Feb 21, 2011

On long runs and my lack thereof

My light(er)weight running friends seem to be able to go running at an easy (for them) 9 minute per mile pace and smile and laugh and enjoy the time like they're watching a good movie or reading a good book. Time just flies by for them and they can knock out significantly long runs in 3 or 4 hours. I, on the other hand, have a significantly different experience in the 5 or 6 hours the same distance takes me. This is due to my being obese. One friend in particular uses the word "disadvantage" to describe my size in running and I think that's a great word to describe it.

So my friends can run 9s all morning and feel good about it. Relatively speaking, I might feel the same way at 13 minutes per mile, but I'd feel like I was accomplishing little, and at that speed doing a 20-mile training run would take for-friggin' ever. As a result, my training runs tend to be fast (for me), but because I can't maintain even 11 minutes per mile for more than a half marathon or so, they also tend to be short. At a race, where I know I'll be out there all day anyway and I'm with people, I can mentally accept going 13 minutes per mile or slower. But I almost never run that speed in training alone, which is why most of my long runs tend to be races.

The effect of this is my training tends to lack very long runs. I do work hard in each and every one of my training runs, but because I work so hard they tend to be short. As a practical matter, I feel like I'm forcing adaptation. My body responds to daily hard work by making itself lighter, thus making the hard work easier. But that's little more than an educated guess. What probably is actually happening is that I'm an impatient fool who can't be bothered to run slow and get the benefits that I can only get by running long.

My last three weeks of training. The 10-miler was a race.
I do realize that there is nothing wrong with running slow and speed is not relevant or a point of doing a 25-mile training run. The issue for me is not rational, but neurotic. If it seems to you that I should probably be addressing my personal psychological issues, I'd probably agree. However, I'd rather leverage these issues now to get my cruising easy pace down to 9 minutes per mile or whatever I'm capable of when lean and worry then about the inevitable "not feeling like I'm accomplishing anything if I'm not running 7s" (sounds like one helluva problem to have.)

As my weight is dropping I'm starting to see the effects in my pace. The perceived effort I was putting into these runs used to net me 11 minutes per mile and now I'm doing 10. But I still have a long long way to go before I feel like I can run with my shirt off (which I guess is my goal.) As my weight continues to drop I expect a corresponding increase in speed, perhaps to the point where I can actually hang with my friends when they tick off a few dozen nine-minute miles. That would be nice.

Feb 11, 2011

NJ Winter Trail Series #3 10-miler (2:55)

I registered for this race because I found out that two friends from my church were going to be running the 5-mile option of this race. Thinking that it would be fun to hang with them, even if only for a moment, I jumped at the opportunity. Of course, it doesn't hurt that I know the pleasure it is to run in the McNulty family races.

Unfortunately, bad weather kept my friends from going but I was glad I went anyway. The 45-minute drive down to Morristown, NJ was uneventful despite the rather scary weather forecast of snow and ice. I got to run in a place I've never been, and that was fun too.

The course was two 5-mile loops of the park. From race HQ I could see that the race started on a plowed woods road and ended on singletrack, so I knew there would be a mix. As it turns out, that would be the only relatively snow-free section of the race. There was an 0.5 mile section of unplowed road and the rest of the race was all single-track.

When the race started, I settled into my normal back-of-the-pack position and ran very easily. I didn't have much choice as there was no obvious place to pass anyone. I think there was a single runner behind me, and that's the order we stayed in for most of the first mile. Finally, one runner about 5 positions in front of me was slow enough that someone went by her, and that made it ok for the rest of us to start passing each other. The pack finally started spreading out and we were able to run our own pace.

My spirits were low in the first half of the first loop, and I considered throwing in the towel. But it got easier towards the second half. Looking at the GPS data, I could see why - the first half was largely uphill.

Anyway, I probably passed about ten people during the race and, interestingly, nobody passed me (notwithstanding a couple of 10-milers who lapped me.) I finished the first lap in about 90 minutes and stopped to drink some water and eat a cereal bar. There were a lot of people hanging out at race headquarters, the vast majority of them 5-milers who were done for the day.

