In the process, I was very tempted to purge all old posts, and start a new site from zero. I’ve gotten rid of a few things, but the posts I’ve left behind remind me of more than just the stories they tell, but about the time I wrote them.
But I’ll start telling this story from the beginning, which was the end of 2012. This is when I signed up, marked my calendar and chose a training plan. February 11th was the first of many, many training days.
The training was pretty great. The first week didn’t feel hard, and this probably planted a big seed of confidence early on. The continuing weeks built up in the length of each training run, which in turn means longer duration… and soon enough, I was spending more than an hour running for practice. A few weeks later, it was going to even longer.
Important background detail of things also happening during this time: my BB love had a career change after realizing that some things are more important than others. She was in need of a student to practice teaching a new subject: Yoga. I sometimes became that student, and I’ve really been enjoying Yoga!
In some styles of Yoga, I find it possible to get a slice of something that I can best describe as ” inner enlightenment”; being in certain poses, focusing on my breathing and with my eyes closed, I become aware of things that can only be seen without seeing. Luckily for me, the Yoga that Kelly likes to teach does this for me, and frequently. However, it probably also helps me that I’m in love with this woman, and her smile alone makes me happy.
Anyway, I’ve been able to find that kind of trance-like state of mind during running. It seems that somewhere after 45 minutes of running, my brain finally lets my body be in auto-pilot to regulate my breath and effort, and maintain a decent form… and then BAM, there I am: a clear mind -and probably a creepy smile to all the people that see me run by.
I would often come home and talk to Kelly about all the things I thought about while I ran, with a catchphrase that I thought about myself: “You know… I was thinking… because I was running, right? And when I run, I think, right? ( wait for acknowledgement> So, I was thinking while I was running that…” and then something would come out. Good ideas, things to talk about, different points of view on things we’d already talked about… stuff that was interesting to talk about, and all of that talking would make me feel closer to her.
I started to love running. How could I not, right? It was an outlet of energy, an excuse to eat uncontrollably, a source of blocks to keep building the relationship that I hold dearest, and also time to be alone, outside and even unplugged at times.
I think that a big part of this training program -and probably that of any program- was that it was sort of a snowball and it builds momentum, and also kind of like an athletic version of How To Eat an Elephant. I made the commitment way ahead of time, and the strategy was simple: I would take 4 bites a week, and the last bite would be a big splash.
The last bite was indeed interesting.
I got to the start line with enough time to walk around and shake of the nervousness. I was about 30th in line for the porta-potties with 25 minutes to go, and I decided that the chance to get locked out of my corral was not worth the little pee I had to make.
The Marathon started, and things got going smoothly. Pretty soon I was feeling pretty good! I was sticking to the pace-keeper for a 3:45 finish along with about a hundred other hopefuls, with plenty of time to take in the gorgeous sights as the sun rose.
About 50 minutes into the whole thing, I ran past one of the aid stations, which had a line of 3 already for the porta-potties, and I thought to myself “If I could just pee already, this would all be even better!”. So it was without shame that I pulled over as soon as I saw a suitable tree to hide behind on the side of the rail, and emptied my bladder.
45 seconds later, I was a new man. I joined the human train of sweaty faces huffin’ and puffin’ into the first hills, and aimed to catch the 3:45 leader who was now out of sight.
The course was fun during the first hour, and running on the Golden Gate Bridge was pretty amazing. I enjoyed the view, the privilege of running on the bridge itself (fun fact: it’s the only time of year that this is legally possible!), the cool ocean breeze and the cheers of encouragement from people that drove by. I also really enjoyed the company of so many people that were doing the same as I was. Being one of thousands, felt kind of like a pack, or a herd. Men and women of all ages, sizes, shapes, religion and origins, all doing the same thing.
The first half of the San Francisco marathon is quite scenic. One of the last landmarks before going into Golden Gate Park is Baker Beach, and then something more than just the landscape changes: supporting locals come out. Some hold signs, some blast their stereos and dance on the sidewalk, some poke their head from behind their front door as they sip coffee in their bath robes.
To each and every one of those people being unofficial cheer volunteers: I noticed you, and I appreciate you!
The volunteers of the race were phenomenal. Most of them could be classified as either young kids at the water stations, or some sort of gnarly 50+ year old sportin’ leather and chillin’ next to their Harley which was blocking a street or two. At each water station, there were at least 2 super-enthusiastic volunteers who would go out of their way to make sure no one missed water/gatorade if they needed it. I hope these people were properly recognized with more than a souvenir T-shirt, because they were super-duper-cool.
