Thursday, 22 September 2016

On my 50th Parkrun

My third Parkrun, 16 May 2015.
My time was 28:36.1
This Saturday, I will run my 50th Parkrun, and the occasion makes me think about the role this movement has played in changing my life. If you don't know what it is, you should take a few minutes to read about it now.

If you know me or my story, you know about my struggle over the last year and a half with conquering my life-long obesity and building up my health, fitness, and confidence.

I don’t want to dwell on the food restriction part of what I did, because it was unhealthy and foolish — even dangerous — and nobody should feel “inspired” to copy it.

But this milestone Parkrun makes me reflect on how things used to be on the energy output side of the equation: miserable 3AM starts at the gym, so that I could get up on a treadmill for a daily dose of physical activity. I chose that time of day because I knew that absolutely nothing was going to interfere with my routine at that hour. I didn’t enjoy the gym, and I relied entirely on willpower and routine to sustain my activity there. Even when my wife and I would go away for a weekend, I would get up at the same time to take advantage of the hotel gym so I would not break my routine. I felt like if I allowed any exceptions, I wouldn’t be able to force myself back into the pattern.

But around April, a friend suggested replacing the gym ordeal with exercise that I might actually enjoy, and pointed me to Parkrun as an example.
I’ll admit that I was sceptical. The thought that I might like physical activity was still completely foreign to me, and nothing about the months of 3AM sessions at the gym had convinced me otherwise! But I like to pride myself on being open to trying new things, and so one Saturday in May, off I went.

I wasn’t an instant convert. But what I did immediately like was an overall sense of achievement and acceptance. It didn’t matter if I couldn’t run the whole 5km, and it didn’t matter that there were people faster than me or slower than me. So the next Saturday I came back, and I realised I liked being able to compare my effort and my results to the previous week. Soon, I was a regular.

But what turned Parkrun from a recurring calendar reminder into a passion was the sense of community. One week, a pacerunner helped me to a new PB, and chatted nearly the whole time we were out there — even when I couldn’t respond (“Can’t… talk… breathing…”) Not only that, but the next week, she greeted me again, and introduced me to some other regulars. Before I knew it, I had Parkrun friends.

It wasn’t long before Parkrun became a gateway into other recreational running, and soon I was entering events: City 2 South, Bridge to Brisbane, and then in early 2016, my first half-marathon!

And the gym membership? Cancelled. Exercise as an unwelcome chore had been replaced by exercise I loved: running, cycling, and Zumba (those are other stories…) Now, I don’t have to force myself into physical activity — I eagerly look forward to it in my daily life.

At my lightest, I dropped 63kg below my starting weight. I’m up a few kilos since then because although I’m still losing fat (more slowly now), I’m gaining muscle. And my health and fitness are the best they’ve been in my entire life.2

My theme for my 50th
Parkrun: Shiny and
Obviously Parkrun is just one ingredient in my journey over the last 20 months, but it’s been a vital one, because of the way it changed my outlook in a really fundamental and significant way. Therefore, 50 Parkruns is a particularly important milestone for me, because to me, it means that this is a transformation that has taken root and stuck. This is a lasting change.

I owe thanks to so many people: special thank-yous to Angela for a great suggestion, and to Kelly for befriending me and bringing me into the group. A big thank you to the whole New Farm Parkrun community for being a wonderfully accepting and welcoming group of people. Thank you to all my friends who offered so much encouragement along the way and “liked” or favourited” all those status updates and tweets — that really meant something to me. And thank you to my wife Laura and my ma Barbara for your unflagging, enthusiastic support for these big changes and transformations.

1 My current PB (personal best) for New Farm Parkrun is 23:35, run on 27 August 2016. My best 5km time anywhere is 23:02, which I ran at the International Women's Day Fun Run this year at Southbank. 

2 A few recent stats:
  • Resting heart rate: 46 beats per minute
  • VO2max estimated at 47mL/kg/min based on 85% submax test
  • Resting metabolic rate: 2059 Cal/day
  • Body fat: 14.6%

Tuesday, 26 April 2016

One year of cycling

One year ago today, I put into action a plan to learn to ride a bike. Not having acquired the skill in childhood, I set out to teach myself from scratch, using what I had read on the internet and a hired CityCycle. It turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Cycling has brought me many hours of joy and introduced me to a new passion.

Today, I’m looking back at some of the highlights (OK, and one lowlight) of the 5,250km I’ve ridden since then. 

