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“Life is a journey, not a destination” -Emerson

January 27th, 2014 No comments

As race day arrived, I still had an unanswered question in my gut, in my heart, in my mind.  I’d gone through several months of demanding training, and for the most part stuck to a very regimented diet and food strategy.  I’d put in the hours of warm-ups, training runs, extensive post run stretching, and even runner’s Yoga.  But, even with all of that behind me, as I woke up on race morning, I wondered “Can I do this?  Am I asking too much of my body?”.  My best real answer was “we’ll see”, but in truth, the only way to know if something is really possible sometimes is to try.  You have to commit, to give all that you have, to put the risk of failing on the line to have any hope of tasting success.  I’d wondered for months if my half-marathon race pace goal of seven minute and thirty second miles was just too fast.  But the thing I didn’t talk about as much, and is just as important is, I knew in my heart that even if I tried with all that I am and didn’t quite hit my goal, I’d still have really won.  I wouldn’t be the same person I started out as.

I barely slept the night before.  This is common, but it still amazes me that the body can still finish a half marathon with almost no sleep the night before.  The excitement is like Christmas eve.  The mind races….”What will the weather do?  Will there be wind?  What music will be playing when the gun goes off?  Will I forget anything?  Will I share a moment with a fellow runner, …a look and a nod and a smile through the pain?”

I crawled out of bed at 3:40 and threw on my Gear.

Gearing up for the 2014 Arizona half marathon in Phoenix, AZ

Gearing up for the 2014 Arizona half marathon in Phoenix, AZ

I felt good, that nervous excitement you get when you know there’s a chance that something amazing might happen today.  Really, that moment is everyday, but I don’t feel this way everyday.  I was aware of the feeling today because I know what I was going to have to do something really tough, but that in my heart, I knew I was ready.  My mind still tugged at my leg, “Dude, something bad will happen….Why are you doing this?  You’re just going to get hurt, there’s no way you can run that fast… you’re just screwing up your knees and you’ll need knee replacements sooner, JUST STOP NOW!”.  I’m still amazed at just how powerful doubt in the mind can be.  If you let it, it can destroy any hope of greatness, it can kill your dream before it begins.  So Cassidy?  Don’t let it.  Dont’ listen to the doubt, it will only enslave you.

We arrived at the VIP warm zone at around 6:45, and relaxed inside.

VIP

They had food, water, and bathrooms, which made me relax a bit.  However, I still had no idea how far away the start was, and this kept nagging at me.  At around 7:25, I told Kandy that I was going to start heading toward my race corral (races start according to your expected finish time, the fastest being corral 1, and so on…).  This was the first time I would be starting in corral 1, the fastest corral.  Even on this day I questioned if I belonged in that corral, if I could really finish around one hour and forty minutes.  My brain said “probably not”, but my heart said “you’re going to OWN this race”, and I forced myself to listen to my heart, and to block my nervous, doubtful thoughts….kind of.

As I started walking to the corral, I tried to loosen up a bit, some high steps, side skips, and the likes, and I’m so glad I did.  As I got closer to the back of the corrals, I noticed that the sidelines were packed, and so were most of the corrals.  Although I started to get more aggressive with my path and speed, I only arrived at the back of my packed corral number 1 at 7:45, five minutes before the race start.  Worse, there was no space to stretch.  I was really worried.

“Would my muscles cramp because of no extensive pre-run stretching?  Quads/Hams?  Calves?….<sigh>”  Would all of that training be a waste on not giving myself enough time to loosen up on the morning of the race? <Great….>”

Even with all of my worry, I was still extremely excited.  The moments before any kind of competition like this are electric.  You can feel the energy and excitement of everyone near you in the air.  You can see in the muscles of other runners around you that they too have put in hours and hours of training, just like you.  You share brief glances of runners around you, happy, nervous, excited, but above all? …focus.  You can feel the focus, the determination, …the sheer will, the want… they want it, maybe as much as me…maybe more?…palpable… and inspiring… something everyone should experience, not just for the hell of it, but because it’s a good feeling, it teaches you without saying anything…

I prepped my music playlist for race start.  I had prepared 28 songs, individually edited to kill deadspace.  I ordered them to keep me at a metered pace out of the gate, to get me really moving fast in the middle, and to carry me emotionally through the final miles.  It’s truly amazing to me just how much of a different this makes.  It’s almost like cheating it worked so well.

Turned my garmin on.  I had to decide what kind of data, if any, I wanted to use during the race.  The realtime GPS pace data tends to vary so much that if you use it to adjust pace, you tend to go too fast or too slow before you realize it.  I decided I’d use two pieces of data: Real-time Heart rate for pacing, and average pace to know how close i was to my goal.

I remove my Salvation Army sweatshirt, and snap-away running pants.  The air is chilly, but this is good.  It’ll help.

I have this habit of doing one leg hops before the start of the race, left, right, left, right… It gets a bit of the nervous energy out, and it also serves to help me understand if I’ve missed some tight muscle, not that at this point there’d be any time to stretch it out, …don’t worry, don’t worry, just smile and enjoy the race.

Even in corral number 1, there are still two groups that start before you, the folks in wheel chairs (talk about inspiring), and the elite runners.  These are the professional athletes.  The folks that train most of the time to run.  The gun goes off, and my corral is released.  You can’t move yet , so, you start jogging in place, start the music playlist, and put your hand on your garmin.  You only start it as you pass over the timer at the starting line.

