Weight Loss – 2017

Anyone who has been following my blog over the past 12 years, has seen my various battles with weight loss.  Usually, I’d write a post about my latest attempt to lose some pounds. Often, I’d soon fall off the wagon and remain silent about it, but sometimes the attempt would actually work and I drop a significant number of pounds.  Recently I looked back on those attempts (I’ve kept a detailed spreadsheet since 2000) and realized that despite any weight loss, I’d usually manage to gain back most of the weight by January 1 of the following year.

So earlier this year, I met up with an old friend who I hadn’t seen in months. When I walked in the door, I barely recognized him.  He had lost 60lbs over a few months and had become a much healthy version of himself getting down to his high school weight.  He had followed the Ideal Protein diet and I realized that he had described the diet last year and extolled how great it was.  I remembered being weary of it since it required you to buy their proprietary foods and meet them on a weekly basis.  But seeing the results and talking further with him, I felt it was definitely worth a try.  Besides, my plan has been to run the Pikes Peak Marathon in August which is a 7800ft climb and descent in addition to the marathon length.  So any weight loss would mean that much less that I would need to carry up that height and back down.  Plus I still wanted to get down to a healthy weight regardless.

So a couple days later, my wife and I scheduled our first appointment and bought a collection of proprietary foods (shakes, soups, snack bars, vitamins).  The diet is a ketogenic diet similar to the Atkins diet. In previous attempts, I had lost over 20lbs on two occasions following the Atkins diet, so I was quite familiar with it.  The diet plan that we followed included one of their protein shakes for breakfast, two cups of vegetables for lunch with one of their protein soups, one of their protein snacks mid-afternoon, and 8oz of meat with two cups of vegetables for supper.

I followed their plan to a ‘T’ with absolutely no cheating and I was losing 5-6lbs per week at the start.  No heavy exercise is allowed during the diet, but walking and relaxed bicycle riding are fine.  You see people boast about diets melting away fat and this diet could easily fit that description.  And despite the very limited calorie intake, it was very easy to follow. It was rare to feel hungry and my energy level was always good.  Also, I slept very well and my wife says that my snoring got quieter and didn’t wake her.

That said, it did start getting difficult around the six week mark.  I think that partly had to do with seeing the end in sight since my plan was to take a break at the ten week mark.  Plus I was getting closer to my leanest in 16 years. There were also a number of social events involving alcohol and some favorite foods that challenged my will power.  Still didn’t had a drink, but there were some very very minimal cheats.  My weight loss slowed down to 2-3lbs per week the last few weeks, but by any diet measure that’s still quite amazing.

So how much did I lose? Over the nine weeks on the diet, I lost a total of 38lbs.  Yes, over a half pound per day lost. I also went from 34% body fat to 22% body fat.  This is the leanest I’ve been in 25 years.  Here, see for yourself:

 

January 22nd (above), March 21st (below) (and no, I did not suck in my gut on the bottom pics. That’s natural posture, maybe too natural)

I stopped the diet last Saturday and I’ve felt great ever since with the exception of binging too much the first day and paying for it during the next two. My pant size dropped 4 inches and my hands (and body) are back to being warm. My hands had gotten incredibly cold while I was on the diet.  It does feel good to eat real food after two months on the diet.

As I mentioned at the top, the challenge now is to keep it off.  I’ve restarted my training and I suspect that it is unlikely that I’ll gain while training.  So if I don’t reach my goal of 15% body fat while training, I’ll have to work hard in the fall to achieve it.  The plan while training is to eat well on a daily basis and limit (not eliminate) bad foods and binges.  Actually, that’s my plan in life going forward. Hopefully that works.

Recovered – Month 5, March 22, 2017

My intention was to regularly post about the recovery from the fall off my bicycle, but other things took priority and I’m finally getting around to it.  I thought it is still worth noting what I remember of it.  It has now been almost five months since the fall.  Here is what I remember of the end of last year.

