Taking a break

As some of you may have noticed, I’m taking a short break from this blog. My day job’s been taking an increasing amount of time lately, and I don’t have any races coming up for a while, so it seems like a good time to take a break, take stock, etc.

Thanks for reading, whether you’ve been here from the beginning or just stumbled across this site. Hope to see you back here in a few weeks.


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Wind runner

Sometimes when I can’t get myself to run, I pretend I’m someone else.

On a wet windy day like yesterday, I pretend I’m my son’s old cross country coach, who once told me that the most exhilarating race he ever ran was the windiest.

Or I imagine I’m this blogger whose name I forget but whose daring runs in the Alaskan winters seared my mind then and now.

More recently I meditate on this Runner’s World essay about a guy who deals with the windy Nebraska plains by emulating a hawk, playing in the wind rather than struggling against it.

I slip inside the images conjured up in my head and run a mile in that other runner’s shoes, and I’m no longer grinding down this same old gravel road but battling the elements on a much more interesting course under much more exciting conditions.

Sometimes I imagine being all three at once, weaving together the disparate personas into a character I call Wind Runner.

In my own private Genesis, just saying those words makes it so.

And then I head out into the wind, and on the outside I may be this 53-year-old plodder, but on the viewscreen in my head I’m running in a magical space all my own, and it is a glorious day indeed.

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A food log lesson: When your strategy is foiled by the unexpected

When I record entries in my food journal, I sometimes pretend I’m reviewing game film of how the day went, breaking down what went wrong and how I could do it better next time.

I use a lot of sports analogies in this process, and one specific pattern I’ve come across is having the wrong game plan for the day’s schedule.

Most memorably, I remember successfully adhering to a low-carb regimen on a 12-hour drive to Charleston to visit my daughter, anticipating that we’d dine that night at a favorite restaurant whose burger menu includes a no-bun option.

I often go low-carb on long drives, because it’s easy to carry along filling snacks like nuts, string cheese and boiled eggs that keep me from being tempted by convenience-store food. It’s a lot cheaper, too.

On this particular day, I followed my game plan perfectly all day long. But instead of eating at Poe’s, the Sullivan’s Island tavern dedicated to the 19th century horror writer, we wound up at Jestine’s — which specializes in traditional Southern food.

There was nothing low carb on the menu; every type of meat there is coated and fried. Because it’s a Charleston institution and my opportunities to go there are extremely limited, I gave in and indulged, even having a few bites of the Coca Cola cake and a couple of other desserts we got for the table to share.

Recently I had another “wrong game plan perfectly executed” kind of a day here at home. Anticipating going to Sunday dinner at my parents’ house, where we often grill burgers or have some kind of meat and salad, I had cottage cheese for breakfast and a lunch of walnuts, blueberries, and two cheese sticks.

Based on these two core samples from my food journal, it probably sounds like I do a lot of low-carb dieting, but that’s not really the case. It’s just something I do once in a while to change things up, or to temporarily reduce the universe of food options available in an otherwise tempting situation. This strategy often helps me get through Sunday dinner without indulging in dessert or loading up on carby appetizers.

However, on this particular day Sunday dinner turned out to be pizza. Even worse, most of my family had spent the afternoon at a church bake sale and brought back several selections.

Unable to cope with the double temptation of pizza and a well-stocked dessert bar (and not much else), once again I caved.

So: How could I have handled that situation differently? Usually if I know I’m eating dinner somewhere other than home, I have a pretty good idea what my options will be and plan accordingly. Saving calories and points is one strategy, though there’s no way around feeling deprived at a pizza-and-dessert buffet, because you use up your calories/points so quickly.

And when I’m around a bunch of desserts, particularly some I’ve never tried before, I’m going to want to do some sampling.

Finally it occurred to me: the infinite pie slice. One for pizza, and one for the desserts.

If I’d used this strategy, I would have drawn one pizza-slice on a paper plate and one pie slice on another, then filled the interior with as many different kinds of pizza and dessert as fit in that space.

