Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I know this is supposed to be a running blog, but this is somewhat related because it has to with fitness and weight and health in general so I think it fits fine here. Plus, I don't really need to explain myself anyway :) This post is all about my 3 months of P90X from start to finish.

Very Long Blog Post Warning:  This is going to be a long post because I am covering 3 months of P90X. If you want to skip down to the results, feel free to scroll down to the bottom. No hard feelings :)

Why P90X?

Before Pete got me into running 4 years ago, he started his fitness journey with P90X. He managed to get about half way through until he stopped and started to run, but in that 45 days the transformation was quite impressive. It was pretty clear he lost weight and increased his strength. But, then his interest turned to running and he decided to sign up for a marathon. I ended up joining him and the rest is history.. up until the beginning of this year.

This thing was $30 and works like a charm.
I continue to use it and in fact used it this morning
After a couple years of running, I wanted to start incorporating some kind of strength training and core work, but I would never do it. I would just say it to myself or others in conversation but never follow through. Finally at the end of 2012, I was reevaluating my goals, and decided that 2013 will be the year where I really commit to strength training. For some reason, I decided to focus on pull-ups. Mostly because I've never been very good at them because of my huge legs and small upper body. So I came up with my goals and shared them with my friends.

The very next day Pete suggested we all do P90X. Joe and I were instantly on board. I think I stopped at Target and picked up a pull up bar that same day! I was very excited to get started and was happy that I had two friends that would be doing it at the same time. P90X would fit perfectly with my goal to do a lot of pull-ups and since I knew very little about weight training, I was happy to just go with this program.

First Workout

I had heard that it was pretty intense from Pete and others so I came in with those expectations. And even though I know that it's better to start things conservatively when you are getting into a new program, I was so pumped for my first workout that I wasn't about to hold back. I am not a morning person, and I almost never get up early to run except occasionally on the weekends, but I wanted to be done with my workouts before work so I set my alarm for 5:30 and was excited to get up the next day.

I put in the first workout DVD, Chest and Back, set up the pull-up bar, got my 20 lb dumbbells and was ready to go. The Chest and Back workout is mostly push-ups and pull-ups. But its a lot of push-ups and pull-ups.You end up doing 16 sets of exercises by the time you are done. And there isn't a lot of break between sets. I had never done a workout like this and before half way through I was already feeling nauseous. But I just kept going.

By the time I got to the second half of the workout while Tony was still doing 15 unassisted pull-ups and 20 diamond push-ups, I was doing 6 assisted pull-ups and 5 diamond push-ups. It was pretty pathetic, but I didn't care. I loved how hard it was and I knew I was going to push through it.

When I got to the end of the workout, I was completely beat up, sitting on the floor feeling nauseous and then I realized I still had to do the Ab Ripper X workout! This was going to be a joke. I considered skipping it, but since I didn't even have the strength to stop the video, it just started playing so I figured I might as well get this over with. 

This is the intro right before Ab Ripper starts and it always cracks me up

It was indeed a joke. I would estimate I did less than 10% of what they did. They were doing 11 core exercises 25 or so reps each. The first exercise I think I did 15, after that the numbers plummeted to 5 or 3 or nothing. But the pain finally ended and I was finished with my first workout.

This is where having friends going through the same thing really helps. I emailed Joe and Pete on my way to work that morning and I was relieved to hear that they had almost the exact same experience. 

After that first workout, things got a lot better. Tuesday was plyometrics, aka jump training, and since I was already in pretty good shape cardio-wise, this was much easier for me, although still a great workout. Then Wednesday was Arms and Shoulders which was mostly with the dumb bells and again not as intense. Friday was Legs and Back which was pretty tough due to the single leg wall squats but I also really liked it because it was full of pull-ups and I knew I was going to be improving here. 

On Saturday was Kenpo X which is a martial arts cardio work out. I did it once and it just wasn't too tough so I decided I would skip it and run instead. Sunday was for stretching which I also skipped because I would rather run and then stretch for a few minutes rather than spend an hour stretching. 

So you may have noticed that I skipped Thursday. Thursday was yoga, and yoga was my arch nemesis.


