Why You Probably Won’t Lose Weight Training For A Marathon

A lot of people ask me if they should train for a marathon in order to lose those last unwanted ten pounds. I tell them no. Sorry, but no.

But what if I run 50 miles a week? No, and don’t even think about doing that unless you’re looking for a slap upside your head.

But what if I cut my calories to 1200? Ummm, there is so much wrong with that I can’t even begin to start but I will just say NO.

This is my you-are-an-idiot-for-thinking-that's-gonna-fly-with-me face.

But what if I lift 4 days a week and spin 3 days a week and do yoga every day AND marathon train? Good luck with that.

But, but, but…sorry, folks. Historically, it just doesn’t work out like this. First of all, unless you are overweight, marathon training will likely help you maintain your weight, albeit with different fat-to-muscle distribution. If you are overweight, marathon truing probably will help you drop some poundage, but you have to have that poundage to lose and this, in most cases, means more than 15-20 pounds. You might even (hold onto your hats) gain weight during marathon training. I know. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Well, it sorta does…

Marathon training is hard and long. Increasing mileage makes you hungry ALL THE TIME and, typically, those training for a marathon rationalize that all the added mileage will compensate for eating ice cream twice a week, half a pizza for dinner and a pound of pasta on “carbo-load” nights. Even if you’re not overindulging, you have to eat more, which usually ends up canceling out the calories burned while running. And while increasing mileage does, at the most basic level, mean that you’re also burning more calories, it is often overstated just how many calories you are burning. And do you really know how many calories are in that milkshake you’re eating? You probably erased two weekday runs with one indulgence. You’d be surprised.

First marathon. Gained 4 pounds. Happy? No. Did I finish? Yes I did.

And here’s the most frustrating news for those of you who are looking to drop those last ten pounds: the lighter you are, the fewer calories you burn while running (or exercising, in general). This is because it takes less energy to push around 140 pounds versus 220 pounds. Makes sense, right?

The other simple fact is that you do have to eat more when you undertake such a rigorous workout program or your body won’t tolerate the added work load. You’ll get sick, you’ll be tired all the time, you’ll get injured and your body will otherwise reject the increase in activity if you don’t also increase your caloric intake during training season. If you deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to rebuild what you’re breaking down in your workouts, there will be no growth. Plain and simple.

By my 7th marathon, I learned to do the weight loss in the off-season and dropped 15 pounds (it's blurry, but you get the idea)

DON’T DESPAIR!!!! There’s hope! This is why I am adamant about training like professional athletes and cycling through training seasons the way that they do. The off-season is where you can drop a few pounds. The off-season is when you spice up your workouts with a little less running and a little more strength training, with a dash of different cardiovascular workouts (think swimming and spinning!) to give your bod a break from pounding the pavement. You can also better control your calories during this part of your training season because you aren’t going bananas once a week with 15+ mile runs accompanied by carbo-loading and gigantic recovery meals.

As you become a more seasoned marathoner, you will better learn how to tailor your diet in order to avoid weight gain during training season. But it shouldn’t really be the focus of your training anyway! You should be concentrating on getting the right nutrients to prepare and recover from your runs and putting 100% into your runs in order to maximize your potential for marathon day.

Get off the scale and go hit the pavement!

In short, don’t count on marathon training to help you drop weight. In my experience, people are seriously disappointed when they hop on the scale mid-way through their training and realize they’ve gained 3 pounds.

Are you feeling strong?

Are you getting through your runs successfully?

Are you feeling good about your marathon?

Good. Keep going. And forget about the scale (within reason…I mean, don’t go and gain 20 pounds) while you’re working toward this goal. Check in a few weeks after your marathon and use the off-season to shed those extra pounds.

Get off the scale and go out and run!

No Guts, No Glory

“Standing on the starting line, we’re all cowards.” ~ Alberto Salazar

Sometimes you gotta lay it all out on the line and race. I don’t like to put too much pressure on myself during marathon training season, but I do like to throw one longer race in the mix just to test my speed and race day routine before the BIG marathon (or whatever distance I’m gearing up for) morning. Racing is a key part of training. Here’s why.

When you plan for a race mid-training season, you have the opportunity to test out just about everything for your bigger, longer race. Your food, hydration, clothes, tunes, early morning routine, bathroom breaks, etc. The list is endless! I like to use it as a way of testing out how my nerves will be on marathon morning. Make no mistake about it, friends; I have run probably hundreds of races in my 21 year running career, but I still get the jitters at the start line. I still have trouble sleeping the night before. I still run to the bathroom every chance I get until that gun goes off. Oh, the nerves!

But this isn’t the BIG race. This is a little in-betweener. This is the perfect time to go out and lay down some serious speed. This is the time to perfect starting out slower and finishing faster. This is the race to figure out when to weave through the crowds and when to tuck behind and let someone else do the work for you. This is when you test that fancy-schmancy GPS watch of yours to see if it helps or hurts to have too much information mid-race. This is when you find out if those shorts really are too short or that shirt is going to chafe under your armpits. This is when you figure out how much water you really need and approximately how many Cliff Shot Bloks to eat and when. Seriously, that HAS to be done before your BIG race and this is the time to do it.

