Keeping an Open Mind

The Tension

I’m the type of person who typically follows instructions, a recipe, a training program, or a diet without any room for changes.  If it calls for 2 tablespoons of coconut flour, or 3 days strength and 3 days cardio, or measure 21 inches then cut with a circular saw then that’s what I do…no more, no less.  So when a friend of mine says to me that I should really, fill in the blank, when I’m in the middle of my training schedule, there is a little alarm that goes off in my head that says, “Danger, Will Robinson!  Danger!”

It was different this time.  In my last post, I described my recent journey with Body-for-Life and how I allowed certain trusted voices to help me decide to go down a different route.  How often it is that I think I know best and how stubborn I am to even consider another option.

Some people might say that I have “black and white thinking”…it’s either one or the other but nothing in between…no gray areas…no room for modifications.  This is where having an open mind can be helpful especially in the area of health and fitness.

I’ve only ever had one personal trainer and he pretty much told me what to do and I did it.  However, when he became to expensive to keep I was lost but I didn’t know it.  You see, he didn’t teach me how to create a training plan.  He didn’t teach me how to modify my exercises if I became injured.  I didn’t learn how to plan for progress but rather track performance.  I didn’t know how to plan my future workouts based on my log books.

Little did I know that I’ve had informal “personal trainers” in my life who actually had been encouraging me to think and do things different than what I had been; people like my chiropractor, my running coach, and my co-workers!

Would you consider yourself as having black and white thinking like me?  Do you still?  Knowing what you know now, how do you function when you’re faced with keeping an open mind?

I’d love to hear your story.

~ Tony


Oh No! I’m Bored!

file0001568691154Two weeks into the Body-for-Life (BFL) program, I started to lose interest in my journey.  I suddenly remembered why I stopped the 2nd and 3rd attempts at BFL.  While I know that I’m the type of person who needs structure and simplicity, both of which BFL provides, it lacked something!  Maybe it was variety; maybe it was accountability; maybe it was details; maybe I was distracted!  It was then that I started to a little research on other ‘programs’ like CrossFit and the the Paleolithic diet (aka Paleo Diet).  I asked my trusted health conscious friends for some ideas resources and the ones that I kept going back to were Robb Wolf and Mark Sisson.  I watched a video of them presenting at the 2012 Ancestral Health Symposium here.

So after 4 weeks of BFL, I decided to follow a prescribed 21 day transformation regiment from Mark Sisson which addresses not only nutrition, but exercise, sleep, and fun!  Long story short, I was amazed by one of the measurements I tracked, body weight, after only 3 weeks of this.

  • Post Marathon Weight = 255 lbs
  • Post BFL Weight (4 weeks) = 250 lbs
  • Post 21 day Primal Blueprint Weight (3 weeks) = 235 lbs

Hmmm…I think we’re onto something here!

Life After The 2013 Chicago Marathon

1394012_10153395002350397_1473579959_nIt’s been about 6 weeks since I completed the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 13th!

As soon as I crossed the finish line with my brother, Joey, I told him, “I am not going to do this again unless I have lost 60 lbs. at the time of registration.”
“Sixty pounds?  But registration is in February!  You can’t lose 60 lbs. by then.”
“Oh, well!  I guess I won’t be running in 2014!  Ha ha!”

I’ve heard it said and have read that a runner may experience ‘post marathon blues‘ after completing such an accomplishment.  This is typically due to having a race goal to work towards for so many months and now, nothing.  I might relate it having lost a sense of purpose or significance.  I would guess that no one willing desires to experience this, myself included.  I knew I needed to do something!

I set a weight loss goal of losing 60 lbs at an average of 5 lbs a month.  That would work out to reaching my goal weight by the end of October of 2014.  I thought that going back to what I was familiar with would be the best solution.  In 2010, I participated in a program called Body-for-Life (BFL) created by Bill Phillips.  Essentially, it is a 12 week program whereby you exercise 6 times a week with structured interval training exercises, you eat 6 times a day with healthy portions of food combinations focusing on the right carbs and proteins, and you track your progress in a journal.  Back then, I lost close to 25 lbs.  It just makes sense that I would repeat something that was proven to work.  So, after taking a week off of any activity I started my 12 week trek towards the 60 lb peak!

