Injury. Patience. Optimism.

In my last post I laid out my ambitious plans to run 3 miles a day for the upcoming week. I managed to run four days, totaling 17 miles for that week. Then I headed into the next week with high hopes and promptly fucked up my back. Still, I traveled 28.5 miles that week, 8 of them walking. I also gave up my office chair and converted my desk into a standing desk (because I couldn’t sit for 5 minutes without sending my back into spasm).

By the end of the week my back issue had abated. Then I went out of town to a rental cabin where I Did Nothing. I didn’t run at all for 5 days. I did nothing for 5 days except lie around sleeping, reading and writing (in a bad office chair at the rental). Came home. Went out for a run. Suffered shooting sciatic pain on one side after 1.5 miles. Hobbled home. Took the next day off. Marveled at how fat I’ve gotten.

So the grand total for last week was 1.5 miles.

Here we go again.

This week I’m committed to running on whatever days I can. Much as I hate to, I will run on the treadmill until my injuries subside. I can’t stand heading out for a run and wondering at what point something will stop working, and I’m stranded miles out and have to do the walk of shame back home. Plus I’m too fat to be seen in public.

I’m really not that fat. Not nearly as fat as I used to be. I haven’t weighed myself in a few weeks, but the last time I did I was about 8 pounds up from what I’ve held at for the past 18 months. That has got to go.

I eat salad every day. I snack on apples. I don’t drink beer. Or anything. Except when I go out, which is rare. Okay, I had a beer on Saturday, the day of my 1.5 miler. But I was being social. Tomorrow I’ll go back to the gym and lift wimpy weights after a month-long absence.

So let’s talk about optimism. With the exception of a brief window in late 2011 and early 2012, when I ran a couple of PRs and was not injured, the last four years of running have been THE SUCK. I have usually been injured with something, on and off. I’ve been injured non-stop for over a year now. I’ve got PF in my right foot — which I’ve had since a year ago February — plus intermittent achilles issues on both sides. This makes it hard to run, impossible on some days.

I’ve also been, uh, challenged in my personal life for 1-2 years, depending on which personal debacle you use to start the clock. I don’t write about everything here because it’s personal and also involves people close to me. But trust me — I’ve been clawing my way through an Irwin Allen-scale shit storm for many moons. And, you know, it has not been all bad by any means. Some great things have happened in that time too. But the bad has usually outweighed the good by a significant margin and the nature of the bad has been just, well, relentless. I had a stretch of very bad luck, which is how math works sometimes. Bad luck comes in double digits. The sorry state of my running just fit right in. After awhile it was just, Eh, whatever. Why not pile on bad running too? Whereas in the past I have looked to running to help me deal with other issues in my life, to provide me with a physical and emotional outlet plus a source of focus and accomplishment, I didn’t have that this time around. It was just another thing that wasn’t going well.

So now the clouds are parting. My personal life seems to have finally achieved some badly needed equilibrium. Some very good stuff is happening on almost all fronts. This is emerging, oddly, in conjunction with having thrown up my hands and decided to back off and stop trying so hard and expecting anything at all except more calamity. I had started bracing myself for more water landings, treating the future as a fist poised to fly. Truly. There is a kind of liberation that comes from having a bunch of really terrible stuff happen and coming through it dented, scratched and with parts missing, but more or less intact as a human unit, ready for more assault. Facing the future after a couple of years like this feels like a kind of dare I’m presenting to Fate and Fortune: Go ahead, you two. Keep throwing garbage at me. Your arms are going to get tired eventually and I’ll still be here, fuckers.

I’m working my ass off right now to get a foothold in several areas. Again, where is personal. But I want to not give the impression that I’ve become complacent or hopeless. I was pretty hopeless for a while. I’m not anymore, and that includes in the realm of running.

I would like to be able to train for and race the 2013 Fifth Avenue Mile — and by that I mean train for it consistently and race it well. Not limp through the thing. That’s what I want. I may not get what I want this year. Or ever again. Maybe my days as a competitive runner are over; I’ll be injured forever. Wouldn’t that be awful? Yes, it would. But I don’t think that’s the case, any more than I think terrible things will continue to happen to me and people close to me every single month of the year, forever. If I did then I would have stopped running months ago. To Say The Least.

Maybe I should stop running now. But why would I choose to stop running if there’s a chance I can run well again? I could spend brain cycles thinking about the worst that could happen or I could spend them on the opposite. It takes the same amount of time and the same outlay of electricity. But here’s the thing: thinking about the worst thing seems like a way to ward if off. But it doesn’t. If it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen. And you’ll be no more prepared for it if and when it does. You’ll just already be in a terrible mood. So why not spend that time and energy considering a positive outcome instead?

If I can run on the treadmill tomorrow then I will. That’s what I say every day now. That’s all I can do. I’ll wait this thing out. If I’m still alive, then I’m winning. It’s a strategy that’s worked out in other areas. I’m optimistic that it will work here too.

Training and trying vs. giving up and getting fat

And. I’m back. Maybe I’ll post more than once per season in 2013.

