Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ya Gotta Have Goals

Dropping the Pounds

Goals have been critical to my overall weight loss. Also critical was keeping these goals bite sized and manageable. The thought of losing over 200 lbs. in one fell swoop is overwhelming, however 12 lbs a month is far less so.

Early on, I did set 12 lbs a month as a goal. It was manageable and reasonable. It also proved to be fairly easy to beat, so exceeding that goal proved to be a great further motivator.

For 2007, I set a goal to lose and additional 100 lbs, total of 200 lbs. My final goal weight is 199, a total loss of 218 lbs. -- a decrease of more than 52% of my starting weigh-in. Through May, I'm at 136. May was the first month that I achieved a monthly goal this year. I believe that I can continue to lose at this pace, given my new focus on training longer races.

Running Weight

I know that every pound that I shed makes my running goals that much easier to achieve. My feet, ankles and knees will certainly thank me. Ideally, I'd like to be at 250 or below when I step to the line at Philly in September and below 220 for my first marathon next spring.

Running Goals

When I started out last July, I never expected to have running goals, just weight goals. Now, the running goals have almost taken over. Weight loss will be a byproduct of my training and preparation, rather than "treadding" or "jalking" being the means to the end.

(Definitions: treadding: v. exercise on the treadmill, where it all began; jalking: v. the act of intermittently jogging or walking in a public place to complete a course.)

At the present time, I can run only about 1/3 of a mile. I have worked on the treadmill to adjust my speed to be able to get to that point. My most immediate goal is to be able to run a full mile without breaking stride into a walk. Time is not important, but the accomplishment is. It only builds from there.

As for times, my next event is a 5k on June 10. My last timed 5k in December was in excess of 45 minutes. My time goal is to break 40 minutes. I "jalked" the course last weekend and broke 41 in 81 degree heat. I'm pretty confident on this one.

The next big race is the Philadelphia Distance Run. It's a half marathon on September 16. Goal is to break 3 hours.

After that, the Columbia Metric Marathon in December. 3:30 would be great there.

All in all, just finishing these longer events will be an accomplishment and set the stage for 26.2 in the spring.


Saturday, May 26, 2007

In the beginning. . .

Birth through College Years
My name is Jeff and I was born in December, 1964 in Baltimore, MD.

I think I was big since just moments after birth. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I really just liked to eat. My folks sent me to a shrink, an endocrinologist, Weight Watchers, etc, etc. None of the specialists could find anything physically wrong with me. I just had a love affair with food.

Growing up sucked. I was always the fat kid, but I loved food. I remember in third grade, 1973 or so, the teacher lined us up at the nurses door and we all got weighed. I tipped the scale at 113 lbs. The snickering went on for months and my fate was sealed.

Over the years, I had numerous attempts at weight loss. I think I tried just about every mass market weight loss program around -- OptiFast, Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Atkins, Ornish, Atkins again, South Beach, Atkins the Third. Well, you get the idea. My brother even wrote Richard Simmons out of concern and love for me. Richard called me and sent me a Deal-a-Meal.

Summer of 79 was spent at Camp Shane. 7 weeks in the Catskills with lots of other fat kids. I lost 49 lbs and dropped under 300. It was the first time in my life where my weight didn't seem to matter, since everyone was in the same boat as I was. Alas, back to reality and the ping pong effect. By the turn of the decade, I was back over 300 with every pound lost found again.

High school was okay, but I was always the jolly fat kid. I decided to wrestle during my junior year. Coach Bradley said I was the only one on the team to gain weight. I don't recall winning a match.

Food had always been first and foremost in my life and my mind. I recall an overnight at my parent's friend's house -- I was probably 9 or 10 -- they had a dish of Hershey's kisses out near where I was sleeping. SCORE! I probably ate 20 or 30 of them and stupidly deposited all of the foil behind the couch. In the morning, I got snagged by Mrs. A. Then I got the lecture on where "we" put trash. (Why I didn't used the toilet to flush the evidence, I'll never know.) In high school, one of my classmates worked at the new Taco Bell in my town. After an eventing out with friends, which may have included a visit to Pizza Hut, I'd go see Louise at Taco Bell for her "buy one, get all you can eat" off-the-menu special. I'd eat a few burrito supreme's and a couple of tacos. Wash it down with a Dr. Pepper.

