BMO Vancouver Marathon: I Didn’t Die

BMO Vancouver Marathon: I Didn’t Die

If you’re curious how I felt before the marathon, you can read about it here. These are some of my thoughts the day after.

This was goal #1. Don’t die. And I didn’t! Check mark.

Goal number two was to make it to the end. Walking, Running or Crawling. However didn’t matter – just cross the line. I did that. I didn’t quit. I crossed the finish line. Check mark.

My third goal, really my “dream goal”, what I didn’t know I could accomplish, was to run the entire race. And I do mean running; no walks, no bathroom breaks, running. I’ve never run 26 miles (42.2 Km) before. I didn’t even attempt it in training. But I really, really wanted to be able to run the whole marathon, from beginning to end.

I still remember, 10 years ago, when I was 60 or so pounds overweight and putting on my shoes to run for the first time ever in my life. I didn’t make it to the end of my street. But I kept running. The first time I was able to run 5k without stopping was a memorable day. I remember the route, the clothes I was wearing, what I was thinking about, everything. It was a milestone, an emotional one. Since then I’ve gradually pushed myself to run longer and longer distances.

Yesterday I ran a marathon, from beginning to end, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Check mark.

0 – 10 Kms: I kept a nice easy pace in the beginning. I know that there is a tendency to run fast early and burn out later, so I kept reminding myself to keep to a relaxed pace. There was a long hill at 9 – 10, but I’ve always trained with hills, especially on a treadmill, so I felt great when I pushed up it just fine.

10 – 20 Kms. Still feeling good. The weather was a lot hotter than I expected and I don’t carry water with me, so I was feeling very grateful for all the water stops and all of the volunteers manning them. Pacific Spirit Park and the UBC campus mostly. Quite pretty, and running mostly in a big pack. This makes it difficult when people suddenly stop, which they tend to do at random times or at water stations. It’s always a bit unexpected and I did crash into at least one woman.

20 -30 Kms. This was the nicest part of the run by far. Along Spanish Banks, Jericho Beach and Kitsilano. These are a few of Vancouver’s nicest beaches and the view of the oceans and mountains on a clear day is always impressive. Really pretty, more shade, and the pack had begun to thin out a bit. When I crossed the halfway point I was feeling great. I had killed my previous 1/2 marathon time and my legs felt just fine. I might have actually been smiling. However, at the half my iPod shuffle died and the music that kept me pumped and distracted was no more. Only my own steps and breathing to listen to from now on. Even so, I enjoyed myself at this time. About halfway through this leg I felt certain I was going to finish how I wanted to.

30 – 42 Kms. This was awful. Just pain and worry. My former certainty was completely gone. Things started getting hard at about 30k. My legs started to stiffen up and I felt like I was losing feeling in my right toes. This leg also starts with a hill at Burrard bridge. By the time I crested it, my legs were on fire and my right foot hurt with a stinging pain. I knew I still had to get around Stanley Park and was just dreading it. The seawall around Stanley Park is my usual run. I know every corner of it. It’s 10km of flat running, so it should be easy. But it wasn’t. Every step felt like dragging cinder blocks painfully behind me, every time I pulled one forward my thigh muscles screamed at me. I had to constantly push thoughts of quitting out of my mind. I tried to ignore the pain by imagining myself like a floating head, as if my body didn’t exist. Nothing really worked. I wanted so bad to stop. I imagined a thousand excuses why I should stop, or at least start walking for a bit. But I gave into none of them. I don’t really know how I kept going, I just refused to stop. The last 10Kms of this race was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, both physically and mentally.

But as we know, there’s no trick, William Potter, just how you manage the pain. Right Larry?

Last Kilometre – After you get out of the park you run downtown for a bit. I hadn’t really been watching the kilometre markers too closely but at some point I saw a young guy with a sign that read “Only 700 Meters Left” and I was almost in disbelief.  It felt like that moment when you wake up from a nightmare but aren’t quite sure if you’re safe yet. When I rounded the corner on Pender St. I could actually see the finish. 500 meters left and I was still running. It was actually going to happen.

