Wednesday, July 11, 2012

What a difference a year makes!

"Before" May 2011                  "After" July 2012

I experienced a transformation...

There's something so rewarding about dredging up a photo of the not-so-skinny "old" you and comparing it to the photo of the much-more-fit "new" you.  It can really be somewhat of a shock.. You forget that you used to duck behind a family member or avoid the camera completely.  You forget that it used to be hard to run even three miles.  All the work to get to the "now" place suddenly seems like such an excellent investment in time and effort.

In May 2011, at age 43, I weighed 132 pounds and could barely run three miles at 10:30 minute/mile pace. While I was not hugely overweight, I was feeling tired more often than I should.  I often enjoyed hot wings and wine with the girls more than I should, and had sort of resigned myself to living the typical life of middle-aged housewife.  Over the years, I have had many yo-yo diets, and the thing I feared most was reaching the goal weight.  Somehow, I could never maintain that goal weight once I had achieved it.  It required such a delicate balance of calories and exercise.

Five months after I started eating better and running more, I celebrated my 44th birthday. I had in that span of time whittled my weight down by twenty pounds to 112. I had also conquered my first 20-mile long training run and had completed a half marathon. Luckily for me, those successes made me want even more.

Today, now roughly 14 months since the "before" photo was taken, I can boast having run two marathons, four half marathons, and several 5 and 10Ks, all while keeping the weight off and building some halfway decent muscle tone in my legs.

Many have asked,

"What brought on the initial desire to change, and what made you able to succeed in reaching and maintaining your goal weight?" 

It's hard to say, exactly.  Here are my thoughts.

Falling in love with running...

Back in March 2011, I started my annual training for the world's largest 10K race, The Peachtree Road Race, held on July 4th every year. I was definitely what you would call a casual, seasonal runner. Each year, within a month of completing this race, my zeal for running would rapidly wither, and I would find myself looking forward to Fall, at which point I could hide behind bigger, baggier clothes.

Two months later Spring training started, my friend developed some back issues, so I was left to tackle the remaining month and a half of 10K training by myself. One issue that has always plagued me is my ability to pace myself. Inevitably, I would try to run too fast, and therefore would burn out quickly and start to dread training. It just seemed too hard and I ended up feeling defeated and inadequate as a runner.  I was determined not to fall into that same trap for yet another year.

Armed with a newly-purchased Couch to 5K iphone app, I boldly headed out for the nearby Silver Comet Trail, a long, paved path, built on an old railroad track.  Frequented by plenty of morning dog walkers and lined with beautiful foliage, it was a perfect place to train. I attempted to follow the app's voice commands, running and then walking as directed. Along the way, I made several new running friends, all of whom really encouraged me. Within a few weeks, the walking part was gone and I could make it six miles without walking. I won't say it was easy. Every run still seemed to take all I had to give.

My initial training goal was to run the Peachtree in under an hour, something I had not been able to do in the past two years. In spite of running 20-25 miles per week, though, I only managed a 1:02 on the race. That did not break my confidence, however.  I kept the pace slow, but started trying to go for longer runs. I also signed up for my first half marathon to give my training a new goal.

Longer runs, in turn, became even longer. At this point, my speed was still nice and slow. Because the pace was manageable, though, the increased miles did not seem as taxing. By late December, I braced myself and signed up for a full marathon. From there, I trained and got faster and stronger and more in love with running!  Other blog posts outline much of this process.

The desire to eat right...

I knew that running would help me lose weight, but I wanted to develop and maintain a healthy diet as well.  I faced the typical issues: emotional eating, lack of portion control, and not enough fruits and veggies in the diet. I found a wonderful company called Fresh n' Fit Cuisine that prepares, cooks, and delivers half a week's worth of meals (three meals a day) to a location where it's convenient for me to pick them up twice each week.

The meals are all freshly prepared, counted to exactly 1200 calories per day, and designed to meet the guidelines of The American Heart Association and every other national health guideline imaginable.  All I have to do is open, heat, and eat!  They are delicious, and eating them ensures I get my daily dose of fruits and vegetables.  I've had to supplement these base calories some since I lost down to my goal weight, but the plan certainly provides an excellent nutritional base.  I have stuck with this plan so long that the company asked me to send photos and write a testimonial for their web site.

I feel very satisfied to have reached this point of health and fitness.  It has taken a lot of hard work, but now eating well and running are a part of my lifestyle.  I used to lose weight and then gain it back when the stresses of life took over.  Now, I really do not fear slipping back into the lifestyle I had before.  This seems to be a permanent change and I like it very much!

Success feeds success...