All in all, high school was not bad. I did have some close friends, some of which I still see and talk to 25 years later. I spent 2 1/2 years each at two different colleges. I distinguished myself as one of the more active students. I was involved periodically in student government, the school news paper, and a few other clubs. I always felt a part of things in college and I felt appreciated mostly for who I was rather than what I was or what I felt inside. Also, I was a pretty hearty partier, which explains, in some part, my multi-college experience. All in all, college was a happy time.

Working years -- After College through July, 2006
After college, I went to work for my dad's company. This was a place that I had been going and working summers for a number of years. The employees knew me and I didn't have to go through that dreaded interview process. Shortly after he sold the company, I left for greener pastures in 1990.

I began work at an environmental services company at which I still work. The woman that hired me was great, though she admitted after I started that she felt that "a nice guy like [me] deserved a chance." Translation: a nice fat guy like you deserves a chance. Over the past 17 years, the company has been good to me. I have no complaints.

You might have noticed that I haven't mentioned any "intimate" relationships. Well, there weren't any. I had women friends, but never girl friends. Self confidence was a MAJOR issue. In 93, I had moved to NJ for a job opportunity. I was in a new state with few local friends and I was tipping the scale at 415 lbs. I began to take the advice of Dr. Dean Ornish and his Eat More Weigh Less program. The program was basically all carbs, no fat, no protein. After 6 months or so, I was down more than 80 lbs. I felt great.

A woman periodically called me from the Jaycee Chapter that I was involved in, still back in Maryland. I thought she was nuts! Well, with my new found weight loss and confidence, I asked Deb out. One thing led to another and we've now been married for 11 years. (And yes, she IS nuts!) One thing we have in common, other than undying love and respect for each other, is a lifelong struggle with the scale.

Picture: Deb and I at Emeril's in New Orleans in January, 2006.

Over the years, I've lost the same 80 lbs at least 5 times, each time winding up back around where I had started. I hated my body. I hated what I looked like. My kids were now at an age where their friends would soon be talking about their fat dad. In 2006, this all changed. With each diet attempt and failure, exercise was never a component of my weight loss plan. I hated the gym experience. Actually, I was way too self-conscious to display my body in front of all of the beautiful people at the gym.

2006 -- A year of change
In early 2006, I felt like crap. I was as heavy as ever. I was busting out of my size 58 pants and moved from a 5X to a 6X shirt. (The picture at the left is from November, 2005. )

Since I had never really tried the exercise route, I thought an investment in a treadmill would be the way to go. In March, the treadmill arrived to our garage. In April, it sat in the garage. In May, it sat in the garage. Subconsciously, I knew that once it was set up and ready to go, I had no excuses.

This is a good time to introduce Dave and Jill. Dave and Jill were parents of my youngest son's preschool class mate. Deb had developed a friendship with them and we were periodically invited to their house. They are some of the nicest people I've ever met, but also the fittest. Dave is a marathon runner and Jill a club swimmer. These are exactly the kind of people that I have always assumed would have no interest in befriending me. After all, I'm the FAT GUY. I couldn't have been more wrong.

I had talked to Dave about the treadmill and he certainly encouraged me to set it up and get on it. Finally, in June, I got it in place and on July 12, 2006 I stepped on it for the first time, but not before I stepped on the scale. On this date, I topped out an an all-time high of 414 lbs. On this date, I managed 1.01 miles in just over 22 minutes.

On July 13, the next day, I told Deb that I just couldn't do it. That I wasn't going to tread and it was going to be too hard. She had none of that. I needed to give it a chance and get back on. Also, I needed to change my diet some. Just give up one thing. That was to be my dear french fries. Quite a sacrifice.

As usual, she knows best, and she did, and thank god she did.

My initial goal was to lose 30 lbs by our trip to Myrtle Beach in late August. It was slow going at first. Just a mile or two five days a week or so. After a couple of weeks, I had lost 9 lbs. Not terrible, but far from the usual diet loss of 10-15 lbs in the first week alone. I concluded that a more structured eating program was necessary. I had previously lost the usual 80 lbs on South Beach and I liked it better than Atkins as it added in some carbs: particularly the veggies that I do love.

I began tracking my mileage and weight loss from the beginning. I would regale Deb and Dave (by IM) regularly with my progress. In the mean time, Deb was losing too and began treading as well. Dave's support at this juncture was critical to my success. Here's a guy that runs 26.2 a couple of times a year and trains by running double digit mileage. He made my progress seem like a bigger deal than crossing his finish line.

By the time of our vacation, I was down 29. Oh so close, but an accomplishment nonetheless.