And it did. I crossed the finish line astounded with myself. Once I passed the chalk line indicating 42.2 Kilometres I immediately started walking toward the ribbon holders. The guy who put it around my neck asked how I felt. I responded, “I actually just ran a marathon.” like maybe saying it out loud would make it real.

Once I found a bottle of water I pretty much collapsed. I couldn’t stand. My legs hurt then worse then ever. How had I been running a minute ago when I can’t even stand now? My legs were both shaking and twitching. I watched them for a while. Weird. I drank two bottles of water on the ground before picking myself up to head home.

Where I ate an entire large pizza and fell asleep on the couch at 3:30pm.

What a day. A memorable one, for sure.

I actually just ran a marathon.

Post: This is what it looks like when you run a marathon and don’t want to pay for the pictures.



66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part VI

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part VI

When I began my 66 day fitness journey, the details of which can be found in part I,IIIII, and IV  and V, I created these rules for my daily exercise.

  1. Get out of bed everyday and exercise
  2. However I want
  3. for 30 minutes

Ok, so I made it to 66 days. 30 minutes of exercise, through illness and work pressure and general life business, I made the time.


Here’s the transformation:

I don’t know the change in body fat percentage, but my weight went from 194 to 176. These numbers are not exact, as measuring your weight is not exact, but that’s not too shabby, is it? Not for a measly 30 minutes each day. My diet also improved, but I wasn’t counting calories, I was just trying to snack less.

But I’m not really excited about the change in my weight. It’s good for my heart, sure, but it also means that all those ‘new job’ pants that I bought in September look silly, and my belts need new holes cut into them.

What I’m really excited about is the change in my habits.

When I was explaining my 66 day plan to a friend, the reaction was not unexpected. “I wish I could find the motivation to exercise like that.” So I told him…

TO HELL WITH MOTIVATION! Motivation is fickle. Motivation is a bad one night stand. When you find it, it seems exciting, but it just leaves you empty, and wanting.

I’m not motivated to work out every day. I mean, I want to be healthy but I’m pretty sure I can do that without hitting the gym everyday. I’m married, and my wife isn’t going to leave me if I suddenly wasn’t absolutely ripped. 

Habit. That’s the ticket.

Motivation comes and goes. It’s nice when it comes, but when your motivation abandons you causing you to abandon your plan, how good is it?

A quotation sometimes attributed to Stephen King reads:

“Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”

This doesn’t only apply to art, it applies to all aspects of your life.

One of my favourite authors, Haruki Murakami, gets up each day before the sun, works for four hours, then goes for a long run. By 9:00, he’s already finished a day’s work and a day’s exercise. He’s not only one of the world’s most successful authors, he’s also an ultra marathon runner. Not only does he write interesting books about semi-depressed 30 something men with birth defects, social anxiety and a love of jazz (he gets me), he’s also, to me, got it all figured out. By making a habit of things that are hard, he’s done with them before most of us start work. Now he’s got the rest of the day to play Mario Kart or take a nap at the bottom of a well.

Don’t sit around and wait for motivation, just get to work. Put your shoes on, unroll the yoga mat, and get moving. No excuses.

There truly is nothing more powerful than habit when it comes to getting things done. Habits, rooted deeply in routine and repetition, make us who we are. It’s not hitting the gym for big lifts or running a marathon every once in a while, rather it’s doing it every day, that really changes things for us. It’s doing it every day that helps us to define who we are. Eventually, these once difficult chores become mundane, every day events. Not doing them would just feel weird. Like forgetting to eat lunch.

Nuts to motivation. I’m sticking with habit.

In the words of a famous shoe brand – just do that thing!

But that’s easier said than done!

Yep. But what isn’t?

