Update: I Feel Like A Superhero

I think it’s time I provided an update on my exercise situation. As you know, I have undertaken to run one hundred days in a row while simultaneously working my way through the famous P90X home exercise program. I had originally described this as “ambitious,” and perhaps it is, but as the days pass it becomes clear to me that I will actually do this.

That’s assuming I don’t fall victim to some sort of bad luck or act of nature. Let me just pause here to note that the flu is running rampant through my household, but between twin practices of quarantine and running the UV air purifier any- and every-where a flu victim may have been, I’ve managed to avoid catching anything myself. I also have just enough vanity to suppose that perhaps all the exercise I’ve been getting has boosted my immune system enough to ward off a lot of what’s out there. Fingers are crossed, though it’s looking good for me.

So how has it actually been going?

Yesterday I finished my fortieth consecutive run. When I first had the idea of running one hundred days in a row, I actually never dreamed I’d make it this far. To have run forty days in a row already feels like an accomplishment to me. It’s a long time without a true break. Still, I’m trying not to let my guard down here because, when I think about it, I’m still ten days away from the mere half-way point. I feel comfortable running every day now, I never feel like “today is the day I’m not going to make it” (although a day after seriously bruising my foot a couple weeks back, I sure came close). I pack my gym bag every day with confidence, knowing that I’ll be able to get a good run in, no matter how I feel.

That sentiment, I must emphasize, is a big change for me. No matter how much I ran before, I always felt as though I could just take a day off if I wasn’t feeling strong. Now I know that I can keep running even when I don’t feel strong. It’s a big mental shift to go from always having a day off in the back of my head to always completely knowing (in the back of my head), with surety, that I’m capable of running today. It’s as though the motivation to run and the notion of ability are no longer questions. I take it as given that this is possible, and the only matter left to consider is how hard I’ll choose to run. This is beneficial, to say the least.

Last Friday, I completed my thirtieth day of P90X, which marks the end of “Phase 1.” They recommend taking a set of “before” photos, and the a series of progress photos at days 30, 60, and 90, which I faithfully did. To my slight chagrin, my body has experienced almost no visible changes after 30 days. My abdominal muscles are noticeably larger, which is nice, but no one who doesn’t know me well would notice the change. As for my other muscle groups, I don’t think there has been much change to speak of.

At first, I was quite disappointed to see my 30-day photos. I had been working so hard, getting up early in the morning and “bringing it” during the workouts, that I felt like I deserved some gains. When I thought about it, though, I realized that I hadn’t been lifting heavy enough weights to have warranted a major physical change. After all, I am not starting from “zero;” I was already a physically fit person before I started. Many of the big 30-day gains seen in the many P90X before/after shots involve people who are starting from nothing or next to nothing. But even setting that aside, the first phase of the program focuses on bodyweight exercises and calisthenics – great exercise, but not exactly famous for helping a guy get “shredded.” Seen in that light, I realized that it was my expectations, not the program itself, that were out of line.

Still, there have been some major changes going on with my body. First of all, I think I am more flexible now than I have been in years – maybe ever. I can’t stress how important this is. Many of my muscle and joint pains, which were caused by tight muscles, have disappeared. My calf muscles are typically so tight that I cannot even feel when someone squeezes them, no matter how hard they squeeze. Now, they feel loose enough that I can use a foam roller and feel relief. My whole body feels more limber and agile thanks to my newfound flexibility, and it’s been a real positive change. Furthermore, the wrist pain I’ve been enduring for months now, which I attributed to the combination of desk work and holding my daughter in my arms all the time, has dissipated significantly as a direct result of the Stretch X workout video. It’s remarkable.

Another important change, which can be partially attributed to flexibility and partially to new muscle strength, is an improvement in my posture. Whether I’m sitting, standing, or lying down, my limbs and spine align into healthy positions. As someone who has always struggled with bad posture, this has been great. For one thing, a lot of people don’t realize how much better clothing fits when you have good posture; so I look a little better. (Vanity again, but alas, that’s part of working out.) It also makes long drives and long hours of desk work much more tolerable. My core and back muscles stay engaged and insulate my spine from the kinds of stress that’s common of people who spend many hours sitting.

Perhaps my favorite “result” so far has been the increase in my sleep quality. While I’m not getting any more sleep in terms of total hours, I now get as much as two hours more deep sleep per night. My head hits the pillow and I’m gone, asleep until I wake up to my alarm the next morning. As a lifelong light sleeper, I’ve been really pleased by this change.

What happens next? Well, I started Phase 2 of P90X on Saturday. Phase 2 seems to place more emphasis on actual weight training, so if I’m going to see any gains to my physical size, I imagine they will come during Phase 2 for the most part. Over the weekend, I was also able to go for an eight-mile run – my furthest-distance run in at least two years. So I’m ramping up on both sides of my exercise regimen. That’s encouraging. I feel really fit. It’s a nice feeling, especially for someone in his late thirties. This is some of the best shape I’ve ever been in.

Another thing I’d like to try is making some additional improvements to my diet. I don’t have too many bad habits left, but my body is asking me to get rid of the few I do have. When I have so little room for improvement, it’s hard to give up on my one or two remaining “treats.” Still, it’s tough to imagine going on like this for months on end while still putting less-than-perfect fuel in my body. I don’t want to make too big a deal about this, because I know myself and I know I might not be able to do this. But it’s starting to be the last remaining voice in the back of my mind, the one thing keeping me from feeling as close to perfect as I’ve ever felt. I’m curious about that feeling, and I’d like to see what it’s all about. So, here I go…

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