At Thanksgiving (four weeks after the fall), my taste buds were still the same, but any aches and pains were subsiding. By then I was only occasionally taking ibuprofen, but most things still tasted bad.  Range of motion was fine, but I still felt what I described as a clicking sound making certain movements. My thought is that it was loose bone rubbing against each other, but my doctor later suggested that it’s just a tendon or muscle moving over something slightly protruding (bone?).  He suggested that I need to work on stretching my back muscles.

By Christmas (nine weeks after the fall), I was pretty much back to normal. No pain meds and my sense of taste was almost completely back.  This also meant that I was back to eating well and managed to gain back any weight that I had lost.  It was the holiday season and I traditionally have not done well weight-wise during that time.  One unintended test of the back was when my daughter was out boogie boarding on the waves.  Not even thinking about it, I went out and joined her. That mean repeatedly throwing my torso onto the board to catch the waves.  Despite all that jarring, my back showed no signs of problems. Though my triceps ached from repeatedly pushing myself up off the sand.

Since then, the clicking feeling has steadily subsided and I’ve returned to doing things normally.  I even rode the bike a couple times to work without any trauma.  Though you can bet that I was sure to slow down on ramps and turns.  I have had a bit of ache return to my back, but that has been more due to physiological changes that I’ll elaborate on soon.

Recovery Update – Day 17, Nov 13, 2016

First I’ll start with an update on the current status. In regards to the pain killers, while I continue to take the baseline of 2400mg of ibuprofen, I have cut down on taking Norco to an average of 5mg per day.  If I take a Norco, it is usually before going to bed, but sometimes I take one in the morning if thing is a constant pain or strong ache.  In general, I don’t have the ache on a continual basis and often I feel normal. There are still occasions when I’ll make a certain movement and get a bit of pain, but no where near as severe as before. Sleeping is slowly getting better in part because I’ve been trying the potentially painful positions like on my left side or on my stomach.  There is still some pain, but it is lessening.

In regards to taste and diet, it seems that there has been little change. Most foods are disagreeable. Certain foods like a salad I had at a restaurant last week tasted downright awful. I’ve been trying some of my favorite places to test them out. Naf Naf has very stong flavors that I’ve enjoyed, but it had a fairly awful taste. Same goes for pizza which had been my pig-out food.  Hamburgers were not bad, but definitely not as great as before.  Same goes for granola cereal. I’ve found that nuts and popcorn taste almost identical to how they did before.  So I’ve been eating a lot of popcorn. It is still to be seen if this change in taste is temporary due to the medication I’m taking or if it is permanent due to hitting my head in the wipeout. The doctor has suggested the former since it seems my sense of smell hasn’t changed.  The upside of this is that I continue to lose weight.  I’m now down 11 pounds.  Considering that I had hopec to lose at least 23 pounds and hopefully 43 pounds by the spring to get down to a healthy weight, I really don’t have a problem with this.

In regards to activity, I’m basically waiting until the pain is gone and I’m off the medications.  I had just finished the marathon a couple weeks before the wipe out and I’d like to keep up that level of health.  Actually, I’d like to build on it since I wasn’t at the level I was hoping for when I ran the marathon.

ribs

So this past week I met with my regular doctor and had a follow up with the trauma doctors that followed me in the hospital after the wipe out. Now when I was in the hospital, they explained that they would not do surgery to realign the ribs and possibly pin them together because it was too invasive.  They explained that there is a network of muscles around the ribs that will hold them in place and there is a risk of complications and more pain if those muscles were compromised. I understood this as the muscles would realign the ribs and the rib cage would look like it had before, but would have weaker spots where the breaks occurred. But after talking to them this week, I now understand that all the bones will remain in place and the sharp ends will calcify and any bones still near the others will join together.  It took some time for me to accept this.  I now realize that my rib cage is permanently compromised on the back left side. It was an uneasy feeling to realize that I’m not ‘whole’ and as solid as before. I’ll have to think twice about activities that involve hard falling like skiing.  Regardless, it made me realize that I was very lucky that none of those rib pieces caused more damage like a collapsed lung or internal bleeding.

Recovery Update – Day 9, Nov 5,2016

Just over a week after the fall, it feels that I’ve made quite a bit of progress. While on the pain medication, I feel almost normal.

