It’s Marathon time again! My training program for the 2015 Prairie State Marathon started today and I am so excited.
I ran my first full marathon in May last year. See, I have a tattoo to prove it:
And a sticker on my car:
I started out the training at about 145 lbs and finished the marathon tipping the scales at 162 lbs. Despite (erroneous) claims that I lost weight running, I managed to gain just under 20 lbs while running an estimated 422 miles (plus the actual 26.2 of the race). What the….???
It turns out, this isn’t an isolated incident. The phenomenon of packing on the old el-bees while preparing for a long distance race is well-documented. Like many others, I had no clue about this while developing a love of distance running, and promptly fell into many of the pitfalls. I have since done my reading and learned a lot about the physiology of exercise and hunger. This Run Haven article sums up some of the reasons.
While it is true that I was building more muscle and that my body was storing more glycogen, for people like me who battle a food addiction, reason #3, eating too many calories, was definitely the main culprit. During the marathon training, I allowed myself to “carb-up” the night before long runs. Then, after each long run I would experience intense hunger, and I would allow myself to indulge on the grounds that I had burned a tonne of calories. Yes, I had burned a tonne of calories, but probably not as many as those two massive, carby meals (heaping orders of pilau rice from my favourite restaurant) flanking the long runs were providing.
Compounding the issue was the fact that this training program land smack in the middle of my ill-fated departure from using MyFitnessPal to track calories. So those calculations about how much I could eat versus how many calories I was burning involved a lot of very generous “eye-balling.” Translation: more calories were going in than were coming out.
Another issue is heart rate and hormones. As I mentioned above, people close to me seem confused when I try to explain that DDP Yoga was responsible for my weight loss, and running wasn’t. In DDP Yoga, we are told early and often to use a heart rate monitor, and to back off if we go above our fat-burning zone. This keeps us efficiently burning fat and calories, and more importantly, doing so at a rate that goes under the radar of our appetite control centers in our brains.
Running, on the other hand, blasts your heart rate into your high aerobic zone, and (if you are not athletic as was the case when I was training for my first marathon), right into your anaerobic zone. Your brain detects this activity and responds with a massive appetite surge causing you to eat way more than you burned. To make matters even worse, as I learned recently, long periods of moderate or intense cardio cause a huge dump of the stress hormone, cortisol. This hormone causes every calorie you take to be absorbed and stored at maximum efficiency (i.e. guess who’s gaining some weight!).
That’s why cardio exercises like DDP Yoga, walking or light/short jogging that keep you in your fat-burning zone, and strength-building workouts (such as DDP yoga) that help you gain lots of metabolism-boosting muscle are great for weight loss. They don’t trigger huge hunger bouts and leave you with metabolisms geared toward fat storage. That’s not to say running is bad for you. It isn’t. It has a lot of benefits, but you need to know what you’re dealing with, and prepare accordingly.
And that’s what I plan to do this time around. First, I am back on the MyFitnessPal wagon, so my calories are going to be carefully monitored. Second, I won’t allow my training program to minimize other programs that are beneficial to weight management such as DDP Yoga and other strength-building workouts. And third, I will be focusing on eating healthy, whole, plant-based foods (no large orders of refined white rice from the Indian restaurant*!). But most importantly, I’ll be having fun. There’s no greater feeling than accomplishing something as huge as a marathon, and putting on 20 lbs didn’t detract from that feeling in the slightest last time. It’s important to care about your body, but it’s more important to remember the number on the scale isn’t everything.
*except maybe the day of the actual race!
P.S. It’s not okay to call anyone “fat,” the title of this article is a play on the only okay movie, “Run, Fat Boy, Run!”