Running just as fast as we can, now

Spoiler - we just ran a 5k!
Spoiler – we just ran a 5k!

I am not a fitness guru. I’m not even a fitness padawan. I’m a “fitness happens to other people” kind of person. I just did a search of “running” on my blog, and in the first two pages of results, there are none that actually involve… you know… running.

But I also follow the latest research. It turns out that being a great cook and having a job where you sit for a living is not a recipe for happy longevity. I’ve noticed that over time, my mass has gradually crept up. I never lost the baby weight from Grey. Or Thane. And to be completely honest, it was cold water on my face when I stepped on a scale and saw that my weight was about as high as it had been when I was in my third trimester. Taken just on it’s own, that’s bad enough. But as a trend line it just had to be stopped. At some point – perhaps not that far from now – the extra weight would start affecting my mobility (if not my health). Like most people, I find it extremely difficult to lose weight once I’ve gained it. This makes not gaining weight of critical importance.

Tragically, the “easy” ways to lose weight don’t work. Heck, the hard ways to lose weight only work very grudgingly and with great pains. But this spring, I got back to carefully watching the calories in vs calories out.

Pretty typical lunch for me - I'm extremely lucky to have access to free, super high quality healthy food at work
Pretty typical lunch for me – I’m extremely lucky to have access to free, super high quality healthy food at work

If you’ve ever done that, you know that the calories in required to reduce your mass is a desperately small amount. A 1500 or even 1800 calorie diet means that every meal is super small and there are very few snacks. And wine or beer? Fuggedaboutit. But there’s this great tradeoff you can make. If you increase your calories OUT you can take more calories IN. Want a piece of cake? Desperate for some brie and crackers? Longing for lemonade? If you go for a run, you can have eat your cake, and make your goals too.

I picked running because my friend Julie mentioned how much she’d been enjoying it. Also, it was free and immediately available. Don’t underestimate free and immediately available as important criteria for your workout plans. I have access to a gym at work. (But no time.) I used to have a local gym membership (but hated the locale – it was the sort of place that has dire warnings in the locker room regarding the dangers of steroids). I’d run a bit before I blew out my knee, and I’d done track in high school (badly). So I had decent shoes, something to wear and enough training not to hurt myself. Although it’s worth noting that my orthopedic surgeon has said I should try for lower impact sports – I’ll never aim for a marathon because I don’t have enough cartilege in my left knee to support it.

Remarkably consistent with one run a week the last few weeks
Remarkably consistent with one run a week the last few weeks

I ran for about a mile, stopping to walk. The next time, I ran for a mile and didn’t stop to walk. Then I ran longer distances. Julie recommended I use RunKeeper to track my runs, since data is motivational. (She’s right, by the way.) Then Adam started joining me on my runs (Tragically, I slow him down. Men. It’s not fair how much more easily he gets in shape than I do!). Then, we ran in our town’s super low key 5K race. (Side note, the organizers at the Boys and Girls Club of Stoneham deserve all the credit in the world for putting together such a nice, safe, and well run race!)

Maybe next time I'll be in the top half of my age group....
Maybe next time I’ll be in the top half of my age group….

Julie asked me if I get the runner’s high that’s so talked about. For months now I’ve tragically lamented that I don’t seem to get that part. But I wonder if it’s sneaking up on me. It takes a lot of willpower to 75 miles. But somehow, it appears that I’ve done just that. How remarkable!

Let's go!
Let’s go!

Yes, kind sir, she sits and spins

I find myself at an odd confluence of events today. I hope that you know me well enough by now to know that although I pay attention to my body and appearance, I’m far from obsessesed with the Western standard of beauty for women. It helps to have realized it is unobtainable for me.

However, I am starting to think that the pregnancy weight I put on with Thane will not actually come off by itself. Call it a hunch. I would like my maintenance weight to be the weight I was before I started procreating lo eight years ago. This is a matter of 25 pounds. I believe this is achievable, having worked my way back to it before between the boys. So when my husband asked if I would join him in this diet he’s done a ton of research on, and which he has found efficacious before, I figured this was a good time to attempt the challenge again.

The diet is a called the Slow Carb Diet and is more or less a geek’s attempt to optimize weight loss. In some studies, it’s been shown to be more effective than other forms of diet. My husband did a ton of research on it. The basic concepts are this:

1) Eat all low glycemic index foods: lean meats, vegetables and legumes
2) Eat no high glycmeic foods: any form of carb, fruit, diary, sugar, sweetener. Any food that “comes in white” is right out. (With exceptions).
3) Take one cheat day in seven and eat all the carbs you want (to prevent other cheating, and to prevent your body from going into starvation mode)

In practice this means that breakfast is eggs and beans (breakfast is the hard part). Thank HEAVENS I drink my coffee black! Lunch is dinner leftovers. Dinner is a compliant meal like split pea soup, cassoulet, black bean casserole, morrocan chicken, lentil soup…

Snacks have been the hard part. I’ve probably had more nuts than I should. Hard boiled eggs are great for this. Veggies with hummus become the culinary highlight of your day. My husband says the hardest part is that you get absolutely not taste of anything sweet with this diet. It’s true. Even artificial sweeteners are out. He says the flip side is that you “reset” your perception of sweet, so that a glass of milk or an apple seems deliciously sweet.

