Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Hanging On....Barely

It's been hard to get into the swing of things lately. I feel like I had a lot more time to run last year. It's been a busy Spring so far with me taking two classes and work turning into a giant mess on my calendar. Tonight is shot because I leave from work, go straight to class and then stop by an informal b-day celebration for one of my friends. I might be able to squeeze in a short run in-between work and class tomorrow, but then we also have to fit dinner in somewhere.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What should I buy?

I received a $40 gift card to my favorite running store, The Running Spot, from my girlfriend's family this Christmas and I'm itching to spend it. I don't really need shoes right now and I recently stocked up on running apparel like shorts, shirts and pants. The only thing that I don't really have right now is a decent wind breaker, but I do have a couple of old ratty ones that still have some life in them. What should I do...

1. Do nothing. Hold onto the card like a little miser.
2. Put it towards a new windbreaker so I can run in style.
3. By a bunch of smaller items like socks, gels, headbands, etc.

Tax Refund

I filed my taxes using H&R Block online this year. It was relatively painless and took about twenty minutes if you don't count the time it took for me to looks for various pieces of documentation. I don't know why, but there's always at least one stray statement that somehow finds it's way out of the pile where I collect my tax info each year and I spend more time looking for it than I spend filling out my return. I chose to have my federal refund deposited directly into my bank account, which only took about 4 business days. From there, I moved it to the savings account where I'm building my emergency fund. Slowly but surely....

Feelin' Good

Do you ever have those workouts that just feel good? Last night was like that for me. I was able to do the running program with ease and finished with plenty gas in the tank. No side cramps and for some reason I just felt lighter. I also focused on reps rather than weight for my lifting program and am in much less pain today than I was after Monday's workout.

Here's the plan for tonight's session:

50m x 4 at an easy pace with a minute rest in between sets.

Smith Machine Squats 15x?, 12X?

(The ?'s mean I'm not sure what my starting load will be. It's been so long since I've lifted, that I have no idea how weak I've gotten.)

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sore City, Ohio

Right now my biceps and triceps are really sore from Monday night's workout. I should have gone just a tad easier on the rows, but oh well.

Here's tomorrow's plan, but I may switch the arm exercises to abs/back if I'm still sore.

Run - Brisk five-minute warmup walk, then:

* Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
* Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
* Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)
* Walk 1/4 mile (or 3 minutes)
* Jog 1/2 mile (or 5 minutes)

Dumbell bench press 15x?, 12x?
Dips ?, ?
Rope Tricep extension - 15x?, 12x?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Catching Up

I'm going to take a breather from my Gym Tips posts for a second. Coincidentally, my girlfriend and I made the decision to join the local YMCA on Sunday. They had a special where they were waiving the joining fee and they work on a month-to-month basis a.k.a. no contract. My family always had a Y membership when I was growing up and I have a lot of fond memories of going to day camps and swimming in the summer. I remember the facilities being ok, but not spectacular. The Y that we visited this past weekend, however, was nothing like the ones from my childhood. This one had two separate indoor pools, one giant outdoor pool, a large fitness center with brand new equipment, an outdoor fitness trail in the woods, a spinning theatre, and best of all, late hours! All the things I want in a gym.

I did my first workout at the new place last night after having to stay late at work. I decided to give it another go on the treadmill to see where I'm at endurance wise. I was able to jog for 10, walk 2, run 8, walk 3, run 8 etc. Looking at the Couch to 5k plan, I think I fall somewhere in week 5. My plan is to start from there and work my way up to week 9 again again.

After running off and on for 30 minutes, I did some back and bicep work. It's been a loooong time since I've lifted weights seriously. I did a two sets of two rowing exercises, one set of lat pull-downs and two sets of machine curls. I'm definitely feeling it today.

