One more time with feeling

If you’re a fan of My Cousin Vinny – and how can anybody not be – you’ll recall the scene where Vincent Gambini starts to feel the pressure a bit, when everything is coming to a head at seemingly the same time.

“I got no money, a dress code problem, and a little murder case which, in the balance, holds the lives of two innocent kids, not to mention your biological clock; my career, your life, our marriage, and let me see, what else can we pile on? Is there any more shit we can pile on to the top of the outcome of this case?!”

Here is why I am feeling a little bit like Counsellor Gambini today.  In just about six months from now, I will be running a marathon (Chevron Houston on 19 January), attempting to summit Kilimanjaro for the second time (Feb 20) and then celebrating my 50th High School graduation reunion, on February 29, 2020.  Oh, and doing three Table Mountain hikes back to back to back in mid-March.  Platteklip Gorge, Skeleton Gorge and India Venster.

So the pressure is on.  Anything else we can pile on that heap?  How about losing 20 or even 30 pounds between now and then.  Have to be trim for the reunion, don’t we?

So here’s what I’m doing:

For the marathon:  I signed up.  Duh.  $175.00 for what it’s worth.  Plus I’ve already notched up  3 consecutive weeks of 30-plus miles; now in week 2 of what will be a 21-week training program.  A fairly ambitious one with several 20 mile runs lurking ahead.

For Kilimanjaro: Bought a new rucksack with a 40 lb. iron weight in it; doing about 30 minutes per day with this thing weighing me down, as I walk the dog.  Interesting effect:  it really makes you keep the core tight and the back straight.  No slouching when you have 40 pounds sitting right behind your shoulders.  In time (when it gets cooler) I will go back to walking the levee hills west of here.

For the weight loss program:  I paid a few dollars to get the Cronometer app on my i-Phone.  It is the best program I’ve tried to date, to keep track of calories consumed &  calories burned with minimal effort.  Plus I have it linked to Strava so my running activities are automatically uploaded to Cronometer.  For the initial weight-loss period, I have set my daily calorie intake goal at 1500 which is the number that has worked for me in the past, for steady weight loss.  It does seem low at first glance but having tried this before, the moment I go up to 1800 or more, the weight loss stops.  So 1500 it will have to be.  Plus I do about 30 to 40 minutes of calisthenics of one kind of another, every day except Friday.  Medicine ball, Swiss ball, dumbbells, Bosu Ball, and boxing (heavy bag and speed bag).

On the good news front:  I quietly celebrated one year without alcohol, on August 24.  A year prior – on August 24 2019 – a huge international study (Global Burden of Disease study) confirmed the alarming fact that there is no safe minimum daily intake for alcohol.  Period.  Have I lost any weight since then?  No.  But do I feel a lot better, sleep a LOT better and generally find myself a more pleasant person to be around – without alcohol in my life?  You bet.  And of course I have ‘saved’ a ton of money – approximately $3,984.39 I reckon.  Well, that is according to Nomo, a sobriety app.

I do find that I have a lot more time on my hands, which is good.  All the more time to run or walk around with a heavy weight on your back.  Or cook or bake sourdough bread which I’ve done a lot, lately.  I wonder if that has anything to do with not losing any weight since leaving the booze behind…  Augusten Burroughs writes in his hilarious and sometimes scarily revealing memoir ‘Dry’, that alcohol time is slippery whereas sober time is like cat hair.  You can’t get rid of it.  The extra 850 ‘cat hair’ hours which I’ve gained this last year (again an estimate by Nomo but I think it feels about right), have been well spent – mostly .  A lot of it walking with Kathy and Coco, both mornings and afternoons.  Same route, day after day:  down the road to the end of our townhouse complex, around the pool, back to Memorial Drive, right on Legend Lane, and finally around the Memorial Green strip center.   Some of my reclaimed time activities are admittedly not as much fun as drinking.  Such as using a Swiffer (when I’m in a hurry) or a mop (when I have time) to clean the floors in our townhouse, and in the garage.  Which I oddly enough find to be not an unpleasant little chore.  Another rather mundane ‘new activity’ filling up the sober time?  Doing the dishes with Kathy the old-fashioned way,  with me washing and she drying.  No machine doing it for us.  Many of us need fewer machines and more human time in our leaves, I suspect.


