I am training for a marathon. And I am gaining weight. But marathon training didn’t cause this to happen. And I have been thinking a lot about this possible connection as I prepare to toe the start line of the New York City Marathon on November 6.
Let’s examine the facts. Which is going to involve talking about running for a bit. But if you are here for the self-discovery and discussion of weight gain, don’t worry, that will be coming in a little while.
I began training to run the Portland Marathon starting in the summer of 2015. I ended up with a DNS (did not start) after dealing with some injuries late in the summer. Rested. Recovered.
I started training for the Little Rock Marathon in October of 2015. I ended up getting different injuries but finishing the marathon. Albeit with time goals thrown out the window.
And two days after Little Rock in March of 2016, I confirmed I would be training for New York. But after not recovery properly from Little Rock, I have spent a large amount of time in physical therapy with yet another injury (shockingly these are all linked to some genetic issues, not shockingly they are all uniquely different injuries). However, I do have adjusted time goals. But ultimately I want to enjoy what I am openly acknowledging may be my last marathon, at least for a couple of years.
So essentially, for the last 17 or so months, I have been in some stage of marathon training or recovery. And while I haven’t stepped on the scale in a couple of weeks (more on that later) – I know I have gained about 20-30 pounds since May 31, 2015. But to be more specific – I gained 5-7 pounds in the summer of 2015, lost 14 pounds while I was injured and not running at all, gained 17 pounds during my training for Little Rock, struggled for awhile in recovery after (gaining another 7 pounds), and then losing 14 pounds before starting training for New York. So (and I am not the best at math), when I started training for New York, I was about 5 pounds heavier than when I started training for Portland the previous summer. But that doesn’t change the fact that the last time I stepped on the scale, I was 16 pounds heavier than I was when I started training for this marathon.
Going into marathon training, I knew many people had struggled with weight gain. From talking to my health coach, I knew this was something I would need to be mindful about. And so I went and did some research. HOLY MOLY don’t even try Googling weight gain and marathon training. SO MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN!
But more specifically, so much is contradictory. The FIRST article I opened (which I just found again near the top of the search page) had 6 reasons people gain weight and several of those reasons literally contradict each other! From being too strict about food to overeating to underfueling during the running to overfueling during the run; the information is endless and quite frankly overwhelming.
However, I realize after 17 months of training/recovering… that marathon training didn’t make me gain weight. I have just allowed it to serve as a mask, or as an excuse for struggles I have battled my whole life.
Marathon-training meant focusing on specific training goals with a specific training plan. A hyper-managed schedule to weave into my already full plate. But luckily, what it really just meant was rearranging my fitness schedule, because I learned after a couple of minor injuries, that I couldn’t add training on top of everything else I was doing.
So in reality, I didn’t increase my physical activity too much over the course of a week. But I did shift my mindset and I began more single-sport training. Which meant I wasn’t getting the same level of intensity 5 days a week, but was having some high intensity days and some much lower days. I have since realized that this threw my use of physical activity as a form of stress management out the window and I found food again as a form of stress relief, a habit I had mostly managed to eliminate, but did not realize had snuck back into my life until recently.
I also began to use the marathon as my excuse, or crutch, for more than just taking a rest day. And as I think about this, I realize that we all do this, even if we aren’t training for a marathon. For example, last year I struggled with stress in a new position at work, and people told me it would be understandable if I gained weight because I “had an excuse” – but while I had new challenges in my job, I also knew that it was just different struggles, and it wasn’t an excuse to eat. But I let marathon training be that excuse because I knew it had a timeframe and I could just start working on weight management after the race.
Finally, I realize now that I just didn’t have a maintainable weight of eating for weight management in place prior to starting marathon training. And long runs on Sunday took the place of meal preparation and planning. And the socialization events associated with training took away the desire to do the meal prep and planning. And because I was now constantly thinking about running, about injury prevention, about travel planning, about being stressed because I couldn’t go work out that afternoon because I had a long run in the morning, and at that point something just had to give.
For those of you who have followed my health and fitness story for awhile, you will realize I have struggled with this balance before. And I know this about myself. But I let the marathon mask this, and managed to put myself on the back burner at the same time I was supposedly focusing on myself.
I have some plans in mind that I look forward to sharing soon about how I will be working to lose this weight while finding a way to better manage it long term. I know I will always struggle with my weight. I will continue to gain and to lose (hopefully with a lot less gaining in the future). I will continue to have to confront myself and figure out the trigger of the moment and will have to reframe.
Right now, I will continue to make healthier choices. I am not going to focus on losing weight until after the marathon because that’s a week and a half away and I am not going to add the additional stress to myself right now because I would be setting myself up for failure. But you should expect there will be a number of blogs in the coming weeks both about the marathon, but also confronting the scale, and starting the process to lose the weight I have gained. I look forward to sharing more, but for now I am off to my weekly physical therapy appointment!
It’s been awhile since I have written a lengthy thoughtful post, and with Back-to-School Day just around the corner and a pile of tests to grade, I can’t promise this will be long. But it will be thoughtful.
Earlier this year INKnBURN, a small art-focused activewear company that I love, selected me to be an ambassador for their clothing. I wrote about it earlier this year, and am still pinching myself over the honor. I never imagined someone might think I was worthy to be a face of “activewear” and wearing this clothing makes me feel like a badass, so it meant even more to me that I could share my love of their work as an official ambassador.
One of the parts of this company that I have appreciated is their response to their customers and helping to spread the physical activity love by showing all shapes and sizes in their social media communications. No, they may not be able to provide clothing that is perfect for everyone, but they are working incredibly hard to try (especially considering how they are a small company that does all of their production in-house here in the United States). INKnBURN recently released a fit chart and I am proud to have been included. No, it doesn’t include every size – that chart would be never-ending – but it does show women of various heights and weights and shapes, many of whom are wearing the SAME size.
This picture means a lot to me. It helps to communicate that a size number on a tag shouldn’t be your end goal. It tells me that it’s about wearing what fits and how you feel in what you wear. It’s that awesome activewear makes you look and feel like a badass! And that keeps you active!
I am not 150lbs any more. I have struggled in the process of weight management to balance the high-calorie foods with the high-volume foods. I have had weeks where I have thrown in the towel and then spent four weeks trying to correct it. Weight management is rough, but I know it’s a lifelong process and the secret is not to give up.
However, I am proud of my journey. And while I may not be my lightest weight, I am still more active and more health-focused than I ever was before my HMR journey. I lift weights, I run, I do yoga, and I play. Yes, I would like to be lighter and yes I know this will require me to put my nose back to the proverbial grindstone. But I am also working to find a manageable balance in my Phase Two world.
And I am a lot stronger mentally than I was before HMR. I am realizing this as random strangers comment on the size of my body and the fit of my clothes in a public space. From women who said there were no bigger girls pictured (I am the heaviest person on the picture, so I guess I am not a big girl) to women who appreciated the bigger girls pictured (now I guess I am a big girl) to the women who specifically tried to pinpoint how I could wear the same size as a woman 55 pounds lighter than me (including one who said I was just wearing the wrong size – funny because it seems to fit wonderfully – worked out in those shorts this morning!). Reading some of the less sensitive comments (people who may have forgotten we are real people who have also commented on the thread), hurt at first. But then I realized I was okay with it. I know my body. I know what fits comfortably when I go punch a heavy bag or run 13 miles. What I like to wear for 90 minutes of hot yoga or an hour of OrangeTheory. And that’s what matters!
When I was 150lbs, I wore a pair of size 2 petite skinny jeans and had a body fat % of under 20. Even at that weight, I would still have been heavier than several of the amazing athlete who I was being compared with in the fit guide. They are rockstars and so am I. We wear what we want to wear and we all look good.
I have learned along my journey that I am more than just the number of the scale or the number on the tag in my shorts. I also have learned it’s easy to judge others without knowing them or their stories. And it’s easy to judge or make comparisons about those lighter or heavier, bigger or smaller, but in the end what does that really do for you?
