May 28, 2009

400lbs to 300lbs - How I did it

I posted this picture on facebook last night:

Circa 1996 - my heaviest weight ever, ~400lbs

And someone asked, "how did you do it, steve?"

... and I figured it was time to briefly chronicle the last 12 years of my life.

(not really)

But I am going to briefly chronicle the various things I did over the last 12 years on my journey from 400 lbs to my current weight of 300 lbs, with 269 lbs in between. I am only going to write about the things that I was able to stick with for more than a month, and, which thus worked.

I resolved, probably shortly after that photo was taken, to run a marathon. That was 1997. I didn't change my eating habits, just started running. I didn't run a marathon until 9 years later, but I did run a couple of 5Ks. I pushed really, really hard and several times found myself on my back, on the living room floor, for 20 minutes or more, trying to catch my breath after a particularly hard run..

So in 1997, I went from about 400lbs to probably about 355lbs until burning out.

Then, in 1999, I went on a program called body for life, which was just a diet/exercise plan and it had amazing results for me - in about 2-3 months my weight dropped from 355 to about 310. After 12 years of reading on the topic, I'm still convinced that a sensible program like BFL is the ideal way to get fit for just about anyone and still recommend it to people.

Body for Life results

In late 1999, I moved to New York and put on about 40lbs over the next few years. I ran a few races during this time, including a half-marathon, but not consistently and certainly not effectively.

By 2004, I was between 350 and 360 lbs.

In 2006, I registered for the Las Vegas Marathon and started running seriously again. I probably dropped about 30-40 lbs, yo-yo'd a bit that fall, and by December 10th (date of the marathon) I'd say I was around 325. It took me about 7 hours to run it. That winter after the marathon, with no training, nor regard to what I ate whatsoever, I probably put on another 20-30 lbs.

In march 2007, I starved myself. Spent a month eating no starch, and another month eating less than 1000 calories per day. Having started around 350, I lost a lot of weight. This is when I went under 300lbs for the first time since high school. I was able to maintain 280-290 most of that year, ran three marathons, and after the third did a brief 3-week stint at 1000-calories and actually broke 270 for one day before leaving on vacation on december 15th. By mid-January when I returned to NYC, I was up over 290 again.

September 2007

I didn't really gain or lose weight in 2008. I ran about 600 miles in the year, which isn't a lot but it was enough to maintain the weight I was at while not paying attention to what I was eating. This is the year that I ran my first ultramarathon, a 50K in March, then a 50-mile in November. I also ran a traditional marathon or two.

Early on in my first Ultramarathon - April 2008

In the first 3 months of 2009 I was really consistent in my running and, while I didn't lose any weight, I started producing some excellent results in my running in terms of speed. I got a nasty respiratory infection in mid-march, however, and didn't run at all for a month or two. Then, I went on vacation, returned to NY, stepped on a scale and was horrified to see 310. My running has taken a significant hit - times are much slower, and i feel very sluggish.

May 2009

So now, with my next race (a 32.6-mile unsupported trail run through the adirondacks) a couple of months out on July 18th, I'm back to starving myself - <1000 calories per day, but this time I'm doing something a bit different by running at least 1 mile every day. I'm going to do this until July 4th and see where I'm at - I fully expect to get back to under 270, and I'm hoping to actually break 250. We'll see.

Having said all of that, I'd like to point out that starving yourself and running ultramarathons probably isn't an ideal way to lose weight. It probably won't work for you. I'm not even 100% sure it works for me. If you're serious about losing weight, check out body for life and let me know how you're doing.

May 18, 2009

Race Report: Piermont 5K

On the same weekend as friends of mine were in both the Massanutten Mountain Trails 100 Mile Run in Virginia, as well as the Florida Keys 100 Mile Run, I had a race of my own to look forward to: The Dennis P. McHugh 5K in Piermont, NY. Yeah, I know, life is tough, but someone's gotta make these sacrifices. (:

I intended to run this as hard as possible to conduct a fitness test on myself and that's what I did. The test results were a tad disappointing, but not surprising. Two months ago I could have run this course at least two minutes faster. Since I didn't run a 5K two months ago, however, I technically have a bittersweet PR of 29:11 net (official time was 29:37). (previous PR 29:47)

One interesting aspect of this race is I believe I came in higher in the field than any race I've ever done - my position of 291st place out of 531 corresponds to the 55% percentile - which is getting pretty close to the top half. *that* has me quite excited.

The first mile of the course is gently rolling out-and-back on the streets of piermont before turning right onto the completely flat mile-long pier from which the city gets its name. I was cruising along at about a 9:00 average pace feeling a bit winded from the hills and looking forward to the flat stretch. My mind was wondering if I could sustain the pace through the race.

By the time I completed mile 2 I was slowing down noticeably, and really had to concentrate to keep my pace below 10 minutes per mile. Going back down the pier I could see almost everyone else in the race and, being competitive by nature, it's always encouraging to me to see all the thin athletic-looking people minutes back of me after a mere 2.5 miles. I was, however, deteriorating and spending most of my time thinking about the finish line.

