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Girl in Motion has been candidly blogging about her plans for becoming a lighter runner and has provided useful tips for other runners looking to shed some pounds. She links to this healthy conversation about weight loss, and, in this post, she makes the important distinction between weight and racing weight. I want to follow that thread just a little further.
I like that GIM called out racing weight versus, say, your everyday, off-season weight. This is a modest but important distinction. When I discuss my plans for weight loss, I recognize that the weight I get myself down to before an important event is likely not a weight that I can (or want to) sustain for long beyond that goal race. I have to work, and work very carefully, to get myself down below 125 and 10-11% body fat. The pounds don't fly off simply by ramping up my mileage during marathon training, though sometimes I wish they would. Higher mileage means I have to eat more to sustain the volume and intensity of my training. Skimp on nutrition, and I'm on the road to injury.
With a big marathon only 10 1/2 weeks off, my weight and body fat levels have been on my mind. Even though I was doing some pretty intense cross training (or perhaps because I was), my weight peaked at about 128 during the 6 weeks I took off from running back in February, March and April. That figure is about 3 lbs. heavier than what I weighed right before the Twin Cities Marathon in October 2009. Slowly, and I mean slowly, the pounds have been coming off. That's not a bad thing because it means that my weight loss has been smart. But, as I mentioned above, it has taken much discipline in my eating and training.
Part of this discipline amounts to carefully recording everything I eat and evaluating its nutritional value. I try to maintain a certain ratio of carbs-protein-fat based on where I am in my training, loosely following Chris Carmichael's program in his book Food for Fitness. What I have found from doing this for a couple of years is that I am designing my own program based on my own data. This is immensely geeky but really useful. I can look back at my records for the months leading up to Twin Cities last year and analyze what I ate, how many calories I took in and at what ratio of carbs-protein-fat. I also know that I was losing weight (in a healthy way) but also becoming fitter resulting in a 2:46 marathon.
When I looked at the numbers recently, I found the total number of calories I was consuming stunning mainly because it was about 25% lower than any of the calorie calculators said I needed to take in to maintain my weight. I recognize that the calculators may be accurate and that the way I calculate my caloric intake may be off by 25%. Regardless, if I recorded the number of calories these calculators said I needed, I would be sporting an extra 5-10 pounds each year. Knowing how much I can eat (using my method of calculation) for a given amount of weight loss/gain is priceless. Bottom line: I highly recommend getting to know your body better by keeping track of the foods you eat and doing your own mini-experiments. You'll be surprised at how much you can learn over time.
For the last few days, I have weighed in just under 125. I have steadily lost about a pound per month since April. There have been some ups and downs as I've battled GI issues and bloat, but I finally feel normal again. My body fat is still up around 11%, and I'd like it to get back down to 10% before the race. While I don't have a specific weight goal, I can see myself getting into the low 120s and feeling good about that especially with a concomitant body fat measurement around 10%. The best news is that my energy level has never been higher, and I haven't been falling victim to the 3 p.m. energy trough that I had begun to appreciate as a normal part of my daily life.
To My Health
Ultimately, my intense interest (that some might read as obsession) with food and weight issues has made me a much healthier human being. This became clear to me the other day when I was buying groceries at my favorite store, Trader Joe's. The checker was scanning my food items and said, "hey, you should really think about cutting out all of this junk food." He was being completely sarcastic, of course. He smiled and then said, "You don't have a single bad item in this cart." Wow, I thought. Five, no, even two years ago the cart would have been loaded with sugary snacks, processed crap food and fatty dairy products. This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of becoming a runner: a relationship with food where I view it as fuel for my body rather than a vice. I smile when I think that I could be eating all of those foods and not getting fat, but I really don't want to anymore. That is a true life change.
While people typically associate weight loss with looking better, I have to say that I don't like the way I look when my body fat is low. As a 43-year old who has spent some time frolicking in the sun, every single line and wrinkle seems a lot more visible when my body fat drops. There's just less fluff underneath to plump up my skin, I guess. Well, I may look like I'm 50, but this old lady will smoke your ass in the next marathon!
Happy scales, everyone!