The Shoe-box that is your day

Finding time to work out

Amid the din of our daily existence – our jobs,  family lives , social obligations, chores and entertainment – it is sometimes difficult to find  time to devote to our own well-being.  It is of course a matter of priorities.  If you are a runner, you will make time for running.  If gardening is your thing, your neighbors will know it because you will be out there with gloves on, often.

Look at your day as if it were a shoe-box filled with maybe 8 square blocks.  For example, work, family, chores, entertainment, hobby, sleep, nutrition and exercise.  The size of the box is fixed and is the same for everyone.  You can’t have more than one either.  Everybody’s mix of blocks will be different: some will have a block for religion, others for gambling,  romance, studying or reading.   I think for most people, the blocks are likely to remain consistent on a day to day and week to week basis.  Humans are creatures of habit and barring life-changing events (acquiring or losing a partner, relocating, serious illness, job change, retirement and the like) we tend to do the same things year in and year out.

If you don’t have enough ‘time’ to devote to exercise or weight loss or health improvement, you can remove one block from your shoe-box and replace it with a workout block, or reduce the size of some of the other blocks, to make space for it.  Time is finite but how you use it is flexible and up to you.

A Home Gym in the garage

Since moving back into our newly renovated home (which was flooded by Hurricane Harvey last September), I have made my exercise block quite a bit bigger, spending more time in a small new addition to the garage – a home gym.  There was a rudimentary version of it prior to the flood but having moved the washer and dryer indoors into a new room addition, I used the space to add a hanging bag, a punch-bag and even a mirror.  The mirror was supposed to have been used inside the house but became redundant so it ended up in the garage.  It doesn’t serve any real purpose but standing in front of it while lifting some dumbbells can be motivating.  Being visually confronted with the unfortunate side-effect of over-eating – a roll of flab all too visible around your waist – becomes a daily reminder to pay attention to your food intake.

Bloc pic 4

Weight Loss Progress

Since re-starting intermittent fasting (no solid food until 6:00PM on any day), my weight has decreased by about 7 pounds, from 182 to 175.  Other than an occasional tablespoon of jam or Lyle’s Golden Syrup on home-made bread, we’ve also cut down sugary items like candy, chocolate, cookies, ice-cream and the like to almost zero.  Of course the scale by itself does not tell the full tale:  I am going to start using a fat caliper from next week to measure body fat percentage, to get a more accurate picture of how things are progressing.

Blog pic 3

Running – Bellaire Trolley Run goal pace

I notched up my first 10-mile training run (in several months) last week and continue to do about 20 to 30 miles per week.  With some cooler mornings coming up, the plan is to re-start some fartlek intervals on Tuesdays in addition to the existing tempo run on Thursdays.  The idea being to get faster – slowly.  I did a little research on the finishing times for the Bellaire Trolley Run and to achieve my goal of a third-place finish in April 2019 I will have to maintain an average pace of 7:00 minutes per mile, or slightly less.  Right now, I’d probably be hard pressed to maintain an 8:30 pace over 5 kilometers. So there’s definitely some work to be done!  To measure my progress from now to April next year – and to see if my goal is reachable – I will enter at least one local 5K in each month starting in Nov 2018.  Choices to be announced in the next post!

Kilimanjaro trip report

Some time ago I posted a few photographs and a short entry about climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro (Machame Route) in Africa last Feb. 2017.  It’s taken a while but I have finally written the detailed trip report:  here is a link:    Bert’s Kilimanjaro trip report. If you’re considering tackling this epic adventure, there are a few good hints for preparing properly.  The report does not romanticize Kili – it is pretty much exactly what we experienced and had to deal with.  Not a fun/relaxing trip (go on a safari before or after)  but an amazing experience nonetheless.





Back at it again: Bellaire Trolley or Bust

There are many highs and lows in a running ‘career’ which spans almost 50 years.  Having first strapped on a pair of running shoes in December 1969 there have been lots of good times and bad.  Placing third in the mile in my high school championship in 1970 was good.  Getting killed in the subsequent regional meet not so good.  More recently two standout moments were qualifying for Boston (good) and placing 4th in the Bellaire Trolley Run here in Houston last March (bad).

