Carrots, Apples and Pears, Oh My! Weight Watchers, Part 1

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It’s What’s For Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Grapefruit, kale, strawberries, lemons, limes, chia seeds, protein bars, tofu, almond milk, coffee with skim, sugar free jello. Mmm, that’s pretty much my diet these days. You might notice the distinct lack of anything fun or indulgent or even that satisfying.

Welcome to Weight Watchers.

On the last Saturday of August I made a commitment to lose weight. My muffin top (and muffin bottom) had been troubling me for a few years. I spent 2009 through 2012 wearing pants that were too tight and vanity prevented me from jumping to a 38 inch waist. At one point I weighed in at career high 248.

The tipping point was running races. I was putting in 20-25 miles a week and racing once or twice a month. With all my training I assumed I had lost more than just a few pounds, but my race times were slowing down. My advancing years could account for some of the sluggishness I felt on hills, but there was more to it. I decided to weigh myself for the first time in over a year and was shocked to see I was still carting 238 pounds around. Damn.

I can’t just sort of lose weight in the same way that I can just sort of do anything. I need to go all in or it won’t happen. Half-assed isn’t the path to success for me. I was primed for action. Enter Weight Watchers. They had a decent deal going so I signed up. Downloading the app, I realized there was no turning back. This was the push I needed. I was on the edge and now my momentum was heading in the right direction.

Entering my details online, I received 41 SmartPoints per day plus 42 weekly points to use as I saw fit. I also could earn extra FitPoints through exercise. In case you are wondering, a single fast food meal can devour all those SmartPoints and not even fill you up.

I did Weight Watchers about a dozen years ago and it was a little different. Back then just about everything counted against me. Today I can eat all the fruit and vegetables I want, plus protein is a good bet. Sugar, oil and carbs are pretty much no-nos. I can eat them, but they aren’t worth the points. Goodbye bread, butter and breakfast cereal!

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Teeth Not Required

The NutriBullet I received for my birthday has played a big role in my program. Every morning I toss a bunch of fruit, almond milk, greens and protein powder into a cup and blend it up for a perfect low calorie breakfast smoothie. Some nights I return for a dinner bullet with greens, tomatoes, hot sauce, lemon and whatever else sounds good. They aren’t always as delicious, but they fill me up. Some days it seems I hardly use my teeth at all as my meals now come in liquid form. Yum!

My strategy is to preserve FitPoints by eating a low point breakfast and a medium point lunch so I can eat a decent dinner. Three nights a week we’ve been cooking Blue Apron and those are pretty satisfying after a long day of apple slices and crudité. Occasionally I indulge with a slice of pizza or a bagel, but most days are pretty simple and kind of boring.

At first I was starving. Then I was always a little bit hungry. Now it’s just what I do. It sounds torturous, but you get used to it. I make sure I have a lot of point-free snacks so I don’t want to splurge on a box of cookies or a half dozen doughnuts. Dessert has all but disappeared from my life as has most processed sugar.

That’s what is key about Weight Watchers. It forces me to track and think about everything I eat. At some point soon I will hit my goal and have to figure out a sensible compromise between complete deprivation and eating everything in sight. The real trick will be learning how to keep it off.

So far it’s been six months. How much have I lost? The answer in Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

Lessons Learned Running a 100 Mile Relay Race

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Seven years ago I took part in GE Training at their Crotonville, NY campus. Much of our time was dedicated to navigating corporate politics and developing large-scale, effective teams. According to the curriculum, building a functioning group could take months or even years. There are four levels in a team’s life cycle according to Bruce Tuckman’s model of group development: storming, storming, norming and performing. That is some unwieldy baggage if you need to get something done right now.

On the flipside you’ve got Minimum Viable Product (MVP),  a concept popularized by Eric Ries. The basic idea is to build a product quickly and inexpensively with just enough features to attract early adopters. As you add users you iterate and add to your product based on the feedback from customers. It’s all about immediacy, speed and agility.

