Week 1, 2019: A good start

The first week of 2019 has come to a close. Overall, I am going to label it as a wonderful start to the new year!

Week 1, 2019 – Closed

To start, I was able to close all of my activity rings on my Apple Watch. This may seem trite to some people, but the sedentary lifestyle I have found myself in has not done much good for my concentration, motivation, mood or waste line. I know I am not the only one out there who has thought, “huh, when did these pants get so tight? The dryer must have shrunk them.” Only to order pizza delivery while binge watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.

The small act of closing activity rings on the Apple Watch has positively impacted me in my day-to-day life. Instead of letting hours slowly inch by me while I binge watch television or surf social media, I get up and go for a walk or do a body-weight workout. Yesterday, I took the dog for a 45-minute walk (something she doesn’t get to do often enough) and followed it up with a solo walk around downtown Albuquerque. I had energy all day long. It doesn’t take much to make a difference in your life, but you have to start doing something for any change to occur!

A few other things have fallen into place during this first week of 2019; things I didn’t expect or consciously plan to execute. A couple of examples:

  1. The TV has remained off 95% of the time – This is probably the biggest surprise. Without any conscious decision, I haven’t tried to write, read, or work with the TV on “in the background”. Not surprisingly, returning home from work each evening, I am actually productive as I pursue my writing, reading, and making improvements around the house. Without the visual or auditory distraction of the television I don’t have the urge to sit on the couch and do nothing until it’s time to go to bed.
  2. I have read hundreds of pages – I am planning to release a “Book-a-Month Reading List for 2019” later this month as a year long challenge to read one book per month. These books are going to be unrelated to work (the 9 to 5 job or my personal pursuits) and are more to disconnect from the daily grind than anything else. I am almost done with my January book…in less than 6 days. In addition to the novel, I have been reading the news more often (depressing as that can be) which has reopened my eyes to so many of the problems (and accomplishments) of the world.
  3. Screen time has decreased – With the exception of tonight, I have purposefully turned off all screens (computer, phone, iPad, etc.) two hours before going to bed. During these final two hours, I shower, write in my journal (old school paper and pen), read, and spend time with the husband. I’m not certain, but this may be contributing to more restful sleep or, at the very least, the ability to fall asleep faster without the tossing and turning. I’ll have to keep it going through week 2 to find out.
  4. I have been drinking more water – I haven’t cut sugar out of my diet (that’s a challenge for later in the year), but I’m not drinking as much soda as I was two weeks ago. In fact, I have been drinking 8 or more 8 ounce cups of water each day. I have no doubts this is contributing to my energy levels and lack of lethargy this week. I will be keeping up this newly forming habit in week 2 as well to see what happens.

Alright, so, the first week of 2019 is over and I have (thus far) successfully maintained my progress in my January Challenge of closing all my activity rings everyday this month. Twenty-five days left in the month. Twenty-five days of closed rings. I’ll post another update at the end of week 2, stay tuned for more!

Me trying not to smile too much as The Husband snaps a pic

How are you doing with your 2019 challenges? Maintaining motivation or falling off the wagon? Sound off in the comments – I’m sure people are more than happy to help get you where you want to be!

2019 – A Year of Challenges

Since 2018 didn’t work out so well for me in regards to accomplishing measurable goals, I am taking a net new approach in 2019. I will need to remain motivated to overcome the barriers we all experience when trying to improve ourselves – I have confidence this can be done.

Borrowing from my professional life as an Implementation Manager (think project manager meets sales meets operations management) of software, I need a shorter, time bound approach to my personal improvement. Over the course of a year, motivation to accomplish a long list of goals bleeds out like so much juice from a squeezed lemon. It is untenable and ultimately self-defeating to watch as one goal after another slips through my fingers resulting in failure (reference: 2018).