Vacation was different, too. I was dedicated to South Beach. Deb and I found the exercise room at the resort. We worked our plans on vacation. My only indulgence was fat free, sugar free yogurt on a few nights. (Picture of me in Myrtle Beach with my youngest son.)

Imagine my shock when I got home and the scale show a FIVE POUND GAIN! How could that happen? I was stunned, but, unlike other occasions, I was determined to reverse that course. Back on the treadmill. Within 3 days the 5 was gone again and then the pounds kept coming off. Best I can tell is those 5 lbs were the result of eating out. Lots of salt in them their menu pickins. I've had the same thing happen since and in every case, the extra lbs are gone in two or three days.

As the months passed, so too did the pounds. By the end of November, I was down 82 lbs. I had thought for several months that hitting the 100 lb mark would be impossible by year end. The fact that I'd never broken through the mid-80's was certainly a scary thought, though. By December 1, 100 was well in sight. Just had to get through that wall in the 80's.

At this point, I was up to 2.5 miles 4-5 days a week. I had broken into the 14 minute per mile range. In early December, we did a family 5k run for a local charity (picture below). I completed the course in just over 50 minutes, with the family just a few minutes behind. I was encouraged by the finish, but not by the time, since it was well off my treadmill pace. On the next day, Dave was running in a local metric marathon, which had an accompanying 5k. Since Deb was near the registration place later that day, I had her sign me up. What was I thinking -- 3.1 on back to back days? Dave was totally stoked when I told him that night that I'd be joining him, as was I. On Sunday, I cut 5 minutes off of my Saturday time, then waited with Jill for Dave to finish. It was great, but I didn't know what pain was until Monday. Everything hurt.

As the month wore on, I was losing, but not at the pace I needed to to break 100. By 12/26, I was still 6 pounds out. I cut my food intake and started to exercise for an hour plus each day. On 12/31, it was to be a happy new year as I weighed in at 314. Truly, an amazing accomplishment, well beyond any prior results.

So what happened to make the second half of 2006 unlike any other time in my life? Well, a lot of things. Clearly, exercise was a missing link. I had never done any kind of rigorous exercise for any length of time. This was new and I was actually enjoying it. Deb was in it too. She was losing one pound to every two that I lost. I've never had a partner in losing. Dave's support and encouragement was priceless. Getting compliments from every corner of my life didn't suck either.

2007 -- The Fun Continues
As the new year got underway, I did some resting on my laurels. Weight loss slowed to 5-6 lbs per month and the next milestone of breaking under 300 would not come until the end of March. I was now treading 2-3 days a week. I also found a new snack food -- nuts. I started eating them like crazy. Way too many. I saw many of the bad habits that I thought had been exorcised come back in the form of these little tasty gems. For the first time since July, I didn't make a single monthly weight goal. On the positive side, I was still losing. Deb found herself struggling too.

Dave had mentioned a 10k race held each year not far from home at the end of April. I thought that the challenge would be good for me, so I dutifully signed up. Given that I had only ever gone 5 miles just once, I should have been training for this 10k, but I slacked off and did very little training in the weeks leading up to it.

I felt like I got creamed. Though I did meet my goal of not being the lanterne rouge (the last official finisher in the Tour de France is called the lanterne rouge, or the red light as on the back of the caboose.) My time was nearly 89 minutes. My treadmill times had been running under 13 minutes per mile. Given the fact that the course is known for personal records as it is almost entirely down hill, I was disappointed. When I called Deb from the post race event, I told her that this was the most self-inflicted pain I had ever had.

What concerned me more was the next event. Dave had planned to run the Delaware Marathon on May 20 and I agreed a month or so before to do the accompanying 10 Miler. I could not imagine how I would be ready to go in just 3 weeks to do 60% longer distance.

The first decision was easy. Though there was a fleeting thought, there would be no quitting. Just preparation. After 3 full days to recover from my sore feet, legs, arms and the rest of my body, "Coach" Dave advised how to prepare. Basically, my usual weekday treads, then 7 mi the first weekend, 8 mi the next, then taper off leading up to the 10 mi. I also set a personal goal to lose another 10 lbs before the race. At that point, I had been hovering at 292, down a total of 122.

I had never been so singularly focused. The focus was helped by a couple of books that Deb bought at the kids school fair on marathon running. Although I don't think that she thought I might want to run a marathon, the 2 for 25 cent investment was too good to pass up. I began to read Marathon: The Ultimate Training Guide, by Hal Higdon. The more I read, the more excited I got about my training for the coming 10 mile race and really set in my mind the thought of running a marathon. I did 6.5 mi the first weekend, 8.25 the next and by the time Wed of race week came around, 10 more pounds were gone and I was busting out of my skin ready to go.

