Running 3.1 Miles (Or My First 5K)

I used to have a motto that it was pointless to run unless being chased. Thankfully I’ve rarely found myself in a position where I needed to run for safety and therefore rarely ran unless caught in the rain.

I’ve already noted the weight and exercise changes I’ve made over the last couple of years, but running is a pretty new experience. I spent most of the spring training for a backpacking trip planned for June out west. That meant lots of long hikes in hilly terrain worried about distance and not time. I did several hikes of as much as ten miles, but rarely worried about a pace greater than a steady walk.

The backpacking trip didn’t quite go as planned and now will take place in early November. Shortly before that fell apart though I had decided I needed something to work toward once I came back. I was looking at coming back in mid June with the main goal I’d held for my spring gone.

Why I decided to try running I do not know, but somehow it felt like a change of pace. Shorter distances in faster time which sort of flipped what I’d been doing. I figured given the condition I was in I could train about six weeks and have a decent result so I looked for something around the end of July and found it in the Bele Chere 5K in Asheville, NC.

Then shortly afterward June happened. The trip fell apart on me at the last minute. And shortly after I got back from it my father had an accident at work breaking his hip. Several weeks of hospital and rehab for him followed and my training time was the victim. I trained, but not as many days as I’d hoped. I got what I could in, but my goal went to simply finishing. I felt I could walk ten miles without a break still, I worried about being the last person to finish just over three.

Bele Chere was a festival held in downtown Asheville at the end of July that everyone in the city seems to either love or hate. No, the locals I know mostly either hated or ignored it. I use the past tense as it appears this year’s was the last one. I heard more love than most years this time perhaps for that reason. Interestingly I’ve been in the city the last three years during the festival, but this was my only time actually going to it.

I get downtown early. It’s early morning in Asheville and I’m walking around Pack Square park warming up mostly by just walking. My test 5K shortly before the race had been run when I was really tired and a bit under the weather, but my time had been terrible. My goal as I walk around the park next to the start and finish areas is to finish at a pace of twelve minutes per mile or a bit over 37 minutes for the race.

It’s been a cloudy morning and drizzly. The night before had scattered some rain around the city. The calls are for us to start to gather around the start/finish line. I settl toward the back of the middle of the pack figuring it’s about the right spot for me on my pace. Shortly after getting there a noticeable flash occurs in the sky. A lot of cameras have been in use, but this ain’t that. The thunder a bit later confirms this. I take a moment to enjoy the irony that coming over the speakers is AC/DC’s Thunderstruck before wondering how they handle thunderstorms.

Lightning flashes a couple more times in the ten minutes or so before the start. Only the last is close enough to be concerning, but it’s not repeated. What does follow though is a downpour of rain a couple of minutes before the 7:30 A.M. start time.

There are almost 1,200 people there at the race start. I work through the largely empty streets of downtown. I’d had the luck and foresight to wear a cap, but even before I cross the start line it, along with my pants and shirt, are soaked to the skin. It’s a cool morning for July, but the movement means I never feel chilled.

The rain last probably the first five minutes of the race. Water runs down the street and there are puddles everywhere the asphalt dips even slightly. My socks get soaked along the way and I’ve no idea if the splash that did it came from me or another running hitting a puddle.

At the same time the race feels like it takes forever, and seems over in minutes. I cross the finish line 37:03 after the starting gun putting me 941 out of 1,177 people listed on the results site this evening. My official time from start line to finish lines of 36:32 matches my own tracking pretty closely for a pace of 11:56 per mile.

I’m not happy with the time, but already see how to improve. More training of course would have helped, I had to walk an uphill section around the two mile mark that likely cost me at least a minute off my time and I lost probably another minute dealing with my shoe laces. I’d not tired them well and had to stop and retie both along the way.

So the question then is will I do it again? Probably so. I’m looking to train better now that life has gotten a bit less crazy and would like to hit something around thirty minutes for a time. When I don’t know, but I’ll probably start looking at area races toward end of August or into September. Be interesting to see what progress I can make in between.

My Simple, But Not Easy Weight Loss Plan

When you lose over 100 pounds of weight people notice. Especially over the last few months as I’ve moved to pretty close to a normal, healthy weight. Up until a couple months ago when asked I pretty much gave the rather boring answer of “I ate less and exercised more.” That’s really true, but misses a lot of the details. Everyone know that you have to eat less and exercise more to lose weight, but most people, including myself many times, fail to do it.

So what did I do differently this time? A few months ago I wrote a bit about the process, but now let me describe a bit of the daily things I did that worked for me. These I think are the things that I did to lose weight and feel that I’ll keep it off going forward. I’m a lot of things, but not a doctor, trainer, or nutritionist or any other professional at this so take this advice as just what worked for me. I’m not trying to sell you anything, but some of the links to products below might be affiliate links, but they’re the things I’ve used myself.

Exercise feels lousy when you first start, but eventually you do start to actually enjoy it and feel better afterward. Even now though when I’d consider myself in the best shape of my life, I still often feel that nagging laziness when it comes time to work out. At some point just telling yourself to do it and doing so really is everything. I’d developed an enjoyment of hiking early in my weight loss process, partly tying into an interest in outdoor photography, and did a lot of that over the last couple of years. Late last fall I started training for my backpacking trip this summer that didn’t quite work out as planned and will now take place in the fall, but the process meant three to six mile hike much of the winter and spring. Together these meant I spent much more time outdoors and active. After getting past the initial “I hate exercise” adjustment I did also found it burned off stress nicely. I’ve had a few rather stressful periods in the last year and I found that going for a hike or getting onto the elliptical during the dreary weather days when getting outside didn’t seem a great plan worked wonders for my stress and at the same time helped me lose weight and feel better. Gradually exercise stopped always feeling like a chore or work. So I found a way to make exercise, while not always enjoyable, at least not something to dread. I always enjoyed getting outdoors for a hike, but when not I was at least able to remember that while the first few minutes on an elliptical were rough, I’d feel better at the end.

And that’s the first element, just deciding to do it and sticking to it. It’s not easy to make time, but in the end I valued it enough to do so. You don’t get more time, just allocate what you have differently. I found that audio books and podcasts worked well for me while exercising giving my mind something to focus on when on the elliptical other than somewhat dull routine. A nice pair of headphones for some of the less wild and more boring trails in the area also let me take those same things with me on hikes.

The second element really comes down to awareness. I started paying attention to how much I ate and what I ate. I paid attention to how much activity I did and what type of activity I did. When I decided to make a good final push last fall and get beyond the slow weight loss I’d seen to that point, I started tracking things. Doing this can be a nuisance, and it’s easy to get bogged down to a level where you want to give up in frustration.

I began tracking everything I ate and it’s nutritional value. For packaged foods this is simply on the label. Many larger or chain restaurants provide nutritional info on their web sites. And sometimes you just have to guess based on that you had a salad with Italian dressing and grilled fish. Doing this made me think a bit more about what I ate before I ate. It’s one thing to overindulge on cookies, but another to then look at what you ate and see the effect they had on your diet. Seeing I’d had a hamburger at lunch made me a little more likely to pick something healthier at dinner. So I became more aware of what I ate. Reading the nutritional info for restaurants was very eye opening. I was especially surprised how often the healthier looking or sounding option at a restaurant wasn’t any less caloric or more nutritious than the hamburger.

There are web sites that can do this or simply paper and pen, but I mostly used apps on my iPhone to track my food. I started with using Lose It! on my iPhone, but ended up using the app from Fitbit since it tied into the activity tracker I’ll mention in a moment. I still use Lose It! for the ability to build custom recipes for meals that I create when cooking at home and it ties into Fitbit so anything I enter in Lose It! shows in Fitbit.

For tracking my activity I started with a now discontinued Fitbit. It worked pretty well, but after a couple months I sold it on eBay and bought the newer Fitbit One Wireless Activity Plus Sleep Tracker. I loved this thing so much that when I lost mine on my trip to Arizona in early June I ordered a replacement the same day. The small size is nice in that it’s pretty discreet while being worn, but it is easily lost, especially as the case become more lose over time. I lost mine while clipped to my belt as I worked to get myself and too much luggage from the rental car center to the airport in Phoenix before returning home. I now wear it clipped in a pocket most of the time so if it does fall out it’s not lost, something I wish I’d started a bit sooner. This device tracks steps taken and floors climbed during the day. I can also monitor how well I sleep. It’s not perfect, but does give a decent determination of how many calories I burn and how active I am during the day. I found that knowing how many steps I took helped me realize what led to me being less active (see winter weekends) and adapt for them.

In December I also added in a heart rate monitor for exercise. The Fitbit does well with walking based activities such as walking, running, and hiking, but doesn’t work as well with stationary activities like weight lifting, the elliptical, and cycling. For those I found the heart rate monitor gave me a more accurate number. I ended up using a Wahoo Fitness Blue HR Heart Rate Strap for iPod/iPhone that connects to my phone using Bluetooth. I’ve tried a number of apps, but settled on the Digifit iCardio to use while indoors on the elliptical or any other inside workout. I found it less useful for outdoor exercise as the GPS seems unreliable. For tracking outdoors I use RunKeeper which tracks and maps my hikes. I also like MotionX GPS, but find it more useful for hiking than as exercise tracking. I’ve mostly use RunKeeper for anything outdoors.

None of these are perfect. That’s not a problem. I really don’t worry about getting every calorie to the exact amount or exercise to the exact calorie matters. The key is that these tools made me more aware of what I did and that seemed to be enough for me. There were days I went for a walk in the evening just to get a few more steps onto the counter before bed. There were many days I’d have a salad for lunch so I could feel better about the hamburger I’d be eating for dinner at a cookout. I tracked as close as I could and tried to keep a steady deficit between what I ate and what I burned.

A Goal Reached

On the morning of April 3, 2013, I stepped onto the scale and it read 189.5. The number may not seem that special on a glance, but to me it’s a big milestone. It marks the conclusion of more than two years of work to drop over 100 pounds. To put the change into a bit more into context in 2010 I wore an extra large shirt and forty four inch waist pants that sometimes felt snug. Today I wear either a a medium shirt or small shirt depending on the type and maker and pants with a thirty four inch waist. That’s a drop of three or so shirt sizes and ten inches off my waist. So forgive me a bit to indulge in a bit of a story of getting from there to here. I’ll have another post in a few days more on what I did so think of this more as the overview.

The highest weight I ever saw on a scale came in late 2010 when I weighed in at 290 pounds. While that was the one measured weight, it probably moved 290 and 300 pounds for much of the late summer and early fall of 2010. There wasn’t any kind of epiphany that day. I never really recall a single moment of “I need to lose weight.” If anything it was just the slow realization that I didn’t like being this heavy. At some level maybe that 300 number I knew I’d reach anytime in my current path started the pressure.

As December arrived I started exercising. Nothing outstanding or grand. Some days I walked, but being winter I I mostly used my elliptical. If I remember right my first exercise session lasted about ten minutes and I felt exhausted. I wanted to avoid gaining weight over the holidays and as I got past Christmas I’d succeeded and still hadn’t hit that 300 pound mark. In January I moved to exercising two or three days a week on an elliptical for about twenty minutes at a time. I didn’t really diet, but became a bit more aware of what I ate. Not cutting out anything, but ordering the small instead of the large when eating out.

And it worked. I don’t remember the exact amount, but maybe ten or fifteen pounds as spring 2011 got here. Whatever the amount a few acquaintances and friends commented on it. That was I think the shift, that I’d not only been able to lose weight, but enough to be noticed by others. Don’t underestimate that feedback that came in being a motivation to keep going.

Another incentive with spring coming came from an interest in getting outdoors more for hiking and photography I’d developed the year before. I wanted to be better able to take those hikes without spending as much time resting and recovering as I’d done before. From that first time on the elliptical when ten minutes at a slow pace left me exhausted I could now do thirty minutes at a decent speed. And while I felt tired afterward, I was no longer exhausted. Walking up several flights of stairs into work still left me winded, but not as much as before. I noticed the changes. They were subtle even after a few months, but I had changed.

I again looked at my food intake. I didn’t go onto a real diet and I didn’t stop eating what I wanted. I just ate a little less of it. I’d have a salad on occasion for lunch. I paid attention to portions trying to east smaller ones. No more large fries with lunch and now I’d have one hot dog instead of two or the regular burger and not the double. Not much, but the small things will add up over time. The weight came on over years and it wouldn’t go away overnight. By the end of the summer of 2011 I’d dropped down to about 250 pounds. I exercised pretty regularly now, usually five days a week. The only stretch of any length I missed was after tweaking my back helping a friend move furniture and taking most of a week off to let it heal.

I hit a wall a bit there. I made it to around 245 as September moved to October and really didn’t move much over the rest of 2011. When 2012 began I’d gotten to about 240 pounds. It seemed I’d lost more fat than weight. My health was undeniably better and I had better endurance and strength than probably since I’d been in college. Still I just couldn’t get the weight to budge more. I finally figured out the months of futility came to medicine I took, but whose dosage hadn’t been adjusted for the weight loss. Once I made that change and over the next few months I got my weight down through 230 and to near 225. Then I kind of took the summer of 2012 off a bit and just worked to maintain weight.

By the time I got to fall I was ready for a more serious effort. I wanted rid of the extra weight and back to a normal rate. I was ready to focus and do the work to get there at a faster pace. I set the goal to reach 200 pounds by January 1, 2013.

As September began I started tracking my activity, everything I ate, and my weight daily. Before I’d weighed more sporadically, often just when I remembered to. There are cons to weighing everyday, but overall I think it worked well for me in this case. In September I weighted in at 227. I started a steady drop keeping to a target of dropping a bit over 1.5 pounds per week with the goal of weighing in at 200 pounds on January 1. In the end I missed it by only a few days. I continued the drop through January and took another short break through February. I’m now under the 190 mark that always felt like a big goal to me of getting to 100 pounds below my peak.

I’m not done yet as I have a bit more weight to go. My next target is to get to around 180 and I think I’ll be pretty close to a good weight for me once I get there. In addition to the weight I’d really say the bigger change came in my overall health. I’m probably in better shape now than I’d ever been. I can walk up flights of stairs while having a conversation. I regularly do four mile hikes and while tired, feel quite good after them.