It wouldn’t have helped me win the day in the low-carb sense, but it would’ve at least kept me from going overboard.

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3 ways to beat serving-size guilt

A meal bar that offered an astonishing 48 grams of protein in exchange for 24 carbs, 6 grams of fat and 320 calories would seem like a nutritional powerhouse.

So why is it that when I get those same numbers from two cups of low-fat cottage cheese, I feel like I screwed up?

It’s serving size guilt. Everybody knows you’re only supposed to eat half a cup of cottage cheese; the label tells you so.

But sometimes I need two cups to feel like I’m getting a breakfast that’s going to get me through a demanding day. If I can disregard the guilt and just focus on the numbers, I usually wind up feeling pretty good about my choice.

Here are two other ways to seize control of serving-size guilt and make food labels work for you instead of against you:

Go for a double. A double serving size sounds decadent, but in many cases it’s actually a calorie savings compared with the amount of food you’d normally eat. If you normally eat a large bowl of ice cream, measure out a double serving size instead. You’ll be saving calories yet still feel like you’re defying the serving-size police.

Don’t mistake freedom for ignorance: If it seems like a hassle to measure out servings every time, make a note of how much food your favorite mug or bowl holds. Once I discovered our bowls hold two cups of cereal, I switched to eating mine out of a dainty glass punch cup. If I fill it to the rim, that’s half a cup. Sometimes that’s enough; sometimes it’s not. But even if I refill my punch cup two more times, I’m still eating less than a cereal bowl. (In  my fat days I often wound up eating two bowls of Raisin Bran. That’s 4 cups – or a startling 760 calories — even before adding the milk!)

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Giving goat yoga a try

goat yoga 2I’m not an animal person, but I couldn’t resist giving goat yoga a try.

It was a fundraiser at our local YMCA. Seventy-five people spread their mats in the gym while 10 small goats wandered among us, bleating nonstop, climbing over people and, on occasion, peeing on their mats.

I was never in any real danger of having my mat peed on because any loose goats that wandered my way were usually snagged by animal lovers who wanted to snuggle (and/or get out of doing the yoga poses).

Like beer yoga, goat yoga takes away all the pretension. You can only take yourself so seriously in the midst of baby goats.

I suppose it’s also a test of your mindfulness abilities, though I seriously doubt anyone was focusing overly much on their breathing amid all that bleating.

The goats belonged to a farmer I went to elementary school with. He sat on the floor in his overalls but did not attempt any yoga poses.

Was it amusing? Sure. Would I do this again? Probably not. But if it becomes a thing that one must practice yoga with an animal, I guess I’d rather do it with goats than, say, grizzly bears or boa constrictors.

goat yoga 1

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5K Challenge: A race that felt more like a club run

The North Adams Strides for Students 5K felt more like a club run than a race. Most of the 39 runners knew each other, and even though I’m from out of county, I’m starting to identify who’s who.

I know where to fall in line in the early stages of the race, trying to stay within plausible trailing distance of the runners who generally place ahead of me, hoping that each time out I’ll get a little closer.

In Saturday’s race, I narrowed the gap – and even passed one of the runners who usually beats me by two minutes or so, though she later sucked it up and finished 26 seconds ahead of me.

I was initially disappointed to see my time, which at 33:02 was my slowest effort in the last three races. But comparing notes with others, and looking over the results afterward, it turned out that everybody’s time was slower than expected. Barry Humble, who won his age group in last year’s Adams County 5K Challenge, told me he was a minute and a half slower this week than he was last week at the Swiss Days Race.

Either the heat was a factor or the course was a little long. Either way, it was a worthwhile run.

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Swiss Days Race disappointment

I’d really hoped that by this year’s Swiss Day’s Race I’d have my 5K time under 30 minutes. Instead, I took a step backward, running a 32:38 after logging 31:58 in a June 9 race in the Adams County 5K Challenge.

