Wearing my new personal uniform while doing pull-ups at the local park.
Decluttering, Journal, Minimalism, Travel

My Minimalist Uniform Project for 2015

Since my exercise and weight loss journey began in the middle of 2014, I have lost about five inches off my waist (34 inches to 29 inches). That custom tailored double-breasted suit from Hong Kong that I got in the summer of 1995? I’m glad that style is coming back into fashion because the muffin top is gone, and the suit fits me again! Those durable North Face shorts I wore on my Desolation Wilderness backpacking trips in the late 90s and early 2000s but hid in my closet the last decade because they had gotten too tight? Time to start planning another backpacking trip because they’re loose and comfy now!

Getting my suit fitted and adjusted in Hong Kong circa 1994. After my weight loss, it fits again!

Getting my suit fitted and adjusted in Hong Kong circa 1994. After my weight loss, it fits again!

Seeing that the clothes I’ve been wearing the past several years are now too big, I’m jumping head-first into this sartorial opportunity to do something I’ve long wanted to do but was afraid to commit to: creating a minimalist uniform for myself. I’ve been inspired by people like Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Mark Zuckerberg, President Obama and others who have adopted a minimalist clothing approach or a personal uniform. They’ve chosen to wear the same or identical clothes every day in order to concentrate on the things that are most important to them instead of wasting time on deciding what to wear. While my daily decisions don’t yet affect the financial future of multi-billion, multi-national companies nor the fate of the free world, I can still benefit from simplifying my life and freeing myself of the clothing decision every day.

Mark Zuckerberg is known for his gray t-shirt and hoodie. The late Steve Jobs was known for his black mock turtleneck and blue jeans.

Mark Zuckerberg is known for his gray t-shirt and hoodie. The late Steve Jobs was known for his black mock turtleneck and blue jeans. I took these photos at the Facebook Graph Search (2013) and Apple Antennagate (2010) presentations.

Unlike these powerful and famous individuals, I don’t have the budget nor desire (yet) to buy dozens of copies of the same outfits, so my minimalist uniform choice has durability requirements along with an added social component.

On Minimalism

There are two memories from my youth and college years that I think were the original seeds for this notion of adopting a personal uniform. In high school, I can’t remember a day when my friend Jared Polis wasn’t wearing slacks and a turtleneck. While the colors changed daily, the style was almost always the same. Today, Jared’s wardrobe consists more of polo shirts and suits now that he’s a three-term US Congressman from Colorado’s 2nd District.

The second seed was planted when I studied abroad in Paris, France during my junior year at Stanford. I remember bringing a hard-sided suitcase, a soft-sided suitcase you see in the photo below, a garment bag, a backpack and a laptop case for four months in the City of Light. Here’s what I wrote nearly 20 years ago in my journal:

“I have pretty much completed packing for tomorrow. J*** was telling me that I brought too much luggage and/or clothes. I didn’t want to show it in front of her, but I seriously disagreed with her.”

“… And, thinking about my luggage, it’s simply a matter of getting to the airport.”

“… I was going to pack the garment bag in the suitcase again, since I was telling J*** that it would be difficult with four luggages instead of three. Then I told myself, “Adam, you brought this garment bag that M*** kindly loaned to you, and you’re not even using it! What the hell is wrong with you!” So, I packed my clothes into the garment bag; man, that bag can carry a crap load of stuff! I was really surprised at how much more stuff it can carry than the one I have at home. And, it allows me to stuff much more junk into the suitcase. I am not worrying about the luggage situation… at least not until December!”

J*** was right, but I didn’t want to accept what she was saying at the time. Isn’t that how it always seems to be when looking back on your life? How I wish my future self could have had a conversation with my younger self about the value of minimalism and the personal uniform!

Just outside the frame of this photo were the other pieces of heavy and bulky luggage I was bringing back to the US. How I wish I had a uniform or a minimalist clothing and packing strategy when I was living in Paris in 1995!

Just outside the frame of this photo were the other pieces of heavy and bulky luggage I was bringing back to the US. How I wish I had a uniform or a minimalist clothing and packing strategy when I was living in Paris in 1995!

