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.  

How I Got My “PR” Marathon Time

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I’m happy to report that I achieved my best marathon time – my “PR” or “personal record” – over the Memorial Day weekend at the Vermont City Marathon. It’s a good thing, too, since I was sort of cocky by mentioning in a blog post a few weeks ago that I knew I was going to do it.

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Above: My ‘selfie’ prior to the Vermont City Marathon with the 4 hour and 30 minute pace group. One of the pace leaders, Jen Sorrell, is also pictured (with sunglasses).

I ran the 26.2 miles on an unseasonably warm and sunny day in Burlington, Vermont, along a course with diverse terrain, but lots of fan support, in 4 hours 27 minutes and 11 seconds. This is 4 minutes faster than my previous best time, which was at Rock ‘n Roll Phoenix marathon, way back in 2006.

This was only my 6th marathon, but my fourth in the past three years. Up until yesterday, my recent results were very disappointing. I ran the Air Force Marathon in 2012 in 4:46:40, while nursing a bit of a hip injury. Last year at Vermont City, I pulled a calf muscle in the cold and had to walk from mile 14 until mile 17. However, I was proud that I recovered enough to run the last 7 miles, after receiving medical treatment, and cross the finish line in 5:08:53. Finally, last fall, I participated in the inspirational 20th running of the Philadelphia Marathon. I felt strong for much of the race, but really petered out after mile 18 and finished in 4:47:14.

What did I do differently this time to not only chop 20 minutes off of my recent best time, but also to achieve my PR? I attribute these results to 4 things:

  1. Quitting drinking.
  2. Losing more than 20 pounds.
  3. Stepping-up my training program.
  4. Running the race with a pace group.

Quitting drinking was instrumental, because it set me up for a successful diet and also freed-up my time for more exercise. More background about my New Year’s resolution not to drink alcohol this year can be found here, here, and here.

Losing over 20 pounds helped my confidence level and my training. I immediately saw faster running times at the start of my running season and I have had far fewer aches and pains along the way, due to losing weight.

Although I had already improved my chances to getting a marathon PR time this year by sticking to my goals of not drinking and losing weight, it was also critical that I employ both training and racing strategies to help me get the rest of the way there. Since I died in Philly at mile 18, I needed to step up my training program with more long training runs. That’s why I selected Hal Higdon’s Intermediate 2 Marathon Training Program that I described here and here.  

Having a solid 20-mile run and strong half-marathon performance under my belt prior to running Vermont City was key to my fitness level and confidence. The last piece of the puzzle was to have support on race day.  There’s a reason why they say a marathon is as mental as it is physical.

That’s why I reached out to Jen Sorrell and Kristin Lundy, the pace team for the 4 hours and 30 minute group, before race day to let them know that I would be running with their pace group. In addition to the well-documented benefits of running with a pace group (see here and here), I felt that contacting them in advance would make me accountable and improve my chances of following through.

Jen and Kristin were fantastic motivators. They cheered us on and made sure we ran consistently on pace the whole race. They also shouted out helpful tips about the upcoming terrain, where we would see motivating fans, when to consider fueling, and how to best approach special terrain like an uphill, downhill or trail. The race flew by and the first mile marker I remember clearly was 10 miles in.

Although I ultimately moved ahead of this group at mile 20 to finish at a faster pace, I don’t think I could have done it without them. My hats off to Kristin and Jen.  After the race, I emailed them both to ask what motivates them to be pace leaders, rather than running for their personal best time.

Kristin said, “It has taken me a long time to be able to run a smart, steady marathon. I have made many mistakes along the way, and learned a lot with my experience. It is really a great thing if I can help someone else along the way, and pass on any tidbit of knowledge I have picked up…Seeing people reach their goal is extremely rewarding. You not only get to revel in your own happiness of crossing the finish line, but you also get to feel good from seeing them do it. It’s a win-win!”

And, Jen added, “I personally like pacing as it’s rewarding to be able to help others meet their goals, whether it is to get a PR, run steady or just finish.”

I still have a long way to go before I can qualify for the Boston Marathon. However, following through with my training and race strategies and achieving my PR are important milestones in that journey.

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.

