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I Love My Gym, and You Should Love Yours Too

According to Foursquare, I’ve checked into my gym, The Wellness Center at Dowell Springs, for 14 straight weeks. My previous record was 10 weeks, a streak that was broken by travel for work.

Think about what that means. I’ve spent at least one day a week for more than a quarter of a year at The Wellness Center. Most weeks I’m there four or five days unless I’m on the road. My workouts last 65 minutes if I’m riding the elliptical or the recumbent bike. If I decide to drop into a Zumba or Spinning class or do two forms of cardio I’m there for two hours.

That’s a lot of time to spend at the gym. Good thing I love the place. Here’s why I love it and what you should look for in selecting a workout facility for you and your family:

  • Convenience. The Wellness Center is located between my home and office, which makes working out super convenient. Distance can be a barrier. So look for a facility near your home or workplace.
  • Cleanliness. This place is super clean, and people actually wipe down the equipment when they’re through. I don’t feel like I’m going to catch a disease when I work out.
  • Friendly Staff. The staff actually care about and talk to me like I’m a human being and not a contract with legs. I can also get workout and nutrition advice from licensed professionals.
  • Medical Orientation. As an overweight person in an overweight family this is important for me. Does the facility truly have the tools and the knowledge to help you change your lifestyle? Gyms that flash billboard of rippling muscled people probably do not.
  • Low Pressure. Many gyms are all about the sales pitch. They LOVE people who sign long-term contracts, workout for a couple of weeks and never come in again. If you feel pressured, walk away.
  • Great Hours. Many gyms are open 24 hours. Mine is not, but I’m not likely to work out at 3 a.m. If that’s good for you, great.
  • Awesome Equipment. Equipment should be in decent to new shape, and not look like it just rolled off someone’s pickup truck after they sold it on craigslist.
  • Choice. Look for diverse cardio options (treadmill, elliptical, upright bikes, recumbent bikes), weight machines and free weights. And, check out the class schedule. Is there something on the list you’d be interested in checking out?

Here’s a quick video of what my gym looks like:

Wherever you work out, you should love it. If you love the place you’re going to use it, which means you’re on the road to healthiness.

Expo Gives a Dose of Inspiration to Those Seeking Healthier Lifestyle

Joe Mitchell, Biggest Loser contestant from Knoxville, shares how BL changed his life at the Healthy Living Expo,

Judging by the size of the crowd on Saturday, a lot of people were inspired by the Health Living Expo at the Knoxville Convention Center.

The annual event features healthy cooking demonstrations, fitness seminars and aisle after aisle of booths from the region’s various workout facilities, nutrition and health food vendors and much, much more.

I had the privilege of working the Knoxville Track and Field Club booth, where we shared information about April’s Covenant Health Knoxville Marathon, Half Marathon, 5K and Kid’s Run, as well as Knox Walks, our new walking program launching in March, other upcoming races, and club membership. A lot of people dropped by our booth, which was awesome to see.

Walking around the expo, it was great to see people trying out exercise equipment and taste-testing various healthy food options. I also chuckled at the adult trick-or-treaters who went from booth to booth loading their bags with every free pen, nail file, jar opener and other geegaw they could get their hands on. Aside from the KTC booth, my favorite stop was The Wellness Center at Dowell Springs booth, where I chatted with Juli, Casey and Mike. In my wanderings I also talked to friend and fellow runner Kim Hansard from Star 102.1, and friend and fellow blogger Brian Hornback.

I missed the exercise demonstration by my friend Missy Kane, but I did catch a few minutes of Biggest Loser contestant Joe Mitchell’s presentation about how BL changed his life. Very inspiring stuff that.

Knoxville’s Healthy Living Expo is a great event. If you missed it, make plans to be there in 2013.

Thunderstorm isn’t Enough to Stop My Marathon Training

Photo from

Our Saturday morning marathon training run was derailed by a severe thunderstorm that hit Knoxville around 7 a.m.

“While we run in rain, sleet or snow we don’t run while it’s lightning,” read the email that came from the training team at Fleet Feet Knoxville.

