Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On the Trail

I first started running 21 years ago at the tender age of 16. In desperate need to shed some weight, running seemed like the best form of exercise to undertake. In conjunction with a couple of hours of bike riding (both stationary and 18-speed) per day, I I managed to shed 60 pounds that spring and early summer.

I've been running ever since, even as I gained back (and lost and gained and lost and gained and lost) the weight. The thing is, until about six years ago I never ran more than a few miles without stopping or walking. As a teenager I would walk the two and a half miles to the park, then start my running - one loop around the park at around 1.25 miles, plus the distance back. For most of my twenties when I ran it was usually a long combination of running and walking. It wasn't until Super Bowl Sunday, 2008 (the Giants shock the undefeated Patriots) that I finally ran more than five miles uninterrupted.

Since that day I've consistently been able to run without more than cursory walk stops, although there have been a few 90+ degree days after which I realized I shouldn't be out on the trail. By the end of 2008 I was running five times a week, and capped it off by running a half marathon length on the trail. The marathon was next.

And then kids happened. They say husbands often gain sympathy weight during pregnancy. I didn't - but did afterwards. My running became more sporadic. I was still able to run 7 or even 8 miles when I could find the time, but finding such time was becoming rarer and rarer. Finally, after the birth of our third child, I resolved to stop making excuses. I spent the winter shedding most of the weight I had gained back since the birth of our first child, and then vowed that I would get into marathon shape.

And so here I am, almost halfway through 18-weeks of semi-rigorous training. I decided to follow Hal Higdon's Novice 2 training schedule. It's geared for people like me who have never run a marathon but who have experience running. At this point in the training I am running not quite 30 miles a week, which is not stupendously rigorous. This past Saturday I ran 15 miles, which is the longest I have run at any point in my life, and there are longer runs ahead.

The only thing I have sacrificed is sleep. My alarm gets me out of bed by 5:30 most mornings, and thus far I have managed to stifle those internal voices telling me to just hit snooze and forget about working out. It hasn't been that difficult to rouse myself, as I frankly look forward to running and sort of resent my non-running days (which are three days out of the week).

Only once in the nine weeks so far have I thought to myself, "Why the hell am I doing this?" It came in the middle of a particularly 12-mile run, and I imagine it will cross my mind again as the long runs get longer. But as long as I have some good tunes and a peaceful trail at my disposal, I'm feeling good.

At any rate, nine weeks from this Saturday I will be running the Baltimore Marathon. If I finish the thing in under five hours I'd be pretty happy, and I'd be ecstatic with 4.5 hours. Then again, as long as I finish the damned thing, I think I will feel some sense of accomplishment.

Almost there.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The Basic Tenets of BBQism

Sorry for the very extended delay. I've found that once you let a blog go for a few days, it is hard to get back in the game. Hopefully now that I am fully in the middle of a marathon training (more in a future post) I will have some more things to share.

This post is a random assortment of observations and pet peeves that will hopefully serve as some kind of guidance.

1.  Enough with the no-fat nonsense.
I was corrected on Facebook for particularly focusing on yogurt as there may be some practical reasons for the existence for non-fat yogurt, but in general non-fat stuff is simply crap. Not only does non-fat food usually taste significantly worse than full-fat food, it's not any healthier. Calories are what counts, not necessarily where the calories are from, and non-fat stuff is usually loaded up with sugar. In the end, you are consuming just about the same amount of calories. What's more, fat tends to fill you up more than sugar, so you are likely to get hungrier quicker if you go with the non-fat option. Finally, who wants to taste a dry, 90% lean burger when you can have a glorious 80% or even 75% lean one?

2. Dieting isn't what you think it is.
This is connected to the first point. You might think that in order to lose weight you need to stop eating things like bacon and eggs and replace these items with "healthy" alternatives. In some cases you may have to, but that is rarely the case. People overestimate how many calories are in things like bacon and eggs and underestimate how much are in other products. Four slices of bacon add up to approximately 200-250 calories, depending on the cut. Two whole eggs are about 150 calories total, and less than half than that if you only eat the whites (which is frankly where a lot of the nutrition is). So a breakfast of bacon and eggs will be anywhere between 300-500 calories, depending on how you prepare it. That "healthy" muffin might contain as many calories if not more, and it will not fill you up or keep you as full as the alternative. Even a fruit smoothie will probably contain as many, if not more calories. Now, there are other reasons to go with the fruit smoothie (like the vitamins), but calories shouldn't be why.

Long story short, the key to dieting is keeping careful track of what you eat. If you need to write down what you eat, especially at the beginning, in order to track your calories, that's all well and good. The main thing is that you at least don't intake more calories than you burn if you're goal is weight maintenance, and to burn more calories than you consume if your goal is weight loss. It doesn't exactly matter what you eat, which brings me to point number three.

3. Fad diets will fail.
If you're on a diet that requires you to stop eating entire categories of food, it almost certainly will not work in the long run. I am sympathetic to some of the specialized diets that are out there, especially the paleo diet. There are definitely foods that do pack more nutritional punches than others, and if you are on a strict calorie count you need to economize on the foods you eat, so it is wise to avoid those sugar-laden, processed foods. But are you going to tell me that potatoes and legumes are completely out? Please. You shouldn't have to walk around with a list in order to decide whether or not you can eat something. Not only is it going to prevent you from eating relatively healthy foods, but it will eventually simply drive you mad, until you crack, eat the forbidden food, and despair that you have blown your diet.

Even worse than ditching food categories are ditching food elements, which leads me to item four . . .

4. Stop it with the gluten free stuff already.
Unless you are gluten sensitive or have celiac disease, knock it off with the gluten free madness. First of all, half the stuff that gets labelled "gluten free" couldn't possibly have gluten. Oh, you went to Whole Foods and spent an extra five bucks for that "gluten free" steak. Good for you, now here's a smack for being an idiot. More importantly, gluten is just a protein. The thing itself has no adverse impact on your diet, unless of course you are in the aforementioned categories. Maybe it's the entire loaf of bread that you ate that's causing you indigestion, not the gluten that's in it.

5. Stop listening to fraudulent experts.
This one's dangerous because here I am giving you advice, and I have no scientific or health background, but at least I'm not pretending to be an expert. But when a business major who goes around calling herself the "Food Babe" declares that certain foods are dangerous because they contain chemicals she's never heard of, somehow millions of people listen. Yeah, we better look out that dihydrogen monoxide, it sure looks suspicious.

Folks like the Food Babe have led efforts to warn people about the supposed dangers of genetically modified foods. Of course these people pose as experts despite lacking any relevant expertise, meanwhile they get rich by ripping off dupes getting people to buy their organic and "wholesome" products.

Let's settle this now - there is no credible evidence indicating that GMO products are a greater health risk than organic food. Now if you want to spend double buying organic because it soothes your conscience, that's on you, just don't manipulate people into thinking they are improving their health or frankly that the food tastes significantly better. And please don't brainwash people into thinking that something that literally feeds millions more people than traditional methods is somehow evil.

6. Don't obsess.
The worst thing you can do about food, dieting and health is to stress about it, because stress itself is bad for your health and bad for your diet. There is a lot of information out there, and a lot of different resources telling you completely contradictory things. What you need to do is find out what works for you, and stick to your program. That's it.

Now as my grandmother would say, MANGIA!