26 August 2013

how losing weight is like training for a race

Thursday night a dear friend of mine texted me about her weight loss journey. She's just started and hopes to lose 60 pounds in six months, in time for a trip she and her family are planning for early February.


 That averages to 10 pounds a month and while I applaud and respect her desire to lose such a significant amount of weight, she also realizes she may be setting herself an unrealistic goal and it got us talking and me thinking.



I am officially halfway through my half-marathon training (hello, where did the last six weeks go?!) and I've also already completed training and races for both 5Ks and 10Ks. Obviously the actual miles you run while in training is going to change depending on which race you're actually preparing for, but the basic concepts of a training plan are the same across the board.

In fact, for all the races I've already run, there is one constant rule that seems to come up in all of the training plans no matter which distance you've chosen:

Don't set a time goal for your first race at a new distance. 

I don't care how awesome your training has been. At that very first 5K or 10K or half or whatever it is, your only goal should be to cross the finish line. That's it. Don't worry about pace. Don't worry about place. Just finish. You can't predicate what will happen come race day, be it weather or an injury or the course is more difficult than you anticipated. That first time around, go in with the right attitude but know that it's gonna take as long as it takes.

The same attitude applies to weight loss. I know that people have vacations and weddings and whatever and that they want to look and feel a certain way when those events roll around. That's perfectly understandable and I've done it, too. The problem comes when you set a weight deadline and don't meet it. And I've done that, too. When I started my journey in January 2011, I wanted to lose 50 pounds by my 30th birthday and our family trip to Las Vegas that November. After all my hard work I fell just short, like 47 or 48 or something.

I was so close to hitting my goal but I didn't and in not doing so it did put a small damper on the whole weekend. Which is ridiculous because, hi, I'd lost over 45 pounds. I should have been celebrating that fact rather than lamenting the two pounds I missed by a week.

Despite the science behind weight loss, weight loss itself is not a science. You can not predict or guarantee how much you will lose week to week, month to month. Those averages of 1-2 pounds a week? They are just that: averages. Statistics, taken from a wide range of people of varying weights, activity levels, eating plans, lifestyles, backgrounds, jobs, gender, etc. Take that 1-2 pounds as a guideline and keep it in mind but there is no way to effectively and consistently apply it to your own weight loss journey.

Just because your body is able to lose 1-2 pounds a week doesn't mean you actually will. Which is why you shouldn't set any sort of deadline for yourself. The body is a tricky, tricky beast.

And by "tricky" I, of course, mean "unpredictable."

You can have a killer week and do everything right and stay exactly the same. Or you can go completely off the rails and lose 3 pounds. True story.

If you're working out on a regular basis you're going to be getting muscle. Which is denser than fat. Which means the scale is going to show a higher weight. (Which is why your focus should really be about fat loss, not necessarily weight loss. But that's for another post.)

When I first registered for the Rock 'n' Roll Cleveland Half Marathon I told them I thought I would finish in about three hours. That's a little less than a 14 minute mile which is fairly consistent with my other race times. Now that I'm actually training and getting into the 7+ mile long runs I'm realizing it's difficult to keep a 5k or 10K pace for 13.1 mile and by the time race day rolls around I may need to consider moving back to a slower corral.

Do I wish I had a shot at being a top finisher in my age group? Sure. Do I wish I could run faster? Of course. But right now I can't and that's the reality I gots to deal with. I would love to be able to run a 9 minute mile and finish that half in under two hours. But that's not gonna happen and it would be stupid and dangerous for me to set that goal because in doing so I'd risk serious injury in attempt to meet it and then I'd be upset at not hitting a goal I was never even gonna hit anyway. So, instead, I'm going with reality that says my half time may be closer to 3 1/2 hours than 3 and I'm perfectly okay with that. Because, hello, when I'm done I'll have completed 13.1 miles.

With my weight I'm having to lose 30 pounds that I already lost a year ago. Like my friend, I want to be able to wake up tomorrow and be back at that lower weight. But that's not how it works. There are no magic wands or magic pills. In fact, before signing up for meetings I had already tried relosing these 30 pounds (well, then it was 20. Or 25.), telling another friend that I wanted to be back at 175 by the end of summer. Well, it's now the end of summer and I'm not there. In fact, I'm heavier than when I told my other friend my goal.

Could I drop the weight super quick? Sure, if I wanted to starve myself. But I don't want to do that and not just because I love eating and I like food. I don't want to crash diet because it's stupid and dangerous.