Another inspiration for this new approach has been the random social media challenges people take up in order to get followers, friends, and other digital accolades. Yes, even the tide pod challenge has some influence in my thought process. Now, the difference between the social media muck challenges and what I am doing is I plan on long-term personal change based on short-term, high-impact behavior modification. My Challenges are not temporary nor are they just to see if I can do something – they are meaningful and will result in real life gains.

The Modular Approach to Change

How have I decided to approach 2019? It’s simple enough, each month is a Challenge (or goal) to overcome. Each Challenge facilitates rapid behavioral change which leads to positive habit formation or results in accredited documentation (such as a certification or hard-skill). At the end of each Challenge I will devise a means of continuing the positive changes in a way that is less disruptive to my day-to-day life.

By breaking the year down into more bite-sized chunks of time (wherein a quarter is a Module and a month is a Challenge), I can accomplish several things:

  1. Regular achievement of goals which fuel future success
  2. Short-term gains that lend themselves to long-term, positive changes
  3. An easily read scoreboard or tracking system

This is what it looks like:

To measure success in any particular Module the following criteria will be used:

  1. Success in 3 Challenges equals full success in the Module
  2. Success in 2 Challenges equals average success in the Module
  3. Success in 1 or fewer Challenges equals failure in the Module

Each Challenge will consist of a 30-day block of time (with the exception of February which will only be 28-days) dedicated to overcoming the designated Challenge. In the final days of each Challenge, I will devise a plan for continued moderation of the bad habit or expansion of the good habit past the Challenge end date. This final step to each challenge is the key to actual self-improvement over the long-term.

For example, in April 2019 I have slated a “No Added Sugar Challenge” for the month. This means I will cut all sugar not naturally produced by a food item from my diet – no sugar in my coffee, no creamer, no bread, no cold cereal, no soda, no syrup, etc. Throughout the month I will update this blog with my progress as well as any physiological effects I observe. It is likely that at the end of the month I will want to reintroduce certain sugars back into my diet, however, I don’t want to return to the same level of sugar intake I was at when the challenge began. Therefore, a moderation plan will be executed to allow me to enjoy sweetened coffee without turning to a gallon of soda everyday.

This approach to change allows me to stack my successes over shorter periods of time while maintaining long-term gains. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is using this approach, but I can’t seem to find a name for it. Maybe something along the lines of “Stacked Success” or “Stacked Progress” – obviously I am stuck on the work “Stack”, but I digress.

January 2019 Challenge

For January 2019, I have challenged myself to close all three Activity Rings on my Apple Watch. I chose this challenge because it is something I have done many times in the past (though inconsistently) and is a good stepping stone into the much more difficult Challenges later in the year.

To ensure this isn’t a cake walk, I have increased my “Move Goal” to 750 calories per day. In order to achieve this elevated calorie count I will be required to purposefully do things everyday to increase my overall activity. Relying on standard daily activity at my desk job will not close these rings.

I anticipate this Challenge will require conscious effort to achieve but won’t disrupt my daily life too badly. Though people will attest to “loving change” all to often sudden or rapid change results in relapsing into bad habits or substituting new bad habits for the old ones. Human beings are resistant to change because we find comfort in complacency and routine. However, this comfort leads to sedentary lives which do not produce anything new. I am tired of buying into this approach to life.

Though this first Challenge should be accomplished easily enough, it won’t be so easy as the months pass. The Husband and I gave up sugar for 3-days last year and the effects were good and bad. Our moods shifted and our energy levels dropped initially (it was absolutely miserable) but by the end of the third day we were feeling and sleeping better. Unfortunately, 3-days wasn’t enough time to break the habit. I expect this year will be very difficult but have very positive results.

I plan to update this blog regularly with updates on my progress throughout the month – this will include my triumphs and shortcomings. Check back often for details on my progress!

What approach are you taking in 2019 to improving yourself? Status quo or are you getting organized and systematically attacking your goals? Let us all know in the comments below!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 4

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Eating green tea ice cream circa 2014 in Taiwan – I had already packed on 40 pounds of excess weight at this point.

