Monday, February 25, 2013

I Will Be Losing Some Weight

This is a long one, buckle up. I have been avoiding the topic for years, but I am finally addressing it.

I am fit. I am the American version of skinny. I run fast. I can run all day. Yet the goal for this Olympic cycle is to run a marathon under 2:18, and by that measure I am slow and fat. I have been progressing in my running since college, as I would expect given the work I have put in. I have set two personal records in the 800, one in the Mile, one in the 5000, several in the 8k/5mile, one in the 10,000, three in the half marathon and two in the marathon. I continue to progress, there is no doubt about that. The problem is that I am not progressing toward my goals as fast as I would like. Looking at all of my training, the workouts, the mileage, my diet, my rest and recovery, the supplemental work, my weight, and my day job, the things that affect my running on many counts are already as good as I can expect without a major life change. However, my weight is likely a significant thing holding me back. (Supplemental work like core and abdominal work plus squats and curls and little foot exercises are an area for improvement as well. Yes I need to average higher mileage. Yes I need to put in workouts that are harder than I have ever done before. Yes I could sleep more. Yes I could probably eat better, although that is a little debatable.) Regardless and in addition to the other factors, in the interest of running races faster, I’m going to lose some weight.

First the numbers. I weight about 132 with clothes on mid morning and probably around 128-129 post afternoon workout in running clothing. I started high school around 105 pounds. I graduated high school around 135. After a break from running I started college at 140 and after three weeks at the all you can eat cafeteria was at my all time high of 145. I went pescatarian first then vegetarian for about four months total. Then I really got into running in college and my senior year, my best season, I was down to 126 (after a run or workout) on more than one occasion. Assuming I was a naked 129 pounds a few weeks ago when my body fat was measured at 14%, that’s about 18 pounds of fat. Roughly speaking 1% less weight with the same power will mean a person can run 1% faster for the same energy. My marathon time is 9.2% slower than I need to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials. 

One way to look at the data is to say if I can lose 9% of my weight and maintain my training I will be fit enough and fast enough to run a 2:17. That leaves me at 117 pounds with 5% body fat assuming no muscle loss and the same hydration. A very thin me. Is that what it takes? Most professional runners my height weigh about that much and I can say from experience that when I line up next to the Africans they all make me feel fat.

There is a problem. I told myself long ago that I would not go below 120. Weight loss is an addictive drug. I am afraid that I might have a personality suited to addictive behaviors. Not necessarily a bad thing, as long as those behaviors are constructive. However, I have been personally afflicted by eating disorders, and they are not pretty. 

My best friend in high school acquired an eating disorder when she left home for college. In hind sight it seems simple to me, she did everything in high school, had it all. In college she tried again to do everything and could not. In an attempt to control her life she took to “controlling” her weight. I cried so much for years. I made many mistakes dealing with her eating disorder, but I probably learned more from her than anyone else outside of my family. 

During my experience, a good friend of mine in high school had an older sister who died of an eating disorder. My friend with the eating disorder had more than one friend she met in inpatient programs die. Anorexia and bulimia kills people. My high school experience on the whole was amazing, yet I have a feeling that my little home town in Kansas breeds eating disorders. 

In large part eating disorders are about control. Everybody wants control and they all want more of it. The problem is we don’t really have much control at all. I like to use the word influence because we can influence things one way or another but not control them. If we could really control things than kicking a field goal or shooting a basket would be boring because everyone would make every shot. 

Eating disorders are not about weight, and not about food. Those are symptoms of the problem or problems. Control is a great word, because a huge amount of eating disorders are about control. Possible root causes are may include: control of daily schedule or life in general, competition with others, response to a traumatic event, low self-esteem, or pressure (external or internal) to perform or be something. There are many other causes, and many other triggers. There are so many causes and the problem is so pervasive that even a relative of mine had an eating disorder.

The impact of eating disorders can be felt on so many of the relationships I have had, my best friend in high school, a prom date, a relative, and a slew of other friends, many close ones. It is so hard to deal with a person with an eating disorder. In my case especially dealing with a woman who I perceive as attractive. I hesitate to complement women who I view as attractive because I know that a percentage of them have eating disorders. Sometimes I fear that a woman might have thrown up in the last half hour and saying how good she looks will just reinforce that negative behavior. It’s a slippery slope. 

I can be attracted to thin women and eating disorders are a loaded gun. I like helping people, but I’ve been through the eating disorder thing... several times. I’m not looking forward to doing it again. How do I mix those, the desire to help another, my attraction to another, with the selfishness and danger of one who has an eating disorder? Every situation is different. I don’t have a general answer, but it is something I think about.

On another level this influences my coaching too. I have no intention of ever telling anyone to lose weight. My stance has always been that if you are doing enough running and exercising and eating a healthy diet the weight will take care of itself. However, in practice few eat half decent and few do the volume of work required.

Given my perceived propensity for addictive activities I have shied away from losing more than a few pounds for close to a decade. I don’t want to get caught in a trap of losing weight to run faster because just like I run huge mileage, I am afraid that if losing one pound if good and two is better than ‘15 is great’ might get into my head. 

On the other side of this coin is genetics. My dad is not skinny. My mom is basically skinny. The grandpa I knew was not skinny. One grandma was fit and the other was not as much. Then again I didn’t know any of these people below age 35. That being said, I’m not built like a lithe runner. I have a huge torso and short legs, not all that different from Prefontaine. Certainly not like the running machines that come over here from Kenya with their long legs, tiny torsos and thin calves. Don’t mistake these observations for complaining, my life has honestly been the best in the world, I would not trade any of my genetics and the situation surrounding my genetics for anyone else’s in the world, even if that meant running a 2:04 marathon (or being Bill Gates kids). I am right where I am supposed to be. In my opinion, I have the best life in the world

That being said, my grandpa tried to lose weight time and again and I believe they had him down to 1500 calories a day, and as a greenhouse owner he was walking 12+ miles a day carrying 20-30 pounds around half the time. He didn’t lose much weight at all on that regimen. Apparently the body goes into a super efficient starvation mode when the food supply gets cut low. In other words, below some level the body will try really really hard not to lose another pound. What if I encounter that at 125 pounds?