April 26

At a nearby park, I spent an hour sitting on a CityCycle, just rolling it 50 metres down a slope, then walking it back up to the top, then rolling it back down again. On subsequent visits, I’d learn to steer and pedal.

May 16

I bought my first bike! A shiny, red Reid Vintage Ladies 7-speed Classic cruiser. Bought with the express intention of only being used to commute between home and work, that plan lasted only a few weeks before she started taking me just about everywhere. I adore this bike and her timeless, graceful look, but the cheap Reid components aren’t very durable. She’s currently dismantled, awaiting a rebuild.

October 18

The very day I bought my first bike, a friend jokingly challenged me to join them on Bicycle Queensland’s 100-km Brisbane to Gold Coast Cycle Challenge later in the year. I immediately agreed! It was a difficult ride for me, made even harder by the solid tyres I had on the bike at the time. Five hours of riding after leaving South Bank, I was rolling past the finish line at Southport in one of the proudest moments of my life: my first “century ride”!

November 12

I bought my second bike! While preparing for the ride to the Gold Coast, I did a training ride with the friend who had challenged me; me on my cruiser and they on their carbon-fibre road bike. As I laboured up a mild incline somewhere near Toowong, I looked over at my friend’s bike and noted the economy of motion and apparent ease, and realised that if I wanted to continue with longer rides, I would need a bike better suited to the job. As I researched what to buy, I unexpectedly fell in love with a gorgeous Bianchi Intenso Dama Bianca and knew that this was the road bike for me!

December 2

I hadn’t owned that gorgeous Bianchi for very long before I came off her. Landing face-first onto a concrete path, I suffered the first broken bone of my life: my jaw! (The red arrow in the photo points to a bit of bone that is supposed to be attached to the bit of bone to the left of it. I also got my first ride in an ambulance). Recuperation took months, and being restricted to soft foods was no fun at Christmas. But I was back on the bike straight away (thankfully undamaged beyond a few scratches).

February 7

My darling wife Laura bought a bike the day before, and on February 7 we took a short ride together for the first time. By the following week, we started riding to work together at least a few days a week, something we continue to this day. With two small children, all the time we can get together is a blessing.

February 13

In February, I tackled Mt Coot-tha (the highest point in my home city) in the inaugural Coot-tha Burn event. The climb is 2km, at an average gradient of 9%, but never having done it before, I set out with no sense of whether I’d be able to complete it or not. After listening to other riders’ stories of their first time up the mountain, I decided I’d be happy to complete the ride in 15 minutes. I did it in just over 11. One thing I continue to love about cycling is throwing myself at new challenges without knowing what the outcome will be.

April 17

Since the Brisbane-to-Gold-Coast, I’d completed a few more century rides, but the Ipswich 100 event gave me the chance of trying myself out on an “imperial century”: 100 miles (160km). Again, a big part of the appeal to me was the uncertainty of whether I’d be able to make it or not; this ride was 50% further than I’d ever gone before. But I completed it in 7 hours of riding.


And today was just another ordinary commute, like hundreds that I’ve done now: home to work, work to uni, uni to home. There is just no way that I could have imagined what lay ahead of me even one year ago. How much can change!

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Weight loss update 12

This morning I’m really excited to report passing two new milestones!

First, at 82.1 kg, my BMI (Body–Mass Index) is now 24.2 kg/m2. And, going on BMI alone, that means that for the first time in my adult life (and, probably, the first time since infancy), I am not overweight! (The threshold, by definition, is 25.0 kg/m2). Now, I’m fully aware that there are all kinds of problems with what BMI gets used for1, but this still feels like a significant achievement for me and I’m revelling in it.

The second milestone is that I have now passed the 60-kg mark; having shed a total of 60.5kg now!

The target remains at 80kg, which I should hit within the next week or two. At that point, I’ll need to create a new strategy. I’ll get a body composition scan to find out just how much fat is left on my body and choose a new target based on that number rather than just on overall bodyweight.

I’m also not that much closer to making a maintenance plan. I guess I’ll know just how quickly I need that once I get the body composition done.

1 Take a look at: 
for just a start on the subject

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Bicycle renovations

On Tuesday night, I was about to cycle home from uni on my cruiser, Grace, when, on the first pedal stroke, the chain came apart. Not only that, but when I inspected her drivetrain trying to figure out what had happened, I noticed that the chainring was very, very bent:

Added to a back wheel that was already again in need of replacement anyway (broken spoke, out of true), I knew that the repair bill would exceed the cost of the bike. What to do?