Since then, I’ve gotten a lot better at packing for travel. From our vacations in Europe, tours of Autumn Gem around the world, and our two trips to South Korea last year, Rae and I typically brought just two school-sized backpacks with us. If it was absolutely necessary, we brought along a small rolling suitcase. I’ve been able to pair down my clothes to either two or three outfits, but I’ve always want to be able to travel with just the clothes on my back and be ready for any situation. Could I apply that same desire to my everyday life?

On Being Both Durable and Stylish

Our current travel packing strategy consists of choosing clothes that can be worn multiple times between washings, could be washed in the sink, and featured quick drying fabrics. A lot of my clothes come from either REI or Scottevest. They are functional, but I do find them lacking in the style department. My biggest frustration with these clothes is that they make me look like a tourist.

Under a Carlos Gomez sculpture along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Our travel clothes were functional if not stylish.

Under a Carlos Gomez sculpture along the Riverwalk in San Antonio, Texas. Our travel clothes were functional if not stylish.

The famous people I mentioned above probably didn’t or don’t concern themselves with what other people thought about their clothing habits. Had they earned that right by virtue of being successful and powerful? Or can anyone adopt that attitude? If I’m going to adopt a uniform or minimalist clothing strategy, I’d like the clothes to be both functional, durable, and stylish (to a degree).

The Shirt

Enough with the preamble and background. Let’s talk about what I’m actually going to be wearing for the next several months (to start out with) in 2015.

I first read about the Wool and Prince better button-down dress shirt from one of Tynan’s annual gear posts. I’ve grown tired of taking my stable of cotton dress shirts to the cleaners after they get all sweaty and wrinkled from wearing them for just a single day and am eager to test the magical properties of this fine merino wool dress shirt. Wool and Prince started out as a successfully funded Kickstarter project in 2013. I ordered the button-down oxford in gray. The shipment came in two days and was well packed. The shirt doesn’t feel like the thick wool you might have worn as a kid, nor does it feel scratchy like some of the synthetic shirts I have. To me, it looks and feels like a regular cotton dress shirt.

I chose this shirt because it can be dressed up or down and worn tucked in or out. The grey is a neutral color compared to the colorful gingham styles of the other W&P button-downs.

While the shirt is expensive at $128, it’s about the same price as I paid for my Ralph Lauren dress shirts that I hate having to launder. If this shirt stays clean, stink-free and wrinkle-free for three months, it’ll be worth it.

At the time of this blog post’s publishing, I’ve worn it for two days. We took the kiddo out to the mall in the stroller last night (watch out for flying food!), and we walked to a nearby park this morning. I even did 71 of my daily 100 pull-ups wearing the shirt! Here’s a video of me doing ten of them (while the kiddo tries to run away):

Since I plan to wear this shirt for the next 100 days — 2 down, 98 to go — I really hope it can hold up to everything I will be throwing (and pull-upping) at it without getting wrinkled, smelly and worn.

The Pants

I’m going to be more liberal with my pants choice for my daily uniform. I bought a pair of Levi’s Relaxed Fit 559 jeans in blue and a pair of black Bluff Works pants. I’m also getting my Scottevest black Hidden Cargo Pants altered to bring in the waistline.

Levi's 559 jeans, Bluff Works pants, and Scottevest Hidden Cargo Pants

Levi’s 559 jeans, Bluff Works pants, and Scottevest Hidden Cargo Pants

Like Wool and Prince, Bluff Works was another successful Kickstarter project that achieved its funding goal in 2012. The company makes athletic fit and wrinkle-free pants out of nylon. From the photos, these pants look to be a lot dressier than the cotton-synthetic blend and pure synthetic fabric pants that I have from REI. Stefan Loble, founder of Bluff Works, describes his pants as follows:

“My Bluffs are designed to look great in the office, but stand up to being rolled, folded, stuffed in a bag, and most importantly worn time and time again without ironing or washing in between.”

That’s a lot of promise for a pair of pants, and I’m eager to try them out when they arrive in about a week. Since pants sizing and fit is so personal and hard to judge looking at numbers on a website, there may be some back and forth between me and Bluff Work’s customer support over the next several weeks. Until then, I’ll be wearing the Levi’s 559 jeans.

