July 23, 2012

J.P. Patches

J.P. was a local icon in Seattle, and I heard the sad news that he passed away yesterday after a long battle with cancer. I wrote a little something about him last year when he made his last public appearance. It is a sad day for Patches Pals everywhere, but he will live on in the many hearts he touched. From the Seattle Times obituary:
"Every type of kid imaginable watched J.P.: the geeks, the bullies, the popular kids, the invisible kids," biographer Johnston wrote in his book, "J.P. Patches: Northwest Icon," which he co-wrote with Wedes in 2002.

"They were drawn to him because he wasn't a namby-pamby, goody-two-shoes ... He wasn't preachy, but lessons were learned."
His show was unscripted, and you could tell he was having just having fun doing it. He and his longtime cohort Bob Newman would often break out in laughter while they improvised, and you always felt like you were in on the joke. Though he didn't seem to take himself too seriously, he was dedicated to the children that watched every morning, and to the many fans that followed him long into adulthood.

You will be missed Chris Wedes, the man and the heart behind the makeup.

July 19, 2012

On yer bike!

At some point between stowing my bike and losing much of the feeling in my cheeks, I reviewed the blind spots in my life, as a young man verging on the edge of drunkenness is apt to do. Everyone has such spots -  not obvious shortcomings, but the hidden flaws and conspiring circumstances that duck under the radar, usually until it is too late.


“On yer bike,” the bartender hollered in the direction of this seemingly comatose fellow. The scuttered gent found his footing and wandered for the door.

“That guy’s not really going to try to ride a bicycle home, is he?”

This brought such a roar of laughter from the gang in our booth that you’d have thought I’d just goosed each and every one of them.

The expression had caught my attention several times already during my Irish jaunt, but alcohol and other lively conversation had distracted me from further investigation. I was certainly thrown by it, since none of them appeared to be avid cyclists.

“It’s a clever way of telling someone to get off their arse and on with their life,” Brian explained. “Out the yard, up your socks, on yer bike.”

On yer bike . . . it was the very battle cry I’d been reaching for these many miles in the saddle. My eyes practically filled with grateful tears as I hoisted my glass.

“Gentlemen, on yer bike!” I toasted.

While not moved to my level of emotion, these newfound friends looked plenty amused as our glasses touched. Clearly, I was the only one at the table for whom the phrase carried untold depth and weight. And in the sober and thankfully gray light of an Irish morning the day after, it had only grown more valid as an evocation, rite, fight song, and prayer. Not the sort of thing you’d expect a Tibetan monk to offer up as a mantra, but who would argue with the clarity and simple wisdom of “get off your arse and on with your life”?

Some days I have to coax it from myself as a whisper. Other times I belt it out so loud and strong along lonely stretches of road that quail are flushed from the bush. As long as it rings true, I’m sticking by this as my operating instructions.

On yer bike!

~ two passages from the book, Riding Outside The Lines by Joe Kurmaskie

July 18, 2012

Running and weight

I have pretty much always been overweight. As a kid, I shopped in the "husky" section that had nothing to do with our local college team. Growing up, my brothers were taller and leaner, and I was the more round guy on the end, the 'o' to their 'i'. I was not particularly active as a kid, though I did play youth soccer for some seven or eight years. But when I tried out for the junior high team, I washed out in the first couple days of tryouts because all we did was run. We didn't get to soccer skills until the last hour of the second day, and by that time I was finished.

Fitness and activity didn't come until later. Most every job I have had required me to be on my feet, and my decade-plus in construction has made me stronger just by going to work. Biking was my first extracuricular activity, and two years after that I was running. I ran my first 5k in March of 2005, and my first half marathon that November. I hadn't prepared terribly well for the half marathon, but the experience of the day, and crossing that finish line hooked me. I wanted to take this more seriously and prepare for a full marathon.

I was still pretty heavy at that point, but far from my heaviest. Before I started running (I think I had just started biking), my former wife bought me a scale one Christmas. It was one of those fancy models that not only gives you your weight with half-pound, digital precision, but it also estimates your body fat percentage by sending a small electrical charge through your body. I don't remember precisely what it read that first morning, but the weight was north of 190, and the fat make-up above 30%. I had no illusions that I was skinny, but those numbers were pretty shocking. What was worse was when I plugged my numbers into an online Body Mass Indicator (BMI) calculator. I was not only overweight, but I had moved into the "obese" catagory.


Back to 2005. Just after the half marathon, I started my plans to run a full marathon. Looking at some training plans, I would now be running 20, 30, or 40 miles a week. If I could stick to it, I knew I would be in the best shape of my life by the time I showed up at the start line. I imagined that the pounds would fall away as the miles went by. I even took a  "before" picture I could compare the glorious "after" person I would become. Shield your eyes, 'cause here it is:

For several months, I followed the training plan and slowly built up my fitness. Then a month or so out from the marathon, I got injured. I didn't know it at the time, but it was a classic IT band issue. I still showed up at the start line, but only made it 18 miles. I would finish a marathon five months later, mostly on grit and biking fitness.