In the years since I took that training it’s been fascinating to watch large corporations dump traditional business strategies, adopting MVP and Lean Startup principles. They’ve had to reinvent once-sacred processes in an effort to bring better products to market faster.

Last summer I took part in the 100 On 100 Relay, an epic day-long race. We had to come together as a team, run like hell for fourteen hours and survive a grueling endurance event. This meant embracing concepts from both Tuckman and Ries to get from one end of Vermont to the other.

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We had a clear goal. Our team of six people had to run 100 miles along Vermont Highway 100 from Stowe to Okemo. The race organizers provided us with a map and first aid at transition points. Apart from that we were on our own. It was up to us to organize, delegate, hydrate and operate our minimally staffed running startup for one long day.

We organized. I only knew one teamate well. I had run a few times with another, but hadn’t seen him in eight years. Another I raced with once in 2006. Two members I had never met before that morning. I was going to spend the next fourteen hours packed into a car with them. We had to make it work.

We made decisions. We hadn’t chosen which legs to run prior to the race. Fifteen minutes before the start we picked our assignments consisting of three legs per person. Each runner was responsible for roughly seventeen or eighteen miles. One leg in the morning, one leg in the afternoon, one leg at night. Our first runner was off at 8:15am. The rest of us tumbled into the car. We formed immediately. You get pretty friendly pretty fast while sweating and farting in a crowded SUV packed with runners.

We acted immediately. There was no dithering or hesitation or non-performance. We each got a number. #1 was responsible for legs 1, 7 and 13. #2 was on the spot for 2, 8 and 14. And so on. When your number was up you took the fluorescent snap bracelet and started running. It was your job to get your ass and the snap bracelet five, six or seven miles down the road.

We found our roles. At first there was a bit of politeness and hesitation about who would drive or who would sit where. Pretty soon someone would grab the keys and go. Someone else would carry water to the runner. It was no longer about courtesy. Now, it was about doing our job and iterating as we went. Feedback was constant and fixes were put into place immediately.

We cooperated. We normed quickly. One of us would buy ice while another would check the map for our next transition spot. One would get water ready for the incoming runner while another would make sure our outgoing runner was ready. We acted on instinct and nobody slacked. Our organization was flat and everybody gave it everything they had.

We suffered and endured setbacks. The only storming came from external forces. We ran through soupy lung-sopping humidity. We endured a massive thunderstorm and got soaked. There were hills that crushed souls and hot open spaces that burned skin. We ran in the dark on a lonely highway with only reflective vests and headlamps to protect us from oncoming cars. Our only job was to get further down the road. I ran my first leg like I was racing a 10k and after three miles I crumbled in the heat like a house of cards. My pace dropped by two minutes per mile. I crawled up a final massive insult of a hill with my stomach gurgling, my spirit destroyed and my energy reserves gone. I still had another tow legs and twelve miles to cover. I would never make it. They would find me out.

We brought the best out of one another. While one runner put in mileage the rest would follow by car. The team was there every couple of miles with water, Gatorade, or whatever the runner needed. The cheering and encouragement from the support vehicle made all the difference. We even had cowbell! Plenty of cowbell.

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Our greatness combined transcended all our individual weaknesses and shortcomings. We were performing. I found the strength to head into my second leg. I had seven miles to race with nothing left. Left foot, right foot. The sandwich hollering in my gut was declaring its independence, yet I was determined to keep going. I gave everything I had to the team. Somehow, leg two was a vast improvement over leg one. By leg three I was done, but the spirit and unity of our group carried me forward. Without them I couldn’t have covered that final five miles in the dark on a meandering dirt road. I couldn’t let these people down. They were my team.

We succeeded. Together we ran 100 miles. One step at a time. One mile after another. Somewhere around 9:58pm our sixth runner climbed the last pummeling hill in the dark and crossed the finish line. We gathered around and hugged like we had known one another for years.

