The Importance of Good Gear

Today I went for the first bike ride of the year – 11.5 miles. I don’t ride much in the winter as I’m very sensitive to cold – if my ears get too cold as I whoosh along it can trigger a monster headache for me. Today my husband and I started out for a walk and I said – hey, it’s warm enough to bike today, let’s do it! So we went and got our bikes.

The bikes resting up for our next expedition

I rely on several pieces of gear to enhance my experience when I bike. I wear a helmet, obviously, and I like to have a pair of biking gloves to provide wrist support. I also need to wear padded biking shorts because otherwise my undercarriage starts to hurt too quickly. I don’t like to go without all of my gear, and the most important piece is my bike.

I used to have this clunky old bicycle that I got when I was about 23. Some people I knew, who had been here in the States studying at a local University, gave me the bike for free when they went back to Germany. It was an odd brand, Tunturi, and I never saw another one of that brand the whole time I had it. But, it was serviceable enough for somebody like me who didn’t ride very often.

I rode that bike for more than a decade, but not terribly often. Once I started losing weight I rode it off and on a little more frequently – it was my ride for the only Triathlon I ever did. But, it was heavy and clunky and not very sleek at all – it was old when I got it (sometime around 1998 I think). I moved many times over the years, and in 2010 when I got it out to start riding it was beyond help. Even though some very nice people had made a big effort to fix it up for me – tune-up, new brake lines, bottle holder, seat, handlebars…it wouldn’t stay in gear, it was hard to pedal, it kept getting flats. The last times I rode it I had three equipment failures in three rides. I threw it down on the last ride after getting another flat tire and told my husband in a fit of pique that I was DONE with this bike, and possibly with bike riding for ever. He told me we could fix it, but I was done.

He left me by the side of the road with my stupid old bike and rode home to pick up the car. On the way home he took me to the nearest bike shop. He admitted later that his intention was to bring me to my senses with sticker shock on just how much a whole new bike would cost and cause me to reconsider and let him try to work on my old bike some more. He was sure we wouldn’t see anything under $2000, it being a specialty mountain biking shop. But they had a few variants of non-mountain bikes and the perfect bike for me – a Specialized Sirrus – for significantly less than we both expected! So I bought a bike right then and there on the way home from my last failed bike ride, and now every single time I get it out for a ride I’m happy again with that decision.

The thing about gear is that if it’s hindering you, it’s bad gear. If thinking about your bike makes you want to stay on the couch, it’s not a good bike for you. If your running shoes make you want to call a podiatrist, it’s time for new shoes. I’m very fussy about my gear because I know that bad gear can do worse than make for a single bad exercise experience – it can discourage future exercise attempts and leave a bad feeling about forms of exercise that might otherwise be perfectly enjoyable, or, worst case, it can cause injury and pain. It’s a worthwhile investment, over the course of years of enjoyment and fitness, to make sure the gear you get is just right for you. The gear should inspire you to use it – it’s hard enough to motivate ourselves to get moving, gear shouldn’t be a hindrance.


Flexible Planning in Action

Today when I left the house I knew that my day needed to include high-intensity exercise, and I planned to hit the gym at work to do high-resistance elliptical running for at least 30 minutes. I packed my gym bag and headed to work.

Around 10:30am I had a gap in my schedule until 2pm, so I headed to the gym. I started to change and found that I had forgotten my workout pants. Immediately I needed to adjust my plan. I had 3 options I could think of:

  1. Workout in the pants I was wearing today. (Not optimal – I intended to work hard and sweat a lot)
  2. Call husband to bring pants over if he was still at the house, come back to the gym later.
  3. If not, go to the house and pick them up and come back to the gym later.
  4. Workout after my afternoon meetings ended at 5pm. (Less appealing)

I got dressed again and went back to my building and my desk. I called my sweetie and he had JUST left the house, and was happy to go back and get my pants and bring them over before heading out for his errands. That was excellent, but by the time he’d brought them over I’d had several requests for my time while sitting at my desk that I needed to handle, so I couldn’t go straight back to the gym. I looked at the clock and figured out that the latest I could possibly go to the gym and still get back in time for my afternoon meetings was 12:30. So as the morning ticked by I heated up my lunch and handled my work tasks and managed to get over to the gym at 12:30. Where I found I hadn’t packed any saline solution to put my contacts into after my workout.

