Running

In my adult years, running has become a very integral part of my life. When I engage in conversation with others about my experience with the weight loss journey and the progress I’ve made since my teenage years, it feels as if people are disappointed to hear that the drastic changes I’ve made to my body over the years have been brought about by hours spent jogging the city streets and not the result of some magic pill. These conversations ultimately end with myself on the receiving recognition for what I’ve accomplished and praise for all the work I do presently. It’s then that I start feeling both amazed and amused with myself and my life at present — because I used to hate running.
I’ve been a stocky kid. I maxed out on the scale at the end of my time in high school. At the age of 17, I clocked in at almost 260 lbs in a 5’ 10″ average body frame; in other words, with an alarmingly high volume of body fat who somehow still managed to feel comfortable in his own body.

Me as I looked/weighed in 2006-2007
Me, as I looked as a teenager

As I started transitioning into my early adulthood years, I decided to start taking a stronger proactive stance on my health & appearance, and set out to “get in shape”. After sufficient progress, I got complacent at just above the 200lb mark. Over time, I eventually started putting the weight back on. In 2011, I started pushing myself to get onboard the fitness train and fully commit. My initial efforts weren’t so great:
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Average pace of 15 minutes per mile. Rough.

And I paid for them in pain, on multiple levels:
blisters.JPG
EVERY run resulted in new blisters in new places.

 
These days, I’m able to do much better as a runner.
Running Log - Middle School Track
After hiking up and down Cowles Moutain, I decided to swing by the old middle school and run the old “one mile” track. I never finished a mile in under 13 minutes back then.

I have a 5.3 mile route that I run at least 3 times a week, and I’m working on putting together a data capture system so that I can start aggressively applying quantified-self principles and adopt a structured training plan with a system in place to track and measure progress. I’ve also started doing more weight/endurance training to encourage muscle growth, since straight cardio isn’t cutting it on it’s own anymore. In that respect, I’m dealing with basic weight lifting all of the annoyances of building up stamina and hardiness that I encountered when I started running. As soon as I break under 190, I’m going to start experimenting with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as well. I really want to be in prime condition to complete a 10K, at the very least. If I have my way, I’d be interested in testing my merit against the challenge of a half-marathon in the not so distant future.
That’s the story of how I went from being the 250lb teenager who couldn’t run more than 800 ft. without getting a gnarly side-stitch and could barely squeeze in a mile in under 15 minutes that HATED running to an adult in his late 20’s whom, despite having a long-sustained (and resented) smoking habit and still being of a heavier body weight, has developed a deep and real fondness for it. And if I could do it, it’d take a set of really special circumstances for anyone else to not be able to do the same.

Reorientation

In one of last month’s entries, I expressed a feeling of the burden of having to “clean up” after myself. Finding a starting point for that effort has been a troublesome process. In the time so far, I’ve used what little time I’ve been able to allot to my writings trying to think of what to write next to move the process along, each day passing filled with unsatisfactory ideas. Invariably, I lose patience, and shift my focus to jumping haplessly across all the various other things I’m currently working on. Of all my projects, the two that I feel carry the most importance are my weight-loss progress and the development of my writing abilities. Since they’ve become so deeply intertwined, a lack of progress with one can drastically affect the other.
As I’ve been mulling the problem over in my head, one detracting factor I identified for myself is my detachment from the larger narrative that I’m currently working with. There’s been so much that’s happened even the last year alone that I’ve forgotten a lot of what it was that I wrote. Over the past couple hours, I’ve spent my evening re-reading all of my previous entries, both published and privately archived, to fully reacquaint myself with the story of me that my younger past selves have established so far. They’ve proven to be a very helpful read. After spending so much time honing my skill at the art of detachment over the recent years, I’ve been living in a state of suppression wherein my past has been treated as a set of foreign memories that I have collected in my brain as opposed to my own actual life story. It’s been very helpful in affording me the distance & emotional divestment to process and resolve all of my past unresolved issues, but it’s also made it hard to lay claim to my “self” if my self perception is so myopically focused on the constant transitional nature of life.
Having all the outstanding matters I’ve written about in the recent past fresh in mind, it requires very little effort on my part to figure out my next steps. The more I lower my guard against myself and begin to embrace my past and my life as my own, the more I find myself reconnecting with that “flow” whose constant presence I’ve missed. Those times where I manage to find it via a “runner’s high” is probably a good reason why I’ve come to enjoy running so much. Similarly, I recently read about a study linking emotions to decision-making, and am open to the idea that all the effort I exerted in such strenuous emotional repression may have been a strong cause behind all of the analysis paralysis I’ve struggled with.
If I were faced with the dreaded “tell me about yourself” interview question just mere weeks ago, I would have been unable to provide a satisfactory response. I wouldn’t have known where to begin; for so long, my story has been focused on recovering from a mental-emotional crisis, trying to rediscover the better parts of myself while wrestling with a transient-near-nihilistic outlook on life. I became the weakness and lamentations so thoroughly that I forgot all about my past strengths and accomplishments. Now, I’d be able to effectively communicate my story, as it stands so far. It’s not yet reached the point where it gets really good yet, but I can at least now see myself moving steadily in the proper direction.