I Am Sisyphus (Again)

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Last week, I reported the good news that I had already lost 20 pounds and returned to my goal weight of 138 pounds.  Sadly, I can already tell that weight maintenance is going to be a battle. And, unfortunately, it looks like one that may last the rest of my life. That 20th and final pound has been lost, gained, and re-claimed four times and it’s only been a few weeks. Huffington Post says I need to get used to this, because “weight maintenance is actually the state of gaining and losing small amounts of weight over and over again.”

This reminds me of the Myth of Sisyphus, about which I wrote this poem in 1997:

And I was Sisyphus again today,
Elated at the top,
Only to fall down under the rock’s
Crushing weight.
Yet I know I will be happy again tomorrow,
Only to slip back down again,
Still happy afterward, as I approach the crest.
Mankind and I, we are so simple in
Both our pleasures and our defeats.

To be successful, the Mayo Clinic suggests that “weight maintenance requires daily exercise, a healthy menu, a long-term commitment, and constant vigilance.” Wait a minute. This sounds suspiciously like dieting. They also say not to worry, because it will get easier after two to 5 years of keeping the weight off. When they said “a long-term commitment,” they weren’t kidding. It’s clear that I’m going to need as many strategies to maintain my weight as I did to lose it the first place.

My first strategy is to continue using the MyFitnessPal app every day. As I have explained in the past, this is my version of keeping a food and exercise journal. According to WebMB, I should be able to maintain my weight while consuming 2,000 calories a day.  This is significantly more than the 1,200 calorie diet I’ve been on. I just can’t bring myself to program this into my settings, so I’m starting with 1,500 and will adjust later, as needed.

My second strategy is to remain committed to exercise. This should be the easy part for me, since I am still training for marathons and have always been active. This article in Women’s Health Magazine suggests that exercise is the single most important factor in keeping weight off. The stat came from The National Weight Control Registry which tracks people who successfully maintained weight loss of 30 pounds or more. It turns out that 90% of these people exercise an average of one hour per day.

This study using data from the Registry confirms that my first two strategies are important to maintaining my weight and also suggests two others. These are monitoring my weight regularly and having a low-fat diet. We have a digital scale in our master bathroom and I use it almost every day, making the weight monitoring no problem. Focusing on lowering fat is another matter. I lost the weight by counting calories and exercising. The only significant diet change I made was cutting out alcohol. Generally speaking, I ate essentially whatever I wanted in lower quantities or I exercised more to burn it off. I’m going to mull over the low-fat focus a bit more…

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(Above: My brother helped pace my half marathon run in Middlebury, VT on May 4, enabling me to finish well under a 9 minute-per-mile pace.) 

What is going to be critical to maintaining my weight is to be vigilant on race weekends. Take this past weekend for example:  I ran a half marathon faster than my goal, in 1 hour and 56 minutes. My average pace of 8:51 per mile is under my marathon pace needed to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I even ranked in the upper 20% of all female runners in their 40s, my “group.” That’s the great news. The bad news is that it’s two days after the race and I’ve gained three pounds. 

Evidently this is common, especially for women, when training for marathons.  A few of the many online articles about this can be found here, here, and here. The main causes of the weight gain include overestimating energy needs, feeling you deserve to eat what you want, and not being active enough outside of the actual training. Originally, I was thinking of not using my app during race weekends as a reward. I’m scratching that idea to make sure I keep the 20 pounds off. If I’m destined to be Sisyphus, I should at least make rolling that stone up the hill easier on myself.

How I Lost 20 Pounds

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Month four of my resolution not to drink alcohol has come to an end.  I’m both surprised and proud to report that I have lost 20 pounds and have returned to what I consider to be my “ideal weight.”

Image (My weight loss is most obvious in my face. Above, at 155 pounds. Below, at 138 pounds.)

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More often than not over the past 12 years, my New Year’s resolution was to lose 20 pounds. In all those times, I didn’t even come close, not even during the years when I tried really, really hard. As I mentioned in my blog last week, we all know that trying is not enough on its own. In this blog post, I try my best to answer the inevitable question of “How did I Do It?”