We celebrated. At the end there was beer for the drinkers and food for the eaters. After eighteen miles of running and fourteen hours of riding shotgun just about anything is gourmet fare. We destroyed piles of baked beans, pulled pork, hot dogs and fruit as if they were the greatest delicacies ever prepared.

What we had done in that day takes organizations forever to accomplish. We came together, bonded over a quest, faced countless challenges and made it across the finish line. We will never unite as a group again, but in one day we formed, stormed, normed and performed. We produced, iterated and pivoted like a well-tuned startup. In the end we slayed the goddamn dragon and went home happy.

All Hail the 97 Pound Weakling

Charles Atlas ad

I am the 97 pound weakling, perhaps not the original, but I have always been super scrawny. Like the kid in the Charles Atlas ads that peppered the back pages of comic books for decades, I am a skinny. Even when my weight topped 240, I was a slight man under a concealing layer of flab. Peel away the spongy exterior and you find a pale, stickboy suitable for ass kicking. As a kid I dreaded the beach and wore long pants and long-sleeved shirts to conceal my scarecrow body.

While I have gone on to become a strong swimmer, cyclist and runner, I never have been able to put together a weightlifting program for any consistent period of time. I can run a marathon, but I can’t do a pull-up. I’ve cycled 150 miles in one day, but I have never been able to lift much more than baby weights. I have mastered cardio, but success with adding muscle has always eluded me.

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Bullworker 1 – Hartnett 0

Yes, I have tried many times over the years. From weight training classes in high school to sporadically working with a trainer over the last year, I have set my sights on the weight room, but the treadmills and spinning classes have called my name. As a kid I even bought a Bullworker thinking that might help me turn it all around. It ended badly with the spring-loaded apparatus breaking during an exercise involving a door jamb. Before I could react, the fist-like end drove into my chest knocking me to the floor. That was the end of the Bullworker as well as a spirited three weeks of bodybuilding.

Over the last few years I’ve gotten back into shape, challenging myself to dozens of road and trail races. After a half decade of sedentary middle age I am feeling pretty good about my fitness. I set ambitious goals and have been able to accomplish them with a little hard work.

I noticed this past year that my race paces were increasing instead of decreasing. How could I be running more yet slowing down? Perhaps it was middle age, but I suspected an overindulgence in bagels and pizza played a role. It had been months since I weighed in so I stepped on the scale. Ooof! I rocked that bad boy at 238 pounds. My suspicions were correct and I opted to try Weight Watchers. It has been several months of fruit, vegetables and a constant gnawing hunger, but I have dropped 45 pounds. For the first time in nearly a decade I am under 200 and my running feels better than it has in years.

But…

This very welcome weight loss has revealed a skeleton in the closet. That skeleton is me. It is wonderful to see my bones, but I wish they weren’t so damn bony. The 97 pound weakling is back!

Can a slight man well into middle age get results from a weight training program? That is my 2017 goal.

It doesn’t help that I HATE lifting weights. It’s boring, it hurts and doesn’t offer the same endorphin rush and head clearing bliss as a five mile run along the waterfront. I’ve managed to put together a decent program for a few weeks at a time, but soon dread the workout and opt to do cardio instead.

My hope is this time it will be different.

My targets are simple. I want to maintain roughly the same weight, build some muscle and bang out 100 push-ups and 12 pull-ups without stopping. I can struggle through 45 pushups now and the pullups aren’t happening at all. I’ve got one year to get there.

How will I make it happen? My plan is to lift three times per week. I’ve got a trainer who will love seeing me concentrate more on weights. He isn’t a fan of all my sissy running. I hope to work with him a couple of times per month and find some lifting pals so all the big guys on the gym floor won’t beat me up.

Two things will help me build momentum. One, I am going to set clear goals every week and evaluate my progress. Second, I am going public with my goal and hoping friends and colleagues will keep me honest and cheer me along.