By the time mile 3 was wrapped up I was in a world of hurt and a finishing kick seemed impossible. It was all I could do to maintain the pace I was at. When I finally did cross the finish line (under 30 minutes, thankfully), I was dizzy and needed something to lean on. Average pace (based on official time) was 9:30, which for a 300lb man, isn't too shabby, honestly.

So, despite my disappointment in my time, I can honestly say that I left everything I had out on that course and I'm proud of that. I attribute my time to inconsistent training and weight gain since the Caumsett 50K, which is something I need to reverse before Dam Wakely Damn on July 18.

Official Results

motionbased log

May 12, 2009

Turning back the clock: March 12, 2009 Run

I started working on this post almost immediately after posting the (rather depressing) 25K race report. a much more positive vibe.

I haven't written on this blog about Rockland Lake too much lately, probably because reports my daily routine training runs have largely moved to twitter where they belong. But let's not make any mistake: when I feel want to run a flat stretch of asphalt, I head straight for congers because Rockland Lake is about as good as it gets. Before I got heavily into trail running, I usually referred to it as "my favorite place to run" and that sentiment still holds true for road running. It's scenic, busy but not crowded, traffic-free, and about as interesting as a flat 3-mile asphalt course can be. I love running there.

I'm started exercising in rockland lake in the winter of 2004-2005, back when my weight was probably over 350, and my first mention of it on this blog was June 2005 (4 years ago - holy crap!) I wrote about when I started running this course.
Whereas when I started I couldn't even run the 3-mile lap around Rockland lake, I am now pretty close to breaking the 30-minute mark. When I first got to the point where I could actually make it all the way around the lake without walking, I was doing it in about 40-45.
and also commented about a goal i would have for years
When I break 30 minutes on that Rockland Lake course, I'm going to have some sort of gluttonous celebration.
I think I finally broke 30 minutes in fall 2007. I don't appear to have posted anything about the accomplishment on this blog and I don't have a log of it in motionbased, so I don't know exactly when. I remember being very excited. It took years.

Since then, I've been using the course to test myself. It's a little far from my house, so I'm not using it as much as I used to - Usually head for other courses for most of my day-to-day running. Occasionally, however, I'll make the 20-minute drive over and treat myself to a run there and I almost always do it hard to see where my fitness is. As a rule of thumb, I figure that if I can break 30, I'm doing ok.

And 30 minutes was what I would have been happy with on March 12, 2009. I've had a pretty successful winter and my mileage has been rather high (for me). It was about a week and a half after a 50K PR and a month after the DNF at rocky raccoon 100 where I went 60 miles. I had run trails the day before, about 850 feet of gain on a technical 4.5 miles in 55 minutes. I was running well, and figured I'd probably break 30, maybe hit a PR which, as I recall, was 29:15 or so. As a goal, I mentally figured 29:00.

29 minutes for a 3 mile flat asphalt course. It was an aggressive goal but possible. If someone had told me I could run 28:30, I'd respond "I'd have to have a real good day." Sub-28:00 I would have said "no way" and sub-27:00 was downright unthinkable. impossible. laughable.

My time running Rockland Lake on March 12, 2009 was 26:08.

I often look at the GPS log, because I still have a hard time believing that I ran the course in this time. It's unreal.

Here's how it happened:

A half-mile in, I looked at the pace per mile, saw 8:30, and started kicking myself for going out too fast. What was I thinking?? I backed off to what I thought was about 9:15 and continued. After a mile, I was still running sub 9:00 and was starting to wonder when I'd crash. Yeah I felt fine - No way I could sustain this. "What the hell was wrong with me?", I thought. I'm usually very good at controlling my pace.

After a mile and a half, the damage had been done. A sub-9:00 mile probably would keep me from finishing at even a sub-10:00 pace, but at least I'll have the 30-minute finish in the bag. There really wasn't anything to lose at this point, so I kept pushing it hard. I finally started feeling the pace at about the 2-mile mark - but by now I was wondering if I could sustain this? Or at least something close to this? On top of a tiring body, my brain was doing calculations - I was running right at 9:00 - If I can maintain it, perhaps I can finish under 28:00? That would be cool.

By mile 2.5 I was really huffing an puffing, but it was time to finish. Instinctively, I picked up my pace for a finishing kick. My head was still calculating and it became apparent that I would probably finish in under 28:00. The timer said 22-something! I didn't know exactly long it would take, but it wasn't 6 minutes at this pace, even if I backed off. Which meant - that 27:00 was in the cards? Couldn't be. No way.

Still, I ran - hard - and these mind-games were keeping me going despite the increasing pain. Sometimes it's like that - me vs. the watch - and under the right circumstances, even the most inspiring or mean or effective coach can't move me the way this little piece of electronics. The circumstances were ideal and I pushed through it. The finish line became visible about a quarter-mile out and the time was right around 24:00. And I ran the one of the most difficult quarter-miles of my life. 25:00 came and went and I was turning the corner for the final stretch. Pushing as hard as I can, my mind was still in disbelief. Something went wrong.