Here are some tips that have helped keep me working out on the regular:

  1. Vary your routine. Doing the same thing every day gets boring. Give yourself options.
  2. Pick a time of day that’s consistent. I always work out when I first wake up. Yes, that means getting up at 5:40 every day, but after all this time I’m used to it. It’s feels normal.
  3. Eat well and sleep early.
  4. Podcasts. I could write several blog posts on this topic. Download podcasts to your phone and listen to comedy, books, interviews, etc. It helps.
  5. Don’t focus on the scale. If you’re eating better, and you’re exercising, it’s working. The scale isn’t your friend, check only occasionally.
  6. Find a few bad weather solution. You can’t always run or bike, but you can probably always do a body weight routine.
  7. Keep track. I find it helpful to make schedules and graphs of things.
  8. Push just a little harder every week. Add 1 extra pound to your lift, increase the speed on the treadmill from 6 to 6.1.
  9. Gym buddies. Meet people. Say hello. It’s helpful to have encouraging people around.
  10. Enjoy it. Exercise isn’t something we have to do, find the joy in becoming stronger and revel in what you’re able to accomplish today that you couldn’t do yesterday.

I have more to say on this topic, but this will be my last “absolutely ripped” post because the 66 days are up!

And because I’m on day 157. That’s right, 157 days of exercise straight. Something has clicked. Habit.

I will be, however, the last time I post a pic of myself shirtless. I’m sorry. While these days I am fully ripped  and completely shredded, you can just take my word for it.


Pheidippides’ Last Stand and My First Marathon

Pheidippides’ Last Stand and My First Marathon

When I began my 66 day fitness journey, the details of which can be found in part I,IIIII, and IV  and V, I created these rules for my daily exercise.

  1. Get out of bed everyday and exercise
  2. However I want
  3. for 30 minutes

Then I signed up for the BMO Vancouver Marathon, which is happening on May 1st. About 2 1/2 weeks from now. It was November when I signed up. At the time, I thought that signing up for a marathon, something I’ve never attempted before, would focus my effort to keep fit and have fun exercising.

It hasn’t.

I mean, I’ve been focused on exercising for certain (today is day 155) but not on running a marathon. I haven’t been doing a lot of long runs or thinking too much about carbs. I don’t own any gel packs or dry-fit t-shirts. I don’t have one of those awesome water bottle belts, and I haven’t joined a running group. But it’s been on the back of my mind, like a creeping fear or one of those things in Star Trek TNG that tried to take over earth via mind control (Season 1, Episode 25, “Conspiracy”. You’re welcome). I’m afraid of the marathon. I worry about it because I’m not sure that I can finish it.

But why should I feel confident?

The first marathon was run by a desperate man, Pheidippides, who in 490 BC ran from the battle at Marathon, without stopping, to bring news of the battle to the assembly at Athens. Roughly 25 miles.

Pheidippides was a soldier, and look how he ended up:

The First Marathon Runner: Stripped Naked and Desperate at the Finish Line. Something to look forward to. 

Wasted, on his knees. But look at those calves! This guy was a runner.

I’m not. I’ve ran a couple of half marathons, and only once as a registered participant in the Scotia Bank Half Marathon. My time was…ok. Above average for my age group, but just.

I don’t really feel like I have any business running a marathon.

However, I will run this marathon.

Because I have grit. Because I have courage.

Because sometimes it’s important to do things you feel you have no business doing to show your self that actually, you can.

I don’t think I can run 42.2 kilometers like Pheidippides did. But I will.

At the first Olympic games in 1904, 34 men signed up to run the marathon. Only 14 finished. Now tens of thousands runners, maybe more, complete marathons on the regular.

Humans, us, are always improving. Humans, us, are made up on individuals like myself. Groups improve when the individuals that make up those groups push themselves to do something more than they’ve ever done before. We grow as a species when we grow as individuals.

Have you heard of Josh Dueck?


Josh is a para-alpine skier who won gold in Sochi and silver in Vancouver. I had the pleasure of hearing Josh tell his story a few years back and he impressed me as the type of guy who understands that sometimes you need to push yourself outside of your comfort zone in order to grow.

Not only in Josh an Olympic Champion, he is also the first ever sit-skier to complete a backflip on snow. This is a guy who had already broken his back, and had so much to lose, but pushed himself anyway to do something no one has ever done beforeEver. Watch the video, it’s very cool.