This goal went in effect today, January 1. I will document my workouts as I go and write an update every month. I won’t horrify you with the before pictures. Let’s hope I have something to show by the end of 2017. Wish me luck and I will see you at the gym

Ten Days with Fitbit Charge HR

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Two weeks ago I chronicled the sad, but long expected demise of my Nike FuelBand (Fuelband #4 to be exact). It was a poorly made wearable with limited capabilities. Over time I learned to accept my Fuel Points and use the data as a barometer for my general state of fitness. If I made my goal, I knew I had moved just enough for one day. It motivated me to get up, get out and get going.

When FuelBand 4 succumbed to the ravages of time, I opted for a Fitbit Charge HR. I needed something to get me moving, keep me motivated and give me the numbers. How many steps? How far did I go? How long did I run? I need to know.

Ten days ago the Fitbit arrived in the mail and I set it up quickly. I downloaded the complementary app. WIthin a few minutes I was out on my first run. While it’s only been a week and a half, I am very satisfied and thrilled that I moved on from my crumbling relationship with FuelBand.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the Fitbit Charge HR tracks; steps, calories, distance, heart rate, sleep, flights of stairs climbed. It buzzes when I reach 10,000 steps. It’s a damn decent watch as well. Hell, it even syncs with my phone and buzzes when I get a phone call

The display is clean and easy to read except in bright sunlight. One click tells time, two steps, three heart rate, four distance, five calories burned and six flights of stairs climbed. I like that time is the first display. It works as a watch and it works as a fitness tracker. FuelBand required four clicks just to get to the time. It fits and adjusts like a watch too. The FuelBand was always a bit clunky with its hard casing. While I got used to it, I immediately liked the feel of the Fitbit.

Maybe the biggest thing is NO Fuel Points! Plus, it seems relatively accurate. Fuel Points always seemed arbitrary, often adding up more when I was driving than when I was actually walking. However, I had become accustomed to them and trying to meet or exceed my goal of 3000 per day had become a daily habit. Saying goodbye was very easy.

Steps vs points makes more sense and speaks a language I understand. 10,000 steps is a broadly accepted standard for moving enough every day. The first time it buzzed at 10K I was a bit shocked, but now I look forward to meeting that goal.

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The Fitbit Penguin March Badge

The Nike Fuel app was never my favorite. It took forever to sync and didn’t tell me much. I did like the simplicity, but Fitbit works faster and better. I thought I would miss the gimmicky FuelPoint badges, but NOPE, Fibit even has gimmicky badges too!

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The Fitbit app is loaded with features, but is still simple and easy to use. It syncs almost instantly through bluetooth and offers an abundance of data right on the homescreen. Steps. Heartrate. Distance. Calories burned. Flights of stairs. Active minutes. Amount of sleep the night before. Plus it allows you to track exercise, log the water you’ve had to drink and number of calories you’ve eaten. You can even set up a food plan.

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My favorite and most insightful feature has been the sleep tracker. Not only does it show how many hours you’ve slept, but also indicates how long your sleep was restless and how long you were awake during the night. What is shocking is how little I actually sleep. I knew I didn’t get enough rest, but my estimation of 6 1/2 hours per night was off. I am averaging less than 6 hours per night. Through Fitbit I’ve set a goal of 7:15 per night.

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I will lose you, but I will always have this picture

Three Small Quibbles

1 The Fitbit needs to be charged every 3 or 4 days. It says 5, but the warnings come early. Charging isn’t hard, it’s just annoying.

2 The USB charging cable is tiny. WHen i lose this, I hope a new one isn’t too expensive.

3 The plastic face scratches easily. I’ve already got a tiny scuff and i know there are more to come.

What happens over the next few months will be the real proof. I went through 4 FuelBands in less than three years. They broke, died and went haywire in rapid succession. Can the Fitbit Charge HR stand up to 24/7 wear and tear and keep going? Stay tuned.

Tell me about your favorite fitness trackers, apps and wearables.

