Sunday, March 27, 2011

It's Not About the Scale

It shouldn't be, anyway, if you intend to be an athlete. Here's why.

1) MUSCLE IS MORE DENSE THAN FAT. Yes, it's true. A pound of lean muscle mass takes up less space than a pound of body fat. This means a couple of things. First, it means that to the extent body mass index is ever an accurate measure of obesity in individuals (which is to say, it isn't at all, as it was designed to measure obesity in populations) it is even less accurate for athletes, because athletes have more muscle and therefore will weigh more than a similarly built sedentary person. Second, it means that if you are beginning an exercise program from a sedentary lifestyle, you will be building muscle, and since muscle is more dense than body fat, any weight reduction from fat loss will likely be offset by the weight gained from muscle mass.

2) WATER AND BONE MASS ARE IMPORTANT PARTS OF THE EQUATION. This has to do with the size of your skeletal frame and your hydration level. Yes, you can lose water weight, and no, it isn't a good idea (with some medical conditions excepted). The better hydrated you are, the better your body can operate. You don't want to be too hydrated -- that can lead to a condition called hyponatremia -- but for purposes of this post, if you hear sloshing in your stomach when you walk, stop drinking. If your pee is darker than lemonade, drink some more. In terms of bone density, denser bones are heavier bones but they are also stronger bones, which means they are less likely to cause you problems with stress fractures. So if you (read:I) happen to be a 5 foot 9 woman with a large bone structure and you are well hydrated and muscular, you will not, I repeat NOT, ever weigh what the BMI says is a "normal" weight for you, barring cancer, anorexia, or some other wasting disease.

3) FITNESS METRICS ARE FAR MORE IMPORTANT THAN WEIGHT AS A MEASURE OF FITNESS. This seems elemental, but I'm always surprised at how many people don't get this. Size and fitness are not necessarily correlated (although they can be). Nor, for that matter, is speed and fitness (although, again, they can be). An example: at my 8k run, I was dead last. My pace was approximately 16 minutes per mile. The woman who finished before me had a pace of about 15 minutes per mile. I would estimate she was about 5'2" and weighed probably 225 pounds. Not thin, and by many people's measure, she'd be considered "fat." But she finished before me. Why? In part because she'd been working on her fitness for longer than I had. She'd walked a marathon at a 15.5 minute mile pace the previous fall. Did she weigh more than I did? Maybe. Was she more fit than I was? Maybe. That day, she was faster than I was. Fitness is a linear progression, not an end point; metrics are just one point on the line. If you are moving longer, faster, more efficiently than the last time you moved, congratulations. You're headed in the right direction. Ignore the scale.

Athletic Running/Walking Wear for Athenas

If I had to hazard a guess, I would say larger women (and by larger I mean women whose BMI would classify them as overweight/obese) who shun exercise do so because it can be so dadgum uncomfortable. I speak from painful personal experience; over a year ago, when I began exercising, I could not walk more than 2 miles at a 20 minute/mile pace on a treadmill, I could not pedal my bike up a 15% grade hill even in my granny gear, and five minutes on the elliptical was my max. More to the point, I had parts that bounced so violently as to cause bruising, I lived in fear of chafing, and at the end of a workout my hair and body were completely soaked with sweat. (And this was in February).

The long and short of the matter is, it really doesn't have to be that way. Good exercise gear goes a long way toward making you comfortable and getting yourself out of your own way. I have some recommendations, based on my own experiences. Here they are, in order of importance.

1) A GOOD SPORTS BRA. I am a 36DDD, so I speak from experience here. This is a must, and it will make an enormous difference in your comfort level. "Good" depends entirely on the sport. For anything at all high impact, such as running or tennis, there's only one word: ENELL. Yes, they are hella expensive, ugly, and hard to put on, but once you do, NOTHING MOVES. Yep, it's true. For lower impact sports like cycling, yoga, racewalking, and such, I love Moving Comfort. I love Moving Comfort so much, I wear them for everyday undergarments. These two companies took me from painful bruising to not thinking about my boobs at all during exercise. If that isn't a ringing endorsement I don't know what is.

