Monday, July 08, 2013
I've been asked what I did to change my body composition so much in the past four years.
The answer, of course, is no ONE thing.
The first, most important thing I did was start strength training. For the roughly 40 years since I turned 20, I had done a fair amount of cardio (although not consistently), but I did not strength train. The same was true of the weight loss plan I followed at Spark People from January to the end of May, 2009.
I was almost 60 years old. SP's rule of thumb is that you lose 1/2 pound of muscle every year after 20 if you don't do resistance training. That's about 20 pounds of muscle lost. Doing cardio, I got the muscle I had into better shape, but I didn't add to it. So each year I was a little weaker and my metabolism was a little slower.
Adding consistent strength training (and consistent is a key word) made a dramatic difference at first. My body fat % fell fairly quickly down to 26%. It took almost as long (or maybe longer) for it to fall below 24%. I can only speculate as to why this was so. But I think it was a combination of two things. About a year into maintenance, I fell into the "too much, too soon" trap with my running (which I will discuss in a minute). I had to cut back, so wasn't running as much for a while. But more importantly, during the first two years, I wasn't strong enough to run more than 3 days a week safely.
As I continued to train consistently, however, I got physically stronger and stronger until, early in 2012, I was able to increase my running frequency to 5 days a week and running volume to 45 - 50 miles a week, plus add speed work. In 2013, I was physically strong enough to increase to 6 days a week and 55 - 60 miles a week. Without injury or burnout, which is the critical requirement. This year, in particular, the rate of body composition change has accelerated. I can't be precise about the timeline because I really don't take the measurements that often, but I particularly started noticing that my clothes were all looser.
So you can say that an increase in my running gets the credit for the drop from 24% to 19%, but only because strength training gave me the new muscle to do it.
But the real credit goes to a change in my mental outlook, in what motivates me and in what gives me a sense of satisfaction and reward, that enables me to work out consistently.
Whether strength training or running gets more of the credit, what really matters is that both are CONSISTENT. You can brute force a training program for a few weeks, or a few months, but the only way to do it for years (and years) is to enjoy it, to find value in it, in short, to want to do it more than the other options that exist to occupy your time.
The first year or so into maintenance, I was still in short-term thinking mode, where goals are like contests. You want to get there as fast as you can. You want to "beat" your goal. You want to win. I was patient training for my first marathon because I was intimidated by it. But when it was so successful, I started dreaming big and getting impatient. I decided to try to qualify for Boston. I increased miles, I added speed work, I added strength training, without considering what my body (and mind) was really ready for. More is better, right?
And I was doing fine for a while and then, gradually, problems developed. Niggling overuse problems with my feet got worse because I wouldn't stop to take care of them. Getting out day after day to run got harder as the runs got less fun. I was making myself get out there (I am very disciplined), but I was no longer enjoying it. Then I got sick. Very sick for a month. I missed a lot of training and ran a marathon that I wasn't really ready for and it was a terrible experience.
Why was I doing this? I had to ask myself some hard questions. The answers turned out to be obvious once I looked honestly at what was going on. Did I want to stop running marathons? No. Was I able to keep running marathons? Not like this. Did I want to be miserable most of the time I was running? No. Was qualifying for Boston worth it if it made me hate running? No, no, no.
I put the Boston goal on the shelf, dropped the speed work, strapped on a heart rate monitor with an alarm set to 70% of my max heart rate and wore it for all workouts (I was still doing a lot of cross training). In essence, I went to 100% low intensity training. It may sound overly dramatic, but the results were almost immediate. Running was fun again. Working out was fun again. Motivation problems disappeared. I began training consistently again. I ran only half marathons that fall and then "26.2 with Donna" in February 2012. That was the test. There is a picture of me on my spark page taken just after I crossed the finish line. There is a big grin on my face. I had done it. I knew I could run and enjoy marathons.
So I took my Boston goal back down from the shelf. But this time it is different. My real goal is to be the best runner I can be. I think that runner can qualify for Boston. But if she can't, she will still run almost every day. Not because she's trying to qualify but because she loves the way she feels when she runs. She will still strength train every week because she loves the way her body feels when it is strong. She marvels at what it can do. She looks forward to celebrating her strength every day, to set free her inner athlete. She plans for that celebration to continue until she is at least 100.
Oh, and by the way, her body fat dropped too.
"I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free." -- Michelangelo