Vive La Différence!

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As I reported last week, having resumed the option to drink wine at dinner has decreased the likelihood that I have time or motivation to exercise in the evening.  Since one of my key goals this year is to maintain my weight loss, this presents a real challenge that I’m committed to solving. Recall that not drinking was the main contributor to my losing over 20 pounds last year, as detailed in this post from last April.

For me, not drinking resulted in three positive weight-loss benefits: (1) It directly eliminated a few hundred empty calories each day from my diet, (2) It kept me more focused on what and how much I was eating, and (3) It freed up my evenings, making it very easy to exercise at night.

These past several weeks I’ve been tinkering with my routine, trying to find a formula that allows me to enjoy food and wine with my husband, further my marathon training, and maintain my weight. My concerns that adding alcohol back into the mix could reverse the positive results I achieved last year are well-founded. I’ve noticed more than once that just a few days of complacency result in some extra pounds.

Initially, I drank wine most evenings at dinner and changed my weekday routine by getting up early in the morning to run. I really thought this was going to be the right solution for me. After all, in the old days, they used to say that morning was the best time for a workout, because it let you get it out of the way quickly and set you up for a better, more energized rest of the day. This is still recommended by a lot of fitness bloggers and medical experts, including in this article and this one . I’ve been pretty good at following through with this routine change, happily getting up between 5 o’clock and 5:30 to hit the treadmill before work.

Although a strong 5-mile morning workout puts me in a great mood, unfortunately, it doesn’t appear to help me shed those pesky two pounds. Further routine tinkering has revealed that the evening workouts are much more effective for me.

And, it’s not just about whether I have wine at dinner. In fact, my results appear almost equally as good whether I make time to exercise before dinner (even with wine) or whether I skip wine at dinner and exercise later in the evening. It turns out that my routine and results testing confirm a new “discovery” in the exercise and weight loss industry: everyone is different and you have to figure out what’s best for you. Some great articles about this trend include this one on WebMD and this one from the American Heart Association.

What does this all mean for me? As I begin to step up my marathon training for the season, I’m planning to skip wine most Mondays through Thursdays, so that I can bank an extra hour of sleep in the morning and increase the likelihood that I’ll workout in the evening. On the weekends, I’m going to push out my workouts to the afternoon, closer to the time when I’ll be enjoying all of that great food and wine.

My Dry Year: Third Quarter Report

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Now that I’m three-quarters of the way through my New Year’s resolution to not drink alcohol in 2014, it’s time for a quick update to the “Dry Year” thread of this blog.

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First of all, I’m very proud to report that I am still dry and I don’t miss drinking.  It’s true that I missed it early on, had mild withdrawal symptoms the first few weeks, and even had a nightmare in which I broke my resolution by inadvertently drinking a glass of wine. It also took longer than I had expected to develop the new habit of not drinking.

By the end of May, I had already achieved my goal weight and lost a total of 30 pounds (when you include the 7 pounds I lost last year). I explained exactly how I did it in this blog post.Although I had a few challenges along the way, I’m pleased to report that four months later, I am holding steady at 135 pounds, which is a few pounds below the goal weight I had set for myself.

June 2014 (after) CROPPED

In the first half of the year, I had also already achieved my personal record (or “PR”) marathon time. How I did that is explained here. It should be no surprise that, just as I had predicted early on, losing so much weight was the biggest contributor.

SCF with pace group

After achieving these two main goals so early in the year, I wrestled with the question of whether or not I want to start drinking again when 2015 rolls around. In the end, I decided that I want to have a glass of very nice champagne at midnight this coming New Year’s Eve and then play it by ear after that.

I also decided to add a stretch goal into the mix for the second half of 2014: qualifying for the Boston Marathon.  My first “BQ” attempt — as qualifying for the Boston Marathon is known to avid runners — on my 46th birthday in July was a real disaster. Despite that, it was an unforgettable experience to cross the finish line with a very close friend, no matter how long it took us.

This brings us to today.  This morning, I completed my last race of the season by trying one more time to BQ. I was very happy with my training plan, picked a course that had a nice sloping downhill, went to the race properly hydrated and fueled, and even wore a temporary tattoo with my mile-by-mile race plan on my forearm. All signs pointed to a great day on the course.