When I wrote that last post I was depressed and stressed out. Could you tell? I was also injured. I pretty much stopped running in any consistent way for the next couple of months. I averaged 8-10 miles during the weeks in which I ran. Many weeks featured no running whatsoever. I stopped going to the gym altogether. I’ve gained 6 lbs, and it would be a lot more had I not been a total calorie intake Nazi.

I’m now free of all Achilles issues and I have extremely mild plantar fasciitis in my right foot (yeah, I know; it’s been there for a year now). But it goes away after two miles on the treadmill usually; some days it’s not there at all. I had forgotten what a pleasure it is to run with no pain, it’s been so long. I started running fairly consistently about two weeks ago, usually 4-5x a week. I’m mostly on the treadmill due to ice/snow on the running path. I’m around 20-30 mpw average now with no major issues. About once every 10 days I do a slightly faster run. I am in remarkably good basic aerobic shape, considering all the neglect. I started doing weights again, once a week, two weeks ago too. Next week I’ll start going twice per week.

It’s probably nuts to talk about goals at this point. But I have them. I always do, in the back of my mind. The goal over the next month is to be able to run 30-40 mpw free of injury. I will probably do most of the runs on the treadmill since I think the reduced impact has helped me to heal. I will continue to do at least one faster workout per week. I will also do some trail running in Van Cortlandt.

Come April I’ll start doing 5K training again. Then I want to race a 5K in late May or early June. No time goal. I just want to get back to racing. Then if that goes well, and I remain injury-free, I’ll focus on the Fifth Avenue Mile again in late september. It’s the only NYRR race I still give a flying fuck about doing well in. I’ve also been invited to do the Green Mountain Relay again in late June. If I can get short legs (no giggling) — and my teammates are cool with my not racing them all out — then I will probably do that again, because it’s fun!

I still want to crack 20:00 in the 5K. I’ll be 48 in a few weeks. I’m probably an idiot for wanting this, because that way lies more injury, failure and frustration. But I’m realizing that if I don’t have some sort of racing goal it’s nearly impossible for me to care about running anymore. So it’s either train and try or give up and get fat.

“Skinny” Olympians at the Mini 10K: An Open Letter to NYRR

The following was written by my New York Harriers teammate Brigid Duffy and emailed to New York Road Runners (and subsequently posted to the team’s message boards). With her permission I’m sharing it here.

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Dear NYRR:

I was one of the 6,122 finishers who was fortunate enough to be part of the Mini 10k this past Saturday. Over the past several years I have run over 30 races with NYRR, including four NYC Marathons. While all of NYRR’s races are special and honor a multitude of wonderful causes, for me, the Mini always stands out as the most meaningful NYRR event. I’ve always thought of the Mini as less of a competition and more of a communal victory lap, where women of all ages can reflect, together, on how far we’ve come, not only within the running community, but within sports, the military, the workplace, and host of other social arenas. The Mini is the one race in the year when women are the athletes, and the men are on the sidelines cheering us on. It is with this in mind that I feel the need to voice a complaint concerning some of the pre-race announcements on Saturday.

While I was picking up my number and hanging around the baggage area on Saturday, the MC on the podium introduced some of the elite women athletes who would be competing in this year’s Mini. After introducing Edna Kiplagat, Hilda Kibet and a handful of other elite runners, the MC concluded: “They’re skinny, they’re fast, they’re Olympians!” Frankly, I was shocked that the first adjective used to describe the remarkable athletes in attendance was, “skinny.” In one sentence, the MC undermined exactly what makes this event empowering to women.

Women like Edna Kiplagat are remarkable and should be admired not because they are “skinny,” but because they are incredibly determined athletes who hopefully show other women that our bodies are capable of amazing feats. The MC’s comment implies that the chief accomplishment of our elite female runners is their slender frames and small waists. (Who cares about a sub 2:20 marathon if you’re a size zero?!) Moreover, the comment glosses over the fact that there is an extraordinary difference between “skinny” and “fit.” Glorifying our female athletes for their “skinniness” only reinforces the idea that a woman’s purpose, first and foremost, is to be objectified.

Everyday women are confronted with products, advertisements and airbrushed images that contain the same message: You are not skinny enough. Even perfectly healthy and fit women, when bombarded with these messages day after day, can begin to lament that their bodies do not live up to what is truly an impossible and unhealthy ideal. I have always maintained that sporting events, like NYRR’s races, give women the opportunity to value what their bodies can do over how their bodies appear. It is during races when women might start to realize, “I might not be 5’11” and 100 pounds, but I can run a damn good 10k.” Or, “I might not be a size 2, but I’m tough.” But these realizations can only endure if NYRR provides an environment where women feel comfortable in their own skin. Glorifying “skinny” female athletes because they are “skinny” creates a hostile space for all participants involved.

While I still enjoyed the race and the post-race festivities on Saturday, the MC’s comment was a major letdown. What is supposed to be a celebratory and esteem-boosting event for women was tainted by an insensitive and borderline sexist comment. I urge NYRR to be more responsible when it comes to the issue of women and body image within the running community, especially during the pre-race announcements.

