New York City Weight Loss

Eating healthy is hard. It’s harder when you’re not feeling well. It’s harder still when it’s New York Restaurant Week, you have multiple reservations and you intend to eat a steak at every single one. Welcome to my week.

This blog is about my running goals for 2012, not my weight-loss history of 2011. But as I prepare to tackle the University Club’s seafood buffet tomorrow night (spoiler alert: my plate will include two lobsters), I think it’s time I revisited the strategies I employed last year to help me drop 30+ pounds and get me where I am today.

Many of you will remember me at my heaviest:

Despite belonging to a gym – where my workouts consisted entirely of twice-weekly sessions on the elliptical timed perfectly to coincide with Chopped reruns – my affinity for craft (read: high calorie) beers and craft (just kidding) pizza had me consistently taking in more calories than I was exerting. I was well aware 3,500 extra calories equaled one additional pound of body fat, but I wasn’t aware I could do anything about it. Wait, an asteroid isn’t going to hit Manhattan if I don’t eat this entire plate of buffalo wings?

When I made the commitment to myself last New Year’s Day to cut the BS and actually do something about my weight, I was shocked to learn that sustainable weight-loss was possible. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not using “possible” and “easy” as synonyms here, as anyone who may have witnessed me cry over a beet salad (you know who you are) could attest to – but it was finally attainable.

I always hear people say that what works for one person when it comes to weight loss won’t necessarily work for someone else, but I beg to differ. The basic concept – eating fewer calories and burning more – is a hard and fast rule, no matter who you are. The specific tools you employ to motivate you to follow that rule may vary by individual, but the underlying principle holds universally true. Believe me. It’s math.

Your specific tools may be different, but here’s what worked for me:

  • Documentation. A lifelong grazer, I never imagined my occasional nibbles were costing me a single-digit dress size. Although I consistently ordered salads for lunch, I was never one to pass up a couple pretzels from a communal bag or a taste of birthday cake in the conference room. Most of those bites were just that – bite-sized – so I never heeded them much thought. When I began my weight-loss expedition in 2011, I downloaded a calorie counter app and proceeded to document every bite that made it through these lips, and – my god – my snacking added up fast, especially when I only had 1490 calories in my arsenal a day. Knowing I’d have to log that single tortilla chip – and that it would set me back 25 calories to boot – was enough of a deterrent to see me walk away from the bag. Many health sites will encourage keeping a food diary for a week to analyze your problem areas, but I kept mine for the better part of a year, and it paid off.
  • Preparation. The Type As along us have a leg up on this one, but it’s an applicable technique for anyone trying to shed weight. The idea is simple: know what you’re going to eat 12 hours before you sit down to eat it. For example, if I knew I were going to a restaurant tomorrow, I’d hit up menupages tonight, select a healthy entrée to order and then write it in my calorie counter a whole day in advance. Sure, it took the spontaneity out of dining out, but it also took the impromptu bacon cheeseburgers out of my stomach, so I’d say it was a worthwhile trade-off.
  • Activity. For me, it was running.  For you, it might be competitive flash dance mobbing. Find what you love, do it and make sure to push yourself hard enough that you sweat a little more than you like to. (For more information on running, see: blog, this one.)

These tools plus a very patient boyfriendgot me from here:

To Here:

But wait!  you say – how can you be planning to eat multiple steaks this week and still call yourself a healthy eater?

As (I would have said Winston Churchill, but google says Petronius) once said: Moderation in all things, including moderation.

That, and always eat two lobsters at the seafood buffet.

Running Alone

I ran nearly 1,000 miles last year, and if my memory serves me, all but 23 of them were logged as a party of one. There’s something wondrously unrestricting about running solo: I determine my wake-up time, I determine my route, I determine my pace and I determine which bagel shop to use as the finish line (H & H Midtown Bagels East, obviously.) Even my races – with the exception of a turkey trot that proved my brother knows very little about Native American fashion and/or wicking gear – have been solitary exercises, giving me the time to clear my head, listen to my body’s needs and maintain an inner monologue that mostly involves complex plans to kidnap that Bernese mountain dog that jogs on the Bridal Path.

But while I’ve largely relished my unaccompanied workouts these past 13 months, if I’m going to train for a marathon this summer, I’m going to need some legitimate human interaction.

I’m targeting a 3:59:59 marathon time, and the appropriately named 4 Months to a 4-Hour Marathon book tells me I can reach that goal by running up to four times a week, culminating with a 23-miler in Week 14. I run 9 minute miles; do the math. Ok, fine, I’ll do it for you – we’re talking about 3 hours and 45 minutes during my longest long run – and that’s only if I’m able to maintain an unlikely 9:00 pace throughout.

