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!


  1. Congratulations Gail! I'm so proud of you!

  2. Very well written and very inspiring. Hope I can do something similar. Need to get over my laziness and exercise.

    1. Karishma, you have always had such a nice figure! The fitness part, though, is totally worthwhile in pursuing. It has kept me sane through those early years of cyber-schooling the kids. Miss you!

  3. Hi Gail! Your story is so inspiring! Thank you so much for visiting my blog this week - I am so happy to have "met" you and just feel so connected to you through your words. You are amazing! I'm excited to follow along on your journey and would love to meet when you are here for MCM in the fall. That is my goal race too :) I hope you have a great weekend!

  4. Hi Jessica, thanks so much for visiting my blog too! We definitely have a lot in common: moms, runners, running MCM this Fall, Boston hopefuls, etc. We have both already come a long way as well! I am definitely the junior in terms of marathon experience, but a senior in terms of age. :-) "Lucky" me turns 45 two weeks before the MCM, so my BQ time is 3:55. However, I won't get to run Boston (if I make it) until 2014. So, if for whatever reason you decide to wait a year, we'll be there together! In the mean time, I'd love to try to meet up before the MCM. My (hopeful) goal time is 3:30. The way you're going, I'll bet you break that on this MCM! Thanks again for your comment, and I will follow you on your blog!