Unlike running a hundred-yard dash, you don’t just go all out on a half marathon.  You have to pace yourself.  If you start out too fast, you’ll deplete too much of the energy in your muscles, and you’ll spend a good part of the race trying to catch up.  This feels like burning in your muscles, and will feel like you’re more winded then you should be.  At the start of these races, there’s so much excitement that it can be VERY easy to rush out of the gate and kill some of that muscle fuel.  I promised myself that I would carefully meter my pace over the first several miles.  This is normally quite easy as many of the runners in my past races tend to bunch up at the beginning, or run in lines of several runners making it near impossible to run at too fast a pace.  This time was a bit different.

As I took off, I purposefully aligned myself along the lefet edge of the course as the first turn was a left-hander.  I think that also since I was in the proper corral, most of the folks were running near my speed, and so it was up to me to pace myself.

My watch beeped and vibrated.  Mile 1 complete, …..7:19?? …Hmmm…That was faster than I had planned on.  Did I just fuck it up?…Shit.

I made special teffort o loosen up a bit, lower my stance, use more of my momentum vs forcing my leg muscles to propel me.  Focus, relax, enjoy, smile… you got this.

Mile 2 beeps and vibrates…. 7:31?  …better!  but still a tad quick… Everyone tells me aim for negative splits.  Unless i’m going to finish this faster than my I had planned, this isn’t looking good….

I star to notice that things are thinning out.  There are now around 4 runners that I’m seeing regularly.  I admire their form and focus.  They look so graceful.  I always imagine myself flailing about, like I’m running away from a horrible monster screaming like a little girl.  Why do I do this?  …focus.

Mile 3.  7:22? ….Dude… EASY…easssssy… relax…

I’m surprised at just how good I feel.  Remember though, more than ten miles left…..easy….

mid_run_001

Mile 4.  7:35.  Here it comes.  I’m done.  Pace will continue to fall, and that will be the end of my hopes and dreams (says the Blerch).  This is where you really start to feel it.  you realize you’ve gone a good distance, but your legs start to feel the steps, and you realize you’re really going to have to dig deep if there’s any hope.  What are you made of?  Is this a game?  Is that all you got?  …are you sure?  Can I give more?………..yes…….hang on….

Mile 5.  7:27.  I imagine that if someone had taken a picture of my face then, they would have seen a tiny hint of hope, and a small glimpse of a smile.  Again, I notice the three to four other folks around me pounding away.  One guy flies by me at nearly double my pace.  Where did that guy come from?  Am I slowing down that much? C’mon…. Pull it together, focus… Breathe, smile, relax, shoulders down, use your core, lower your stance… like you’re running on a tight rope… smooth….

Mile 6. 7:30.  Almost half way, but not half way.  Time starts to move in slow motion here.  I feel good, but man…7 more miles of this?  WHY, oh god WHY DO I DO THIS?  Do I enjoy this?.. .how can THIS be fun???

Mile 7.  7:39.  Oh shit.  I thought I was closer to 7:30 again.  This is where I started to sputter in San Jose.  Dude, it’s going to happen again, your pace will fall off, and you’ll start to feel like you’re being water-boarded.  You’ll start to walk through water stations. and there will be no comfort.  I notice the feel of the sun on my skin, so much for the mild cloud cover.  It was nice while it lasted.  Shit.

Mile 8.  7:46.  I’m slowing down (sigh).  That last mile seemed like two or three.  Remember, this is just a mental deception.  You’re find, calm down.  This always happens on your long runs, your brain is just depleted of some of its electrolytes.  You’re going to be fine.  Relax, breathe, smile.  You feel good, you’re okay, you’re still near those three to four people.  See, that guy in the white shirt?  I start to notice something about this guy.  He’s faster on the uphill.  Am I slowing down?  I’m slowing down… (sigh).

Mile 9.  7:45.  I can’t get back to my 7:30 pace.  I burned it up too soon.

mid_run_002Mile 10.  7:40.  I notice m average pace here is almost exactly 7:30.  Damn, I may actually pull this off.  I also notice that the white shirt guy is not necessarily faster on the uphill, he’s doing something i Used to do before i knew better.  He’s going too fast on the uphills, and I’m killing him in speed on the downhills (smile).  I start to wonder if I’ll pass this guy.

 

 

Mile 11.  7:26.  I passed white shirt guy.  Man, what a feeling!  And what a guy.  I found my second wind.  Did I have it all along?  How much do I have in reserve?  Only 2 more miles to go.  This is right around where i start to understand that I got this.  It’s all downhill form here (slight, but still, every bit counts).

 

 

 

 

 

mid_run_003

 

Mile 12.  7:40.  Hang on…. Just hang on, left, right, left right.. breathe, relax, smile…GO!  Dont’ save it.  USE IT.  It won’t do you any good when you’re done.  1.1 miles?  That’s only seven to eight minutes.  BURN, baby, BURN…USE IT!  YES, i timed my music playlist just right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The theme from Man of Steel comes on:

Mile 13.  I didn’t look down, but later realized I’d run a 7:37.

mid_run_004The last leg of the race, the last quarter mile, I knew.  I could see the finish line up ahead to the left a bit.

