Friday, March 21, 2014

Why a Scale Does Not Dictate Your Success as a Runner

Well, I've started my spring training regimen. In two months, I want to be running 6.2 miles a day, instead of 3.1. I'll accomplish this through the 10% rule, which states that you should increase your running distance by no more than 10% every week. Since I'm exercising this rule to the maximum, I expect it will be difficult. But I also know that I can do it. So there's that!

But today, I want to talk about something else that will be added to my training radar now that it's not the White Witch's Narnia outside in Chicago.

It would almost be worth it if I ever got Turkish Delight.
I'm talking about weight loss. It's why many runners start running, and even if it's not, weight is something most runners are sensitive to. After all, fluctuations in weight becomes viscerally evident when you're lugging yourself up hills after entering your fifth mile.

So this past Thursday, I dug out the silently judgmental companion that will accompany me throughout my spring and summer training: the scale.

"Hello judgment my old friend..."
A lot of emotions and stress run around the numbers displayed on a scale like this. I know I focused on it a lot when I started running. As part of overhauling my overall unhealthy lifestyle, I adopted a stricter, healthier diet and started running, and the scale was a validation tool.

And at first, it was great! I suspect the same held true for many first-time runners. As you force your body to run larger and larger distances and incorporate exercise into your daily life, the weight tends to drop off when coupled with a healthier diet. That first spring and summer, I lost nearly sixty pounds!

And I did it all no thanks to Subway, whose food isn't actually that good for you!
But then I hit a plateau. All of a sudden, my body got more used to running. While you kind of want this, it also means that the weight doesn't drop off as quickly. While I was at a much healthier size by that point, there were still twenty-odd pounds I wanted to lose.

So I ran harder. Planned my meals more carefully. Counted calories of the crumbs left on my plate. Then next week, I stepped on the scale, and...nothing. No change.

Then winter arrived and dumped snow and ice on every surface in the Midwest for four months. This disrupted my running plans, since I had to focus more on not falling on my ass than my pace. Plus, the holidays arrived, and suddenly food became AMAZING.

Stuffing: never has a food been more appropriately named
The scale became my enemy. I dreaded those weekly weigh-ins. I always waited until just after my run to check my weight, so seeing the same numbers pop up popped the balloon of my endorphin-high every time. What had once been a reward after finishing a run now became an act of self-flagellation.

But then I took a mental step back from my intense focus on weight. I asked myself: am I happy with my running? Do I feel stronger? The answer to both was yes! My clothes continued to get looser, my breathing steadier, and my sweating less obtrusive.

Pictured: me, prior to running, doing any exercise
Running is bigger than can be contained in three numbers on an electronic scale. Even if you started running to lose weight, at a certain point its other physical and mental benefits start to outweigh (pun intended) the pounds you drop doing it.

This is not all to say don't use a scale or track your weight! I wouldn't trade the feeling I got seeing the numbers go down initially for anything. Just be prepared for those numbers to slow down, and remember that validation of this sport should not stem purely from those numbers, like it did for me then. It's a facet of being healthy, but if a scale's importance is over-inflated, it can become detrimental to your running motivation.

I know I'm going to keep that in mind as I try to shed these last twenty pounds. And if they stick around? Fine! I'll still end this summer able to run longer, and I'll have made a plan and stuck to it! So while I'll check it every week, I have this message for my scale:

1 comment:

  1. Not easy, I know. To accept hunger and ignore your body's dictates, combine exercise and feel your metabolism nibble away at itself. Not easy, I know.

    Then there is the masochist plateau.