So.. two months later my training has dropped off dramatically and I have a lot of work to do to get to where I was - but the reality is that it happened. By march 12th, several months of consistent training, plus every right factor - weather, nutrition, attitude - apparently came together to create such a dramatically improved time. It's exciting.


Race Report: Long Island Greenbelt 50K 25K

Trying to look good for the camera with 1 mile to go

I'm in a slump.

My running just hasn't been right the last two months. Something's been off. And - my motivation has been off. Weight has been up. Which causes the motivation to drop more. Which causes my training to drop off. Which causes the weight to go up. And so it spirals..

As such, I was not looking forward to this race. Running 31 miles through the trails of long island just did not appeal to me on this month. For two weeks prior to the race, the dread was building and it did not stop. When I woke up the morning of the race at 5am after being up til midnight and saw the heavy pouring rain, thought about the 7:30am 50K start time and decided to take it easy. The 25K had an 8:30am start time. Much more appealing.

I arrived at 7:45am and informed them that I'd like to switch to the 25K. After declining an offer to start the 50K late (no thanks..) I got checked in waited for the start. At exactly 8:30am, race director extraordinaire Nick Palazzo started us off under overcast skies with no rain but high humidity.

The first (and last) half-mile of the course runs on the asphalt streets of plainview and I quickly decided that I ought to walk the hills, even the mild road ones, even though I was only going 15 miles today. I'm glad I did. Many of my runs start feeling crappy and I fall into a rhythm within a mile where I start feeling fine - that didn't happen this day. My run started out crummy and only got worse from there.

The trail was actually not that bad - yes there was mud but it was isolated and usually avoidable. I actually learned something on this run - it's sometimes better just to go straight through the middle of a puddle because the dirt is actually more solid there than it is at the edges.

The course, by the way, is an out-and-back (50K'rs do it twice) north from Plainview to Cold Spring Harbor. The southern portion of it is quite nice with few road crossings and two well-stocked aid stations. I would have really enjoyed this if I felt better. There are rolling hills that take their toll but they aren't too bad. Then, at about mile 5, at the northern extreme of the course, the trail turns into a sadistically unrelenting series of short but steep hills, that can only be described as nasty.

2681 feet of elevation gain, 5632 ft of total change in 15.5 miles

Suffice it to say, coming out of it with 5 miles to go, I was shot. I've gone 40 miles longer than this without feeling this bad. It just wasn't my day. I slogged it in at 18-20 minutes per mile and just endured the last part of the course. I ran when I can, but it was very painful. To make matters worse, I was chaffed, probably as a result of the humidty. The mud which wasn't so bad on the way out had gotten pretty nasty in parts on the way back. I just wanted it to be over. When I finally did finish in 4:04, 82nd place out of 92, I was extremely relieved that I didn't have to do it again.

Race organizers had a great finish line set up, people were hanging around talking and eating the great food -- but I wasn't in much of a mood to hang out, so after eating a couple of sandwiches I left.

And it's such a shame that I didn't have a good time.

This is a great race. It's run by great people. A great course. Absolutely no complaints about it all. Yet, I had a miserable experience, one of my worst race experiences ever, and it completely my fault and my problems that made it bad.

May 10, 2009

Race Report - Big Sur International Marathon

Looking back from near Hurricane Point

I won't go into too much detail on this report. There's really only one thing I can say about it: Anyone who is capable of running a marathon (and it's my belief that almost every body is capable of running a marathon) owes it to him/herself to run the Big Sur International Marathon.

I mean seriously, just do it. You won't be disappointed.

Having said that, you might want to train first, especially given the elevation profile:

I'd suggest powerwalking that bump in the middle. It's called hurricane point.

Being a point-to-point with a start line in a rather remote area, it would seem like a logistically difficult marathon to participate in- thankfully, it's extremely well organized and the race officials go to great lengths to make it easy on us as runners. It would be easy to stay in monterey, carmel, or a place like seaside and catch the bus they provide down to big sur - probably easier than staying in big sur itself. I stayed in Morgan Hill, an hour from monterey, and that meant the earliest wake-up call I've ever had: 2:45am. ouch.

After arriving in monterey and riding the bus down, I spent an hour in the landmass of 3500 people in a ranger station parking lot trying to stay warm and drinking to free coffee provided by the race (huge props, guys). Soon after the sun rose, we started lining up a few hundred feet behind the starting line. After about a half-hour most everyone was standing on highway 1 waiting for the race to start.

The race's first 5 miles were a picturesque run through a valley under blue skies and no wind without a hint that we were near an ocean - and would - by itself - qualify as a top scenic race if that never changed. However, once we did get near the water, we started dealing with some gradual hills, overcast skies, and a nasty headwind - but I didn't care, because I was taken by the scenery.

And because my descriptions of scenery are worthless without pictures:

Point Sur Lighthouse

Looking down 600 ft from Hurricane Point

That's about it. My clock time was something like 5:59, chip time 5:55.. which, technically, is only 6 minutes off my PR time - but actually about 15 minutes off. I didn't exactly have my best race. But I didn't care either. The course of the big sur international marathon isn't something to race - rather it's something to enjoy.

One postscript: Rewarded with the nicest medal I ever had: