When The Cold Arrives

When The Cold Arrives

Right on schedule, Winter has shown up.

Oh, there are still leaves on some of the trees. Days here in Albuquerque are still getting up into the 60s. But the malaise that accompanies shorter days and lower temperatures is fully in effect.

The purists might say that it is still Autumn, Winter doesn’t start until December 21, etc. But we know it in our bones: Winter Isn’t Coming. Winter Is Here. November is no more Autumn than March is Winter.

Even our local homeless population are now all holding signs asking for money for bus tickets to Houston. Winter is no fun.

Winter: Obesity’s Secret Weapon

The big secret about Winter and physical fitness? They don’t go together.

Winter brings us our most celebrated gluttonous holidays, all within a 90-day span. Thanksgiving, Christmas and the Super Bowl are always used as excuses for over-eating. (And over-drinking, in the case of the SB.) At the same time, there is no useful offset to balance these binge-eating, diet-destroying occasions. Who eats two pounds of mashed potatoes and half a pecan pie then goes out and runs a few miles to work it off?

No one, that’s who.

Winter conspires against us, I tell you. Colder temperatures mean lower energy levels. Darker days mean a sense of malaise – energy-sucking black holes that park us on the couch huddled in a blanket binge-watching Stranger Things rather than doing anything active. And short days mean that we don’t have any time to go do anything anyway, even if we were so inclined.

So, we sit on the couch. We drink beer. Every once in a while we look out the window and shiver, then turn up the thermostat. And we shake our heads at those lycra-clad crazy people jogging or riding through our neighborhoods. Who the heck works out during this time of year?

Everyone who doesn’t want to arrive at March and burst into tears when nothing but sweats fit anymore, that’s who.

Turning The Volume Up (When The Thermometer Goes Down)

I will not go all Richard Simmons on you and proclaim that keeping fit during the winter is “fun.” It isn’t. You are fighting against your depressed metabolism, your body’s desire to conserve energy via fat storage (hibernation), and your own desire to stay warm.

So, when getting to the gym just seems like too much to bear, here are a few other things you can try.

YouTube: Did you know there are a TON of useful exercise resources on YouTube? There are weight-lifting routines. Body-weight resistance plans. Yoga and Aerobics and Tai-Chi galore. Many folks get worried about the expertise of those on YouTube, but the easiest way to locate something reputable is to dig into your favorite health/fitness magazine, find some articles that you like, then go looking for the author’s YouTube channel. That’s how I located B.J. Gaddour’s StreamFitTV, for example. If you can’t bear to leave the house, bring the gym to your living room.

AceFitness: Yes, I am an Ace Fitness Personal Trainer, and I am biased. But you can actually gain a ton of exercise advice (including demonstrations) for free from the Ace Fitness Exercise library. Need to learn how to do a plank? Check it out here. Need to tackle body-weight squats? Visit this page. Oh, have zero equipment in your house or apartment and want to use that as an excuse? Nope: ACE Fitness has 100+ exercises you can do without a single resistance band or dumbell.

The Step: Some of us are lucky enough to live in homes with stairs: multi-story homes, apartment buildings, etc. If you do, you can do a great aerobic routine just by doing stair interval training. However, if you don’t have a staircase handy, there is a secret weapon I will share with you: The simple aerobic step. Though pricing can go all the way up to well over $100, there are plenty available for less than the cost of a single month’s gym membership. (Here’s one for around $30, for example.) Park your step in front of your television. Step up and down for the duration of your favorite home remodeling show. Or travel show. Or reality show. You get the idea.

(Food Network not recommended.)

Dodging The Ice-Cold Missiles

Of course, lack of physical activity isn’t the only danger that accompanies wintertime. Illness and binge-eating tend to skyrocket over the turn of the year. What can we do to fight back?

Staying healthy during winter can be a major challenge. Every sniffle, cough, and sneeze brings instant paranoia about what malady might be invading. (Well, it makes ME paranoid at least.) During winter it is so important to take some common sense steps. Up your vitamin intake. Get a flu shot. Stay hydrated. Losing days or weeks of activity to illness will wreck your fitness just as surely as overdoing it at Grandma’s house on Thanksgiving. Do everything you can to fight off microbial invaders. Be especially diligent at work – your unhealthy co-workers will be more than happy to contaminate you with their illnesses. I am a big believer in mega-doses of hand sanitizer while in places that are being regularly contacted by less diligent human beings.

Avoiding binge eating can be a trial to any of us. All the best stuff gets trotted out over the holidays, and it seems impossible to not try everything! But, rather than looking around a kitchen in despair at all the stuff you shouldn’t eat, make sure that you have come prepared with something that is diet friendly. Bring your own lean protein, or vegetable platter, or salad. That way, if nothing else works, you have something to fall back on. Fill your plate with your healthy selection, then try a few small bites of the items you can’t resist.

For example, I am especially bad about “sampling” desserts. So, Lor started preparing protein-filled cupcakes she calls protein brownie bites that we now take everywhere where there are likely to be tempting sugar-bomb desserts.

And, wouldn’t you know it, they are so popular that they now get requested at every single get-together we attend. Who says healthy can’t taste good? (As an aside I highly recommend The Big Man’s World for recipes – I literally have yet to find a recipe there that I didn’t like.)

The Coldness of the Mind

Lastly, and most importantly, during the winter months, depression and suicide attempts drastically increase. Seasonal Affective Disorder (or SAD) can be a more serious problem than any amount of binge-eating or couch-planting. The disorder isn’t very well understood, but a few things can help to keep it at bay.

First, try to stay plugged in. Our natural tendency during winter is to “turtle” – to stay in our homes, huddled around ourselves. Instead, do your best to get plugged into some social circle – anything that will keep you in contact with other people. A bible study, a knitting circle, a weekly role-playing game: just about anything that keeps you interacting with humanity is a great way to keep these feelings of isolation at bay.

Secondly, stay physically active. We all know that exercise increases brain function and releases “feel-good” hormones into the bloodstream. If you can’t make it to the gym or Crossfit, at least try one of the ideas above.

Lastly, if you aren’t getting better – get help. Talk to a family member, a friend, a pastor, a counselor – let SOMEONE know what you are going through. The worst thing you can do is to assume that no one else understands how you feel. Trust me – I also struggle with depression and know first-hand how isolating it feels. But you have TONS of value, even if you can’t see it right now. Someone else can help remind you.

Turn Your Attention To 2018!

Let’s all help one another get through to next year! Do your best to stay true to yourself, keep the blood flowing, and know that, eventually, this too shall thaw.

Spring Is Coming,


How Far Away: Arriving At Long-Term Goals

Creating Meaningful Long-Term Exercise Goals
Image Courtesy of girdwoodsummer.wordpress.com

Yesterday (just like every day) I was hitting the books for the ACE Personal Trainer certification. I have just reached the concept of building a plan for new clients. The #1 core around which you should build a new training plan? Long-term goals. Your client should have a reason they are coming to the gym every day, or they won’t adhere to the program.

This struck me, because the main reason I hit the gym every day is fear of re-inflating. I am not sure that counts as a long-term goal. All “stick” and no “carrot”, if you follow me.

Putting Down The Stick

Now, a few weeks back I did decide that I had to change my workout routine to get ready to head back to Stone Age climbing gym. So that counts as a long-term goal, I suppose. But what happens after the first visit to Stone Age?

I also added the C25K program to my workout in preparation for the upcoming Run For The Zoo. Full disclosure: I am never gonna make it to running all 5 kilometers before the event next month. We’ll be signing up for the “Fitness Walk” section of the event instead. I am very disappointed in myself, but the arthritic knee will just not hold up while running 3.1 miles straight. I suppose this leaves me with a long-term goal for next year.

But, at the end of the day, I am not an athlete. I am a writer – an artist, if I can say that without coming off like a twerp. Where do I find a goal that actually moves my artistic side, but is still somehow fitness-related?

The Trail To The Sky

In my backyard, as it turns out.

For years, Lor and I have looked up at the Sandia Mountains and speculated: Wouldn’t it be cool to hike the La Luz?

For those not in our area, the La Luz Trail starts in the foothills above Albuquerque. It then climbs over 3,000 feet straight up (well, a 12% grade) to the crest of the Sandia Mountains. The Trail is an 8-mile endurance test through 4 climactic zones, with some of the best views anywhere at the top (at 10,378 feet above sea level.)

It is no joke, either: every year people lose their lives climbing the Sandias. You need to come prepared, or just stay home.

Since I have been getting more and more comfortable with and interested in producing my own photography for Misdirected, this seems like a no-brainer. Climb the mountain, take some photos, take the Tram back down to the parking lot.

What, I am certainly not going to walk all the way back down, right?

Mission: Accepted

So, what does this mean for long-term goal planning?

First, we obviously need to be able to walk 8 miles. So we need to start working some endurance into our exercise routines.

Second, the trail is steep. So, I am going to need to get off the treadmill and onto an elliptical and stair-stepper at the gym, to start working up the calves and ankles.

Thirdly, the depressing reality of doing anything with epilepsy: planning for what happens if something goes wrong. Lor is pretty buff these days, but she still can’t carry me several miles downhill. We will need to create contingency planning and schedule regular check-ins with folks who are not currently on the Trail, who can get help up to us if we need it.

Lastly: gear. Do I have hikers capable of handling this trail? (Answer: No.) Am I prepared to carry several pounds worth of water, snacks and first-aid gear in a backpack 8 miles uphill? (Answer: Maybe.) Some time needs to be spent in the foothills working out these details before we learn the hard way on the Trail.

So, there it is: a meaningful long-term goal for my exercise training at the gym. Time to switch things up and start working out with my eyes set on the summit of the Sandias.

And sorry, Vixen, but I am afraid you won’t be invited on this one. After the first two miles, I would just have to carry you the rest of the way.

I Would Rather Carry 8 Pounds Of Food And Water,





Defeating The Wall

A few weeks back, Lor and I discovered indoor rock climbing as an aspiration. We asked questions, grabbed flyers, and made plans for our eventual return. We even started specific training programs, so that we would be ready for the challenge when the time came.

So, of course, when the opportunity came to tackle rock climbing without training or preparation, we threw ourselves right in.

There Stands The Wall

Hinkle Family Fun Center, here in Albuquerque, is a family-themed activities parks. Miniature golf? Yup, they’ve got it. Ticket-dispensing video arcade? Yeah, that too. Bumper cars? Laser Tag? Paintball? Yup, all of the above.

So, how about a 32-foot climbing wall?

Turns out they have one of those as well. While purchasing our tickets for our visit yesterday, our nephew was completely focused on the possibilities of Laser Tag. Lor and I, however, could not take our eyes off The Wall.

“We totally have to climb that,” I whispered to her as we went off to drive the go-karts.

“Oh, absolutely.” she agreed.

All day long, we kept orbiting around The Wall as we ran ourselves ragged trying all the other activities. Finally, mid-afternoon, when the excitement of the park had begun to pale for even our nephew, the time had come. The three of us walked up the hill and placed ourselves in line for The Wall.

Looking Up

Have you ever had the opportunity to look straight up 32 feet?

If not, go find your nearest 3-story building. Stand right up next to it, then envision yourself climbing it. That is exactly what we were about to do.

I appointed myself as the official photographer for the adventure and sent Lor and our nephew to head up first. Lor, normally fearless, was subdued.

“I don’t think I can do this.” she whispered to me as we moved to the front of the line.

I patted her on the back and told her she would be fine. She steeled herself and walked through the gate to meet her destiny.

The attendant who helped her get in the harness made a joke that the cable “had only broken twice.” This was probably not helpful to Lor’s state of mind.

But, she did it anyway:

See what I mean about 32 feet being a lot taller up close?

To Dream The Impossible Dream

At last, the intrepid pair had returned to the ground, and it was my turn to tackle The Wall. Our nephew graciously agreed to ascend it with me so that some stranger wouldn’t have to listen to me whimpering.

The initial ascent wasn’t bad, as these things go. It was an interesting exercise in trying to figure out where to place the feet in order to get the maximum lift to the next set of hand holds.

After repeating this process a few times, with my nose stuck about 6 inches away from the surface in front of me, I made the mistake of looking down. I gulped in terror and looked off to the side instead. My nephew had climbed 3/4 of the way up while I was barely halfway.

However, if there is one thing I possess, it is stubbornness. I flattened myself against the wall and resolved to never look down again. Then I resumed my ascent.

A few minutes later, I had arrived:

I just noticed my nephew and I are dressed like “twinsies”.

Winded, but triumphant, I reached a trembling hand forward and slapped the button at the top of the wall.

Nothing happened.

After my descent, I was informed that the buzzer is broken. Talk about a letdown.

The After-Action Report

So, having tackled this wall, what does this mean for our eventual visit to the 45+ foot walls at Stone Age?

Our plans have not changed. Though we were both winded and terrified, it was a good fear – kind of like a roller coaster. I can also report that today I am sore in all the places I have been emphasizing with my new workout routine. Hands, forearms, lats and quads are all feeling like I climbed a wall yesterday. I am apparently on the right track at the gym.

A year ago I still weighed 285 pounds, and would not have been allowed near The Wall.

Just sayin’.

Sore But Triumphant,


40 Feet To Freedom

The Main Climbing Room at Stone Age Gym
Image Courtesy of Stone Age Climbing Gym

As you continue going through the changes that accompany bariatric surgery, a certain feeling grips you. Not necessarily discontent, it is more like curiosity. You wonder about wearing that next size down, walking further than before, taking up a new hobby.

Or, in my case, putting aside safety and sanity in the name of pushing the envelope.

Deep Sleep, Interrupted

Do any of you have that one friend who calls you out of the blue and says things like “Let’s go to Mexico?” Or maybe “Let’s quit out jobs and open a B&B on the coast?”

That was me, Saturday morning, waking up and Lor and saying “Let’s go check out that Stone Age Gym today!”

Now, we have been hikers and campers for a long time. And a certain amount of wilderness adventuring involves getting up and over obstructions. But we’re talking about a whole different ball of wax here. Those maniacs that climb straight up mountain tops across the country, maybe sleeping in tiny hammocks dangling thousands of feet above the ground? Those are the folks that hang out at Stone Age.

Lor is an adventurer at heart, though. After waking up enough to form a coherent sentence, she agreed to go check the place out later in the day.

Where Do Ideas Come From?

Who knows where I got the idea to try indoor climbing from. We drive by the Stone Age facility pretty much every time we head down I-40, and I have always speculated about what lies inside that 5-story building. Somewhere a mental line was crossed, and my idle curiosity became a burning need to know.

Since they didn’t even open until 11, I was forced to spend the morning waiting. Wisely, Lor hauled us out to hit garage sales for the morning. She found some decent deals, but I was unable to focus. I was more like a kid on Christmas Eve, all aflutter and wanting to get in bed so that it would be Christmas morning.

When the hour finally struck, I was so excited that I paid no attention to my surroundings. As a result, we wound up walking away from the main entrance, and all the way around the 24,000-foot building before coming back to the main entrance, a few spaces away from our car. Nerves, I guess.

Interior Elevation

Once inside the gym, you can’t help looking up. And up. And up. The main room is what you see in the picture above: a cavernous space filled with climbing walls climbing 45 feet to the ceiling.

And there were fearless people everywhere in this room, dangling from ropes and being belayed by partners on the ground. It began to occur to me that I might have bitten off more than I could chew here. I can barely tie my shoes on a good day. How the heck would I manage a rope that keeps Lor from plummeting 40+ feet to the (admittedly padded) floor?

Fortunately, that is not all there is to the facility. There are other rooms with shorter walls equipped with “auto-belays” – mechanical contraptions that do the belaying work for you. If something goes wrong, the device lowers you to the ground – you are not at the mercy of the knotting skills of someone who was never a Boy Scout.

Elevation Motivation

A helpful staffer (whose name I have totally forgotten) walked us around the place. 3 big rooms, filled with climbing routes and “bouldering” possibilities. Some rooms with auto-belays, another where you were using ropes and a partner on the ground. Plenty of smaller features, being climbed by fearless children. There were even features like a yoga room, a gym, and a gear shop. This was an extensive operation.

Looking around the place, though, I noticed one common theme. These people were fit. Like in really, really good shape. Now, Lor and I are both down 100 pounds each, but most of the people working these walls were long ropes of muscles from their heads to their toes.

But there was no posing, no posturing, no air of intimidation. The place was filled with families with kids, couples working out together, friends hitting the walls instead of getting a couple beers. It was simply that the musculature was a side effect of the hobby. Watching a woman dangling by her fingertips 30 feet off the floor, I had to admit that strength training sure looked like a requirement, not an option.

This was going to require some thought and some planning.

Reconnaissance Complete

We departed with some additional information and a price sheet, full of excitement and speculation. This was going to require some fancy footwork on our part to afford our first “real” visit. Needing time to save was ok, though, because we were going to have to make some significant changes to our current workout routines before we tackled any of these walls.

We now have a second “Bucket List” motivator for our new bodies. The 5K Run For The Zoo is coming up in only 2 short months, and now beyond that: a trip back to Stone Age, to get some training and tackle a climbing wall.

Just, one with an auto-belay. Because, you know, knots.

Plotting My Ascent,