Thursday, March 26, 2009


It's been a long time since I've posted. I guess going on vacation and getting back to the real world after vacation will do that to you.

That isn't actually a picture we took of the arch, but I'm at work right now (and having a "distracted child" day), and it's a close enough approximation to the pictures D got while we were on our riverboat cruise.

But this is not about that...

Today's topic is a book report of sorts. I just finished W. Edwards Deming's book The New Economics. Deming became well known for helping develop Japanese industry after WWII, and although the book was "about" quality control in an industrial setting, his main points are easily applied to fitness and weight loss as well.

The New Economics was largely focused on what's wrong with American industry (and schools, and management in general) and what should be done to fix it. The main problem, according to Deming, is that managers (or in other words, all of us) fail to recognize the difference between common causes of variation and specific causes of variation.

I think it's easiest to understand what these types of variation are and how they differ from each other using an example. Say I run the same route every day, and I time myself. Some days I'll run faster than others- that's variation.

Common causes of variation in run times are things that just happen- things I can't control. Examples would be how well I slept the night before, the temperature outside, how difficult a workout I did the day before.

Special causes are things that are way out of the ordinary. I fell and twisted my ankle. My watched stopped for 5min in the middle of the run, and I didn't notice. I'm truly getting faster or I'm truly getting slower.

So let's say I'm evaluating my running progress. I wake up, run, and find that I ran the same route 5 minutes slower than I did yesterday. Should I be upset with this? Am I getting slower?

This is the second of Deming's important points: Don't attribute meaning, especially qualitative (as in "bad" or "good"), to common cause variation.

That 5 minute difference was probably not measuring a change in my ability. More likely it was measuring my quality of sleep or hydration level or something else that was entirely unrelated to my running speed.

I ruined a whole spring and summer of running back in 2007 mistaking common cause variation for specific causes. How? I ran myself into the ground. I'd go out and do a hard workout, and the next day I'd be slow because I was tired. Did I stop and think about the reason I was slow and tired? No. I just believed I was getting slower and vowed to push harder. And I got slower. Nothing improved.

The same is true when you step on the scale every day. My weight can be up for a whole host of reasons (common causes) other than true weight gain: how salty my dinner was and how hard my workout was the day before both come to mind.

Special causes might include the holidays or Girl Scout Cookie season.

A great example of a violation of Deming's rule #2 is Google 15. Google 15 is a neat tool that gives you a 15-day moving average of your weight. That would be great on its own, but Google 15 tells you every day if 1.You are moving toward your goal or 2.You are moving away from your goal. It's attributing a special cause (actually gaining or losing weight) to a daily fluctuation. Kind of demoralizing when you've finished a hard workout and you're up half a pound.

So what to do? First we have to lose our fear of data. You can't change what you don't understand. You can't evaluate if you're getting faster if you don't know how fast you are. You can't evaluate if you're losing weight if you don't know what weight you are. Keep track- without judgment (and that's the hard part)- of how you fluctuate from day to day.

Only then can you work on shifting the mean lower (lower on the scale and lower on the stop watch). I had a band director say once , "You know you're a good musician when your worst performance is still really really good." You'll drive yourself crazy trying to limit everyday ups and downs, but you can trend everything down.

So that's my goal: To not be afraid of data and o embrace it as a tool for learning about myself without judgment.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A beautiful day in the neighborhood

According to, it's "Mostly sunny, 69-degrees"!!!!!!! YAY!!!!! I can't wait to leave work in an hour and walk home. This morning was my first pre-work outdoor run this year. I can't even describe how wonderful it is to step outside without freezing my behind off.

I've been sticking to eating healthy the last few days with the exception of a SMALL death by chocolate sundae from Michael's Frozen Custard while having lunch with coworkers. I totally could have done a medium, but the small was just as satisfying, and it didn't take me an hour to eat it.

Exercise-wise, yesterday I walked to and from work and lifted weights. Today I ran 6.3 mi in a little less than 59 min- kind of slow- I guess I'm still recovering from the race on Sunday. I plan to run tomorrow morning before we leave for St. Louis but not while we are gone. This is vacation, and running on a hotel treadmill isn't vacation for me.

