I started this list because I'd been wondering what I'd do once I'd managed to lose one hundred pounds. Yesterday was that day—and I know that in all likelihood, I'll be back over that mark sometime in the next few days (because progression is not always linear, as I'll discuss later), but I wanted to commemorate the day in some way. It's been more than a year in the making. Friends and family often ask me how this happened, and how I keep myself motivated. I still don't know. But I decided, in honor of this hundred pounds, I'd come up with one hundred things I've done (or still do) to keep myself getting healthier. I was originally going to just keep the list in the order in which I'd thought of items, but screw that. Let's see if we can come up with themes.
I shouldn't have to mention that I'm not a medical professional, and I don't pretend that this is some sort of program. It's what I did, what I do, and what has worked for me. It doesn't even necessarily make sense. Your mileage may vary, and your doctor should have a say in the matter. What the hell do I know about this? I'm a poet, people. Get professional advice.
Without further ado, here are the first ten:
1. I KEPT IT SECRET
I didn't talk about starting on the couch-to-5K program. Some people knew I'd been walking on our new treadmill for the previous three months. And Jed knew, because he lives with me. But I kept it off Facebook, and I didn't mention it, except to a very select group of friends. I didn't take any "before" pictures because I didn't want to get ahead of myself. I don't regret it.
2. I TOOK IT PUBLIC
Well, yeah. Actually, I took it public earlier than I had expected to. I'm not sure why or even when it happened, but I mentioned it one day on Facebook (in a FTTDS list, probably), and the floodgates opened. I don't regret that, either.
3. I STAYED OFF THE SCALE
I didn't want to know. And knowing came with the risk of getting so discouraged that I'd give up. So I stayed off the scale for months. So how, you ask, do I know that I've lost a hundred pounds? I don't, not exactly. But, having gone down through several sizes, I've learned how many pounds I take up between sizes, and I know how my clothes fit throughout the process. If I'm off by 5 pounds in either direction, I don't really care (but if I'm off, I'm convinced I'm off because I'm underestimating, not overestimating my weight loss). The other part of that, of course, is:
4. I GOT ON THE SCALE
And I continue to get on it, just about every day. It keeps me on track, and it's helped me figure out the way my own body reacts—to water weight, to hormonal changes, to hot or cold weather, to what I ate the night before. I waited until I was steadily involved in working out before I weighed myself, because I was afraid of what I would see. It was pretty terrible, but it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Then I made it a habit.
5. I CALLED IT RUNNING EVEN WHEN IT WAS 4.5 MPH
"You trot," a friend of mine said to me once, not unkindly, because she didn't think I was running fast enough to call it "running." Call it jogging, call it shuffling, call it anything but running, and you're doing yourself a disservice. After all, when does it become running? An 11-minute mile (5.5 mph)? A 10-minute mile (6 mph)? There is always someone faster than me, and there always will be. So when, exactly, should I be allowed to call it a run? At my weight, 4.5 mph was running—or at least, it was if I wanted to avoid burning my knees out or getting a stress fracture before I was able to run a continuous mile. At this point, my regular maintenance, bread-and-butter runs are 11-minute miles or a little faster. My long runs are closer to 12-minute miles. My speed work is barely faster than a 10-minute mile, in quarter-mile bursts or thereabouts. The thing is, I didn't become a runner when I started to run faster. I became a runner the second I took the first step of the first running interval of the first day of my couch-to-5K program. Let other people call it whatever they want. I call it running, and always have.
6. I STARTED WHERE I WAS, NOT WHERE I WANTED TO BE
This one was tough, and it's one of many times where I'm going to say that I do not know how it happened. Countless times, I have started exercise programs by looking at the end result. That's just insane. If I start at the end, then I am giving myself the ammunition to constantly badger myself about whether I'm getting there fast enough, and every time I backslide (miss a workout, eat a cookie) I can further badger myself about that and now not only am I not getting there fast enough, but I don't deserve to get there at all. Because I am bad.
