Saturday, January 28, 2006

The Sports Guy Exercise Program

It's a new year. Time for resolutions, and the most popular: lose weight. I'm no exception: I lead a, well, let's call it what it is: a "sedentary lifestyle." I haven't worked out in years. This year, I couldn’t take it anymore: that had to change.

I started with the easiest, lowest cost exercise program I could think of: walking. Every morning, I got up, and went for a walk in our neighborhood. Sounds easy, right? Except we live in a special section of the Marin Headlands, part of the Golden Gate Nature Preserve: our street alone rises and falls over 200 feet! Going for a walk is a serious workout. However, I persevered.

One of the benefits of where we live is that we have close access to the trails that cover the Headlands. In 10 minutes, I can be on a trail that overlooks the entire Bay: Mt. Tamalpais to the North, Mt. Diablo to the East, and San Francisco to the South. Isolated, you can see the Pacific just past the legendary Golden Gate. I love those trails, and that perfect mix of nature and civilization.

The sun, rising over the East Bay Hills, on one of my morning hikes.The sun, rising over the East Bay Hills, on one of my morning hikes.

Clouds emerging from the layer of fog in the North Bay, as seen from the trails near my house, on another morning hike.Clouds emerging from the layer of fog in the North Bay, as seen from the trails near my house, on another morning hike.

The downside of the Headlands is they truly are a nature preserve. Mountain lions are not uncommon. So, when hiking there in the pre-dawn hours, the nocturnal predators are not always so understanding of New Year's resolutions. Alas, solitude only contributes to this: there is NO ONE around for miles. At Amy's behest, I abandoned the trails, for the safer confines of the neighborhood.

What you should know about me is that I am odd in many ways, but one of the ways that baffle most people is that I love to walk in the rain. A good hat, good shoes, and a dry jacket, and I am a happy man. So, the first few days walking in our neighborhood, I was OK: it rained, it was quiet, and I listened to my podcasts. Then, after a few days, I realized something about walking in my neighborhood.



I started to dread the walks. I tried a different approach: I would hike 800 feet down our hill, then walk about 1/2 a mile to the nearest Starbucks. Buy a coffee, then trudge back up the hill. Good exercise, and having a destination certainly helped, but the tedium of pavement and poor sidewalks still numbed my brain, no matter how many Engadget or On The Media podcasts I listened to. I resigned myself to the inevitable truth that this is the penalty one must pay for trying to live a healthier lifestyle (no wonder I resisted it for so long!).

And then it happened. Like a bolt from the blue. My muse spoke to me. In one sentence, my life changed.

I was reading The Sports Guy's (Bill Simmons) column, about writer's block. He was trying to make NFL playoff picks, and he was enumerating all of the things he did to prepare. And one lifted off the screen and into my brain:

"I changed into workout clothes and hopped on the treadmill, hoping to sweat out four picks during an obligatory Jags-Pats game on Madden."


Did I just read that?

You can be on a treadmill…and play a videogame? Not just any videogame, but…MADDEN FREAKING FOOTBALL?

And with that, my life changed. I was a man possessed. I would combine one of my longtime time wasters…and make it my new exercise goal. Boredom would be gone. Physical fitness would be mine. And all of the skills developed in the last 25+ years at football videogames would be put into use. I had…my holy grail.

From there, it was off to eBay: treadmills are some of those things that get bought for hundreds of dollars, and then put in a yard sale for $10 just to hide the shame of non-use. Since they are so big and heavy, they can't be shipped, so there are not usually a lot of bidders. Of course, this makes them some of the greatest deals ever. And, within 1 week, I was the winning bidder of a full sized treadmill, for the princely sum of $26. I retrieved it from the South Bay, and set it up.

Yes, it has been all I have hoped for. It's perfect: my body works out, my mind is somewhere else, and the frustrated football god inside me keeps them separated. I finish a game, and have walked over 5 miles. At high speed. On an incline. I'm drenched in sweat, and I have no idea how it happened. Exercise nirvana.

Some funny things I have noticed about the Sports Guy Exercise program:

- Usually, I play videogames in a chair. When walking or jogging, I notice the body language is much more accentuated. How, you ask? The treadmill has a little tether you clip on to yourself, to ensure if you get towards the back, it pulls a lever and off goes the treadmill. Hence, no cartoon-like launching across the room. But, while playing the video game, the quarterback tends to drop back…and I tend to drop back. POP! goes the treadmill.

- On the completion of a game, I shut the treadmill down...and I am vibrating. It's like being on a boat: you get off, and you still feel as if you are on.

- Sound doesn't matter. Normally playing videogames, sound is an essential part of the system. When on the treadmill, the comforting drone of the crowd or Madden's occasional cries of "Boom!" are enough.

- I never realized how much time a football game on the PlayStation takes! I thought, 20 minutes max. But I look up, and 45 minutes are gone…and I have to get to work!

So, wish me well on this new ritual. I've lost 11 pounds since the start of the year, and we'll see how I do!

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