Monday, August 30, 2010

Fear of Fat

I have another secret. I was not always skinny.

My first coach describes me showing up to my first workout as a chubby kid from somewhere in Nova Scotia. I was not fat and my BMI was within the normal range although possibly on the higher side. When I looked around I noticed that everyone else was skinny. Four percent body fat skinny.

When I was growing up I was not thin. I was a bit on the chubby side and during my first undergraduate degree I gained the dreaded freshman 15 (or 20...). My family, in their infinite kindness and supportive nature, teased me and told me how fat I was getting. I remember one particular Easter when my older brother wanted me to move my chair. His command to me was "move over fatty". This would normally be an innocuous statement to be ignored, as my brother was quite an asshole. What made this particular comment hard to ignore was the uproarious laughter it garnered from my family. As I began to get myself in shape and lose weight I had some dry kindling to fuel disordered eating. The only thing I needed was a match.

Joining a university cross country team not only provided the match to ignite disordered eating but also the bellows. The culture of distance running is obsessive. When one runs at a certain level life becomes running. When I was in university I lived with runners or swimmers, my friends were runners or athletes, social activities were with teammates and many meals were shared with running teammates. Life becomes about running faster and getting better. The most important part of the year is the championship race and making it to CIS nationals. As life becomes running and training and racing faster, priorities change and behaviours that would at one time be seen as outrageous become the norm. When I saw myself getting beaten by guys who were skinnier and who ate less, there was motivation to lose weight to race fast. I am a quick study and when I started running I noticed a big difference between me and the other guys on the team, I was fat.

To get faster and combat my 'obesity' I changed my diet and began eating 'healthy' as well as increasing my mileage while adding extra workouts. Initially my diet changes were beneficial as I was eating more whole foods, less processed food and less saturated fat. As I began to lose more weight and run faster, as well as get positive feedback from teammates, I began to want to lose more and more weight. This is not an uncommon pattern in the world of disordered eating.

After my first year of running I lost approximately 10 pounds from an already trim frame. I can remember one of my former teammates running up to me after the first race of my second season with my university cross country team. Her first comment to me was one of excitement that I had 'gotten skinny!'. I was also running much better moving from non-scoring member to being in the top 5 of my team. I was delighted with my run and even more motivated to lose weight over the course of the cross country season to be 'fit' for our conference championships. My diet was so restricted by the time our championships came along that I was unable to sleep and could barely climb a flight of stairs, yet we won with me as a scoring member of the team.

My disordered eating continued for the next year. As I got faster and leaner I also learned how to fuel my body so that I could eat as little as possible while still being able to train. I would have a small snack (a piece of dry toast) and a big cup of coffee before workouts to provide energy. During the day I would constantly eat small nutritious snacks that were not enough to fuel a normal person let alone a young man training 70 to 80 miles a week. Amongst the starvation I would binge on Friday nights and Saturdays. We raced on Saturday and I needed the energy to race well. Saturday night was the purge followed by a long run purge on Sunday. I was now both the 'fattest' and the fastest on the team. I could see the proof in my running performance that leaner and fucked up eating are the way to get fast.

At this point in my running I had been with my university team for 3 cross country seasons. I had a few incidents during my season that were distressing to me and I was not happy with my progression despite being conference all star and winning an AUS league cross country race. I was also frustrated being closeted and very lonely. I was pretending badly to be straight and not liking it. At that moment I had the opportunity to take an exchange trip to England to study and train. I jumped at the chance to move to England for a winter to train hard, finally get to my goal weight of less than 120 pounds, and try being gay. It turned out to be a bit of a disaster.

My disordered eating in Canada became total eating disorder in the UK. I was running between 70 and 90 miles a week in double workouts daily while restricting my calorie intake drastically. I could not sleep, did not have bowel movements, had no energy and was miserable. I did not take advantage of what a new country had to offer and spent my time training and trying to rest. There was no scale or full length mirror where I was staying so I could not see the damage. One fateful weekend I made a trip to London to meet a friend. I got a shower upon arriving at his place and when climbing out of the shower I saw my body for the first time in 2 months. I was skeletal. I was shocked by what I saw and scared of what I had done to my body.

I immediately went out and ate the best donut I have ever tasted, and did not purge.