When I qualified for the Boston Marathon in a somewhat fluky fashion by the slimmest possible margin of one second in January 2007, I figured that I had not only punched my ticket for Boston in 2008, but that I would be back year after year.  I had visions of qualifying for Boston at Boston (yeah…) and thoughts about breaking the 3:30 barrier (as if).  Euphoria is a dangerous thing.  None of that came to pass.  I have not qualified for Boston since, in fact I have not even gotten realistically close to that goal in the years since.

What happened?  Injuries – of course.  If you’ve run for as long as I have you are familiar with practically every running injury known to medical science.  I’ve had them all:  shin splints, patellar tendinitis, Achilles tendinitis, IT band inflammation, a lingering case of  plantar fasciitis, even a serious bout of over-training which took months to recover from.

If I want to be brutally honest though the most important cause for slowing down as much as I have over the last 10 years, is excessive weight.  It is the 30 pounds or so which I carry with me every day, everywhere:  a post-middle age spare tire, muffin top, love handles, call it what you will.  Thirty  pounds of superfluous fat mostly visible around the middle but tucked away everywhere from my face to my feet.

So, what is a runner to do?  Lose the weight of course and set a goal.  The goal is easy:  place in the Bellaire Trolley Run next April.  The Trolley Run is Houston’s premier 5k race and all the fast people show up, year after year.  So getting your hands on hardware at this race is meaningful and significant.  It would be unrealistic for me to harbor thoughts of winning this race or even placing second but third?  Just maybe, if I show up at the start line healthy and under 160 lbs.

As for losing the weight, my game plan is to continue with intermittent fasting (I’m on day 3), continue to abstain from all/any alcohol (on the wagon for more than a month now) and to phase out refined sugar from next week.  Current weight is 185 lbs.  Goal weight is 155.  That means that I would need to lose about 1lb per week over the next 6 months.  Do-able.

Losing weight with partial fasting

When I started this latest weight loss attempt almost exactly 2 months ago, the idea was to limit daily calorie intake to around 1,500 calories and to use Cronometer to track intake. It worked for a while but gets tedious and I became frustrated with the limitations of 500-calorie meals.

Having started juicing not too long ago, I started reading about juice fasting and have now settled on a pattern of consuming liquids only (mostly coffee and fresh juice) until about 7:00pm. I then enjoy a proper meal (without counting calories) for dinner.

I thought I would get crazy hungry doing this but not really; the body – and mind – quickly adapt and while I do think about food during the day it is not all-consuming.  I find it much easier to avoid snacking (my own personal diet killer) with a blanket ‘prohibition’ on any solid food, until a given time of the day.

As of today – September 5 – I am down a solid 15 pounds from 187 to 172.  I feel better, run better and hopefully am starting to look better too.  My GERD (acid reflux aka heartburn) has practically disappeared.  I always suspected that it was weight related – due to pressure on the abdomen – and this experience seems to bear it out.  Of course I have also cut down on alcohol a lot, which definitely also plays a role as both alcohol and caffeine – as well as big meals – are acid reflux triggers for me.

I am not religious about this schedule:  if someone invites me for lunch or if I have some other social or work obligation which includes a meal during the day, I am fine with it.  However when I am on a ‘regular’ schedule, it is coffee and juice only until 7pm.  Having just purchased an Omega masticating juicer I will be adding freshly pressed almond milk to my juice regimen.  Almond juice instead of coffee would be a good thing…

Has it affected my running or other physical activities?  Not at all.  I am still averaging about 20,000 steps per day on the FitBit, running around 6 miles in the morning (with a few fast-ish miles thrown in) and walking for an hour in the evening.  Except on Friday which is a rest day.  Long run Saturday morning; up to 10 miles right now.  A struggle in the Houston heat but rumor has it that a cool front is approaching.

Two other things worth mentioning:  with some friends from Houston and elsewhere, I successfully climbed Mt. Humboldt in Colorado, one of of the state’s many 14,000 feet+ peaks.  It was a struggle, believe me.  The last 1,000 feet or so particularly.  A rocky scramble and with quite a lot of snow on the ground.  But we did it!