Like so many veterans, I left the Army and immediately stopped doing any form of physical training (PT). I began ingesting far more calories than my newly lethargic lifestyle could ever process and, as happens, started to pack on the pounds. Over the years, my weight and fitness level have yo-yo’d from fat and cardiac-event risk to slim and fit. During the valleys of fast food and little activity, I constantly sell myself on the idea that I am as good as I was in my mid-20’s running mile after mile everyday, packing rucks with 50+ pounds and walking until my feet bled, and being “tactically cool” as I cleared houses in Iraq wearing 90 pounds worth of gear and ammo. Unfortunately, despite my success selling myself on these ideas, the truth is much more grounding:

I am overweight, out of shape, and not as good as I once was.

The truth hurts and putting it out to the world in this way is very embarrassing for me. I have always prided myself on being disciplined and ready for whatever the world throws at me. However, with my inability to complete the full course of the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 comes the realization that I have bought into my own lie, hook, line, and sinker.

Fortunately, it is not too late to turn this all around. It is possible that I will never be as good as I was as a young sergeant in Iraq, but I can be a whole lot better than I am today. My 2018 goals are geared towards my own improvement including physical fitness – not just weight loss, but physical ability to accomplish tasks that I currently struggle with or outright fail at. In line with this physical improvement is preparation for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March taking place on March 17, 2019.

Selfie - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
A horrible selfie sometime around Mile 10 or 11

As I have written about my experiences at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 in Parts 1, 2, and 3 of “The Day After” series, my physical preparations were insufficient to complete the full route this year. I have two more physical challenges in 2018 as a part of my 2018 goals which do not include any “from the hip” entries I may have in other events that pop-up in the next 9 months. These events will help drive me to improve my physical capabilities and increase my chances of completing the 2019 Bataan memorial Death March 26.2 mile route.

My rough training plan for the 2019 Bataan Memorial Death March:

  1. Albuquerque “Run for the Zoo” 10k – May 6, 2018
    • I have 5 weeks to train for this event and will be detailing that adventure in future blog posts.
  2. The “Duke City Marathon” – October 21, 2018
    • I plan on finding a 3 to 4 month training plan to up my distance from 10k range to a full marathon and will be detailing this journey in future blog posts.
  3. 20-week Bataan Memorial Death March provided training plan
    • After an appropriate rest period following the Duke City Marathon, The Husband and I will follow the 20-week training plan provided by event organizers. I will be recording our experiences on this blog.
  4. Weekly Ruck Marches
    • I plan on utilizing the wonderful terrain in and around Albuquerque to ruck short to long distances with light to heavy weight at least one day a week throughout the year until I start the official Bataan training plan.
  5. Strength Training
    • Incorporated into all of my training plans for the above events will be regular strength training. This is something I have never been fond of (pick up heavy things and then put them back where I found them), but I am weaker today than I have ever been in my entire life. This is not something I am okay with and I am willing to take whatever steps are necessary to correct this problem.

Since the above points are my rough plan, I am sure I will provide more refined and tested training plans for each event in the future. Keep in mind, I am not a nutritionist, certified trainer, or other certified sports exercise professional so don’t follow my plans without first checking with a healthcare professional. I am willing to use trial and error to improve myself until I am in a position to consult with professionals.

I know this is going to be a very difficult road over the next year, but I am committed to fixing the problems I have created. I am glad I chose to share my own embarrassment with everyone who happens upon this blog because it provides me a higher sense of accountability (much like I had in the Army). It’s time to prove through hard work that none of us are stuck with our present situation!

Are you a veteran or do you know a veteran who let themselves go after leaving the service? Have you (or they) come back from that bad place? How did you (or they) do it? Any advice for me or the readers of this blog? Share in the comments below! Also, remember to follow this blog and like us on social media!

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 3

Sunrise Over the Start Line - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018

Here is Part 3 of my “Bataan…The Day After” series. In Part 1 I recounted my experiences during the actual Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 while Part 2 shared some lessons learned from the event. In this installment, I am going to air some grievances about the event and its organization.