This weekend’s Battle of Brooklyn 10 miler is perfect for me. I’m about halfway into my training for Philly in November and getting into more serious mileage, so a speedy 10 miler should be just what the doctor ordered as a mid-way check in. I plan on doing about 8 minutes for my first mile until the crowd thins out a little and then hammering out 7:45-7:50 for the rest of the race. I’m also planning on running without my headphones and without my own hydration. I want to be speedy and have as little on my body as possible. I’m pumped. It’s my first post-Jersey Marathon disaster race and I’ve been feeling pretty good lately. I’m pumped.

I’m going to leave it all out there in Brooklyn, guys. You should find a short race to RACE just to test yourself. Get out there with the crowds and the crazy runners and the first-timers and see what you’re made of! You can do it! And while you’re at it, tell some of your family and friends what you’re up to and make a breakfast date for after the race. Everybody likes a diner breakfast (especially runners!) and people will come if there’s a promise of food. This I have learned well.

Wish us luck!

Now go out and run (but find a race first)!

Get Comfortable With Being Uncomfortable

Newsflash: Running is not always what one would call comfortable.

Sometimes you go out for a run and it’s amazing and you feel like you’re floating on air and everything is falling into place and there’s no better sensation at that moment than running. And then there are those runs where you go out and it’s torture the entire time and you want to stop, sit down and crawl into the fetal position. I felt the latter during my first (and several other) marathons.

This is me around mile 21 during my very first marathon in New York City:

Don't let the smile fool you. I am hating ever minute of running down 5th Ave.

At this, and several other points during the marathon, I was jogging my brain for excuses to stop that wouldn’t bring shame upon me and my family. Mind you, it was 75° when we started on the Verazzano Bridge at 10:15am. By the time this photo was snapped, it was well into the high 80s and we were all suffering. But (ignore my terrible running attire and the 10 extra pounds), do I look comfortable? No. Was I feeling good? Not on your life.

I have had the experience of feeling relatively good during marathons, but never comfortable. I believe that to be a successful distance runner, or athlete for that matter, you have to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

Six year, six marathons later...Comfortable? No. Feeling good? You betchya!

Once you can accept that your feet are going to hurt, your arms are going to be tired, your hips are going to tighten, your calves are going to burn, your tummy is going to rumble (or, as mine does on occasion, quake) you can relax into all of those feelings of discomfort and focus on what you’re doing. Running a marathon is more mental than anything. You have to let yourself feel all of what you’re feeling and then let it go in order to have a good run. If you dwell in the pain, it will consume you and no good comes from that, I promise.

When you’re working it out in a speed/hill/tempo workout, you should be very uncomfortable. Working at an uncomfortably fast pace, pushing your lungs and your heart and your muscles, this is what will help you achieve new levels of speed. That is what conditions your body for those long runs and prepares your mind for the pain you will have to, on some level, ignore in order to get the job done.

P.Diddy is in pain, but he's getting the job done. It was the 1st marathon for both of us.

When you can zen out about the pain and set it aside as something that will just “BE”, you can move onto more important things like your form, your fueling, your stride, your pace. You have so many more important things to be thinking about out there, why clutter your mind with a little thing like, “My feet hurt.” You’re running a marathon/half-marathon/10K/whatever. Your feet are going to hurt. Instead, think about what inspires you. Think about why you are there and how amazing it is that you are doing it. Think about all you’ve accomplished just by showing up and toeing that start line. These are the things that get you past the pain. Your mind can only focus 100% on one thing at a time, why not make it something positive?

Listen, I’m not saying you should ignore serious pain, but don’t sweat the small stuff. Go out there and get uncomfortable. And then get comfortable with being uncomfortable. You can do it. And when you do, finishing is even sweeter.

You don't remember the pain, just the glory of the finish. First finishes are even more memorable.

Now go out and run!

The Great Debate: To Run With or Without Tunes?

Runners all over the world are having this debate right now. I overhear runners talking about it in Central Park, my fellow bloggers are writing about it and coaches everywhere (including myself) are trying to figure out whether or not their runners should tune in or tune out. So, what’s better? With or without tunes?

Marine Corps Marathon '09: without tunes (mile 20)

When I moved to New York City nine years ago, I brought a lot of music with me. I had a shiny new Walkman CD player (listen, it was better than a tape player) and a dream of listening to the best of Simon and Garfunkel while running through Central Park. About halfway through training for my first marathon, I figured out one thing: it was making me slow and lazy. I had checked out of my run and stopped paying attention to what I was doing, or trying to do, and it showed in my run times. Perhaps it was my choice of music, but I abandoned my quest for a music-filled run then and there. After all, it was crazy heavy to carry around for 18 miles!

Fast-forward nine years and we find ourselves with these super-light, compact little iPods to keep us company everywhere we go. People wear their headphones during their commutes, morning runs, workouts at the gym, on their bikes (what a BAD idea!) and in their cars (even worse). I stayed steadfast in my anti-iPod stance while running outside, even as I thanked God for music on my treadmill workouts and at the gym. Nothing is as good at keeping random people (ahem, guys) from talking to you at the gym as having your headphones plugged in, not even my wedding band. Sorry random gym guys, I’m married and I gotta get my squats done! No time to chat.

This spring, I was invited to participate in a panel at lululemon with their design team to discuss the pros and cons of their running apparel. This is what I love about lululemon–they want feedback and honestly make changes when they hear the same thing over and over again. I’ve seen my suggestions come to life more than once in the fit and function of their products. Shout out, Lulus! Anyway, I was on this panel with about 8 other women, most of whom are competitive runners (read: awesome and FAST, what was I doing there??), one of whom I’ve know since high school. Even here the debate about iPods while training came up. The consensus was not any more clear. About half and half were for/against iPods while training. The other coach there said he encourages his runners to train without them, but that some of them are adamant about using it (some of whom were there). So, the debate rages on.

I will say this: when I was suffering through my horrible marathon in New Jersey this spring, I was never so grateful to have my iPod with me. It was lonely out there on the course and I was sick. But when I wanted to cry, give up, sit down, flag down the medical van, scream, I’d have a song pop into my ears and nudge me a little further along the course. I have very strong feelings about music and songs remind me of people in my life. When I heard these songs, it made me believe that those people were silently cheering me on, telling me to keep going. When I was cruising towards the finish line with about half a mile to go, Britney Spears’ Stronger came on and I was in tears. You couldn’t tell because, as we’ve discussed at length, I sweat like a monster, but I was so determined to finish strong and it was the perfect song for me to hear with the finish line in sight.

Jeresy Shore Marathon '11: with tunes (almost to the finish!)

And then yesterday I totally left my iPod at home so I could enjoy the sights and sounds of Summer Streets in NYC.

So, to each his/her own, I say. Sometimes I love having my tunes and sometimes I need to tune into my body. I maintain that when you need to really focus, like in a race, you gotta be tune-free. However, if it’s a particularly long race and you need something to keep you company, I am ALL about the tunes. It just depends. That’s my opinion.

What about you? Do you run with tunes? Maybe only on certain runs or during certain distances? 

Shout it out in the comments and then go out and run!!!

I ♥ Summer Streets

Yay for Summer Streets! My Mayor, Mikey Bloomberg (aka Bloomie) started this fun August activity three years ago and I have been a loyal supporter ever since I ran out my door one August morning to find Park Avenue shut down all morning long. It’s so great for us runners and bikers and the like because as training season goes into full swing, we yearn for a new route to run. Don’t get me wrong, the park is beautiful and amazing and we’re lucky to have it, but those hills get OLD after a while. So, this morning I very happily took full advantage of the stretch from 72nd Street to the Brooklyn Bridge for my 12 mile run this morning.

It was nice and cool this morning (only 79°!) but WOW was it humid! I was so happy about the temperature, I didn’t notice the humidity right away…until my shorts were soaked and I thought it was raining because I felt droplets on my legs. Gross. Still a fun run, though!

I ran South to the Brooklyn Bridge first, passing several friends along the way. I always shout out when I see someone, so if you were one of those embarrassed lucky people who received one of my famously huge “Hey there, so-and-so” bellows accompanied by my flailing arms waving hello, you’re welcome. It wasn’t crazy crowded as I cruised south, but I knew if I didn’t want to have to throw elbows, I’d have to hit the Bridge early. I love running over the Brooklyn Bridge.

This view never gets old

Onward and upward to the Upper East Side! Some fun things I saw along the way were: sandpits for children, though there were an awful lot of dogs in them as well (sand + this sweaty, sweaty runner = my nightmare), Crunch Fitness Bootcamp class (which I considered stopping for, but figured I had the workout thing covered today), free bike rentals, a Whole Foods picnic area (free food? I’ll have to find out next week) and my favorite thing ever: water fountains!

NYC has some of the best drinking water in the country. How do you like them apples?

I love running up and down Park Avenue for lots of reasons, but number one is because I get to run “through” Grand Central Station. It’s so cool.

Sweet historical monument, folks. Can you believe they almost tore this down? Shame on them!

The very cool coming-out-of-the-tunnel view heading north on Park Avenue

Summer Streets is just the thing to keep us feeling fresh and make our August long runs fun and adventurous!

I returned home rejuvenated and disgusting to find my sock was bloody. Oh no! After 9 years of marathon running, had I finally succumbed to the dreaded toe nail loss during a long run? Say it ‘ain’t so! Summer Streets loves me and would never do that to me, right?

Noooooooooo! Where is the source of this bleeding?!!! (and OHMYGOD I need a pedicure!)

Dr. JB, USMC to the rescue with alcohol to clean the wound and diagnose the injury! The patient looks on nervously:

Oh, just a cut. Phew!

Weird place to get a cut, but I still have all my (embarrassingly unpolished) toenails! I guess that pedicure will have to wait til later in the week.

All in all, a gorgeous 12 miler on my favorite super-long avenue in the city.

What is your favorite way to break up the monotany of running the same routes over and over again? Does your town have a Summer Streets-esque activity?

Tell me quick and then go out and run!!!