Not so good news:  our house was flooded a little more than a week ago and the next several weeks and months will be an ordeal as my wife and I have to deal with a myriad of issues ranging from a FEMA claim to replacing one of our cars, finding temporary housing (now with family) and so on, ad infinitum.  This too shall pass.

I had just updated my home gym in the garage when this happened – was looking forward to resuming my training there but it will have to wait.  For now I am going to have to devise some alternate strength and core exercises to do in tandem with the weight loss stuff.  If all else fails I can always go for a run.



6 Pounds down in 30 days

It has been 30 days now since I decided to give it at least one more good try to get my weight down to about 160 lbs instead of flirting with 190, as I had been prone to, lately.

The good news?  I am down 6 pounds total.

The bad news?  None really except that the process reminds me just how difficult it is to lose weight, compared with the ease of gaining it.

I also have to remind myself that I gained the unwanted 30 pounds I am carrying over many years and can’t reasonably expect to lose it all in just a few weeks.  Effective weight loss is a slow process.

I added one more element to the workout schedule starting last Wednesday which is an hour of hill walking every afternoon (except of course Friday which is my REST day).  With my Kilimanjaro (Asolo) boots on and with a backpack containing about 30 pounds in weights plus 1 liter each water and Gatorade.

In the Houston heat (I start at about 4:30pm), even an hour walking up and down a levee wall is exhausting and probably potentially dangerous because of the risk of heat stroke.  By Thursday afternoon I really felt it and had to abandon the second part of the walk, simply strolling straight back to my car, instead of up and down the hill as on the ‘out’ section.  The pattern being up and down the hill with intervals of around 3 meters.  30 minutes out and 30 minutes back.

Why hill walking now, in the middle of the brutal summer heat?  It’s simple.  A few friends and I will be tackling a 14,000 peak – Humboldt Peak – in Colorado in late August.  So it is time to start preparing for mountain climbing.  That plus the fact that we are just about 6 months away from our second Kilimanjaro climb, this time the Rongai Route.  Arrival date in Arusha in Tanzania will be 22 Feb 2018, the summit day – if all goes well – will be 28 Feb.  All the more reason to get this body in the best possible shape!

I also made a major diet modification starting last Monday:  instead of trying to keep to about 500 calories for 3 meals per day – which proved to be frustrating and difficult as I tend to get hungrier later in the day – I am now juice fasting until dinner.  So other than water, Gatorade (for the afternoon hill walking) and some coffee, I only consume freshly made juice (mix of beet, carrot, apple & other odds and ends) until about 7:00P.  It was a little difficult the first couple of days but I think I am used to the idea now and surprisingly my energy levels and work capacity remain pretty steady throughout the day.

We will see how it goes this week!


Starting weight on June 17 2017:  187

Current weight (July 17):  181

Weight loss:  6 pounds.

FitBit steps last 7 days:  135,000

Resting heart rate:  61 (up 2)

A day at the beach

What is it about the beach that turns everyone into a 4-year old?  I don’t know but I do know I love spending an occasional day mostly staring at the waves and enjoying the luxury of doing nothing.  Galveston’s Stewart’s Beach is just about an hour’s drive from where we live here on the west side of Houston; unfortunately we make the drive less frequently than we should.

Last Thursday my wife and I loaded up the Subaru with a few drinks and snacks – and magazines – and headed down to Galveston.  To be honest, the beach at Galveston is never going to make it onto a top ten list of anything.  It is pretty dismal with brown sand and mostly muddy-looking, murky waves – none of which are more than a couple of feet or so at best.

So I was mildly amused to see some visitors taking extended video footage of the water and the waves, panning from left to right, zooming in and out.  Even getting themselves in front of the ‘phone camera lens, grinning like kids on Halloween.  Acting every bit like they were on the Cote D’Azur.  It turns out the family – they were right behind us so eavesdropping was unavoidable – hailed from Nebraska.  I guess any beach is a good beach if you live in Nebraska.  Just kidding.