These three pants will form the bulk of my daily wear, though I may pull out a different pair of pants from my closet for special occasions.

The Jacket(s)

I will be the first person to admit that I have way too many hoodies and jackets. Every conference I went to over the past eight years has handed out some kind of outerwear. Lately, I’ve been wearing a Marmot Ajax down jacket that I got from Re/code. It’s perfectly warm for the mild winters we experience in the Bay Area; the only downside is that it’s a size medium, and I’d prefer a small.

I’ve long been a fan and promoter of Scottevest clothing. The extra pockets in their pants and jackets allow me to carry all of my digital accessories (no minimalist strategy here with my gadgets!). That said, I’ve always found myself in-between sizes with their clothing. Up until now, I was too big for a small and too small for a medium. For spring, summer, and fall, I will wear my Scottevest Travel Jacket (Women’s Large fit me the best) in vest mode in the interim while I look into one of their newer jackets/vests as a future purchase. I might add a touch of color with that purchase, seeing that my wardrobe is very muted with grays, blacks, and dark blues.

Finally, I’m also considering altering one of my blazers to my new size and just wearing that when I’m out and about.

The Shoes

Three pairs of shoes will remain in my regular rotation: My current running shoes, a pair of ABC shoes in black, and a pair of waterproof trail running shoes from XYZ. Since I won’t be running in my uniform, I’ll probably be wearing my ABC shoes the most, seeing that they’ll go better with my Bluff Works and Scottevest black pants. The XYZ shoes work best with my Levi’s.

The Ground Rules

I’ve set up the following rules that govern my uniform usage:

  1. Home: Anything goes. I can wear whatever I want to.
  2. Exercise: Anything goes.
  3. Everywhere Else: I wear the uniform
  4. Special Occasions: Case-by-case basis

I realize that because I work primarily from home, I do have an out with rule number one. I have a lot of soft, cotton t-shirts (all of them given to me for free at various conferences and events). Perhaps later this year, I’ll buy one of Wool and Prince’s t-shirts and wear that around the house. I could save on laundry/water costs each month… hmmm… maybe I’ll be updating this post sooner rather than later.

As for rule number two, I’m primarily running and doing bodyweight exercises (mostly pull-ups and push-ups) these days, with the occasional bike ride thrown in from time to time. I don’t spend too much mental energy thinking about what to wear since I only have a limited selection of exercise clothes.

I’ll take special occasions on a case-by-case basis. Not that I have been invited to any black tie events planned this year, but I do have a tuxedo sitting unused in my closet!

Concluding Thoughts

Day one of wearing my new personal uniform.

Day one of wearing my new personal uniform.

This is my first attempt at creating a uniform for myself, and I don’t know if the choices I’ve made this week will stick for the entire year.

On the original Kickstarter description page for his better button down shirt, the founder of Wool and Prince wrote, “A wool shirt worn for 100 days straight. No washing. No dry cleaning. No wrinkles. No odor.” I’m going to follow his lead and wear this personal uniform for the next 100 days. I won’t be washing the shirt nor the pants unless there’s some egregious stain on them. May the toddler gods smile upon me.

I’m hoping that at the end of this project, the clothes will look as new as they did when I bought them, Levi’s jeans (knee area, I’m talking to you) and shoes aside.

As for my current clothes, they’ll shortly be going into the guest room closet; if this personal uniform and minimalist clothing strategy works for me, I’ll be donating them all at the end of the year. There’s a liberating feeling when I’m able to push beyond sentimentality and get rid of old things that have outlived their usefulness. It’s hard sometimes to make the decision, but I have always felt better afterwards. Out with the old, and in with the new!

Finally, for my friends, family, and work colleagues, I hope you forgive me for making every day seem like the same day when we take photos together! For those people who realize that I’m wearing the same clothes every day, I’ll point them to this post.

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Doing pull-ups has really strengthened my back muscles.
Exercise

Pull-ups, Body Recomposition and Weight Loss

Last year, I weighed myself and was shocked to see 166 pounds on the scale. How did I let myself go so far? I couldn’t even do a single pull-up, which meant my strength-to-weight ratio was terribly off. My pull-up failure, coupled with my burgeoning waistline and the impending arrival of our son, prompted me to dedicate myself to a healthier and lighter lifestyle.