Back to the running story now: that good feeling faded, and by mile 14 I was starting to feel worrying discomforts in my legs. Then reality sunk in: I hadn’t caught up to the 3:45 leader since that pee behind a tree, and there had been a few more pees behind trees since that, too!
Novice wisdom I’d read and already knew about says that you should make sure to not go too hard at the beginning, to pay no attention to all the endorphins and to slow down. Turns out, that’s kind of hard to do! Also and in retrospect, I wasn’t very good at going slower during training either.
So, in the last 10 miles of the Marathon, I worked on finding exactly where that gear is between “boring slow” and “building heat“. If I could re-do my training, I’d make a bigger conscious effort to run in that gear.
After running through the Haight as I listened to some trance music for motivation, I was in a mostly uncomfortable place. I took walk breaks when coming into water stations, to make sure I’d gulp everything down and stretch out calves and hamstrings.
This strategy got me to mile 23, and that’s when I felt like it was time to do as they say in the vernacular and dig deep. Another fascinating term about this practice that could also apply: HTFU.
I focused on my breath, my form, and put my headphones away. I knew I could run the last 3 miles, and after doing some fuzzy math I figured that I could still make a sub-4 hour finish… If I started going even a bit faster.
Luckily, there were tons of cheer stations along the south-east portion of the course, and they provided enough distraction from my body complaining and wanting to quit.
Quickly reviewing the recent events, I realized I wasn’t really enjoying myself. My inner dialogue became an argument about whether to finish under a time limit or to enjoy the thing that I’d been excited about for weeks.
That discussion came to an abrupt end when the finish line was within sight. It looked like I was going to finish under 4 hours, and that alone gave me a boost to also enjoy every second of that moment that lasted about 3 seconds.
After the finish line, I was quickly wrapped in a cool space blanket, accosted by paparazzi and eating and drinking whatever was within reach. It was probably during this time of of exhaustion, accomplishment and enjoyment of delicious snacks that I managed to do what I’ve just now discovered happened at some point: my activity was deleted from my Garmin GPS wristwatch.
But that’s ok, Garmin. You can’t take my marathon away, because I did it! Sure, I would have loved to see the pretty graphs that show my speed, heart rate and elevation gain over time, I don’t need them.
To make Alfajores, you’ll need to get your human to bring home the following:
2 1/2 cups cornstarch ( Maizena Brand)
1 2/3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup butter (two whole sticks!)
3 egg yolks
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
The rind of one lemon, as small as possible.
1-2 teaspoons caramel liqueur
Dulce de Leche
First of all, you’ll be in the kitchen for a while (up to 2 hours if you get distracted by bunny rabbits like I do), so go put on some good music to jam to. Wash your paws while you’re at it.
In a big bowl, beat the butter until creamy. You might have to put it in the microwave for 40 seconds to make it easier to work with, but it gets there after a good while of whisking.
Add the sugar gradually, beating until the mixture feels light and sandy. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each one goes in. Then beat in the vanilla, lemon rind and liqueur.
Now we add the dry ingredients (the cornstarch, flour, baking powder and salt). Gradually add them to the butter mix one bit at a time, beating until thoroughly combined each time. This is a lot easier than putting in all the dry ingredients at one, and also helps keep the mess down.
Speaking of mess, time to use your paws. Put both of them in the bowl and start grabbing. Work the dough until it feels like it’s all the same one thing.
Roll the dough and flatten it with a rolling pin. I like to use a shot glass to cut the cookies, and do it over and over until the dough runs out.
Spread some butter on the cookie sheets, load them up and the’lly go in the oven at 350 degrees for about15 minutes.
Take them out of the baking sheets as soon as you get them out of the oven, and let them cool down. If you want to leave them in the fridge overnight, that’s ok. Just don’t leave the kitchen a mess before going to bed.
The cookies should be hard, but they do fall apart easily if you mishandle them! So be careful while you spread some Dulce de leche on a cookies and make a sandwich with another one. Then, you roll this on some shredded coconut, which ends up sticking all around because of the Dulce the Leche that squeezed out. You could also help it stick by spreading just a bit extra Dulce de Leche on the side of each “sandwich” before you roll it on the coconut.
Some of this growth came as the result of careful planning, or hard work towards a goal. Professionally, I poured a lot of energy into a project that was in the making for over a year, and switched the 2 core applications that our business runs on to a brand new vendor: A PACS and a RIS.
