December 30, 2007

Ups and Downwards...

I had planned on writing this celebratory post about how awesome my day of skiing was - and in particular how well I did physically - but first let me tell you about how I much pain I'm in just now. An ass-full. Because so damn proud of myself and my fitness, brimming with confidence, I decided to take a yoga class today...

Big mistake.

I fucking hate yoga.

When I was in college and training karate regularly I was very flexible, at least relative to Dan. I've never been particularly limber even at my best, being built much more like a pack animal than a cheetah, but karate helped me to achieve whatever levels of flexibility were available to me and I'm constantly amazed these years later at the ways I was once able to bend and stretch which are now completely inaccessible to me. So every year or so I get this idea to take up yoga, sucked into their marketing on the whole "strong and healthy and limber" angle.

And it doesn't help that a whole slew of friends of mine love yoga, swear by it, and many are instructors. Since many of them are also women, I'm inclined to listen to whatever they say I should do, in the way that a child sitting on Santa's lap eagerly agrees to comply with whatever is said which may result in them getting what they want for Christmas. "You're pretty and think I should take yoga? OK!"

Though what I really want is a stretching and flexibility class, since those don't seem to exist anywhere for public consumption, this morning I packed up my yoga mat (2 years old yet never used) and headed to a local studio. I'm still an absolute beginner despite this being my fifth or sixth yoga class over the past five or six years, because they just never seem to take. This time I committed right from the start - I signed up for the beginner's 3 classes in 3 weeks dealie, and jumped right into my first session this afternoon.

The instructor was quite good I'm sure, and she was patient and pleasant and all, (and limber and totally cute - which helps) but I still couldn't find myself getting into it. When I'm in the gym, and feeling good, warmed up, and in that workout zone - I like it. Really like it. I revel in my own strength, in the movement of my body, in the weights I can press and the engineering involved, the physics of the physical. So I wonder if my lack of enjoyment of yoga comes from my inexperience, beginner's inflexibility, or really just hating yoga - in theory not just in practice. It's a good workout, no doubt, and it takes a lot of poise, strength, and effort, but my body just doesn't seem to like it. When I was heavier I assumed I needed a yoga for fat people class, but even now a thinner Dan still has trouble breathing in the poses, the room is uncomfortably warm, my body doesn't want any part of it. And I don't want to bow to you and say "Namaste" for the same reason I don't suddenly forgo a fork and eat with chopsticks when I'm in a Chinese restaurant. And frankly, as much as I love dogs, that downward dog pisses me off too.

There's no doubt it's effective; here it is several hours later and I'm watching football, wiping crumbs off my chin, and hurting. My legs are sore, my back tight...ow. Fucking ow. Fucking yoga and fucking downward dog. Believe me I'm not averse to exercise pain. I like a good sore, I crave that feeling of accomplishment that comes from pushing your body. But the practice itself - and the fact that it's a practice, and not merely a workout - is what turns me off. So, two more classes to go, if I don't like it more by then, I'll call it quits (until next January, I suppose...)

Yet on the other end of the spectrum, Christmas Day I went skiing as I am wont to do each year. It's a tradition for me that began in 1997, and I've only missed one or two since then. This year I was up and at 'em early, my alarm ringing at 5:00am and my chosen butt out the door and on my way by 5:20. In the wee smalls I met up with Adam, Eric, and Jay for our three hour drive up to Okemo and our first tracks of the year; just four more Jews amongst the thousands of dentists and accountants who enjoy a Joyous Noelle of skiing.

The first run of the season is often tough as your legs are out of ski-shape and it's challenging to prep for downhill skiing as the kind of resistance training that you need to do isn't easy to recreate in a gym. Generally you just hope for the best, and accept that it's gonna hurt. Additionally, skiing for me for the past few years has been difficult because my body just didn't want to hold up for a whole day of effort. My quads would give out sometimes as early as 1:00pm, never making it to the 4:00pm last run down the mountain. I'd spend much of the afternoon doing short hops with frequent breaks to rest, and even at my best my legs were often burning by lunchtime. This year, as we drove up through Massachusetts and Vermont, I was eager to see how I'd do having not only lost the weight, but also having spent so much time in the gym over the past year.

First pleasant surprise of the morning: my gear fit better. First unpleasant surprise: I now need a belt for my ski pants. Which, truth be told, was initially a pleasant surprise until I had trouble keeping my pants up as we walked to the lift. Jay was the best skier of the group, and Okemo was a familiar mountain for him, so he planned the runs all day and Adam, Eric, and I followed. After an initial intermediate blue trail or two to warm up, we started moving into the more advanced terrain, which not only provided more challenge but also removed us from so many of the undesirables on the mountain; those newbie skiers and snowboarders who are always much more dangerous to others than they are to themselves.

By our third run, I was feeling great. My legs weren't tiring at all, we were keeping to a good pace, and were all able to stay together. Lunch, which from habit I knew came just about the time I was beginning to feel the pinch of leg muscle pain, surprised me because I was feeling so good when Jay called a break. We had been skiing black diamonds and high blues for nearly three hours, and I was still raring to go.

My favorite moment of the day came around 2:00pm when I came around a bend to find Jay paused, waiting for us, leaning over his skis and resting his weight on his poles. From long experience I knew that stance - taking the weight off your legs to rest them. Me, I hadn't yet even felt a glimmer of muscle fatigue, and here our best skier was starting to wind down. By 3:30, Eric was also feeling spent, and Adam was taking shorter hops between rests as well.

It was such an extraordinary experience to be the person in the best shape for some activity. I was feeling so good that though we were finishing up, when Adam spontaneously burst out with "one more run" I joined him. Now, you should know, a cardinal rule of skiing is that you never, ever, under any circumstances, succumb to the siren-song of "one more run." It is always that last run, the greedy run, that does you in. Always. It's expected on the mountain that doubtless someone will shout for one more run, and it's the duty of everyone nearby - even strangers - to remind them that under no circumstances do you ever, ever, take one last run.