I began my weight loss journey in June by deciding what I didn’t want to do. I wasn’t interested in crash diets where I basically starved myself. I said no to a gym membership, since I wanted to do this as inexpensively as possible. I didn’t have time to journey into the wilderness on a week-long solo backpacking trip (which worked in the past). Finally, I didn’t want the pounds to come back again afterwards as they have in the past.

In addition to some diet changes (something I’ll talk about in a future post), I started by running more consistently, doing half-marathons from my house to Levi’s Stadium and back and my first ever self-supported marathon. I also added in the occasional bike ride, stroller runs with the kid, and swimming in our pool (during the summer), along with daily push-ups and pull-ups. I’ve always been good at push-ups; I was able to do 100 straight back in high school. As for pull-ups, our high school workout room had a climbing hangboard, and I remember being able to jump up from the bench press onto the hangboard and crank out five finger pull-ups. Unfortunately, I can’t recall how many I could do back then, so I don’t have a baseline for my high school pull-ups records like I do for the half-marathon and 5K.

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"Sprint" finish atop Sierra Road
Cycling, Exercise

2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs #2: Sierra Road

Saturday morning brought the second Low-Key Hillclimb ride of the 2014 season: Sierra Road. I rode this during Week 8 of the 2007 LKHC season, ascending the 3.66 mile, 1759 foot climb in 38:34. Based on my my performance last week at Montebello Road, I knew that I could beat that time; the question was by how much? I estimated that I would do about 33 minutes; if I was feeling especially strong, I figured I could make it to the top in 32 minutes.

LKHC Sierra Road: Adam, Larry, and Han

Larry, Han, and I are smiling now, but we’ll be gritting our teeth and huffing and puffing soon on Sierra Road. Photo by Alexander Komlik.

Originally, I was planning on riding from my house to the check-in point as a 8-9 mile warmup, but I ran out of time in the morning. So, I loaded the bike in the car, drove to a spot about 1.5 miles away, and slowly rode to check-in around 9:25. Stephen Fong was in street clothes and working as a volunteer for this race, along with Christine Holmes. Larry, Han, and Richard were raring to go, however, and after a quick warm-up, we all lined up in the back awaiting the ringing of the cowbell that signals the start of the race.

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Wear on the New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez versus the 10v2 Trail Shoes
Exercise, Running

New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail Shoe Review

At the beginning of this year, I replaced my venerable Puma H Streets with a pair of New Balance Minimus Hi-Rez shoes. The weight of the Hi-Rez shoes was amazing, even when compared to the already light H Streets. The sole was made up of these rubberized pods that were glued onto the bottom of the shoe. I was curious to see how durable the shoe would be. My H Streets always developed a hole along the outer edge of the shoes due to excessive supination when running. Sadly, my fears were confirmed when I saw holes forming in the Hi-Rez shoes after less than 100 miles. As with my H Streets, I tried using gaffer tape to cover the holes over the next 100 miles of running. In the meantime, I also started looking for a new pair of shoes. I came across the New Balance Minimus 10v2 Trail shoe at the local Sports Basement. The 10v2 has a Vibram sole which provides more durability over the Hi-Rez.

There’s this band that runs along the top of the shoe which presses against the top of my right foot, and I had to adjust the lacing pattern on the both shoes to alleviate the top pressure.

So far, I’ve run over 230 miles with the 10v2 and the soles are holding up for now. The wear pattern is there, but no holes have formed as of yet. I figure I’ll be able to get another 100 to 150 miles out of these shoes before I need to replace them.