According to my marathon training plan, I was due to run 12 to 14 miles Saturday. I expected the Fleet Feet folks would reschedule the run to Sunday morning, but honestly I didn’t want the thought of that distance hanging over my head for another 24 hours.

So, I headed to the gym and jumped on the elliptical machine.  I do a lot of my training during the week on the elliptical in an effort to preserve my bad knees for as long as possible. I’ve been doing eight miles regularly, which takes me about an hour and 15 minutes. Still, I knew I was in for a long slog.

While the lighting, thunder and rain did its thing outside, I was warm and getting sweaty indoors. Two hours and lots of “Fox News Alert” updates later, I’d knocked out 13 miles. It felt good to have that distance behind me. Next week we’re due to run 22 miles. I hope the weather cooperates!


One Word: A New Kind of Resolution

So, the first full week of January has come and gone. How you doing on those resolutions?

As a frequent maker and breaker of resolutions, let me tell you that no matter how you’re doing don’t give up. If you didn’t exercise every day like you hoped you would, or that cupcake was too tempting last week and you gave in and ate it, it’s all right. When it comes to resolutions we tend to hold ourselves to an impossible standard of perfection, which virtually guarantees that we’re destined to fail. We’re human, not perfect. Stop beating yourself up, forgive yourself for your transgression, calibrate your resolution to be more realistic, and move on.

Better still, ditch the resolutions entirely, think about the person you would like to become by the end of the year and focus on one word. That’s the idea behind My One Word, an experiment begun by Port City Community Church in North Carolina in 2007. My One Word is “designed to move you beyond the past and look ahead. The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD. This process provides clarity by taking all of your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single thing. One word focuses on your character and creates a vision for your future.”

Love this idea. My word for 2012: RELENTLESS.

As in

  • Relentless love for my wife
  • Relentless love for my God and my church
  • Relentless athlete
  • Relentless focus on goals, whether it’s a race finish line or a project at work
  • Relentless drive to help my organization find the cures for cancer

So, what’s your word for 2012?

My Super Duper Running Weekend

With just 56 days before the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon, training is kicking in to high gear.

The intensity definitely stepped up this past weekend. Our long run Saturday was 10 miles. I was so not feeling it. I told my pace group, a great group of ladies who nicknamed themselves “The Sick Chicks” because several were fighting various stages of colds or bronchial crud (although their collective sense of humor also fits), that I felt like I was slogging through oatmeal.

I was a little tired, but otherwise fine. I am also aware, from my own past experience that some long runs just suck, so I guess I’ll chalk it up to that. At the end of the day we got through it together and lived to run another day.

Which turned out to be this morning. We met for a relatively short (five miles), easy run to knock out the soreness — and the cobwebs — from yesterday.

Today’s was a great run and I felt great. Kind of wished we had run longer.

There’s always next week. We’re running 18 or 20 miles in Cades Cove next weekend.

Let’s Be Nice to the New Folks in the Gym

Photo: New York Times, 2008

Odds are, your gym is a lot more crowded these days.

The start of the New Year has prompted lots of folks to join gyms, fitness centers and wellness centers in a renewed effort to lose weight and get healthy. All those new faces in the gym can lead to frustration for us “gym rats.” Now we have to wait to use our favorite machine, or actually abide by the time limits set on cardio machine use, or work out during off-peak hours, all of which totally messes up our routine.

Been there, done that. Right?

What if we all approached this challenge differently, and remembered what it was like to walk through the doors of a gym for the first time? How overwhelming and scary was that, especially for those of us carrying lots of extra weight?

Instead of complaining about the masses of people who have taken over our gyms, what would happen if we were nice to them? Say “hi” or “welcome” to someone you’ve never seen there before. Offer to help get a treadmill working. Show someone how Jacob’s Ladder works. Tell someone about a class you love. In other words, become an advocate for the place where you invest your time and money, and for the lifestyle you’ve come to embrace.

Maybe those folks would stick around longer than two or three months.