What was great to see was how the kids reacted to the beach.  Running around like crazy, in and out of the water, getting dirty, throwing things, catching things, laughing, eating ice cream and chips and cookies and sno-cones.  Sheer fun on display.  Give a child some sun, some sand and lots of freedom and he or she couldn’t care less whether it is muddy Galveston beach or the Bahamas.  We adults should try to emulate their sense of joie de vivre and set aside our world-weariness a bit more often.  Maybe that is the secret of the beach.  It bring out the child in you.

On the diet front the last week has had its ups and downs.  The 4th of July long weekend was a challenge and on a couple of occasions I definitely got well off the straight and narrow path.  Mostly in the way of candy, ice-cream and sodas.  Did I say we went to the beach recently…?

All’s well that ends well though.  I hit the 182 lb. mark yesterday, so trending in the right direction.  It would be a major mile-stone to go under 180 – maybe by the weekend.  We will see.


Starting weight 187.  Current weight 182.  Down 5 pounds.

Average calorie intake last 7 days:  1723

Total FitBit steps last 7 days:  100,010

Resting heart rate:  59

Losing the first few pounds. Easy once you start.

Like most things, losing weight is not all that hard once you get started.  With the right motivation, a good plan, tactics and strategies to prevent relapsing, support from friends and family, an ancillary exercise program, adequate sleep,  and proper dietary advice. If you want to do it properly and be successful – which means maintaining the weight loss – of course there is nothing easy or simple about it.

Taking step one and getting going is the most difficult thing for many of us to contemplate because maintaining the status quo is easy.  Change is uncomfortable, perhaps even threatening.  As a result we tend to rationalize our current situation and our minds find inventive ways to become perfectly comfortable even with the most uncomfortable set of facts.

This time around my weight loss program is dually motivated:  to prevent or at least markedly reduce the GERD (gastro-esophageal reflux disease) which has been affecting me for some time now, and to look better in a swimsuit come October.  When my wife and I will be joining some friends on a vacation to the Seychelles Islands.

It is early days yet.  It has been ten days since starting back on the road to moving the scale from 187 to 160 pounds or less.  This morning the scale read 183 and change, just about 4 pounds less than on ‘Day 1’.  Which is great, and I’m naturally pleased with the result.  There is no but.  What I do realize is that it will get harder from here on.  Start-line enthusiasm has been known to wane and the best intentions can be sabotaged by one or two bad food choices per day.

What is working best for now?  Keeping a food diary on Cronometer.  Taking hour-long walks with my wife.  A daily morning run (except Friday which is a rest day) and some additional strength and core training.  Not surprisingly, I am hitting 20,000 Fitbit steps just about every day except of course Friday.

What is not working?  Letting weekends and holidays (4th of July) get in the way of a long-term commitment.   Barbecue, ice-cream, chocolate.  The usual suspects.

Plan for this week:

i) better meal planning, incorporating some healthy recipes for the freezer.

ii)  improving accuracy and completeness of Cronometer entries.  Every single thing has to be counted…

Day -71

Starting weight 187, current weight 183 (down 4)

Average calorie intake for the last 7 days:  1783

7-day Fitbit step total:  127,000



47 years running and counting…

When he was 16 – or so it is alleged – Paul McCartney wrote a rather trite little song entitled ‘When I’m 64’.  In its way rather wistful, the song looks forward 50 years or so, to a time by when the author would be losing some hair, spending time by the seaside, perhaps mending a fuse.  And wondering out loud if he would still be loved and appreciated.  It is interesting that Paul didn’t say 84 or 74, but 64.  It doesn’t seem quite as ancient nowadays, as it must have been to a young musician back then.  Nowadays, 64 is the age at which people run for president, travel the world, or even tackle a new language.

Having passed the 64 milestone slightly more than a year ago, and speaking purely for myself, I’m as active as ever – if not more so – with not a thought to quit what I started in 1970.  Running.  I know I won’t be able to continue to slog it out indefinitely but while I’m healthy and enjoying it, why not?  Come to think of it, I am in a new age group (65 to 70) so will have to look around for a 5K to enter, one of these days.  See how I stack up against the local competition.  I might snag some hardware, who knows.

June 25, Day -80: 

AM 5 mile run with 2 miles @ 9:00 minute pace, 2 mile jog and 1 mile walk.  45-minute Tarheel medicine ball full-body workout.  1 hr early evening walk.  22,000 FitBit steps.  Weight 186.