There were long hours with long to-do lists, gallons of coffee drank to make it through countless conference calls and a lot of opportunity for learning. The execution of the project wasn’t flawless, but nowadays apparently nothing is 100% right on v1.0; and with that standard I suppose one could say we succeeded.
Musically, I ended up using a Mixtrack Pro DJ controller (that I got Kelly from Craigslist for her birthday) as my tool to finally find a way to express myself musically. I’ve never played an instrument, but I’ve been a fan of electronic music for a long time, and this finally somehow came together.
I set up my controller with a laptop, and into our home sound system. I’ve DJ’d in our living room since May, and in the very end of the year I found the thrill that can be found in DJing at a party to try to get people to dance. If you’d like, you can listen to the set I did at a party for New Years right here!
Athletically, I applied myself in the gym to finally hit my goal of deadlifting 315 lbs with decent form, and basically real-life RPG’d with most of my points coming from free weights to be a cool level 35 on Fitocracy.
Serendipity also brought me to finally give Yoga an honest try, and I seem to have discovered something quite excellent. I’ve found Yoga to be a bit more than doing stretches that feel amazing once you understand what you’re trying to accomplish. Yoga has filled my agnostic-based spiritual gap with the reassurance that living in the now, letting things flow and being oneself are the means to that feeling of wholeness.
Spiritually, read the above. And the below.
Some challenges came uninvited and unannounced. They were like little monsters, bearers of bad news. But that’s life, right? Bad things come our way all the time. ( good times come by too).
Most little monsters can be seen from far away, and with time and experience, you figure out how to make sure they don’t make their way into your little bubble, your fortress and your castle. I figure these skills are learned from our upbringings, or how we come out from life events (breakups, school, friendships, traveling around the world and finding out that you are actually not the center of the universe).
But there are a few monsters that are not that little. There are monsters that have taken a ride on other monsters, and they come in herds. You might knock down a dozen, but a few are just too close and BOOM, you got hit by a not so little monster, and now it’s trouble.
This monster is digging deep, going places that aren’t explored and making you chase it. It’s dark and scary there. The monster leaves behind distractions, traps that make you wonder if maybe you should just give up, let the monster get away and just go back to watching some more reality TV.
Altogether, 2012 taught me one of life’s biggest lessons yet, and the easiest way to explain it for me is to keep going with the analogy.
Some of those monsters mean no harm and know us so well that they make it past all our defenses, they’re practically impossible to beat. These monsters are actually wise teachers who have lost patience with our distractedness, and it’s no longer OK to not pay attention. This wise and now apparently wrathful monster does not mind knocking us down until we can’t move, if that’s what it will take to make us listen.
But when we listen to this wise beast, and give up the fight -because we either surrender or we are just too tired to fight anymore- we discover the source of something unique and beautiful.
Year 2012 was one to be remembered. It was the year that above anything, I found the biggest fountain of happiness that there could be: the true love of my wife, who shared a journey of her own and trusted me with her heart and soul. To add to the list of things that apply to the format I ___ Kelly ( such as “love”, “adore”, “cherish” and “can’t stop thinking about”), I am unforgettably proud of her. Her love continues to fulfill me, and it makes anything and everything better.
I know a lot of people that say that 2012 was not a good year. It wasn’t so bad for me, but that’s because the love that I’ve found with Kelly surpasses everything that could be bad.
I’m sorry bad news. There was a bunch of you, and you sucked big time. But I can’t, won’t and don’t let you win. You can keep trying, but 2012 was a year that made me stronger. Now please go away and let 2013 be a bit more gentle so we can have a bit more fun, yeah?
PS: We got a puppy! I could write forever about her, maybe another day.
2 years ago, I lived one of the happiest days of my life. Every day that goes by, that one day means even more.
We’ve shared many memories, smiles, trips, meals, dances, tears and disagreements. I cherish every single one of them, for bringing us to where we are today and for leading us to wherever we’re going. That makes me very happy, because I don’t really care where it is we’re going: holding your hand in mine makes any journey wonderful.
I’m sure some more my happiest days of my life are yet to come. I’m also sure you’re going to be a part of every single one of them.
After a great time at my brother’s wedding, our trip was turned into a road trip to Chile with my parents.
I had been looking forward to this for multiple reasons, one of them being that I hadn’t been to Chile myself in over a decade, and I wanted to see how things were looking nowadays. It was also going to be nice to go to the beach, sight-see and eating out. However, the by-far biggest reason that I was excited was to share an experience with Kelly that meant a lot to me: sharing a piece of my childhood.