I have planned out where I'm supposed to be on any given day for the next six months, and then ignored the plan after three days, meaning that the next five months and 27 days become more evidence of my failures. I have planned out where I'm supposed to be and then gotten angry with myself for not exceeding it (because I'm better than the average person, so I should perform better, right?). It's bullshit. This time, for whatever reason—maybe because the whole idea of it seemed ludicrous to me—I just did what I was supposed to do when I was supposed to do it. I was in total disbelief of ever becoming a runner. I might as well have started a 9-week plan to become an astronaut. I tricked myself into thinking I had already set myself up to fail, and so I succeeded. Because I am sneaky. This wasn't a deliberate act, but I'm beginning to think it's what happened. I had no reason to sabotage myself, because the goal was insane, and by the time the saboteur in me caught on to what was happening, I'd begun to build the mental strength I needed to continue.
7. I INCREASE DISTANCE OR SPEED BUT NEVER BOTH
Trying to do both is an invitation to injury. I'll add a mile or I'll shave some seconds off my mile time, but trying to add a mile while simultaneously trying to run all of the miles faster? That way lies madness, my friend. Yes, it's not exactly thrilling to know that adding a mile is going to increase my workout by 11 minutes, but tough. Better that than not being able to work out at all because I've pulled a muscle or damaged a tendon or worse. I need to let my body catch up and build itself. As I get stronger, I get faster. As I add miles to my long runs, the short runs get easier and I find I can do them faster. As I lose weight, I get faster. When my husband and I drove to Florida last winter to visit my parents, I didn't start asking why we weren't there yet before we'd hit the Rhode Island border, or the North Carolina border, or even the Florida border. We got there when we'd put in the miles. (I did ask why people felt compelled to drive the exact same speed across three lanes of highway, but that's a different post.)
8. I STARTED SLOW
And by this, I don't mean my running speed, although as I've mentioned, that was basically glacial. I mean that I gave my muscles and tendons time to build. I read that if I could run slower, I was running too fast—not forever, just until I got stronger. I took the rest days that were in the schedule. I didn't push myself to go beyond what the couch-to-5K schedule required of me. People on the C25K discussion boards often talked about having to repeat workouts or even entire weeks, sometimes multiple times, so I gave myself permission to do that. I never had to do it, but I hope I would have followed through on that permission. Someone on one of the boards said that he realized that when the experts said things like, "Your body needs time to recover from a strenuous workout. If you don't give it the time it needs, you'll injure yourself," there wasn't actually an unwritten sentence that said, "Except YOU, of course—we all know that you're better than that." When I read that, I realized that I'd been adding that sentence to the end of every piece of diet or exercise advice I'd ever read, and it was idiotic.
9. I DO OTHER THINGS
I walk the dogs and, if I can get Jed to agree, I want to take them hiking and camping. I haul firewood and pellet fuel in the winter. I do yard work (not enough of it). I swim at pretty much every opportunity. In short, I don't use my workout as an excuse to hang out on my butt for the rest of the day. Sometimes—many times—that happens anyway. I'm a poet and a professor, and a lot of the work involved in both of those professions involves sitting. But I don't let the workout keep me from spending an afternoon hauling brush, and I don't let the afternoon hauling brush keep me from the workout. Being active in different ways keeps me interested—and keeps me on top of the improvements I'm making. This past winter, I ran 10 miles and then went outside and shoveled snow for 90 minutes, and I could feel how strong I was: my arms were strong, my back and abs were strong, I didn't have to catch my breath while I was shoveling, and I wasn't the least bit sore the next day. I did NOT use the work as an excuse to punish myself (if I'd had trouble shoveling, I would have let Jed do the rest of it), but I did use it as an excuse to praise myself for how far I'd come.
10. I MAKE INCREMENTAL CHANGES
I don't change everything at once—not in my diet, not in my workouts. Figuring out how to fuel for long runs took me a couple of months (I'll talk about that later). It's a trial-and-error deal, this running, and it's individualized. I switch out one thing at a time until I see an improvement, and then I go from there. Patience, Grasshopper.