It's really hard to take that first step to leading a healthier lifestyle.  Then the journey begins.  At first, determination and enthusiasm kick in to help the process along.  However, inevitably, the first slump hits.  Either the scale disappoints in spite of diligent efforts, or a weak moment or stressful situation occurs.  While these can be some dark moments, this is the most crucial time to stick with the plan.  It has been the breaking point for me more than once before.  My advice is to call a friend when you are in a weak spot.  If you can make it through the moment/hour/day, you'll find that the next low point is not as bad.

If you can successfully make it past this hump where every molecule in your body is resisting, though, you find that all the sudden, a huge breakthrough has been made.  The scale shows it, your jeans show it, and eventually, comments from friends confirm it.  This success helps pave the way for even more.  By losing weight in a slower, very controlled way, you reap the benefits of building in changed habits over a longer period of time, which helps ensure they will stay in place when the goal weight is reached.  Today, I give myself plus or minus a two-pound range.  If I go outside that range, then I alter my diet over the next few days, and it's easy to get back into range.  I have both diet and exercise as tools to help me avoid variances.

Today, I enjoy a few extra treats (mint chip Klondike bars being my recent favorite), but I try to ensure I eat all the healthy calories before going to these extras.  That makes me less likely to overeat the junk.  It's easy to feel alone and insecure and even frustrated when trying to lose weight.

I am in no way an expert on running or nutrition.  I just thought sharing my own story might be motivational to others.  It's not an easy path to good health, but nothing really good comes easy!

Friday, July 6, 2012

Race Report: Peachtree Road Race 10K

The alarm sounded at 4:30am, causing me to practically leap from the bed. I have learned never to snooze thereby allowing my sleep-craving mind get the better of the plan I had conceived the night before. As I pinned on my race bib, I reflected with much delight that I was about to run my 20th Peachtree Road Race. That prospect was exciting enough, but I also had the almost unbelievable pleasure of finally earning a place in Time Group A. I was going to get to "play with the big kids" today!

For those of you who might be unfamiliar with this race, it is touted as the world's largest 10K race, providing 60,000 runners the exciting opportunity to run off their morning calories before they race off to enjoy their annual 4th of July family BBQs and fireworks. Very crowded and most times exceedingly humid, this race is not billed as one of the fastest. However, it certainly offers a great variety of music, a multitude of cheering fans, frequent beer and doughnut stops for those so inclined, and motivational posters to boost runners' confidence as they make their way to Piedmont Park where they will receive their coveted Peachtree Road Race tee-shirt.


My husband, Rob, earned a spot in Time Group A too (as he does every year), so we planned to leave early in order to get to our corral by the 7:30 start time. Our annual routine is to drive from our home in Smyrna to the MARTA station at Perimeter Mall. From there, we ride the train to the Buckhead stop, and we emerge with the hundreds of other runners to make our way up Peachtree Street.

This year, we were lucky enough to have an invitation to visit with my friend, Elise, and her husband, who had booked a room at the Westin. Not only did we get to meet up with several members of the Adventure Runners group, including Elise, Isabel, Sang, Rob, Marius, and Karen, but we also had the rare benefit of pre-race indoor plumbing.

We took a few pre-dawn group photos at the hotel, and then made our way to the corrals. I was delighted that every one of us was in Time Group A (except Marius, who even qualified to be sub-seeded). Somewhere along the way through the Peachtree crowds, I managed to lose track of everyone except Sang and Rob. I was really excited, though, to have my super-speedy friend, Rachelle, join me near the front of our corral. As we waited for the start, I could tell Sang and Rob were a little nervous. It was the first Peachtree for each of them, and I knew they would sort of be racing each other. I told them I wasn't sure who I was putting my money on.

Race details:

As the gun went off, it only took about 25 seconds for our group to pass the starting line. Rachelle and I sped off together as best we could, given the massive crowds of runners. We had to do a bit of dodging, but at least no one in front of us was going too slowly. It dawned on me right about that time that I had not quite taken in enough water right before the race. As much as I dreaded it, I knew I was going to have to grab some water at the first station. As soon as we could, the two of us settled into a nice race speed, hitting the Mile 1 mark at 7:25. Although the temperature was a relatively comfortable 71 degrees, the humidity was an oppressive 94%. I felt every bit of moisture in the air! I was already wiping sweat from my brow and wishing I had gills.

Shortly into Mile 2, some guy must have lost his balance or something because he flat-out shoved both Rachelle and me! We both came very close to losing our balance and we shouted at him. It shook us both up a bit. The thought of almost falling stayed with me for the whole rest of the race. A short time later, I managed to swipe a few sips of water at the station and then catch back up to Rachelle.