– Brigid Duffy

2011: a look back

This year was not about racing, training, injury or mileage. It was about survival, observation, change, trust and taking risks.

I ended 2010 with some resolutions. I didn’t do half bad at sticking to them. With the exception of Facebook.

January

I started the year by attempting to let go of all plans and expectations. Considering how the next few months panned out, that was probably a good call.

The year started with baby steps back into running after 2010 ended with roughly four months of no running at all due to a stress fracture. For weeks and weeks after I started back again, I had adductor pain. Since I was turning into a whale I started working with a nutritionist to try to lose weight. That turned out to be a total waste of money and time.

The depression that had been knocking at my door in the fall managed to knock the door off its hinges and come stomping into my mental foyer wearing muddy boots. It was competing with some projects I did: a podcast on eating disorders in which, perhaps ironically, depression was a hot topic, as well as what would turn out to be my final interview for the Houston Hopefuls project.

The depression won. But at least I was running again.

I also discovered some fateful podcasts.

February

On February 1st I registered for the Chicago Marathon. Because I was still thinking there was an outside chance that I might actually have a hope of eventually running an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier for 2012. Oh, the folly.

I dipped my toe back into racing, mostly to see if my sacrum would crack again. I was slow. But not ridiculously so. My body parts remained intact.

I published my third piece for Running Times. That would also be my last one of the year. I closed my business’ books today and noted that I made a grand total of $450 writing for Running Times and Runner’s World in 2011. I have not enthusiastically sought more work from Rodale since then.

I was picking up from square one of the plan (former) Coach Sandra had given me way back in July.  I got back up to 50 mpw and did some hard workouts. We were working long distance at this point and would fall out of touch soon after. That was actually okay with me. It removed some pressure.

I still kept hold of the Trials dream. But it was slipping away. While February allowed some progress on the running front finally, it was my low point mentally. The running was kind of the only thing that was working as I otherwise held on by my fingernails.

March

In early March the bear got me again. I had a dental crisis. I was in a bad, bad way. But I was taking steps in my non-running life to right my little dingy. It was hard work, involving facing a lot of very unpleasant stuff and giving it the credit it was due. By month’s end, however, I was seeing progress.

A few days later I ran Coogan’s and it was alright, perhaps even pretty good. I started to reacquaint myself with the human race too. Another good call.

Then Sally Meyerhoff died. That really affected me. I paid tribute to her at the tail end of our little podcast. I thought a lot about time’s value and what a crime it is to squander it.

During March the work I was doing on myself started to pay dividends. I emerged from the mud, escaped the clutches of the bear. But I would only get a short reprieve. Life would rear its head again soon enough.

But, still, I was running and running pretty well again at that, despite lots of little setbacks and frustrations. That was worth a lot.

April

I regained fitness, slowly but surely.

We saw one of the most exciting Boston races in years. We also lost another great.

I also decided to not go to Chicago and instead eat the registration fee and go closer to home in Syracuse. Yeah, I still believed. Dream not dead. Yet.

At the tail end of the month my stepmother nearly died of complications from heart surgery. This was an ordeal that went on for weeks and weeks. My running dropped off tremendously in April and May. I took 14 days off in May alone. Something had to go.

May

I ran one of the worst races in my short competitive career, out on Long Island. Some of life’s greatest gifts come in the form of being kicked in the teeth, and this was no exception. During this race I had the epiphany that I needed to have: I wasn’t ever going to run an Olympic Trials qualifying time. Moreover, maybe long distance wasn’t for me at all.

By this time Sandra was no longer coaching me, which was fine since I would have been wasting her time given all the changes and interruptions. I found a 10K training plan online and just followed that for awhile.

I also realized that my cat is a lot better at meditating than I am.

I started a crazy freelance gig that required a three hour commute every day and had wildly unpredictable hours (I was there until 10pm with no prior warning some nights). Nevertheless, I committed to getting up at 5am to do training. I also decided to spend the next few months trying to shed extra weight through aggressive calorie restriction.

June

By June my stepmother was better and out of the hospital. But I was full bore freelancing this crazy gig. Which had me rushing through pre-dawn workouts, and it’s never good to rush a warmup because — you guessed it — I got injured! Fuck. Again! Bad calf pull.

That had me out of the Mini 10K, which I’d really wanted to run. But, okay, whatever. Things were basically on the upswing.

July

This month would represent a turning point in many respects.

My June injury healed up. My running would start to improve in a dramatic way.

On July 4 I committed to training to run the fastest road mile I could (this year): the Fifth Avenue Mile. I finally got smart about my training, keeping the mileage low and cutting workouts from three a week to two (with any races substituting for a workout). I would remain uninjured for the remainder of the year. And I’d get faster. Good job, Julie! You can still learn things through observation.

