A hundred or so down

Nothing is less inspiring the tales of already-skinny people about how they got skinnier. What inspires us are the people who came to cycling as way to deal with major health problems, and through cycling overcame them. One of those people is a South Bay regular, Dan K.

Below is his story, mostly in his own words, with a dab here and there of mine:

I was 250 lbs and in trouble. Every December, my doctor said the same thing. Cholesterol, high. Blood pressure, high. Fatty liver disease, just around the bend. And if you think it’s terrible having your kids say, “Dad died from a heart attack,” imagine them saying “Dad died of fatty liver disease.”

My doc would tell me I could carry on and get ready for a lifetime regimen of drugs, or make a change. I’d dutifully hop on the elliptical trainer, lose a few pounds, and then with Christmas and the New Year come roaring back to “normal.”

By 2011 I’d injured my back and had constant sciatic pain. I could hardly sleep. I also had periodic blinding pain in my side. I made a special trip to the doctor, got some codeine and PT, and went back to functioning with a legal Rx drug dependency. But I realized after three months that this was no way to live the rest of my life. So I finally decided, truly decided, to change.

I’m an engineer so I started with the numbers, and that’s ultimately where I finished. I knew that the most important thing was not what I weighed today (can’t change that) or what I will weigh tomorrow (can’t really change that), but the trend line, i.e. what I will weigh next week or next month. Next month is something I can change. Incremental changes today could push the trend line of my weight and of my health in a positive direction. I knew I wouldn’t be healthy next month, but I knew I could be healthier.

I also realized that willpower is a finite resource, but it’s also like a muscle. In order to improve it, you have to stress your willpower towards the point of failure. The muscle and the will become stronger, but only if you exercise them.

Next, I challenged myself. I set a goal to start swimming for at least 30 minutes a day, every day, and to avoid eating junk and highly refined foods. The first day in the pool was a challenge. I don’t think I did more than seven laps. It was awful. But I came back the next morning and did eight. Within a few weeks, I was swimming farther and longer.

What’s key is that I didn’t turn myself around overnight. This was no 30-day success story.

Did I go swimming every day? No.

Did I eat healthy food every day? No.

Did I move in a positive direction more days than not? ABSOLUTELY. This was crucial because my goal was to move the trend, not to reach some magical end-point. In a sense, I made my objective goal—exercise every day–harder than my real goal, which was to simply move the trend line.

When I saw the doctor six weeks after staring my “new” life in mid-December of 2011, things were better. I was down to, um, 235 lbs. BP was down a bit.  Liver was still chubby, but perhaps not as fatty. Yet I was still on the wrong side of the healthy line and I was still in pain. So the doctor renewed my prescriptions and encouraged me. More importantly, I was able to encourage myself because I had entered the magical positive feedback loop. I could see that the trend line was heading in the right direction, and I wanted to keep it up.

My first bike ride on August 14, 2012, on a crappy old mountain bike, was 4.5 miles in 30 minutes over some “hills” near home. I think my heart rate must have been 190, and I thought I was going die. But I went out again on the 16th and cracked out nine whole miles. That Sunday I rode to the Strand and up to the end of Manhattan for a whopping 16 miles. I was slow but I was having fun. By the middle of the September I had made it to Ballona Creek, then Venice, then Santa Monica by October.

A year later my body was in a better place. My weight was 220. My liver enzymes were “good.” My cholesterol was normal, my back pain was gone, and I was off the prescription drugs.

I celebrated, bought a road bike, and started going farther and faster. Eventually I found Seth’s blog and started riding in PV. In February 2013 I pedaled out to where one of my aunts lives, and made it halfway up Hawthorne Blvd. I thought I was going to die, and got a ride home. A week later I sucked it up, made it around the peninsula, up and over the Switchbacks (13:48) all the while thinking the climb would never end. I’d occasionally see a mini-peloton go by and I’d try to latch on, though I always seemed to blow up in 15 seconds.  But I was getting stronger.

In July of 2013 I was down fifty pounds to a “svelte” 200. I gutted up and took the plunge, telling myself “It’s time for NPR!” I still remember getting blown off the back on Vista del Mar during the neutral rollout. The next time I blew up on Pershing Hill, the first earnest surge of the ride. A week later I got axed on Pershing proper. Then, I played roman candle on the overpass, followed by exploding a week later on Lap 1.

The whole time people helped and encouraged me. Manslaughter would yell at me to pedal hard and get back on. The Wily Greek pushed me physically as I was coming unhitched, numerous times. Eventually I stuck on the whole NPR from tip to tail. You can talk about climbing the highest mountain all you want. For me, toughing out that ride from start to finish was huge … and I did it!

For the next 18 months I stabilized around 195, gaining muscle mass and losing fat. I ran a marathon, rode some centuries, and did some epic climbs. I’ve gone from that to a current weight of about 175, and in addition to the NPR I also do the Flog Ride, and even completed the 2015 Belgian Waffle Ride.

How would I sum it up?

  1. Lie to yourself. Set a goal harder than what you need to achieve so you have some room to screw up.
  2. Set an exercise schedule and a calorie budget and follow it, accepting imperfection in all things!
  3. Follow the weekly-monthly-annual trend, not the daily fluctuation.
  4. Mix endurance rides with beatdowns like the NPR, Flog Ride, or Donut.
  5. Ride with wankers who are faster and stronger than you!
  6. Accept that everything hurts the first time, but that each time you do the same thing it gets a little easier. Or perhaps you just go a little faster, which is even better.
  7. Use free resources out there! Check out the “Hacker Diet,” a free e-book and an engineer’s guide to weight loss, and MyFitnessPal, which can help you know how many calories you’re downing at a sitting.
  8. Do what you enjoy! If you hate the activity you will quit.
  9. Start slowly!
  10. Find a peer group. Most cyclist types are nut jobs and love new people to hang out with, partly because more people means a higher probability someone will show up for the ride, and partly because they’ll enjoy breaking your legs.
  11. Real results will take a while.
  12. Changes occur inside before the things that everyone sees on the outside!

END

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42 thoughts on “A hundred or so down”

  1. Great job Dan,
    Many wise words and a refreshingly realistic approach to making a huge long term change to your health.
    Congrats on the BWR.

  2. He was looking dang fresh at the end of the BWR! I think “Fatty LIver” is going to be a great nickname.

  3. Michelle Landes

    I remember when you rode your brothers bike on holiday ride , it must have weighed 50 pounds! You have stuck with it ever since that day! Seeing you stay with the group on flog ride on Thursday was HUGE !You are a inspiration and a great freind! ❤️Love the Krobar

    1. A plethora of nicknames for this fine gentleman. With the exception of “Fatty Liver,” however, none is sufficiently derogatory.

  4. forest, you will now officially be known as Forest. You’ve shown a lot of guts and determination. Be proud of your efforts…
    I am!

  5. My Teammate, Jorge Cassanova here in South Florida at “Bells Bicycles Racing Team” was 350 lbs, a few years ago. He is now 172, and a beast! He was literally one cheeesburger away from a stroke or a heart attack. Now he is our leadout man. Living Legend in these parts. Guys like you and Jorge are an inspiration to many. Keep it up!!

  6. This is an awesome read. Proud of you, and you clearly you
    should be very proud of yourself! Congratulations!

  7. YAY DAN!!! You’re an inspiration! But no, I won’t be trying the NPR… I’ll stick with PVBC Saturday rides, and Run Club for as long as it lasts.

  8. Awesome tribute to a fantastic man and the best bike buddy I have ever had. Love that guy! I could add many more words of praise and tribute, but doing so wouldn’t speak as loudly as Dan’s progress and motivation so just take my word for it–Krowbar is the real deal.

  9. Krowbar – What a great story. Thanks for spelling out so eloquently. You have a deft touch with both the pedal and the pen.

    1. There was more, but in the interests of space (the Internet is running out of room, I’m told), it was edited down. Great tale, and there are so many more out there like it. Thanks, Dan!

  10. Great read DK,

    Always recall your words to hang on a little longer (NPR) until you make it! Words to live by!

  11. A year or so ago, Dan joined a group of us for a jaunt threw the Santa Monica mountains. We lost him on the first climb up Topanga. We waited a bit at the top, but didn’t see him coming and so we kept going. The ride had been advertised as “all drop” after all. I checked in with Dan later that afternoon and he simply said “Yeah, got dropped. I’ll try to hang on a little longer next time.”

    A few weeks ago, I joined Dan and others on the infamous Flog Ride, another “all drop” ride. But this time was different. On the climb alongside the golf course, I sat on Dan’s wheel because that was all I could do. Until I couldn’t. No attacks, he wasn’t trying to drop me – he just smoothly and powerfully pedaled me right off his wheel.

    I would say it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy, but this transformation didn’t happen “to” Dan. He made it happen.

    Dan, I’m coming for you at the next Flog Ride. Because I agree with you – riding with those who are stronger than me forces me to dig deep and push myself to improve.

    1. Thanks Robert! I’ve been a little bummed about not being able to make it up for a Beijing Wonton Ride since then. Sometime soon I hope. (The extra 2/2.5 hours required to get there and back doesn’t go over too well most weekends).

      Flog it is!

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