Thursday, May 28, 2009

Maybe I should start eating baby powder...

I got my new training schedule from my coach yesterday.  Reviewing the summer torturefest she has prescribed for my next 17 weeks of training, I realized the enormity of what I am trying to accomplish.  I looked up statistics on how many women qualified at either the A (2:38) or B (2:47) standard for the Olympic Marathon Trials held in 2008:  181 women. How many of them were over the age of 40?  14 women.  And that standard was a minute slower.  Only 136 (75%) of these women ran a time fast enough to qualify for the new B standard of 2:46.  This analysis led me to ask the following question of myself:  what in the hell are you thinking? 

I start with this in part deux of my weight blog because I think it helps explain why I think the way I do about my weight.  It should serve to reassure you that I am not interested in losing weight or changing my body composition to look better.  I actually like the way I look and do not think I am fat.  My weight management goals are based on my running goals and shaped by the laws of physics. 

In fact, I have suffered from bipolar exercise disorder most of my life experiencing manic cycles of jazzercise-like activity followed by depressive cycles of hydroponic butt-farming on the couch.  I now understand why this was--my fitness goals were all shaped by a desire to look “fit” rather than a more compelling goal like running in the Olympic marathon trails at age 44.

I take my professional running career (and yes, I think I qualify as a professional runner after the windfall I won in Belgrade though I have yet to see a single Euro from them) pretty seriously.  I recognize that lacing up my running shoes daily and running hundreds of miles a week will not get me to my goal.  Rather, I have to train like a professional athlete and this involves a certain lifestyle.  I see running, both physical and mental strength training, nutrition and weight management as equal factors affecting my fitness and performance (well, the compression socks are vital too).  I also recognize that these factors are all interconnected in that an imbalance in one area can ripple out to affect all of the others.

How I lost 5 lbs without trying

Last summer I was traveling in China and Mongolia and ended up on an involuntary form of the Adkins diet. Mutton and cheese were on the menu every day and not a lot of food was provided to me (hmmm...this sounds a lot like Serbia).  Our eating schedule was completely whack with breakfast at 6 a.m., lunch around 3 p.m. (with only a ration of the Chinese version of moon pies to eat in between) and dinner generally around 9 p.m though we once ate dinner at midnight.  As a result, I ended up losing about 5 pounds during the 3 weeks I was gone and most of this was body fat.  

I was not unhappy with this change in my body composition.  I had people commenting on how fit I looked and asking what strength-training program I had initiated to look that way.  I had done no strength training, but I had removed a layer of insulation from the surface of these muscles allowing them to show through. 

I noticed a concomitant change in my fitness level pretty quickly.  I was killing my workouts and starting to perform really well in races.  I decided I liked the new me and wanted to try to maintain this leaner configuration.  So, I took this weight loss as an opportunity to change my eating habits and lifestyle. 

How I kept it off 

I decided to start tracking everything I ate using a clever little iPhone application called Absolute Fitness (version 2.1).  I was chiefly concerned about my net calorie intake as well as the composition of fat, protein and carbs in my diet.  I wanted to try to keep my fat intake low (<20%).>

This plan has worked very well for me mostly because I am capable of exhibiting self-control with my eating (on most days).  I do this by reminding myself of my long-term goal of running 2:46 when I am tempted by the entire carrot cake sitting in my kitchen from a friend’s party or by that beautiful In-n-Out burger sign on my way home from a work trip.  

I have also become a lot smarter about the foods I eat and their relative nutritional contribution to my diet.  I am able to plan my meals before races and workouts using this iPhone application to ensure I have the right proportion of carbs in my diet.  I can also see when I have a major calorie deficit and need to bulk up on foods in order to have the energy the next day for my workouts.  I hope you can see just how much work this is. 

When the program stopped working 

After I ran my 2:50 marathon at CIM (btw, did anyone notice that I ran 5 minutes faster at CIM than I did 7 months earlier in Eugene after losing 5 lbs?) I was still slowly losing weight (got down to 126) and feeling great.  I was continuing to track what I ate, maintaining the same calorie load and nutritional balance as before.  The only thing that really changed was a slight increase in running volume and intensity.  In about February, I started noticing that my weight leveled off.  I saw this as no big deal because my body fat continued to go down.  Then, my weight started going up to about 128 while my body fat continued to go down (about 9-10% right before Belgrade).   

You may be thinking right now that I have a bad scale.  While this may be true, I'm talking about trends over time rather than daily ups and downs.  Though I know the body fat measurement on my scale is not accurate, it is precise in that I weigh myself on it daily at roughly the same time and therefore have the ability to compare the values on a relative basis.  There is variation around the mean to be sure, but there is a downward trend in body fat and an upward trend in weight that cannot be disputed.  I have the data. 

I became pretty discouraged at this point.  I was working my butt off (or so I thought) and being so vigilant about my diet.  Furthermore, I was lifting no weights and was doing strength workouts similar to what I had done for the last couple of years.  What was going on?  I don’t know for sure of course but my working hypothesis is simply that I was gaining a whole lot of muscle while I was losing that fat. 

I think my body is still transforming into a runner’s body since I am still a relatively new runner.  I look at recent pictures of myself in full stride and don’t really recognize my body as my own sometimes (and I don’t want to when the race photographer catches me on the down swing with every percentage point of body fat trending toward the core of the earth). 

Where do I go from here? 

My wise coach told me to be less concerned about my weight and focus instead on reducing my body fat.  As she pointed out, the muscle I am gaining is running specific (except that my brain is also getting gigantic because I’m getting so much smarter) and will only help me be a stronger marathoner despite the additional drag.  

Both my weight and body fat have gone up since my long running break coupled with my April tour of the wine, bread, cheese, pasta, and gelato of Italy.  I agree with my coach that I can get my body fat even lower than it was before Belgrade for a short period of time.  Keeping it that low would be a mistake, but a short foray into the single digits will certainly not hurt my body one bit. 

The question is really a psychological one: Can I look at the numbers on the scale and not be disappointed when the weight reads high even if the body fat reads low?  I guess I’ll soon find out.

1 comment:

  1. Great post! I just wish I had read it BEFORE I ate those two Trader Joe's mini mint ice cream mouthfuls!