As for our messed-up routine, that could be good for us too. Change is good, especially if we climb aboard the same piece of equipment workout after workout. Split cardio between the treadmill and the stationary bike or the bike and the elliptical. Do body weight exercises or plyometrics if you can’t get to weight bench or there’s no space around the free weights.

The crowded gym could be good for all of us.


Inspiring Video Review: On a Clear Day

We all have our lists of inspirational sports movies.

Rudy. The Blind Side. Field of Dreams. Run, Fat Boy, Run. Chariots of Fire. Etc.

I have a new addition for this list: 2005’s On a Clear Day.

The lovely Sarah and I watched this Irish film on New Year’s Eve. It’s the story of Frank, a shipyard worker laid off from his job and decides to swim across the English Channel. On a Clear Day has all the elements of the typical inspirational film: an unlikely hero, long odds, family tragedy, broken relationships, quirky friends. We’ve seen all of this before — in some much better movies — but On a Clear Day works. It’s both touching and funny in all the right places.

The evolution of the relationship between Frank, played by Peter Mullan (currently starring in War Horse), and son Rob, played by Jamie Sives (Game of Thrones), is the emotional heart of this film. By the end, you may need a tissue.

I often watch inspirational films in the lead-up to running marathons. I’ll be adding On a Clear Day to the rotation.

Which Voices will You Listen to in 2012? It Can Make All the Difference on Your Weight Loss Journey

“The past is obdurate,” Stephen King writes in 11/22/63, his latest novel. “It doesn’t want to be changed.”

11/22/63 is a time-travel story about Jake Epping, an English teacher given a mission — to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy. En route to one of the 20th century’s seminal events, Epping stops an accidental shooting and prevents a drunken father from going on a murderous rampage. Epping (who changes his name to George Amberson) finds himself at home in late 1950s/early 1960s America, becomes a vital part of a small-town Texas community, and falls in love

History becomes a character in King’s book. As Jake/George works to change the past, the past fights back. Car accidents, beatings and other seemingly random events slow down so-called “dates with destiny.”

The past is obdurate. We can’t change it.

The mistakes we’ve made, events that have happened to or around us,  the pain others have inflicted through verbal, physical or sexual abuse — they’re all part of who we are. We don’t have to let the events of the past define us, but we often do. I know I did.

For a lot of years, my weight was a barrier — a means of protecting myself from other people. I believed for a long time the verbal abuse I heard from my dad that I was worthless, that I wouldn’t amount to much, etc. For years, I was a high achiever who earned two degrees and had a wall filled with awards for the work I’d done, all in an effort to prove my dad wrong. Never mind that he had died when I was 21. Deep down, thought, I had a hole in my heart, and food was one of the ways I found comfort in an otherwise painful world.

I’ve worked heard to undo the damage and subsequently change what I believe about myself. Years of Christian counseling from two incredible men, love from my amazing wife and the support of a small circle of friends helped me realize and internalize that I am loved unconditionally, that I have value and that I can, in fact, do anything I set my mind to doing.

2011 was a watershed year for me. While my journey to weight loss started before the year began, my desire to continue investing in myself really took root last year. I know I am worth the time I spend working out and I deserve the opportunities to make healthier choices. As a result, I’ve learned that I can and like to push myself. For example, I’ve gone from doing just cardio exercise to challenging myself with more difficult workouts. Squats, crunches and other exercise are regularly part of my routine. When I run, especially on race days, the voice in my head no longer urges me to give up. Rather, it propels me forward.

I still have work to do, but I’m happy with the results so far. I’m smaller than I’ve been in years and wearing sizes my body hasn’t seen since high school. I have set goals for myself, call them resolutions if you want, that don’t start with “lose xx pounds.” My goals are more along the line of “run a 5K in under 30 minutes” and “complete a triathlon.”

The past may be obdurate, as Stephen King says, but we are not. While we cannot change the past, we can change our reaction to it. If events and voices from the past are holding you back, it’s time to listen to new voices. You are worth it!

I can’t wait to see what 2012 has in store!

