A hundred or so down

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Nothing is less inspiring the tales of already-skinny people about how they got skinnier. What inspires us are the people who came to cycling as way to deal with major health problems, and through cycling overcame them. One of those people is a South Bay regular, Dan K.

Below is his story, mostly in his own words, with a dab here and there of mine:

I was 250 lbs and in trouble. Every December, my doctor said the same thing. Cholesterol, high. Blood pressure, high. Fatty liver disease, just around the bend. And if you think it’s terrible having your kids say, “Dad died from a heart attack,” imagine them saying “Dad died of fatty liver disease.”

My doc would tell me I could carry on and get ready for a lifetime regimen of drugs, or make a change. I’d dutifully hop on the elliptical trainer, lose a few pounds, and then with Christmas and the New Year come roaring back to “normal.”

By 2011 I’d injured my back and had constant sciatic pain. I could hardly sleep. I also had periodic blinding pain in my side. I made a special trip to the doctor, got some codeine and PT, and went back to functioning with a legal Rx drug dependency. But I realized after three months that this was no way to live the rest of my life. So I finally decided, truly decided, to change.

I’m an engineer so I started with the numbers, and that’s ultimately where I finished. I knew that the most important thing was not what I weighed today (can’t change that) or what I will weigh tomorrow (can’t really change that), but the trend line, i.e. what I will weigh next week or next month. Next month is something I can change. Incremental changes today could push the trend line of my weight and of my health in a positive direction. I knew I wouldn’t be healthy next month, but I knew I could be healthier.

I also realized that willpower is a finite resource, but it’s also like a muscle. In order to improve it, you have to stress your willpower towards the point of failure. The muscle and the will become stronger, but only if you exercise them.

Next, I challenged myself. I set a goal to start swimming for at least 30 minutes a day, every day, and to avoid eating junk and highly refined foods. The first day in the pool was a challenge. I don’t think I did more than seven laps. It was awful. But I came back the next morning and did eight. Within a few weeks, I was swimming farther and longer.

What’s key is that I didn’t turn myself around overnight. This was no 30-day success story.

Did I go swimming every day? No.

Did I eat healthy food every day? No.

Did I move in a positive direction more days than not? ABSOLUTELY. This was crucial because my goal was to move the trend, not to reach some magical end-point. In a sense, I made my objective goal—exercise every day–harder than my real goal, which was to simply move the trend line.

When I saw the doctor six weeks after staring my “new” life in mid-December of 2011, things were better. I was down to, um, 235 lbs. BP was down a bit.  Liver was still chubby, but perhaps not as fatty. Yet I was still on the wrong side of the healthy line and I was still in pain. So the doctor renewed my prescriptions and encouraged me. More importantly, I was able to encourage myself because I had entered the magical positive feedback loop. I could see that the trend line was heading in the right direction, and I wanted to keep it up.

My first bike ride on August 14, 2012, on a crappy old mountain bike, was 4.5 miles in 30 minutes over some “hills” near home. I think my heart rate must have been 190, and I thought I was going die. But I went out again on the 16th and cracked out nine whole miles. That Sunday I rode to the Strand and up to the end of Manhattan for a whopping 16 miles. I was slow but I was having fun. By the middle of the September I had made it to Ballona Creek, then Venice, then Santa Monica by October.

A year later my body was in a better place. My weight was 220. My liver enzymes were “good.” My cholesterol was normal, my back pain was gone, and I was off the prescription drugs.

I celebrated, bought a road bike, and started going farther and faster. Eventually I found Seth’s blog and started riding in PV. In February 2013 I pedaled out to where one of my aunts lives, and made it halfway up Hawthorne Blvd. I thought I was going to die, and got a ride home. A week later I sucked it up, made it around the peninsula, up and over the Switchbacks (13:48) all the while thinking the climb would never end. I’d occasionally see a mini-peloton go by and I’d try to latch on, though I always seemed to blow up in 15 seconds.  But I was getting stronger.

In July of 2013 I was down fifty pounds to a “svelte” 200. I gutted up and took the plunge, telling myself “It’s time for NPR!” I still remember getting blown off the back on Vista del Mar during the neutral rollout. The next time I blew up on Pershing Hill, the first earnest surge of the ride. A week later I got axed on Pershing proper. Then, I played roman candle on the overpass, followed by exploding a week later on Lap 1.

The whole time people helped and encouraged me. Manslaughter would yell at me to pedal hard and get back on. The Wily Greek pushed me physically as I was coming unhitched, numerous times. Eventually I stuck on the whole NPR from tip to tail. You can talk about climbing the highest mountain all you want. For me, toughing out that ride from start to finish was huge … and I did it!

For the next 18 months I stabilized around 195, gaining muscle mass and losing fat. I ran a marathon, rode some centuries, and did some epic climbs. I’ve gone from that to a current weight of about 175, and in addition to the NPR I also do the Flog Ride, and even completed the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride.

How would I sum it up?

  1. Lie to yourself. Set a goal harder than what you need to achieve so you have some room to screw up.
  2. Set an exercise schedule and a calorie budget and follow it, accepting imperfection in all things!
  3. Follow the weekly-monthly-annual trend, not the daily fluctuation.
  4. Mix endurance rides with beatdowns like the NPR, Flog Ride, or Donut.
  5. Ride with wankers who are faster and stronger than you!
  6. Accept that everything hurts the first time, but that each time you do the same thing it gets a little easier. Or perhaps you just go a little faster, which is even better.
  7. Use free resources out there! Check out the “Hacker Diet,” a free e-book and an engineer’s guide to weight loss, and MyFitnessPal, which can help you know how many calories you’re downing at a sitting.
  8. Do what you enjoy! If you hate the activity you will quit.
  9. Start slowly!
  10. Find a peer group. Most cyclist types are nut jobs and love new people to hang out with, partly because more people means a higher probability someone will show up for the ride, and partly because they’ll enjoy breaking your legs.
  11. Real results will take a while.
  12. Changes occur inside before the things that everyone sees on the outside!

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