So, instead, I'm taking the attitude that there is nothing different between these 30 pounds and my upcoming 13.1 miles. Both are going to take as long as they take and I'm not even going to worry about the time. All I can do is put in the work, follow my training guide, follow my food plan, and just cross those finish lines in whatever time it takes me to do so.

Love from the ashes,
Lady Lazarus

13 comments:

  1. This is a great post on an important topic. I had set a goal for myself to lose 50 pounds by my 50th birthday and was well on my way when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Talk about derailed! I made my goal (some of it through surgery, but it counts) and have done my best to stick to my plan. My next goal was supposed to be 100 pounds by Christmas. I know I'm not going to meet that without working out and I am still weeks from that, but as long as I come out further ahead, I'm good.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "But as long as I come out further ahead, I'm good" -- Exactly! That's the perfect attitude to have :)

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  2. YES!
    this is great. getting hung up on the scale can be SO debilitating!
    the scale becomes a problem when we base our worth // happiness // success on the number.
    its down 5 pounds ; that means we are skinnier // happier, if its up, the attitude shifts.
    each week, i have a training plan {right now, im working towards a duathlon} & i focus on that week. on each day. on those choices. and sometimes the scale is higher and sometimes its not.
    but, when i hit my workouts & increase my distances & decrease my time, THAT is what makes me strong & successful.
    teeny, tiny baby steps arent always fun ; but i am convinced they are the best way to live the happiest life!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "i have a training plan {right now, im working towards a duathlon} & i focus on that week. on each day. on those choices. and sometimes the scale is higher and sometimes its not. but, when i hit my workouts & increase my distances & decrease my time, THAT is what makes me strong & successful."

      Exactly!!

      Also good for you on the duathlon!

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  3. This post is so amazing that I want so badly to have some insightful comment, but I'm pretty much left speechless. Lol maybe if I ramble on some, something good will come of it. Or not. But I'll try.

    Honestly, everything you said makes absolutely perfect sense, and it's all something that has NEVER occurred to me before. I didn't even know the rule about not setting a goal time for first time runs! I try to set more-than-easy-to-reach goals in addition to reach-for-the-stars goals, but regardless, goals are set.

    But is that really a bad thing for all personalities? I don't think I can imagine myself training for a new race length and not setting some kind of goal (besides finishing, of course). I mean, I could *say* that my goal is to just finish, but secretly there are always more goals in the back of my mind. There are some training wogs that I go on where my body isn't wanting to cooperate, and I finally concede that I'll just be happy to finish. Yet I still check my watch for my pace periodically, and set mental goals...they may not be for as fast of paces as when my body's cooperating fully, but I still set some kind of goal.

    It's almost like I'm driven. Driven to push myself. No, it's not almost like that--it IS like that. I know that about myself. And even when I don't reach my easy-to-reach goals, I don't get too down on myself. It just pushes me to try harder in the future. And that brings me back to what I began the previous paragraph with. I think personality plays a role as to whether setting goals on less-than-predictable things is such a bad idea. Of course there's always disappointment when a goal isn't met...but the extent of that disappointment varies from person to person, as does what that person does with the disappointment.

    So as much as I absolutely LOVED this blog post, I think I happen to disagree with its thesis. Of course, I'll grant that it's possible I'm deluding myself and failure to meet my goals has a more negative effect on me than I realize. But barring that, I think it's possible (for some) to set goals for the time it'll take to drop X amount of pounds without it being a recipe for disaster. On the one hand, they may set super easy goals to have a great chance of success. Or on the other, perhaps they simply have a driven personality that thrives on pushing toward goals, regardless of whether their previous goals have been met or not.

    I personally think I'm a combination of both of those scenarios. I want to lose 140 pounds in 3 years. That's an average of less than a pound per week, making it more than doable. But even if I don't succeed, I'm not going to quit. As it is, I already lost 60+ pounds, gained it all back (plus 0.4 pounds!), realized I likely wouldn't hit my original 3 year goal, recalculated, and picked myself back up.

    Okay, I think I might be starting to reach the point where this comment is more ramble and less interesting, lol. You've definitely given me something to think about, that's for sure! I don't know if I'll ever be able to get that 3-year goal out of my head, but I have 10ks and half marathons in my future (new distances for me), and who knows, maybe I'll try to set my goal at "just finish" for my first time at those. Or maybe I'll find it impossible to avoid goal-setting. I don't know. I guess we'll see!

    Anyway, thanks for posting this! I really enjoyed reading it and kinda thinking out loud through this comment.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm a rambler myself so I understand and I always welcome disagreement, too :) Gives ME something to think about!

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