Looking at the computer screen while wearing contacts gives me headaches (I worked with a contact lens specialist for about 6 months trying every different kind before we both gave up – it is what it is) so now I had another problem to solve – going back to my desk after my workout wearing contacts isn’t an option. Again I had to evaluate my options – I either had to throw away these contacts after my workout, go to a store after my workout to get some saline and take them out after that, or go home and take them out there.

So I did my workout (and I worked it hard, too!), then left my contacts in when I got dressed afterward. Then I went back to my desk, picked up my laptop and headed home to take my afternoon calls from my home office (my bed).

I’m pleased that I managed to persevere despite several little obstacles and still execute my plan. Some days my life feels like a rolling chaos field – for all the planning I do every day, the details seem to be constantly shifting and giving me new opportunities to practice my flexibility.

Stuffed Portabella Mushrooms

You really should not take cooking or recipe advice from me. I’m a survival cook, not an artist. I cook when I have no other choice, but since all the things I cook are things I can eat, I’m going to post a few of my go-to recipes, on the theory that sometimes much better cooks than I (that’s you…that’s everyone) get into a rut and who knows when a suggestion from out of the blue will inspire a thought which will cause you to make something delicious, or at least experiment a bit.

Tonight I was on my own for dinner so I made stuffed portabella mushrooms. I took 3 medium-sized portabells (I bought the biggest ones I could find, but they weren’t that big). I grabbed some spinach I had leftover from a salad on Monday, a can of tomatoes which had been sitting open yet untouched for a couple of days in my refrigerator (husbands are mysterious creatures) and a cube of feta cheese.

So, ingredients:

  • 3-4 portabella mushrooms (22 calories each)
  • a handful of spinach (calories = negligible)
  • 3-4 oz feta cheese (80 cal/oz)
  • 1 can of fire-roasted crushed tomatoes (50 cal per 1/3 can)

    SImple ingredients

    Not much to it!

I pulled the stems off the mushrooms and chopped them up into little bits, then I dumped in 3/7ths of the cube of feta (I approximate, but the package said there were 7 servings at 80 cal/serving, and for convenience of calculating the calories, I wanted to keep things nice and even) and then I chopped up a couple handfuls of the spinachand I crumbled those things all together in a bowl and shoved it evenly into my 3 mushroom caps. Then I dumped the tomatos (150 cal/can) over each of the stuffed mushrooms to keep the spinach from drying out too much in the oven and put the pan into a 375* F oven for 25 minutes.

Delicious, about 150 calories each, full of cheesy and veggie goodness. I won’t eat all 3 tonight, I’ll probably eat one of these with some roast turkey (we roasted a turkey breast Monday night and have been nibbling away at convenient lean protein all week). The others will make a lunch each for me and the man for tomorrow.

Here they are about to go into the oven, one without the tomato sauce so you can see the mixture of spinach, mushroom stem, and feta cheese. They look pretty much the same when they come out.

One without the tomato sauce so you can see the mixture

Ready for the oven

Like an addict. Every single day.

Somebody put a box of donuts in the coffee room at work this morning. When I walked in I saw them and I actually heard my mind say, “Oooh! Donuts!!” against my better judgment. I had no control over it whatsoever.

Ooh! Donuts!

I have a thing about donuts. I cannot imagine a more delicious, desired food item that I should not have. There’s absolutely no redeeming value to donuts, but they are the item that my mind has fixated on as The Thing I Love Most.

They’re awful – grease and sugar and fat. They make me feel yucky when I eat them, they have absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever, and they almost never live up to my expectations, yet still my lizard brain wants them. And somebody had left a box of crappy grocery-store donuts in the break room this morning.

So, after I got past the initial “Ooh! Donuts!” which I cannot control from springing forth out of my subconscious when presented with unexpected donuts, I did a little systems check.

  1. Are they any special kind of donuts? No.
  2. Are they going to taste good? Probably no.
  3. Am I even hungry? No.
  4. Are they worth a setback on all the good work I’ve been doing this week? Hell no.