Thanks for following my progress!


Our Time Matters

Hour GlassWow!

Am I really looking at only 6 weeks before the Chicago Marathon?  Where did the time go?

  • It seems like I just found out that my entry into the lottery for the Chicago Marathon was accepted!
  • It seems that it was only yesterday that Team Oasis had it’s kick off launch party in April.
  • It seems that it was just days ago that I started seeing a chiropractor for my developing condition of plantar faciitis.
  • It seems that it was just a month or so when our team had it’s first training run of the season.

It’s so hard to believe how time flies through the summer and not just because of training but life as well.  I’d like to think that running is not my life, however, those close to me might say otherwise.

As the months, weeks, days, hours and minutes tick off the clock in my world of preparing for a marathon, those same measurements of time look very different for an orphaned child in Kenya.   You see, I have a roof over my head, plenty of food in my fridge, a soft bed to sleep in, clean water whenever I want it, a toilet, clean clothing, income, a car, medical access, and the list is endless.  This is not so that child across the world whose parents died from AIDS.  Their days look very different from mine; from my kids’ days.

While this very real picture may look so bleek and hopeless, there is something we can do; BUT we need to act NOW.

Help me raise $2,000 towards the building of a children’s home in Kibera that will not only provide shelter but a development program that can offer the hope for a life beyond what anyone could ever imagine.  I’m asking you to take the TIME to do only 3 things:

  1. Pray for the orphaned children and the ministry of Oasis for Orphans.
  2. Go to my FirstGiving website and make your donation there.
  3. Share this story with at least 2 others who would be willing to do steps 1 through 3.

How many minutes, hours, or days are you willing take out of your life so that a child across the world can live?

Thank you for going on this journey with me!


“Here am I! Send me!”

This Is Harder Than I Thought

I started this blog last year when I committed to running to raise funds and awareness for Oasis for Orphans.  I set out to run two half marathons and a full marathon:

  1. Capital City Half Marathon, Columbus OH – “HARD!”
  2. Alexian Brothers Fitness for America Half Marathon, Hoffman Estates IL – “HARDER!”
  3. Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Chicago IL – “MOST HARDEST!”
  4. RAM Chicago Hot Chocolate 15K, Chicago IL – “HURT”

I must admit that while I was excited to start this blog I had now idea how much time and energy it took (“VERY HARD”).  As you can see, I stopped posting here and focused on Facebook (FB).

Here is my FB post after running the marathon:

Status Update
By Tony Jao
As I reflect over the last 24 hours, I think about all the things I am grateful for:I was blessed to have started our morning in prayer with Team Oasis!
I was blessed to have seen Steph at the very beginning before the race started!
I was blessed that my 2 brothers Herman & Joey along with my son Eli were there to cheer me on at the half way mark, Greektown, and the final 2 miles! (in addition to eating Lou Malnati’s afterwards!)557665_10151043562351792_647866377_n
I was blessed to have seen Anthony and Tom from Golden Legs Racing when I was at a point where I hadn’t seen any familiar faces in the crowd. 
I was blessed by a belly-aching-funny memory of Juli that helped me to laugh when I was doubting my ability to finish.
I’m grateful for the church group who prayed for me just after mile 19. 
I was blessed to see my brother Joey at mile 21 after he had to run 2 miles from the opposite direction just to get to me!
I was blessed to have Joey run alongside, coach, and encourage me all the way to the end.
I was blessed to have seen Jennifer and Michael at mile 26 when they had finished HOURS before me and they too ran me in!
I was blessed by a total stranger who saw me crying uncontrollably by myself just after passing through the finish line, came over to me, and gave me a strong hug and said, “I’m so proud of you!”
I was blessed to see the Huffman family still at the Post Race area as I was the last of our team to finish
I am blessed by Kim Huffman & Team Oasis for Orphans for helping me physically, emotionally, and spiritually prepare for this race.
I am blessed this event’s HUNDREDS of text, Facebooks posts ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, and Tweets of encouragement and support from my family and friends (that would be YOU!) I am blessed by those of you who helped me raised over $1000 towards a 2nd Children’s Site for Oasis for Orphans!I am blessed by my wife, Jennifer, and my 2 boys who sacrificed so much for me over the last few months!I’ve learned that ‘finishing’ the marathon is less about getting to the end but more about the people, relationships, and experiences that I was blessed with along the way. My medal serves as a reminder of all of that!Thank you for participating in my journey…one I will never forget!553469_10151043562416792_1609983269_n - Version 2