What was the result? I really killed the first half of the race, achieving a PR half-marathon time of 01:51:55 and stayed on my planned pace through 20 miles. Then, it got very hot and I started to slow and I worried that I might over-heat. Although I didn’t qualify for Boston, I am extremely proud of myself for pushing through the last several miles to the finish line and cutting another 19 minutes off my best marathon time.

887_Marathon_283 (Clarence Demar - Keene - 09-28-14)

As far as qualifying for Boston is concerned, that’s a goal I will happily carry with me into 2015. If you have any other ideas for New Year’s resolutions for 2015 for me, please leave those as comments to today’s blog post.

Why Not Try It for One Month?

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Earlier this year, I was talking to someone I had just met and it came up that I had recently lost over 20 pounds. The guy was really excited when he heard this and asked the inevitable question: “How did you do it?” I told him the same thing that I told all of you in this blog post: the foundation was quitting drinking alcohol as my New Year’s resolution.  He didn’t miss a beat before giving me a wide grin and saying: “No, thanks. I don’t need to lose weight that bad.” (In my opinion, he certainly did.)

I have gotten similar responses from more than a few other people. Every time, it saddens me. I was able to lose 20 pounds in a little over three months after quitting drinking. And I want other people who express an interest in losing weight to try it. What does it say about someone if they’re not even willing to consider quitting drinking for 90 days? Perhaps it indicates that these are precisely the people who should be putting alcohol on hiatus.

Don’t get me wrong. I know there are as many ways to lose 20 pounds as there are people who need to lose the weight. But my own experience makes me wish there were more willingness to – just temporarily — change this one thing. It’s true that you have to do a few other things to make real progress. However, quitting alcohol is one of the best starts you can make.

Months ago, I described the many reasons why I felt that cutting out alcohol was the best way for me to kick-start my dieting process in this post. It was, by far, the easiest time I had losing weight. Sometimes I still don’t believe it’s true. However, every time I step on the scale, I see that I have really lost over 20 pounds this year.

It’s not just me. There are also plenty of others who say the same thing. A blogger on a similar journey to my own shares these insights gained from giving up alcohol to lose weight. Also check out this article, this one, and this one from Livestrong. Not to mention these thoughts from a woman who lost 100 pounds and says that giving up alcohol was the most important step for her. It’s no coincidence that the South Beach Diet, one of the most popular and effective diets for more than a decade, bans all alcohol in Phase 1.

If you don’t want to lose weight, ignore this advice. However, if you are one of those people who envies me for having returned to my ideal weight or knows deep down that you would feel much happier and be much healthier if you lost a little weight, try it. Quit drinking for just one month and let me know how it goes.

My sixth month without alcohol is drawing to a close and I certainly wouldn’t trade what I’ve experienced along the way for one sip of anything.

How I Gained Then Lost 30 Pounds

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Believe it or not, I gained 30 pounds through the years, beginning when I lived in Scottsdale, Arizona in the early 2000s up until when I stepped on the scale here in my Vermont home on January 1, 2013.

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(Above: My driver’s license at age 16. I recall deducting 5 pounds from my actual weight when I filled in the form. Nearly 30 years later, I’m an inch taller and weigh the same).

This is exactly how it went down (or, should I say, up?):

The first 10 pounds were the result of my thyroid slowing down, due to the radiation treatment I received in early 2002 to combat a hyper-thyroidal condition caused by Graves’ Disease.  Although it is an interesting and somewhat scary story, I won’t bore you with the details of how it temporarily affected my life. What’s pertinent here is that, after enjoying most of my life below this weight, I didn’t get below 145 pounds again until earlier this year.

The next 10 pounds were much more enjoyable to gain. I attribute them to a combination of my husband’s excellent cooking and my love of drinking wine along with all of that great food. I guess that, without the thyroid condition, I probably still would have gained at least 10 pounds through the second half of my ‘30s as a result of discovering the joys of great food and good wine. And, to be honest, I loved every minute of it!

The last 10 pounds somehow got tacked on seasonally one winter, a few years after we moved back to Vermont, in 2007.  I started putting on a few pounds at the tail end of each running season in the late fall, and continued adding them straight through the holidays, from a combination of going out to eat more, not resisting the plethora of holiday snacks in the office and at parties, and a seasonal curtailing of my commitment to exercise. As you might have guessed, weight gain during the holiday season is common, although studies about it vary.