The second lap was like a totally different race. I think I did it in about the same amount of time as the first lap, but I literally saw nobody once I was away from the aid station. Unlike the first lap I was able to go at my own pace, which might actually have been too fast had I done it in lap 1. There was nobody to pass, and no pressure of having anybody behind who might pass me. I thoroughly enjoyed this loop, although, like the first lap, the first two miles were hard on me. By the time I finished the race (Dead Last in the ten-miler) there were less than 10 people left. After talking to Rick and his family for five or ten minutes I got in my car and drove home.

One thing I should mention is that I had some trouble acquiring some sort of shoe-attachment for traction before the race. I had ordered a pair of Microspikes from Amazon on Tuesday. I have an Amazon Prime account and thought I could count on two-day delivery; they're used to be very reliable in that regard. I learned my lesson, however, and I didn't have the spikes even three days after placing the order. Panicked, I sent my wife to EMS to pick up a pair, one size too small because that's all they had.

However, even one size too small, they worked great, and I don't know how I could have done this race without them. Unlike Yaktrak pros, which I have used in the past they didn't even try to fall off. And they didn't slip once in the entire 10 miles. Much superior to Yaktraks, and probably worth the extra money for most people.

Feb 8, 2011

On Spiraling out of Control

Weekends are occasions where there is seldom a routine, making it more difficult to plan my meals effectively. This past weekend was no exception. On Saturday morning I had a ten-mile trail race and the day started out very good. I had 1C of brown rice before leaving the house, and at the 5-mile aid station I had one cereal bar which gave a much-needed pop to my energy levels in the half. So far so good.

On Saturday night, when I was tired and all I wanted to do was "veg", I was informed (or, more likely, reminded) that I needed to bake not one but two cakes for my son's birthday which was the next day. One cake was to be consumed at Sunday School, the other at a Super Bowl party. Clearly, this was contrary to my evening plans, not to mention the fact that cake-baking probably isn't the ideal activity for a guy on a strict diet.

I made the yellow cake first. I cut the dome off the layer that was going to be on the bottom, I gave it to Joe, and had a small piece myself. That was a mistake that was on the verge of spiraling, but I kept in control by giving most of it to Joe. Thankfully, a dome didn't form on the chocolate cake so I wouldn't repeat.

Because I had to make frosting, on Sunday morning I skipped a planned 4-mile race I was registered for (I really wasn't in the mood to drive into the city anywau.) If baking a cake while on a diet is a bad idea, frosting a cake is even worse. Still, I somehow managed to behave and Joey got to lick the leftovers off the spatula, so everyone was happy. And while he was eating the cake with his friends, I was at the gym pounding away on a treadmill. Later, I also managed to behave while frosting the yellow cake. Before leaving for the Super Bowl party, I had eaten my pre-portioned dinner and had a piece of fruit in my pocket for a snack later. All was looking good.

Among my friends, I have a reputation for making really good buffalo-style chicken wings. I was asked my the party's host to make some for this, and I happily obliged. Because not everything was available, we had to wing it (no pun intended) on a few of the ingredients, and after the first batch I tasted a wing to make sure everything was good.

And it was good. *very* good.

To make a long story short, after tasting that wing, I spiraled out of control. That first one turned into probably 20-30 more, and after that, I ate whatever I wanted. Pigs in the blanket. Chips and dip. More wings. I even had a piece of the cake I baked for Joe. During this binge event, I noticed three distinct thought processes going on. There was some part of me looking at my behavior and screaming, "What the hell is wrong with you?", another part of me curiously and objectively watching the behavior and finding it fascinating, and the in-control out-of-control part of me throwing caution to the wind and happily eating everything in sight.

At this point in the tale it would behoove me to notify you, dear reader, that last Wednesday I hit my first plateau of the new diet. I anticipated this, and once it arrived the question became "how long would it last." It was (and still is) going strong, and to make a long story short, by Monday morning I was three pounds heavier than on Friday.

Needless to say, the prevailing emotion on Monday was regret.

In the face of this, I have been strong. Possibly due to the Sunday night binge, cravings last night were intense for a couple of hours, but I resisted and they surprisingly wore off by 10PM. In terms of weight, as of Tuesday I'm still plateauing at 307, but I've been there for six days now and hope to break through in the next day or two.

Plateauing is such an interesting topic. Does anyone know why it happens? It's interesting to notice how trousers continue to get looser and the (pardon me) balloons of fat deposited around my body continue to get "softer" as though they were deflating. Yet the scale - the only objective measurement that I can monitor daily, stubbornly stays put and that causes no small deal of mental anguish and perhaps even hopelessness, particularly when presented with temptation.