Cassidy, this is where the feeling that I want you to feel someday comes on.  The sidelines are full of people cheering EVERYONE who goes by on, they are yelling positive things, yelling!  Cheering, they are smiling at you, AT ME!  They believe…they want me to succeed even though they don’t know me, they can see the struggle on my face, and this wave of sadness, happiness, joy, relief, thankfulness, and appreciation takes hold of me… appreciation of everything and everyone that has lead me to this point, including myself,….you start to absorb all of the positive energy, you actualize the realization that you are going to finish, that you will do what you set out to do….it’s one of the most powerful feelings I’ve ever felt in my life.

I make the last right hander with only a tenth of a mile left.  The finish line is in clear view, and there’s only maybe 3-4 people near me running.  I turn on every last bit of muscle strength and energy I have.

“….GOOOOO!”

finish_line

When you finally step over the finish line, ….the mind is empty, and the heart is full.  You want to cry, to thank all of the forces that got you to this moment.  You’re thankful for life, for your body, for your family, for every breath.  Its one of those moments where you can close your eyes, and have complete confidence that the world is as it should be.  Nothing need change.

I’m amazed that I can feel this way even though I’m alone.  My wife is back in California, my mother-in-law is still on the course, my father is back home in Arizona, still recovering from major knee surgery, and you Cassidy, you’re back home in California.  There was a time when being alone and doing something like this would terrify me, at least when I was younger.  Cassidy, don’t ever fear being alone.  Some of the best moments in your life may come when you are alone.   At least, physically alone.  I was never truly alone.  When I ran, I carried you, Anna, Dad, Kandy, Melyssa, and Jim in my heart, …at each step, at each thought, in each breath… you may be thinking this sounds corny and cliche,….but it is true.  At various times as I struggled through my training, I had doubts, some more obvious than others, some much less so.  But each one of you gave me strength, through your words of encouragement, and that encouragement is invaluable.  Those words echoed in my head and my heart as I ran this day.

Cassidy, if you never challenge yourself to do something you think you may not be able to do, you will never experience the feeling I’m talking about.  And to be clear, I don’t mean simply deciding to participate, this is relatively easy to do.  I mean deciding to employ the best version of yourself to achieve a goal.  I saw a glimpse of this in you when you would go to the dog park with us in earlier years and run around the outside of the track, not because it was running, but because you were pushing yourself to be better…you knew there was more, and you knew if you dug deep, you’d find it.

Keep digging, Cassidy.  There is greatness in you, and all you have to do is believe.

An Ounce of Practice…

September 8th, 2011 1 comment

It would seem I am meant to further practice my relaxation techniques.  Yesterday, On the way to work, during work, and at the begining of my commute home, I was listening to the Calm Meditation radio station on Pandora dot com.  So, on the way home, when the driver of a 2008 Chevy Malibu decided my lane was in fact his lane, …I wasn’t as tweaked out as I would have been in previous years.  At first, I was frustrated, and a little jumpy from the adrenaline.  However, that soon passed.  I was kind with the other driver, and he was kind with me.

He said “Wow, you’re so calm… I’m sooo sorry”.

Little did he know it took that many hours of calming music to take me there :)

There’s damage to the car.  The two passenger doors will likely need to be replaced.

Mazda Post Accident

However, it’s jsut a car, car’s can be fixed.  I wasn’t hurt, nor was the other driver.  Life goes on :)

Categories: Ben Tags: , ,

Letting Go

September 7th, 2011 1 comment

I know who I want to be, I know I’m not there (yet), …and when I look inward, feeling the deepest roots of my soul, I have no clue how to become that person – relaxed under heavy load, flexible in mind and body, fluid in action and motion, a soft-spoken mind with a strong heart, leading an active life free from injury.

Those I trust tell me, that to get there, I just have to let go, to do nothing, don’t try to fix anything, but instead, listen to my body, my non-intellectual self, relax…. This is so foreign to me, it is so differenet from what I’ve done until now.

Categories: Ben, Health Tags:

Make time to exercise everyday

January 13th, 2010 1 comment

When I was growing up, a lot of the time I was kind of chubby.  I was born into this world tipping the scales at 13 pounds!.  THIRTEEN POUNDS!  Talk about challenged from birth!  I’d love to take responsibility for weighing this much when I was born, but it’s not like I sucked all of the fat out of my mother or forced her to eat whatever she did.  Maybe I’m just a mutant?  SuperFatBoy!

When I was in 5th grade, I can remember during one of my subjects, we were reading alloud, and one of the sentences was “Ben has fat fingers”.  The whole class laughed (I was the only Ben in my class).  It’s funny the things kids remember and how it affects them.

When I was 9, I can remember my Step-mom cooking fast meals for us, yes, she would include carrots as a side dish, but the main course would be something like Macaroni and Cheese.  It was delicious the way she made it!  But, it was also extremely unhealthy.  I can’t remember my parents focusing on nutrition and fitness as I was growing up, either that or I was just a typical kid who knew better than his parents.  Probably both are true.

