Back in April of this year I wrote another movie review that spent a few pixels talking about how much I hate exercising and how I couldn't begin to relate to the people in my Facebook feed who get all hyped up about running. Some of them have gone so far as to run 26 miles — like, in a row — which struck me as a loony endeavor, and still does. But… I also knew that, however much I hated exercising, I was going to have to do it, because I had discovered that I was so out of shape that I couldn't run at all. Like, there had been times that it looked like I might be a few minutes late to one of the classes I was auditing, and I would try to make up some of that time by running… and after about half a dozen steps I would have to stop or it would take me ten minutes to stop wheezing. And I literally couldn't run for more than thirty seconds or so — I'd run out of breath and my legs would start to give out from under me. That didn't seem healthy and it also seemed like running would be a useful thing to be able to do should the need arise. So on May 1st I started running a little bit every day. The results have been sort of interesting, in that not only did I start off from a very low percentile, but my rate of improvement seems to clock in at a very low percentile as well. I've seen various web pages asserting that a completely sedentary person should be able to go from "couch to 5K" in twelve weeks. I've been at this for nearly four months, and what prompted this article is that I have finally managed to run one kilometer without stopping, which seemed to mark some sort of — well, I guess not "milestone." Kilometerstone, if that's a thing.
I live down the street from the Albany Public Library, so that seemed like a reasonable first goal. The Internet tells me that it's 230 meters away. I managed to work up to that in about two weeks. And it was right about that time that I encountered this tweet from Matthew Amster-Burton:
I believe that someday we will see weight loss diets in the same light as "ex-gay" therapy: ineffective, cruel, and psychologically harmful.
That struck me as (a) more than a little over the top and (b) not remotely in keeping with my experience. Four years ago, as documented here, I lost 20 pounds. Psychologically harmful? No, I felt much better about myself at 142 pounds than I did at 162. Cruel? Um, I guess I had some hunger pangs a couple of times, but that was about the extent of the "cruelty." I did have to make one permanent dietary change: I used to drink a lot of juice, and now I drink only water except for maybe a lemonade here and there as a very occasional treat, but while I once might have classed being deprived of juice as cruelty, I was surprised by how little I missed it once I'd given it up. Ineffective? Now that's where things get a little interesting. In four years I had never crossed back over 150, let alone 160. But I did have to admit that I had let my weight creep back from the 138-143 range up to 142-147. And while my original goal had been 135, I had basically given up on that; once I got below 140, I declared victory and went back to maintenance rather than loss. But I took mamster's tweet as a challenge. I had just gone from a completely sedentary (one might even say sessile) lifestyle to one in which I ran to exhaustion for at least a few minutes a day. So I figured I'd test whether that might boost my metabolism enough to be able to get down to my original goal of 135. I made only two real diet changes: one, I cranked up my ratio of home cooking to eating out, and two, I stopped keeping desserts in the house. I still let myself have desserts, I just had to go out for them and finish them before I returned home. And in short order I was down from 146+ to 134.8. Easy peasy.
Having lost that fat — even my "thin pants" were now hanging off me — I decided that I might as well try to add some muscle. I had started lifting weights in the late '90s, and over time I went from weighing around 130 pounds to 160. Most of that was muscle, but in retrospect, I'm guessing that at least some of it was Lindt chocolate-hazelnut bars from the QFC next door. In any case, I didn't take the weights to New York with me, and after a year of walking around all over the town I was back to 130. This time I wouldn't have the advantage of being in my mid-20s, but unlike in the '90s I would be watching what I ate, and also doing the aforementioned running, to try to make sure that any mass I added was reasonably lean. I managed to find a great price on weight plates on Craigslist, and started a program I found online. Again, apparently I am in a very low percentile here. I found a chart about what I should be able to lift for my height, with columns for "without training," "after two months," and "after a year"; it took me two months to get to "without training." That said, the effects on my physique are already noticeable. I'm still light-years away from looking like an athlete, but my overall body shape is now defined by where my muscles are rather than where my fat is, and even at rest said muscles feel pretty solid. So that project seems to be going reasonably well.
But the running… again, I looked at some programs online, but they seemed utterly fantastical in the amount of progress they expected a couch potato to be able to make. One week it's "walk to the mailbox — good job!" and the next it's "okay, now alternate two minutes of running with two minutes of walking for half an hour." After three two-minute stints of running, there was no way on earth I could manage much beyond a slow shuffle until my half hour was up, and that was after two months of trying. However, by the end of the third month, I could finally run around the block: that's half a mile. And another 3½ weeks got me up to a kilometer. Now, when I started out, I would run about 200 meters, and then I would be gasping for breath and couldn't move my legs anymore; I figured that gradually the 200 meters would get easier and easier, and then I could push myself to add time and distance. By the end of the second month I could usually go a quarter mile — I'd go 200 meters and feel okay up to that point, but then the wheezing and heavy legs would kick in and the next 200 meters would be awful, and then I had to stop before I collapsed. Well, now I can go 1000 meters… and the first 200 meters are okay, and the next 800 meters are awful. I can just stand the awfulness a little longer. It's not just physical discomfort, either. I've heard that people who aren't in the very bottom percentiles where running is concerned reach a point at which endorphins kick in and they experience a "runner's high"; with me, it's the opposite. After 200 meters, my mood plummets and I spent the rest of the run awash in deep unhappiness. I return to my house and spend ten minutes or so curled up trying to get my breath back, and then take a shower, and then I'm done for the day. And that is the best part, less because of any sense of accomplishment (though the first time I made it around the block I did feel like inviting Party Cat over) than just because it means that I now have the maximum amount of time available to me before I have to run again. Ugh, running. I loathe every second of it.
But I guess if I ever get chased by a bear it will be useful, so long as the bear can't go faster than jogging speed and conks out after 900 meters.