Goodbye FuelBand, Hello Fitbit

Last Friday I received an email with the subject line, “Legal Notice – Nike+ FuelBand Settlement.” It further went on to say that Nike and Apple “engaged in violations of consumer protection laws and warranty obligations in connection with the Nike+ FuelBand. Nike and Apple deny Plaintiff’s allegations and deny that they did anything wrong. The Court has not decided who is right.”

The key takeaway is as a FuelBand purchaser I am eligible to a $15 refund or $25 gift card from Nike. As if on cue my FuelBand died the next morning. It stopped holding a charge. Dead. I brought it into NikeTown. They tried to charge it up. Nothing. I filed my claim and tonight I tossed the FuelBand and its box. It was the quiet end to a 3 year saga of a should-have-been-better product that overpromised and underdelivered.

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FuelBand IV in Happier Times

I got my first FuelBand a few months into the early hype. All the cool kids had them and it seemed everyone else wanted one. It looked pretty sharp and it was the next generation of fitness tracking. I had to have it.

First, let’s step back to the dark ages. I tracked my workouts long before there were apps, GPS and wearables. It was simple. I used a sports watch and wrote my results in a composition notebook. It was important to see how long I ran, how far I biked and if I improved. I even tracked how much time I actually spent skiing in an eight hour day on the slopes (it’s about two hours, kids). The data was valuable in many ways. I could train smarter and get better results by keeping good records of every workout.

Now, some would ask why I even need a wearable at all when I can use any of dozens of running and fitness tracking apps on my phone. Well, I used to wear my a fitness armband with my old phone, but the iPhone 6+ would be something akin to strapping a cookie sheet or personal pan pizza to my arm. I saw someone running with one tonight and it looked silly. Plus, I love the minimalism of running. Shoes, shorts, shirt and socks. A fitness tracker on my wrist keeps it simple.

Once I got my FuelBand I was puzzled about Fuel Points. What did they mean and how much exertion would it require to earn them? I would often earn more points driving my kid to school than I would on a three mile walk. Biking didn’t seem to earn that many either. The only real high scorer was running. However, I accepted the opaque and arbitrary Fuel Point and settled on getting 3000 a day. If I succeeded it signaled to me that I wasn’t just a waste of flesh, fat and bones. I had done something.

However, the real problem with the FuelBand was simple. It was poorly made. My first band broke down within a few months. Nike gladly replaced it. Number two last for an even shorter period. Replaced again. Three made it nine months. Replaced. Four managed to hang on long enough to hear the class-action judgment and shuffled off its electronic coil. My kids’ goldfish lasted longer. They fell apart, they stopped holding a charge, they just died.

The folks at Nike were always helpful and swapped them out without hassle, but you always got the feeling they knew it was a crappy product. My forthcoming $25 gift card bears out my suspicion.

So today as I mourn FuelBand IV I ponder our legacy of three years together. What kind of elegy can I compose over a poorly made piece of dead electronics? I will keep it short and mostly sentiment free.

FuelBand, you and your 3 older brothers served me adequately for the past three years. You tracked my movement and let me know whether I had completely wasted my day. You were too fragile for this harsh world. We didn’t share the same language. I talked in distance, time and calories burned. You spoke in FuelPoints. We may never have entirely understood one another, but we made it work. May you rust quickly in the great landfill in the sky. I won’t miss your poor syncing abilities, but I will cherish my 3,000,000 FuelPoints. Farewell, old chum.

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So Much Promise, But Will It Deliver?

As I pitched my FuelBand IV, I was busy setting up my new Fitbit Charge HR. Once NikeTown confirmed that FB4 was indeed dead, I ordered a new wearable. Five days of data will go untracked, lost forever, but I go forward knowing that I have taken 55 steps since midnight, my heart rate is 64 and in 26 minutes I’ve burned 46 calories.

Goodbye and Godspeed FuelBand. Hello Fitbit. Let’s get to tracking.

A Few Thoughts On Spotify Running

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Let’s talk about Spotify Running. About a month ago Spotify announced a new musical experience specifically designed for runners (all part of a larger fitness initiative). They created non-stop soundtracks that use your smartphone’s accelerometer to determine your tempo and provide the perfect beat to match your stride. The desired effect is a motivated runner pumped by the magic of music.

