Fitness vs. Fatness: Stereotyping your way to a good run

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a million times: Baltimore is a terrible place to be a runner. At any given location in the city, you’ll probably end up in dangerous territory if you try to run in 3 out of 4 directions. Of the single remaining direction that probably is safe to run, you still cannot go much further than 3 miles. Further exacerbating the problem is the fact that in downtown Baltimore, you’re forced to stop running every block to wait for traffic lights to change. As someone who dabbles in distance running, and is also new to the city, these issues present an obvious problem.

Rumor has it that "The Tell Tale Heart" was somehow based on Poe's terrible cardiovascular fitness.

Shortly after moving to Baltimore, I decided to recommit myself to my fitness. With so much extra time on my hands, I would feel guilty if I didn’t. Although I didn’t really know my way around the city too well, I was well aware of how to get to the Inner Harbor. If nothing else, tourist traps are visible.

Historically uninteresting, but nice for a run.

Thankfully, my neighborhood more or less borders the Inner Harbor, aside from a brief section of downtown that is definitely safe until after rush hour. With a little input from coworkers, I was also able to locate Harbor East, a newly developed, upscale neighborhood adjacent to Inner Harbor. With the discovery of these contiguous neighborhoods, I was able to quickly put together a nice little 5.5 mile route to compliment my daily routine of short-and-fast cardio and lifting.

Unfortunately, this route was bound to prove unfulfilling after a prolonged period of time. For one, I’m an adventurer; I thrive on discovering new paths and exploring. This method frequently helps me to run much farther distances with less distress. Furthermore, my strict workout regime has rendered 5.5 miles too short fulfill my distance running needs, even at an increased pace. I know, I live a hard life.

This brings me to today. With today’s absolutely gorgeous weather (who knew that Fall weather still existed? It was looking like it was Winter, Summer, or bust) I was really hankering for a long run. After work I had a quick snack, changed into my cutoff, and headed out the door.

As I was on my way to Inner Harbor, I began to get incredibly frustrated with the constant stop-and-go of the traffic lights. I run outside in large part to feel free, not to sit in bipedal traffic. I was feeling extra good today too, which meant that the breaks were not only unneeded, but were actively ruining my pace.

By the time I reached the end of my little Inner Harbor loop, I knew that I wanted to run farther than usual today. Part of it was weather, part of it was fitness, and part of it was not wanting to get entangled in the downtown traffic scene again just yet. This is where stereotyping comes into the story.

Let me say upfront that stereotyping can be ugly business. Even if a given stereotype is true 99% of the time, it’s really horrible for the 1% for whom it is inaccurate. With that said, it can be very useful in specific situations, especially when you’re new to a city. For example, if you want really good ethnic cuisine, don’t follow rich white people. They’re more likely to land you at P.F. Chang’s than an authentic Chinese restaurant.

By the same logic, if you want to find a good running route, always follow the rich white people. I don’t know what it is, but rich white people absolutely love running. So, as I was saying, I decided somewhere in Inner Harbor that I wanted to run a bit farther today. I suddenly noticed a bunch of people running around a corner, like ants to an old piece of sweet and sour chicken that’s rolled under a desk. It was right at the point where I normally turn around and head to Harbor East, so I decided to follow them.

Suddenly, I was in an entirely new neighborhood. It was pretty uninteresting, in the way that newly developed rich neighborhoods in the city usually are, but it had the smell of fresh water that reminds me of growing up and was nicely paved. By following this little path, and my bit of stereotyping, I was able to expand my current route by another mile and a half and see yet another side of the city. All in all, not a bad way to get a workout. In the coming weeks, especially if the weather stays like this, I plan on using this methodology to find even more interesting places to run. I’ll let you know how it goes!

Fitness vs. Fatness: Find my way around

I was up way too late last night playing video games. What can I say? When the clan is on, you’ve got to be on. It doesn’t matter if they are a time zone or two behind. They are an unforgiving bunch.

'What was that you were saying about not wanting to play tonight?'

Some time after 2 AM I finally hit the hay.

Since my old apartment didn’t have a window in my bedroom (it just had a glass panel into the living room), I’m still getting used to having a massive window over my bed. I mean that in the best way possible though. I actually wake up early for work some days now because I naturally wake up as the sun comes in. Today was no different and I woke up earlier than anticipated courtesy of a beautiful morning.

After messing around on the interwebz for a while and making some steel cut oats (2 cups boiling water, 1/2 cup oats, 3 tbsp brown sugar, splash of milk), I put on my increasingly smelly gym wear (What? I don’t have a washing machine…I have to make it last) and went around the corner to the gym.