Around 13 years old, I found something I loved to do that required energy.  I started to go to the local park a few blocks away.  They had two tennis courts there.  On the court closest to the border of the park, on one side of that court, they had a green wood section up against the border fence, probalby 3 times as high as a standard net, but it had a white line where the net should be.  And so, I started to teach myself how to play tennis by playing tennis at twice the speed against that wall.  I’d bring a few set of new balls, and I’d practice aiming at different spots just above the net line.  I”m not sure I tied together that it was helping me loose weight at the time, but I knew that I would come home drenched in sweat.  Around that time, I also started eating  slimfast shakes for dinner. I had just become tired of being the chubby kid

I’ve gone back and forth with weight my entire life, up and down…But not anymore.  It’s healthy back for life.  That’s what I have written on reminders around the house, along with a very short list of the things that I need to keep doing, it says:

My Health Back for Life
Weight: 205 (lean)
-Healthy Diet: low fat, low carbs, low sugar
-Regular exercise (gym, walking)

Core Muscle Strength (build it / keep it)
-rehabilitiation
-Education
-Repetition

I know it may seem simple, but it’s amazing how when you have a positive reason and reminder around the house, how useful it is.

My wife Anna and I go to the gym on a fairly regular basis, but there are nights where if I”m the one cooking dinner, making time, while possible, is not something I want to do.  So, here are some of the things I now have at home and do at home to keep things moving along for my health:

To Buy:
1. Swiss Exercise Ball: You can get these at $10 at target.  Don’t buy the more expensive ones, they won’t give you anything useful.  I use this ball for a bunch of exercises I do, and truly there are even more I don’t currently do mainly because of my back.

2. 10lb Medicine ball: I use this to increase the difficulty of some of the core exercises that I do.  This 10lb ball goes for around $30 at Target.

So,that’s it!  $40 plus tax.

The exercises I’m going to list are in no particular order, although I like to stretch first (and sometimes after as well, depending on how my back is feeling:

1. Hamstring Stretch (lying down):  This is one of the exercises my rehab specialist recommended I do at least once a day.  I do 15 seconds per iteration, 3 times per each leg with a 5 second break between the stretches.  Its important to try to get your foot parallel to the ground as much as you can as that serves to stretch out the hamstring even more.  Additionally, I use a small rolled up hand towl under my lower back at the top of the sacrum to make sure I hold proper form (the back tends to want to do the wrong thing with this stretch, it protects your back).

2. Piriformis Stretch: Yet another rehab recommendation.  I included a picture of where the piriformis is located (think lower glutes).  I use the rolled up towel again just above my sacrum for good form.  The goal here is to keep your back on the ground, put one foot on the opposite legs outide knee area, and lightly push the knee that is crossed over toward the opposite leg until you feel tension in your glutes (that’s the piriformis stretching).  According to my rehab dude, the piriformis is an often overlooked muscle to stretch, and this exercise does it safely.

3. Piriformis stretch #2: warning: This can be a difficult stretch for some.  Again using the towel just above my sacrum, you’re on you’re back.  Start by having both knee’s bent (Feet by your glutes), and bring one foot so it’s just in front of the other knee.  You can move it so that your calf is touching the other knee, but so that that leg is below the height of the other leg (the one still with foot touching your glutes or so).  You then hold the leg in front of the other leg comfortable, and while doing this, push the stretched leg (you’ll feel it) with the other leg toward your chest.  Make sure to keep your back neutral while doing this, and take it slow.  The first you do this, you may not being able to stretch it very far, but keep working at it over time.

4. Leg Lifts: Now we get into the beginning of the exercises!   No more towel under the lower back.  The picture to the left shows the starting position.  The idea here, is to keep your back neutral while dipping the extended leg (along with your back) down a few degrees, then back up.  You’ll be using your abs and back to do the work.  I do 10 per side twice (10 left, 10 right, 10 left, 10 right).  There’s a slightly more advanced version of this that I do now.  You see how her hands are on the ground to stabilize herself?  I now take my hands, and hold the medicine ball with both hands (arms extended) out past my head (above my head, if i was standing, my arms would be making a say 15 degree angle with the ground, this helps to also work your upper abs.

5. Bridge plus heal dig: We’re now no longer using the towel under the lower back / sacrum.  You lie on your back with your legs resting on top of the ball. To add difficulty, just put the heels of your feet on the ball.  Raise your hips and buttocks off the floor into a bridge .(A)  Tighten your abdominal muscles.Keep your hips and glutes off the floor while you pull the ball closer to your buttocks with your feet (B). Dig your heels into the ball for traction and to engage the muscles along the back of your thighs (hamstrings). Hold for three deep breaths.  Hold for two seconds and then return to the starting position.  I do two sets of fifteen.

6. Bridged Leg Lifts: In between my Bridge plus heal dig sets,  I do 10 of the bridged leg lifts pictured to the left (10 per leg, alternating).  This helps to really work the muscles even more.  Your muscles should be tired by the time you finish your second set of Bridge plus heal digs.  If not, try adding a few more leg lifts.

7. Superman Variant: This exercise felt great on my lower back.  You start in a crawling position with your knees and hands on the ground.  While keeping your back neutral, you lift one arm out in front of you, slightly above horizontal while simultaneously raising your alternate leg straight out behind you (slightly above horizontal).  If this is your first time doing this, be patient with yourself.  It will seem awkard (since your muscles dont’ usually do this naturally).  There’s a more advanced version where you take the swiss exercise ball underneaht your belly (positioned so you’re balanced on it.  Your arms will be in that same crawling starting position, but your legts will start out extended, with only your toes touching the ground.  The exercise is mostly the same, but although this might sound easier, it’s more challenging to balance on the ball and with your legs extended.

8. Exercise Ball Roll out: You start on your knees with the excise ball in front of you, you bend slightly foward at the butt, but will maintain a neutral back otherwise.  You put your hands on the ball, and allow your feet to come off the ground while your hands/forearms roll onto the ball, the ball rolls foward (To a comfortable point), hold it for 2 seconds, then back slowly to starting position.  Keep your abs flexed, this one works both your abs and back.  I do just one set of 15.