Most of these last 10 pounds I could lose pretty easily when I put in the effort, usually as a New Year’s Resolution. And I did so a few times. At one point in 2012, I had lost 15 pounds, only to gain it all back later in the year. Over the course of 2013, I lost 10 pounds early on, but ended up down seven pounds at year-end, mainly from a modest commitment to exercise and by not pigging-out over the holidays. 

That’s a condensed version of how I found myself weighing 158 pounds when New Year’s 2014 rolled around. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that I decided to give up alcohol for the year and also to leverage this resolution to lose 20 additional pounds and to achieve my fastest marathon running time.

In a blog post in late April, I announced that I had lost the 20 pounds and attributed my success to four things: (1) Quitting drinking, (2) Telling the world about it, (3) Approaching it like a marathon, and (4) Using an app to track everything.

My marathon training schedule required me to step up my exercise regime beyond what I had done in the past. And I worked very, very hard on not “blowing it” during my training by over-compensating or over-rewarding myself; I described these strategies here. It paid off! During May, I lost 3 additional pounds.

I simply cannot believe that I have now lost all 30 pounds that I had gained these last dozen years. My new challenge is to maintain my weight at 135 pounds. In fact, I am adding a new goal to the mix: Keeping the 30 pounds off over the next year, so that I can join the National Weight Control Registry.  

Embracing Stretch Goals

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To be completely honest, when I set my secondary New Year’s resolution goals of losing 20 pounds and getting my Personal Record (“PR “) marathon time, I knew that I would be successful.

Sure enough, last week, I announced that I’ve already lost the weight. And — knock on wood — with my first marathon of the season just a few weeks away, I feel confident that I will get my marathon PR early.

**If you are not very interested in running, please stop reading now and tune in next week, when I promise to write about something else.**

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(Above: My view during my half marathon last weekend. Having my brother as my pacer, helped be achieve my best performance since 2005.)

To help ensure that I get my PR, I already contacted the Vermont City Marathon’s 4.5 hour pace team to introduce myself. Since my fastest marathon time so far is 4:31:10, sticking with this group will help me squeak in a new record. I’ll let you know whether or not I am successful over Memorial Day weekend. 

Since I realized early on that these two sub-goals were sandbagged, I announced another goal for my dry year about a month ago. It’s the big kahuna: qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This is a “stretch goal,” defined as a goal that “cannot be achieved by incremental or small improvements but requires extending oneself to the limit to be actualized.” Some people might even say that it’s impossible for me to “Boston Qualify,” or BQ. I mentioned my current PR marathon time above. To qualify for Boston, I need to cut more than 35 minutes off my best time.

Do I think I can do it? You bet. However, like everything else worth striving for in life, it will take goal setting, commitment, and follow-through. This is a great summary on how to set athletic goals. In order to BQ, I am now approaching every single workout with multiple goals in my head: the minimum I will accept, the true goal, and the stretch goal. I find that I am reaching these true goals and, such as in the half marathon last weekend, I am sometimes even surpassing the stretch goal. 

I’ve already significantly improved my chances of cutting 35 minutes off of my marathon time by quitting drinking and losing 20 pounds. In a previous blog post I shared this summary given to Princeton athletes on the negative impacts of alcohol on athletic performance and this Runner’s World article about how running weight makes people faster.

Additionally, I am committed to a more aggressive training plan, Hal Higdon’s Marathon Intermediate 2. Compared to my past training, this plan requires me to run three times during the work week, with the Wednesday run peaking at 10 miles. It also has a very rigorous weekend running schedule that features a Saturday run at my planned marathon pace that also peaks at 10 miles. Running at pace on Saturdays means that I have to run the Sunday long run fatigued. Speaking of the Sunday long run, a beginner’s training program peaks with an 18-mile run, and an intermediate program peaks with one 20-mile run. This plan requires that I run three 20-mile training runs. Honestly, that’s rough.

A seasoned, marathon-running friend, who is affectionately known as “B-Rad,” once told me, “I run marathons at a minimum every third week, because I hate those long training runs.” I do, too. So, with B-Rad’s training in mind, I have scheduled two marathons prior to my BQ race, as well as three half marathons. This helps me mentally by limiting the number of long training runs. From here on out, I just need to do one each of a 15-, 16-, 18- and 20-mile training run in preparation for my BQ try on July 25th.