I lost some training time along the way to a hamstring pull, but my running has suffered more recently due to being increasingly busy at work (and then often being busy after work as well). In the week before the race I did not get in a single run, though I did make it to boot camp one morning.

What I’m discovering with my new schedule is that if I don’t run in the morning before work, it’s not likely to happen at all. That doesn’t give me a lot of time to get in the longer runs I’d like to be doing, but it’s just the reality of my current situation.

On the plus side, it’s always fun to run Swiss Days, no matter how I do personally. Among the familiar faces was Doug Bauman, who at age 71 ran just over 26 minutes in his 45th consecutive Swiss Days Race. The other 45-year runner I wrote about last year, Barry Humble, was a little slower this year, but I noticed he still had a smile on his face.

Obviously there’s more to the running experience than what time you get in any given race. But I’m not giving up on my goal just yet. There are still five races left in the 5K Challenge, which doesn’t end until November. I’m determined to get under 30 minutes in one of them, and I hope to start training for a longer race sometime this fall as well.

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How losing even a small portion of excess weight can make a big difference


Vera Richardson, left, transformed her life by losing 79 pounds. Though she’s still over twice her ideal body weight, her blood sugar is now under control and she’s got much more energy. 

Anybody who thinks weight loss is an all-or-nothing proposition ought to meet Vera Richardson.

At 308 pounds, she’s still likely to be the most overweight person in any room she enters. But the 79 pounds she’s lost over the last year have literally transformed her life.

Her blood sugar’s gone from frequent 300-plus levels to readings in the normal range, even though she’s down to two daily insulin shots rather than five.

She has more energy, enough so that she’s started going to the YMCA to walk on the treadmill.

She’s even found a job — a big step for an intellectually disabled young woman who, just a year or two ago, was considered one of the most at-risk clients at Easterseals/Arc of Fort Wayne because of all her health problems.

I wrote about Vera and her two roommates for last week’s News-Sentinel column because they’re a great example of how shedding even some of their extra bulk can make a big difference. Vera’s roommate Evelyn was carrying around an oxygen tank this time last year. Now 45 pounds lighter, she no longer needs it — even though she’s still about 50 pounds overweight. Their new roommate, Mary, who’s only been with them a couple of months, has already lost nearly 20 pounds.

These women aren’t on a diet so much as simply trying to make healthy lifestyle changes. They’re cutting back to normal serving sizes at meal times, substituting fruit, nuts and protein go-packs for sweet treats at snack time, and going to the YMCA at least three days a week.

Granted, as clients of Easterseals, they have staff who provide advice and support. But they make their own decisions. If Vera wants an ice cream sundae, for instance, she talks it over with her house manager, who helps her review how long it’s been since her last sugary treat.

In the end, it’s Vera’s call. But now that she’s got some momentum going, consistently losing 2-3 pounds a week, says staff member Rachel Wehrwein, “there’s no stopping her.”

To read more about Vera and her roommates, check out my latest Adventures in Food and Fitness column here. (The website will ask you to take a survey, but you can elect to skip it and go right to the article.)

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Food log favorites tied to days of the week

When I record my hours at my day job, if I indicate that I was working with a specific person on my caseload rather than general administrative duties, a set of goals linked to that individual will automatically pop up on the screen, giving me the option to note if any progress was made.

Lately I’ve noticed something similar happening on my interior view screen when I look ahead to the day’s eating challenges.

On Friday, for instance, recalling that we had an awards banquet to go to triggered a pop-up reminder of a food log entry I’ve labeled the Awards Banquet Template. In the past, it’s not only helped me conserve calories during the day but restrain myself at the targeted meal.

I call these preplanned daily menus “templates” because I try to replicate each meal or snack from that day as closely as possible, knowing it was not only successful in terms of controlling my eating but contains foods that were both appealing and filling.

Because it was a Friday, a couple of other templates linked to that day of the week also popped up.