Not that many of the comments were negative – and that is important to note. Many women saw themselves in the picture and that is fantastic. That women who feel however they may feel about themselves could see themselves rocking cool workout attire and getting their fitness on. That makes me happier than I could ever explain. Because I love how I feel in my INKnBURN. It inspires me to get out and get active. And I want others to feel like physical fitness badasses too regardless of your scale or shorts size!
I have had a lot of ideas flying through my head the last few months and have had difficulty putting any of them down in words. But I read a post this morning that was discussing a study about “Biggest Loser” participants having difficulty maintaining their weight loss and a part of that article resonated with me:
“If you want to succeed with long-term weight loss, it’s crucial that you embrace both reality and imperfection. Remember, too, that your best efforts will vary. Your best when facing a challenging time in life will be different from your best when everything is hunky-dory, just as your best on your birthday, or on a vacation, or at a holiday meal will require indulgence.”
The article hit a place in my gut that really isolated a lot of what I have been juggling in my head. I have struggled with weight management in my first year teaching new subjects and dealing with some personal stresses, and I have felt like I am constantly hitting the “reset” button. Like I wasn’t giving my best effort to maintain what I had worked so hard to accomplish.
My health educator recently told our class that we always check-in to tell him what we are doing wrong. That we often fail to celebrate what we have done right. And reflecting on my own check-ins, I can see what he means. I can easily pinpoint when I have succumbed to the GAP and eaten everything in my purview. I know when I have skipped a workout. I know when I have decided to eat a high calorie food when a veggie or fruit would have worked just as well. I have seen my weight go up and down over the last 18 or so months since I transitioned out of the Phase One HMR classes. I have beaten myself up for the gains, and when I have had a loss, I have beaten myself up that I even needed to lose in the first place.
It’s hard to define what your best effort it, especially when we live in a world of comparatives. I struggle daily when I look at people successfully maintaining their weight and want to be like them but then I see others around me who don’t have to count every calorie and I want to be like them as well. I want to be free of managing my health but I want my health managed. I want to be a social butterfly but I also want to have the body of someone who lives at the gym and never eats a gram of fat. I know I can’t have all of these things as some of them operate on completely contradictory orbits. And I know this.
Everyone is different. Everyone’s “best effort” will be different. And everyone’s definition of a “tough time” will be different. The secret is figuring out what my own personal definition is – figuring out what is maintainable, what is my push-effort, and when I am not giving it my all.
We discussed the Biggest Loser study in health class last week and while many focused on the negatives, I wanted to learn more about the success story. The woman who not only kept it off, she continued to lose weight. Erin Egbert was quoted as saying she continues to struggle daily, but somehow she has found success. However, there isn’t much in the news about how she has managed to do it. The popular media instead chose to also focus on the failures, and not the successes.
So where does that leave me and my mental struggles?
First, I must continue to embrace the reality that weight management is really an EVERYDAY responsibility. I won’t make the comparison to brushing my teeth because I think that’s too simplistic. Instead, let’s compare it to sleeping. I could choose to not sleep – and I have done so in the past – but the implications of not giving myself ample time to sleep are magnified with each hour I shave off in a week. I can try to “catch up” on sleep but it isn’t the same, similar to crash dieting after a few weeks of ignoring weight management.
Second, I must realize that my best efforts need to be in relation to my own experiences and not the experiences of others. Just because some people can abstain from comfort eating easily, can deny themselves of food groups by just saying no over and over, I may still struggle with this, especially in times of stress. But I need a clearer definition of what a challenging time looks like, or when I am just making excuses. It’s like the sleep analogy. Choosing not to sleep so I can watch one more episode of a television series is not a responsible method of managing my sleep patterns. However, not being able to sleep due to nightmares or stress would be a challenge I might have less control over.
The reality that I need to accept is that this will be something I will struggle with my whole life. Weight loss was the easy part, but keeping it off will be with me forever. Some day it might get easier, but just like getting a regular and consistent amount of sleep (and forsaking a late night social event or television marathon), it will still be something I will need to be consciously aware of. I need to continue to celebrate my successes while acknowledging when I slip up, so I can keep myself on track.
