Saturday, August 22, 2009

Feeling Thin When You're Still Fat

(Fernando Botero, Ballerina to the Handrail)

Lake Mileage: 5.8k
MP3 Player: Vangelis, Chariots of Fire
Currently Reading: Born Round (Frank Bruni)

I have to say, even at the risk of jinxing my current progress (I'm a superstitious dieter, no question!), that I'm currently at a point where I'm feeling good about what I've accomplished since February. I'm now in the mid-to-low 230's (233 this morning), about 50 lbs. lighter than what I weighed then. That's close to 20% of my worst-case body weight. I feel lighter, I feel thinner. I move more easily and less awkwardly, especially now that solving the running shoe problem has been a major breakthrough on the exercise front. I've gone down several sizes clothes-wise: in the winter I was wearing 42" jeans and 44" khakis from Lands End, now I've dug into the closet and retrieved the 36" jeans and the 38" khakis from 2006-7. People volunteer approvingly that they notice the difference.

The problem is, of course, that in reality I'm nowhere near as thin as I feel. For a 5'8" guy, even an endomorph like me, 233 is still fat. 36" jeans and 38" khakis are still fat clothes. Someone meeting me for the first time would still consider me seriously overweight. I've read any number of books and blogs where a formerly fat guy describes how disgusting and grotesque he was at my current weight, or worse, when he weighed even less than I weigh now. Runners World columnist John "the Penguin" Bingham, whose cheerful embrace of non-elite athleticism I like a great deal, talks about being frightened into weight loss when he weighed 240 - and we're the same height. "I was well past stout. I was rotund," he writes in one of his books. In another he talks about his "ever-widening waist and sagging arms" and describes himself at that time as "a fat cat", as "old and overweight and out of shape." Charlie Hills, whose blog Back to the Fridge I follow and enjoy, talks about the horror of passing 200 lbs. for the first time and makes jokes about hardly being able to see the scale numbers with his gut in the way - but if, oops, when (be positive, people always say) I hit 200 again, I'll be ecstatic. I may faint right there on the scale, in fact.

If a dieter isn't careful, this reality check can take a lot of the gratification out of actual progress. I want to celebrate losing 50 lbs., because it's a big accomplishment. But at the same time, I know that my weight loss so far is only half - and the easier half - of my 100-lb. goal, and even then I'll still be overweight by most people's standards. According to the BMI tables, so far all I've managed to do is go from "Morbidly Obese" to "Obese"! Maybe I shouldn't start celebrating yet.

On the other hand, losing nearly 20% of my body weight is something that a lot of people don't manage to do. And I do in fact feel better, I do in fact move around less effortfully, and I am in fact seriously thinner. If I didn't lose another ounce from today onward, I'd still be healthier living at 233 lbs. than at 284 lbs. And even if other people are still correct when they classify me as fat, that's not the whole story. It's like the stock market - the current price of your shares by itself doesn't matter; what matters is whether that price is higher or lower than what you paid. Maybe my current weight isn't impressive, but compared to where I was, I'm already showing a profit.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

It's All About the Shoes!

Lake Mileage: 5+k
MP3 Player: Torchwood: Golden Age (BBC)
Currently Reading: Strides (Benjamin Cheever)

Maybe the Wicked Witch of the West, Glinda the Good Witch, and Dorothy were right all along: you just can't get anywhere without the right shoes. A few years ago, my running was going well; I was putting in 4-6 miles/day, which made it a lot easier to control my weight and gave me much more energy. Then I let myself get talked into buying a different running shoe: the Brooks Beast, which is marketed to "heavier runners." Since I definitely fit that category, even when I was fitter, I thought using shoes designed for endomorphs might be a good precaution in my early 40's. For the first year or so, they were comfortable enough, but then in June 2007 I had a huge flare-up of my old enemy, Plantar Fasciitis - and somehow I managed to blame this on my own "over-training", without even considering the fact that I'd just started wearing the newest 2007 model of the Beast. Since then I've sporadically tried to get running again, but I could never build up any distance without the PF causing progressively more pain, so I always had to give up and settle for the elliptical or something far less satsifying.

This spring and summer have been no different. As you know if you've looked at previous entries in this blog, I've been trying to get back to running at the nearby lake with its 5k running loop, partly with the help of the Podrunner intervals. At first those were great because they didn't put any strain on me, but as they shifted the proportion of running (okay, jogging, shuffling, pick your word!) to walking, my lower legs and arches were starting to complain. Anything much past 3k of steady running/jogging would leave me sore, sometimes limping, and not sore in the good way of having sore muscles after a real workout, either. This was a bad kind of sore, the kind that's warning you about being headed for serious problems. I was happy that I could at least cover the whole distance, but I still wished I could run/jog all of it, and I could foresee that soon I wasn't going to be able to keep up with the Podrunner's pace. I was doing this, of course, wearing this year's version of the Brooks Beast (I never bought the 2008), which I'd bought - ironically - for maximum protection, in an effort to cure the PF.

Then a couple weeks ago, I happened to be glancing through an old issue of Runner's World. An article about shoe selection said something about how the Beast was one of the good shoes for the runners built like me (they like to call us "Clydesdales"), because heavy runners nearly always over-pronate - that is, we roll the foot inward when we stride, putting lots of weight on the arch of the foot. The Beast compensates for that by being what's called a "motion-control shoe." This kind of running shoe is rigid and engineered to correct that inward roll, shifting the runner's weight outward away from the arches. Readers could confirm that they're over-pronators, the article continued, by looking at the wear pattern on the inner soles of their own broken-in shoes.

Well, guess what happened when I felt curious enough to check out my shoes? On every single pair I looked at, all the wear was on the outer edge of the shoe; on the running shoes, it was absolutely obvious that I push off at every stride with the outside of the foot, digging in with the last couple toes rather than the big toe. My foot doesn't roll inward at all when I stride.

This was when I began to wonder if the Beast was helping me or hurting me. If I already tend to supinate, wearing a shoe that effectively causes extra supination (to correct pronation) is going to exaggerate the imbalance rather than neutralizing it. Maybe this was why I couldn't seem to run even 5k without the various pains starting? Maybe the arch supports were stretching and hurting my arches instead of supporting them? Maybe the 2007 Beast was even the reason for the sudden return of my PF?

So I did more research, and decided to try a different shoe: a "neutral" shoe that's not engineered to correct a runner's motion, and one with enough cushioning to take my weight. I found a sale with a great price on the Nike Air Pegagus, now 25 years old, which was one of the first expensive running shoes I ever bought in college! (I seem to recall a pair of Saucony Jazz in there, too, but the Pegasus was definitely my favorite then.) The Pegasus is a straightforward neutral cushioned running shoe, I remembered liking it back when Reagan was president, and the price was definitely right. More important, I had the gut feeling I was onto something.

Well, guess what?! On my first run at the lake wearing the Pegasus, I intended to run the first 2k, walk the third (and middle) kilometer, and then run the last 2k. When I got to the 2k mark, though, I felt so pain-free for a change that I decided I'd keep on running, wait to walk at the 3k mark instead, and then run the last kilometer. That seemed like a fair plan, but I still felt fine at the 3k mark, so I decided I'd run the first 4 kilometers and just walk the last one for a cool-down. But again there was no trace of pain at the 4k mark - which meant that I ran the entire lake loop for the first time in over 2 years!

A few more runs confirmed this: the pain I was having whenever I ran wearing the Beast just didn't happen when I wore the Nikes instead. Once I knew that, I decided to trade up beyond the Pegasus, to the Nike Vomero, which is their top-of-the-line neutral cushioned shoe. So far they feel great!

Maybe it really is all about the shoes.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My First 100 Days!

Lake Mileage: 5+k
MP3 Player: Thomas Hampson, "American Song"
Currently Reading: Full Dark House (Christopher Fowler)

100 days! 100 is yet another one of those magic numbers for us, no doubt courtesy of having evolved with 10 fingers and using base-10 mathematics. And it's certainly true that 100 is no more special a quantity than 99 or 101, except in some arbitrary sense. But nevertheless, even knowing all that, I'm feeling good about the fact that today marks my 100th straight day of exercise: every day since April 24th, I've either done at least 5 k at the lake or done 30-40 minutes on the elliptical when the weather's foul. This may not seem like a major accomplishment to you athletic types out there, but for me, it might actually be a lifetime record! And, better still, real improvement in terms of endurance is happening at the lake: I'm able to run (jog? shuffle? huff and puff?) nearly the entire 5-k loop now, though I still walk the initial part of the first kilometer to make sure I stretch enough and don't get myself into trouble again. Soon, though, I should be able to do the whole distance and then start working, very gradually, on incrementally adding speed: two years ago, before I got injured, I was able to run the entire loop in a little under 30 minutes - far from spectacular, but not awful for a non-athlete. Today I'm nowhere near that, since my "speed" is very modest indeed, but if I work at gradually adding faster segments to the total run, progress shouldn't be out of the question.