3:45 is a lot of time to spend alone in your own head.  Remember how ungodly long Titanic was? (3:14, if you’re wondering.  Right, Dad?) That means I could watch the entire Leo/Kate saga unfold, and then go back and re-watch the naked scene – twice – and still be running. Common sense tells me that’s too long to run by myself on a nearly weekly basis. (Common sense should have also told them that icebergs are probably best to avoid on a maiden voyage, but I guess hindsight is 20/20.)

That means, folks, I’m in the market for a running partner. Not for every run, mind you – I still love my solo time – but a friendly face or two to join me for a couple of miles each Saturday once I start bona fide training later this year would be a welcome addition. I tested out the group running thing this morning with one of my oldest friends and her man, and let me tell you: 8 miles simply flew by.

Don’t let the solitary smile fool you:

I’m in the market for a partner.

I enjoy candle-lit dinners, a glass of red wine and long walks runs on the beach Central Park loop. Bonus points if you own that Bernese mountain dog I was just devising a complex plan to steal admiring. Who’s down?

Race Plans for the New Year

At noon today, my mother and I took a two-minute break from our respective workdays to simultaneously register for the Irish Sprint 10K in Quantico in March. 

How cute, you may be thinking. A mother-daughter jaunt in the spring Virginia air. It’s true that my mother and I are, in fact, an adorable running pair. And it’s equally true that this 10K race will cover less than half the mileage I logged during Saturday’s half marathon alone. But what’s not true is the notion that signing up online today was a minor event in this runner’s life. Not even remotely.

Because if you read the fine print:

As a just reward for finishing the 10K distance, all runners crossing the Irish Sprint finish line will receive a guaranteed entry into the certain-to-be-sold-out 2012 MCM.

That’s right, folks. By registering today for an adorable 6.2 mile race, I have for all intents and purposes committed to running the Marine Corps Marathon on October 28.

I’m not going to lie. I’m kind of excited. I’m also anxious, proud and downright terrified.  But more importantly:

I’m in.

Who’s with me?

Snow and the Manhattan Half Marathon

When some would-be competitors woke up this morning to discover the New York Road Runners were nixing the timing mats at the Manhattan Half in the face of heavy snowfall and rebranding the race an unscored [too long to actually be fun] “fun run” instead, they understandably let their racing tights off the hook and enjoyed a surprise Saturday morning of sleep.

Tempted to do the same but determined not to let my carb loading go to waste/my waist, I resolved to run the untimed course anyways, so I layered up, hailed a cab and made my way to the starting line.

I wasn’t alone.

I’m not great at estimating crowd size, but somewhere between 12 and 12,000 other city runners manned up as well, and while the wait for the starting gun was downright agonizing, something about hopping around in Spandex in the middle of a Nor’easter with an undeterminable number of equally underdressed strangers makes one feel – how do you say? – supremely badass.

I knew going into this morning’s race I wasn’t going to be breaking my 1:59.34 PR logged at the Baltimore Half because – despite having spent four years of my pre-adult life on the Maine coast – I’m about as graceful in the snow as a penguin. (We’re talking slow, plodding penguins like this one, not the speed-demon penguins from this throwback retro toy that I always coveted.)

So instead, I opted to use the lack of recorded race times as a chance to try out some new things this morning, from shooting down a PowerBar gel at Mile 9 (meh) to stopping to pee mid-course (amazing). Were it a timed race, I would never have risked trying something untested, but today’s non-competitive classification took the pressure off. (It also took a toenail off, but I’m going to try to keep the gross-factor in this post to a minimum.)

Am I disappointed not get the chance to set a new record for myself this morning? Maybe a little. But my non-broken ankles are thanking me for taking it easy in the snow, much like my non-frozen boyfriend should be thanking me for letting him skip out on spectating today. I think chocolates are in order (ankles, I’m talking to you.)

How did your weekend workout plans weather the storm?

Let There Be Carbs

I’m 48 hours out from the Manhattan Half Marathon, and contemporary science and/or this Runner’s World article say I should be upping my carbohydrate consumption considerably to replenish my glycogen stores. Gone are the days when a simple spaghetti dinner constituted proper pre-race preparation. Instead, modern research now suggests runners should start carb loading two or three days before their half or full marathons, eating as many as four grams of carbs for every pound of body weight – or about 2,400 calories of carbs a day for a 150 pound individual.  (Thanks, Runner’s World, for doing that math for me in your article. I’m totally not going to fact check it, so here’s hoping your editors are good with a calculator.)