When I'm not plateauing, the scale is my strongest ally. When I am, it becomes a bit of an enemy.

My gym has an odd promotion where they have pizza on the first Monday evening of every month. I never remember that they do it until I'm actually at the gym. In last night's case, I saw the pizza after my workout on the way out the door. Giving in to pure curiosity, I walked over and opened the box to see what kind it was. It was a delicious looking freshly-baked cheese pie from a local pizzeria. After three pretty hard-run treadmill miles it would have been easy to convince myself that I "deserved" this pizza and that it could work as a decent recovery meal. I recognized that deceptive thought process as it went through my noodle. It has tricked me into eating the first slice countless times, and, like what happened at Sunday's party,after a single bite I inevitably spiral. I walked away from the pizza and ate the pre-prepared pre-portioned meal that I had home in the fridge. But that pizza was on my mind the entire drive home; indeed it was still there later on in the evening during my cravings. It's even on my mind now, the next day, as I write this.

Feb 4, 2011

Clarification of "Enjoyment of Food" post

I wanted to thank everyone who took the time to write to me and comment on my previous blog post. While I really appreciate the feedback, I did want to clarify something.

I can drink just one beer and be satisfied.
I can place just one bet and be satisfied.
People all around me can eat just one slice of pizza and be satisfied.

I, however, can not eat one slice of pizza. Tried it a hundred times (literally), and I've never managed to have the willpower.

And there's a parallel there - like the alcoholic can't drink just one beer or the compulsive gambler can't place just one bet, I can't stay in control with the food I eat. There is something that goes on in my brain that makes me into a bit of a crack whore, who must get more more more, screw the costs and consequences.

I'm no expert in addiction treatment, but it seems to me that complete abstention is necessary in order to successfully overcome the addiction.

Anyway, That's the way I see it. I've explained it this way to a few people over the last few days, and the feedback I've gotten has seemed much more appropriate.

By the way, this comic was a bit of a catalyst that got me thinking this way:
Via Toothpaste For Dinner

Related: The other blog post

Feb 2, 2011

Enjoyment of food

Flattering photograph, right?
One thing I've been thinking about a lot lately is the assumption I used to have that the problem with me isn't so much the foods I choose, but rather the quantities. To a large extent that's true. It's interesting to compare myself to what thin people, especially thin runners. They often choose the very same foods that I do. Then I go and eat twice as much as them.

For example, let's say a few of us go out for pizza. I often will outeat my friends 2 or even 3 to one. Literally, I'll sometimes have three slices of pizza for every one slice my thin fast runner friend has. And it is easy to rationalize, too - hey I'm 300lbs, this friend of mine is 150 soaking wet, I should be eating twice as much. It may not make sense, but it's a rationalization.

Portion size is a very difficult thing to get under control, and my experience suggests that the solution for me seems to be militantly strict rules. I feel like these rules take all the pleasure out of eating, but the pleasure I enjoy from eating is exactly the problem. A smoker contemplating quitting must accept the reality that they'll never enjoy a cigarette again. I likewise am dealing with is a profoundly depressing realization that I must never enjoy food again. Because, like the smoker who'll spiral after enjoying "just one cigarette" after a particularly stressful day, I know from experience that the minute I cheat on a diet, regardless of the occasion, I've lost the battle for the next few months.

It's clearly an addiction, like smoking, and the subtlety of the addiction is that the line between normal eating and overeating isn't as clear as the line between having a cigarette and not having one. Additionally, it's rare to see a person smoking who's not addicted, yet people who are not addicted to food commonly eat pizza and cheeseburgers. So when I'm rationalizing having three slices when a friend has one, I'm usually kicking myself on the quantities, not what I eat.

Unfortunately, I enjoy food too much to be able to just blindly eat whatever I want, regardless of portion size. If I ever want to be thin, I must to cut certain foods from my lifestyle, drastically and permanently.

What I'm talking about is never having pizza again. Or red meat. Or any fried food. Or pasta/noodles.

I don't want to be dramatic, but I've been contemplating this for a few days now, causing considerable anguish in my private thoughts. This is an extremely difficult topic. Swearing off certain foods for the next twelve weeks- I can comprehend that. But what happens afterward? Do I really need to keep this up forever? I don't know if I'm ready to make that decision.

Related: A clarification to this post