9. Squats with Exercise Ball:  This is the last of my rehab exercises.  This is just a form of a controlled Squat against a wall using the exercise ball.  You back up to a wall and place the exercise ball somewhere between the top of your sacrum and mid back (Depending on your ball size).  Spread your feet apart a couple inches more than shoulder width and slightly out in front of you.  As you come down (similar to the picture), make sure to allow your but to stick out (toward the wall) but maintain a neutral spine.  Come down until your knee to hip is horizontal to the ground, hold for two seconds, and then return to starting position.  This works the lazy hamstring (never gets enough attention).  I can see the definition that this exercise alone has brought!  If this is too easy (make sure it is first), you can do the same exercise, but put weights in your hands, but even if you don’t have weights, just do the regular exercise regularly.

10. Side Plank: If you’ve ever done yoga, you may recognize this exercise.  The goal here is to hold the position illustrated to the left.  I usually try to hold for 10-15 count per side, then repeat.  This is a great stabilizer exercise.  If you find it difficult to hold yourself up with an arm, you can do a variant where instead of your arm extended downard completely, you rest on the elbow to hand like this.

11. Oblique Curls:  The exercise Ball is great for doing regular curls and Oblique Curls.  Here’s an illustration of how to do them to the right.  I do about 10 per side, then repeat, and i try to hold the up position for a second or two.

12.  Desk Chair Replacement (exercise ball):  I tend to unfortunately sit a lot at work and at home in front of a computer desk (what can I say, I’m a geek).  So, rather than let my core be lazy, at home at least, I use the exercise ball (on carpet) as a chair replacement.  It will tire you out quickly, so start with small stints at first and increase as you build endurance.  It’s very important when doig this to make sure that you are sitting with proper posture (neutral spine).  At first I wasn’t sure I could trust the ball (not to suddenly deflate, and have me fall), but I’ve built trust with it (heh), keeps the abs and back firing to hold you in position.

Well, that’s it for now.  These exercises have served me very well, and they’re something you can do everyday not even having to leave your house.  There are a ton more of the swiss ball exercises out there (google!).  Hopefully you find them as useful as I do!

Categories: Ben, General, Health Tags:

Worst Day of My LIfe

January 12th, 2010 No comments

I thought it was about time to add a post, and due to the relatively recent changes in my lifestyle, I’ve Lost around 50 pounds!  Some folks have asked me “Dude, …were you eating?”.  I laugh, because I have been eating, very well in fact.  I just educated myself about the right foods to eat, when to eat them, regular exercise, and decided….. it was time.

The big catalyst for me was back in September of this past year (2009).  I had been working out in the yard a lot, including moving 3-4 truck loads of dirt into the back yard to fill a troublesome pond for preparation for sod back there.

1. Shovel dirt from truck to wheelbarrow
2. ‘Barrow the dirt from the driveway to the back yard and dump.
3. Spread the dirt around, and Slam it into the ground with a heavy iron tool to build a good base for the sod.

So, my lower back was starting to hurt.  It all came to climax when while at the local dogpark, I bent down just a bit to clean and fill the water dish, and BAM!  I felt that horrible sharp pain in my back, ..I had (again) pinched a nerve.  The amount of pain is difficult to describe.  The only thing I think might compare is being stabbed in the back with Crocodile Dundee’s knife.

The load of just standing causes horrible pain and you’re not sure what to do to relieve it.  Do you lie down in hopes that the decrease in pressure will make it subside? Risking maybe not being able to get up?  Do you stay straight in the hopes that no bending will help it to calm down?  It’s a horrible feeling.  Fortunately, somehow, I was able to get Kumo back onto the leash and waddle home.

The Next Morning is a day I will never forget.

As I woke up, I could feel that my back was very sore.  Not a good sign I thought to myself, ..typically those first moments as you wake up are the best your back will be that day.  So, I could feel sharp discomfort as I tried to get myself sitting up.  Once I managed that ,I realized that as soon as I tried to put any weight on my right foot (right side back pain), I had to immediately lie  down again.  Anna was at work, and my phone was downstairs….Shit.

It was then that I also realized I had a migraine headache…pulsing, aching, …hot.  So, knowing that I wasn’t going to do anything upstairs, and I had a dog downstairs in a crate that needed to go out…

…I crawled.  I crawled from our uptsairs bedroom, down the hallway, down the stairs backwards, over to his crate, let him out, over to the back sliding glass door, and let him go outside to TCB (Take care of Business, we tell him to ‘Get Busy’, he knows what to do), all the while my head is POUNDING, …I finally break down and am actually tearing up from the pain.

I manage over to the sofa, and roll myself up onto it and lie down.  My phone was on the table in front of it.  I call Anna to tell her what’s going on.    At that moment, I had no idea I’d be stuck on the couch for a month.

I had ruptured my L5-S1 disc in my lower back, and there was a moderate sized protusion putting (a lot of) pressure on the nerve root (…..ouch).

Finally, relief came when I started taking Celebrex (a very strong non-steroidal anti-inflamatory pill), and it came fast.  In several days, I was up walking around again.  Made a doctor’s visit up north, and he said one of the things I could do was to get a shot in my lower back of Steroids (Cortisone), which was much stronger than anything i could take orally.  Anxiously, I agreed to the procedure (done on 10/17/09).  Although I was very nervous while I was on that operating room table, on my stomache, with an undoubtedly massive needle looming over my L5-S1, ..it made all the difference.

I was mobile again and not on Celebrex (good for short time, bad long term, can cause vascular problems, heart attack, stroke…ya know, bad stuff).  During that week, I decided, I was going to make a lifestyle change.  Get my body fat under control, build up my core muscles (abs, back, surrounds), and get fit and stay fit, for life, including what I eat.  I may not be able to fix my back completely, but there are things I can control.

When I first went in to the doctor after the disc rupture, their doctors scale read 253 (WHAT!  Two Hundred and fifty three pounds!  I’m 6’2″, but that is ….well…fat..).  Today?  I weigh:

200lbs (~3 months later).

The blog entries that follow this one will be about how I did it, and the tools that have brought me success.

My back still hurts a little now, think I may need another shot, but I’m healthier than I’ve ever been during my adult life.

ben at 207 pounds

ben at 207 pounds

Categories: Ben, General, Health Tags:

Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm.

February 14th, 2009 3 comments

(quote from winston Churchill, Alternate title for this was “How Not to Ski”)

Matt and I decided we’d head up to Kirkwood on Friday the 13th (yes, yes, I know, I know) to get some good Downhill skiing in.  We ended up heading up with Matt’s soccer buddy, Sep (who has a Subaru Forrest All-Wheel Drive.

Rough Start
Even before we got to any level of elevation, traffic went to stop-and-go for 30 minutes, and when we got to the front of it all, a CHP Officer was stopping and talking to every vehicle.

“Chains or All wheel drive?” he said.
Sep: “Yeah, the forrester is All wheel Drive”
“Okay, you can go ahead, but be careful, bad roads at elevation…” said the officer.
(he was not kidding)

2000 feet: When Trees Attack
Another slowdown and crawl as the road curved up ahead.  As we neared the front of the line, we saw something on the road.  Capable cars (even with AWD/Chains) were turning around.  It turned out that a large tree had JUST fallen onto and completely accross the road. Arrrrrgh……  We ended up being the first car in line, sitting there…., waiting, wondering…”Do we call it? Wait it out a bit?  See how quickly they can move it?”  Sep got out of the car and carefuly tip-toed to where the tree was blocking the road.  He hadn’t planned on walking around in the snow, so he was wearing sandals.  He looked around, but after a short while tip-toed back to the car and got back in.
“There’s no one up there.  On both sides of the tree, cars are backing up, but there aren’t any emergency vehicles or personnel” he said in frustration.  Approximiately 15-20 minutes later, a large tow-truck and an AT&T Service truck pulled out on the left.  One man got out of each vehicle and starting looking over the fallen tree.  After around 15 minutes, they had the tree carefully hooked up to the tow truck.  He started to pull the tree, but due to the direction he had chosen to move the tree, his rear tires ended up starting to spin as they began moving into deeper unpacked snow.  Shortly there after, a police woman knocked on our driver’s window.

The officer said “Hey there, if you turn around, and go back down a few hundred yards, there’s a street that is in good condition, and you can get around this mess”.

We followed her instructions, and we were again on our way.  Due to the tree, we didn’t see any other cars for quite some time.

As we began to start gaining in elevation, the road conditions very quickly worsened.  The snow was falling harder now, and the layers of packed snow and ice were not consistent.  This lead to constantly changing conditions.  Sep did his best to keep the car moving at appropriate speeds, but at one point, his front left tire started to grab in some of the deeper unpacked snow.  The Forrester started to quickly turn to the left.  Sep tried to countersteer but it wasn’t enough.  He got off throttle (lifted) and then hit the brakes, but this just worsened the loss of control.  The car continued to spin counterclockwise, and slide to the other side of the road.  We came so very close to hitting the driver’s side snow back on the other side of the road, but Sep managed to keep on very very very light throttle, and spun it around enough that we ended slowing enough, to end up pointing the wrong way and not in the snow bank.  Sep kept on throttle as none of us wanted to end up outside pushing the car out of thick heavy snow on the side of the road.  It was at this point that we saw the white SUV behind us who had slowly stopped and whose occupants were probably inside either laughing at us, shaking their heads or cursing…most likely some combination.

Sep continued to swing the car around in front of the white SUV, but ended up on the passenger side shoulder (there was no shoulder) in fairly deep unpacked snow, but fortunately, keeping a slight amount of throttle engaged, he managed to get it back on the road in the right direction.  It was a…scary..experience to say the least.

6800 Feet
We continued up, but the conditions worsened even more.  At around 6800 feet, there was only one and a half lanes of actualy drivable road.  The Downhill Half of that space had already started to accumulate several inches of fresh unpacked snow and looked quite treacherous.

7400 Feet: Point of No Return
At around 7400 feet, now fairly close to the resort, a CHP officer in a white suv caught up to us and told us that they had just closed the pass (meaining, the phsical gates up beffore the resort were now closed).

So, we now had to turn around, and head back down….

To say the least, we were all pretty heart-broken.  We all pondered whether we should believe the CHP officer, give it a go anyways, but in the end, we decided that even though it was regretful, that we should still head back down.  Shortly after we had decided to head back down, I noticed that Sep was driving extremely slowly, even more slowly than he had to.  Turned out he was hoping that one of us would make the stronger case that we should go up the mountain anyway.  Meanwhile, Matt was working to guilt Sep into going up.  When I was asked, I told the two of them that even though I really wanted to ski, there were too many negatives to going up the mountain, and too many signs on the way up to ignore.  I did however say, that even with my concerns, if the two of them wanted to try, I would support the idea (with some concern).