A daily intake of 2,400 calories of carbohydrates may sound scone-full and delicious, but it’s also significantly harder than you’d think. The above mentioned article says a full 85- to 95-percent of my calories should be coming from carbs in these crucial pre-race days. I don’t know if you know much about percentages, but 95 percent is a huge share. (Fun fact: It is also the statistical likelihood I’d steal a polar bear if left unsupervised in the Bronx Zoo overnight.)

To test just how difficult it would be, I dusted off my knowledge of the scientific method last week and conducted a little experiment: I recorded an entire day’s worth of dietary decisions on an iPhone app to see just how close my normal eating patterns got me to the 85+ percentage point threshold.

Behold failure.

Although I actually went out of my way to up my daily carb consumption – trading my usual greek yogurt for Cheerios at breakfast, ordering a sweet potato with lunch, downing a wheat beer at happy hour (all in the name of science) – I still only achieved a subpar 54 percent. It leaves me wondering: save for shot-gunning a bag of all-purpose flour for dinner tonight, how the hell am I going to reach that range over the next two days?

(It also left me wondering why we don’t use more pie charts in daily adult life. Pie charts are arguably the best form of chart out there, because–honestly–aren’t most things shaped like pies superior? For example: pies. See also: pizza pies. And the number 3.14.)

What’s your best pre-race eating advice? And how did athletes prepare for long runs during the Atkins craze? Bacon-loading? Mmm.

Home Cooked Meals

After a weekend of football-fueled dietary indulgence – including peanut butter flavored chicken wings because apparently I have the nondiscriminatory palate of a Labrador – I woke up from my slothful Sunday afternoon nap ready for a detox. Don’t get me wrong: nothing refuels after a long run like a 100-ounce beer tube from 123-Burger-Shot-Beer (a Danny Meyer establishment, no doubt.) But man cannot live by bar food alone, so once my boy Ed Reed was done clinching Baltimore’s spot in next Sunday’s title game, I put down my waffle fries and vowed to seek out some sustenance.

In a city that delivers 24/7 from an iPhone app that doesn’t demand human interaction, it’s tempting to order in every single meal. But in the spirit of both waist- and wallet-slimming initiatives, I took a page from a more established fitness blogger and on Sunday night cooked my own dinner instead. (That shouldn’t be such a novel concept for the Food Network’s No. 1 fan, but life and/or the pizza place between the 4/5/6 and my apartment always seem to get in the way.)

Fortunately, once I got going on my make-it-myself kick, I couldn’t stop. I whipped up a healthy-ish chicken pot pie for dinner to a chorus of oohs and ahhs from the boyfriend and woke up feeling so much lighter than the morning before that I opted to keep it going and traded my delivery bagel for some home-scrambled eggs. After my three-mile recovery run that morning, I even threw back a green monster for good measure, because anything this ugly in a cup has got to be good for you. (Fortunately, non-ugly things can also come in cups. Case in point.)

(Note: The second half of this post is being written a solid 25 minutes after the first half, because that’s how long it took to pull myself away from googling puppy-in-cup photos. I didn’t know that was a thing, but I’m glad to learn it is.)

Now that my eating habits are once again on track – at least until Ray Lewis works his (allegedly) homicidal magic again next weekend – I can start preparing myself for Friday’s pre-race carb loading session. Bagel-chip lasagna, here I come.

How do you get back on track after a meal – or three – of indulgent eating? And can I justify starting my carb loading on Tuesday? This whole wheat muffin says yes.

Over the River and Through the… Brooklyn

Most things in life are better in dozens. Hey, man, I made you a dozen cupcakes! Surprise, honey, I bought you a dozen roses! Way to go, Jesus, you have a dozen friends!

I’m not sure the same can be said for miles. I logged a dozen miles this morning as my last long run of this half-marathon training cycle, and – my god – that’s a lot of miles.  So many miles, in fact, that they couldn’t all be run in Manhattan.  Yes, people, it’s as bad as you think – this morning, I had to run in Brooklyn.

To be fair, many of my first and fondest memories of this city were made in the Brooklyn borough. While I may bemoan its sparse taxi population and unreliable express train service, I’m actually quite fond of its ironic eye-glass emporiums and flash artisinal cheese markets. But while there may be a secret Brooklynphile lurking below this hard Manhattan shell, the idea of running there – and back – at 8 a.m. on a Saturday morning into the 20 m.p.h. January wind wasn’t necessarily at the top of my list. (“Rolling in a pile of puppies” holds that coveted spot.)