My parents used to take my two brothers and I to Chile for vacations. We’d all 5 get in our car (a Renault sedan) and hit the road early in the morning so that we’d be settled into a rental near the water by sunset, where we’d make home for a week and go to the beach and have an overall kick-ass summer vacation.
Kelly got to see a preview of what this trip was like as far as scenery when we headed up to Uspallata, but that was only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. And since I hadn’t done the trip in a while either, I was almost as taken aback as her when we were deep into the Andes with its towering peaks, dramatic shadows and sharp turns in narrow roads.
After collecting a Chilean stamp on our passport, Kelly was introduced to the signature of the part of the way from Mendoza to Chile: 28 hairpin turns in a row to go down a very steep tall mountain. As a handicap, South-Americans like to throw old cargo trucks into the mix. The views are breathtaking, in both senses of the word.
We headed right into Santiago, Chile’s capital, where my cousin Laura lives. Her and her fiance put us up for the night, and we had a great time chatting and visiting their fancy and modern apartment.
On Monday, Laura and Nicolas had to go to work, so my parents and us were tourists in Santiago for the day. We walked around downtown, went to the seafood market and had a deliciously fresh lunch, took the subway to get across town, and “climbed” to the top of Santa Lucia Hill to get a panoramic view of the city. The view from the top is pretty cool, but Santiago is so damn smoggy that a better picture is that of the hill itself.
In the afternoon, we headed north towards Reñaca. I explained to Kelly that when I was a teenager most “cool” people from my landlocked motherland of Mendoza migrated here for the summer and it was hard to find a Chilean vacationing there. But this was the very end of summer, and it was not busy at all! We practically had the whole town to ourselves, which meant we didn’t have to wait to get into somewhere and it the only sound at night was that very soothing one of the waves crashing.
We woke up from our rental condo to a gorgeous view of the Pacific. Fresh ocean air meant we could see for miles, and far to the left (so, the South) we could spot our day-trip destination of Valparaiso.
In sharp contrast to the cosmopolitan modernity of Santiago, we marveled at Valparaiso’s super old buildings and its humble working-class denizens. There’s a maze of one-way narrow cobblestone streets, with even thinner sidewalks; there’s a slight smell of ocean, fish and salt… everywhere. There are people hustling you to hit up their lunch spot or to take boat tour around the area and maybe even fish something. But since we were only there for the day, we only had room to do one thing, so we did the best thing one could do in this world-heritage site: Get on a cable car/elevator and walk around the brightly-colored buildings that line the whole city.
Taking pictures in here was fun. There are great color combinations, very artful graffiti and it almost feels like being in a movie set.
Photographically speaking, I took one picture that I feel very lucky to have captured. To me, it conveys a lot about this particular experience: it’s busy and chaotic, bright but strikingly pretty, and results in a happy feeling after realizing you’ve spent a few seconds wondering the backstory to at least a couple of things depicted. I think one of these days I’ll make a print of it, that’s how much I like it:
We also visited Viña del Mar and Concón (where we got to eat at a place where Anthony Bourdain and his show went!), spent time on the beach and even dipped into the Southern Pacific’s waters, ate typical Chilean dishes and bought a souvenir or two.
The biggest thing I appreciate of these few days in Chile is to have spent it with my other half and my parents, all together and having fun. This quick getaway meant a lot to me because I got to revive and relive memories from my youth, and on top of that make new ones of these very happy days that I got to spend with the 3 people I love the most in the world, in a beautiful place.
We traveled to my motherland for the very special occasion of my younger brother’s wedding. We lucked out in finding a good deal on LAN airlines, which took us all the way from Los Angeles to Mendoza, with a pit stop in Lima (Peru) and a plane change in Santiago of Chile.
On Thursday April 5th, at the humble Mendoza airport, my parents were waiting for us. We had a schedule to follow, so after many hugs and kisses, we were headed out to Hotel Uspallata, up in the Andes. This is where the wedding was taking place on Saturday, and where we would stay until Sunday.
It was wonderful to head up into the imposing Andes. I wanted to stop everywhere to take pictures, but I decided to instead relax and take in the view without a viewfinder in the way.
Loyal readers of this blog (hi dad!) will remember that in 2010 there was a fitness challenge at work, and that I won. As it turns out, work has been doing challenges like this every year after that, since it was a success. I didn’t partake in last year’s because we were going to be in Europe for about 25% of the challenge and it was preposterous to imagine that I’d want to skip on eating and drinking like a tourist.