A few days later an outstanding person from Canada Googled “marathon” and “Brooklyn,” got me in the results, and then invited me to the world premier of her show, which I almost didn’t go to because the words “one woman show” strike fear in my jaded heart. But I followed my instinct and went. And I loved it. Then I somehow managed to trick her into becoming a good friend for the absurdly low entry cost of a sandwich. Then getting to know a real performer put some crazy ideas into my head that would start to take root in the fall.

Then I had more lunch with some far flung blogger friends (and some who are closer to home). That was fun.

Despite all the lunches, I was 15 pounds lighter by month’s end.

August

My nightmarish freelance gig concluded and had a couple of weeks recovery before beginning another that was much, much saner, one that allowed me to sleep past 7am most days. My training was, I dare say, going well.

Then I capped off the month with an exciting hurricane weekend in the Poconos with two runner lady friends.

September

I had a kind of spectacular track workout.

I waxed rhapsodic about social media.

I started taking baby steps, with a small group of strangers, toward realizing a long-festering dream of performing, disguised as an attempt to get over my terror of public speaking. But I really just wanted an excuse to talk about myself and try to be funny.

I had a couple of good tuneup races (in Tuckahoe and in Riverside Park) while keeping my eye on the prize: the run down Fifth Avenue late in the month.

I had the race I’d waited three years for. I broke six minutes. Then the day just got better. It was a happy day. And you know what? I fucking deserved it.

October

I lamented the backward slide of track and field policy. I may have even changed (or at least opened) a mind or two in the process.

I considered that perhaps my running a sub-20 minute 5K is not a patently absurd idea after all.

Also, my recently listless, skinny and perpetually thirsty Zen cat was given a diabetic death sentence.

November

I got up on a stage and told a story. People laughed. Or were horrified. But in more or less the right places.

I also won a big-ass trophy.

December

I nabbed a new 5K PR in Bethpage, Long Island.

And here we are. Next stop: 2012.

What are my goals for this year? They are huge, for one thing. Mightily ambitious. They are the kinds of goals you think about setting for yourself when you read about a woman in her twenties getting hit by a truck.

Some of these goals have to do with running and some not with running.

I am not sharing them ahead of time because that’s never worked out well for me. But also because many of them are more qualitative than quantitative in nature. As such, they are harder to measure — and maybe harder to reach. Many of them are not limited to this year. I’m starting them this year, is all. I’ll see where they go and how long it takes to get there.

I will, however, let you know when I reach them. And I do intend to reach them.

Also, Zen cat is still alive, and once again broad-shouldered, energetic and no longer thirsty. Anything’s possible when you throw enough expensive cat food at the problem.

Happy New Year!

Training: Dec 4 – 10

This was actually kind of a tough week. It started out with a race that went very well. Then a zippy recovery run on Monday (my pace is averaging right around 8:30 on most recovery runs these days). Then a very late night owing to going to see Sleep No More, a piece of immersive theatre in Manhattan. I enjoyed it, for the most part, but it’s long — about 3 hours — and requires a lot of mental energy. We got home and to sleep at around 1am.

The weather was horrible for the first part of the week — pouring rain, for the most part. So I was relegated to the treadmill for a couple of runs. I have no idea how I used to do 22 mile runs on that thing, since now I can barely handle 6 mile runs without losing my mind. Fortunately the weather cleared up overnight on Thursday and I could move back outside again, although it was muddy or flooded in spots.

On Friday I headed back to Edgemont High School’s track for another session of 1K repeats. It went extremely well. Even dodging people and running gingerly around the slippery turn for home I was able to easily hit 4:00 (6:25 pace) for every single one. When I was done I chatted with a gentleman who’d been jogging around. I’ve seen him a few times there. He is 80 years old and was the captain of his collegiate track team in India, where he ran the 100m and 200m sprints. He jog-walks 2 miles a day there. I asked him if he missed sprinting and he said, “No! I don’t want to run that fast. This is good for me now.”

On Saturday I felt that I needed a break from the muddy path so I headed to Van Cortlandt Park for 8 miles of recovery running. I spent about 5 of those miles on the flats (and discovered that the dirt path there is a mudbog after it rains). But the cinder path was good to run on and I measured it at a smidgen over 1.25 miles. So it’s a good place for doing tempo runs or mile repeats.

I got bored with that too, though, so I headed into the hills, running 1.5 miles out and back on their legendarily brutal cross-country course, which is marked with signs featuring a tortoise and a hare. I took it easy, but still worked harder than I should have. But I was having fun, which is what I went there for. 24 hours later those hills would be full of racers running the Pete McArdle Cross-Country Classic, a 15K effort. Among them were friends Hilary (who took first place in our age group) and Amy, with a 7th place AG finish, although more important than that was her return to successful racing after a period of injury and rehab. I like knowing all these fasties.

And speaking of good times, the week concluded with a trip in to the annual New York Harriers holiday party. I got to drink Newcastle and eat cake and talk to nice people and I also won something. Hoorah!

Up next: a bizarre workout from Jack Daniels and a 5K race on Long Island, where I hope to put all those 1K track repeats to use.