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Stephen and Adam share a smile following our ascent of Montebello Road.
Cycling, Exercise

Low-Key Hillclimbs 2014 #1: Montebello Road

This morning, I returned to Montebello Road for the start of the 2014 season of Low-Key Hillclimbs! Due to our touring Autumn Gem, I haven’t rode in the Low-Key Hillclimbs series since 2009. Back in 2006, I completed Montebello Road in 48:54. In 2007, fresh off of completing the Death Ride, I reached the top in 42:45. My time regressed in the rain in 2008, with me bringing up the rear with a time of 47:57. All of these were far cries from my fastest time of 39:15 / 39:30, set way back in September, 2003. Had I known about Montebello back when I started road cycling in 1997, I think I could have gotten in the mid-30s (my power-to-weight ratio was better back then). Time waits for no one, and as the years ticked by following my last LKHC appearance, the pounds had added up. Part of not attending LKHC in recent years was touring the film, but another reason was shame. I was afraid of what I had become, fat and slow, and didn’t want to see a time of 50+ minutes recorded for all to see!

4 months of running have made my legs look like this

4 months of running have made my legs look like this

Fortunately, this has been something I’ve been diligently working on rectifying over the past four months with my half marathon and marathon runs. At my peak weight, I was 166 pounds, and I reckon that I’m around 146 pounds today. The weight loss has not only been noticeable to friends and family, but to my clothes as well! Pants that had gotten to be a wee bit tight around the waist are now loose, and several of my jackets look too big on me now. Suffice it to say, I’ve been pretty pleased with my progress thus far! The big question today was how much my running regimen and weight loss would contribute to my ascent times. I was confident that I could beat 48 minutes, but I was unsure how close I could get to 40 minutes, let alone breaking the 40-minute mark. It was nice to reconnect with many of my Low-Key friends over the years. Race organizer James Porter recognized me during check-in. Stephen Fong, Richard Contreras, and Christine Holmes were other longtime LKHC riders that I spoke with or rode alongside today. I met with Stephen’s friends, Larry and Han, who made up our Grumpy Old Men (GOM) cycling team for the series. We missed having Jorge today, but he had a family outing to attend and couldn’t make it.

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Water Fountain at Shoreline Amphitheater
Exercise, Running

First Self-Supported Marathon Run Recap

It was after the third or fourth consecutive self-supported half marathon run that I realized I was actually doing training for a full marathon. I had been doing some serious running (and to a lesser extent biking and swimming) over the past two months, coupled with changes in my diet, in the effort to lose weight. My last half marathon run saw me conquer my personal best time set when I was a freshman in high school. I honestly didn’t think that I would be able to do that so quickly, but that’s what happens when you put in the effort and time towards a worthy goal.

This past week, I had been talking to Rae, Felix S. and Felix W. about the possibility of running a self-supported marathon. I had been checking out possible routes, and I found one that would take me past my regular Levi’s Stadium/Highway 237 route to Shoreline Amphitheater in Mountain View. I decided on Friday that I would at least try to run it; up until then, the longest run that I had done was a 15.3 mile run on June 14, 2014. A full marathon would be 11 more miles! Could I do it? Felix W. had no doubt, writing to me in an email:

Awesome, Adam! I have full confidence you can do it! Today will be an exciting day indeed!

My belief was strengthened hearing this from someone who has completed many marathons, centuries, double centuries, and even the Tour Divide. With good thoughts coming my way, I woke up at 5:30 am on Saturday morning to begin my marathon preparations. While eating my morning banana, I assembled my gear for the run.

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Levi's Stadium 49ers
Exercise, Running

Running, Half Marathons and Weight Loss

When I was a freshman in high school, I ran the San Dieguito Half Marathon. I have only a few memories from the race. First, it was cold and rainy that day, and I wore a very thin cotton t-shirt with a giant Peace symbol on it. Second, immediately after crossing the finish line, I remember collapsing into my father’s arms and being completely drained for the rest of the day and week. The last few miles in the rain were tough, and I was probably suffering from hypothermia. Finally, my time was 1:43:14, which translated to a 7:51/mile pace — not bad for a 14-year old kid — and 500th place out of 1035 participants.

Date Distance Pace Moving Time
February 4, 1990 13.1 miles 7:51/mile 1:43:14

The longest training run that I had done prior to San Dieguito was maybe 10 miles. The extra three miles, the cold weather, and my poor choice of running wear contributed to me swearing off long-distance running for many years. It wasn’t until I met Rae that I ran another half marathon (as part of our personal triathlon training). Last year, I began running more regularly, completing twelve self-supported half marathons:

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