So how about that physical transformation? I was definitely fitter, but the weight did not melt off like I had anticipated. I went back and looked at my running diaries, and I weighed in at the exact same 175.5 pounds a few days before the marathon, and I had somehow managed to gain a point of fat percentage. Over the next few years, the miles increased, but the weight stayed the same, or even climbed. In 2007, I ran 660 miles and I was carrying the exact same 182 pounds in December that I was on January 1st (that handy fat percentage meter kept me from believing that I was exchanging fat for muscle).

In 2008, I ran another 650 miles, but nothing much happened with my weight until the last two months, when my marriage frayed and I started running for UPS every day. After that difficult November and December, I finished the year about ten pounds lighter, I managed to maintain that loss for most of 2009. But after running a lifetime high of 928 miles, I was again back up to 176 on December 31st, a half pound heavier than my optimistic "before" picture four years earlier. What had become crystal clear is that exercise is not enough.

Not that this isn't completely obvious, but it comes back to calories coming in versus calories being burned off. I had been burning more calories for four years, but I was clearly consuming more as well. Part of the problem is the illusion that you can eat whatever you want after a long workout. Unfortunately, it doesn't add up that way. I would need to run about 28 miles to burn the calories in a single pound. By not paying attention to what I was eating, I was essentially running in place.

I heard on a podcast (can't remember which one) about combating childhood obesity. Today one in five kids are obese (triple that of 30 years ago), and many more are overweight. The study asked the question of where the best place was to start - exercise or nutrition. If you eat better and weigh less, you might be more inclined to move around more. The other side of the coin is if you move around more, you might be inspired to take care of your body and eat a little better. The study found that children were more successful if they started with the food side of the equation. Exercise is clearly important, but what you put in your body is even more important.

2011 was the year of the 30 day resolutions, and cutting out alcohol, fast food, meat, and making better food choices in general were some of the monthly challenges. As a result of those changes, I lost another 12 pounds during the year and I have managed to keep them off. Both the exercise and making good food choices are about taking better care of myself, and they were finally reinforcing each other.

160 pounds is now the number I dance around, and the 30 days of running helped push me below that. This is the "after" picture, about six years later than planned.

From this angle, the most noticeable difference is in my face (and of course my California tan lines). This is me at 155.5 pounds, and 21% body fat. Nothing like a Biggest Loser transformation, or even particularly skinny for my height, but still it is a difference of 20 or 40 pounds depending on the starting point, and 9 points off the fat scale. The miles of running, biking and that fancy scale have seen me move from obese, through overweight, and into the high end of normal on the BMI chart. At six years older, with the accompanying slowing metabolism, I'll take it.

There was no "diet", just dietary change. I still indulge, but the overall pattern is different. I understand that one day of exercise or one meal doesn't make or break it for me, and that it is how they all interplay over the long term.

Occasionally, the solution is very simple, but that doesn't make it easy. Even when you know the solution, you aren't always prepared to take action.  Running wasn't the silver bullet, but it improved my outlook and set me on the road to taking better care of myself. Everything played its part, but in the end it turned out to be a bit more about the meals than the miles.

July 12, 2012

30 days

I didn't have to get up quite so early this morning, and Sierra kept quiet and let me enjoy that extra half hour of sleep. I gained that half hour because there was no running this morning.

I started my challenge of running every day for thirty days to jump start my life-reboot. Before tackling all the things great and small, I figured I needed to start with my mental outlook. Getting out on the road has not only improved my physical condition, but I know it provides me with a certain kind of mental clarity. There is nothing quite like pushing your physical boundaries to humble you. It breaks you down, and then builds you back up. It felt like the right place to start.

I have never come back from a run thinking, "I wish I hadn't done that." That said, it can be very difficult to head out some mornings. Even after all these years and miles, those first steps are still a challenge. After the marathon in January, and with no races on the calendar, it was too easy to listen to those voices talking me out of action. A short night's sleep, a tight muscle here, a little nagging niggle there, and I spent far too many mornings trading a half hour on the roads for internet time.

Even knowing that running would improve my outlook, I was stuck in a lazy loop. When I draw up a marathon training calendar, there is a commitment to getting out. Though the commitment is only to me, I take it seriously. Not ready to sign up for a marathon, I made a different kind of commitment this time. I vowed to run every day for 30 days. This would jumpstart my reentry into running, and put the procrastination on hold. There was no debate whether I was up for a run - every day was a running day.

As I mentioned before, I have never run more than three times a week, even in the height of marathon training. I was always worried about injuries, and decided that three days was the perfect balance of training and recovery. In my better days, I added in a day each of biking and swimming, but I limited the leg pounding of running to three a week. So this experiment was not only to break one habit (procrastination) for another (action), but also to see how my body would hold up under an every day regimen.