I attribute my successful weight loss this year to these four things:

  1. Quitting drinking
  2. Telling the world about it
  3. Approaching it like a marathon
  4. Using an app to track everything

Quitting Drinking

Not drinking is the single-most important factor in my weight loss.  As I’ve said before, the first 8 pounds I lost was solely due to not drinking. Everyone knows that alcohol has calories. When I was drinking two glasses of wine a night, I was adding approximately 350 calories to my daily calorie intake. This online article has a wealth of information about wine and calories.  It’s hard to stick to a diet of 1,200 calories-a-day if you consume 29% in the form of a liquid with no nutritional value. Studies have also shown that you eat 20% more when you are drinking while you are eating. This recent article talks about that and many more negative effectives of alcohol on weight. In addition to these reasons above, I am now also able to exercise at night, something I never could have done after drinking wine at dinner.

Telling the World

As I mentioned in my inaugural blog post in late December, I improved my chances of sticking to my resolution because I told other people about it and wrote it down. That’s the point of this blog – I’ve made myself accountable not only to my close friends and family, but also to anyone who stumbles across this blog. As of this writing, I have 132 followers and that number increases every week. I don’t think I would have been able to stick to my resolution to quit drinking without the blog. Also, having the blog forces me to think through many issues and ideas associated with drinking, dieting, and exercising. All of this keeps me trying harder and staying more focused. After all, I have to report something interesting back to the blogosphere.

Marathon Approach

I’m aware that it’s a cliché to say that something “is a marathon and not a sprint.” However, since I actually run marathons, I think it’s okay for me to use this phrase.  Also, it’s true. I am approaching my weight loss and fitness goals like I approach a marathon, both literally and figuratively. Literally, I am actually training for a marathon, and that means I exercise six days every single week, culminating in both a strenuous race pace run every Saturday and a long run every Sunday. Figuratively, I have chunked out my goals into smaller goals and am taking a long view.  I am not following a fad diet or eating different things than I normally would in order to lose weight quickly. With the one exception of cutting out alcohol, I am eating pretty much as I did before. However, when I realize I need to change my diet in order to be more successful at losing weight, I change one thing at a time, so that the change is gradual.

To me, a marathon approach also means that it’s okay to screw up. During a marathon, you’re going to have slow miles and fast miles. The slow miles are not bits of failure, they are just a part of the process. The goal for the marathon runner is the average pace run over the full distance. There can be many points of exhaustion along the way, so even walking is okay. A successful diet is much the same.

Using A Fitness App

Once the easy weight from quitting drinking was gone, it was all about my commitment to use the app. I have a daily goal of 1,200 calories that I track using a free fitness Web application called MyFitnessPal. I lost between 1-1.5 pounds per week without fail by inputting everything I ate into the app. When I exercised, I also input that into that app and earned more calories for that day. If I ate too much, I exercised more.  It was that simple; but it was not magic.  It takes focus and commitment to leverage this tool in order to lose weight.

The thread that pulls through all of these contributors to my success in losing 20 pounds — quitting drinking, telling the world, having a marathon approach, and using a fitness app – is commitment. In the end, that’s the most important thing.

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

Any Damned Fool

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Talking with a friend of mine last week about our respective running schedules, I was reminded of a lesson I learned at basketball camp the summer before my freshman year of high school.

Image(Above: Armed with the knowledge I gained at basketball camp, I made varsity my freshman year. I’m in the back row, with the short, poofy hair, in between the two girls with glasses.)

When I asked my friend about her running plans for the weekend, she said that she was going to “try to make time for a run.” I know this might sound harsh, but it became clear to me in the middle of our conversation that my friend wasn’t going to be running. Sure enough, when I checked in with her on Sunday night, she said she hadn’t run.

Clearly, I don’t have the ability to read minds or to predict the future. A long time ago, however, through my own trial and error, I learned that exercise is just like anything else in life. The first step to achieving something is to actually believe that it will happen.

What does this have to do with basketball camp? When I went to K.C. Jones‘ Celtics Basketball Camp after 8th grade, the former Celtics assistant coach, Donald “Ducky” Meade, told us a story on this very topic that I have never forgotten. In fact, his story is the sole recollection I have from that whole week at camp. It’s a life lesson worth its weight in gold, and certainly worth the cost of one week of summer camp!

The story Ducky told went something like this:

There is a very close basketball game and the key player on the other team has been scoring over and over again. It’s clear to the coach that there’s just no way his home team is going to win, if they can’t shore up their defenses against this one, hot-shot player. 

So the coach turns to the bench and walks toward one of the players–let’s call him Jimmy.  The coach says to him, “Jimmy, I need you to go in there right now and stick with #14. Do not let him score again.”