 

Training: Nov 20-26

This was kind of an odd week. The previous week ended with a night of barfing up duck and escargots, followed by a day off to recover from that ordeal. I got up on Sunday still feeling iffy, but managed to run 9 miles at a fairly quick clip. Recovery runs are now solidly under 9:00 most days, closer to 8:30 on many. This increase in speeds on easy days continues to blow my mind.

Since I had a race on Saturday I just did one workout, a 45 minute tempo effort with one minute rests between five minute high effort segments. That was hard. But not that hard until toward the end. I nearly bagged the ninth one but these workouts are as much about mental toughening as they are about physical conditioning, so I threw myself into number nine.

The week featured slackery in the form of eating junk (my teenaged nephew, Joe, was visiting, and that meant things like pizza tours and Chinese takeout). Then came Thanksgiving. This was one reason I kept the mileage up — to burn off the extra fuel. It worked. I finished up the week at 128. Now the party’s over and I’m back to cutting back in an attempt to lighten up for January. Lots of apples and water. It sucks, but it works.

I’ve also neglected weights and core work. If I have to drop something, it’ll be weights. I’m crazy busy these days with work and creative projects. But there’s no excuse for not doing core work at least 1-2x per week. I’m back to it tomorrow.

I had an okay race, won a big ass trophy. But was not as fast as I’d like to have been.

Houston’s fast approaching. Six weeks until liftoff.

The current week is light, with one speed session and lighter mileage. Sunday’s another race, a 5 miler over Central Park’s hills. I’ll see how that goes.

How to lose weight when you’re 46 years old and genetically disadvantaged

I promised my sister I’d post about my recent weight loss when I hit 125. I’m a little over 126, but I have a day off from all responsibilities today, so I’ll go right ahead since I expect to be down to 125 within a few days anyway.

When we got back from a visit with Jonathan’s family in England in May I weighed a whopping 141 pounds. I’ve been struggling with weight since late 2009. I’m still not sure why I put on roughly 10 pounds over the course of about 8 months. Nearly half of that piled on within about two months of starting a new birth control pill (Loestrin 24). Then the next 6 arrived very slowly over time. It may have been hormonal. My metabolism may have simply ground to a halt that year. Dunno.

Over the past 18 months of so of trying to shed the extra poundage, I could not get rid of it by eating sensibly, nor did heavy mileage help. I sought the help of a nutritionist and an endocrinologist late last year, also to no avail.

No wonder I'm so slow. I've been running carrying the equivalent of this box of cat litter for the past several years.

When I weighed myself on May 18, seeing a number over 140 — a weight that was flirting with what I weighed before I started running 12 years ago (an endeavor started because I’d gotten so fucking fat) — the same sense of shame and outrage that overtook me in 1999 reemerged. It galvanized me, inspiring a steely resolve: I was going to lose this fat even if people had to die.

In roughly two months, I’ve lost about 15 pounds. Fortunately, no one has died. It’s been a pretty simple process, but it has not been easy. Here’s how I did it, along with some observations and tips. I should note that I’m no medical expert and this has been an experiment on myself, not unlike the one William Hurt performed in Altered States. Although I have not yet broken into a zoo and eaten an antelope [2:20]. But, believe me, I’ve been close a few times.

Here’s what didn’t work

Going to an endocrinologist in search of a hormonal or other chemical explanation. I got tested for various things and got the all clear. I also got this annoyingly generic piece of medical insight: “Most women gain weight in middle age, especially around the waist.” Yeah, well, I’m not most women.

Going to a sports nutritionist. This was another useless exercise. For four months I followed a supposed expert’s advice, tolerated her insinuations that I was not being honest about what I was eating, and grew increasingly frustrated.

Going off the pill. Actually, that may have sort of worked, but it’s taken forever. Here’s something else I’ve observed: every gynecologist and article will tell you that the hormones in the pill are gone from your system in a week or two. I don’t believe this is true, based on several things. For one, I’ve had friends who were on the pill and went off it in an effort to get pregnant. Some of them took as long as six months to get knocked up. For another, the whole reason I went on the thing (beyond the obvious) was to regulate my wild cycles. I could swing 10 days in either direction. Yet for four months after I stopped taking it in January, I could predict my cycle’s start by not only the day, but also by the hour. In the last month I’ve started to go all wacky and unpredictable again. My weight loss rate has also picked up slightly. Coincidence? Again, dunno.

So what did work?

The nutritionist told me that my resting metabolic rate plus non-running movements resulted in a need for around 1850 calories a day. This was just to function. We based everything on that. I was told not to ever cut more than 500 calories a day from base + exercise output total (I don’t know what awful thing would happen if I did; maybe I’d actually lose weight?). Plus I was given elaborate formulas for how many grams of carbohydrate and protein to take in before a workout and in the hours after a workout in order to recover properly.

I’m sorry, but it was all bollocks. I lost no weight on this plan.