I’m on day three, and so far I’ve been compliant. We’ll see how it goes. I figure that an attempt is better than no attempt, and that the possibility of success is motivating. My weight is pretty stable, so once I’ve lost the weight, i believe I will be able to keep it off using more normal dietary constraints.

If you’re curious, here is some other information on the diet:

A few weeks ago, I had finally decided that my knee was far enough from right — nearly 18 months after massive knee surgery — I was not content with the condition of my knee. I can’t cross it. I can’t kneel. It hurts with the weather. And most importantly, the differences in strength between repaired left knee and normal right knee are more than obvious enough to be seen in my legs. They’re still working differently, and my body is pulled off center. Like weight loss, I’ve concluded this won’t fix itself. So I went to my orthopedic surgeon – expecting a PT prescription.

Instead, he gave me a prescription for spinning class. Greaaaat. Now, I believe that when you ask for medical help and advice you should consider it, and assuming it passes the sniff test, you should implement it. I suppose I shouldn’t have needed an orthopedic surgeon to tell me that I needed exercise for my knee, but apparently I did. Having gotten that advice, I treat it as sacred as a PT prescription, and decided that logistic impossibilities aside, I needed to comply.

In truth, I am really feeling the need for exercise. I don’t feel strong, or flexible, or powerful. I feel weak and fragile. My two mile a day walking simply isn’t enough, or the right kind of exercise. Of course, the flip side is that I truly do not know where I can find two hours a week to go to the gym. I will simply have to be opportunistic about it. But that is no excuse for not trying.

So I have signed up for a froo froo gym with a gazillion classes* and exercise equipments and the kind of strutting gym rats that have provided disincentives for unathletic, pudgy geeks like me since the gym was invented. Fortunately, I’m no longer 22 and do not care for their disregard.

So here I am, in February, with mounds of snow on the ground, on a wacko diet that means I can’t have Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast and the kind of gym membership that everyone has and no one uses.

I’ll let you know how it works out!

*Critically, it has about 16 spinning classes a week and child care and is less than 5 miles from my house.

The gym

I am not a gym rat. I have never had a gym membership. I’ve generally been sort of unsure how they work, except they seem to involve getting up early in the morning and having a wardrobe of specialized clothes for looking good while sweating.

Well, it turns out my new job has an onsite gym. That all my colleagues are regulars at. That costs a grand total of $25/month of which $150/year is reimbursable through my health plan. That has everything you might possibly need, including cable for day Red Sox game. On contemplation, this seemed pretty hard to forgo. So in early April I bit the bullet, wrote a check, and decided to try to figure it all out.

I’d like to take a moment to thank my junior high and high school gym teachers. At the time, I thought it was the height of unfairness that SCHOOL where I was supposed to be GOOD at stuff was making me do things that I didn’t know how to do and was bad at. I had to learn whole new skills like lifting weights, running, stretching, and even doing pushups. Despite my early despair, this education made doing sports seem plausible. And sports taught me how to be in shape and negotiate fitness, in addition to how to work hard at things I was terrible at in order to attain hard-won mediocrity. I went to state in basketball and track (through no merit of my own), and have varsity letters in things other than Knowledge Bowl and Pep Band. I haven’t done an organized sport since my sophomore year of high school, but I have confidence in my ability to do physical things that require sneakers and sports bras. This was not inevitable.

An adult gym seems very different. I mean, there’s the whole subtext of locker rooms. The thing about locker rooms is that you are naked in them. Not metaphorically. So there’s my boss’s boss’s boss, and there’s someone who works in the cafeteria and we’re all getting our clothes on for Zumba class. It’s very equalizing in an “I hope I don’t make a complete idiot of myself” kind of way. There are fitness friendships that spring up far across corporate divisions. And then there’s the issue of unspoken etiquette, which I’m sure I don’t know all about. Does one attempt to hide under the insufficient towels, or is one unafraid as one walks out of the shower? There are brushes on the counter in front of the mirror… do only idiots use them? Are they just for show? Or is it ok for me to use them? And these are my coworkers — people whose opinion is important — so it’s important I not commit huge faux pas.

I suspect I might be oversensitive, since the jr. high/high school locker rooms was the place where “gross” “freaky” and all the other terror-terms of my youth were defined — where being “normal” and “like everyone else” was the height of my desire. Perhaps the payroll coordinator is more forgiving of foibles than was the norm in 7th grade.

Also, among my areas of ignorance is hair dryers. I’ve just never used them, never mastered the art of them. I only own a hair dryer for putting up that plastic sheeting across the windows. A hair dryer is a must if you’re using a corporate gym, because really? Sopping wet hair does not say “professional”. So in addition to Force, Java, an entirely new business, and powerpoint for everything I have to master hair dryer skills? It seems too much!

The good news is that I’m really not in all that bad a shape. I did 25 minutes on an elliptical without trouble. I ran a mile and a half on the treadmill. (I do love those day games!) I’m up to 5 visits. I think this is going to work for me. But I find it like a strange new world with all these rules and customs I need to carefully wend my way through.

What about you? Are you comfortable doing vigorous exercise? Do you have a gym membership? Is it like a second home to you, or a foreign country?