Maybe one of your resolutions this year is to lose some weight and get into shape? It’s true. Running is a big calorie burner. So if you start a running program, or increase your miles, or even train for a marathon, will you automatically lose weight? Well…maybe. Maybe not. Losing weight is more complicated than just starting an exercise program.
Back in 2002, my boyfriend at the time, Mike, accompanied me to the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in San Diego. He positioned himself at the half-marathon mark to watch me run by. At the time that was my ninth marathon and I was desperately trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I told him I would fly by at the 1 hour 50 to 55 minute mark in my quest to beat 4 hours and qualify.
No one said watching a marathon was a spectator sport. Once the lead runners zoom by, what is left is a sea of lumbering bodies. Fascinated by his first marathon, Mike patiently waited and watched. He saw the 3:50 pace group go by and then the 4:00 pace group go by and then the 4:10 pace group go by. I don’t know if he even saw me go by… He did comment on how surprised he was at the large size of some of the runners he saw on the course—runners who were much faster than me. He thought anyone crazy enough to train all those miles and then top it off with an ultimate 26.2 mile race would all be slim—especially if they were sub-4 hour runners. Not so.
Losing weight has become a national obsession. According to the CDC, two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese. The average American is 23 pounds heavier than his or her ideal body weight. If we equate “normal” with average, it’s not much of a stretch to say it’s normal to be fat. Did you know that the average American spends $1,200 a year on fast food – that’s burgers and fried chicken twice EVERY week. That’s not helping in the weight department.
When I was in high school (back in the 70’s) girls were not allowed to participate in sports so growing up with a healthy exercise habit was not likely. When I went to work at the “Dari-ette”, one of the town’s burger joints, it was no surprise that I started to gain weight. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t obsess constantly about my weight. We all know someone who can’t talk about anything else but their weight—maybe it’s you?
There are several reasons why you may be gaining weight. The most common is that you are eating more calories than you are burning. Now consider that you have decided to train for a marathon to lose weight. When I run, I burn between 500 to 700 calories an hour when I run depending on how fast I am running. A pound is comprised of approximately 3,500 calories so I must run over 4 hours to lose 1 pound (of course this does not take into consideration the increase in metabolism over a longer period of time if you run for 2 hours or more). Now consider that a Big Mac is 540 calories and a large fries is 500 calories (not including a soft drink). If I run for an hour—even 2 hours at an easy pace (500 calories an hour) and then go out and eat a Big Mac meal, I’ve eaten at least 40 more calories in one meal than I burned running. That is a sobering fact. Many people who are training for a marathon will actually eat more calories than they burn.
So whether it’s running or some other form of exercise, it won’t work unless you change your diet too. The whole idea is not to “diet” per se. It’s a change in lifestyle. When I worked at the Dari-ette, I was obsessed—I thought about food constantly. Trying to “diet” was a disaster. When I started running in my mid-twenties and reading Runner’s World magazine, I started to change my eating habits (giving up the snacking on fries, for instance) and I began to lose weight naturally. I changed my eating habits, not to lose weight, but to become healthier so I could run faster. It’s true. Once a new lifestyle becomes a habit, then you create a new reality. It’s important to not focus on weight loss as the goal but on something else more positive, like being able to run faster, or learning how to ball room dance, or discovering hiking to connect with nature. It’s important to do something you enjoy and to have fun.
Returning back to 2002 and the Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon in San Diego, no, I wasn’t with the 3:50 pace group, nor the 4:00 pace group, nor was I with the 4:10 pace group. I didn’t qualify for the Boston Marathon and I certainly did not beat four hours. That quest was to continue for several more years… You can read my story in my upcoming book Breaking Barriers, to be published this year.
Meanwhile, through the years, I’ve developed a strong and lean body and I’m in the best shape and health of my life. No—middle-age does not have to mean gaining weight and watching your body fall with gravity. It’s amazing what small changes in life style will do enhance life. Exercise and focusing on healthy eating are major factors in quality of life as we age. Get out there and do something physical and fun!
Book Note: Yes! I’m pleased to report that the final re-write of the book is done and will soon be going to my editor. Meanwhile I’ve completed my fourth audio CD, AVOID HIRING MISTAKES—The Seven Biggest Mistakes Hiring Managers Make. All four of my CD’s will soon be available on my (almost live) speaker website. www.doloreslara.com
Training Report: I’m running strong and on track. I’m starting my fourth month of training and my long run is now 17 miles and my weekly mileage is 47. Now it’s time to focus and keep going as the training gets intense. Looking forward to Boston in April!