Last year, I raised  just over $1000 will all of your help.  As Team Oasis, we exceeded our goal of $50K.  The funds were used to purchase the land for a new site in Kibera known as the largest slum in Africa.

This year, I was blessed to have been picked in the lottery to register for the 2013 Bank of America Chicago Marathon where 36,000 put their lottery entries in for 15,000 remaining spots!   Looks like I will be running for Team Oasis and this time to raise $2,000 towards $75K to go towards the actual construction of the children’s home.

Join me again and this time let’s invite more people to catch the vision of making a difference!  Please use and share the following link:


Race Day! — A Post Long Overdue!

The alarm went off a little before 6AM EST.  I can’t really say that I had restful sleep.  I am pretty sure that it was because of not only nerves but the excitement that was building up!  I got out of bed and started eating my pre-race meal; a bagel, a banana, and 16 ounces of water.  Mmmm…breakfast of champions!  As I proceeded with my morning routine I found myself going through a mental check list that needed to be completed before we walked out.  As I side note, you should know that mental check lists and I don’t play nice.  Why?  It is because I think of the task, check it off in my head, rethink of the same task, and check it off again.  Maybe it’s forgetfulness, OCD, or again, just plain nerves!  Anyway, 7AM came it was time to head out!

I need to interject here something that might sound random.  During my training, especially during my long runs, I always wanted to make sure that there was a washroom along my route just in case.  Come to think of it, I rarely ever had to use the facility during my run.  I do, however, make sure that “all is well” before I run.  After we left our hotel, I wanted to make sure that “all was well” with me so I wanted to hit the port-o-potty before the start of the race.  To my surprise, or ignorance, pick one, it appeared that hundreds of people were thinking along the same lines.  In one respect it was comforting to know that great minds think alike, on the other hand, it was a little stressful for obvious reasons.  Oh well, I guess you just have to go with the flow…no pun intended!

When I registered for the race, one of the questions that is asked is what your pace/mile  is or your predicted finishing time would be.  Since I finished my first half marathon just over 3 hours, I put that time down.  Each runner is assigned an area of the starting line based on that time.  I was placed in Corral E, after A, B, C, and D.  That basically meant that when the starting gun goes off those in Corral A would cross the starting line.  After they crossed, then Corral B would go, and so on and so on.  The gun went off at 8:00 AM and I along with the people around me didn’t move.  My brother encouraged me to stay towards the back of our corral and allow others to pass.  He also said to NOT start running until we cross the start line because that’s when our time would actually start.  It took us 20 minutes to walk to the start line.  At that moment the announcer said that the lead runners had just crossed the 5K mark!  Oh, well.  I’m running my race!

The weather was perfect!  It was in the mid 60’s with cloud cover with a cool breeze.  It looked like it could rain but nothing was falling as of yet.  My worst fear for this race had passed.  Earlier in the week I would check the weather forecast in the Columbus OH area and I kept seeing high 80’s, sun, high humidity levels.  Thank goodness the weather man was wrong!

The first few miles was all about finding my place in the race.  Surprisingly, I found myself passing a lot of people, dodging left and right, squeezing through an opening, and so on.  My brother coached me to not waste so much energy doing that mainly because my body isn’t used to doing that.  Practically speaking, my training consisted of moving forward…that’s it.  I didn’t do any drills of moving side to side and squeezing through openings between two people running/walking slower than me.