Normally I don't get into the blog giveaways BUT Eating Bender is giving away the cutest cup here. That "I'm confused- Oh wait, maybe I'm not" mug is perfect for me for the days it takes me 5 tries to get out the door to go to work.

I'm not planning to post while we're traveling, but I hope to have plenty of good pictures to share when we return. Hope everyone is having a lovely, warm Tuesday.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

First 10k of the year

I ran my first 10k of the year this morning- the Shamrock Shuffle- and it actually went very well.

As you know, there were a lot of reasons I didn't have high hopes going into the race: I've been fighting off a cold and/or allergies, I was concerned my training hadn't been up to par, the course had a humongous hill you had to run over going out and coming back... But I'd paid to do the race, and I figured I'd try to run it anyway- not slow, but not trying to kill myself to finish fast either.

The weather was beautiful. Sunny, cool, a little breezy. I wore shorts! And these pictures prove it. Those things on the lower half of my body? Those are called legs, and this was the first time they'd seen sunlight in a very long time.

D came along and hung out at the library while I was running. It was nice to have someone keep track of my stuff and take a few pictures. I didn't do any "after" shots because my nose runs a lot when I run, and that stuff has to go somewhere, which is usually all over my clothes. Yuck. Not a Kodak moment.

Anyway, I felt like I ran a good race. It wasn't a PR race (mostly because of the course), but I had even mile splits and kept an even effort with the hill. Miles 1 and 5 - the ones with the big hill- I ran in about 8:30-something and the other miles I ran at slightly under 8 min/mile pace. I finished in 51:04, faster than I thought I would.

This race gave me good insight into how I should feel at the beginning of a 10k: pretty easy. The 10k (at least for me) is not a fly and die race. More like a half-marathon, I have to get in the groove and just hang on there until the finish. If I go out pushing, I'm not going to make it until the end. I can hold that push for about a 5k, but after 3 miles, it's all over. I definitely need to hold back for a 10k.

My next scheduled race is the Two Pi Mile 10k in April. If the course is the same as last year's (flat), I think I have a pretty good chance of breaking 50 min for the 10k. Honestly I think I could have done it today if it weren't for the hill.

I'm so happy with the results of the run, and it makes me excited to start training hard outside. Tomorrow will be a swim and lifting day, though, because I don't want to get carried away and hurt myself.

Hope everyone else had a beautiful, warm nearly spring day.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Making little changes

Part of my goal for writing down what I'm eating is to see where it would be easy to make lower calorie changes and substitutions. The first of these came to me this morning as I was leaving the gym.

A big part of the reason I don't usually have salads for lunch is because I like to eat something hot. But... and this is where the rocket surgery comes in... salads- at least parts of them- can be hot. So rather than having cooked veggies with rice, I can cook the veggies, nuke them at work, and have them hot with salad. I also like to have something bread-y with lunch, but even if I swapped the rice for salad and a pita with hummus, I'd be coming out like 150 calories ahead. And I'd be eating a larger volume of food.

So this will be my first major food change when I get back from our trip. The hard part will, of course, be not eating those 150 calories later in the day, but because I'm tracking everything, I can try to keep it in check.

Workout: 40min spin and full body weights today. Pilates after work. Tomorrow is my rest day, but I'm actually feeling pretty good- not dead like I have been the last few Thursdays.

Challenge: I'm 1 veggie down, 2 to go, but I plan to eat our dinner veggies on top of (gasp!) salad with a pita rather than with rice or pasta to get those last two in. No sweets. I had a slight craving for some chocolate after work, but nothing a piece of gum couldn't handle.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Beautiful but Cold

It's gorgeous out today... The sun is shining... Things are even starting to look a little green... Unfortunately it's actually 23 degrees out with a windchill of -5 or so. It's hard when it's deceptively pretty outside. You think, "Oh, I'm going to go for a nice walk." Ha! Only if you have somewhere warm to go that the bus won't take you.

Anyway, I think I'm recovering from all this respiratory stuff. My voice is mostly back, and my nose is running less. The cough is still off and on, but on the whole, I think I'm on the mend.