Tuesday and Wednesday are off days for the time being. I'm taking a couple of classes at night for fun and personal growth. One they are over, I will be working out 6 days a week.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Gym Tips - Part 2

When I showed up for my first day at the gym, I wasn't sure what to expect. I knew it had to be nicer than the location where I interviewed, but that wasn't necessarily saying a lot. I've seen nicer basement gyms. I was blown away. Everything was brand spankin' new. Not an old machine or crusty free-weight plate in sight. The carpet was clean, there was a nicely-tiled cardio area, and each of the locker rooms featured a sauna and a steam room. I thought to myself, how could someone NOT want to join here? I was eager to start talking customers and making sales, but alas, the gym had other plans. They wanted to take things slow.

Gym Tip #1: Beware of old gyms. One popular business model for fitness clubs is to build a new gym, sign a bunch of people up and then let it rot as they build new gyms elsewhere and start the process over again. Expect whatever equipment that is in the gym when you sign up to never be replaced, no matter what the sales person says. Sales people are lied to too.

For the first four weeks, I technically wasn't allowed to sell anything. I had to wait until I was finished with the new employee training program. The program involved going to one of their eight locations and attending classes taught by their sales trainer, Betty*. Betty, too was a ball of energy. She was one of those happy all of the time people (do I sound cynical?). Though it appeared unnatural at first, I don't think she was faking it. She really was that happy. She claimed it was all because of aerobics. I thought that there was likely some medication involved somewhere. The training program had two components, fitness training and sales. The fitness training program involved learning how each machine worked, what muscle groups they exercised and how to work out on them safely. We also learned how to put together a basic fitness plan.

Gym Tip #2: Most gyms offer a free workout planning session when you sign up. Do take advantage of it, but don't expect anything spectacular. These sessions are to make sure you know how to use the equipment. If you want a more customized approach, inquire about personal training and expect to pay extra for it.
(Bonus Tip: Beware of free personal training enticements. They are usually pretty lame. Remember, you get what you pay for.)

The other component of the program, sales, was more intense. We had to memorize a twenty-minute sales pitch....down to the word. No room for error. The pitch was supposedly created by some hotshot sales consulting firm and it was "proven to work". Once we had the pitched memorized, we had to give it to one of the owners. If we messed up one word at any time during the presentation, we had to start all over. When my turn came up, I was terrified. I went very slowly, but I ended up getting every word right.

Gym Tip #3: Most good sales pitches are designed to get in your head and make you believe that signing up is the best decision you'll ever make in your lifetime. It may be, but the cold hard truth is, it's unlikely. Exercise is hard and eating healthy is hard. Most people have to do both to see significant results. Unfortunately the failure rate for people who try to get in shape is extremely high. Ask yourself these questions: Are you willing to be sore? To be tired? To have less time? Less money? To eat less? To eat better? Are you sure? Being healthy is a commitment that you will have to make with yourself. Gyms try to sugarcoat everything and make it seem like it's easy to lose fat and gain muscle. It's not, and it's better to tell you that before you sign up than afterward, especially if you get stuck in a contract, which brings me to tip #4....

Gym Tip #4: Just say no to contracts, no matter what the deal. By the time you start reaping the benefits of that lifetime membership they want you to sign up for, the club will likely be run down or, even worse, out of business.

I hated giving the sales pitch. It was cheeseball city. I usually ditched it and just talked naturally with the customers. I made many more sales that way than I did with the pitch. The pitch was rehearsed and was designed to only allow the customer to answer an affirming "yes" when we asked them dumb questions, like "do you want to live longer?" I never got to really know the customers that way. I much preferred actually talking with them, not at them.

The hardest part for me was selling a membership to a customer or family that I knew either wouldn't use it or couldn't afford it. I never actively tried to talk someone out of buying a membership, but I would take extra time to make sure that they knew what they were getting themselves into. Gym contracts usually stink and are tricky to get out of. Many gyms do their own collections and like credit card companies, actually make money when you don't pay your bill on time.

Most customers want to negotiate, and that's fine, even expected.

Gym Tip #5: Ask for the elimination of the initiation fee and you'll likely at least get a reduction. What you're not likely to get is a discount on the monthly rate unless they have an advertised special. Still, it never hurts to ask. Many gyms reward their employees based on nightly, weekly, and monthly goals. Go near the end of any one of these time periods and they may be more willing to work with you so they can reach their next bonus level.