Of course it wasn't until Adam and I were back on the lift that I realized the extreme danger that my over-zealousness had just placed me in, and I began to wonder what it would be - a broken leg? Torn ACL? Hitting a tree? I was doomed, I just didn't yet know how. I couldn't believe I was so stupid! What a rookie mistake. One more run indeed... Well, I'll have plenty of time to regret my impulsiveness from the hospital bed, no doubt... Jay and Eric were on their way down to base, and Adam and I would never be seen again.

Due to my diligence, caution, and I'll assume an easily distracted fate who was looking another way that afternoon, Adam and I did indeed both make it down without incident. I took it slow and steady, and we reached base at 4:00pm on the dot, where it occurred to me that not only had I skied the whole day but I did so without pain and muscle fatigue and more importantly - with a smile on my face and plenty of gas left in my tank for more. The weather was so-so, the mountain wasn't my favorite, the snow was mediocre at best, but it was my best day of skiing in years.

Going again this week, if anyone wants to come (and you can keep up!)

Happy New Year everyone -

December 22, 2007

On the way home from work...

Not during my commute, but this is my subway line... No I didn't witness it live :)

What's Next?

This season naturally brings folks to consider the year that has passed and to reflect upon their successes and failures. Though I've never been shy about examining my failures, many of them are either already recorded on this blog or were intentionally left out, and so instead I'll focus instead on what's next.

Work continues to go very well. While I never mention specifics, many of you know where I work and what I do, and it's been an exciting year and a very exciting December. I recently spent the day at the New Jersey facility of a company we've just acquired, and met with a number of folks with whom I'll be working with on the assimilation of their people and corporate culture into our own. Radical redefinitions of both their organization and ours on the horizon, as we grow by about 6,000 new employees in the NYC metro area. I've also been working closely with many of the vendors I deal with, and they keep asking me to join panels and advisory groups for their products - which certainly might merely be flattery, but I'm not opposed to flattery... My company is contemplating extraordinary changes of direction and focus in the next few years, and I'm very excited about where I am and what's to come.

In the health and fitness realm 2007 has seen major changes. I began the year taking daily high blood pressure medicine, weighing 251 pounds, with my new doctor telling me I can "eat as if you have diabetes now, or wait until you get diabetes in a few years." I began taking my health seriously, with the result that last summer I hit my eight year low of 197 lbs. I've plateaued a bit since then, hovering around 200, but after the holidays I plan to get back on track toward my ultimate goal of reaching 175.

For those of you who asked how I did it, three particular things stand out: drink water instead of everything else you're drinking (especially caffeinated drinks), weigh yourself every day, and don't eat food that won't spoil. For that last one, what I mean is eat the stuff along the outside of the supermarket, food that requires refrigeration and will go bad someday, and avoid all the food in the middle that won't. If it has a shelf-life, it doesn't belong in your body. By avoiding high-processed foods and eating more simply, you make digestion much easier on your body which frees up energy for other things, not the least of which are activities that help you further lose weight.

And for the record, I no longer take high blood pressure meds...

Romantically, one of the benefits of my new fitter body and healthier state has been a significant impact on my dating life, yet my focus has always been on the quantity and not the quality of relationships. While that has been exciting, I'm done with that for 2008 and intend to remain single for a while. Nothing inspires less desire for a new relationship than the ending of the last one, and I'm clearly not ready to make room for someone in my life just yet.

I've been delving into the realm of faith this fall. I've not given the faith of my fathers much of a chance as an adult, and yet I can't help but consider that my untethered adult life is at least partially attributed to not believing all that strongly in anything in particular. Having recently met an extraordinarily faithful person, I'm in awe of what her beliefs provide her and wonder if I might find me some of that too if I were to actually start looking for it. I'm such a fan of being Jewish, yet I've spent very little time studying the accumulated wisdom of the culture of which I'm so proud. Taking recommendations if you have them.

One of the cults/educational institutions I've been a part of always made a big deal of public declarations of intent and specific measurable results. They encourage "enrolling others in what you want" to support you in getting it, and ensuring you're on the hook for the results you've committed to achieving. So, without further ado, public declarations of intent for 2008:
  • Health: 175 lbs, 10 pull ups, 50 push ups, 7:30 minute mile. Presently I can do 8 pull ups and 30 push ups and run a mile in 8:45, so I've got some work ahead there.

  • Finances: Budgets... oh, it's painful even to type... I never do budgets. Yet I lost weight by being intentional and deliberate, so I'll try applying rigor to my finances and see if it has a similar result. Weekly budgets, knowing where my money is and what it's doing, clarity around the material things I want instead of impulse-purchasing...

  • Romance: Off-line only. Despite 11+ years of online dating, I'm so done with that. From now on, I get to know them first and then date them and not the other other way around. My focus will be on getting out and meeting folks, doing things, interacting in person, rather than hiding behind the computer. Clarity around what I'm looking for in this realm too, instead of impulse-dating.

  • Work: More of the same for 2008 - continuing to keep an eye open for new possibilities and opportunities with my company. I'd love to see a new position or new location become available in 2008. Had a good talk with my boss last week, so we're both on the same page about what's next for me.

  • Judaism: 2008 will be a year of studying faith and my lack thereof. Visiting some temples in Manhattan, and deepening my involvement with B'nai B'rith.
Couple more posts coming over the next two weeks, some things in the news and some observations to be made. I've had less to post about these past few months because I've been hibernating more and more; while earlier in the year I was doing a lot, creating stories to write about, this fall has been quiet.

We'll see what 2008 brings in terms of blog-worthy moments...