Resolution
Long after we had mostly come to terms with the decision to retreat, Sep finally got a call from the other car with his other friends in it.  Turns out, right around where we had been, there had been an avalanche and three cars were at least partially submerged in the snow.  That easily could have been us.  After that, there were no doubts from anyone in our car that we had made the right decision.  Just time to grieve over the loss of the day (sigh).  In all, we started driving around 630am.  We turned back around 11am.  Stopped for lunch on the way back, but it was like 9 hours of driving for NOTHING (argh).

I still have the two lift tickets I purchased from Costco since they can be used any day of this season, we just didn’t get to use them.  Hopefully we can work out another day to get back up there (since we still have those tickets).

Mannnnn, ….what a drag.

Categories: Ben Tags:

Opening the Box: Pandora Internet Radio

February 11th, 2009 No comments

I’ve been listening to Pandora Internet Radio for quite some time (recommended by my friend Silvino).  On top of just selecting genres of music you like (such as Dance, Jazz, or whatever), you can give each song it plays a thumbs up and a thumbs down, and over time?  Pandora learns what you like (and increases the likelihood that, when it plays songs that it thinks you will like that.. well.. that you’ll LIKE them.

So, when I look at one of the songs it selected for me recently to like, Pandora listed the following properties:

1. techno roots
2. a repetitive song structure
3. use of tonal harmonies
4. a tight kick sound
5. a synth bass riff
6. a busy bass line
7. heavy drums
8. synth tweaking
9. a highly synthetic sonority
10. trippy soundscapes
11. prevalent use of groove

So, now, thanks to Pandora, when someone asks me what kind of music I like, I now have a very detailed answer!  Thanks Pandora!

By the way, the song it had recommended was from:

Artist: Ferry Corsten
Album: Live at Innercity: Amsterdam RAI
Song Title:
Cryptomnesia

Categories: Ben, Music Tags:

Fear is the mind-killer.

February 9th, 2009 No comments

I don’t know that I have ever been more anxious than I am right now.

Last Quarter, my company did layoffs the day before our company meeting.  Wednesday marks the date of the next company meeting.  SO, if the company follows suit, tomorrow could conceivably mark the next round of layoffs (should they be deemed necessary).

I’m nervous because the work I do is not automated (unlike most of the other kinds of data my department creates).  So, when Joe Bean Counter comes along, and looks at pieces of data created, I will be at the bottom of the list.  And knowing how my company works, that scares the shit out of me.

We just bought a house back in July of 2008.  I know we won’t be able to hold out very long if I can’t find work quickly.

What can I do?  update the resume?  and if it comes to pass, what next?  I understand the state of the economy, and that most companies will be looking to downsize (not hire).  So, that would put me looking for a job with many other tech folks, something i haven’t thought about in quite some time.

I just don’t like this feeling :(

I need to recall my core, ..how I think about things when the chips are down, I know better than this, that if it comes to pass, there will be a reason, and my karma will guide me to something good, maybe something better, and there will be a good reason, and the result will be perfect.  I just find it more and more difficult to remind myself when I see the the things so close to me, ..like my ability to see past the now is reduced, …or maybe I”ve just forgotten and need to remind myself strongly (Matt did attempt to kick my ass at work today, maybe that was it? the kick I needed? (sigh)  …I can hear myself TALKING to myself.. be positive, ..and it will be so, make the best of it, no matter what comes.  I just need to listen.

When we were figuring finances to buy our house, you try to make the best calculations you can, to make sure you’ll have enough money left over each month to do fun things, or to save.  However, we haven’t minded our plan, have eaten out too much (our biggest fault), and as a result of that and cutting it too close to begin with, find ourselves with no ‘fun’ money fairly regularly.  Granted, we haven’t adjusted my income at work for the new numbers (since taxes should be greatly affected), but it’s still enough to stress me out.

My track car sits on the trailer, broken.  And I don’t see any coming hope of getting it fixed (10k?), let alone track days ($500/pop with hotel/food/gas/etc).  That was one my one (large) comfort that I afforded myself, which looks lost and hopeless.  God, I listen to msyelf talk, who is this guy?  Why am I so forelorn? (sigh)  But, this is the conversation I have with myself whenever I think about all of this, ….gone are the days of speed at the racetrack, and here, I have this house..this big expenditure that needs constant tending and care.  I can’t help myself, I constantly wonder, was the house a mistake?  Was this house just too expensive for our finances?

Categories: Ben, General, Introspection Tags:

Thankful For My Friends

December 8th, 2008 No comments

My buddy Silvino and his wife Irina invited Anna and myself over this weekend to watch a top tier boxing bout. It was what I believed was supposed to be this big comeback for De La Hoya, but it didn’t turn out that way. That’s okay though. While I’ve heard the name ‘De La Hoya’ growing up, I’ve never been much into sports. Although, it was good fun watching Pacquiao break through De La Hoya’s defenses. More important to me was just the idea of being able to spend time with friends. I dont do that enough anymore. For some reason this weekend, I really got to thinking about it, ..deeply.