I'm going to devote a whole section to yoga because I think it deserves it. I didn't know what to expect here. I remembered Pete saying it was one of the hardest of all the workouts but he also ended up liking it the most. I have to be honest and say I didn't understand how yoga could be hard. I guess I was thinking the worst it could be was stretching very uncomfortably for a long time. I woke up extra early at 5 am because yoga is 90 minutes long!

I got started and I was getting into it, mostly because I like trying new things, and yoga has been on my list of things to try and I knew that this yoga was going to be pretty intense. It didn't take long for me to realize what Pete was talking about. After about 15 minutes you start getting into some pretty uncomfortable positions. My legs were burning and at the same time I would be trying to balance myself. This makes for a very difficult combination and I fell out of the poses frequently, because my legs were on fire, or I couldn't balance or usually a combination of the two. The hardest thing of all was this move called the twisting half moon.

Even now I am looking at this picture and thinking it's not bad

Now I know this doesn't look that bad, but before you get to this, your legs are already shot from all of the other poses and you are balancing on your one leg for such a long time doing other moves that by the time you get to this thing, forget it. I just kept falling over.

This was about half way into it and soon after they take a small break and say that now we are going to start the balance postures. And I was thinking I was already falling over during the strength postures. Was my balance that bad? Well it turned out that the balance postures were a bit easier for me so that was a relief.

Next was something they call "Yoga Belly 7" which is pretty rough. And every time I would do this I would think I just did abs yesterday and at the end of Ab Ripper, Tony says don't do abs every day, yet here I am doing it right after I did it yesterday and I'm going to do it again tomorrow. Finally the whole thing ends with a little bit of meditation and some "oms".

I have to say that 90 minutes of yoga feels like a long time. I would always be happy that I did it when it was over, but over time, starting it would get harder and harder.

That's a short uncle

A lot of people complain that Tony Horton's corny jokes get so annoying so fast, they have to mute the workouts to get through them. I had the complete opposite experience. Although I agree that some of his jokes are indeed terrible, I loved them anyway. And as I continued through the workouts I loved them even more. And it was not just the jokes, but getting to know what he was going to say at each point in the workout and using it as a guide to know how far along I was. So here is my list of my favorite lines from P90X:

  1. Time for crunchy frog. Everyone gets there hands up!
  2. Posing for the cover of Downward Dog Magazine
  3. Like a pterodactyl backing out of trouble... CAAWWW
  4. We wanted to get some big shots for this video… COULDN’T DO IT!’ 
  5. The world famous Dreya Weber, she flies through the air with the greatest of ease!
  6. Those are some nice shoes. Almost as nice as mine
  7. OKRA i love okra!
  8. Get on your tip toes, or tippy toes. Why do we say tippy?
  9. Ab..Ripper…X..Let’s climb our legs.
  10. The man’s making contact! The man’s making contact.. elbow thigh!

Now if you haven't done P90X these will mean nothing to you, but if you have then you know what I'm talking about and I'm sure you have your own.

Keeping it going

P90X is broken up into 3 phases. 3 weeks of exercises followed by a "rest week". "Rest week"  is in quotes because it's not that much rest, but more on that later. For the first phase, keeping it going was no problem. I kept waking up at around 5:30 before work and although it was hard, I had plenty of motivation. I was already starting to see improvements. I was keeping track of everything so it was easy for me to see that I was going up in most of exercises. I was most excited to see that by the 3rd week of doing legs and back, I went up in all of my pull-ups. I improved in most of the other workouts as well. Even yoga was getting better, although I continued to have trouble with that darn twisting half moon. But, the biggest improvement by far was in the ab ripper. Because you do that 3 times a week, its easier to see improvements. By the third week, I was doing more like 90% of the movements. This was very encouraging because I have never been good with doing any ab exercises and I would always hear about how its beneficial to running. This was forcing me to do it, and I was actually improving. 

Then came the "rest week" which lets you take a break from the strength training but replaces it with another yoga session and two core synergistics sessions. As I already explained, yoga was very challenging and this core synergistics wasn't easy either. It pretty much combines a lot of different movements from all of the other workouts. There was one exercises in particular that was super hard: The Plank to Chaturanga run. Rather than describe it, you can just see for yourself.

Try this after you've already been working out hard for 30 minutes.