Gym Tip #6: Don't be a jerk. Acting like a jerk to salesperson might reap benefits at a car dealership but it doesn't work well at a gym. Why? Because you will see the person you were a jerk to every time you come into the gym, Believe me, they will remember you. Never try to be clever and work with more than one sales person to get a better price either. They will find out and the one who lost out on the commission will likely hold a grudge.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Gym Tips - Part 1

A post on Jason's blog has inspired me to write a little about my experience working in sales and management at a gym.

First a little background on how I came to work at said gym. I had just gotten laid off from what I thought was going to be my dream job, working as a community organizer for a local non-profit. My position was grant funded and basically the money ran out. At that point, I decided I was going to go a different route in life but I needed a job quickly so I could pay the bills. There was a fitness sales job at a regional gym chain listed in the local paper. I thought some sales experience might be good for the resume and a free gym membership would be a nice perk. I called. After a quick phone interview I had an appointment to meet with the district manager that week. Things were looking up. The interview was at one of their older gyms and the facilities were, how do I put this, scary. The place was tiny, all the equipment was at least ten years old and many of the machines had "out-of-order" signs on them. I wondered how anyone could sell memberships to this place, much less a person without any solid sales experience.

After waiting a little bit in a dingy front desk area, I was escorted into one of the sales offices where I sat down with the DM, who was nice, but an obvious fitness fanatic. In addition to overseeing four or five gyms, she taught multiple aerobics classes, took other aerobics classes, and competed in fitness competitions. She was pretty lively during the interview and I was intimidated. Apparently though, I impressed her enough that she called the one of the owners of the company and asked if she could add me on at one of their other locations, which wasn't actively hiring at the time. The owner gave the ok and I was told that I'd be starting the following week at their brand new location which was inside a popular shopping mall. I was stoked.

Facing Reality

My trip to the gym last night was quite an eye-opener. I learned that staying relatively dormant for 3 months completely wipes out the gains I made during the previous 8 months. My goal was to do 3 miles, and I did 3 but only 2 was actually done running. I had to slow down at the 1 mile mark, and then again at the 2 mile. It was pretty disappointing. The only thing I can do is try again Thursday.

My second wake-up call came when I hopped on the scale after my run. 232. I knew I had gained some weight over the holidays, but not that much. I'm hoping a big portion of my gain is water weight, which should come off relatively fast once I get on a regular running schedule again.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Quote of the Day: The 53 Runner's Commandments

From my buddy Dave at Cin Sity Running who got it from the Pine Belt Pacers.

The 53 Runner's Commandments

#39. Without goals, training has no purpose.

A Little Bit of Change

You may have notice a few non-running blog posts lately and that's because I've decided to expand the scope of the blog a little bit. I love running and it's had multiple positive effects, but it's just one of my interests and only a fraction of my life. I also get bored just blogging about my running plan. So now, in addition to all the stuff about running, you'll see me talk about some of my other interests and goals. I hope it will make for a more entertaining and informative read.

A Neverending List of Goals

I'm an obsessive goal setter. I set goals, reset them, and then reset them again. I've been getting a lot better at following through in recent years but there's always room for improvement.

How I set goals.

I usually start off my making a broad "I want" statement. Like "I want to be healthy." Then I develop a list of two or three goals for each statement that, if I reach, will get me closer to getting what I ultimately want.


Goal 1: Have an emergency fund of $15,000. This amount should allow me to pay my bills for at least 6 months if I were to suddenly get laid off. I'm pretty much starting at zero here, so I have a long way to go.

Goal 2: Pay off my main credit card. I want to be debt free by 2011 (not counting student loans). To do this, I have to pay off a little over $12,000 between my credit cards and my car loan. Even though the car loan has the higher interest rate of the three, there's a prepayment penalty, so I'm pretty much stuck paying the whole thing no matter when I pay it off.