Stoicism: My Way

At my present day-job, the majority of my workday is spent performing mundane and routine office work, primarily shuffling papers and performing data entry. Since listening to music can only carry me through so many hours of the day, I was driven to find some other ways to preoccupy all of the mental energy that goes unused by my job duties. A few months back when I still had an Evernote Premium subscription, I was utilizing their text-to-speech engine in their browser extension to have my workstation read back articles from my RSS feed subscriptions. Even though I found another text-to-speech extension (which appears to be the platform that powers Evernote’s) that can be used for free, even the couple steps it takes to get a web page read back to me are too much of an inconvenience to do multiple times throughout the day for 2–7 minutes of audio content. Recently, I started thinking about how I could get around these annoyances. Then, I remembered about podcasts.
As I was keyboard-shortcutting my way through my Feedly feeds, a post from Art of Manliness stood out at me, since it included a SoundCloud player. I read the article body, an overview of their latest podcast episode and had my interest piqued. Lately, I’ve been passively working on collecting an idea bank to have at the ready for this year’s NaNoWriMo, and as a result, I’ve been reading articles and interviews with authors to get some motivational perspective. Being featured on Art of Manliness, the subject matter of book itself was also highly relevant to my interests, and hearing more about it felt like a good passive use of an hour of the work day.
That turned out to be an extremely good decision on my part. As I listened, I realized that stoic is something I’ve become not only in demeanor, but also philosophically. For the past few years, I’ve been deeply engaged in sorting out personal matters and reconnecting with my “true self”. Inspired by the Japanese literary legend of “Musashi”, I modeled my own personal journey after his own, removing myself from the world as much as possible and redefining my identity in near-complete solitude, uninfluenced by the external world. It’s a state I’d been very close with before in my life, a time I recall being very much in tune with myself and the world around me. As I did started doing some investigative reading on the subject, I saw many of the principles I’ve directed myself towards in a formal philosophical ideology. Needless to say, I’m very much interested in learning more about the real-world history of this school of thought. The book by Ryan Holiday discussed in the podcast has been added to my reading list, as has Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations.

Publish by DayOne

Publish by DayOne
I’m really intrigued by the idea, and think it’ll help with the overall structure/organization of my writings. I look forward to experiementing with it once the feature gets pushed to the Mac version of the app; having to take the extra step of unlocking an iOS device, opening the app, finding the entry, THEN doing the publishing is too cumbersome and time-wasting to do on a regular basis.