After I finished the first phase, I was still excited to continue because the second phases introduces a couple new workouts. I was happy for the change but getting up early before work was getting more challenging. On a few occasions I would skip the morning work out and do it in the evening after work instead. I stopped doing the entire 90 minutes of yoga because it was just too long. I cut it to the first 45 minutes of the more challenging strength part and that was a lot more reasonable. So there were little tweaks here and there, but I kept it going through the second phase.

By the time I got the third phase I admit I was starting to get a bit burned out but I felt I needed to finish it. My main issue was that it was taking so much time and I wanted to spend more of my work out time running. But I was so close now, with only a few weeks left that I pushed through it. So speaking of running, I kept running the whole time.

Continuing Running

I knew going into this that I wanted to continue running, but I wasn't sure how much I'd be able to manage. I had high hopes of keeping it above 20 miles a week for the duration, but that was really unrealistic. P90X was taking about 5 to 6 hours a week, so adding another 3 hours of running would be a lot. As it was I was now working out more hours per week than I had been a while.

You can see it pretty clearly in both the weekly and monthly charts. The black represents the time I spent doing P90X. I was surprised that in January and March I spent over 35 hours working out. Even more than the I did training for my ultra a year ago!

So even though initially I felt like I was lazy for only running in the 10 - 20 miles per week range, once I saw my overall time spent working out, I cut myself some slack :)

Also despite having such low running volume, my overall fitness didn't seem to be suffering so much. In fact, by the end it was improving.

Courtesy of fitcharts.com :)
Monthly Distance vs. Fitness (VDOT/HR)

Despite running less than 50 miles in February and less than 100 in March, my fitness was on the rise. In fact, by April it was approaching where it was at my height during last fall's marathon training. Perhaps the P90X was helping, or maybe there was another variable.

Monthly Weight vs. Fitness (VDOT/HR)

I think this chart is pretty convincing. The red line is my monthly weight and the blue line is my level of fitness. Once again, it was pretty clear that by losing a few pounds at the end of P90X my fitness had gone up. So speaking of diet.


There is a diet component to P90X which I did not really follow. I was not going to spend any money buying P90X supplements and I figured I would just manage my diet myself. Except I didn't really manage it too well. For the first few weeks I was still on a vegetarian kick until I started reading more about how important protein is when trying to build muscle. I'm not saying that vegetarians can't build lost of muscle, but it doesn't make it very easy. 

I started eating meat again and I also bought protein powder from GNC to have after my lifting days. I have to say, for not liking sugar substitutes in soft drinks and other foods, I didn't mind the Sucralose at all in my after work out shake. In fact I loved the shake and would look forward to it. It really tasted like a milk shake to me. But as far as my diet went, for the first month I didn't lose a pound. But even so, I could tell that things were being redistributed. So even though I weighed the same, I could see my stomach getting a bit leaner and my arms getting a bit bigger.

After half way through, I really started to do some more research on diet and strength training in general. I realized that of all the things that P90X introduced me to, I was most interested in the strength training. I turned to Reddit, and found some great subreddits with tons of info. Some of the ones I went to the most were r/fitness and r/bodyweighfitness. In the fitness subreddit, a lot of people were talking about lean gains and it piqued my interest so I went to check it out.

Basically, lean gains has to do with intermittent fasting (IF) and controlling your macros (macronutrients - protein, carbohydrates, fats). In the end its just a means for managing what kinds of calories you eat when and it helps with building muscle and losing fat. I won't go into too much more detail because I plan to write a whole post on this at a later time. But, suffice it to say I started following it for the last month and have had more success than in the first half. Over all I ended up losing about 5 pounds and that is with gaining some muscle so really I lost more than that in fat. Now without further ado, here are my results.


Here are the results of all of my hard work.
Little Collage I made. If it's not clear, the top 5 pictures are before and the bottom 5 are after. 
As you can see, my head got less pointy at the top as well :)
I kind of have mixed feelings but mostly I am happy. There were times during the end of the training where I would look at myself in the mirror and think I am really starting to see a difference here. Mostly this was due to the after workout pump. But, even so I think you can tell in the pictures that overall I just look a bit fitter. There is a little less fat around my mid section. I think my arms have definitely gotten bigger, and over all my posture has changed a bit. Even though the changes were not drastic, I think they are a good beginning.

Of course I wasn't doing this just to look better. I wanted to get stronger as well. Before the start of P90X there is a fit test that you complete. Then at the end you do the same test to see how much you have improved. Here are the results.