Goal 1: Run a 10k. I ran my first 5k last fall and, although it was a struggle, it was a great self-esteem booster. I'm finding that reaching goals has quite a snowball effect. It makes you want to achieve greater and greater things. I've been quite lazy this winter and I'm sure I've lost some of the endurance that I was able to achieve last fall. I'm heading to a gym with an indoor track tonight to see where I'm at. This week my goal is to do: Monday 3k, Thursday 4k, and Friday 4k.

Goal 2: Eat more raw fruits and veggies at every meal. This is me basically trying to trick my brain. I've had the goals of eating better and losing weight for what seems like forever and I have reached it at times, but none of the improvements have been permanent. I'll eat healthy for a couple of months and then one cheat day becomes two, which becomes three, and you can figure out the rest. Now I'm taking it a meal at a time. I figure that if I force myself to think about each meal and how much of it is made up of raw fruits and veggies, it will cause me to think about what I'm eating more often and I will eat healthier.

Goal 3: No coffee after 5pm. I'm a caffeine junky. I specifically love Americanos and it doesn't help that my girlfriend works for Starbucks. Unfortunately, I'm finding that as I get older, caffeine is keeping me up later and later. I used to be able to sit and study in a coffee shop all night, drinking bottomless cups of coffee, and then go home and fall right asleep. Nowadays, if I have a tall Americano at 8pm, I have trouble sleeping at midnight. So I'm switching to tea at 5pm and I'll see how that goes.

I think all of these are doable and don't require drastic lifestyle changes or punishment. I want to create goals that will positively impact my life, but also ones that I'll stick with.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Taming The Spending Beast

My budget has gotten pretty tight recently, now that I've resumed paying back my student loans. At this moment, I cannot say with confidence that getting my MBA will be beneficial to my salary-earning potential as most jobs out there require something called "experience", whatever that is.

To be able to pay all the bills and still save money, I've had to cut back considerably on frivolous purchases. Instead of just making a temporary adjustment, I'm viewing this required change as an opportunity to examine my spending behaviors to find out why I buy the things I do and if those purchases can be curbed. For example, growing up I was a huge music fan, and I got into the habit of purchasing a new CD or record almost every week. Nowadays, I don't really care about the "next big thing", and I find myself listening to the same five or six artists 90% of the time with the other 10% filled in with a mixture of other stuff that I have. Now, I only venture into a record store when I know exactly what I want instead of aimlessly walking around the shop looking for something to buy.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I love RSS, but...

I'm an avid blog reader and I love to use an aggregator such as bloglines.com to read all my favorites in one place. I was looking over my list of blogs recently and I realized that the majority of them are about "stuff" a.k.a. things I don't need. I've decided a purgin' is in order.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Winter Jams

I'm very seasonal when it comes to the music I listen to. Summer time means straight forward rock 'n' roll, usually with a southern tinge. Winter is inevitably of the mellow, folky, singer songwriter type with some jazz thrown in for good measure.

Here are the 5 albums I'm digging this winter:

1. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago
2. Daniel Martin Moore - Stray Age
3. Bonnie "Prince" Billie - The Letting Go
4. Patty Griffin - A Kiss In Time
5. Bowerbirds - Hymns For A Dark Horse

Shivering In A Starbucks

Right now I am holed up in the Madeira Starbucks wasting a few hours as I catch up with the internet. This 'bucks has a lot of windows and a lot of in-and-out traffic, contributing to an uncomfortably low temperature in the store.

One of the five tabs I have open in my browser at the moment is www.solbeam.com. Sol is a world traveler aka vagabonder who left her dotcom job back in 2001 to travel the world and has been blogging her experiences for eight years now. I'm envious of her life of travel, but I know I could have done the same thing if I truly wanted to back then. I don't know why, but I've been bitten by the travel bug recently. Something is calling me to see the world. How I make that happen at this point is still under question.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Quote of the Day

I'm on Yelp!

I've created an account on Yelp! and have started writing reviews of my favorite places in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio as well as places I happen upon in my travels.

Check it out!

Hello 2009

2009 is going to be the year of new experiences. I've already got a few things lined up, including a couple of classes and a road trip down south. One of my new habits is to be more aware of opportunities that exist in this world for people to have fun, learn, meet new people, etc. and I think I'm off to a good start.