I began eating again and started to regain a bit of normalcy. By the time my voyage home was upon me I was back to my disordered ways, though better able to manage my obsessive tendencies. For the remainder of my time running in university I maintained my obsessive relationship with food and perseverated over every bite of food that went into my body. I continued to get faster and everyone else was still doing it. I was still normal.

What shocks me now, as I weigh 10 pounds heavier than I did in university, is how I still felt fat most of the time I was in university. I cringe when I think of the misery I exacted on myself and how the deep seated message from youth maintained such a strong hold in my mind. Since graduating from university and living in the real world I have developed a much healthier relationship with food. I believe eating more and better enabled me to continue to improve with my running performance. I had the energy to train and prevent energy. Although I have a healthier relationship with food I have maintained a portion of my obsession with being thin and lean.

There are certain aspects of my body that give me comfort. The feel of my cervical spine, feeling my hip bones protruding as I lay in bed, the spot under my chin I cannot shave, the look of my back ribs through a t-shirt all give me comfort and make me feel good about myself. Being thin and lean and fit make me feel good about myself. I am struggling trying to be happy with gaining weight.

Tonight when I put on my Speedo it felt a bit tighter than usual. My suit was not baggy in the bum as I have grown accustomed to feeling. I felt like my ass was being squished over the edge of my elasticized leg holes. A reverse muffin top. Of course this is my imagination but it makes me wonder how I am going to cope when I actually start gaining weight. My shorts were even a bit more tight than I am used to.

I want to be muscly and manly. I do not want to be the skinny runner anymore. Although I do not want to be the skinny runner I cannot imagine what it would be like to have a layer of fat and muscles. It is nearly impossible for me to foresee the results of eating copious amounts of food and lifting crazy amounts of weights. I have no frame of reference to draw from. I am terrified of getting fat.

In the end I know I will not ever gain a huge amount of weight and nor will I ever be Mr. Universe. I will somehow have to gain comfort in my body without drawing self worth from the sight of my ribs through my shirt or the space between my quads. This will be a difficult journey.

Weights start on Wednesday. Time to somehow become a meat head!

One last note. Download Sufjan Stevens lastest EP entitled 'All Delighted People'. I have been looping it all weekend and I am in love. He is playing in Vancouver in October and I have tickets and I cannot wait! The first tune is called All Delighted People and it is over 10 minutes long. There is so much complexity and depth to his music it defies description or classification. I cannot accurately describe his work and give it justice. The only thing I can describe is how it makes me feel. When I listen to this EP I feel joyous and happy and confused. And he is hot!
Happy Training!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Seals and Otters

I live on the beach. I am less than 20 seconds away from the Pacific Ocean and the biggest swimming pool ever!
I have been swimming a lot of open water this summer as it is beyond accessible and just plain fun. Usually I try and swim with my friends although lately I have been randomly hitting the briny ocean by myself for a little workout. At least I thought I was swimming by myself.

The first time it happened was 2 weeks ago when after a hard 10 minute session of swimming I stopped by the Inukshuk for some recovery. Upon lifting my head out of the water I was startled to see two beady eyes staring back at me. Within 1.5 meters of me was a playful and somewhat cute seal curiously checking out the land mammal encroaching on his space. After the initial shock I gave the ankle biter a bit of a wave and said hello. He soon lost interest, bobbed under the surface and disappeared.
I had heard from veteran open water swimmers that one will occasionally feel a seal biting on their toes as they swim. Not malicious but rather playful, one need not worry about being taken out by a seal in English Bay. In the past few weeks I have been swimming with the seals quite regularly. This evening I hit the waves and a seal or two decided to come along for the workout. I feel they must be laughing to each other when they come across this laboring and skinny land dweller.

This weekend I have swum open water and have run 2 days in a row! My heel is still sore and I continue to run/walk/live in pain. To add insult to injury, as I was running into the ocean this evening, I cut the sole of my foot on a shell. It was not until I was rinsing my wet suit that I noticed the gash sliced off of my foot. It should not pose too many issues as it is safely bandaged and clean.

Happy Training!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

On Death and Dying

There is one inevitable fact about life, it will end.

Death is generally known as the termination of biological functions that sustain a living organism. In Western society we have a confounding factor to confuse this general definition of death; life support. There continues to be debate about what actually constitutes death in a human. Some believe it is when cardiac and pulmonary function cease while others contend that death occurs with brain death. Whatever the definition you choose to accept there remains the fact that one day you will die. You will stop breathing, your heart will stop beating and your brain will stop functioning.

There is something about death that makes me want to live. My life has been touched by death from a young age. Unlike some of my friends, I have been to many wakes and funerals including that of my father who died when I was a child. Having had death in my life from a young age I was able to understand mortality and the fleeting time we have on the earth. Although I had a fear of death, the realization that my life was a story with an ending inspired me to attempt to live a great story. I consider myself fortunate to have been taught by death to live.

Every day I see people merely going through the motions of life. If I refer to the definition of death they very much seem dead to me. There is no light in their eyes and I wonder if there is any brain function. The heart is pumping and the lungs bringing oxygen to the body but it seems like the person is attached to the life support system of the 9-5 job, unhappy marriage and obligations. To further reduce brain function the individual dulls the intellect with mindless hours spent in front of the TV. One day melds into the next much like the life of a person on life support. The routine of a life resembling the rhythmic sound of the ventilator and the constant beeping of the heart monitor.

There are many sayings and proverbs about life and death. Many of these truisms espouse the importance of seizing the day or living each day as if it is our last. The thing is, this day just might be the last. If today was your last day on earth what would you have changed? Who would you have called? Would you have gone to work? Would you have done that workout? Would you have skipped dessert? Have you lived a life that is worthy of death?
Many see death as a bad thing but I happen to disagree to a certain extent. Death is bad for those who are not ready to die and those who are around them. Practically speaking, for obvious reasons, it is a good thing we die. Imagine if every organism that ever landed on this earth never died. It would be very over crowded and kind of gross. Death can also inspire us to live. Death means that we have a life.

Sometimes I find myself getting into a rut and getting close to the ventilator. A touch of mouth to mouth shakes me out of my stupor and I reassess my life with an understanding of my limited time enjoying what the earth has to offer. It is at these moments that I decide to try something new, take a risk and ensure that what I am doing has meaning for me. I have made some changes in my life this summer and I am very content. I am trying to live the proverb. I am inspired by death to live each day as if there is a tomorrow while knowing I am content if today was the last.

I booked a couple extra weeks of vacation today. Time to push this life. What shall I do?

Yesterday I hit the trails of Stanley Park for a run. I obtained an acute understanding of the difficulty of running. I ran a few seconds faster per mile then I usually run and it was tough. Running is a very tough sport! Today I was in the pool for my usual swim workout and I managed 3000 meters with 1000 of IM.

Happy Training!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Open Water, Backflips, Yoga and a Boat Cruise

Just when I thought summer could not get any better yesterday happened.

I had an amazing day in the Vancouver sunshine swimming, brunching and playing beach side. I have an exceptional group of friends who in most ways are just as childish as I am. How often do your 30 year old friends complete back hand springs and back flips beach side? We had races, practiced handstand push ups and did abs for something to do. I attempted one arm push ups but they did not go that well. Maybe instead of childish I could describe us as being hyperactive. None of us could sit still for more than 10 minutes.
The evening festivities involved a boat cruise dance party known as Hed Kandi. It was awesome. I had not been to a straight boat cruise dance party before last night. The key to the party was the fun people I was there with and their very positive energy. Dance floors can be amazing places. I almost think it is similar to running with a pack in a race. One can use the energy of the group they are racing with to pull them along to a best time. The energy of the group enables a runner to focus on their stride and keep relaxed yet strong. The energy on a dance floor is also crucial to a good time. Last night the DJ was superb, the venue supernatural British Columbia and the energy of the group I was with was energetic and positive. A very good night and random enough to be interesting.
Since I have let go of hard training I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I feel relaxed and open to new and exciting experiences. I have never been a big party guy due to the energy requirements of training. Now that my schedule has relaxed and my life has fewer constraints I feel like there has been a shift in both the energy I am attracting and possibly giving off. Maybe I am showing I am more open and ready for a good time.

Thinking of good times, I should get ready to run.

Happy Training!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Workout

My name is J. and I am an addict. I am addicted to training.

I swam 4000m tonight including 1 km hard freestyle in a pyramid and 500 backstroke build. I worked hard tonight and got the heart rate jumping. It felt tough and I loved it!

I have an addiction to training hard and how it makes my body feel. During a long hard workout there is always the fleeting thought of 'I went too hard and I am not going to finish'. When this thought hits my mind I usually pick up my pace and try to work harder. I love when this pace causes a jump in heart rate, increase in breathing and pain. I love to train and I love to work hard.

This innate love of movement and training is what has made me a good runner and athlete. I love the feeling of a hard workout regardless of the discipline in which it occurs. Obviously I enjoy cardiovascular activity more than weights but even those I am beginning to tolerate. Tonight's workout in the pool was a nice wake up to training and I enjoyed it very much.

My lack of running over the past weeks and increase in swimming is causing some changes in my body. I am starting to lose the starvation/runner look and gain a bit of muscle. My sternum has become less prominent as I have gained some pecs. I am starting to fill out my extra small shirt and generally look better. I also feel better. I am not getting fat though (and nor will I ever!).

I am starting to feel more like a human. I do not want to feel average but I do want to feel a bit closer to normal. It is nice to have a life where every night is not planned around a run or a really hard workout. Tomorrow night I am going to Costco and last night I spent the evening with a new friend. These two events would have been impossible a few months ago due to my training schedule. I am still working out and sporadically training hard, but I am now enjoying the training and having fun. I am also sleeping much better.

I am still running though only a couple of times a week. My foot is still very sore and last night I needed some heavy duty pain killers and 30 minutes of ice to be able to walk today. This is a plantar injury and obviously I am paying the price. My rest is working really well and I am noticing it in little areas. I notice when I am cycling to work; it is not a chore anymore. I notice when I meet new people; I do not zone out after 10 minutes. I notice in the evenings; I can stay up past 10 without caffeine. I notice in my mood; I am really happy.

I am continuing to have a great summer. I feel healthy and ready for the world. I was commenting to my friend Legs the other night that I feel I am the happiest I have been since being a child. We had an interesting conversation about each of our lives and what had gone into shaping our current selves. We both had challenges in our lives that had an impact on how we see the world today. Legs happens to be very self aware. I am not as much in certain respects, or at least I was not in the past.

Part of moving beyond hurt or disappointment is being able to look at an event and address the emotion and impact of that event. For some people this may take weeks while for others months. In my case it has been many years. Part of moving beyond hurt or pain is being able to learn about ourselves and how the trauma of our past can teach us to be better now. It is also key to see how the hurt of the past may limit us in the present and prevent us from meaningful experiences. I am almost getting the puzzle of history together to enable creating a great picture for the future.

Summer is not over yet. Is the best yet to come?

I have been thinking of death and dying a bit lately and also mortality. In light of feeling great I think this is an odd thing to be thinking about. A future blog to get excited for!

Happy Training!

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Shallow End

I have found my self in the shallow end.

When I was somewhere around 20 years of age I was feeling a bit lost and misdirected. I made a pact with myself to try to be a better person and effect positive change in this world. I enrolled in university and worked hard to develop a career in a field that would enable me to improve the lives of others. I surrounded myself with friends and individuals who I could learn from and who have shown me how to live one's life. The thing is, I have been fighting my true self.

If I am going to be honest and address my true self I must admit a few things. I am shallow, elitist and judgmental. I attempt to look on the bright side but in reality I am pessimistic. I like to be alone and I find most people really annoying. I hate fat and I wish I was truly handsome. I judge books by their cover. I am actually very lazy and only like to hang out with rich people.

This is my true self. A shallow, horrible person.

I think it is time for me to throw the positive attitude and work ethic out the window and be who I really am. I am going to hit the gym to get buff. I will no longer talk to people with more than 12 % body fat and I will only date super studs. I will no longer entertain the thought of dating anyone without a 6 figure income or at least some sort of inheritance in the future. I am going to quit my helping career and find a profession that will enable me to take from the poor in order to become one of the rich.

Is accepting your true self good if it makes you a total dick?

Much of the writing in the world regarding finding your true self rests on the assumption that people are inherently good. What happens when the true self is an asshole? An anonymous commenter felt I have a big ego. I do have a big ego and that comment enabled me to identify this personality trait. I am fucking awesome and you suck. This is my true and authentic self and I have finally accepted that. Good thing?

The problem with much self help and therapy is that it is based on someone's opinion of something that happened that may have been good. Are people actually happier when they are forced to address the ugly picture of who they might actually be? What is used to evaluate the utility of therapies and techniques? How do people measure self? What is the evidence?

I have asked a lot of questions on this post because I do not know the answers. I have not done much research into this area of self help secondary to headaches from eye rolling when reading the books. One of these books posits that one is not ready to address their true self until they can finally read the whole book.

As I could not get through the book I will will have to go back to living as my inauthentic self. I guess I will continue treating others as I would like to be treated. I will continue treating others with respect. I will continue to hold myself to a higher standard then I hold others. I will mind the environment and continue to try and find a capacity in this world which will enable me to effect positive change. I will work hard and attempt to not judge others based on outward appearance, socioeconomic status or athletic performance.

The authentic self. A good thing?

Happy Living!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Vancouver Pride

Pride is over for yet another year. Our gay version of Christmas has come and gone and although I am a little worse for wear I believe I had a successful weekend.

The transition from [sub]elite runner to regular runner has been moderated by a weekend of parties, celebration and little sleep. I have struggled through Vancouver Pride weekend in the past and have felt more of an outside observer rather than an active participant, despite volunteering in some capacity in previous prides. This year I felt more active and also came to some realizations.

1. I like partying: If it was not for some unplanned developments I would have celebrated each night of the weekend. Although I could not go out hard every weekend I do believe I could do something every weekend. In the past when I have been training I would be exhausted by 8 pm and would try to hold out till midnight. This year the party started at 9 and I made it home at...well I will just report I did not get much sleep. I had fun. I had a lot of fun.

2. I am surrounded by wonderful people: I had a party on Saturday night. My friends who came stimulated some wonderful conversation including a discussion of 'the self', and none of us were smoking pot. Topics of the night covered everything from brain chemicals to international development studies. There was cheer and a bit of gossip about future dates and risks that were taken. There were in depth discussions of politics and training and future goals. We talked about books and I did not hear anything about Lindsay Lohan or [insert famous airhead here] throughout the night. My friends are brilliant, kind and genuine. They are Ying and Yang and keep me on my toes.

3. Pride is like Christmas for the gays: I was raised Catholic with the highlight of every year being Christmas. Planning for Christmas in my family starts months ahead with the real work beginning at the start of December. There is cooking and baking and decorating in shiny happy colors. The community would come together as we would all light up our homes to ward off the cold dark December nights. There are late nights and little sleep. Midnight mass would always be followed by a big party and gifts with celebration. We would wake up early in the morning to prepare a huge meal and then host guests in the evening. There was giddy excitement, slight disappointment, exhaustion and a slightly empty feeling when it was over. Pride had all the feelings of Christmas. There was excitement for the possibility of the weekend and what potential gifts would be out there. There were late nights and early mornings with little sleep. There was time with loved ones and celebration as well as time for quiet conversation with close friends. As a child I wished every day could be Christmas. I wish every weekend was Pride.

4. Life is Good: I have a great life. Things are good. I am satisfied and I am happy. It is hard to be satisfied as a runner. When I would cross the finish line after a race I would always think that if I worked a bit harder I could have run faster. There was always something to chase, faster. I am enjoying sitting still and enjoying what I have now. It is good.

I have had two good Prides this summer. Toronto was much more fun than Vancouver's and the people were much more friendly and fun. I am relieved to have had fun in Vancouver though. Pride has inspired me to work to bring more diversity into my life and move beyond defining myself as a runner. I have met a few new people who I think will lead me to a new adventure and a new scene.

I am also deciding what to do with my blog. I do not really think I have that much to contribute to the world. I started the blog because I found little on the internet in the voice of a gay athlete. I am in transition from athlete to person. I do not have profound thoughts and nor do I have any new or stimulating ideas. The blog mostly acts as a venting post or a therapeutic medium to express my thoughts. Once I have tapped out my sentences the weight is off my chest and forgotten.

Now I am going to try to gain some weight, not fat. It is a weird concept for me and I think it will be a struggle. I am going to have to shift all the thought patterns I have built up over the past 15 years. I guess I should start with a trip to the grocery store!

Happy Living!