So you know what I did? I took the base calorie intake she had me on — roughly 1650 a day — and chopped it in half. That’s right: my new caloric ceiling was around 850. If I did any exercise, I’d add those calories back in. Here’s an example:

Base calorie intake: 850
Run 6 miles easy: 500
Total allowed: 1350

Following this rather parsimonious formula, I lost a little over 2 pounds the first week, then another 1.5 the following week. It’s varied from week to week, but it’s basically been around 1.5 pounds per week. During a PMS week, I usually stagnate, although I don’t gain water weight like I used to, so I think I’m still “stealth losing.”

There’s no secret to this

The laws of thermodynamics are absolute. Unless you’ve got a thyroid or other issue, if your body is deprived of external sources of fuel, it will start burning its own.

But it’s really hard to do

Aside from the behavioral challenges, I’ve got a few other things working against me. For one, I’m way over 40. If you think you can eat the way you did in your 20s and 30s, just wait. You can’t. For another, my physique lies somewhere along the body type spectrum between mesomorph and endomorph. I blame my Viking genes: you need a lot of muscle for hefting swords and engaging in extended bouts of raping and pillaging, plus you need fat to keep you from becoming too cold in Spitzbergen or wherever the hell my ancestors were from. I build muscle very easily, which is great if I want to be a power lifter, but useless for distance running. So I actually have to be careful about doing too much weight or other resistance work. For another, I hold onto fat like it’s going out of style. I gain it easily and then have a bastard of a time getting rid of it.

What does it all mean?

It means that while it’s possible for me to lose fat, it’s difficult and takes a huge effort and commitment. Have you ever tried living on 850 calories a day? It takes planning. It’s tedious. You’re hungry often. But seeing a pretty much constant weight loss of around 1-2 pounds a week is a great motivator. As I said to someone recently, I can deal with eating 850 calories a day for three months more easily than I can deal with eating 1200 calories a day for six months.

Are you ready to suffer? Here are some handy tips!

Use a calorie tracking program. There is no other way to know what you’re taking in and using up. I like Tap and Track for the iPhone.

Plan ahead. If you have a job that you travel to (as I have since I started this venture), pack your food. Apportion your calories among various food items and stick those items in your bag. If you eat all your food too early in the day, tough luck. You’ll only do this a few times.

Stop drinking. I shouldn’t have to explain this one. With only 850 calories to play with, there is no room for extravagances like liquor. Bonus: you’ll avoid embarrassing Ambien episodes.

Eat “big food.” These are foods that have a high density and volume relative to their caloric content. Examples are: fruits, vegetables, and lean animal proteins. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of grapes, cherries, nectarines, corn on the cob, steak and chicken.

Eat small amounts of fat throughout the day. For example, while nuts are very calorie dense, they will keep you full because they take forever to digest. Also, a cup of coffee with half and half will stave off hunger for a good hour or two.

When the hunger pangs get too bad, just close your eyes and think of England. Failing that, eat your own hand — preferably the one you don’t favor. It’s low in calories and you have another one if you need to make a phone call or something.

A special note for runners

Bear in mind that I’ve only been running 30-40 miles per week during this process and doing 2 hard sessions tops. I don’t know that I’d attempt this during a heavier training schedule. Also note that I’ve been careful to make sure I take in at least 200 grams of carbohydrates and 75 grams of protein a day. On days after a hard run or race, I’ll up the calorie intake a bit because I’m usually starving and to me that’s a signal that I need more food in order to recover properly.

Why am I doing this?

Because I not only looked a lot better when I weighed somewhere in the low 120s, but I ran better too. I am now running a lot faster, despite the heat and humidity. But more on that soon.

In which bloggers sing “Kumbaya” on the Upper West Side

For years, social scientists have pondered the question: Can Americans and Australians ever have brunch together? The answer is yes. Yes, we can.

Today Jonathan and I met up with a load of people, most of whom we’d never met. At least not in the flesh. With the exception of our friend (and my fellow podcast host) Joe of RunWestchester. But I’ve been following the exploits of Ewen (of About a Ewen) and Flo (of Girl in Motion) for several years. Ewen is here with his friends Joy and Mal on an epic tour of the U.S. (can’t imagine why they’d want to come to this 2,600 mile wide dump) and, fortunately for us, it includes an extended swing through New York City. Flo drove her ass all the way up from Philadelphia just to have lunch with us! But it gets better: also there was Flo’s friend, Heather, a newly minted masters runner who lives in New York and who had not seen Flo in sixteen years!! But, wait. There’s more: Heather had a stress fracture in her pelvis earlier this year in almost the exact same place I did!!!

It doesn’t get any weirder than that. Especially when this crew is involved.

In a symbol of the historically peaceful relations between our two nations, we exchanged cultural gifts. Ewen gave us Australia-themed drink coolers and fragrant soaps. We gave Ewen race t-shirts (he made out like a “bandit,” scoring shirts for the New York Marathon, Healthy Kidney, Scotland Run and yesterday’s Run for Central Park). Mimosas were consumed. Checks were split. Hugs were freely given.

Mal and Joy, who are non-runners, were extremely tolerant of all the running talk. Which is good, since we’re meeting up again on Friday evening for drinks and there will be even more runners there!!!! Joe and I will also see Ewen in Van Cortlandt for a 5K on Thursday evening, his first international race (not counting Tasmania)!!!!!