Recipe: Vegan Black Bean Sliders with Sweet Potato Fries

The folks over at Cook Train Eat Race posted a couple of black bean recipes this morning. In an effort to break out of a turkey sausage/bratwurst/burger/chili rut during my vacation, I decided to give their recipe for Black Bean Sliders a whirl. The sliders are easy to make, and most delicious. For those on Weight Watchers, each slider with bun is worth 5 points.

  • 8 oz. bottle of POM Wonderful pomegranate juice
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 t. finely chopped chipotle pepper (more or less according to taste)
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup minced red onion
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro (I added half a cup)
  • 1/2 t. cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (regular would also do the trick)
  • kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper

Pour pomegranate juice into a small saucepan and add lemon juice and sugar. Bring quickly to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until reduced to a thin glaze (it should easily coat the back of a spoon). Remove from heat and immediately stir in chipotle (glaze will thicken as it cools).

Place beans in a medium-sized bowl and mash them thoroughly (it’s okay if you have a whole bean here or there, just get most of them). Add onion, cilantro, cumin and garlic; mix well.

Add egg and bread crumbs, mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper, then form into eight slider-sized burgers.

Heat a grill pan over med-high heat with a T. of olive oil. When hot, add burgers and grill until good and brown, then flip and do the same on the other side. With a basting brush, brush glaze over burgers.

Serve on toasted slider buns I used Pepperidge Farm Classic Slider Buns; top with a thin tomato slice and a garnish of cilantro. (I topped with a slice of avocado instead of cilantro, which was quite tasty. Keep in mind the addition of avocado increases the PointsPlus value.)

For a side dish, I made sweet potato fries. While they didn’t achieve the desired crispness, they were quite tasty. Here’s how I made them:

Thinly slice sweeet potatoes. In a bowl, toss with olive oil. Spread slices in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, then flip to bake the other side.

Cancer is All Around Us, it Sucks, and it’s Time to Kick Butt

I woke up this morning to the realization that my next marathon is just 76 days away.

I’m running the Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans Marathon as DetermiNation athlete, which means I’ve committed to training and raising money for the American Cancer Society. This will be my third race as a DetermiNAtion athlete, and I couldn’t be more excited.

Or more committed.

I work for the Society, so hearing or reading stories about people who are battling cancer, surviving or losing the fight comes with the territory. In the last couple of weeks, though, cancer has struck a bit close to home.

A volunteer I have worked with for a number of years lost her battle with cancer week before last. Marilyn was an amazing woman, and a fighter to the end. She was inspirational in her life, as well as in the end of her life. Like many survivors, her battle went beyond her personal circumstances to the fight against cancer at large.  From Relay For Life events in and around Louisville, Ky., to meeting with lawmakers in Frankfort and Washington, D.C., and the countless other efforts she undertook, Marilyn  committed herself to bringing an end to cancer. We remain to continue her work.

Becky, one of my DetermiNation team mates, lost her mom to cancer last week. I didn’t know Becky’s mom, but I know Becky, who took up the fight after she lost her dad to cancer a few years ago. Her mom battled cancer three times before succumbing to the beast. Becky has already said her resolve is stronger in the face of her loss. We’ll be running New Orleans together in March.

On Friday, a dear friend shared that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’m protecting her privacy until and if she decides to speak publicly about her diagnosis and coming treatment. She’s been a huge supporter of my DetermiNation efforts over the years. We met when her theater company produced a play about cancer as a fund-raiser for the Society. She is amazing and I have no doubt will face this chapter of her life with incredible strength. And, we both agree that cancer totally sucks.

On top of all that, my friends John and Jeffrey continue their respective battles against the cancer in their bodies. The good news is, they appear to be winning.

My resolve to fight cancer by any means necessary has never been stronger. I wrote on Facebook the other day that I would run a marathon every day if it would bring about an end to cancer faster.  Right now, though, there is one marathon on my calendar. And, you can help me by making a donation to the American Cancer Society and bringing me closer to my fund-raising goal. Just click here.

Together, we can give the world a little hope.