The Fitness Fraud

Since my post on plateauing on the fitness front, I’ve been in a state of complete lack of motivation. I kept on top of my weekly three 5-mile run absolute minimum, and even overshot the mark with one of them, clocking in at a total of over 7 miles. I didn’t feel any desire to push myself to my 20 mile weekly quota, and what I ran I did mostly to compensate for the horrible things I was doing to my body nutritionally. After clocking in so many miles on a regular basis and failing to see measurable progress, it all started to feel pointless. Getting in shape is something I’ve aspired to do since I was a teenager, and though I made a lot of progress in my early 20’s, it frustrates me to no end how little has happened with my weight loss blogging. Physically because I no longer have the luxury of feeling comfortable in my own body like I used to and am constantly kinesthetically aware of my excess weight, and mentally because of the personal shame of having such a long-running project yielding no progress.
Though I would think that fitness minded people would say that I’m doing well enough running and simply need to make some modifications to my eating habits (which is true), I’m also entirely convinced that it’s because I’ve lacked focus and haven’t been pushing myself enough. When I get home after putting so many miles behind me, I immediately clean up and go about my night. Between my work & sleep schedule and the daily commute, I have approximately five hours of free time, some of which is usually already taken by cooking duties and eating. My running route takes up one hour, which leaves me four hours to cook dinner, eat, handle mundane miscellaneous personal affairs, and try to get some writing done on this blog & my journal, as well as getting in some study time on the various knowledges I’m pursuing. It’s easy to let myself fall in the “too busy” trap and feel frustrated that my one hour isn’t enough, but I’m also aware that output is dependent on input. There are plenty of small windows of opportunity, like doing a set of 25 pushups immediately after getting out of bed, that I haven’t implemented, leaving me with no real reason to complain.
On top of that self-imposed mental stress, I’m now starting to find that people I’ve inspired along the way to start taking a proactive approach to fitness & running are now outpacing me. I have a coworker who’s dropped more total pounds than I have, and friend who’s training to join the military that’s made a highly impressive physical transformation. Meanwhile, I’ve been allowing myself to make the mistake of focusing on the outcome instead of the process, getting frustrated on the fact that I’m not there instead of focusing on doing the work that needs to be done and trusting that I will get there. In turn, I’m getting passed by those who tell me I’ve inspired them on their own workout endeavors, making me feel like a failure and a hypocrite, armed with all the technology and gadgets that I have at my disposal.
Having done my analysis of the problem, and under the pressure of comparison to real-life peers and the accountability mechanism of this blog, it’s time to drive all my planning towards action. As much as I hate the idea of doing it yet again (for what, the third time now?), I’m thinking of hitting reset on the day counter in terms to the overall weight-loss project. I’m attacking it with a whole new angle now, and discounting the time past will do better for me motivationally in the short-term.