There used to be a time when you didn’t even need a reason to see a friend, it was just good enough, and welcome enough that when a friend dropped by, it was a good thing, a great thing, and went both ways, and while that can’t always be the case, it was mostly the way it was. But, as folks grow older (myself included of course), you get married, somewhere along the line that changes, you and start to think differently. You start to value privacy more, and start to demand and expect it more. Maybe it’s just me, maybe others don’t think this way, and it’s mostly just me that’s thinking this way. I really should explore this idea more, because if it IS just me thinking this way, than I’m blocking my own happiness at tunes (which I can fix).

But, I think I may be dreaming about much simpler times, about days when your best friend lived accross the street, and on a Saturday afternoon, after your chores were done, you were free as long as your parents said you were, to go have fun together and do whatever (within reason).

For now, in simple terms, I value (very highly) the time I DO get to spend with good friends, with Silvino, Irina, Alex, Matt, and of course my wife Anna, and I don’t say it enough.

The quotations below I really should add to my quotes page. They emphasize some of how I view friendship:

Charlotte from “Charlotte’s Web”, E.B. White
“You have been my friend. That in itself is a tremendous thing. I wove my webs for you because I liked you. After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson
“It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.”

Categories: Ben, Friendship, Introspection Tags:

“Seeing is not always believing.”

December 4th, 2008 2 comments

The title is a Martin Luther King Jr Quote.

I wear glasses.  Not a lot of folks that know me know that.  My vision is spectacular.  So, in every case…, less one, I’m good to go.  Far away (think driving, …racing), I can see perfectly.  However, as objects or text move closer (think reading a computer screen, or a book), one of my eyes, specifically the muscle around it, is lazy (weak! literally).  Who cares?  Well, the point is, … I can see.  I ‘perceive’ well, I ‘notice’ things.  Sometimes, too well, more often than not, I’m perceptive.  I pickup on the things that others don’t.

“What the HELL are you getting at Ben?”

Well (grin), it’s not like I’m a SuperHero, and I have a small weakness (glasses), because I have some SuperSight.  I just have better than average perception when it comes to most things.  It usually leads to me overanalyzing.  Let me give you a current example:  My Race Car. (wow Ben, what a stretch)

Right now, after the wreck, it is sitting, outside, on a trailer, in a trailer storage yard, out in the weather, being beated on by the elements, with a hood 40% open.  Everytime I start to think about getting it out of the elements and into our newly finished garage, this is what happens, I think:

  1. Since I can’t currently get the car to steer straight, I need to figure out some easy way to get the car off the trailer.  The problem there is that since it got smashed in, the front right side near the front right tire is pushed sideways, so it that tire can’t come all the way to center (turned too far right).
  2. Maybe I could get a skinny spare (not standard on my car) and change it on the trailer?  Notice in the pictures that the center of the trailer is …wel, there isn’t one (with this style of trailer).  So, as soon as the car starts to role, it’s going to role right off of being ‘on’ something, and highcenter itself (bad).
  3. Others have suggested furniture style or tire dolly’s underneath one or both front tires, but as you can see in the picture, that won’t work with this style of ramp.
  4. Yet another idea I came up with (which I think is more comical than anything else), just to get it off the trailer, not fully into the garage, is to put McDonald’s style plastic trays underneath the front tires.  Then, maybe hook something up to the front of the car somewhere strong, and pull slowly while someone is in the car.  But, again, this just ‘maybe’ gets it off the trailer.
  5. So, even if we get the car off the trailer, then, with the status of that bumper, will it even fit into the garage w/o first removing the bumper? (it’s in bad shape, and I’m not sure how difficult those bolts holding the bumper on will be).
  6. If I DO manage to get the car into the garage, then what.  We dont’ have the money to fix the car (probably somewhere around 8-10k), and with the state of the economy, my NVIDIA stocks aren’t worth anything right now, so that’s not an option.
  7. Then, there’s my back.  I hurt it when I was in the accident, and my ability to track my car again is still a question mark.
  8. And with all of that, we’re still making payments on the used massive Chevy 2500HD Turbo Diesel Truck that pulls pulled the racecar to the track.
  9. And even more important than any of these things, and especially important to Anna is the Biological WoMD clock of child Construction (of which, the ticking is deafening), and of which the cost is also astronomical (as well).

So, Then I just stress out, probably get a headache, which sometimes leads to a worse headache, and has yet to lead to any action anywhere NEAR me getting near the trailer yard where the car is.  Let alone getting the car into the garage.

Then, I start to think about how working on that car, and driving that car, and seeing that car, and hearing that car, smelling that car, …all of it, all of those things, how they made me feel, how passionate I am about motorsports, and being out on the track, and right now, how I can’t do that, and how my future to be even potentially able to do that is uncertain.  With the additional $1200 we pay now in a mortgage payment per month, it just decreases the liklihood that I’ll ever do it again, even when I want to. (I was going to write ‘if’ I wanted to, but I know better, I want to).

So, …I SEE things (back to the point).  I see much more, much further down the road than I want to, it’s built into me.  While others around me may be grateful for the insight I can bring into their lives, and even at times it may do me a service to be able to see such detail, …other times, it will paralyze me.

But, I have to find a way….I have to.  So, with all of those (#1-8, …probably more), come back to #0 (not listed)…

Patience….

So, if you’re reading this, just remember, that with everything else, this is on my mind all the time.

………..all the time.

Categories: Ben, Bens M3, Introspection Tags: