Thursday night a dear friend of mine texted me about her weight loss journey. She’s just started and hopes to lose 60 pounds in six months, in time for a trip she and her family are planning for early February.
That averages to 10 pounds a month and while I applaud and respect her desire to lose such a significant amount of weight, she also realizes she may be setting herself an unrealistic goal and it got us talking and me thinking.
I am officially halfway through my half-marathon training (hello, where did the last six weeks go?!) and I’ve also already completed training and races for both 5Ks and 10Ks. Obviously the actual miles you run while in training is going to change depending on which race you’re actually preparing for, but the basic concepts of a training plan are the same across the board.
In fact, for all the races I’ve already run, there is one constant rule that seems to come up in all of the training plans no matter which distance you’ve chosen:
Don’t set a time goal for your first race at a new distance.
I don’t care how awesome your training has been. At that very first 5K or 10K or half or whatever it is, your only goal should be to cross the finish line. That’s it. Don’t worry about pace. Don’t worry about place. Just finish. You can’t predicate what will happen come race day, be it weather or an injury or the course is more difficult than you anticipated. That first time around, go in with the right attitude but know that it’s gonna take as long as it takes.
The same attitude applies to weight loss. I know that people have vacations and weddings and whatever and that they want to look and feel a certain way when those events roll around. That’s perfectly understandable and I’ve done it, too. The problem comes when you set a weight deadline and don’t meet it. And I’ve done that, too. When I started my journey in January 2011, I wanted to lose 50 pounds by my 30th birthday and our family trip to Las Vegas that November. After all my hard work I fell just short, like 47 or 48 or something.
I was so close to hitting my goal but I didn’t and in not doing so it did put a small damper on the whole weekend. Which is ridiculous because, hi, I’d lost over 45 pounds. I should have been celebrating that fact rather than lamenting the two pounds I missed by a week.
Despite the science behind weight loss, weight loss itself is not a science. You can not predict or guarantee how much you will lose week to week, month to month. Those averages of 1-2 pounds a week? They are just that: averages. Statistics, taken from a wide range of people of varying weights, activity levels, eating plans, lifestyles, backgrounds, jobs, gender, etc. Take that 1-2 pounds as a guideline and keep it in mind but there is no way to effectively and consistently apply it to your own weight loss journey.
Just because your body is able to lose 1-2 pounds a week doesn’t mean you actually will. Which is why you shouldn’t set any sort of deadline for yourself. The body is a tricky, tricky beast.
And by “tricky” I, of course, mean “unpredictable.”
You can have a killer week and do everything right and stay exactly the same. Or you can go completely off the rails and lose 3 pounds. True story.
If you’re working out on a regular basis you’re going to be getting muscle. Which is denser than fat. Which means the scale is going to show a higher weight. (Which is why your focus should really be about fat loss, not necessarily weight loss. But that’s for another post.)
When I first registered for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Cleveland Half Marathon I told them I thought I would finish in about three hours. That’s a little less than a 14 minute mile which is fairly consistent with my other race times. Now that I’m actually training and getting into the 7+ mile long runs I’m realizing it’s difficult to keep a 5k or 10K pace for 13.1 mile and by the time race day rolls around I may need to consider moving back to a slower corral.
Do I wish I had a shot at being a top finisher in my age group? Sure. Do I wish I could run faster? Of course. But right now I can’t and that’s the reality I gots to deal with. I would love to be able to run a 9 minute mile and finish that half in under two hours. But that’s not gonna happen and it would be stupid and dangerous for me to set that goal because in doing so I’d risk serious injury in attempt to meet it and then I’d be upset at not hitting a goal I was never even gonna hit anyway. So, instead, I’m going with reality that says my half time may be closer to 3 1/2 hours than 3 and I’m perfectly okay with that. Because, hello, when I’m done I’ll have completed 13.1 miles.
With my weight I’m having to lose 30 pounds that I already lost a year ago. Like my friend, I want to be able to wake up tomorrow and be back at that lower weight. But that’s not how it works. There are no magic wands or magic pills. In fact, before signing up for meetings I had already tried relosing these 30 pounds (well, then it was 20. Or 25.), telling another friend that I wanted to be back at 175 by the end of summer. Well, it’s now the end of summer and I’m not there. In fact, I’m heavier than when I told my other friend my goal.
Could I drop the weight super quick? Sure, if I wanted to starve myself. But I don’t want to do that and not just because I love eating and I like food. I don’t want to crash diet because it’s stupid and dangerous.
So, instead, I’m taking the attitude that there is nothing different between these 30 pounds and my upcoming 13.1 miles. Both are going to take as long as they take and I’m not even going to worry about the time. All I can do is put in the work, follow my training guide, follow my food plan, and just cross those finish lines in whatever time it takes me to do so.
Love from the ashes,