Cornered

In this recent lack of updates, I’ve come to the realization just how much weight it carries in my mind. As a tech enthusiast whose primary field of study has been Communications with an emphasis in Marketing, I’m aware of the importance of having a well established online presence. However, after taking so much time to work on myself and living outside of my old life, with strictly information internet usage and minimal social media engagement, the story I had to tell changed. I became less the tech savvy internet marketer who was part of the senior leadership of startup organization that helped bring Japanese rock to American shores, and more the survivor of a prolonged identity crisis. In my earlier years, I used to use writing as a means of processing life’s happenings, a way to collect and reflect intelligently on things. I made the effort to reconnect with that process, and the decision to publish what I wrote openly on the web as well. As a long time internet user, I’ve seen the unintentional and unexpected positive ways in which sharing a story can help other people. As a self-aware internet user, I have no objection to contributing my weaknesses and shortcomings to the version of me that exists in the collective internet cloud. I feel it would be wasteful to not be honest about these things, and throw away the First Amendment privilege we have in being able to openly express ourselves for the sake of appearance, presentation, and personal branding. That may sound a bit naive in ways, but sometimes I’m just a stubborn idealist — I accept that about myself.
All that being said, I feel that in focusing on capturing the present narrative throughout so many past incohesive posts, I’ve delayed pushing it forward. There’s a lot of areas of improvement that I’ve identified for myself, but my efforts have been greatly scattered and unfocused, resulting in very little improvement. Life calls for the actualization of the idealized self I’ve been striving to embody, and I’m ready for the challenge. But I feel encumbered by the story my younger self decided to share. After having painted so thoroughly a picture of myself as a broken individual in the process of reconnecting with his true “self”, I now feel like I’ve got some imaginary mountain of writing output that I have to generate to clean up after that decision. I’ve talked about the challenges and the struggles, but not on the resolutions and the takeways. I’ve been open about my weaknesses and my fears, but I’ve neglected my strengths and my accomplishments. It was a means to help myself sort it all out, and I’ll admit it worked, but everything has it’s cost. Fighting this feeling of obligation towards my writing is the one I’m currently facing, and the ramifications it has on my professional prospects because of its representation of myself as an individual. Overcoming everything that I’ve been struggling with internally the past few years is what’s been holding back my confidence and proudly demonstrate everything that I’m truly capable of.
This past weekend, I spent all of my day Saturday doing some initial business consultation with a friend who’s aspiring to start a catering business. I set her up with a collaborative online workflow for us to work together on, initiated conversations on branding and identity, establishing and communicating a story, and procured templates by which to compile a thorough business plan, and more specifically, a marketing plan. Having engaged in work of that nature and produced positive and measurable results as well as engaging in a new and ongoing project has sparked that old fire. The fact that I spend every workday conducting a routine set of basic administrative and data entry tasks in an enclosed room instead of doing something measurable that utilizes all of my capabilities is suffocating. And at my age, beginning to border inexcusable.
Now that the heavy lifting has been completed, it’s time to bring those chapters to a close and move on. Every day now brings an feeling of great promise that goes unseized and unexplored because I’m not exercising enough focus and determination. I recognize there’s a certain irony to my current situation, feeling inhibited by my past efforts to put my issues with my personal past to rest. Yet, having spent that recent Saturday doing something impactful that I enjoy, and writing about all of this now and getting the actual narrative up to speed, I feel an immense sense of progress and an equal sense of relief. I’ve regained trust in the idea that there’s a wealth of great ideas and talent inside my head. Successive failures in life knocked that belief out of me, but not being able to perform to my true potential is starting to eat away me. Reorienting and reclaiming myself has been my struggle, overcome but not completely told. As a result, what I have to show so far is the introspective lamentations of a troubled personal past and a weight loss project that routinely stalls out.
All I’ve written, to date, traps me in a corner, the image of a self-doubting incapable wreck. Though a lot of it has to do with the personal image I’ve been addressing, a lot of it stems from a personal fear: the fear that I’m not good enough. It’s a message I received repeatedly growing up, and though I’ve made my peace with it on that front, the realist in me knows that the world is not a very friendly place. The last time I actively looked for employment, it took months to finally end up where I am now, and reading so many of the unemployment stories on Gawker, where university graduates have gone months unemployed or having to settle for minimum wage, to desire to want something better begins to feel audacious, considering that despite all of my past professional accomplishments, I have no formal certification that gives entry to higher paying jobs.
But I remember that despite all the failures, things have paid out when I’ve taken bold moves in the past. I have that sense of unyielding confidence and unshakable resilience that I felt I lost so long ago. This corner is a trapping of my own, and I’ve conquered challenges far greater in life.

Zen Habits

Zen Habits is a great blog filled with the kind of content I wish I could generate on matters related to mindfulness & mental health, but I think I still have a way to go before I see myself actually being on that level. Still, I definitely recommend everyone check out Leo Babauta’s blog, or better yet, subscribe to it.

Joining the Pink Party: Ditching AT&T for T-Mobile

Friday morning, I had a customer service interaction with AT&T that left me so incensed with anger that I took to Twitter, and dropped a good share of f-bombs on the matter. My cell phone carrier managed to break my zen and reduce me to a raging ass spouting expletives on the internet. Rather than leave it at it that, I find it would be more productive to tell the story behind the interaction.