Since my recent half marathon performance exceeded my stretch goal, I absolutely believe that I can qualify for Boston. This was my first sub-2 hour “half” since 2006 (see my Arizona Road Racer results here). My time of 1:55:57 in the Middlebury Maple Run was 21 minutes faster than my own performance in the same race last year. A year ago, I placed 44th out of 62 women in my group, women in their 40’s. This year, I placed 10th out of 54, well into the top 20% of my group.

I checked in with Runner’s World’s Race Times Predictor to see how this half marathon performance should translate on marathon day. It equates to a 4:02:00 marathon time, 29 minutes faster than my current PR but seven minutes slower than what I need to BQ. This is great news! Vermont is hilly, while my BQ course is flat. Middlebury has a lot unpredictable and varied terrain, while my BQ course is a five-mile loop that I will run multiple times.

For good measure, I also put my target marathon time into the Race Times Predictor and learned that a 1:52:00 half marathon time is equivalent. I’m trying for that time, a PR for that distance, in the Crowley Road Race in early July. Wish me luck. And, as you might expect, I’ll let you know how it goes.

Dogs As Running Partners

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For the third year in a row, I am training for a marathon. This year, my secret weapon is my new running partner. She was carefully selected from hundreds of available options. She is relatively tall and lean and from a long line of very energetic stock. In fact, you could say that she was bred to run around all day long. She is always ready to go and, no matter what, she encourages me forward, particularly on my longest training runs.

Who is this amazing running partner? My dog, Cleopatra, a 15-month old Jack Russell-hound mix that my husband and I rescued in October last year. This link takes you to the website of the wonderful organization in New York State that pulled Cleo out of a kill shelter in Alabama, from which we adopted her.

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(Above: This selfie was taken the day we adopted Cleo, in the car on the way home.)

I knew at first sight that she’d make a great running partner. I didn’t know how great until one day after an 8-mile run when Cleo ran circles around our house and property in a full-on sprint for several minutes. “Hmmmm,” I murmured out loud, “I guess she can run further than 8 miles.”

When I told my husband and some of my friends about Cleo’s running prowess, each time I was asked things like “Is it good for her?” and “How far can she run?” This prompted me to do some research.

According to all of the articles I found, including this one from Outside, this one from Animal Planet, and this one from Runner’s World, Cleo makes it into the top 10 running dogs on both sides of her family. She’s half Jack Russell which is number 10 and half some sort of hound that is most likely a pointer. The pointers are represented in the top 10 by Weimaraner at number 2 and Vizsla at number 8. German pointer is also on the list.

Animal Planet points to these breeds as being particularly great at running long distances. According to the article, “If your daily journey consists of a ten mile trek or more, then the following dogs will be able to keep up with you because of their medium build and the muscles in their hind parts: German shorthaired pointers, Goldendoodles, Jack Russell terriers, Weimaraners and Vizslas.”

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(Above: Cleo loves to run and has a great build for it.)

This information was very encouraging and also seemed validated in my several training runs with Cleo so far. However, I was reminded by this post at The SparkPeople that it’s important to check with my vet before pushing her too hard. I immediately called to make an appointment and decided to wait until seeing the vet before taking Cleo beyond 10 miles again. I’m very glad I did.

Dr. Heath McNutt, at Riverside Pet Care in Ludlow and Rutland, Vermont, is a wonderful person who is remarkably dedicated to the animals he treats. Based on our experience with him as the vet for our dearly departed and beloved Roxy, I have great trust in his expertise and opinion. During Cleo’s check-up, I told Dr. McNutt what I learned online about dogs running and that I was hoping Cleo could come along on all of my training runs, even the 20 milers.  His response gave me a lot to think about.

“When I think about dogs running long distances, it stresses me out,” Dr. McNutt began ominously. “Human bodies are built better for running. Dogs are generally designed to run really fast for short periods of time. Just because they are willing to do it, it doesn’t mean it’s best for them. That said, I also acknowledge that some breeds are better suited to running than others.”

He then told me that it’s important for me to check-in with Cleo on the faster runs and the longer runs and to stop or significantly slow down if she is excessively panting or has a dry tongue. He further explained that terrain is important. “For example, stay off of asphalt in the summer and watch for sore feet,” he said.