So, I ran without fail each and every morning, and yesterday marked day 30. I ran at least three miles each day, and ran most often at a decent pace. Most days were only three miles, but I also threw in an impromptu 13.1 miler on day 12. My friends Cherie and Wendy were running the Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon, and unable to run alongside them, I ran a San Diego course at the same time they were running. We exchanged texts and encouragement along the way, and it was the next best thing to being there. I was a little concerned about running the distance after twelve straight days, but it went well and I finished in a respectable 1:50.

There were extra aches and pains as the days and miles accumulated. My ankles hurt one day, my knees the next, but this was most pronounced in the middle of the month. By the third and fourth week, my body seemed to be getting stronger. Though there were fewer aches and pains, the fatigue built upon itself and it felt harder to maintain pace this past week (though strangely, day 28 was my quickest run). Throw in some long, hot, physical days at work, and I was happy not to put my running shoes on this morning.

I hadn't really thought about it previously, but this 30 day commitment was similar to what I did last year, choosing a different resolution each month. Some asked why I didn't wait until the first of the month to make July my "running" month. The answer was simple - I couldn't put it off. I had to start somewhere, and I had to start right now.

Would I do it again? Only if I needed to. The every day commitment helped me fight that procrastination gene, and starting every day getting my blood pumping improved my outlook. I am more fit than when I started, but I feel run down as well. I needed this month for my mind, but to make my body stronger in the long run, I need to take rest days. Your body rebuilds in the moments after the struggle, and that is when you get stronger.

Now, where did I put that bike?

July 8, 2012

The animals made a monkey out of me

Out of town, out of touch, out of practice - my excuses for not writing. I was house-sitting for friends this past week, taking care of house and all manner of animal, and the animals did not make it easy. Even the tortoise wasn't cooperating.

Tuesday morning, my own forgetfulness created a 200 mile day of driving when I forgot to pack Sierra's insulin. Then I spent Tuesday night chasing down the wrong cat.

When I drove up to the house, there were two cats sitting outside. I knew the orange cat did not belong, but I wasn't sure about the black one. I couldn't find my friend's black cat anywhere in the house, so I started looking for the black cat outside. He would come close, but then dart away, teasing, but avoiding my attempts to get it inside. Thankfully, he knew he didn't belong, and I eventually found the right cat hiding in a duffel bag under a bed.

Wednesday started out quietly, and ended with a bit of a fizzle. After logging another day of running, I spent the morning at the house tending to the animals and reading in the sun. Then I headed down to San Diego to spend the 4th with some friends. We had a great BBQ before driving to a better vantage point to see the fireworks. As you may have read, all the fireworks at three separate shows went off at once, and early at that. What was supposed to be a 18 minute show, was over in 15 seconds (video) We were still in the car when it happened, and didn't find out for another 20 minutes that what we thought was a preview, was all that was happening. Fortunately we hadn't driven far, and we were able to get back to catch the nightly fireworks at Sea World.

Thursday was the first time I had left Sierra alone all day, and she panicked in the unfamiliar surroundings of this new house. As I have mentioned before, her sight and hearing are very poor these days, and I found her scared and yelping at the bottom of the stairs. I can only assume she had been looking for me, and had made a bit of a mess of the downstairs in the process. I was a little worried about leaving her alone again on Friday, but was happy to arrive home to find her calm and everything in order. And then the cats escaped.

Sierra and I were enjoying a read and a lie on the grass (me reading, she on the grass) when the black cat that I had only seen once all week, darted across the lawn. In the ten minutes we had been outside, she suddenly became brave enough to come downstairs and nose open the screen door. Then while I was leaning out the front door, shaking the bag of kitty treats to entice her back, the second one escaped. It was a comedy of errors, but the cats were the only ones laughing.

After a couple of hours, I was eventually able to corral the second escapee, but the first one was nowhere to be found. After some slightly panicked text messages to my friends, they assured me that she would nose her way back in if I just ignored her and left the screen door unlocked.

I was awakened by fireworks at 3am Saturday morning (a neighbor was apparently trying to make up for the dud in San Diego). I noticed the screen door had been nudged open, so apparently the cat does come back, the very next day. I searched the house that night and the next morning, but once again she had found a secret hiding place. I assumed she was there, but couldn't be sure.

I finally found her new hiding place Saturday night, and snapped this picture to send to my out-of-town friends to let them know she was safe and sound. I know it is just the flash reflecting off of her retinas, but c'mon, doesn't she look a little evil.

It was great to be away for a bit, and I know Sierra enjoyed the big backyard with no steps, but now I am back home, and back at it. This morning was the 27th day in a row of running, and I have been cleaning up some of the debris of life that has been piling up. The habit of running is ingrained again, and writing is the next on the list. Thanks for checking back after all the silence.