Now, I’m not comparing myself to Josh. He changed the very definition of what we as humans are able to do. That’s pretty amazing. For me, the marathon is terrifying. It really is. I know the pain it’ll bring me. I know how terrible it’s going to feel climbing the Burrard Bridge after already running 30 kilometers, and I am worried that I’ll fail.

But I won’t. I’ll crawl to the end if I have to. Josh Dueck changed what people can do. I hope to change the definition of what I’m able to do, and grow as a result. Also, it’s possible that I’ll be one of the very few (only? Don’t know) person with a Complete Atrioventricular Block to attempt a marathon, which would be cool, but I don’t know if that’s the case or not. What matters is that I try, because only by trying do we improve.

Like Captain Picard, when he blasted the mind control parasites to free the Federation from alien conspiracy, I have no choice but to make it so, and run the dam race.

And one day, like Pheidippides, maybe people will take my picture, not necessarily naked, crawling to the finish line to announce the end of a battle I’ve won against my own fear.

Here’s hoping.

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part V

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part V

This one is about counting calories and the worst run I’ve ever had.

If you’re interested in beginning at the beginning, I explain my plan in part I, IIIII, and IV but very simply my new rules for exercise are;

  1. Get out of bed everyday and exercise
  2. However I want
  3. for 30 minutes

Because I read that it takes the average person 66 days to form a habit, I will follow these rules for a continuous 66 days without interruption.

My diet during these 66 days (and counting) has been … not perfect.

I’ve been eating a good breakfast. My nice wife usually makes us eggs in the morning. Which is pretty great. I pack a lunch of leftovers, and dinner is mostly veggies and fish. I do eat junk food sometimes, but I try not to eat a lot of it. If I’ve kept it to three square meals a day without much snacking, I consider it a good day. So, as you can see, no hard and fast dieting rules this time. Just guidelines.

I’m not counting calories.

But if you want to, it’s easy. This simplest way to do this is to find out your Total Daily Energy Expenditure. This is kind of a rough estimate of how many calories you normally burn in a day. Mine is 2530. What this means is that, based on my profile (M, 33, 5’11 and a bunch of other factors) I need to eat 2530 a day to maintain my current weight.

If I want to lose weight, I eat less than that.

To know how many calories I eat, I’ve used Livestrong’s MyPlate and Myfitness Pal. Both of them do exactly what they are supposed to do. You create an account, add your age, weight, height, etc., and log your food (you can customize meals on both, which is convenient if you eat a lot of the same things) to get your calorie intake.  You can subtract the calories you lost exercising (both programs will help you with this) and in the end you’ll have your over all daily caloric intake.

If that number is less than your TDEE, congrats. You’ve lost a little weight. Now do it again, every day.

If you can manage it, counting calories in this way totally works. You’ll probably lose weight. Even if these numbers aren’t 100% accurate, I think mostly it just quantifies your process and makes losing weight a more concrete, objective experience. Understanding these numbers can be very helpful in your weight loss journey.

But I hate it. It takes long time and bums me out, so I haven’t done it in years.

Here are some pictures! This is day one, day 14 and … day 50!

Yes. I kept up with my plan for at least (I don’t want to give away the ending) 50 days. I wish I knew exactly how much I weighed at the beginning and throughout the process. I would guess that I’m around 195 in that first pic, and 182 or so by day 50.

It wasn’t hard to keep up. I’ve said it before, getting out of bed at 6:00 to lift heavy things or push yourself on a treadmill sucks. But I just kept doing it. I didn’t miss a day.

Once, I decided to take my wife out for dinner to celebrate something, I forget. This was around day 40 or so. We went to the kind of place where you fry your own fish. Delicious, at the time, until not long after I found myself sick at every end. The next day, despite definitely having food poisoning, I decided that NO, I would not break the streak.

So after about 23 hours on either the couch or the toilet, I got up, I dressed in my warmest clothes, set a timer for 30 minutes, and ran around my apartment building in circles, sweating and aching, wanting to die. I puked almost immediately upon completion of the run, had a shower and slept in fits. It was awful. But I did this.