WARNING: This post should not be taken out of context. I greatly enjoyed my experience at the Bataan Memorial Death March 2018 and will be registering for the 2019 event as soon as registration opens up in October. This was my experience and my observations and in no way should be taken as an end all, be all of the event.

PURPOSE OF THIS POST: I am writing this post to vent, yes, but also to help set expectations for first time marchers in years to come. It is my hope that this post will help people better prepare for the event thus improving their experience and helping them through a very difficult event to feel the exhilaration of finishing.

I have covered a lot in Part 1 and Part 2 as to what annoyed and irritated me during the event, but I wanted to vent a bit in this post for my own sanity. Going into the march I understood there were going to be a lot of people, difficult terrain, and general discomfort/pain. However, I was hoping against hope for a bit more courtesy from my fellow marchers and timeliness of execution for the event itself.

VENTING AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS:

  1. SCHEDULE AND TIMELINESS – I spent time in Part 2 explaining the start times for civilian categories do not start at 7:00 AM as the literature implies (but does not specify) which results in a lot of standing around through a chilly desert morning. Here, I want to talk about the late start to the Opening Ceremony (only a few minutes, but that adds up quickly) and the long delay between each corral being released. Why the long delay? This is to allow each marcher the opportunity to shake the hand and say “hi” to all of the attending survivors (of the actual Bataan Death March). Obviously, it takes some time to get 8,400 marchers through the choke point where the survivors are posted up. All-in-all, it takes about 90 minutes to get the marchers through this process. When the first corral (runners) aren’t released until 7:15 AM, that’s a lot of standing around in the chilly air for the last corral (Civilian Heavy).
    • Possible Solution – Start earlier. Instead of a 6:35 AM start to the opening ceremony, go for 6:00 AM. I understand the later start time is likely for the F-15 flyover to be visible, but burning daylight for the Civilian Heavy division is quite unfair (Military Heavy ends up with about 12.5 hours to finish the full course while Civilian Heavy have about 11.5 hours).
    • Possible Solution – Break up the starting line into two lanes: Lane 1 meets the survivors and Lane 2 goes straight to the Starting Line and onto the course. Personally, I took the time to meet and greet the survivors at the Finish Line when I felt like I could truly understand some of their sacrifice and the pain they went through (some, not nearly all).
  2. MARCHER COURTESY – Just like on the highway, if you’re going slower than the people around you, move to the right and let people pass you on the left. The Husband and I got stuck behind several small groups in the first few miles that were more interested in talking about home renovations, workplace drama, and kids than taking in the experience they were actively participating in or being aware of their surroundings. In the narrower portions of the trail it takes a lot of self-control to not rudely bump people out of the way so we could continue at the pace comfortable for the both of us. I understand that everyone has their own motivation, purpose, and reasons for being on the course, but courtesy is universal and should not be dependent on whether it is a competitive event or not.
    • Possible Solution – Pretty simple and almost impossible to enforce, but slower marchers stay to the right while faster marchers can pass on the left. It’s common courtesy.
    • Possible Solution – Also impossible to enforce as an organizer, but maybe people should remove the earbuds/headphones, quiet down about their day-to-day life and pay attention to their surroundings. When someone is obviously moving faster than you are and attempting to get by you, move out of the way.
    • Disclaimer – Wounded Veterans, the disabled (their were blind marchers on the course), and the elderly — DO WHAT YOU WANT! In these cases, it is the responsibility of the masses to find other ways around these marchers. Double standard? You are damn right, get over it!
  3. MARCHER COURTESY (PART 2) – Okay, lot’s of courtesy going on here, but lack of it was the most irritating part of my experience. Water and Check Points. These are not “stop in the middle of the trail and have a conversation, throw my arms out, and take a break in the middle of the trail” points. The Husband and I stopped at several of these points but we did so only after getting off the main thoroughfare to allow those who weren’t stopping to continue on without us getting in their way. It gets back to paying attention to your surroundings. The mile markers were another area in which this bottlenecking occurred because marchers wanted to take pictures with the placard. I completely understand the novelty and recording the experience with a picture, but that doesn’t mean you should impede other marchers while doing so.
    • Possible Solution – Marchers should pay attention to their surroundings and, unless physically unable to do so, move off the trail before stopping.
    • Possible Solution – Marchers taking pictures with the mile markers should do so by getting off the trail or, if using a second person as a photographer, the person taking the picture should hug the edge of the trail to stay out of other people’s way.
  4. INFORMATION FROM THE ORGANIZER – I am a veteran of the Army Infantry and I can’t recall a single time when I found myself participating in a ceremony or at an event that I didn’t know the exact sequence of events to take place. In the case of this event, I knew how the opening ceremony would unfold (and it did, to the letter), but no information was shared as to how or when the march would actually kick-off. We were cordoned off into corrals, check. The opening ceremony occurred, check. Then…well, I don’t know what happened for about 60 minutes other than motivational music from the 80’s and 90’s blasted over the loud speaker. This resulted in a handful of false starts on my part based on observing the events around me (i.e. “I think their moving, let me ruck up…oh wait, false alarm”).
    • Possible Solution – Use the loud speaker to help release the corrals as well as inform the other corrals as to what’s going on. Simple: “Military Heavy, step-off; Military Light prepare to move in 15 minutes”.
    • Possible Solution – Set proper expectations in the literature that it will take approximately 15-20 minutes for each corral to move through the survivor meet and greet area, prepare accordingly.

In the end, despite some annoyances and irritation, I greatly enjoyed the event and will be participating in next year’s march (the 30th to take place). I hope that people returning next year will have more courtesy than they did this year and that first-time marchers will keep some of these points in mind when on the course. We are all out there and we are all suffering to some degree or another, don’t make it more difficult by purposefully getting in the way in order to facilitate your own experience at the expense of others.

Also, understand that for 99% of marchers this is not a competitive event; it is to honor those who were forced to march 65 miles in the Philippines with quarter rations, almost no water, and substandard equipment. Though the start is slowed by meeting and greeting the attending survivors I gladly accept this delay as a point of pride to shake the hand of men who survived events I will never have to live through. I salute each and every one of them though I chose to do so at the finish line.

Overall, this was a very well executed and supported event that I will always cherish as a great memory. Nothing is perfect and there are always things that could be improved. I have also sent my feedback to the organizers so don’t think I’m not trying to contribute to improving this event and am only looking to bitch to the world.

Did you participate as a runner, marcher, or volunteer? What improvements do you see for this event in the future? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below! Also follow this blog and on social media!

 

Bataan 2018…The Day After – Part 2

Pre-Opening Ceremony - Bataan Memorial Death March 2018
Final prep before the opening ceremony – Photo courtesy of Bud Cordova (The Husband)

I wanted to write a post right after finishing the march, but found myself a bit on the tired side and opted for sleep instead. This is part two of a multi-part (number to be determined) postmortem of the Bataan Memorial Death march 2018. Don’t forget to get caught up on how we did by reading Part 1

Regrettably, the husband and I were unable to complete the full 26.2 mile march. At mile marker 8 (Checkpoint 3/9), we each performed a medical self-assessment which resulted in the very difficult decision to merely complete the 14.2 mile Honorary Route. The husband twisted his already tender knee coming up the 2-mile sand pit that started at mile marker 6 and was fairly certain the much steeper (and sandier) march up the hill between mile markers 12 and 15 would result in serious injury. Meanwhile, my own review resulted with mild dehydration setting in and light bruising on my feet. Since it was only 10 AM and I was already showing signs of dehydration (despite regular water intake interspersed with electrolyte-rich drinks) it was unlikely I was going to make it around the hill and to the finish line without suffering from heat stroke. Together, we concluded our lack of preparation in similar conditions as the route and our general unwillingness to severely or permanently injure ourselves meant we wouldn’t finish the full route.

But not all was lost!

Each of us came out of this experience with some hefty lessons learned that we plan on applying to next year’s event. Hopefully, some of these lessons will help any of you readers planning on participating properly prepare for this arduous event.

LESSONS LEARNED

  1. PREPARATION IS KEY – If you are a serious competitor and are not simply doing this march for the fun of it all, this lesson goes without saying. For those of you simply completing the march to check it off your bucket list, pay homage to those who have sacrificed their lives for this country, or because you have nothing better to do in mid to late March, pay attention! The organizers have provided a fairly detailed 20-week training plan (especially important for those entering a Heavy Division) which looks very promising and will be used next year to properly prepare for this event.
  2. TRAIN IN COMPARABLE ENVIRONMENTS – We don’t all live in a desert environment (I mean, I do, but not all of you) and don’t have regular access to 6 inch deep coarse sand with tiny pieces of gravel throughout it. Not everyone is in an environment of high-70’s to low-80’s dry heat with direct sun exposure for miles on end. Some of you don’t have 5-20 mph wind gusts at the ready to pelt you with small rocks and cloud your vision with dust. However, if you want to make it through this march, it would behoove you to find these conditions, ruck up, and start walking. The husband and I have already found several areas around Albuquerque that match this description and we will be burning holes in our boots over the next year so we can finish the full route.
  3. DON’T COUNT ON YOUR OWN PACE – 8,400+ people walked, marched, or ran the course this year. Each category (Military Heavy, Military Light, Civilian Light, Runner, etc.) was released onto the course one right after the other. The civilian categories were let loose last. The husband and I had 8,000 people ahead of us, all going at a different pace with different goals and motivations. The first two miles weren’t bad because we were on a four-lane road with plenty of room from side to side. However, Starting mile 3 you find yourself in sand (get used to that word) on a barely improved (more like used) dirt road that is only 10 feet wide at its widest. Many of the people are not paying attention to their surroundings so slower walkers/marchers in the center of the path can force you to slow down until there are a few inches on the side to pass them. Getting stuck behind a larger gaggle of people may force you to slow to an uncomfortably slow pace until you break through. This can cause pain! be ready for the varying pace and inattention of your fellow marchers.
  4. THE (CIVILIAN) START TIME IS NOT 7:00 AM – Based on all of the published schedules, it looked like the start time was going to be 7:00 AM with the Runners starting it off followed by Military Heavy and all the other categories. However, the Civilian Heavy category did not get released from its respective corral until 8:10 AM (leaving one hour less than planned for to complete the course). What does this mean? Well, if you followed the instructions and were in the corrals by 6:00 AM then it means you have been standing, sitting, or laying in chilly conditions for at least 2 hours before you take your first step towards the start line. This leads to tense muscles, potentially sore feet, and a bit of frustration. Now, I get it, all 8,000 marchers can’t be released at the same moment due to traffic build up on the route and by doing staged releases you allow the field to spread out more. Unfortunately, this timing was never communicated which led to a lot of uncertainty the day of the march which isn’t the best way to start 14.2 or 26.2 miles.
  5. IT’S UNUSUALLY COLD WHILE YOU WAIT TO START – This one hurt the husband more than me (I like to think of myself as more of a polar bear than a lizard), but it was still more uncomfortable than I expected. This lesson ties back to Lesson #4, but more specifically points to wearing a sweater, jacket, or bringing a blanket to stave off the chill of the desert morning. The husband was shivering and leaning against me for hours in an attempt to stay warm (not comfortable, just not freezing) which did not help his mood at the start of the march. This is something the organizers communicate to the participants and should be listened to in all seriousness.

I hope that some of this information helps fill in the knowledge gaps for anyone who hasn’t participated in this event in the past. I know we will be remembering these facts as we prepare for the Bataan Memorial Death March 2019. Check out Part 1 to learn more about the course and event execution!

Have you participated in the Bataan Memorial Death March and have a lesson learned not included above? Share with everyone in the comments below!