Nonetheless, I mustered some inner strength, bundled up and made my way out of the building for my first dual-borough run. And to be honest, I enjoyed the change of scenery. Although I’ve logged miles in some far-flung cities, from Baltimore to Paris, a startling 100-percent of my runs completed in the Empire State up until today have taken place on the 22.96-square-mile island of Manhattan. It was time for that to change.

My route took me from Murray Hill to the East River Promenade, through Chinatown, over the Manhattan Bridge, around Brooklyn Heights, over the Brooklyn Bridge, into a Gatorade-selling bodega and back up the East River to a hot shower and delivery bagels. About half of my energy was exerted dodging fish heads on the Chinatown sidewalk (Who throws away a perfectly good fish head?  Honestly.), but the other half was free to enjoy the views. Not bad, Williamsburg Bridge, not bad at all.

With 12 miles down before 10 a.m., I was fully prepared to rub my productivity superiority in my boyfriend’s face all day long – until he decided to one-up me by building his own computer from scratch today.  Touché, boyfriend.

What are you doing to stay active this three-day weekend? (Lifting steins of beer during the Ravens game totally counts. Stay tuned for more on that scheduled workout tomorrow.)

Speed Work

My first year of running has blissfully existed outside the realm of calculated pace times and organized speed work, but everything I’ve read on the subject suggests that’s going to have to change if I want to achieve my ambitious marathon goal time without the use of a non-regulation hoverboard. (Had to ruin it for everyone, McFly?)  To be fair, I’ve been aware that speed work existed, with some of my training plans suggesting logging miles at a 5K pace or at a half marathon pace, but since I only have one pace  – running – I never heeded those workouts much mind.  That is, until I plopped my recent 10K time into a fancy internet calculator to extrapolate my anticipated marathon time and realized I’m going to need to do some fancy footwork if I’m going to shave off 11 minutes and 38 seconds between now and the fall racing season.

Enter speed work, stage left.

Speed work encompasses any number of targeted workouts, from striders (which I gather to be traditional ‘sprints’ for guys who prefer two-syllable words) to intervals (which are discussed in the next chapter of my running book and therefore won’t be explained here.)  Since my next big race is taking place back in the mountainous acreage that is Central Park, I opted for another form of speed work this morning: hills.

When I looked up hill workouts online last night, they all started something like this: Locate a hill 400 meters long with an incline of 7 to 9 percent and an asphalt-to-gravel ratio of 3:1 on a street whose name begins with a W. With those mandated and very specific distance and incline requirements, I didn’t know how to go about finding the perfect hill for my hill sprints without an old prospector in tow.  Hell, most of my hill education until now has come from the Duke of York.  I ultimately decided any hill was better than no hill and after logging two quick warm up miles, jogged my way down the block-long pedestrian-only incline by my apartment for five 0.15-mile hill repeats.

The workout itself was full of ups and downs (jokes!), but was ultimately uneventful.  I sprinted up, then jogged down, and then repeated four more times. Most of the online workouts said I should have fully caught my breath by the time I’d completed the jog back down, but – blame in on my undisputed canine heritage – found that wasn’t the case.  You win this round, gravity.

How have you worked speed work into your routine? Would hiring something rabid to chase me help hurry along the process?

The First Race of 2012

As my bedside alarm went off at the ungodly hour of 6:40 a.m. yesterday – that’s a Saturday morning, people, meaning a day of rest in many religions and a day of sleeping late and ordering in bagels in mine – I couldn’t quite remember whether I liked racing enough to justify the painfully early start. I had signed up for the first New York Run Runners race of the year a few weeks ago knowing that having the race on my radar over the holidays would help keep my gingerbread house consumption in check (it didn’t), but the idea of doing a full park loop at 8 a.m. in January suddenly seemed less enticing as race day dawned. As I reluctantly dragged myself out from under my duvet and set about coring apples and pears for the winter fruit salad (note: winter is a really boring season for fruit) I was making for my post-race brunch, the sun hadn’t even crested over the East River yet, and a small but very vocal part of me wanted out.

Luckily, we don’t decide things by oligarchy over here, so I laced up my running shoes, pinned on my bib number and made my way over to the park. And I’m glad I did, because as the starting gun went off and my corral started inching – then trotting – then running – forward, I was quickly reminded of something I first learned on Broad Street last year: I love racing.

I wish I could say I love racing because I always come in first and take home some hefty (and in my fantasy, tax-free) prize money, but – shockingly, I know – my 8:39 pace doesn’t always earn me a spot on the podium.  It does, however, get my heart racing and had me grinning ear to sweaty ear before the first mile marker, Harlem Hills and all, and that’s something.