As far as pain medication, I still keep trying to see if the narcotics are necessary. My base medication is the maximum allowed ibuprofen. With that there is a fairly constant ache in my back along with other occasional pains like my sprained thumb and my stomach. When I do take the narcotics (acetaminafin with hydrodone), I’m able to take only one tablet instead of two to feel almost normal.

Over the past week I’ve had time to think more about what happened during the fall. I’m now fairly sure that as I went down, I leaned into the ground with my torso in order to prevent damage to my limbs. I remember doing this other times when then forces were not as great and my torso could take the blow.

One thing I’ve come to realize over the past week is that I don’t seem to feel hungry despite not eating for a while. Plus it seems that food tastes differently. It seems like one of my tastes sensors is not working and food tends to taste slightly acrid after chewing it a bit. So when I think of eating a favorite food, that memory of the acrid taste kills the desire to eat anything. It is possible that this is due to the medication, but I do wonder if it is due to bumping my head on the ground. It happened to a friend once when she bumped her head from a fall and 25 years later she still has limited taste. I’ve already lost six pounds. I welcome the weight loss, but wonder what life could be like without the enjoyment of food.

Waking up, or more specifically getting out of bed, has gotten easier. I don’t get the sharp pains that I had a couple days ago. They are now just aches when I get vertical. I also have better range of motion with my left arm. It hurts less to reach into my pant pockets or the back of my head. Without thinking about it, I’ve returned to the time when I didn’t watch my movements to prevent back pain. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt, sometimes it does. But I can definitely feel that the area is much more solid and less sensitive to bad moves.

One item of note is that I haven’t had any alcohol since the fall. The reason is because I’m taking all the medication, but I wouldn’t mind continuing that once I’m off the meds.

Four days after the fall, I became quite concerned that I had not had a bowel movement. I bought some laxatives and helped things along manually. It took two days for thing to return to free flowing.

The Bike Fall

This past week I had a fall off my bicycle that lead to my first ride in an ambulance, my first broken bone(s), and a stay in the hospital.

For most of my working life, I’ve been lucky to live close enough to work to commute by bike.  There were some years when the kids were young that it was not an option, but while I’m not an avid cyclist, I’ve enjoyed that cycling to work gets in some exercise instead of just sitting on public transportation.  Since we moved back to Chicago, I signed up for the Divvy rental bike service and I’ve tried to ride to work as often as possible. I’ve ridden enough that each ride only cost 50 cents due to the $75 yearly dues. I’ve avoided cycling in the rain and when it gets below 37 degrees to avoid ice.  I had ridden when there was light snow on the ground, but once fell on black ice and resolved to only ride when it is warm enough that no ice was present.

Divvy bikes are heavy and the three gears don’t allow you to go very fast.  One advantage of the slower ride is that on busy streets, you have a longer reaction time for open car doors or pedestrians jumping out from between parked cars.  During my first year riding the Divvy bikes, I rode along the main streets of the city where the space for bikes can get a bit cramped.  The ride was about five and a half miles each way and I was a bit concerned about the encounters with cars and pedestrians.  Over a year ago, I decided to take a longer 8 mile route. The route includes taking secondary streets to get to the lake then taking the lakefront path down the the path along the river.  It takes longer, but it was nice to ride along the lake and the beaches.  Since the bikes don’t go very fast, there is one spot after crossing the river that has a long ramp down where I build up speed.  My goal was to generate enough speed to pass over a hill further down the path without peddling.  That means pushing the limits on safe speed turning a corner at the bottom of the ramp. Earlier this week I thought to myself that it might not be a good idea to keep pushing this.

So this past Thursday morning I rode my Divvy to work wearing my best suit since I had to conduct an interview at work.  It had rained the night before, so the pavement was damp in most places and there were places where the autumn leaves had fallen.  As I approached the ramp, I thought to myself that it might not be a good idea to push it today since I didn’t want to ruin my good suit if I fell.  But I pushed it anyway. Soon after I took that sharp turn, the wheels slid out to my right.  Judging by my injuries, I must have landed with full force on the back left side of my torso.  I felt my glasses fly off and heard them skip along the pavement.  I thought for sure that they were trashed. It felt like the wind had been knocked out of me, so I got on all fours and tried to catch my breath.  People gathered around and asked if I was OK and if I needed an ambulance.  It was extremely difficult to talk since I could barely breath, but I asked them to hold off with the ambulance while I try to catch my breath. I also asked them to retrieve my things especially my glasses which were unscathed.

