Citius, Altius, Fortius

(by john)

So, as some of my friends around here have noticed, I've been loosing weight. There's a few dimensions to what I've done to loose weight, some of which I don't care to discuss on the blog, but the general gist of my program has been "Eat less, move more". For months, whenever people asked me how I was loosing weight, I'd say those simple four words. Funnily enough, it's also exaclty what John Bingham and Jenny Hadfield
advocate in their book Running for Mortals (it's a great book, especially for newbies). That's oversimplified, but in a lot of ways, my experience has been that straightforward. I've been eating smaller portions and avoiding junk foods. It's not that I never have ice cream, cake, or red meat, just that I have them rarely (as I'm sure you know from our other posts) which is about how often most of us should have those foods, anyway.

other side of my equation, move more, has actually been extremely enjoyable. I currently run three times a week and do about 70 push ups after each run. The endorphins and the general feeling of accomplishment are simply amazing. But I didn't start out doing that. It took a lot of bad experiences for me to find an exercise routine I honestly enjoyed.

Last summer, I had reached a peak weight of about 225lbs. I felt
fat, none of my clothes fit, and was generally unhappy with my physical life. I decided to start running, an activity I had attempted in the past, but never enjoyed. I always pushed too hard and bottomed out early. This time I tried the Couch to 5k running plan over at Cool Running.com. I stretched, walked, and practiced the plan fairly seriously for a few months, but found little progress, never progressing beyond the forth week of training. Deciding I needed more exercise, I added a rather intense strength routine. While both of the programs I tried were good, I saw little progress. My shins really hurt, I didn't like my running shoes, and the whole routine took like over two hours. Understandably, I eventually quit both.

This time around I made several changes that have contributed to a much more enjoyable and profitable program. First of all, I made a commitment to walk. I read up on the shin splints I had last time, and it turns out that overweight and obese joggers are at risk for shin splints. I've also read a lot about weight control from different sources, and according to the National Institute of Health, I should weigh about 140-162lbs (I realize that's a big spread, but that particular chart doesn't factor gender or muscle mass). That means I was at least sixty pounds overweight (i.e. obese). Running was not a good idea to begin with. So I walked. For about two and a half months, I walked 2.5-3.2 miles 3-4 times a week (and I started eating less). I walked in snow, rain, sun, or shine at a brisk, but not insane pace. Guess what? It worked and I started loosing weight.

(Photo by Björn Láczay) I also took a big personal risk: I signed up for a 5k. Scared as I was, I knew I could at least walk that distance. Come race day, I was nervous and intimidated, but I went for it. I can say without a doubt that that race was one of the most fun and encouraging activities I have ever done. Everybody was nice, and I even got a medal just for finishing After that race, I decided to try running again, but very gently. Ripping off the Couch to 5k, I spent a few weeks alternating walking and running for 60 seconds for about 20 minutes. I gradually eased into the C25k program again, but this time I spent two weeks on each training week, giving myself time to adjust. I also ran different trails to mix up the terrain and to keep up my interest level.

In June I started the 100 push ups in 100 days plan, again modifying it to give myself more time. Honestly, I don't think most people could actually train to do 100 push ups in 1 set within 100 days (I know I can't!) but I can slow down the program to meet my needs. I move up a program week about every three weeks. That sounds sort of lame, but knowing that I can do 75 push ups in 5 sets still feels pretty bad-ass to me.

Finally, a word about clothes. When I first tried running and working out, I knew nothing and dressed accordingly. My clothes were cotton, heavy, stayed wet and didn't fit. Now I wear proper lightweight running shirts and shorts that whisk away sweat. I buy my athletic clothes on sale, or from Target or Costco.I deviate from this model for shoes. Last summer I bought a pair of shoes on my own with no help from a running store. I didn't like my shoes, but I thought, "Who cares? they're just shoes." This attitude was ultimately unhelpful. Yesterday, I went to a proper local running store, with highly trained staff and got a pair of new shoes. I brought my old shoes, Nike Air Pegasus II size 11.5, and showed them to my salesman, mentioning that they seemed ok, but that the toe box felt tight. After being sized, he said that I would need size 12.5! Now, I consider myself at least reasonably intelligent. I am, after all, getting a Ph.D. In spite of this, I was not qualified to buy my own shoes. It turns out that running shoes should generally be a half to a full size bigger than you normally wear to account for swelling that occurs while you walk or run. My point here is that it's OK to ask for help. I tried on a bunch of shoes selected by the staffer (himself a runner) all based on the video tape they made of my running stride. The pair I left with feel WONDERFUL. After a few steps I was in love. I now know what good shoes feel like. Better still, the Asics Gel Nimbus 11 were on sale for a total of $93.63 (plus I use a Nimbus, just like Harry Potter!!).

So to sum up, here's what I've learned:
1. Ask for help.
Read books, talk to other runners, and check out articles online (Runner's World has an endless variety of articles about healthy nutrition, weight loss, running for beginners, and other topics). And get your shoes from people who care, like those at your local running store staffed by athletes.

2. If it hurts, slow down, take a break, or try something else.
If you don't like running, walk, or cycle, or something. In my experience, my unhappiness will overcome my will power in the long run every time.

3. Take your time.
When I started running, I ran as slow as I could while maintaining good form. I also modified my routines to give myself more rest, more time to adjust, and/or more time to just get used to the new activity.

4. Set goals.
That first 5k was scary at first, but I can't wait to run my next one. I'm looking forward to training for a 10k, and eventually a half marathon.

5. Reward yourself (just not with a gallon of ice cream)
Buy a new running shirt, post your accomplishment on facebook, go to the movies. Find a way to reward yourself that says "Great job!" to you without undoing your hard work.

6. Think long term
Exercising to loose weight is no longer my goal. I exercise to sleep better, look good, and feel a sense of accomplishment. More than anything I exercise because it feels just awesome, and I'm looking forward to many years of an active life.


  1. I want you to know that I tried very hard to be annoyed while reading this because I hate exercise (especially running) and probably just because I'm a hateful person.

    Unfortunately, I was not annoyed and find I'm trying to convince myself to do something similar.

    So, thank you for your tale of success and congratulations!

  2. Yay! Way to go! I'm in the process of moving from a "losing weight to look good" model to more of a healthy lifestyle, though I'm still using SparkPeople. I also really enjoyed reading "The Eat Clean Diet" by Tosca Reno which is not so much a diet but a life-long eating plan.

  3. That's great, John! I started running about 5 weeks ago, and it really is the biggest thrill in the world to begin to accomplish things that you never thought that you could. (Also, I realize we don't know each other, but I've been reading Abby's posts and thought that I'd reply to yours, too!)

  4. This is amazing. Congrats! (I'm also Abby's friend from IU.) Huge high-five!!