I was able to do my interval workout this morning, which was a relief. Monday I was so congested breathing was hard when I was running easy so doing a tempo run was out of the question. But today I set a goal for my intervals, and was able to stick it out.

I'm supposed to run the Shamrock Shuffle 10k here on Sunday. I don't have super high hopes for my performance because a)I'll probably still be congested then, b)It's supposed to rain, c)The course manages to go up and down the only big hill in Madison, and d)My training this winter has ranged from nonexistent to "not so great, actually". In any case, it's good for me to get the race experience.

Challenge is good: 2 veg so far today and one to go at dinner. I'm thinking I'll make stir fry. No sweets and luckily none have been around to tempt me. I've eaten a bit more today than I intended, but I'm sticking with my goal to track what I eat and go to bed a bit hungry each night.

Today's workout is/was: 6mi with 3x6min fast on the treadmill and 10x100m swim with warm up and cool down after work

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Rain, rain, go away

As far as I can tell it has been raining all day today. I really need to do laundry this evening so I guess I'll find out if the basement has flooded.

My calorie tracking experiment yesterday was enlightening. By the end of the day I'd eaten about 2200 calories, which I think was perfect for my weight loss goal. I was kind of hungry when I went to bed, but never "really hungry" during the day. My body seemed like it was telling me it would have liked to have a few hundred more calories- not a lot more, maybe just a handfull or so of raisins- which is right where I want to be.

Today looks like I'm on track to hit about 2100. I had a hard spinning workout this morning, but I decided I'm going to do a free yoga download after work rather than lifting weights. My lifting partner wasn't there this morning, and I was pretty tired and unmotivated after spinning, so I decided to ditch it. I guess I could go back to the gym after work, but I'm afraid it is going to be crowded (only 3 more days until spring break). Plus the laundry thing.

My excuse muscle is in good shape as always, huh?

So it looks like the summary for today will be:

Workout: 60 min spinning, yoga

Challenge: 2 veg so far (spinach and carrots) plus veggies in pasta tonight, and no sweets. Our hosts at Bible study provided cheese and crackers for a snack, which was much easier for me to avoid than something chocolaty. And it was a good experience to see that no one will notice or be offended if I don't take a snack.

Monday, March 9, 2009

An eye opening experience

I decided to start measuring and trying to figure out the calorie breakdown of what I'm eating.

Actually, the first thing I decided to do was calculate my calorie needs. Then I added up what I thought was the calorie composition of what I was planning to eat. My history with counting calories has been based on a whole lot of guessing- both in measuring what I eat and in how many calories are in the foods I eat.

But today I decided I'd actually bust out the measuring cups and spoons and the nutrition guides on the internet to confirm what I was sure was true... I knew about how many calories I was eating.

Long story short, I was totally wrong. I thought my lunch was about 300 calories. Nope, more like 500. And dinner. I would have estimated it at 500 but it's more like 650-700. Adds up to more than 2000 really quick- even with no munching on junk. No wonder I've gained so much weight.

So rather than even start trying to calculate how many calories I should be eating in a day according to formulas, etc, I figured I'd better get a handle on how much I'm eating right now. That means looking up nutritional information and measuring what goes on my plate. All of it. No eyeballing.

Once I have an idea of how much I'm eating, I can start to make small cuts in portion size and changes in what I select to eat.

I'm still in shock, though. I really thought I was a health conscious person who "knew this stuff." Turns out I have a lot more learning to do.

Workout: 6mi on treadmill, 30 min swim
Challenge: 2 veg down, 1 to go at dinner. Tonight will be hard as far as resisting the sweet stuff at Bible study, but hopefully having to look my calorie counts in the face will help me say yes to socializing and no to junk food.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday on film

Today has been all about movies, not so much about housework, which is what I should have been doing. Anyway, I saw two good ones this afternoon.

The first was Lars and the Real Girl. It was about a lonely man who falls in love with a life-sized doll. Hilarity ensures. The second was Sita Sings the Blues. You can learn more about this one and view it on the internet by clicking here.

In other news, I got out and ran this morning. 7 miles in a light drizzle. It felt wonderful to run outside. I'll try again tomorrow, but we snow again today so it will depend on what the roads look like. I still have no voice, and my lungs are kind of congested so I'm not running fast, but at least I'm running.

Challenge-related, I'm happy to report 3 servings of vegetables: stir fry vegetables at lunch at Noodles and Co. and then carrots dipped in hummus and salad with dinner. No sweets today, but I just plowed through some raisins that probably aren't doing me any favors Le sigh. Actually, I had planned to make cranberry orange bread this weekend, but I decided that wasn't in line with my goals so I refrained. Hopefully I ate fewer calories in raisins just now that I would have in cranberry orange bread.

Well, this daylight savings thing is weirding me out. It was bizarre to eat dinner while it was still light out. And I'm getting sleepy even though it's only 8pm, which was only 7pm yesterday.

Tomorrow will be my big challenge with the no sweets thing because it's life group meeting night, and the host always makes something tasty. But I'll have a good dinner and keep in mind that I'm there for reasons that have nothing to do with food.

All right, I'm checking out. Have a lovely Sunday evening, everyone.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

I ate a carrot

I got in a "better than nothing" 6mi treadmill run this morning. The topics on CNN were 1.How to fix your resume to get a job before the apocalypse and 2.Chris Brown and Rhianna: What's up with that? It all seems to stupid now. Not that it didn't seem stupid then. Hoping for 6 or so tomorrow. Probably not outside because it's still supposed to be raining, but maybe I'll get lucky.

For the challenge, I'm checking my Saturday post off the list. No sweets so far, but this is ice cream night. I've had two servings of vegetables- one at lunch and some carrots with homemade hummus this afternoon.

I needed to do something this afternoon so I put together some hummus and more tikka masala for lunch next week. I'll portion it out and stick it in the freezer once it's cooled off. I guess I'll wait on making more yogurt because we might go to the bookstore tonight, and I won't be around to tend the crockpot.

Hope everyone is having a relaxing Saturday. Only one full week of work before we head to St. Louis. I'm really looking forward to that.

This counts for Friday!

So challenge day 1 didn't go quite as planned.... at least the posting part. This post doesn't really count for Friday, but it's going to be my Friday update, and I'll give a Saturday update later.

Here's the Friday summary:

Workout: None
Challenge: Failed

I felt pretty nasty yesterday so I didn't run.

Actually, I think making Friday my day off is the right way to go. Even though there are some convenient things about resting on Sunday, my body has been telling me week after week that it needs to rest on Friday. So that's going to be the plan going forward.

As for the challenge, I didn't have any sweets (unless you count the Clif bar, but I'm not, even though they are pretty sweet). I did not partake in the soft serve ice cream at the cafeteria, so we'll count that as a success.

I got in 2 servings of vegetables yesterday: the toppings of my sandwich and the innards of my sushi. Yes, lame, but they count. I wasn't super hungry yesterday.

And I didn't post. I spend most of my day at work fighting with SAS/GRAPH, and I went to bed at 7pm due to general fatigue. I couldn't even be bothered to go out and watch the new episode of What Not to Wear, so you know it was serious.

Not wanting to be a total Debbie Downer, I will share two highlights from yesterday: The temperature was in the 50s yesterday afternoon so I walked home from work to enjoy the sunshine, and D and I went out for Sushi, which is always a treat.

Okay... I'm digested. It's time to spend some quality time with the beast in the living room.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Crap Free Challange

In the spirit of all the challenges going around the internet right now- the Yoga Challenge, and the March Booty Buster Challenge -for example, I thought I'd like to try my own challenge.

At first I thought I had a creative idea, but I quickly realized there were plenty of people out there with the same goal (and their name is so much better than what I was going to call it): The Crap Free Challenge.

It's wonderfully simple in that you get to decide what crap needs to be removed from your diet (ahem, Girl Scout Cookies), and then you challenge yourself to actually remove said crap. I've read a few challenge lists, but most of them were pretty long and complicated. For mine, I'm going to stick with a No-S approach and pick my 3 biggest vices to start with. Honestly, my big 3 aren't so much about eliminating things as making it a goal to incorporate three new healthy habits.

So my BIG THREE are:

No sweets except ice cream on Saturday. I don't think this will be too hard except when we have our Bible study on Monday nights when there are always goodies. But luckily no one there is a pusher or will even notice if I don't take anything.

Eat three servings of three different kinds of vegetable every day. Even on the weekends. I have no problem getting in enough fruit. Veggies- and especially variety in veggies- not so much.

Blog every day about my workout and how the challenge is going. Sometimes I feel like I can't blog if I have nothing interesting to write about. But I shouldn't worry about that. (Did I just hear a collective sigh of boredom from all three people who actually read this thing?) Reinforcing the habit of posting is more important than what I actually post.

So why am I doing this??? I realized last night (as I was watching My Name is Earl, eating 1/2 a sleeve of Thin Mints) that I've developed an "I don't give a crap" (just going with the theme, people...) attitude this winter or maybe even as far back as the move. And I do care. And I do know I feel better when I eat more healthfully. And I know it takes mindfulness and practice.

With that in mind, here's the stats for today:

Workout: Upper body weights and 45 min spin class


No sweets so far.

I had a large serving of leftover Tikka Masala for lunch, which I'm counting as two servings of two different kinds of vegetables (there was cauliflower, zucchini, and carrots in the mix). That leaves one more serving for dinner- either a salad or veggies in pasta, depending on what I decide to make.

I don't feel super awesome right now. I have a bit of a cough and some fatigue that may or may not be related to 1.impending illness 2.the crazy weather 3.PMS (sorry, TMI) so I'm not supremely motivated to make an involved dinner (although I have made two really good dinners this week, I should get back to that...). But I refuse to go out tonight. I've made dinner every night since last Saturday, and I'm not breaking my streak until tomorrow, the designated night out.

Okay... enough blathering. Time to go home!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Outside FAIL

Well, I didn't run outside this morning. I had good intentions... I got all my warm stuff together and even drank a cup of coffee, but -3 with the windchill won out. Actually, I was all dressed and ready to go, but my GPS's battery was almost dead, and I took it as a sign that I should run on the treadmill. I'm not sure why that should be a sign that I need to stay inside. I have a regular watch, and I know how far the loop I run is. Oh well, it can't be winter forever, right? Right?

Run- 5mi progressively faster for the first 45 min then a 5min cool down
Swim- 30min with 4x 200 swim 50 easy

Sunday, March 1, 2009

YAY! For not being totally out of shape

I ran outside for the first time in weeks yesterday. It seemed like every time I tried to go out, something prevented me- freezing rain, 7 inches of new snow, icy roads, my own complacency- but not yesterday. It was cool and sunny with a bit of a breeze, and the roads were 95% ice-free. I couldn't ask for better on the last day of February.

The best part of my run was getting confirmation that I'm not totally out of shape. I run much slower on the treadmill than I do outside, and I was afraid that the first time out, I'd be slogging along at that same treadmill pace. My legs did feel a little weird when I first started, but I got in the groove and finished at an 8:50 ave pace. Not breaking any land-speed records, but that's a good pace for a general fitness run for me. I finished it off with 5x hill repeats running up the hill to our apartment complex.

Warming, rant: I don't disagree that doing all your running on the treadmill is not the way to succeed at road racing, but- coming from one very warm and one very dry climate- I never really understood how unpleasant and downright unsafe it could be to run outside during the winter here. For me it comes back to the fact that I want running to be enjoyable, and if I'm going to be miserable outside because it feels like it's -5 and there's ice all over the roads and sidewalks, I'm going to opt for the treadmill. Sure there are people out there toughing it out, but I've come to the conclusion that's not for me. And guess what?!? I biked, I strength trained, I ran intervals, and I did 329847 flights of stairs, and I'm not any slower than I was back in December. Take that, treadmill haters! Getting faster does not have to equal hating your running life for two plus months.

Okay, I feel better now.

But seriously, I do want to get outside more. Tomorrow will probably work because it's not supposed to get above freezing today. Unfortunately the weather forecast for the rest of the week has snow and rain on Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday. Plus the high during the day is above freezing while the overnight low is below freezing, which means really nasty ice on the sidewalks and roads. Can winter be over soon? Please.