Dr. McNutt could tell that I wanted him to be more specific in his guidance about how to best incorporate Cleo into my training schedule. I was glad when he thought for an extra few moments and added, “I think the long runs at your pace are fine. She can move all day long. But, I would be more concerned about the (racing) pace runs. She won’t complain, because she is a natural athlete.”

This was really great information. I’m so glad that I checked with my vet to make sure that what I had researched made sense in our specific situation. Now, I better understand which parts of my training are appropriate for Cleo and which are not. I have decided to limit Cleo’s pace runs to 6 miles. On the long runs, I’ll be sure to check her feet, panting, and tongue every 3-4 miles. Finally, I’m going to map my longer runs in loops near my house, so that I have a bail-out for Cleo mid-run, just in case.

 

P.S. Since Cleo is so popular, I’m adding some additional photos of her. She is full grown at almost 31 pounds.

Cleo 4

Cleo 1

Cleo 3

Cleo 2

From the Mailbag 2

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How’s It Going? And, By the Way, What’s a Blog?
The other day, my neighbor asked me: “How’s it going, now that you’re a quarter of the way through?” He was, of course, asking about my resolution not to drink alcohol this year. “Aren’t you following my blog?” I asked in return. “What’s a blog?” he replied.

If you knew my neighbor, you wouldn’t be at all surprised to hear that he didn’t know what a blog was.  After all, his pickup truck is vintage 1980s.  What was surprising, however, was that I had trouble coherently and succinctly summing up how I feel about my resolution thus far. What stumped me is that I didn’t have any expectations going into this. I had made the decision to do it on extremely short notice and just jumped in head first with the resolution and the blog, all at once.

After not making sense for a few seconds, I went into the details about my weight loss so far, my running goals, and so on.  My neighbor interrupted and offered: “So, it’s been positive?” I had no hesitation, saying: “Yes. Yes. Absolutely. It’s very positive. I’m at the point where I’m not sure I will drink again when 2015 rolls around.”

Wow. I didn’t see that coming. Did you?  So, for the curious who’ve asked, here are some other Q’s and A’s related to this project:

How Much Was the Weight Loss From Not Drinking vs. Other Reasons?
The first 8 pounds I lost was solely from not drinking. In the beginning, I purposefully did not want to change anything else, including my diet or exercise routine. Without a purposeful diet, I would not have lost any additional weight.

I lost another 8 pounds (and counting) by sticking maniacally to a daily calorie goal that I track in an app called MyFitnessPal. My daily goal of 1,200 calories allows me to lose 1-1.5 pounds per week.  I input everything I eat into the app. When I exercise, I also input that into that app and earn more calories for that day. If I eat too much, I exercise more.  It’s that simple.  Despite the simplicity, it can be very difficult to be completely honest with yourself about how much you have eaten. But if you honestly use the app every day, it will work.

Not drinking is the single-most important factor in my weight loss, for several reasons. Taking those empty calories off the table has made a tremendous difference. In the past, one glass of wine could lead to another glass and that could lead to eating things I didn’t need to eat. Also, I am now able to exercise at night, something I never could have done after drinking wine at dinner.

What Are the Unexpected Benefits From Not Drinking?
This is a great question.  From a general health standpoint, what I noticed within days is that I was getting better quality sleep and was sleeping through the night much more often than before.  Over time, I also started to feel more mentally alert and more confident. Because not drinking has led to losing weight and allowed more time for reading and writing, I also feel happier and more balanced.

Have You Experienced Clearer Thinking?
Yes. Definitely. It is particularly acute when I am around other people who are drinking. It’s a strange sensation of being very present and keenly aware of what is going on.

What’s Up With that Ideal Weight Calculator?
In my last post, I talked about so-called “ideal weight” and used this calculator to confirm that my weight loss goal was realistic. I received feedback from several guys, all of whom felt the calculator was off for them and seem to be reporting unrealistically low weights. One of them even said it reported his weight from 8th grade as ideal! A few of these guys are very muscular. Therefore, I’d like to recommend that they focus on percentage of body fat, rather than weight. Here’s info from Livestrong about that and here’s a body fat calculator.

Also, I want to caution that research indicates women tend to under-estimate their ideal weight, while men tend to over-estimate it.

Regular followers of my blog may recall that my first “From the Mailbag” post answered several other questions back in late February, including “why did you really start this blog?” Check it out if you haven’t already.

And, please keep the questions coming. I promise to answer each and every one.