Ewen, Joy and Mal

Heather, Flo and Ewen

Me, Joe, Heather, Flo and Ewen

Jonathan threatens to usurp actual stuff from another continent

Training: June 5-18

The patient slog through injury continues.

Nothing happened June 5-11. My log that week is a wall of yellow that says “INJURED.” I do credit myself for sticking to my plan to do core work twice a week, and I managed to keep that up this week as well. Guess what I’m doing this evening? That’s right: core work!

I have a set of exercises I do (around 12) for my core. The current print issue of Running Times has a few other good ones, so I’ve added in another 4-5. I also do some arm/shoulder work with dumbbells, since I have the weakest biceps known to man. I know I don’t need bulging biceps to run well, but I would like to one day do at least one pull-up. A girl can dream.

All of this takes me about an hour. I watch “Locked Up Abroad” or “My Strange Addiction” while doing my routine. Both of these shows always make me feel a lot better about my life than I did before I watched them.

There’s some light on the horizon, at least compared to earlier in the month. I was able to at least start jogging again this week, although my right calf does not like to go faster than 9:00 pace. It doesn’t like uphill either. Nor does it like flat bits. It loves downhill sections, which comprise around 3% of the terrain I run on.

But, you know, I ran 18 miles. That’s a start. See? Positive attitude. The new me. I can run. That’s more than I could do the previous week. The pain is now just a dull ache, and I’m encouraged by the fact that it doesn’t get worse over the course of a run. If I stop every mile or so and stretch my calf, it seems better by the end of the run. I’ll keep doing that.

I’m throwing out the 10K plan for now. It’s still there in my log, but I don’t look at it. What’s the point? I don’t dare do any faster running until the pain is totally gone. When I get back to the training, I may experiment with a 9 or 10 day training cycle, since I don’t think my body tolerates doing three hard workouts a week.

I have rough plans to do the 2-Person Relay (with Jonathan) in Van Cortlandt Park, a 4 mile XC race (it would be my first XC effort) on Thursday July 7, assuming there isn’t a fire drill on my current freelance project that requires I stay late; if there is, I might swap that for the Women’s Distance Festival 5K two days after that on Saturday the 9th. But this is assuming I can even run fast and free of pain soon. That’s a big question mark.

I still hope to compete in the Run for Central Park 4 miler in a month. If I’m not running fast by then…well, let’s not go there.

Here are some good things that are happening:

The summer has been pretty nice so far. Or maybe it just seems that way because I’m not out running much, or when I am it’s about 5:30 in the morning. Aside from a few scorchers, it’s been in the upper-70s to mid-80s most days. So I’m appreciating the season.

I’m able to get home at a reasonable hour most days and have been throwing food on an outdoor Weber I got for my birthday. I find the process of preparing the grill extremely relaxing and gratifying. I sit outside while the bricquets heat up, staring at the fire. I clean the grill later on. I research new grill recipes. I think I might actually be a guy.

My stepmother is on the road to recovery after her near-death, then near-permanently-fucked-up experience over the past two months. She sounds completely back to herself on the phone and she’s been told not to worry about doing any physical therapy, just walk a lot, lift things, etc. I’m still awestruck by her luck and resilience.

Jonathan ran his second race in a year today, and ran fairly well considering the lack of conditioning. He’s not happy with his time, of course, but that will improve. His foot is still stiff and he suspects that will always be the case. But he’s racing without foot pain for the first time in about 16 months. This is a good thing.

Finally, I’m losing poundage in the form of fat. I’ve been holding off on posting about it because the effort is ongoing and has involved quite a bit of experimentation (and deprivation). But I’ll have a full accounting of the good, the bad and the ugly once I reach my target weight of 125.

Here’s some video of the Portugal/Father’s Day run this morning. Jonathan flits through at the 7:35 mark (small, full head of grey hair, glasses, plain blue singlet, stopping watch). That’s NYRR head honcho Mary Wittenberg off to the left. There was some noise about her leaving NYRR to head up USATF awhile back, but, honestly, I can’t see her ever leaving this job. She so obviously enjoys interacting with the runners — all of them, not just the elites — as they come over the line. Much of that action is off camera, but I thought it worth noting since I was so struck by it this morning.

Race Report or whatever: the Brooklyn Half

A three hour tour. A THREE HOUR TOUR!!!

No, it didn’t take me three hours to run a half marathon (I came in a shade under two hours), but it did take me three hours to get home. And that was too damned long.

The actual race was the least interesting part of today. So let’s start with the pre-race goings on. I stayed overnight at my dad’s place on the Upper West Side and, as I usually do before any race, even those I don’t give a shit about, I could not sleep properly. Fake Ambien let me down and at 3:30 a car alarm woke me up for good, well in advance of my 4:30 alarm. I was running on around five hours of sleep.