And now, folks, the top three reasons I like racing.  Drumroll, please.

  • The intersection of the public and private.  Never a practitioner of the buddy system, running is typically a very private activity for me, performed just before daybreak in a delightfully silent Central Park. When I leave the apartment for my pre-work miles, even the most ambitious of tourists hasn’t yet rented his clunky $35/hour bicycle, meaning I can churn out my 4 to 6 music-free miles in absolute peace.  But even the lone wolf in me can appreciate the palatable energy a crowd of 5,000+ runners creates and maintains over the course of a race. Even though I went the full 10K yesterday without a word to anyone else on the course, I still felt an overwhelming sense of community as I wove in and out of the crowds.  Pardon the obscure 1973 children’s literature reference, but racing almost makes me feel like Swimmy the fish, who teams up with his other small, insignificant fish friends to swim in the shape of a giant fish and scare away the local fish bully. Anybody?  No?  Moving on then.
  • The fact that it makes my running log colorful. Hey, it counts. Like many runners, I track my miles on, and while short runs, long runs and hill workouts are all delightful shades of blue and green, raced miles are recorded in bright red, making my log look less like GB stronghold of ROYGBIV and more like Liberace.

Just try to tell me this doesn’t look awesome.  Just try.  (Unless you’re color-blind. In which case, stop trying. It’s never going to happen. Too soon?)

  • Post-race refueling. Hands down, the best part of racing is eating in the hours after you cross the finish line. Like the good hydrator I am, I always make my way to the water station first, but then it’s over to the food station to see just how seriously each race takes itself. Saturday’s selection included a very respectable and New York-appropriate offering of bagels and apples. Not bad, but I was more impressed by Broad Street’s bananas and soft pretzels or the Baltimore Half’s Maryland crab soup and double-fisted Bud Lights. Stay classy, Baltimore.The fueling continued at the post-race brunch I hosted for a couple of running friends, a couple of their running friends and an accompaniment of nice boyfriends in jeans, including my own, who came out to support their speedy girlfriends but whose preferred kinds of runs are to the liquor store. I made the aforementioned winter fruit salad (using this recipe, minus the salt and pepper, because that sounded weird), this fiber-full bread in muffin form and a delicious and surprisingly healthy egg bake (subbed turkey breakfast sausage for pork sausage, skim milk for whole milk and a multigrain baguette for the Wonder Bread in this recipe).  A full belly and two mimosas later, I was ready to crawl back into bed for a glorious mid-afternoon nap, which was undeniably a more noble and deserved return to sleep than a 6:40 a.m. snooze button would have offered.

Why do you race (or bike or ice dance or whatever it is you love to do)?  And do ice dancing competitions distribute free bagels at the finish line?

Live from New York

I love two things in this world – running and food.

(Please ignore that first sentence if you’re my family or boyfriend or every dog in New York City. I’m trying to start this thing on a declarative note.)

Running and food are intimately related, as any carb-loading athlete knows, but especially so in my life. Had I not loved food quite so much in my first 25 years, I may not have made the life-changing resolution on Jan. 1, 2011 to lose 30 pounds. And had I not set that goal, I might never have reluctantly agreed in an e-mail four days later to join a group of friends in the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia on May 1. And had I not responded all to that perky e-mail, I perhaps never would have traded in my twice-weekly elliptical jaunts for a Hal Higdon novice 5K plan and – one year later – a new resolution:

To run a marathon.

(My other resolution this year is to floss. My boyfriend thinks it’s sweet that I have a “hard” goal and an “easy” goal, but – to be honest – after four days of dental floss usage, I’m not so sure I know which goal is which. But I digress. )

I’m launching this blog in order to track my progress from a casual Central Park jogger to hopefully a successful marathoner over the course of the next 10 months. I’ve learned a lot of things about motivation and moderation in the last year, but considering I honestly only looked up the definition of ‘fartlek’ this morning, I know I still have quite a bit to learn. Ideally, this blog will allow me to document that education, share some recipes and tips, and help keep me accountable when it comes to my running goals. (Accountable, eh? Perhaps I should launch a flossing blog, too.)

My first race of the New Year – and my first race ever with the New York Road Runners – will be the Joe Kleinerman 10K on Saturday. A new racing distance for me, I’m guaranteed a PR even if I crabwalk, but stay tuned anyways for a race recap and/or some photos of big city dogs in sweaters. I forgot about dogs in sweaters – I guess I love three things in this world.

What are your 2012 resolutions?  And more importantly, how many of you just googled fartlek?

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