Fit Test Before and After

I found this Google spreadsheet for tracking all of my progress. Here are the results of the fit test
Before I even thought about doing P90X, I had made goals in the new year to do more pull-ups. I was very happy that by the end I was able to double the amount of pull-ups I could do, from 5 to 10. And these are the hardest wide grip pull-ups. Although I haven't tried, I'm sure I could do at least 12 chin-ups (palms facing in).

The most disappointing result were the push-ups. As I was doing them, I couldn't believe I managed to do 34 before P90X. When I got to 30 and started getting tired, I realized I wasn't going to improve that much. Considering the thousands of push-ups I did over the course of the last 3 months, this was a disappointment. But, like anything else, these are just two results and not enough data. Perhaps if I tried again and did them fresh without killing myself on the pull-ups I would have managed more. Who knows. I've decided not to dwell on it.

The biggest improvement though came from the ab exercise. I more than doubled the amount I did from 47 to 100! I was very happy with this because I knew this was a weakness for me. Now I felt like abs were no longer a weak area for me.

Conclusion and Going Forward

Overall I am really happy that I did P90X. Although I didn't love everything about it, and I made some adjustments along the way, it introduced me to a lot of exercises and stretches. It introduced me to yoga which I always wanted to try. And, most importantly, it helped me commit to strength training and accomplish a few of the goals I laid out for myself at the beginning of the year. I didn't know where to begin with strength training and it was nice to just follow a program without having to figure it all out. 

Now that I went through it and did a bunch of research on my own, I am able to make up my own workout routine. Even though I will not continue with P90X for now, I can see coming back to it at some point in the future. It's been a couple weeks since it ended and as crazy as it sounds I miss Tony's corny jokes and knowing how far along I am in certain workouts when I hear him say certain things. 

Going forward, I already know what I'm going to do next to continue strength training. In fact I've been doing it for over a week already. I won't go into too much detail now because I plan to dedicate an entire post to it once I am further along, but it is pretty much the basic routine from the FAQ that I found in the body weight fitness subreddit. Thanks for reading or skimming, or just skipping to the results. If you're considering giving P90X a try I would say go for it! And let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

2013 Goals

Ok, so its April and I'm just coming up with my goals for the year now?! Isn't that kind of like cheating or something? Well the truth is I came up with my list of goals in early January and just haven't posted anything on my blog for a while. Well today I decided enough was enough and I wanted to get this out there. So without further ado, here are my goals for 2013:

<email from January 2nd sent to friends>

Average weight below 160 lbs. for a month
Incorporate strength training for 1 month P90X baby
7 pull-ups P90X again

Average below 155 lbs. for a month
Incorporate strength training for 3 months aww yeah
10 pull-ups
Marathon PR ( I realized after this year that a new marathon PR should never be put in the easy goals)

Run more miles than last year
Get to below 150 lbs. on marathon day
Incorporate strength training all year
15 pull-ups
sub 20 5K
sub 3:30 Marathon

Crazy Hard:
Run over 2000 miles
Have ripped abs
20 pull-ups
sub 19 5K

As you can see my goals are a little different than last year. First of all, there will be a new baby Bilenkin that will occupy a bit of my time in the Spring. Given that, I didn’t want to set as many total distance goals. Instead, I want to do more with the time I have. I think a lot of that will have to do with me getting fitter by losing weight. I still think I can get faster and not run as many miles. Don’t get me wrong. I will still be looking do 60+ mile weeks once I start training for NY (assuming I’m able to run it), but for the mean time leading up to and around the due date, I will be running reduced miles. I also wanted to start incorporating some strength training, and for whatever reason I want to be able to do a lot of pull-ups.

As far as race plans, I’m still not completely sure. I would really love to do River to Sea again, but I’ll have to talk to April about that first. I am not going to be running the Rutgers half because it is right around the due date. I’m not going to be doing any ultras in 2013 because they require so much time, but I am excited to get back to it the following year. I would like to do a couple 5Ks though and definitely plan on doing the Hillsborough Hop.

</email from January 2nd sent to friends>

Shortly after I sent this email to Pete, Joe, Sachin and Andy, Pete suggested that we all do P90X. I remember P90X as what Pete did before he started running a few years ago which really got me to start running. So I have a warm place for P90X in my heart before even doing it. I immediately decided that this would be perfect. Joe agreed as well and so the three of us started the new year doing P90X. I'm going to dedicate a whole post to that later on so I won't go into more detail here, but lets just say that I am three months in to 2013 and I already have 3 of my goals knocked out!