Dave and I left Saturday afternoon, picked up our packets and went off to the carb dinner hosted by the marathon producers. The dinner was my first real exposure to the running community. Although I had participated in a few events up until now, I never really interacted with anyone other than Dave. The folks I met a dinner were terrific. Truly interested in sharing their history and hearing mine. Dave also pointed out Steve and Paula Boone, who had combined to finish like 600 marathons.

Sunday was race day. I couldn't wait to go. As we walked around the starting line I ran into one of our dinner companions, who wished me good luck. As for a goal, having never gone 10 miles, I figured 2:15-2:30 would be in the right range. I really hoped to finish 10 before any of the marathoner's finished 26.2.

As the race started, my adrenalin was in full force. I was more than ready to go. At the start, I was able to jog the first 1/3 mile or so before going into my jog/walk routine that I would follow the remainder of the race. At about the 1/2 mile mark, the marathoners, who had left about 10 minutes before the 10 milers, passed us in the other direction. It was great to see Dave passing the other way, who gave me a great cheer. It's also amazing to see people out rooting for everyone. I had seen that before. What I had never experienced before is having other runners cheering you on. At one point later on, we again passed the marathoners going the other way. I couldn't believe the cheers and the offers of support. There again was Dave going the other way. He dropped me a hint about pumping my arms, even when walking. Good advice. Then there was Steve Boone, Mr. 400 plus marathons -- "way to go -- keep it up." I couldn't count all of the racers and rooters that threw encouragement my way. It really kept me going.

At the 9 mile mark, I knew I'd make it. I also knew I was exhausted and there was not much more pep left in my step. From that point, though, I could crawl across the finish line. As I approached Blue Rock Stadium and the finish line, the end was near. I talked myself into a jog at 9.8. I kept talking to myself: "It's just 2/10 of a mile. Forget the other 9.8. I can do it. I will do it. I feel great." and there was now a pretty good crowd leading up to the end. The cheers were amazing. These people who had no clue who I was were calling out my number and rooting and cheering FOR ME! It was an emotional final 2/10 and I crossed the finish line completing the longest non-stop walk/run/jog of my life and I felt like I had just reached the summit of Mt. Everest.

For what it's worth, for me, this was another monumental accomplishment. As I went through the feeding tent and sat down, finally resting my poor old dogs, I did get a bit emotional. It was at this point that I knew I'd never go back to the guy that I was. That my life had changed forever and that I couldn't wait for the next event. . .as long as it wasn't tomorrow! LIFE IS GREAT!

Now it's time to get to the finish line to watch for Dave. I stood there for about a half hour clapping for every runner that crossed. Their accomplishment seemed to mean so much more to me now. I kept looking down past the stadium for a guy in a red shirt and white cap. Finally, I did see Dave and called out to him. I gave him a high-five as he passed me on his way to the finish line. Congrats to him. Well done.
I finished 10 miles in 2:21:22, an average of 14:08 and beat my 3 week old 10k average by 10 seconds. I again avoided the lanterne rouge title but that really wouldn't have mattered today.

By Monday, I had my plan in place -- Philadelphia Distance Run half marathon in September, the Columbia Metric Marathon in December and my first marathon in the spring of 2008. I can't wait!
Today I am down 134 pounds at 280 in 10 1/2 months. Nearly 1/3 of my former heft is gone. Best I can recall, I haven't been under 300 since the Camp Shane summer of 1979 -- 28 years! I wear 44 inch pants -- down 14 inches -- and a 2X shirt. My medical progress has been equally amazing -- cholesterol down to 138, BP is normal -- hoping to go off meds this summer after two reductions this year -- resting HR runs in the low 60's and I'm no longer morbidly obese. I feel better than ever and can't wait for the next challenge. I look at myslef in the mirror and sometimes have a hard time recognizing the guy looking back at me -- but I like what I see!
Without a doubt, I owe a tremendous debt to my wife, without whom I wouldn't have made it through day 2, not to mention many many days after that! Deb has been my biggest cheerleader. Also, to my family and friends whose support and encouragement has been overwhelming: my kids, my parents, brother and everyone else that I've run into, too. Coach Dave -- what a mensch -- without Dave and his family's support, the treadmill might have been no more that the "dread tread".
I owe them all for the years that I've certainly added to my life.