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by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & AY 8 | After six days of cardio, it feels strange to take a day off. In its place, my trainer Ben Greenfield has me circuit training at three separate points in the day. The inconvenience of the middle workout has no good solution. Do I wear my gear to work? Do I work out at work? Do I walk all the way to the Y, change, work out, shower and change back? I chose the latter, not wanting to feel like I'd worked out all day. Funny thing: spending an hour and a half doing 15 minutes' worth of exercises means I basically worked out all day.

Adding insult, Greenfield's patented "power oatmeal" tastes like bad things -- namely chalk and mud. Having given it several opportunities to get on my good side and having those gestures steadfastly rebuffed, I've stricken it from my life. It's honestly terrible.

DAY 9 | The hummus I blended for a snack today was so runny it looked like Malt-O-Meal and smelled like garlic water. I thought of Greenfield's oatmeal favorably, but only for a second. Rather than hummus at 3 and wheat pasta at around 7, then, I ate a Subway sandwich, consumed hastily in the dark of a movie theater.

DAY 10 | Partially because I needed to burn some calories in anticipation of an anniversary dinner with my girlfriend, Adrienne, I went and finally conquered my treadmill fear. It took a solid 10 minutes to turn off the brain sirens that come from being on a speeding conveyor belt and make my janky legs work properly, but I got to the point I could run.

Then I just kept running. My heart rate through the roof, I ran until I all but collapsed. I finished nauseated and dizzy, but the readout thing said I'd burned 450 calories. Afterward, I almost threw up.

This is a step forward.

DAY 11 | Since word spread that I lost 10 pounds last week, I've been catching all sorts of grief from Michael Bowen (our arts editor). Bowen has an opinion on most things, which he invariably voices loudly. "Ten pounds in a week, man ..." he says in his easy, SoCal-meets-Shakespeare tone. "Everyone I talk to says you can't sustain that kind of weight loss," he continues,

"You're gonna crash. You're gonna balloon back up."

"That's not really the point," I reply.

"Oh, of course it is," he says, walking away. That's his signal that my squawking and chirping no longer amuses him. I'd scream after him, but I'm in no mood to have an argument on the point of my own project.

Day 12 | Today I blew it. On several massive deadlines at work, I had to forgo the gym completely. Clearly, structuring my life outside work alone isn't enough.

Day 13 | Feeling immense guilt over yesterday, I got up early and did today's workout. Still feeling guilty later in the day, I decided to run and lift again. Within minutes of the second run, my heart was beating wildly. My legs began chafing. After 10 minutes, I was totally exhausted.

On the treadmill next to me was a powerful older woman with Billy Jean King hair. She was the only thing that kept me plodding. I wasn't trying to beat her or anything. That was impossible -- she'd been running what looked like seven-minute miles for a half an hour before I even got to the cardio room. I think my misfiring synapses just wanted to last until she finished, so that I could stop and slink out.

That didn't happen. She didn't even break stride as, after only 15 minutes, I finally gave up with a gasp and a tug on the emergency stop.

Day 14 | Yesterday's stupidity should have stayed in yesterday. That stupidity should be over. It's not, though. I learned today that stupidity builds on itself. I needed the muscles I used yesterday evening to work out this morning. I realized on the mile walk to the YMCA I wouldn't have them.

The walk gave me an opportunity, though, to get my head straight. I've learned I'm strong in some ways, hopelessly weak in others. To succeed today, I needed to play to my strengths.

My leg strength and stamina have held up best, so I decided to run last. Second, because I seem to have below-average chest and arm strength, I had to swallow my pride and do girl pushups. I'm sick with embarrassment to say it, but Greenfield wanted me to do 140 pushup rows (much harder than mere pushups), which isn't realistic. Needing to decide between very few reps of the harder and more of the easier, I chose the spirit of Greenfield's plan, doing more easy things to keep my heart rate at fat-burning levels for as long as possible. Turns out, though, I can't even do the girl pushups right. Or dips or anything else I was supposed to do.

To the outside viewer, the first circuit must have looked like the invading end of a land war in Russia -- a large and determined mass gradually whittled down to nothing by the forces of entropy.

At that point, I lost all pretense of composure and made up some frantic stand-in exercises. Rather than pushup rows, or knee pushups, I just bench-pressed two 15-pound dumbbells until my arms stopped responding. In place of the dips, I did triceps extensions. By the final set, it was all I could do to stop the trembling, keep my elbows in and push my arms straight.

That's when my dignity went.

Or no. When I was in the locker room changing, I witnessed a half-dozen retired fellows come back from a seven-mile run, lean as string beans, chiding one friend for not keeping an eight-minute pace. That's when my dignity went.

The woman with Billie Jean King hair pasting me on the treadmill; Bowen, at 51, competing in triathlons; those six wrinkled gents posting better numbers on long runs than I probably ever will. I spent the week awed not with those physical feats but with the massive mental gap between those feats and mine. These people belong to a culture of fitness in a way I don't and they seem happier for it. Bowen routinely talks about great runs as though physical rigor itself is a reward, making my motives feel crass and superficial.

But then I started to remember all the complaining Bowen's done; how going out too fast and finishing too slow at Bloomsday made him sulk for weeks. He's preoccupied with performance as much or more than I'm preoccupied with my appearance. I'm not going to try to make a case for which is the more noble, because each is rooted in unattainable standards of perfection.

We're both foregoing acceptance of our shortcomings (his, age; mine, general homeliness) by fighting them. I wanted to have a point in the future where all this striving would lead to a kind of retirement-age, eight-minute-mile nirvana. That dream dead, I'm just going to try and keep up with the Billy Jean King lady.

Follow Luke Baumgarten's Super-intense New Year's Resolution Weight Loss Miracle in next week's Inlander.

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