Doing pull-ups has really strengthened my back muscles.

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.

The goal is to do 50 consecutive pull-ups. Until I get there, I'll have to suffice with this animated GIF of me doing pull-up after pull-up!

The goal is to do 50 consecutive pull-ups. Until I get there, I’ll have to suffice with this animated GIF of me doing pull-up after pull-up!

To get back into pull-up shape, I immersed myself in various pull-up articles on the web, learning about strict pull-ups, kipping pull-ups (popular in the Crossfit community), weighted pull-ups, pyramid pull-ups, muscle-ups, and other variations.

By the time I added pull-ups to my exercise routine, I had already lost enough weight so that I could do a few. For those who can’t do a single pull-up, there are plenty of articles on the web that describe negative pull-ups, assistive bands, and other techniques to help you get to one. My experience has shown that if you practice every day, you’ll improve to the point where you can do multiple pull-ups. Just keep practicing!

My current regimen consists of strict pull-ups, weighted pull-ups, and pyramid pull-ups. I started tracking my progress in September with a spreadsheet in which I logged how many I did each day. My ultimate goal is to be able to do 50 pull-ups consecutively, and my max thus far has been 20 (when done fast and not super strict, otherwise 17). My daily regimen is to do between 50 to 100 pull-ups throughout the day for three days, followed by one rest day. When I started logging my pull-ups, I was doing 10 sets of 5 reps each for 50. Now, I can get to 50 by doing 4 sets of 15, and I am getting close to 3 sets of 17. I use the greasing the groove method and do my pull-ups throughout the day. My time between sets has gotten shorter as I’ve gotten stronger and better at doing them.

I place 12-24 pounds of dumbbells in this Ribz vest.

I place 12-24 pounds of dumbbells in this Ribz vest.

I also have mixed in pyramid (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 for a total of 100) and weighted pull-ups (12-24 pounds). Today, I was able to do 9 sets of 6 reps with 24 pounds of dumbbells in a vest (FB friends only). That’s about as much weight as I lost over the past six months! I’ve been able to do one set with a 45-pound child wrapped around my waist.

In addition to 50 consecutive pull-ups, muscle-ups are another goal that I want to accomplish; these guys make it look so easy, but they are anything but! As for the Iron Cross… there are rings at a nearby park I can practice that move, but I honestly don’t think I’ll ever get to the point where I can do it.

I'm not quite there with the muscle-ups, let alone the Iron Cross!

I’m not quite there with the muscle-ups, let alone the Iron Cross!

I first wrote about my weight loss journey two months in, at which point I had lost fifteen pounds. Since then, six months in, I’ve lost an additional eleven pounds, reaching my ultimate goal of getting to 140 pounds. More importantly, all that running and pull-ups means I’ve recomposed my body, replacing fat with muscle; this means means I’ve melted a lot more than 26 pounds of blubber from my body. I look and feel much better than I did a year ago. With a good plan, dedication, and hard work, one can dramatically recompose one’s body and turn back the clock on aging!

Lastly, what’s great about doing pull-ups is that our son wants to get into the act. He’s able to hang from short bars, but can’t yet from our door frame bar. He’s improving, however, and we expect him to be cranking out pull-ups and muscle-ups in the future!

Our son wants to do pull-ups too!

Our son wants to do pull-ups too!

"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.

33 minutes up Sierra Road!

Took me about 33 minutes to ascend Sierra Road. It would have been faster had I not unclipped my pedals twice during the climb!

I had long forgotten the route, knowing only that it was over 3 miles and straight up! Sierra Road has been frequented several times during the Tour of California. It’s great to be able to ride up the same climbs that professional cyclists ride up during their races, even if we’re just tackling the final three miles. I shudder to think what my time would be like with 100 miles in my legs before reaching the slopes of Sierra!

My goal from the start of the race was to keep up with Larry. After half a mile, Han was already enough ahead of us that I was like, “I let you go!” I could see Bill Bushnell zooming ahead of us, the sleek, yellow canopy of his hybrid-electric recumbent glinting in the sunlight. Then, about a mile or so into the ride, my right foot unclipped from the pedal and I slowed to a crawl. In fact, I almost tipped over while trying to get clipped back in. Fortunately, I was able to save myself at the last minute. Several cyclists passed me as I worked to get clipped back in. Getting restarted on a hill is never a fun exercise. and the damage was done once I restarted my slow spin up; Larry and company were well ahead of me, and I wouldn’t see them until the finish. It’s doubtful that I would have kept up with them anyhow, but at least I would have had them in my sights.

What’s good about Low-Key is that you’re riding with people around your same ability. Having them slightly in front or behind you gives you the motivation to push harder and get better. Maybe it’s different at the front, but in the back, it’s not so much competition as it is encouragement. We’re all suffering. Why not suffer and help each other push, grind, and grit our way to new personal records up these hills?

