for breakfast, by the time you go to the gym those calories and nutrients have already been processed. So I started eating in concert with the activity I had planned. I didn't eat before going to the gym; the average American eats plenty of calories and carbs and you don't need to eat before a workout. And if, like me, you say "it feels better to work out after eating" then you need to think on why that is. I don't do a true fasting workout, but I also don't "load" before a workout. I'm not pushing that hard. I just want to be in shape, not win Mr. America.

Another way I changed my life was to start doing push-ups. In March, based on really nothing, I started doing five sets of push-ups three days a week. At that time I could do 15 in each set. In April I upped that to 25. Then, in May, 30. June: 40. July: 50. Now I do 60 a set. I looked up the different ways to do push-ups (it might surprise you how many variations there are) and I wasn't religious about it. Some days I did 4 sets. Some days I did fewer in each set. But I made sure that I did the work.

And, in the end, that's what it's about. I just put in the work. I treated my weight loss as a hobby, a task that I wanted to complete. I didn't treat it as a chore.

I am now down 30 pounds and falling. I am back to drinking beer when I feel like it, and allow myself some ice cream every so often. Even bread has made its way back in. Before a long bike ride, in particular, I make sure to properly eat what I'll need.

My ankles don't hurt.

My back doesn't hurt.

And I'm happier, in general, with who I am. Which, at the end of the day, is what matters.