Late June must be in the air?

I wonder if it is the summer solstice that stirs something in me, to want to write a blog entry?  Maybe it is just the realization that time is passing fast and that I have already lived around 75% of my life.  So if life were a mile, I’ve got the last of four laps to go.  Sobering thought.

When you turn 65 – which I did about a month ago – nothing particularly startling happens.  You wake up the next day feeling much like the day before.  In my case that was ‘good’.  Which I’m very thankful for, being in excellent health and not taking any medication.  I am convinced that a life-long running habit has helped with this happy state of affairs.  Plus some good genes thanks to my parents.

One other momentous event associated with turning 65?  You qualify for Medicare Part A and Part B.  And you can enroll – as I am in the process of doing – for Medigap insurance.  It looks like when all is said and done, comprehensive medical insurance without any deductible will cost me about $340.00 per month.  Not too bad considering the sky-high cost of medical insurance these days.

What has happened since the last entry?  A lot.  I’ve run two full 26.2-mile marathons:  Cape Town in September last year and Houston in January this year.  Both were a struggle to say the least, but I finished.  Got the t-shirt, got the medal!

Even more satisfyingly, I successfully summited Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, in February this year, along the challenging Machame Route.  Out of our group of five, one person did not start due to a lung issue and of the four that tackled the mountain, only myself and one other person summitted.  It was tough, absolutely.  There was one stretch on the last (summit) day where I was feeling quite stressed and pushed to the limit.  What I did not know is that we were barely 10 minutes away from Stella Point, the first of the two ‘certificate-worthy’ points, the second one being Uhuru Peak.


I will be returning to Kilimanjaro next February to take another crack at it; this time along the northern Rongai Route.  With a better camera.  I’m hoping that the outcome will be similar!

Before then, my wife and I will be traveling to Kenya and the Seychelles for a trip with friends.  Despite my active lifestyle I am about 20 pounds over my ideal running weight.   For the next 80 days or so I will be counting calories and steps, keeping track of my food intake and adding some additional exercise (mostly for the core, abs, glutes and legs).  My wife and I have been walking for just over an hour almost every day, as well.

Day -81:  6-mile run, 1 hr. workout (3 sets of about 12 reps of step-ups, weighted squats, kickbacks, single leg deadlift, single leg bridge, crouched calf raises), 1 hr walk.  Calories about 1,600 on Cronometer.  Total Fitbit steps 20,000+.  Weight 187 lbs. 


Back for another crack at Cape Town Marathon

Practically a year later and I am back, training for the same Marathon: Cape Town, which will be run on Sept 18 this year.

That’s 85 days from today and I am finishing up week # 6 of an 18-week Hal Higdon Intermediate training program.

Initial goal was to shoot for a BQ at 3:55 but I now realize that is overly ambitious for what will be my first marathon since 2009. Perhaps 4:30 will be a more realistic goal – or maybe just a respectable finish, depending on the weather on the day.

Training cycle thus far has been fair to middling, with a few truly horrible ‘Bataan death marches’ in the mix. One here in the Houston heat & humidity and another one along the C & O Canal path in Washington D.C. Started too late and ran in the sun practically the entire way. Not a good idea.

Few minor injury issues including a tight – left – piriformis muscle but nothing too serious; getting a weekly Airrosti treatment to ward off further complications.

The real problem is weight as in too much of it. Since last year I went up to 191 lbs – mostly due to undisciplined eating (portion sizes, snacking, candy, etc.) and also going completely off the plant-based diet.

Last couple of weeks I have re-focused on the weight issue and now using Cronometer to log everything. The idea being to create a 1,000 calorie deficit per day, for a total deficit of 7,000 calories per week, which should put me on the path towards losing 2 lbs per week.

I am not sure how this will work with increased training – being in the middle of a marathon training cycle is likely not the best time to be reducing one’s caloric intake. But if I don’t do something now, I am going to waddle up to the start line in Cape Town in September at 180-lbs plus, which is guaranteed not to end well.

This week it was relatively easy to drop from 188 to 186; counting calories and being on a no-oil 100% plant-based diet practically ensure quick initial weight loss. We will see how it goes next week and for the following 12 weeks.