And I didn’t break the streak, and now anytime I don’t feel like running, I just remember that if I can manage it when I’m close to death, I can manage it anytime.

Next time: Day 66 and the Marathon I Stupidly Signed Up For!

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part IV

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part IV

If you’re interested in beginning at the beginning, I explain my plan in part I, II and III, but very simply my new rules for exercise are;

  1. Get out of bed everyday and exercise
  2. However I want
  3. for 30 minutes

Because I read that it takes the average person 66 days to form a habit, I will follow these rules for a continuous 66 days without interruption. This is my “week two” post (full disclosure, the 66 days have long since passed).

Here is a comparison after day one and day fourteen –

You can see that there was already a little improvement in my physique after just fourteen days of regular exercise. It would be hard to tell without taking pictures, so that’s the first recommendation I would make for tracking your progress. Take a picture once a week.

My routine by the end of week two had started to become pretty darn…routine. I really had three workouts, I called them weightscircuit, and cardio. Every day I would just pick one of these routines and go to it for 30 minutes. I think that varying the routine has been extremely helpful to keep me somewhat enthusiastic about the gym. If I was only doing one of these routines, I feel like I would burn out with boredom quite quickly.

I also don’t make any arbitrary rules about workout frequency. I just pick which ever I feel like doing, even if I do the same thing five days in a row, and do it. Some days the weights just look too heavy, other days I can’t fathom getting on the treadmill. The circuit is a nice blend of both, so I pick this one often. The weight machines are organized in a nice circuit at my community centre. The circuit includes machines that focus on chest, back, shoulders, and legs. I just do one set of 8-10 reps at each machine and move on, repeating the entire circuit for about 30 minutes.

Once, for a week, I only did cardio on the exercise bike because I was trying to finish a book. Maybe my “weights game” suffered a little, but I didn’t care. I would get back to weights when I felt like it, and over time all would even out. I assumed.

It also helped, I think, that I kept track of every workout. I just kept a note on my phone and added a star every time I worked out. You could always look at a calendar to see how many days you’ve worked out, but as you’ve probably read about in freakanomics, or your behaviour analysis textbooks, even small incentives can change a person’s behaviour. I started to look forward to filling up a line, even “getting to the comma” at the end of the week.


It seems small, but I think it helps.

(NNP and NSW = No New Pants and No Sad Wife. You know, from being fat and dying young)

So take pictures and keep track of your workouts. Both have been motivating, and useful if you’re going to write a super engaging and helpful blog about your progress.

Next time on Getting Ripped: Diet and the Worst Workout of my Life

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part III

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part III

I go into some detail as to why I made this 66 day commitment in part I and II, but very simply my new rules for exercise are that I will, for 66 days;

1. Get out of bed and exercise
2. However I wanted
3. for 30 minutes

Because I read that it takes 66 days to form a habit, it made sense that the first 66 days would be the most difficult. They were.

(Full disclosure, it’s been more than 66 days since I began this journey ((I hate that phrase, and I apologize for it. (((Are double brackets a thing?))) )) and I will share my successes and failures along the way, as well as where I’m at now, in further editions of this story)

Aside from day one, in which I felt excited and energized by a new routine, the rest of that first week was difficult. Because I live in a small condo, my only real option for exercise is the community centre gym down the block. It’s small, but it has everything I need to have a variety of work out choices. A few treadmills and bikes, a bunch of benches with free weights and bars. That’s really it. The gym opens at 6:00, and if I want to get to work by 7:30, I need to get there just as it opens. This means getting out of bed at 5:40.

For some of you, this is not a big deal. For me, it was tough. That first week I had to keep changing the alarm song on my phone as I so quickly grew to resent the music and artist that woke me up at such a dark, cold hour.