  • I already had existing ideas that at some stage I would take Grace off the road for a while for some planned upgrades — a repaint to repair deep scratches and damage from early days of learning to ride, plus better drivetrain components.
  • In the course of a normal week, I park my bike for long periods unattended in places I’m not comfortable leaving my Bianchi roadbike, so I needed a replacement for commuting. 
  • With uni semester already started, I needed a replacement now
  • Buying bike similar to Grace would allow me to make use of components, accessories, and spares that I’d already bought, and 
  • Facebook ads had informed me that Reid is currently running out remaining stock of this model: the Vintage Ladies 7-Speed Classic. 

So the time seemed right to give this bike a well-earned rest, and on Thursday, I plonked down $199 for a near-twin:

I spent Saturday afternoon transferring components and accessories from old to new, until I had my beloved cruiser down to little more than frame and forks:

I put aside the brand-new Reid components, so that when Grace’s rebuild is complete, I can swap these back and hopefully sell or donate the bike I just bought as a complete and new-looking unit. 

A few friends and family members have asked me why I didn’t just buy a “better” bike instead of this stand-in and the planned extensive upgrades.

Two reasons. First, I’m very sentimental, and I feel a deep sense of attachment to this bike (my first bike, the bike that took me to the Gold Coast on one of the biggest and most fun adventures of my life). Second, the aesthetics of a bike are crucial to any notion of “better” to me, and I’m yet to find any readily-available cruiser whose looks I prefer, or any hybrid I like the looks of at all.

Next steps will be to complete Grace’s disassembly, buy the rack and fenders I want to upgrade to, and start looking at powdercoating options.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Weight loss update 11

Events conspired in late 2015 to slow my weight loss. Contributing factors included:
  • my university study load taking my focus and attention from my weight loss 
  • a jaw injury from a bike accident forcing a change in my diet
  • eating festive food at Christmas

So in January, I have renewed my efforts. I had previously achieved my primary goal weight of 90kg, and at this point was pretty happy with how I looked. The two exceptions were a little more fat on my belly and on my upper back. So I have set a new goal of 80kg so I can reappraise at that point. 

This year, I'm trying something a little different: Nestlé's Optifast system. These are meal replacement shakes, each of which provides 200 calories. I am living on two of these per day: actually a little more than I was consuming in 2015. 

The system is simplicity itself! Optifast is sold in boxes of sachets of powder. Preparing a meal is as simple as tearing open a packet, adding it to 250mL of water, and shaking it up! This is my kind of cooking! 

I am also keeping physically active: maintaining my running, cycling, and Zumba, and still learning to swim. I try to achieve a calorie deficit of around 2,000 calories per day, which should be a weight loss in the vicinity of 2kg per week. 

The first week of Optifast gave me spectacular results, letting me shed 3.9kg,and this morning, I passed the 55kg milestone! 

Shouldn't be long to 80kg!

(And then the real work—figuring out how to stay there—begins...) 

Friday, 1 January 2016

2015 in review, and goals for 2016

It is my custom at this time of year to list off the films, books, and performances that I've enjoyed over the previous twelve months (2014, 2013), but 2015 was a very strange year for me, one in which I read hardly a book, watched hardly a film or TV show, played hardly a game, and didn’t go to a single play, concert, opera, or ballet.

Instead, I have worked on transforming my life.


The biggest changes for me this year were:
  • Losing a lot of weight (52kg; photos below taken just over 1 year apart!)
  • Returning to tertiary study for the first time in 17 years (starting an MBA at UQ Business School mid-year)
These had a number of follow-on effects:
  • I discovered forms of exercise that I either enjoy for their own sake (intrinsic motivation): Zumba and cycling, or which I enjoy for the sense of achievement that I get from participating in events (extrinsic motivation): running. Social motivation is strong in both cases too, and I am indebted to the friends who introduced me to these activities, and to the new friends I have made through them who keep me focused and coming back.
    14 June
    14km in 1h33m
    Brisbane Marathon
    2 August
    10km in 57min
    Bridge to Brisbane
    30 August
    10km in 58 min
    Brisbane 2 Gold Coast
    18 October
    100km in 4h56m

  • Of these forms of exercise, I have been open to experimenting with ones entirely new to me: Zumba and cycling were things I’d never done before. I’m now experimenting with swimming, which is practically new too. 
  • I have enjoyed buying clothes in regular sizes and being able to experiment with finding a style for myself. My life up to now has been having to make do with what was available in plus sizes and trying to find clothes to disguise my shape as much as possible. I’m not confident that I really know what I’m doing yet, but I’m working on it and I’m enjoying the process. 
  • I have developed a level of self-confidence I’ve never had before. I feel like I’ve finally bested the crippling shyness that’s been with me all my life. Part of this has been a huge reduction in the amount of body-shame I feel, and part has been learning from friendly, confident people (in the ParkRun community and in the MBA course). I have been able to adopt some of their confident behaviours until I felt the confidence myself. 
  • I have learned to play to my strengths more consciously and deliberately, encouraged by both my workplace and my studies. Conversely, I learned a difficult but valuable lesson in the futility of trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be (which turned out to be wrong anyway).


So, on to what I want to achieve for the year ahead (SMART goals in bold):

  • Lose more weight! My rate of weight loss plateaued off late in the year as my study commitments intensified, followed quickly by food changes brought about by a broken jaw (bicycle accident) and the festive season. In late October, I hit my initial goal weight of 90kg; and this morning I weighed 97kg (that difference is not only body weight though; it also includes the fact that I’m presently well-fed and well-hydrated). I want to get my weight down to a new goal of 80kg by the end of June, and then stabilise it. 
    • The stabilisation will require thinking about eating for long-term nutrition, not just as fuel (calories). I need to find foods that strike the right balance of enjoyable–nutritious–convenient. At the moment, it seems hard to satisfy more than two of those criteria. 
  • Finish my MBA. The UQ MBA is made up of 12 units: 
    • I completed 3 in Semester 2 last year
    • I am doing 2 in the present Summer Semester
    • I plan to do 
      • 3 more in Semester one, 
      • 2 more in the Winter Semester, and 
      • the final 2 in Semester two
  • Running: presently, I do a 5km weekly ParkRun, and participate in events around the 10km mark. I want to:
    • keep ParkRunning, and  
      • earn my 50-run shirt this year
      • get my time down to under 24 minutes for the 5km.
      • Volunteer at ParkRun after every 10 runs.
    • extend the 10km runs to half-marathons this year, where available.
    • Consider getting some coaching
  • Cycling: I will 
    • keep commuting by bike 
    • participate in more events this year in the 100km-ish range
    • find or create more opportunities for social cycling too. 
    • ride my first “Imperial century” — 100 miles (160km). 
    • ride 10,000km in 2016 (I rode 3,000km in 2015.) 
    • Consider getting some coaching
  • Zumba: I will keep zumbaing! I have no specific goals right now beyond getting better!
  • Swimming: I want to be able to 
    • swim 1km in under 30 minutes and then appraise whether this is something I want to keep in my life. Assuming that I learn to like it enough to keep doing it, I am attracted to the idea of triathlon. 
  • Read for pleasure again, see some movies, watch some TV, go to a play/concert/opera/ballet, play a board game — do some fun stuff again! (No numbers on these though)

Other stuff I want to do but for which I have no specific goals yet. I don’t know how much of this I’ll be able to cram into 2016!
  • Fix my posture: I have a bad stoop from a lifetime of obesity and social anxiety. Now that I’m thinner, I’m really noticing this in photos.
  • Fix my flexibility: Even with so much weight gone and with so much regular exercise, I am not very flexible. In particular, my lower back is a problem: the closest I can come to touching my toes is just past my knees. This made it very difficult to get the right fit on a road bike for me. (My current set-up is comfortable, but probably not as efficient as it could be).
  • Overcome more fears and anxieties. A few years ago, I bettered my fear of dentistry. This year, I overcame a life-long shyness. There are a few other specific fears I want to target “soon”. (I have no idea yet of how to even approach these. I tried a head-on approach to the needle phobia a few years ago and I think I made it worse...)
    • needles (about a 1-in-4 chance of passing out; nausea, tunnel-vision, and sound of blood rushing in ears even discussing the subject)
    • authority figures (police and security of all kinds; practically guaranteed to freak me out the longer an interaction continues)
    • body shame (I have only been able to get into a swimming pool covered up Edwardian-style!)
      • Note that the fear of authority figures and the body-shame work together to keep me from travelling by air. The body-shame keeps me from medical screening that I should get. 
  • Try some more things I’ve either never done before or not done much of. Some ideas include:
    • latin dance
    • fencing
    • horse-riding
    • rifle-shooting
    • archery
    • fly a glider (sailplane, not hang-glider)
    • sail a boat (increased proficiency in swimming might be a prerequisite to this one!)
  • Investigate meditation. I bested my fear of dentistry by learning how to put myself into a state of deep relaxation. I would like to explore further in this direction. 
That should be enough for a year!