I want to be the success story. I *will* be the success story. And I won’t let my journey be reframed to focus on the negative storyline.
It wasn’t the race I wanted. But it is a race I am proud of. Little Rock Marathon 2016 is in the books. And I not only made it to the starting line of this 26.2 mile race… I finished it.
Rewind. I want to focus this blog post on my marathon history… Because this was not my first attempt at a marathon. And that’s just one reason this finish was so important to me.
December 2009. I had just finished my second half marathon ever. I was on a new runner high. I had shaved over 30 minutes off my previous half and under 3 hours and 20 minutes. I felt invincible. Like I could accomplish anything. And so I signed up for the 2010 Portland Marathon. There’s more to signing up for this particular race than needs to be detailed here but in short, I was going to train to complete my first full marathon the following year. And less than two weeks after signing up, I injured myself in what would be almost 8 months of time in rehab. Needless to say, while I was at the Portland Marathon for my friends in 2010, I was not a participant. My first DNS (did not start).
Being overweight had significantly contributed to the severity of the injury and inhibited my recovery. I was crestfallen and my desire to ever pick up running again was dampened. I’d attempt to try a shorter race here or there the next couple of years but never really trained, never really felt that love again.
So in 2013, when I started the HMR Diet, I wondered if I could find that passion for running in the process of losing weight. I was so scared of injuring myself again. So I vowed I wouldn’t attempt to run at first. But I walked my first 5k in December (after starting the program only a month before) and felt the same rush I had felt in 2009. I knew I would be back. And so I signed up for some target races in 2014, and as I lost weight, I ran longer distances. Building slowly as to avoid injury because I was still scared of ending up on the D/L and going through the depression and frustration I had felt in 2010.
I grew stronger. I got faster. I ran further. I was on top of the world.
In 2015, after spending 2014 in the gym, the pool, and on the road, I felt ready to try again. Five years later, I would conquer this beast called the marathon and I wanted to try my hand at Portland. This was my year. I would finish my first marathon.
Well I love running and had some serious FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) when it comes to races. So when friends would invite me to do a race with them, I signed up! Only slowly my training became primarily running. I did less and less of the cross-training I had been doing and so as I increased races, I decreased my work on muscular balance.
You can guess what happened.
It started small. I had 12 or 13 miles on my Portland training calendar in mid-June and was in Dallas, so I signed up and ran an awesome half marathon there. I took it slow, running at my training speed and not racing the event. But in the last couple of miles, my knee started to hurt. I chalked it up to the hills, heat and humidity. But later that day, I had trouble getting out of the hotel tub (I had been doing 13 miles without issue for months at that point) and so I iced and wrapped it and decided I would take a few days off training to let it rest. But five days later, while out running with a friend, my leg seized so badly that we had to Uber back to the hotel. I knew something was wrong.
I received a diagnosis at the Urgent Care clinic when I returned home that was basically “rest for two weeks” — so I did. But immeadiately went back to training. Starting with a low milage run which grounded me for another two weeks. But I figured I just needed to increase my cross-training again right? Nope, as I struggled to finish two half marathons in July (two of my worst times on record), I realized I was not okay. And in early August, I accepted that Portland 2015 was another DNS.
I finished (slowly) the half in August that I had fundraised for, walking significant parts, but otherwise ceased all activity other than hitting up some rehab exercises I still had from 2010 after consulting with a specialist. However, I had made a deal with my sister that we would run Little Rock. And I refused to let her down.
So in early October, the day of the 2015 Portland Marathon, I went out for my first run in over six weeks. It was a very slow, very easy two miles. And I felt alive. But I also found a new pain in a totally different part of my body. And unlike previous training cycles, I went to the doctor immeadiately. Got a referral to a PT once the doctor (who is a runner) figured out what was going on. And for the entirety of my marathon training, I have been working with this physical therapist to ensure I didn’t have another DNS.
After two failed attempts to run a marathon. I had so much riding on Little Rock. I knew that if I couldn’t toe the starting line for this race, I would probably never attempt another full marathon training again. I had built it up for so long. Had put so much of my heart (and energy) into training. And my sister and I had made a deal we would start together and would stay with the other through the whole race. So I needed to make that starting line.