Jimmy immediately stands up and says, “Coach, I’ll try,” and then moves toward the score keepers to check-in.

The coach steps between Jimmy and the check-in table and says, “Any damned fool can try. Sit down.” He then points to another player and asks him to go into the game instead of Jimmy.

After telling the story, Ducky asked us why the coach didn’t put Jimmy in. None of the girls, including me, immediately understood why, and thought it was really mean of the coach to bench Jimmy. A few of us shook our heads, indicating “No.”

Ducky was a very, very small older man who was extremely energetic and animated. He nearly went ballistic that we didn’t understand the point of his story. So, he jumped around in front of us and explained that, in sports you have to commit 200%, and really believe that you are going to succeed in order to do so. And that’s why Jimmy didn’t get to play in that game. By saying the he would “try” he indicated to his coach that he wasn’t fully committed, and that, inside, he did not have true belief that he could stop that other player from scoring.

After hearing the explanation, it made perfect sense to me. In sports and in life, I’ve been reminded of this truth many times since. In fact, in the short time since I decided to write about this topic, a significant event involving athletic belief has taken place that puts an even finer point on my story. It is much more powerful and positive than the tale about my friend who didn’t fully commit to planning for a weekend run.

I am referring to the story of Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday’s Boston Marathon, the first American man to do so since 1983. Meb certainly is one of the great American long-distance runners of his generation, having won the New York City Marathon (2009) and earned an Olympic silver medal at the Athens summer games (2004). However, he is turning 39 in a few short days and was listed on the 4th page of the elite runners list in the Boston Marathon press kit (the names were placed in order of their fastest marathon times).

Because of this, no one believed that Meb was going to win the Boston Marathon. When I say “no one,” of course, what I really mean is that no one other than Meb himself thought that he could win it. Yet, on a fine running day in Boston, Meb beat scores of runners significantly younger and faster than himself and crossed the finish line first, thus cementing himself among the all-time great American runners.

Not everyone who believes they will be successful will be. However, if you do not believe it, you can be pretty certain that you will fail.

Boston Strong

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It was almost exactly a year ago that I heard the first live reports of the Boston Marathon bombing on the radio, while I was driving to a business meeting. Tears immediately welled up in my eyes, when I thought of marathon runners so close to the finish line being cut down in their tracks, unable to finish. And, in watching the televised coverage, I remember relating to the 78 year-old runner who was helped across the finish line right after the bomb went off. I think any runner would say that finishing the race would be a higher personal priority at that moment than worrying about your own injuries. Within 24 hours of the bombing, I knew that I was going to try my best to make it to Boston this year. 

Unfortunately, Plan A of trying to qualify for Boston — or “BQ” as we runners call it — based on my marathon running time didn’t pan out. Although I ran several half marathons and trained quite heavily, it was pretty apparent by late summer that I simply wasn’t capable of running a marathon in less than three hours and 55 minutes. Although I continued training, I also put a lot of effort into Plan B, which was to get to the Boston Marathon with a charity racing team. 

Due to the overwhelming response to the bombing from runners around the world, I wasn’t able to make it onto the charity team I selected either. It was devastating to get an email from the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge that read: “We sincerely regret that we are not able to provide you a Boston ’14 marathon entry.  As much as we would like to accept every applicant, that is simply not possible due to truly overwhelming demand.  Thank you for your patience and understanding throughout this unprecedented situation.”

Why am I telling you this story? Because, I just revived my dream of running the Boston Marathon. Here’s how it happened.

Two months ago, I revealed my two tag-along New Year’s resolutions of losing 20 pounds and running my fastest marathon — called a “PR” for “personal record.” I decided to focus on my diet over the months of February and March, in hopes of losing 15 pounds by that time. The weight loss was expected to help me run faster, when I started by marathon training in April.

When I shared my Quarterly Report post earlier this week on Facebook, something in it caught the eye of my good friend, Lisa.  I should probably explain that Lisa is a REAL marathon runner. She’s in the midst of running her third set of marathons in all 50 states. What Lisa noticed is that I ran my first long-distance race of the season at a 9-minute per mile pace, which is a full minute and a half faster than my pace during my first race last year.  Since Lisa and I already had plans to run the Around the Lake Marathon on my birthday in late July, she suggested that I tweak my goal. Now, with Lisa’s encouragement, instead of just trying to PR at that race, we’re both going to try to BQ!

My best marathon time was at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix, back in January, 2006. I ran that in just over four-and-a-half hours.  As I mentioned above, my BQ time is less than four hours. That means I have to cut a half hour off my best time to qualify for Boston.

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(My official race photo when I got my PR at the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix, in January, 2006.)

I’ve started using the Hal Higdon Marathon Intermediate 2 Training Program which is an 18 week program that starts out with a 10-miler on the weekly Sunday long run. It also features three training runs of 20 miles prior to the marathon and strong Saturday runs to achieve a little fatigue during the weekly long runs.  This is more aggressive than the Hal Higdon training plans that I have used in the past. Looking at the races in my area, I adapted Hal’s plan by fitting in some competitive distance runs before my BQ try on July 25th.

It’s my hope that more serious training, combined with my weight loss and increase in overall fitness from not drinking, is going to make a real difference in my marathon performance. This is not going to be easy. But, I’m game to give it one heck of a try.

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(My modification of the “Hal Higdon Intermediate 2 Marathon Training Plan” with race schedule.)

Quarterly Report

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This is the first quarter status report on my dry year.  Believe it or not, three months have come and gone since I quit drinking as my New Year’s resolution, and started this blog to share my thoughts about that and other things. To be perfectly honest, I’m completely over the whole not drinking thing. By that, I don’t mean that I want to start drinking again. What I mean is that not drinking alcohol has become so ingrained in me that I just don’t think about it very much. And that’s making it difficult to find things to write about.

At the end of my first month, I reported that I had lost six pounds simply by not drinking, and that I was dismayed that forming a new habit was going to take a lot longer than I had expected. Then, at the end of my second month, I realized that my old habit of drinking wine every night had disappeared unnoticed, and I was 11 pounds lighter. In between those two posts, I revealed that a big motivator for embarking on my “dry year” was my belief that alcohol was preventing me from losing the 20+ pounds I had gained over the past several years, as well as from being a more competitive runner.

In chunking out my planning and goals into more manageable bits, I decided not to change anything else about my eating or fitness routine in January. And, in February and March, to focus on my diet first, mainly by using MyFitnessPal to track everything I eat, as well as my exercise. I hoped to lose 15 of my goal of 20 pounds by that time. My plan was to then pivot from my diet to my running and race training in April, and to try for my personal best marathon time on my 46th birthday in late July. Assuming all goes accordingly, I would still have five months to complete my diet goal before the end of the year.

Even though there’s still snow on the ground here in Vermont, March is over. The inevitable question is: How am I doing? Drum roll please…..

I lost 15 pounds! I’m particularly proud of that, because I was on vacation the first two weeks of March. In just 90 days, my Body Mass Index dropped from 24.7 to 22.4. According to the U.S. Navy body fat calculator, my percentage of body fat dropped from 27% in mid-February to 24% today. I’m not quite in the “fit” category yet, so there’s more work to do. However, I’m really getting close to my ideal weight and fitness level, and feel very happy with my results.

So far, my theory that losing weight will make me run faster appears to be correct. I took part in the Run for the Border Half Marathon on the New Hampshire coast this past Sunday.  It was raining, windy and cold – I got hit by foam and sea water from waves that crashed against the seawall and sprayed onto the race route! Because of the crazy weather and coastal flood warnings, the race was shortened to 10.19 miles. I surprised myself by racing at a 9:02 per-mile pace, much faster than expected. Last year’s half marathon results were all slower than this, ranging from a 10:27 per-mile pace in Middlebury in May, to a 9:20 pace down in Manchester, Vermont, in early September. I felt very comfortable the whole race and definitely had more in the tank when I crossed the finish line.

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(My vantage point running the Run for the Border Half Marathon in coastal New Hampshire on March 30, 2014.)

Over the past three months, the most important thing is that I had decided to reward myself early with a trip to Laos. Since I was saving well over $4,000 this year by not drinking, and it was burning a hole in my pocket, I deserved a big reward for all of my efforts. My 10-day trip was unforgettable and under budget — around $2,500. Later this year, when I reach all of the other goals I’ve outlined, maybe Bruce and I will take another trip together to celebrate.