AT&T BIll Jan - Feb 2014
AT&T Bill for the period in question

I started my day by processing my email inbox to zero, which i’ve been neglecting to do all week. As I went through my messages, I noticed one from AT&T notifying me that my account was past due for the amount of $136.94 for the period of January 8th through February 8th. When I looked at the bill in detail, I saw that I was being invoiced for my monthly service fee of $89.99 — $39.99 for 450 Nation Rollover Minutes, $20 for Messaging Unlimited w/ Mobile to Any Mobile Calling, and $30 for my grandfathered data unlimited plan — in addition to a $40 service reactivation fee. My issue with this lay in the fact that my mobile services weren’t in effect during that time period.
 
 
It’s here that I’ll admit that sharing a story that’s resulting from the current financial hurdles I’m finally in the last stages of squaring away is a little awkward. However, considering that that seems to be the narrative shared by the majority of the American public in this present economy , I feel no shame in writing about it; it makes the story all the more relevant. In recovering from the last round of car repairs, I had to forego having cellphone service to get a smog check and pay the registration fees to the DMV. My service was deactivated on January 10th, and wasn’t reinstated until February 7th when I paid the outstanding $183. In turn, AT&T was trying to collect payment on service it was withholding. More concisely, they were demanding I pay for nothing.
On my break at work, I called their customer support line and got in touch with a billing service representative, whose name I didn’t catch because he mumbled it so incoherently. I explained the situation, and argued that there was no sense in those charges being made. I told him I would understand if I were still on contract and that payment was going towards the subsidy on the equipment, but I’m using an unlocked iPhone 4S that I bought on launch date and have been off-contract for a good while now. I offered that I didn’t mind paying the $40 reactivation fee (which is a complete joke in itself, but that’s a different matter for another time) since it’s part of the process, but that I had to draw the line at paying for a month of something I couldn’t access. The phone rep coldly replied that those were charges that couldn’t be waived. I responded that I didn’t agree with that practice, and that they could either take the $40 reactivation fee and waive the service charges or I could ditch them for T-Mobile and refuse to pay their bill. In a bored unaffected tone he told me that it was certainly my decision to do so. We ended the call without successfully resolving the issue, and I decided I was going to make the switch. I’d been interested in jumping over to T-Mobile when they started giving out 200MB of monthly data for tablets for free regardless of whether or not you contract cellular phone service with them. They’re positioning themselves as the company you want to do business with, and their “uncarrier” initiative has certainly done it’s job with me. I’ve stayed on AT&T partly out of the convenience of having existing service and not dealing with the migration process, and partly because of memories of my best friend having terrible service through T-Mobile back in the Sidekick days.
Since the call was so brief, I decided to use the remaining time on my break to cast a line out into the Twittersphere. My inner marketing student enjoys comparing the difference between interactions conducted through traditional customer service channels and those once social media enters the picture.

Sure enough, within minutes someone on their Twitter team reached out, the complete opposite of uncaring Mr. Blow-It-Out-Your-Ass I had just spoken to on the phone. Also, note T-Mobile is so excited they can hardly spell straight.

AT&T/T-Mobile Tweets
AT&T/T-Mobile Tweet in Response

Later on in the day once I found another block of free time, I decided to see what AT&T was willing to do. I’d spent my workday so committed to the switch that I knew the relationship wasn’t salvageable, but if I could get those charges wiped and not have to deal with continuing to dispute them or have them reported against my credit, I wasn’t going to turn down the opportunity. I identified myself via DM as instructed, briefly recapped the situation at hand, then put a mental deadline of “end of business day” on their resolution effort. When I checked my phone again before the end of the work day, I had the following exchange:
AT&T DM
AT&T DM