I glanced at my watch several times during the race. Since I figured it would take me about 33 minutes to finish, I knew that I was at mile 1 when the clock read 11 minutes and 22 minutes for mile 2. When I saw 30 minutes, I knew we were near the end. And, when I saw the photographers (i.e. Bill’s recumbent and his camera), I knew I was close. Near the top, another cyclist pulled up alongside me, providing Low-Key the opportunity for a “sprint” finish. Sadly, my left foot unclipped from the pedal, and I couldn’t clip back in fast enough. Pedaling with one leg, I saw the guy pull in front of me and finish several seconds ahead. Pritpal Singh, we shall meet again! :)

According to Strava, I finished the Sierra Road climb in about 33:41, exactly where I thought I would be. If I hadn’t had a problem with my pedals, I probably could have shaved 15-20 seconds off the time. With the rolling start, my Low-Key time will probably be closer to 34 minutes, but that’s still a big improvement over my 2007 time of 38:34!

Update October 12, 2014: The official Low-Key results are in, and I still came in under 24 minutes with a time of 33:52.

Sadly, I won’t be able to attend next week’s ascent up Welch Creek nor the next several weeks of the 2014 Low-Key Hillclimbs Series. but I’ve got a good reason. Tomorrow, we’re heading back on a plane to Seoul, South Korea. There’s some exciting news to announce, something that’s been brewing for the past couple of years. We’ll share more when we return in a week’s time!

In the meantime, you can read my recap and see photos of the 2007-edition of LKHC’s ride up Welch Creek here. I organized that ride, and I remember that the roads are very windy and steep. Good luck to all next week!

Thanks to Christine Holmes and Alexander Komlik for providing the great photos. If I have find the time this season, I’ll bring my camera and volunteer as a photographer for one of the events. You can view previous LKHC races I’ve shot on my SmugMug gallery here.

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.

The 10v2’s proved their worth on my recent self-supported marathon. Had I worn my hole-infested Puma or Hi-Rez shoes, I would have had to turn around at the first sight of the dirt and gravel trail at Mile 7. While there were a handful of times when I would land awkwardly on a rock and feel a twinge of pain, the 10v2 sole otherwise handled the terrain well.

The Hi-Rez does not appear to have been a very popular shoe, as I have seen it well discounted from its original asking price of $119.99. New Balance’s own website sells it for $69.99, and I’ve seen the price as low as $39.99 to $52.99 at other online stores. Even at the lower price, I would recommend the Hi-Rez, primarily because of its poor durability. The verdict is still out for the New Balance Minimus 10v2. So far, I’m generally pleased with it, but not so much that I would buy another pair when this one is ready to be retired.

Anyone have suggestions on a good pair of minimalist running shoes that I should try out next?

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.

Stephen and I did a 7-mile warmup ride prior to the start of the race, and we brought each other up to speed with what’s been happening in our lives. At 10:00 am, James assembled the throng of cyclists (I reckon there were over 125 riders today) and got the race underway a few minutes later. We were ordered by relative speed; there was no way I was going to compete with the eventual winners (i.e. 26 minutes), so I hung back with the last group as we rolled out. With the exception of one run up to the Stanford Dish, all of my runs and bike rides have been flat. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any sort of climbing, and I watched my heart rate jump up to my LT immediately (I averaged 175bpm and had a high of 191bpm).

Low-Key Adam up Montebello

The hurt and grimaces came soon after smiling for the camera at the beginning of the race. Photo by toddrstu

Montebello is pretty unrelenting for the first two miles until it evens out for 0.75 miles at the school. The last two miles aren’t as bad as the first, but they are still pretty steep. The weather was hot, and most of the ride is exposed to the sun. One thing that I wanted to try differently from previous rides was not spinning on the easiest gear too much. I have a compact crank on my aging 1995-era Trek 5200 and a 12-25 8-speed cassette. I stuck with the 19, 21, and 23 cogs for the majority of the ride. I figured I’d rather spin more slowly but go faster than spin quickly but go more slowly up the climb. I also brought two water bottles, one filled with regular water and the other with electrolytes; in hindsight, I probably could have saved some weight and brought one bottle. There are a number of Montebello segments on Strava, and my climb ranged from 40:14 to 40:24. Wow! I was really pleased to see that time, which is within a minute of my fastest ascent set back in 2003. I guess it’s safe to say that all of my running and weight loss helped me to turn back the clock! I’m back!

Still smiling up Montebello

I’m still smiling near the top of Montebello. Photo by Bill Bushnell

Update October 5, 2014: The Low-Key results are in, and they gave me a time of 41:13. The extra minute was due to the rolling start. Still a very good time!

I didn’t have a bike computer in front of me (my iPhone 6 Plus was in my jersey pocket), so I didn’t know exactly how far I had gone or where I was in the ride. There are a number of teasing, false summits on Montebello, and I forgot where the end was. Had I a better sense of the last two miles, I think I could have gone just a tad bit faster and broken the 40-minute barrier. Nevertheless, I’m really pleased with my performance today! As for the rest of the Low-Key series, I don’t know how many I’ll be able to participate in. I’ve got some travel booked in the next few weeks, and will be very busy with some new and exciting projects. One thing is for sure, I promise not to let myself go again!

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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