My routine is pretty simple. I get up, put on the clothes that I leave in the washroom, make instant coffee and walk to the gym without a shower, and half asleep. Usually in the rain. When there, I try to vary my workout. Sometimes I run on the treadmill for 30 minutes, sometimes I do a circuit of the weight machines, other times I’ll use the exercise bike (this is best if I have to do reading for my grad program, which is often). Sometimes I’ll do a free weight routine. Usually Triceps, biceps, chest, back, shoulders for 3 sets of 10-15 each, keeping breaks between sets to a bare minimum.

On the weekends, while I will let myself do just 30 minutes if all I’m feeling, but I’ll usually do both weights and cardio at the gym, or if it’s nice out I’ll do the 10k run around Stanley Park. This is my favourite, but it’s also crowded if you don’t head out before 8:00am.

The first week went much like above. It was difficult after three or four days to get up that early, and I was finding myself starving when I got to work, and falling asleep at the couch at the “early” hour of 10:00.

Before I started the new routine, I usually skipped breakfast and stayed up past midnight, getting out of bed around 7:00. I learned quickly that this whole experiment would shake up my entire day, not just my mornings.

I also found that while it was hard to get up, once I got moving I felt just fine. And throughout the day I felt good, if a little tired, because I had exercised. I felt the pride that comes with doing something difficult while most people are still asleep. That sense of pride was the first true benefit of my new fitness regime.

I liked feeling like I had accomplished something before my students even arrived to start the first class.

That’s what carried me through into week two. And probably into week three, and four…

Next time: I’ll post a picture after two weeks and share some of the ways I’ve been tracking data.

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part II

66 Days to Being Absolutely Ripped for Life, Part II

In part one I shared with you my new fitness rules. For 66 days I would;

1. Get out of bed and exercise
2. However I wanted
3. for 30 minutes

I chose 66 days because researchers had found that this is how long it takes the average person to develop a habit that is nearly automated. See link to the study in part one. This daily exercise habit would become, I hoped, a part of my day in the same way that showering or browsing Reddit each night for four hours became regular and routine. Eventually, I would just do it because it’s what I do. Not because I should, not because it’s “good for me”, not because I have a particular weight loss or lifting goal in mind, but because it’s a part of who I am.

I hoped that, after 66 days of exercise, daily physical activity would be such a part of my identity that I stopped thinking about it, and just did it. Regularly.

I was betting on the power of habit. Previously, I bet on the power of programs.

Many fitness blogs and forums will tell you that it’s important to have fitness goals. For example, this one, this one and this one too.

So whenever I’ve decided to become fit again, I would set a new goal and work toward it.

After I left university 60 pounds (more or less. Probably more) overweight, I had one goal. Lose weight. It became more defined over time, but eventually after about a year of running semi-regularly and trying to eat better, I did lose the weight. I’m very proud of that. It was hard, very hard, but I did it. Good for me.

Then after a while I gained a lot of it back, and I had to redefine my goals. After putting around 30 pounds of celebratory beer and pizza fat, I decided my new goal would be to “lose x amount of weight” and keep it lost. Forever. You can probably guess what happened. I lost the weight, and not long after I did, I started putting it back on.

Why? Because I looked good. I seemed ‘fit’. I could run a 10k no sweat. I gave myself permission to just watch what I eat  and coast a bit.

Didn’t work, of course. I got to be that I repeat this pattern over and over. Maybe once a year. Get big, get small, start getting big again. Pretty much as soon as I start to think I need bigger pants, I start running again. This isn’t working. This is not the way to be and stay healthy.

My only goal now is consistency. I am looking for the habit of regular exercise.

So one Monday morning, after sharing my 66 days plan with my wife, I got up early and headed to the gym for its 6:00 opening. It was only me and two golden girls waiting for the door to open. I felt great. I felt energized. After all, it’s exciting to start a brand new chapter in your life right? I had my instant coffee, I had some new running gear, and had Kanye hitting it hard on my phone, speaking just to me . I was ready for the first day of the rest of my fitness life.

I hit the treadmill for 20 minutes followed up by some free weights. Mostly arms (the show muscles). I looked forward to cultivating some mass.

Then I came home 30 minutes later and took this picture;

NNP1 Crop


And hoped desperately that the next 65 days are equally as productive and inspiring as the first.

(they were not)