After what seemed to be a couple minutes, I took their advice to walk twenty feet over to a park bench.  Even while sitting I was still having difficulty breathing and I still had strong pains in my torso.  The people who stopped made suggestions of calling an ambulance, catching a cab, or walking to the emergency room a few blocks away. A couple men offered to stay and help so I told the others that I would be fine and they could go.  One of the two men returned my Divvy bike to the docking station.  As I was sitting there still having trouble breathing, I evaluated the situation and realized that it would be incredibly difficult to walk even to the nearest place to catch a cab.  Since ambulances could travel through the park to the bike path, I realized that this was my best option.  I asked one of the men to call one for me.

First a fire department paramedic truck arrived and did a preliminary evaluation.  They also brought me inside a nearby snack shop with a collapsible wheelchair to keep warm. Once the ambulance arrived, they also conducted an evaluation. I was a bit surprised when they asked for me to climb into the back, but I made it despite all the sharp pains.  I was still having difficulty breathing so I was looking forward to getting to the emergency room in hopes they could help with that and the pain.

The eight hours in the ER progressed from high attention by the practitioners to less attention.  They once again ran through my vital information and did a series of evaluations/consultations included a rather painful x-ray.  After a while, my breathing returned to a reasonable level, but it was still difficult to talk.  I notified family and work about the situation.  The practitioners and I kept asking each other questions.  My questions were to determine where we are in the evaluation and what are the following steps.  They told me that I had broken six ribs in my back on the left side, but the pain in my right hand was just a sprain since nothing came up on the x-rays. I had a few other scrapes, but there was nothing else internally like a collapsed lung or internal bleeding. They did give me morphine for the pain, but after the first three doses, they stopped coming by to give more when I asked.  At the end of my stay in the ER, all of the morphine had worn off, so I returned to the initial level of pain. They told me that a room upstairs would be ready soon and in order to free up the room they placed me in the hall. It seemed that they forgot about me while in the hall since it took three hours before I was taken up there and I overheard someone saying that I had already been sent up.

Once in the room, they transferred me from the gurney to the hospital bed by sliding me over.  This was probably the most painful part of the time there.  The slide didn’t hurt, but one of the practitioners wanted to pull the sheet out from under me as quickly as possible despite my plea to take it slow.  But once that was over, things settled down over the next 48 hours into a rhythm of different pain medications, meals, vitals readings, resting, and keeping people apprised of what was going on.  Over time they transitioned me from a morphine button that I controlled to oral pain medications at intervals. This was part of the transition to discharge and the return home. All the practitioners (doctors, nurses, personal care technicians, and dining attendants) were attentive and answered all my questions. Time was also spent determining the best movement to limit pain and that is still ongoing. The physical therapists also helped with that for the movements that I would need once getting home such as getting out of bed and climbing stairs. Pain levels and mobility seemed to increase or decrease from time to time. For instance, the afternoon after the fall I felt great and thought that I’d be very mobile by Monday. But that night, I woke up with heavy pain and it took a while for pain killers to correct that later in the morning.  Despite usually low levels of pain while in bed, I didn’t sleep more than four hours a night.  So I tended to doze off at times during the day.

Yesterday, I returned home after two nights at the hospital. It has been fairly easy to return, but I still need to determine a sleeping position that does not leave me sore in the morning.  I’ve also been working to see if there are any of the pain medications that I can wean off.  Overall, I have a good range of motion with my arms and legs as long as I don’t extend too far.  Currently the biggest obstacle is finding the best sleeping position. My wife and the kids help me whenever they can, but during the day I’ve felt fine enough to do most things myself.