I don’t even know if I can lose the kind of weight to get to 120 or below 120. As soon as I say that though, I want to prove it to myself that I can. That’s another problem (or strength) of mine I get competitive with myself. I don’t own a scale and I have no intentions of having one anytime soon. A 3/4 length mirror gives me all the feedback I need. If I owned a scale I would step on it. If I stepped on a scale every day I would do what it takes to trend down over time. Maybe even if that meant giving myself an eating disorder. 

Perhaps an eating disorder is not the right phrase to describe my weight loss. Most certainly it would involve thousands of miles of running. I would still eat, eat a lot too probably. The only time I tracked everything I ate for any length of time, the fall of 2009, I averaged about 3000 calories a day and lost weight, while averaging over 100 miles per week for a couple months. If I did 100-110 miles of weekly mileage average for a few months but only ate 2500 calories a day I would drop a pound a week. For me that would probably be too much weight per week. A pound of fat is 3500 calories for those that don’t know. Roughly 35 miles of running. Unfortunately for me more like 40-45 miles because I am already that efficient. 

The idea of getting down to 120 has already entered my head. In the five days I have been working on this article I have found myself thinking about weight maybe five times as much as I did before even thinking about a weight loss goal. That is scary. Just being aware of the desire to lose weight is making me change my habits. This is what I do, think about things. I am not very good at turning my brain off. I suppose, given the thought I have the last few days to losing the weight and the changes I am already making, it has already begun. I was going to announce something, but it is taking me longer to write this article than opt for an extra piece of whole wheat bread instead of a bag of M&Ms or  Baked Cheddar Potato Chips. I just ate two sticks of celery. I ran an extra half mile today after I planned to stop because I figure it is another 40-50 calories. Wow, just Wednesday afternoon and evening I have already made so many changes! I knew each one as I was doing it, but all in one afternoon?

There are other things too. I have been weening myself off of alcohol the last few weeks. I was probably averaging a bottle of wine a week, and I have not had alcohol in five full days. If I am going to lose some weight I am going to do it by incorporating every trick in the book: celery, running more, whole grains, less alcohol, less sugar, more tea, and oddly enough for a fast paced impatient person like me, walking. I feel that walking a few hours a week on top of the running that I do will help stretch out my legs in a less traumatic fashion, which will both help muscle recovery and also help me breathe out a few more calories. Weight is lost breathing it out, in case you thought that it was sweat out or excreted, most comes out your mouth.

This is going to be interesting. Don’t worry, the plan is to document it. Not in terms of what I eat, or even regular weigh ins, but I will try to step on a scale at least once a month to see how things are going. I also do not plan to post pictures of my face or torso, but there is a decent chance that they change. Yes, I realize that people will see me or hug me and complain about how skinny I am. 

Is it worth it? What if I did get an eating disorder but then I ran a 2:17? Eating disorders have an average 5-7 year lifespan but qualifying for the Olympic Trials is something I can talk about for 5-7 decades. Part of me says, go for it, eat only celery, cereal and tea. A career can be sometimes be wrapped up in a single accomplishment. Astronaut Neil Armstrong equals walked on the Moon for a couple hours. Chuck Yeager was the first to break the sound barrier. The world is full of one hit wonders. Is running really fast in one race worth the possibility of years of health problems? Part of me says no and part of me says yes. I have been running and recording my mileage for 12 years and maybe this is what it takes to get to the next level. This or EPO but I don’t plan on taking that.

There are some buzz words I have to watch out for. First of all, no restricting food. That is a huge no-no. Reducing consumption of doughnuts and pizza is acceptable, restricting my diet from fried foods is not acceptable. Second, I will never actually have a weight goal, percent fat goal, or waist size goal. It is more important that I feel lean and strong in workouts leading into any race rather than hitting some arbitrary value on a scale. Third, I run thousands of miles a year and those miles require recovery food within an hour of the run, which I feel is even more important than stretching. I have no intention of trying to control the volume of food that I eat. The plan is to be proactive and eat an extra carrot for lunch to avoid a cookie an hour later. Along these lines I plan to stock celery and hummus continuously because it is filling and has few calories. Fourth, the goal is to run fast, not lose weight. If I am not eating the nutrition I need to support my workouts, and my mental work, I need to take a step back and make a change.

There are no concrete answers. Most of the time no one knows the line until it has been crossed. In other words, 126 pounds, 123 pounds, 117 pounds? Where is the limit, where do I put myself in a hole either mentally or physically? I do not know. Regardless, I am going down, it will be pretty slow, and my rock climbing partners will hate my loss of upper body strength. People will tell me I am getting especially thin because they tell me that all the time even though the difference is usually that they gained weight. I am losing weight so that I run, specifically race the marathon, faster. We will just take this one step at a time. If I can not possibly run 2:17, then so be it, but I do not want to look back and say, ‘I was afraid to confront my weight so I was never as lean as the guys finishing a few minutes ahead of me.’ Time is short. This is an experiment. It could fail. I still like eating steaks and doughnuts and cheese and pasta. Maybe I can not get below 126. I don’t know. If I can not lose much weight, that is okay, as long as I know I tried to optimize every variable in the equation of accomplishing my running goals. No one knows. If the future was known we would just phone in the results, instead we show up and raise expectations and performances to the next level. Impossible is nothing.

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