Miles 2 and 3 are very nicely downhill and we took full advantage of the slope. Our paces on these miles were a very speedy 7:03 and 7:01, respectively. This is a faster pace than I had planned, but I figured the time saved would allow me to take the hills in the second half at a slower pace and still keep a strong overall race pace. Amazingly, Rachelle talked to me a good bit. She seemed to have energy to spare! Meanwhile, I was growing concerned that I was more tired than I should be before even hitting the first hill. I mumbled monosyllabic responses and matched her pace.

Just before Mile 4, we faced the beginning of what is known as Cardiac Hill. It is the steepest incline of the race. I was mentally prepared, though. We both slowed just slightly as we headed up. My lungs were working harder, but I knew I could make it up the hill. As soon as it flattened out a bit I felt a little better. Mile 4 was a bit slower at 7:48. However, I realized I could no longer keep even that pace. Reluctantly, I fell back and wished Rachelle well. As I glanced at my Garmin watch I noticed that somehow it was jammed so I could not determine my pace. It's very tough to gauge the pace without this valuable instrument. I knew I was totally on my own until the end. Only when I got home, was I able to retrieve the data.

This is the point in the race where things sort of fell apart. Usually, in every race there comes a point where my mind starts the negotiation process. It begs me to have mercy on my lungs, but it also remembers that pain is temporary (while names and race times on the internet are permanent - ha,ha!). This point usually comes for me in the last mile of a race, where it's just a matter of enduring a minute or two longer before being done. In this race, though, I was already very tired and the feeling unfortunately came too early.

In the Peachtree course, there is little to no break after Cardiac Hill before runners approach another series of less steep, but longer inclines. My heart was racing as I went into this incline, and I started to get that graying around the edges feeling like I got last year. Fortunately, I am a much stronger athlete this year, and much more sensible as to how to handle that feeling. I felt no shame (well, very little) as I stopped to walk past the next water station. I knew it was vital to catch my breath and slow down my heart a little. When I started back, my pace was slower. Mile 5 was a dismal 8:27. Everything is relative, though, because last year's average pace was 10:09! A photographer managed to get what I'm sure is a horrendous scowl from me somewhere along this stretch.

Somehow, I rallied in the last mile and sprinted toward the finish line. My pace was 7:52 for Mile 6. It included the end of the hills, a little bit of flat, and then a slight decline toward the end. I tried to appear speedier than I felt for the cameras at Mile 6, and I pushed hard to shave off a few extra seconds at the end. I was pleased to know that I was going to be just fine after the race, not white as a sheet like I was last year.

Thanks to Elise's husband, Dave, for catching this shot of me in action!

I learned later in the afternoon that my official time was 47:30, an average pace of 7:38. While it was not a PR for a 10K race, it beat my previous Peachtree time by a whopping 15 minutes. I'd call that a smashing success! It also re-earned me a spot in the Time Group A for next year. I came in 39 out of 3,771 in my 40-44 age group (top 1%), 336 out of 28,656 of all women (top 1%), and 2,259 out of 57,754 (top 4%) overall. Truly, a year of training has made a huge difference in my running. It has also made a huge difference in my life!


I grabbed a bottle of water and collected my race bag which contained the coveted tee shirt. This shirt will make a total of 20, and I plan to have all of them made into a quilt this year. Next, I headed over to the A balloon where I planned to meet about 12 friends. It was so nice not to have to fight through huge crowds as I have in prior years. Rob Campos and Sang were there already. Soon afterward, my husband, Rob, joined us. I was surprised I had actually beat him this year. I never thought I would see the day! I guess running 50 miles a week does have its benefits!

We were joined by Elise, Isabel, Tad, Mike, Tom, and Della as well. After a few group photos, we decided to take a few shots of our pretty shoes - love the Summer colors! A little later, we saw Marius, Karen, and their friend, Bert. Also, Bill left the ATC tent say hi.

I was thrilled to finally catch up with a sorority sister and fellow Running Divas friend, Laura, who was there with her son. We have not seen each other for years! She is a such a great runner and a true inspiration.  She ran her first marathon the day after I ran mine.  Now we are both training for Fall marathons.  She introduced me to Shane, also a Diva.  Just after they left, I ran into a third Diva, Michelle, who had on a great red, white, and blue ensemble!

This event almost felt like a reunion of sorts. We had so much fun and saw so many great running friends! On the way out, Rob and I collected peanuts, Popsicles, bananas, Gatorade, and the most delicious peaches I ever put in my mouth. Unlike other years, walking the mile to the MARTA station did not seem hard at all. It was a truly wonderful morning and a Peachtree Road Race experience I will never forget!