One I call the SCD Post-Garage Sale Party at Rachel’s Template. That’s a mouthful, but in actuality it’s so simple I have it memorized: Five 70-calorie chicken sausages for breakfast, a 15-ounce can of refried beans with carrots and celery for lunch, and a couple of glasses of red wine with crunchy veggies from the hors d’oevre table for dinner.

This is from August 2014, when I was having decent success on Tim Ferriss’ Slow Carb Diet (SCD). This template isn’t necessarily typical of that diet, but it’s extra light dinner helped me close out a solid week of weight loss. Its appeal lies in its simplicity and the near guarantee I’ll be down a couple of pounds the following day.

However, part of the reason I was trying that diet was because I wasn’t able to run due to an injury. Most of the time, that’s not going to provide enough energy for me when I’ve got a Saturday morning race or a decent-sized run planned.

On the opposite end of the spectrum is my Baseball Sectional Template from May 2016, when I had four bags of 94 percent fat free microwave popcorn and half a carton of Blue Bunny Sweet Freedom ice cream (fat free, no sugar added). Even with an egg white Subway sub and a celebratory McDonald’s soft-serve cone after the game, I still made my retro Weight Watchers points quota for the day.  

Though my Ice Cream Diet Template didn’t originally take place on a Friday — it occurred on the hottest day I can recall during my lifetime, when the temperature hit 106 in July 2012 — it’s one of my most fun templates and on some level, even at age 53, I still associate Fridays with Fun.

This past Friday, I went with the Awards Banquet Template (see below)— only to fail miserably, because I hadn’t taken into account that the softball banquet it’s based on occurred on a Tuesday, when I was busy at the office and managed to stay fairly distracted between mealtimes. Because I was off Friday and working at home, juggling a bunch of projects I was trying to catch up on, I was plagued with a nagging sense of anxiety that translated into the munchies.

Live and learn, right? So now I’m going to write myself up a Friday Awards Banquet Template, which will have me eating as much as I want of only one type of filling-but-low-cal food during a stay-at-home day prior to a banquet … probably a staple from my 2010 Weight Loss campaign, boiled egg white sandwiches on high fiber, 35-calorie Healthy Goodness bread. (As I recall, those were only 1 Weight Watchers point on the system that was in use at the time.)

The Original Awards Banquet Template:

Breakfast: banana and ½ cup oatmeal with 1T peanut butter..

Lunch: Baby carrots, 1 ounce almonds, banana.

Snack on way home from work: 1 more ounce of almonds and more carrots, if desired.

Awards banquet: plain burger (no bun), small serving of pasta salad, larger serving of tossed salad, one cookie from the dessert table.

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Helping others race is a great feeling

Looking to boost our dreadful preregistration numbers for our local 4-H 5k, I’d recruited a handful of walkers from the agency for intellectually disabled adults where I’ve been working the last few months.

I wasn’t really sure how long it might take them to finish the race, or whether they’d even make it. The timing crew allowed them to start half an hour early, so there wouldn’t be such a big gap between the frontrunners and the back of the pack.

But as it turned out, our walkers from Bi-County Services finished in 61 minutes, about a minute ahead of the last two finishers.

4-H 5K Kevin Moser

I’ve seen frequent winner Kevin Moser at several area races the last few years, but it wasn’t until this week that I realized he’s the son of one of my co-workers, Blanca. 

What made it even better was that the winner of the event, a former local cross country star, is the son of one of our agency’s employees, so he graciously consented to having his photo taken with our walkers. (If I can track down a copy of that pic, I’ll post it later today.)

It was a huge relief that this event turned out so well. The timing crew told us beforehand that race numbers are down everywhere this summer. But we unexpectedly wound up with a respectable turnout after our race-day sign-ups literally doubled the size of the field. The only downside was that we ran out of T-shirts.

The unexpected good feelings generated from this event helped ease my disappointment from missing Friday night’s race in the Adams County 5K Challenge after pulling my hamstring earlier in the week. But it’s already starting to feel quite a bit better after taking a few days off, so I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get right back at it soon.

4H 5k race 2018

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