First of all, I don’t generally run with music when running outside. Running is all about simplicity for me. All I need is shorts, shoes, shirt and socks. It is my legs against the distance. II don’t want distractions and crap to carry. I want to hear the cars, the birds, the breeze and the sounds around me. It isn’t about creating a “portable interior” so wonderfully described here by Maria Popova, it is getting out of the car, bus and office and being outside.

However, when it is treadmill at the gym time, bring on the music. I want to while away the tedium with loud, motivating music. I’ve already created a ton of my own mixes on Spotify that can carry me through a four or five mile stationary jaunt so Spotify Running needs to be as good or better. Time to put it to the test.

Once you tap on running it brings up Running Originals and Running Playlists. Running Originals consists of six instrumental compositions in a variety of styles. Each consists of several “chapters” that are roughly three to six minutes long. The overall mixes are about 30 minutes. Once you start running it finds your pace and the music begins.

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BURN is the first original, composed and recorded by Dutch DJ Tiësto. Spotify describes the track as “massive running beats.” It is definitely the best of the originals with a propulsive club beat that immediately jolted my pace. Like any faceless dance music that kicks ass in spinning class or on the dance floor BURN was magic for seven or eight minutes and I got bored. Like really bored. Soon it feels like and endless loop trapping everyone in the club for an eternity.

Next up is EPIC, listed as “powerful cinematic music.” The dip in quality from our friend Tiësto’s track is significant. This track is the music playing in a generic action film as the squad silently moves in and prepares for the explosive third act. It is dark, propulsive and has all the charm of needle-drop music which is my main issue with all the Running Originals. They have the beat to keep you moving, but they don’t have the personality to keep you interested. Once again, I switched to a new track after about a mile.

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SEASONS is “orchestral music at your pace” which begins with a plaintive, but insistent piano supported by strings, woodwinds and percussion. The sweeping minor keys rise to big crescendos and fall to quiet moments of sad contemplation. This track raises another issue for me. You’re stuck in the mix you chose unless you awkwardly open the app on the run and switch to another original. SEASONS is a bit of a downer and there’s no way I could run with this as a backdrop for more than about five minutes. It would be a great to mix and match the originals to give some dynamic to the run rather than one mood fits all.

Then we dip into LOCK THE FLOW a slightly beefier take on The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.” The “shimmering electronic beats” offer up the second best original mix and I could actually see myself giving this one another shot. It’s got a great beat and you can dance to it, but also has some nice subtleties and range that make for interesting listening.

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“Happy, blissed out pop and indie” reads the description for BLISSED OUT. Again this is largely anonymous light EDM that pumps along at a nice click, but doesn’t go anywhere. The guitars and drums on Chapters 4 and 5 are a nice change up, but the mix lost me long before.

The final original beckons you to “step into an action movie.” THE CHASE is the weakest of the whole bunch. Dark, foreboding and just really boring, this one is the most generic of the bunch. It feels familiar in mediocre action film way. Once again it has all the right features, but none of the heart and soul of real music.

The Running Playlists are fascinatingly random, but also pretty adventurous. There are plenty of familiar bands mixed and matched with a lot of lesser known undergound and indie artists. Right now it offers thirteen mixes to choose from and the range of styles is broad and deep. Hip hop, rock, country, metal, electronic, indie and oldies are just a sample of the variety. The tracks rip along at running tempo and provide a great musical score for a quick run or long haul.

Overall, I am impressed by the effort. Spotify clearly had runners in mind when they commissioned the originals. As mentioned above I want to mix and match the Running Originals to give my running soundtrack a deeper, broader and less monotonous dynamic. The interface is clean and easy to use with the exception of changing the music on the go. If this is just the beginning I am excited to see where they take it.

Has anyone else tried Spotify Running? I would love to hear your thoughts.