Fortified by strong coffee and Mini Wheats, I dashed down to where a van the New York Harriers had rented was stationed on 85th and Broadway. There, I met up with a few people I knew already, but most whom I didn’t. The highlight of that standing around experience was when a drunk young man stumbled upon our group, with a seemingly sober woman in tow, and declared, swaying, heavy-lidded and rubbery-lipped, “My wife is pregnant!” The woman he was with looked a little horrified and said, “I’m not pregnant!”

Then, looking at our shirts, Drunk Guy said, “What are the New York Harriers?”

Since no one answered him I jumped in and said, “We are a cult!” That got me a few laughs and a few odd looks, and in this fashion I was able to quickly and efficiently determine who I should talk to post-race. Just kidding. Sort of.

At 5:45 sharp we clambered into the van and wended our way down to Prospect Park in Brooklyn. A bunch of Harriers dashed out and started running…somewhere. When I see people running fast before a race, and I have no idea where baggage or the start are, I tend to get panicky and just follow them. So I was tearing along and it was at that point that I got a sense of how humid it was. It was 96% humidity this morning, according to NYRR. That’s pretty fucking humid. I am a terrible hot weather runner, especially early in the summer season, and the wisdom of my plan to run a slowish long run today was becoming more and more evident by the minute.

Even though I had a red bib I lined up a corral back, at the very back of the yellow-bibbed group. That turned out to be perfect as I was running 8:30 or so to start and would run in that range for the next 9 miles or so. Prospect Park is very pretty and I liked the nature of its hills. Unlike Central Park’s they are very long and gradual. With two loops of the park making up slightly more than half the race, I got very familiar with those hills and had fun running them. I was also glad for the 7:00 am start because the sun was still low and as such the run was, up until the last 2.5 miles or so, almost completely shaded. That helped on a day like today, in which we had horrible humidity and full sun.

A virtual friend from LetsRun.com (and now Facebook) who goes by the moniker Humbled (and who lives in Detroit, but visits Brooklyn often to visit her significant other) had noted that she’d be in town spectating the race today. I looked for her along Ocean Parkway, but didn’t spot her. Much as I would like to meet her eventually, I was sort of glad about that because in the last few miles I was getting pretty cranky and I’m sure I smelled like a barn.

I had no goal for the race going in other than to just do a regular long run. But as I trundled along I decided that I’d try to come in under two hours. I gave up some time in the last few miles due to stopping and taking lots of water. But my average pace was 9:04 and I came in a shade under 1:59. Numbers are stupid on days like today. But I still care about them.

In the last couple of miles people were struggling with the weather. I saw a few runners down along the side of the road, and a few wobbling along the boardwalk. The med tent at the finish was very busy. Had I actually raced today, I’m pretty sure I would have been among its visitors given how I felt in the last few miles.

The post-race meetup was the best part of the day, although the effect of the weather, dehydration and beer took me by surprise. After a week of hardening myself in England with concoctions like Twickenham Naked Ladies, Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale and Bertie’s Snuff Film Lager (okay, I made that one up), I’d thought I’d be fine having a drink at 9:30 in the morning. We met up at something called Beer Island, which made me think of the song “Beer Picnic,” written by my friend Carolyn (Lengel) Enright for her 1980′s band Bad Tuna Experience. Just about any title that starts with “beer” is bound to sound festive.

Schmaltz Brewery's Human Blockhead: delicious but also dangerous. It's 10% alcohol -- more drunk for your buck!

Anyway, at Beer Island I became enamored of their Coney Island Human Blockhead, the label of which features Coney Island Sideshow master of ceremonies (and person who can hammer a nail into his nose, among other fantastic talents) Donny Vomit. Unfortunately, Human Blockhead only comes in 650ml bottles, or slightly less than twice the amount of beer you’ll typically get in a bottle.

Dehydrated and on a more or less empty stomach, even sipping the stuff I was wobbly myself after half a bottle. At noon I realized I would have trouble walking without embarrassing myself. So I hung out for awhile longer, finished it up and, at 1:30 realized that I could put off the ordeal of making my way home no longer. Walking was still a slight challenge, especially on sand, but whatever. I wanted to make it home before The Rapture, which was scheduled for 6:00 pm.

I said my goodbyes to all the nice Harriers (I know many more of them now, and none of them are assholes) and headed over to Nathan’s because I had to put something in my stomach. I have no idea why, but I went with the softshell crab sandwich, of which I could only eat the crab. After wolfing that down I was ready for the subway, which would take at least 90 minutes, plus I had to stop off at my dad’s place first before making my way up to where my car was parked on 108th Street. I’d have plenty of time to sober up!

Did you know that there are 381 stops in Brooklyn on the Q train from Stillwell Avenue? I slept through them all, waking up at Canal Street in Manhattan. Then the Q driver announced we were local. So I snoozed up to 42nd Street, where I hoped to transfer to the 2/3 express. But those were not running, so I had another tedious set of local stops up to 96th Street on the 1.

Anyway, it took me three hours to get from Beer Island to my house. That’s too long. I’m not running Brooklyn again. It’s far easier to get wasted post-race in Manhattan.

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