That was easy.

And yet, I still have to reason myself back from the “Ooh! Donuts!” moment almost every time. I’ve always loved donuts. When I was a child my father would bring home donuts every Saturday morning as a treat, it was a ritual for our family. He died when I was 7, and after he died it stopped, but my mind had imprinted donuts as something denoting happiness and special feelings of safety, security and belonging. I remember as a teenager riding my bike to the local donut shop and buying a whole dozen which I would eat all by myself, desperately hoping for a few moments of that fleeting happiness I was sure that just one more bite would bring. It never did. But I still have a donut complex. I can’t help but have a flash of that emotional desperation I knew as a youth when I see them. But I can stop myself and have a reasoned dialogue about why I so desperately want this thing, and whether it would be worth the trade-off. It almost never is.

Midweek progress

Monday I vowed to get high-intensity cardio Monday-Wednesday-Friday this week. So far I’m on track. Monday I hit the gym for 40 minutes of high-resistance elliptical, and today I carved out an hour to go for a run after lunch.

I’m feeling on track and satisfied with my mid-week progress. Tonight I’ll be making one of my favorite recipes and later I’ll post it (after making it to ensure I’m remembering it right). I am not a natural cook, it’s not a hobby I enjoy, so the things I make tend to be very minimal, simple and quick recipes, often not even deserving of the label “recipe”, but I do my best.

One thing I have noticed many times over the years is that, contrary to most expectations, vigorous exercise tends to have an appetite-suppressing effect for me. On the days I run I find I am less hungry and end up eating less overall. I’m not sure if it’s a physical phenomenon having to do with chemicals and hormones, or simple the fact that I just took an hour and a half chunk out of the middle of my day during which I was unable to eat anything at all that does the trick, but either way – I’ll take it!

I broke one of my own cardinal rules this morning

My rule is that I never weigh myself during my menstrual cycle. This morning, inexplicably*, I did.

My husband has a phrase for how this morning went. He says I’m looking at everything through suck-colored lenses. He’s right.

It’s amazing how often I have to re-learn the same lesson.

*I thought that, since I’ve been following my food and exercise plan religiously for over a week, you know…

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Records Review, Realizations, and Resolutions

Yesterday I posted about the constant obsession and mental work I encounter with just maintaining, in this case kicked off by an inability to get the results I wanted.

In addition to having a lot of mental management, I also went to my records and did some introspection. Here’s what I determined I need to do this week (and possibly in the future) based on a data review:

  • High-intensity cardio 3 times this week.
  • I need to go grocery shopping and do more meal planning.

When I was maintaining a lower weight, or losing, I was getting high-intensity cardio at least 3 times a week. Lately I’ve been letting medium-intensity cardio replace the high-intensity as I’ve started walking to work with my new commute. Walking is great but my body has consistently shown me over the last 8 years that for the results I want, it’s not enough. So tonight I’m hitting the gym, Wednesday I’m hitting the gym, Friday I’m hitting the gym, Saturday I’ll probably go for a run if the rain has ended.  (Note: High-intensity cardio means I’m sweating, my face is red, I’m breathing heavy)  I won’t be able to walk to work on days I go to the gym but the trade off is worthwhile, and it’s only 1.5 miles so I’m not burning too much gas in my car for this tradeoff.

The second realization was an accident. You see, over the course of 8 years of maintaining I’ve got a large database of go-to recipes that are very supportive for me and that I can make. They’re in my head. However, over the last few years my husband and I have settled into a routine where he does the grocery shopping, and I let him because I’m lazy and hate shopping. Last night I decided on a whim to go along on the weekly shopping trip and I realized that he doesn’t have these supportive recipes in his head because they are MY experience based on MY learning. I added a bunch of things to the cart that would enable me to make my go-to recipes – stuffed eggplants, topped portabello mushrooms, polenta with tomato sauces, etc. He doesn’t buy the ingredients for these things because it doesn’t occur to him, but I know what I need to make the meals that work for me. So I need to stop being so lazy and go along on the weekly shopping trips from now on.