Growing up with weight issues and no desire to run, I had finally found something that motivated me. That lit a fire under my rear end. The idea of completing something so big. So difficult. I needed to prove to myself that this was not a pipe dream. That I could achieve this. And while finishing time mattered to me (more than I was probably willing to admit), it was finishing what I had started that mattered most.
One summer, I was reading a novel about a woman who only felt powerful in specially tailored suit. She excelled in her job and in life when she rocked that special suit. And that novel supported everything I had learned in my college and graduate school studies. When you feel powerful, you communicate with that same power. Confidence can be manipulated by how you feel and what you wear can change how you act. And this is backed up by studies in multiple academic arenas. Even in the fields of athletic performance and weight management.
When I was in my weight loss classes at HMR, I remember constant conversations about getting rid of larger clothing so you don’t have an excuse to go back to them. About wearing slightly tighter clothing when you are going to be faced with food temptations so you can stay focused on your health goals. And about always having a gym bag packed in the car so you never have the excuse of not having anything to wear. Clothing can be a total motivator and not feeling good what we are wearing can definitely reduce our positive motivations.
Which is why I didn’t think twice when we were sitting outside of health class on Thursday and a classmate complimented me on my newest pair of INKnBURN capris which prompted a whole line of conversation about workout attire. My Rose capris looked like denim which meant I could just wear them to class straight from the gym (where I had spent the previous hour on the foam roller). And I broke out my phone and started sharing photos of a number of other INKnBURN favorites.
I joked that ever since starting HMR, my wardrobe budget for work has shrunk to make room for my expanding athletic clothing collection. But I was also 100% serious.
I learned early in weight loss, that when I felt amazing in my athletic attire, I wanted to spend more time in it! Which encouraged me to get out and move. Maybe it was just walking at first, but eventually it was everything from running to boxing to lifting heavy weights and putting them back down again.
It seems silly to say, but when I put on my first INKnBURN piece, I felt like a total badass. Like I can accomplish anything! The INKnBURN line is made entirely in America and by hand. It’s a small company located in Southern California that does incredibly intricate designs (which are all limited production) which are hand applied to the fabric. And their clothing is tested by ultra runners (the beasts who run races even longer than marathons!!!). Needless to say, the company is pretty awesome and they know the fitness world. And knowing an ultra runner will rock similar attire for 50 or more miles? I secretly imagine I can do the same 😉
But seriously, the intricate artwork and the flattering cuts make me feel invincible. I remember when I didn’t want to stand out. I wanted to blend in with the crowd. But now I feel empowered. And that doesn’t shock me. But that feeling is exactly why I am in love with this company’s clothing.
Sometimes I hear friends say they are in love with a certain INKnBURN piece, but don’t want to buy “anything expensive” until they get to a smaller size. But I think that’s missing the point. I don’t feel the same mentally in my generic black capris and plain tech shirt that I do rocking out in my INKnBURN gear. Which means I don’t approach my workout the same and thus don’t achieve my best effort. Why wait to find that motivation until I can fit in a size 2? Why not push myself to be my best now!
And it’s because of how INKnBURN makes me feel when I am wearing it, the feeling I can achieve any fitness goal I set my mind on, that inspired me to apply to their ambassadorship program. I am super excited to share with you that they selected me as an ambassador – which blows my mind! The former 280-lb me cannot wrap my head around a fitness company being interested in me. But the girl decked out in INKnBURN apparel feeling like a total badass can understand. And is gosh darned proud of herself and super excited to share the incredible way she feels. Because if I can give myself an edge in being the best possible me? I’m going to seize it and look good in the process!
Six weeks ago, I began a weight loss challenge with my OrangeTheory Fitness studio. I paid my $25, took weight and waist measurements, as well as “before” photos. Today, at 4:30 in the morning, I returned for the six week final results. Here are the photos…
You can TOTALLY see the difference, right? The progress is OBVIOUS, right?