A Look Back At 2012

Note: In early January I started writing this post and was about 3/4 finished with it when I kind of left it. I know it's now April, but there are a bunch of things I want to write about and it only makes sense for me to finish this post that I started 3 months ago.

This is supposed to be me looking back at 2012.
This was taken right after I finished the Dirty German which was the highlight of the year.
Well, another year has passed by and it's time to look back at 2012 and see how I did. I'm going to spend this whole post looking back at 2012 and then dedicate a separate post to my 2013 goals. Let's get started! Where else to start but the very numerous and lofty goals I laid out for my self at the beginning of the year. Let's see how I did:

2012 Goals

Easy:5K PR • Half PR 1:36:28 • Marathon PR • Longest running streak 141 days •Highest weekly mileage 70.3 • Highest monthly mileage 243.3 • Highest yearly mileage 1828 • under 160 lb
Medium:sub 20 5k • sub 1:35 half • sub 3:20 marathon • 60 mile week • 2000 mile year •50K ultra • under 155 lb
Hard:sub 19:30 5k • sub 1:32 half • sub 3:15 marathon • 70 mile week 70.3 • 50 mile ultra Dirty German!!! • under 150 lb
Crazy Hard:sub 19:00 5k • sub 1:30 half • BQ

I had 3 general categories of goals. Times, Weight, and Running Distances/Consistency.


Unfortunately, I did not do as well as I hoped in the first two categories. In fact I completely failed in the weight department. Even though  I did slip under 160lb for a week, I decided I wouldn't count it if I didn't stay under for a month, or more importantly, end the year under that weight. Instead, I ended the year at my highest weight. This is a big point of failure that I aim going to address in the new year.

Last 16 months showing my peak fitness in February
Aside from my weight goals, I had very high expectations for my race PRs, and I understand where I was coming from. I came in to 2012 running 40 mile weeks in December and in pretty darn good shape. I figured I just would continue to increase mileage and my fitness would continue to increase. And for the first couple months, that's exactly what happened. In February I reached my peak fitness and although for the next couple months I continued to run high mileage, in preparation for my 50 miler, I changed my training to have less speed. And that's when I realized that running fast times at shorter distances was not going to go perfectly with training for my first ultra. Something had to give, and I decided that the ultra was the bigger deal. But I still managed to eek out a pretty respectable new PR for the half marathon in April.


But enough about the disappointments of 2012. Now lets get to the goals I did meet. Aside from not running 2000 miles last year, I met every single weekly mile goal as well as running every single day for 141 days in a row. I am very proud of that. And it's not like I was just running a mile or two every day. My average for those 141 days was 7.1 miles.

And even though I did not run 2000 miles, I did run 1828 which was over 200 miles more than the previous year.

Of course my biggest accomplishment of last year was the Dirty German. That was one of those amazing experiences that I envisioned, planned and then actually followed through with. And that's just the training I'm talking about. The event itself was one of the most wonderful experiences and sharing it with my family and friends made it that much more memorable. I'm not going to go into any more detail about it here again since I already talked about it at length, but even now looking back 8 months ago, it makes me very happy.


As much as running is mostly a solitary experience for me, I was so happy to take part in two events with my friends. The first was this summer's River to Sea Relay which was just one of those things where so much went wrong with injury leading up to it, but then on the day of the race, everyone came through and it was a super awesome experience. Seeing my friends, especially the ones that don't normally run as much, improve so much and conquer this thing was so sweet. I felt like maybe I had a small hand in getting them to be a bit more fit which makes me happy.

The other event was the Marine Corps Marathon with Andy. Even though in some ways I was a bit disappointed with my personal performance, the whole experience from the training, to going down to DC and spending a little time with Andy, Jenn and the kids, to the expo, to the race, trumped my result. I was so happy to do it and be there for Andy's first!

In Summary

So overall, despite not meeting a lot of the goals I laid out, I am very happy with how the year went. I made some great memories that I will be thinking about for the rest of my life, and I have some areas where I need to work on for this year. Speaking of this year, it's time for me to lay out my goals for 2013, I mean it is April already!