2) SHOES THAT FIT YOUR PERSONAL FEET. For the love of all that is holy, please. Do NOT go to a discount shoe store and stick your feet in the cushiest shoes you can find. Do NOT go to your local mall's Lady Foot Locker. Those people know bupkis. Instead, go immediately to your local running store and tell them what you intend to do with your feet (walk a 5k? run a trail marathon? skip to the grocery store three times a week?). If they don't assess your gait, find a store that does. Once they've listened to you and watched you walk or run, they should bring out a number of different shoes and let you try them on and do your thing in each of them. If they don't, find a store that does. Then, pick the shoes that feel the best on your feet out of the ones they've recommended. Buy them; price should not be an issue, as good shoes will make or break you. Once you've found your shoe, buy new ones every few hundred miles.

3) DRY WICKING SOCKS. Do you know how much sweat your feet put out daily? About two tablespoons. If you wear cotton socks, that water will stay near your feet, keeping them cold, damp, and prone to blisters. Do NOT wear cotton socks. Get some socks with dry wicking capability.

4) COMPRESSION CAPRIS OR TIGHTS. Now, I know what you're thinking. "Spandex? On my ass? No thank you." I ask you to reconsider. There is nothing worse than shorts creep. Except for maybe chafing between your thighs. Neither is pleasant, you'd agree. I have yet to have a problem with either since I invested in compression running capris. C9 by Champion (available at Target) are reasonably priced (twenty bucks) and work reasonably well for the novice run/walker. Again, no cotton. Cotton kills. If you live in fear of people seeing your butt jiggle, layer shorts over compression capris or tights if you must. Me? I don't give a rip.

5) TECHNICAL TEE. What's wrong with an old cotton tee? Go walk/run ten miles in one in 70degree weather and then get back to me. They get clammy and heavy and the seams can cause underarm chafing. (Ask me how I know). Technical tees are available for not much money (ten bucks) at Target. They make you so much more comfortable. Consider it an investment in yourself.

6) HYDRATION SYSTEM. This can be as simple as a handheld bottle with a handstrap (2 bucks at WalMart) or as complex as a hydration waistpack (fifty plus bucks), but you will need to replace fluids. As they say in the Army, "hydrate or die."

Really, that's what you need to avoid unnecessary pain and suffering while exercising as an Athena.

Metrics: March 27, 2011

10.2 miles, 15.10 minute/mile. Tired. Tiiiiired. But now that I'm in the double digits, it's all good from here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Metrics: March 13, 2011

8.4 miles, 2:12. 15.40 min/mile.

weight: 199.6. WOOT!!!!

half mary in 8 weeks.

first ride on the new bike. man is that thing fast. and I didn't even clip in yet.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Metrics: March 3, 2011

2 miles, 29 minutes. 14.5 minute/mile.

30 pounds down. WOOT!

resting heart rate: 62

blood pressure: 118/72

recommendation from doctor: "if you want to lose more for looks, fine. if not, don't worry about the scale. your numbers are great. keep doing what you're doing."

bike: 2007 Specialized Dolce Sport, carbon fork and seatpost, Look clipless pedals, Cateye computer with cadence monitor, Specialized shoes. $580. (everything I ever wanted I found on Craigslist).

first duathlon of the season: June 12, 2011. South Shore Duathlon. run 2 mi/bike 10mi/run 2mi. Time goal TBD, but I think it will be 1:30.

My Husband: or, Why I Can Go Farther Than I Think I Can

Last Sunday was a training "run" for my half marathon in May. (Note: I do not anticipate running the entire time, but am training to complete the distance before the time cutoff. I know there are people out there who don't believe this "counts." They can kiss my grits.) I needed to do seven miles. This is the longest I've ever run/walked, and I wasn't sure that I could do it without considerable pain and suffering.

Ah, but I forgot my secret weapon: my dear Sweetness.

My intervals were thusly: 5 minute warm up walk, 90 seconds run/90 seconds walk, 2 minutes run/2 minutes walk. Rinse, repeat, ad nauseum. He was right there with me the whole time, even after mile 6, when I was pulling it out of somewhere I didn't know I had. He told me my form was good, how much I'd improved, how impressed he was with my ability to run through to the end of the interval, navigate the snow and ice piles, hills, whatnot. And when my mp3 player ran out of juice, he cued my walk/run intervals.

I did seven miles in a little less than 2 hours. Ran the last stretch into the driveway. Felt really good at the end.

And couldn't have done it without him.