To be honest, I couldn’t initially. I looked at them this morning and felt a rush of disappointment. I knew the results on the scale were minimal – I hadn’t really entered the challenge to lose weight. I was entering the height of marathon training with the knowledge I had gained some weight early in my training due to family stresses, and I wanted to finish my training strong (and maybe a couple of pounds lighter).
So when I stepped on the scale this morning and I was a couple pounds heavier than I was at the 3 week midpoint, I missed the joy of being lighter than I was six weeks ago. And I missed an even bigger change.
It’s not always about our weight.
In the last six weeks, I ran my first 18 mile long run. And my first 20 mile run. I did several sets of goblet squats using a 70-pound dumbbell (the heaviest weight my OTF studio has!). I have added modifications to basic core work to make it harder. I have, ultimately, grown stronger and more confident in my physical capabilities. And I am ready for this marathon (even if tapering is making me a little crazy).
It’s really easy to measure progress on the scale. You are rewarded by hard, clear data. You can physically see the difference as the numbers on the scale go down.
But you can’t always clearly measure confidence. You can’t get hard, clear data on inner strength.
And sometimes it’s important to see beyond the hard data and recognize the progress you have made that’s not as easy to measure.
Alright, it’s January 21 and I am just now getting around to sharing my 2016 goals. I wanted to make sure I could implement the biggest change before I shared it. And yes, I know accountability is a huge motivator, so I did share with many of my Facebook friends and those who I see face-to-face. But I wasn’t ready to write it out here until I knew it was sustainable.
I have some goals that are very time bound which are fitness focused. I will run the Little Rock Marathon on March 6, my first full marathon, with my sister. We are sticking together the whole way and not worrying about time. If I like the distance, I may do another on my own.
I also want to work towards a sub-2 hour half marathon. Yikes! That one may not be in the cards this year but I will put in the work to try to achieve this goal – my target race is October 1 at the San Jose Rock and Roll Half Marathon.
My final goal is to end 2016 at the same weight or lower than I started. I struggle a lot in 2015 to figure out what works and doesn’t work for my weight management efforts. I did put on some weight but I also lost some of the weight I gained. One of my takeaways from Core and Phase One is that I have the tools to catch a gain early and to take it off. And that life won’t always be stable. Nor will my weight.
For example, I was working out 2+ hours 6 days a week when I was losing weight. I cut out my social life. I gave myself one year to focus solely on regaining my health. But when that year was over, I may have gone too far the other way. Reduced my physical activity too much in order to regain parts of my life I was missing. So it’s about finding a balance that isn’t “all or nothing.”
Okay, at this point you have got to be wondering about the title of this post and the photo of goodness knows what (I bet you figured out it’s green soup!). So I apologize for the lengthy intro. But it’s really all related, I promise.
One of the parts of my life I have figured out is that despite losing the weight, I still face decision-anxiety over food. And that increased variety of food options means I eat more. So part of my solution is to decrease my variety. Especially during the week. My menu is relatively the same from day to day.
A morning staple over the last three weeks was inspired by one of my health educators who talked about her green soup. So every week, I take all the veggies that are near the end of their life (and some that aren’t) and throw them in a slow cooker with herbs and spices as well as broth or water. I slow cook them for 10 to 12 hours and then blend it all up. It makes a massive amount of green soup!
Every morning, while getting ready for work, I cook 2 to 3 cups of the soup in a saucepan on the stove. When it comes to a boil, I pour it into my thermos. Then when I get to work, I pour it into a coffee mug over the course of the morning and have a warm and filling soup that doesn’t need a spoon and that is incredibly low in calories. Not to mention all the filling veggies in it!
So that’s it. My magical secret. It keeps me full. It keeps me sipping on something. It gets me some veggies early in the morning. And it’s part of my morning routine that I have developed to help me reach my goals.
At some point, I will write up some of my favorite combos. But really you can’t go wrong with an onion, some broccoli/kale/spinach, a carrot, Italian herbs, garlic powder, and chicken broth. However, I really do just throw everything in there. And I have yet to not enjoy my morning green soup.