In an episode of “It’s Always Sunny”, Dennis insists that Mac doesn’t have the core strength to scale the Phillie’s stadium, because he only works the glamor muscles. Now that I’m enrolled in a real gym and have become a “real adult”, I’ve decided it’s time for me to stop focusing solely on the glamor muscles as well. No more college-era workouts where I would solely do biceps and abs every day.

In order to maintain a more well-rounded regime, I’ve been rotating through my muscle groups each day and trying to switch up my cardio routines. In lieu of running all the time, I’m trying to row and bike on alternating days as well. Today happened to be a running day anyway, so I ran and did a series of biceps and triceps exercises. Then, I did a workout on the heavy bag and speed bag in the boxing room. I’ve never bothered with that stuff before, since I was a little embarrassed about having no idea what I was doing, but an empty room does wonders for confidence. I think I’ll do boxing stuff once or twice a week now; it is an excellent stress reliever.

See? Totally laid back.

After the gym, I came home, dropped one backpack, picked up a bigger one, and carried my bike out of the apartment. Since I moved to Baltimore, I’ve been putting off taking my bike out. No matter how many places I went to in DC, I was just unreasonably nervous about getting hit by a car and navigating the new city. With a plethora of time today, I decided it was time to break down that wall altogether. After all, I knew that if I did it once, I’d be comfortable with it forever.

I took the bike down to Harbor East, where there is a Whole Foods, to grab groceries for the week. Everything JUST fit in my backpack (granted, insisting on getting a watermelon wasn’t the best way to conserve space) and I headed back towards my apartment.

'Hey, it looks like my wallet has been working out too. It's getting thinner'

I learned two valuable lessons on that ride back.

1)Groceries are heavy. Heaviness on a bike is tiring. Legs that have been thoroughly worked out one day previously do not like tiring bike rides.

2)Whole Foods is very much downhill from where I live. Where I live is very much uphill from Whole Foods.

Despite mounting levels of exhaustion, it was nice to get in a little unexpected workout coming home. Getting the bike and bulging backpack back inside the narrow, heavy doors, however, was another doozy. It reminds me of a line from BTMI’s newest album.

Ride the seven blocks to Boerum, carry my bike up two floors, situate the crowded hallway, limp and waddle through my door, throw the package onto my bed and start investigating sores. The cuts are bigger than expected. I guess I shouldn’t have worn shorts. -BTMI

Now that I think of it, I want to listen to that song. As he often does, Jeff writes lyrics that I swear are taken directly out of a day in my life. Anyway, hooray for another adventure completed in Baltimore. Now I just need to decide what’s for lunch and what movie I would like to watch that I’ve been putting off. Tough life, I know.

 

Fitness vs. Fatness: Nostalgia Runs

Goodbye, friend.

In previous FvF posts, I’ve discussed the various tricks, shim shams, and underhanded ploys that I use to force myself to workout when I’m not feeling it. Yesterday, I used an old favorite to break out of my recent slump; 100 degree weather is good for very little, least of which is running.

With my move rapidly (like 2-days-rapidly) approaching, I decided to pull out the good ol’ “nostalgia run”. In this particular ploy, you reminisce on all the pleasant runs you’ve taken on a given route in the past. You then remind yourself that you hardly have any chances left to run an old favorite, so you have to go immediately, before it’s too late. After all, the human brain is too stupid to remember how painful those runs may have been. It only recalls your former glory.

The nostalgia run is a powerful motivator for me; possibly the most effective of them all. It’s the one I use frequently when I go back to NJ for a weekend or occasionally when I visit College Park. It’s also the one that makes the run the least painful. With the mind intent on taking in every detail, there’s hardly any time to experience the pain.

Yesterday’s nostalgia run was done over my classic route from Navy Yard to the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial and back. My legs did take a bit of a beating (the blazing sun really takes a lot out of them), but all things considered, it was a nice farewell to my faithful path. With all of my groceries and dishes packed, I settled for drinking a protein shake for dinner while we scrubbed away at the kitchen surfaces and rolled up rugs.

My apartment has reached critical mass at this point. The amount of boxes stacked all over have rendered further cleaning a near impossibility at the moment. I’m stuck playing the waiting game now and praying that all of my crap fits in my dad’s van; if we have to make two trips, I’m out of the will.

Fitness vs. Fatness: Motivation and lasagna

I run for a lot of different reasons. Although I discussed at length why I like to run, I feel that I did not adequately cover the various things that get me out the door on any given day. Some days, it’s because I’m feeling fat. On others, it’s the recollection of how much my cardiologist appointment cost and my desire to never schedule another one. Sometimes it’s the false sense of superiority I get from running past someone eating a cheeseburger on a bench (it’ a false sense because if I hadn’t mustered the motivation to run, I would be sitting one bench over, eating a double cheeseburger). On occasion, it’s some vague notice that I should be running, but I can’t figure out why.

I personally need a wide swath of reasons to go for a run in order to trick, motivate, and generally manipulate myself into running on a regular basis. I find that my conscious may be fully willing to accept some BS reason one day, but completely immune to it the next. Today it was just really nice out and I got sad that I have a limited number of days to run my favorite route.

When I got back from work, I ate half of one of the scones that Jenny brought me from New York and pounded a few cups of water. After digesting for 45 minutes, I ran the monument loop and came back to hit the pool. Not having a pool on the roof anymore is going to suck. I rarely take advantage of it, but it’s the most refreshing way to cool off after a run.

Although probably way too balla for me.

The main downside of this running business is the time commitment. It’s already almost 9 and I just showered and settled down. I’m polishing off a piece of the lasagna I made yesterday with the leftover (from Thanksgiving) turkey as we speak. I think I’ll make some headway on Archer Season 2 now. Have a nice night everyone!

Fitness vs. Fatness: Cookies for breakfast and failed hoop dreamz

During the week, I wake up at either 5:30 or 6:40 AM to go to work. It was for this reason that I found myself completely incapable of going back to sleep after I took Jenny to Union Station this morning at 5:45.

Mornings like this are always confusing for me. I absolutely relish the first couple hours of dawn. Sunsets are cool and all, but everyone sees those. I really enjoy those cool hours of solace before anybody gets up. At the same time, I am as subject to exhaustion headaches as anybody, so I wasn’t feeling 100% either.

Not feeling much motivation to sit or stand, despite being unable to resume sleeping, I decided to slump into bed and watch TV, like the Saturday mornings of my youth. Jenny and I made oatmeal chocolate chip cookies with nutella filling last night, so I happily ate one or two (or four) of those for breakfast while watching the entirety of Archer season 1. If you haven’t watched it, you really need to. It’s amazing, so long as your sense of humor extends beyond what’s found in Family Guy.

Several hours later, I worked up the motivation to finally organize all of the media files on my computer. Despite having folders specifically labeled for programs, music, games, and videos (SD/HD, TV/Movie), things had become terribly jumbled. I can tolerate certain levels of disorder, but this is one of the things that really sets off my OCD. It persisted for so long solely because I would walk away from my computer whenever it crossed my mind.

By the time things were tidy again, a shockingly large chunk of my day had already passed. I played some Dead Rising 2 and Battlefield, watched some of a Bruce documentary, and ate leftover swedish meatballs with half of a watermelon. Feeling sufficiently lardy at this point, I pulled one of my classic workout tricks: getting ready and walking out the door without thinking things through. I’ve found that the mind is incredibly good at convincing the body that it doesn’t need to work out. It will insist that your leg hurts or that it’s raining outside. The easiest way to circumvent the issue is to just zone out until you’re halfway down the block saying “Dammit, not again.”

Unfortunately, this approach does little to make up for eating a heavy meal before a run.

While running along the mall, an incredibly thing nearly happened. It’s what I like to call “hoop dreamz”. It’s one of those moments that you carelessly daydream about where you do something awesome with incredible suaveness; everyone’s got at least one. For some people, it’s having to fill in for an absent musician at a show and TOTALLY nailing it. For others, it’s telling a really freaking funny joke in a large crowd of people. I’m sure you’ve all got a whole bunch.

Anyway, I was running along, probably looking awesome, when a frisbee came sailing directly into my path. I was positive that my time had come to be nonchalantly amazing; I love frisbee. I was poised to make an awesome catch and whip it back without breaking my stride. Things couldn’t have been more perfect. Then it bounced off of my hand and spun away in the dirt. My anger must have shown, because one of the people playing apologized for their errant throw. The next 2 miles were a blur of irritated thoughts and enhanced paces. It wasn’t until I had rounded the Lincoln memorial and come back up to the mall that I realized that my legs were dead and I was panting.

At least I have the consolation of knowing that the opportunity didn’t go completely wrong. Despite my drop, it wasn’t like I had fallen flat on my face. My term for those scenarios is “poop dreams”. You know, like when John Kerry tries to look athletic.

Yep, classic poop dream.

These moments are the true failures. The times when you think you’re going to look awesome but end up looking like a total idiot, usually in front of large groups of people. Thank god I avoided that fate.

To ensure that I didn’t just jinx myself, I think I’m going to spend the rest of the night in my apartment. There is a lasagna that needs to get made, a Springsteen documentary that needs finishing, and a whole boatload of terrorists who aren’t going to kill themselves on my computer. Enjoy the rest of your Saturday everyone! Happy hoop dreaming.

Fitness vs. Fatness: Cool summer breezes and the National Mall

The weather today was spectacular. I was in a rush this morning to get out the door, but it was a really nice surprise to hop on my bike and not be immediately drenched in sweat. There’s nothing quite like a crisp, sunny morning in the summer; it’s the best way to start a day, hands down.

If I didn’t expect it to be so nice in the morning, then I was totally floored when I left work and found that it hadn’t heated up all that much throughout the day. There was still a really nice breeze and minimal humidity. Since I made that whole post earlier glorifying running, I realized that I didn’t have much of a choice but to run today. This blog thing is really working out I think…it lets me get my thoughts out of my head, where I can analyze them better.

Yeah, I think I'm in pretty company there.

Anyway, I suited up to run in my usual shorts and cut-off, tied my keys into my laces, and headed out with my roommate. We ran up to the Capitol and down the mall, where he met up with his girlfriend and her roommates for a picnic. I kept going up to the Washington Monument, around to the Lincoln Memorial, through the little park, and back to meet up with them on the mall. That little loop is probably my favorite run in DC, or at least one of two. You can check it out here: Lincoln Memorial Run.

The weather really couldn’t have been better either. The combination of the weather, a nap on my train ride home, and a general good mood made the run go really nicely. It’s always nice when your body feels like it’s firing on all cylinders, cranking out each bound.

The other nice thing about running is that it always cuts down on my usually overwhelming desire to eat. Plus, I was pretty much crashing their picnic, so I was a little reluctant to really chow down. This worked out well, because I ended up just having a very light dinner of a single corn on the cob, a couple pickled beans, and some couscous with chicken, cucumber, beans, and dried cranberries.

I was still feeling pretty energetic too, so I climbed a tree a few times, chilled out, and then played two rounds of 2-on-2 ultimate frisbee with everyone. I forgot how much I missed that sport too. I’ll have to have a full blown post on it at some point, but I played it a LOT in high school. It was also a good outlet for my inherent competitiveness. Winning both games felt good.

After that, we ran back. Now I’ve just got a date with a watermelon before bed. Not bad at all.

Sorry friend, your moments are numbered.

Stuff That I Like: Running

Running is the best miserable thing in the world. The actual act kind of sucks; it’s prolonged and torturous. Even the tiniest discomfort can become a nagging agony over the course of a few miles. While no one step is exhaustive in itself, by the middle of a long and/or fast run, you will inevitably wonder if it’s worth continuing.

So why is it worth continuing? If the act sucks so hard, what redeeming qualities could running have? At first glance, it’s a stupid question. Running is great for your heart, a nice way to lose weight, and a spectacular contributor to overall fitness.  Although this is all fine and dandy, it still isn’t enough to justify why I like it. It just explains why I do it.

That’s not meant to discount the things I just listed either. I have plenty of friends who go to the gym on a regular basis to “workout”, but never run. It’s immensely satisfying to be playing a sport or going for a jog with them, barely breaking a sweat, while they’re sucking air. I’m also sure that increasing my runs and decreasing my sodium made a monumental difference in my blood pressure.

Pictured: A nice place to run and/or reenact Forrest Gump.

Still, I really enjoy running, and it’s not because of the act. It’s because of the experience. Even if your body is constantly nudging you to stop, there are few things as energizing as cruising along a wooded trail or flying past tourists in DC, surrounded by living things but lost in your own little world. After you’ve conquered your first couple of runs, during which your mind has little room for anything but regret, your thoughts can drift just a little further past the physical stress, into a whole new world of thought; a place where you can mull over the annoyances in your day or think about the next big step in your life.

This is a very different place than the one you may encounter lying in bed, preparing for sleep. My mind rarely shuts down, which can be exhausting, but like most people, I tend to think a lot when I’m getting ready to sleep. It’s a completely different type of contemplation though.

The major difference in running thought and resting thought is the sense that you’re actually doing something. If you’re like me, the idle thoughts before bed can be stressful. When I’m trying to decide where to move next, whether I should go back to school, what career is right for me, and where to take my life in general, I begin to feel extremely pent up and trapped. It gets pretty rough trying to confront a lifetime of decisions while lying idly in bed, trying to relax.

Whether it’s a trick of the mind or the pumping of endorphins, running thought largely escapes this fate. It gives a sense of progress, a sense that no matter how much is unknown, you’ve at least got one destination picked out. It’s also comforting to know that no matter where you go or where you end up, you’ll always be able to get out into the world and run with nothing but your legs and an adventurous streak.

So the next time you the feel the weight of the world pressing down or think that you’re too tired to take that run, try to remember the escape that it lends. No matter how miserable it may make you for a moment, I promise you won’t regret it.