Now the questions are how quickly I can return to normal life.  The plan is to take off one more day and see how well I feel that day. If it is like today, I could go back on Tuesday even if it is a half day.  If today is any indication, I could be back into a normal routine as soon as this week, but we’ll have to see how things progress.

How Far We’ve Come

For those unfamiliar with what it has been like growing up as a Cubs fan or as a reminder for those who have, here is a recap of the journey to where we are today.  I’ll go back a little further than our general collective memory just because.

From 1947 to 1966, they had a losing record every season and never placed better than 5th place. This included two 103-loss seasons.

From 1967 to 1972, they placed in either second or third place.

In 1969, the Cubs went from a 9.5 game lead in mid-August to a 8 game deficit to the New York Mets by the end of the season They missed their chance at the playoffs despite finishing with 92 wins.

From 1973 to 1983, they had an even or losing record each season and normally placed in the lower half of the division.

In 1984, they returned to the playoffs after a 39 year drought. Playing against the San Diego Padres, they took a 2-0 lead in a best of five series. They proceeded to lose the series in three straight heart-wrenching games in San Diego.

From 1985 to 1988, they again had losing seasons and placed in the lower half of the division.

In 1989, they advanced to the playoffs and lost to the San Francisco Giants 4 games to 1.

From 1990 to 1997, they only recorded one winning season and even had a 0.420 winning percentage in 1997.

In 1998, they advanced to the playoffs as the wild card by beating the San Francisco Giants in a one-game playoff. But they were then swept by the Atlanta Braves in three games getting outscored 15-4.

From 1999 to 2002, they had three seasons with less than 68 wins.

In 2003, the Cubs came five outs away from the World Series. They beat Atlanta in a best of five series in the first round. While playing the Florida Marlins, they were up 3 games to 2 and had a 3-0 lead in the sixth game with only 5 outs needed to advance.  Florida proceeded to score 8 runs and would win both that game and the deciding game seven.

From 2004 to 2006, the Cubs remained fairly competitive with only one 96-loss season.

In 2007 and 2008, they reached the playoffs both years, but were swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants respectively.

From 2009 to 2014, they only had one winning season including a 101 loss season in 2012

In 2015, the Cubs won the one-game wild card playoff, then beat the St Louis Cardinals 3 games to 1.  But they were then swept by the New York Mets in four games.

In 2016, the Cubs have so far beaten the San Francisco Giants 3 games to 1 in the first series and now they have beaten the Los Angeles Dodgers 4 games to 2 to advance to the World Series

So in summary, over the 70 seasons since the last World Series appearance, the Cubs have only had 23 winning seasons. When they have finally made it to the playoffs, they have only won 2 of 9 series. Of those 7 lost series, they were swept in 4 of them and had heartbreaking losses in 1984 and 2003.

So now you can see why the win last night to advance to the World Series was so special to long suffering Cubs fans.  Now there are only 4 wins left.

Marathons

So yesterday I completed my fifth marathon. It was a much more difficult journey than my previous four marathons filled with uncertainty up until the final miles of the race. It was my fourth time running the Chicago Marathon and my third running on my own.

My first was the Chicago Marathon in 1989 at 18 years old during my freshman year in college. My training consisted of running in the cornfields south of the university during the heat of the early fall in central Illinois. During the marathon, I started cramping soon near the 22 mile mark, but finished with a time of 4:07.

My second was another Chicago marathon in 1999 at 28 years old. I wanted to run another marathon before I turned 30 and hoped to break the four hour mark. Again, I started cramping after the 20 mile mark and finished with a time 0f 4:13.

In 2001, my mother was running her 50th marathon, so I joined her. Honestly, I didn’t push myself with the training speed-wise since she runs slower than I do. During the race, she had some bad side effects from a medication she was taking and could only run in limited spurts. We finished with a time of 5:36.

During the time after this race, I started to feel that it’s quite likely that I wouldn’t run another marathon. I’d already run three, which is more than most people, and there is quite a bit of sacrifice and preparation involved. For fall marathons, most of your summer revolves around the training and one day per weekend is occupied running and recovering from a long run.