I had planned that I was going to run a mile and then walk a minute throughout the whole race.  Anytime that I could, I would also walk through the water stations if I needed additional hydration.  I carried a four-bottle (42 oz. total) hydration belt filled with Gatorade so I didn’t have to rely on the watering stations.

This race had about a combination of 50 bands and DJ’s throughout the whole course to help pass the time and take my mind off of, well, running.  Additionally there were spectators scattered throughout as well; and I mean ‘scattered’.  You have to know that I had this expectation that since this was a big city race with 15,000 registered, I assumed that thousands upon thousands of spectators would be lining the streets of Columbus cheering the runners on just like those who support those during the Chicago Marathon.  Boy, was I off!  Needless to say, it was an eye opener.  I guess I need to get out Chicago more often to experience how ‘other’ cities do things.

By the time I got to mile 8, I think my body started to run out of energy.  This was in the middle of a 3 mile long stretch on North High Street which starts at the Ohio State University campus and goes south into downtown Columbus.   I felt drained but I didn’t really know why.  It’s not like I hadn’t hydrated or eaten for the first 8 miles.  Eating consisted of ingesting a product called GU.  Think of thick vanilla pudding containing sugar and electrolytes in a foil pouch that you can tear open when you need it.  Mmmm…yum!  Anyway, I pressed on and even walked a little longer during my breaks.

Just past mile 10, I was in for something completely different.  Up until this point we had been running on the pavement of the streets Columbus.  To my surprise the ground beneath me transformed into one of the most unusual surface that my shoes have been on…cobblestone bricks–UPHILL!  Really?  The last thing that I wanted to do is sprain my ankle in the last part of the race.  I found myself being extra cautious in where I was placing my feet, slowing down, and even walking at times.  What only lasted a couple of blocks felt like a mile!  Thank goodness, I made it out alive (a little drama added, of course)

Shortly after that obstacle, my brother had to find a port-o-potty so he sped ahead and I kept trucking along.  I passed up the row of ‘facilities’ and knew that somehow he’d catch up with me…after all, he is a two-time Chicago Marathon finisher AND he’s 10 years younger than I am!   Sure enough just after mile 11 he caught up with me.  Just in time for the final turn at the mile 12 marker.

The final mile was on South High Street headed north towards the Columbus Commons.  This is the mile that I will remember for the rest of my life!  At this point of the race, I was in pain, I was tired, I was mentally done.  Even though I thought that it would be cool to finish under three hours; I wasn’t thinking it then anymore.  Fortunately, my brother was keeping track of my pace the whole time.  In fact, at the beginning of the race he kept saying, “Do you trust me, Tony?  Do you trust me?”  And I kept saying, yes.  Now I knew why he was saying that!  He kept looking at his watch and would speed up a little bit so that I could keep pace with him.  I tried, I really did.

I knew that this final mile was supposed to be a straight shot to the finish but as I was looking into the distance I couldn’t even see the finish line.  That was because we were headed UPHILL and the finish was just on the other side of the peak of the hill.  REALLY?  I needed to finish strong!  My brother kept cheering me on.  I pressed on…and then it happened!  Suddenly, I felt five inch needle pierce out of my right calf.  You read that right, I felt a pain shooting out of my calf for a split second.  I let out an inhumane sound that I’ve never made in my life.  My brother was also surprised; so much so that he wasn’t even sure that it came from me.  And it happened again!  And another ‘yelp’ originated from my diaphragm.  I was convinced that my legs were cramping up, I was dehydrating, my body was shutting down, and I in fact was dying.  I guess I was over-exaggerating since I didn’t drop dead.