So, their response was to ask me for details extraneous to the underlying principle that they should be more than capable of extrapolating from their own records. I tried to measure myself so as to not come off aggressively hostile off the bat, but I find unnecessary redundancies like that to be a pet peeve of mine. It’s like when I call my bank and enter my identifying information using their voice recognition and keypad entry prompts, and then have that same information immediately asked for again by the phone banker that takes my call.
I waited until the end of the day at work, and never got another response from the AT&T Twitter team. After making my way home through evening traffic and doing some preparatory research on the web, I made a trip to my local T-Mobile store. I walked in and told the sales rep that I’d gotten fed up with AT&T, and requested that he make the switch as appealing and painless as possible. I got a service fee breakdown: for the lower cost of $70 per month, $20 less than I was paying AT&T, I get unlimited everything, tethering at no extra cost, and international text & data roaming. I signed the paperwork, and we got started on trying to port my existing number with AT&T over to my new service line. Minutes later, I was given a T-Mobile SIM card, and instructed to pop it in once service with my AT&T SIM card went offline.
A couple hours after I got home, the moment arrived, and I swapped SIM cards, officially giving up my grandfathered unlimited data plan and moving off from AT&T’s service.
Homescreen: New Carrier
The Before & After

 
As I mentioned earlier, I was committed to change carriers in spite of whatever retention incentive AT&T would have came up with, and was firmly intent on doing so as a matter of principle (well, that and because they broke my zen & caused me to drop some hard expletives on the web). I was being billed for services that weren’t rendered, and AT&T had the gall to tell me that’s just the way it goes, entitled to take money for nothing. Out of all the various adjectives that I’ve thought of to describe that, the one I’ve found most fitting is Un-American. There was no sense of pride in service or relationship appreciation in my interactions with AT&T, just the usual corporate indifferent scripts. I can’t say I wouldn’t encounter the same thing with T-Mobile in those same circumstances, but I like to believe that part of the “Uncarrier” initiative includes allowing their billing service representatives to utilize logic and moral judgement rather than defaulting to rigid policies and guidelines. Even if that should still prove not to be the case, I’d rather be giving my money to the carrier giving out more value for the dollar and no-strings free data service for tablets than the one trying to charge me for not giving me service.
Six years I’ve been with AT&T, since the launch of the iPhone 3G. I upgraded every year, and wasted so much extra money juggling additional lines to get equipment subsidies that otherwise went unused. And now, all that business (though I’ve admittedly long-since broken my yearly upgrade habit) will be going to the other guy now. T-Mobile’s marketing message would say that I’ve joined “Team Magenta”. On top of sounding a bit too Twilight for my tastes, I find the disruption “uncarrier” is causing in the wireless industry to have more of a political charge. So I’m going to say that I’ve registered and joined up with the Pink Party, and I’m likely to start encouraging more people to follow suit.
TMobile Logo with Stars
Join the Pink Party

Admissions

A few confessions:

Writing

I’ve been purposely writing in an “unattractive” format — long rambling paragraphs with extremely sparing use of media — because of how much I’ve resented my recent circumstances for being my reality. I made myself write about them in order to flex the writing muscles fired up and get back in the habit, but being stuck in a repeating loop of dire financial circumstance limited my written output (and life experiences) in a corresponding fashion. It’s demoralizing to decide to start writing about yourself, only to find yourself having the same pitiful story to tell month after month. So, I’ve been making the effort to capture pieces of it for practice, but have been purposely neglecting to put any real efforts towards readability and aesthetics. Now that that narrative is finally seeing a change, I find myself thinking of great writing ideas and creative projects that I’d like to start turning into something tangible.

Smoking

In spite of all the running that I do, I’ve long-maintained a very unhealthy smoking habit. I tried curbing it in an effort to whittle it down and phase it out last year, but when the car problems started raining on me, the subsequent stress drove me head first back into the habit. My consumption rate is higher than it ever has been, and maybe it’s age but I’m starting to feel the physiological consequences more and more, and the more I align and commit myself to my goals, the more I resent myself for maintaining the habit. Self-inflicted cancer inducing guilt.

Weight Loss Updates

I haven’t been updating, due to the circumstances covered in detail in my recent post. As with my writing, the coming change in personal circumstances is going to allow for a lot more progress on this front.