Again in 2011, my mother was running a marathon in Maine while we were living in Montreal. Again I trained focused on completing the distance and not on speed. Unfortunately, she was having much difficulty with her hips and we walked much more than we ran. We completed the marathon in over seven hours.

So sometime last year, I got to thinking. What could I do that is over and above ‘just’ running another marathon. My mother has run ultra-marathons such as a 50-miler and she attempted 100-milers a couple times and was able to complete 70 and 90 miles in them. I was there for both of those and ran 10 miles with her in each in the middle of the night. There’s a mystique about it running in the forest in the middle of the night and the assemblage of participants and supporters. But those types of races are for those who live and breathe distance running like her.

Twenty years ago there was another race that she ran. The Pikes Peak Marathon. It is a marathon, run in the forest from the base of the mountain to the top and back. In addition to the marathon distance, it is an 8000 foot climb and descent. After checking out the registration for the race, you need to have completed a marathon under 5:45 within the last three years. So my plan was to run a fall marathon in order to achieve that time.

My training basically started at zero and I made progress, but there were many obstacles. While I do a fair amount of walking and ride my bike to work most of the summer, it’s not the same as running. My first runs were only a mile and I could not run more than a block. I slowly increase my distance, but started to have recurring pains in my calves. The calf would tighten up and I would have pain from then until two to four days later. I didn’t know exactly what it was or what was causing it. I tried multiple things to avoid them, but more rest between runs seemed to be the best prevention. I think it must have been tendinitis. The rest worked and it seemed to go away, but then it started getting hot outside. On three occasions I got heat exhaustion. Again, I made modifications such as being properly hydrated and introducing methods of cooling down. But I was not completing my long runs and it was getting to the point that I only had a few long runs left. Finally, I completed my 16 miler, then the 18 miler, and finally the 20 miler.

It seemed that I could coast until the marathon. But I bought some new shoes and my calf problems came back after the two runs with them. So I switched back to my old shoes, but I was still was only able to finish two miles into an 8 mile run just one week before the marathon. So I resolved to avoid running all week until the marathon. But then on Wednesday while bending over to cut my toe nails, I felt a spasm in my lower back. For the following days I had lower back pain and difficulty rising from a seated position. In the final days before the marathon, I seriously questioned if I’d be well enough to actually run the race. I’d already been wondering if my calves would act up during the marathon. The night before I took a couple ibuprofen and an analgesic patch on my lower back and hoped for the best.

The morning of the marathon, I felt pretty good and followed my normal routine with limited stretching adding two more ibuprofen and another analgesic patch. The cool morning was a bit of concern for cramping, but I dressed warmer than normal to keep everything toasty to prevent cramping. The race started well and I was slightly faster than my target pace. But occasionally, I’d feel a twinge in one of my calves. I’d slow down a bit and adjust and it would go away. This happened repeatedly on one calf or the other, but would go away. But then at mile 12, I felt a pop in the right calf. I thought this could be it. If this is bad enough, I’d never be able to keep the pace needed to finish below my target time. Given that this is what all that training was working toward, I pressed on and surprisingly it did not affect my pace despite a dull pain.

I kept ticking off the miles keeping below the pace that I had determined would allow me to get in under my goal time of 5:30. I was getting a bit fatigued and spent some walking breaks and started thinking if there would be one point where I could just walk fast and still get the 5:45 time I needed to qualify for Pike’s Peak. So for over a mile, I mostly walked, but began to think that I might be taking too much of a chance. Maybe something will cramp up and I wouldn’t be able to walk fast. It’s not like I had to walk and running would give me a better finish time. Plus I figured that I’m feeling fine, so why not just go for it and get the best time I can.  So I started running again and what surprised me is that it was still the same pace that I had been running earlier in the race. I had assumed that my pace would slow later in the race much like I had during my training runs. So I ran the final four miles and finished under my goal of 5:30 with a 5:23 time.

You can see that it seems that I was very lucky to complete the marathon with a number of obstacles that could have kept me from finishing. Plus, it really surprises me that I was able to finish that strong. I hadn’t done that in previous marathons.

But it reminded me how difficult the Pikes Peak marathon will be and how much more I need to train for it. Now onto the next step.