I continued running determined to finish and in fact passed up the final water station.  We crossed the peak of this dreaded hill and I could finally see the finish line.  It was then that my brother kicked into full-on-coach-mode.  He looked at his watch and started to cheer me on as we were getting closer to the finish.  I remember everything almost like it was in slow motion.  I could hear spectators calling out our names and cheering us in.  I could hear my brother commanding me to push it, that it was just a little be further, and that “you got this!”.  I saw him actually encouraging the spectators to cheer louder for me.  I could hear the announcer over the public address system saying something to the effect of “let’s hear it for two brothers from Illinois”.  We were finally going to finish!  We both crossed the line pointing up to heaven knowing that our earthly father who’s now with God was looking down on us!  We finished at 3:00:24!  Even though it wasn’t under 3 hours like I had hoped, I still beat my first half marathon time…by 45 seconds!!

As soon as we finished we received our finishers medal, got some food and water, took a picture and proceeded to the recovery area.  It was on the lawn of the Columbus Commons where we were stretching after such a grueling three hours.  While I was working out a cramp in my leg I turned to my brother and asked, “Why would we ever knowingly choose to drive nearly 8 hours, to run 13.1 miles, to feel like this afterwards?”  We both laughed!  The ironic thing is that if I had to do it all over again with my brother…I’d definitely do it again!

Thanks again for sharing this experience with me!


Driving to Columbus

Friday, May 4th

I’ve never been to Ohio before.  The furthest that I’ve personally every driven east was to Bloomington, IN to visit my cousins at Indiana University back in the late 90’s.  I must admit that this was rather exciting.  My brother rented a car, a 2011 Dodge Avenger, and off we went.Photographed by Matt Kazmierski

My youngest brother, Joey, is 10 years younger than I.  I would say the relationship that I’ve had with him has been different than with my other two brothers.  I’m really not sure why.  It could be that the ages of my other two other brothers and I only span about 5 years.  It could be that I had protective posture of him because he was the ‘baby’ of the family.  I remember when I was in college and shortly after, I would come home and spend time with him whether it be going to the store, going out to eat, or going out to a movie.  I attended some of his high school performances when he was involved in swing choir and the variety show.  I also attended one of his cheerleading competitions at Northern Illinois University.  Without even knowing it at the time, I was intentionally investing in our relationship.

This ride to Columbus, OH was estimated to take just under 8 hours.  I don’t think that I’ve ever spent that much time with any of my brothers in one place where we were each other’s captive audience.  Joey took the first shift in driving.  As you can imagine, there was a good amount of ‘runner talk’.  Since, Joey was one of the major influences in my starting to run, I had much to talk about.  We discussed topics as it pertained to nutrition, hydration, shoes, apparel, the Chicago Marathon, the New York Half Marathon, the New York Marathon, cross training, and the list goes on.  I was surprised about how fast that first driving shift passed, not only because he was driving but also because of the conversation that was taking place, the laughter that had been shared, and the bonding that was occurring.

Near Indianapolis, we decided that it was time to each lunch.  As we pulled off we knew that we needed to nourish ourselves with some healthy food since we would be running 13.1 in less that 24 hours.  Well, it was a no brainer when we saw the Chick-Fil-A sign.  Mmmm…so good!

It was my turn to drive and take the second half of the trip.  I’m not sure what happened, but the amount of ‘runner talk’ greatly decreased as our conversation revolved around childhood, growing up, getting married, having our own families, work, the challenges we face, and the like.  I guess you can say we talked about life in general; something that we really have never had an opportunity to discuss one on one.  Time flew by again, but even faster!

Before we knew it, we were pulling into Columbus looking for the hotel where we would attend my first health and fitness expo.  I was giddy with excitement!  It was here where we would pick up our racing bib, shirt, and other race materials.  You could feel the energy in the room as fellow runners were also doing the same thing; a community of people just as crazy as I am!   We’d visit the different vendor booths to check out running gear, shoes, apparel, etc…  I walked through the expo with a permanent smile and eyes wide open just soaking it all in.  Afterwards we checked into our hotel, went out for dinner to carb up, and then came back to get some rest for 6 AM EST was coming fast and furious.

This day had to have been one of the best days that I’ve spent with my brother Joey!

Stay tuned for Race Day!