The challenge consists of having a DEXA scan to determine your start body fat percentage, and have one at the end. The person who dropped a higher percentage of their start BF%, wins a trip to Hawaii for 2. Pay attention there, it’s tricky. To make it simpler to understand, let’s say that someone starts with 30% body fat and ends the contest with 25%. This person lost 5 points of percentage, but the percentage compared to the start was 16%. Someone who goes from 25% to 20% also dropped 5 points, but compared to the start they lost 25% of what they started with, so the second person wins.
I went in for my body fat scan, and the result said that 21.7% of what one could call “Nico” that day was basically fat. This wasn’t too far from my start point in 2010, so I knew what I could accomplish, and I set my goal to get that prize.
Lucky for me, I’ve been really into reading about fitness in the last year. I spend hours a week between SomethingAwful’s “Watch and Weight” forum and reddit’s “Fittit“, ending up reading all sorts of blogs, articles, research articles and of course tons of anecdotal evidence. From all the knowledgebroscience I’ve acquired it was easy to develop my program. Since all the information was readily available for me, it wouldn’t really be a secret for me to keep my plan to myself. So, here’s what I did:
LEANGAINS : Diet? Yup. This one is pretty simple, which for me meant not eating for 16 hours, thus only eating during an 8 hour window (for me, it was 11:30am to 7:30pm).
Every single day, I aimed to consume at least 160g of protein. On the days that I did weight-training, I’d shoot for a target of 2300 calories, with most of them coming from protein and fat. On the days that I wasn’t pumping iron and acting like a meathead, my calories intake could only be around 1700 calories.
This whole Intermittent Fasting thing was actually easier than I thought. Waking up and working for hours? Sure, bring it on. I was actually very clear-headed and as pleasing as always! Other people doing this also share in their experiences that they are far from cranky or sleepy monsters, but that they feel pretty good. Besides, try not eating for 16 hours: That first bite tastes so good it’s totally worth it to not eat for 16 hours everyday so that lunch tastes like a gourmet meal.
HEAVY-ASS WEIGHTS: Not only did I weight train, I committed to actually improving. I followed the classic Starting Strength method. One thing that made it easy to stick to the program and track all my sets done was Fitocracy. You can see for example my last gym workout before the final DEXA here: http://www.fitocracy.com/view_workout/5606365/. Squat: 245 lbs for 3 sets of 5 reps… Bench press with 155 lbs for 3 sets of 5… Deadlift 265 lb for 5 reps. And after all that, come out feeling like Ronnie Coleman.
FASTED CARDIO: Even more eyebrow-raising than not eating for 16 hours: don’t eat for 16 hours and try to do cardio right before eating! It really isn’t hard to get the heart pumping even if you haven’t eaten in the last few hours! I just imagined fat melting off my body as I headed out for a swim or a walk instead of for the lunchroom.
EVEN MORE CARDIO: On the days that I didn’t go to the gym to lift things and put them down, I needed to do something on the evening. So, I would either go for a run or use the bike on the trainer.
And that was the plan, the easy part. Next up was sticking to it and hoping that no one else was going to be willing to hack their body so much to win a trip to Hawaii.
Low-and-behold, executing the plan was easy and enjoyable. I kept receiving positive feedback in many different ways: lifting a weight a little heavier than the week, props and comments on Fitocracy.com, seeing changes in the mirror after about 5 weeks and then having people comment on my changes in person… that’s what kept the fire going.
The fire that melted 43% of my fat. Because on March 28th(exactly 10 weeks after my first scan), my body fat percentage was of only 12.2. Boom! I was very happy with the product of my hard work. All that sacrifice, commitment and perseverance paid off. If I were to give one piece of advice to anyone trying to figure out just how I did it, it would be to stick to the plan and give it time. Everything else is easy to find, it’s not a secret. The only thing that’s missing is having what it takes, which is hard to find if what it takes is a lot or hasn’t been found in a while.
Anyway, my part of the challenge was done then, but there was the little detail of having to wait for all the other 150 contestants to get their final scan, which wasn’t going to happen for over 3 weeks. The final results of the whole challenge were announced yesterday, and fortunately for me, no one else beat me, and the trip to Hawaii goes to Kelly and me. That’s the part of winning the challenge that I feel was up to luck.
But seriously, (and very aware that it might come off cocky): I feel like I also earned it.
PS: as a true follower of the W&W forums and fittit, here are my before/after pictures for evidence, motivation, comparison and further anecdotal evidence.