Saturday, February 19, 2011

Motivation behind the Madness

What on earth possesses someone to want to run 26.2 miles? Especially if it's in a circle? I mean, if you're going to run that far, you should at least end up somewhere different than were you started, right?

It's estimated that somewhere between 0.1 and 2% of the world population has run a marathon. The statistics for Americans seem to be all over the boards, but still just a few percent of the population at the largest estimation, making marathon finishers an elite group.

To be absolutely clear, I did NOT choose to do the marathon to lose weight. If I wanted to shed pounds, a few miles here and there would likely get me to goal; no need for such an enormous undertaking. If I had to put into words what my motivation is, it's pretty simple: I'm running the marathon because there's a part of me that thinks I can't.

Counter intuitive? Perhaps. I mean, there's a part of me that that thinks I can't cure cancer (a HUGE part of me!) but I'm not necessarily motivated to spend my life in a lab striving for this goal. So why a marathon?

I find the mix of athletic prowess and mental strength to be really attractive. It's often said that running a marathon is more mental than physical. When you're a mile from your goal and tired, it's an absolute mental game to just push yourself for ten more minutes. Your physical training has prepared your body for the effort, but your mind is the last hurdle you need to overcome.

Clearly I'm one who thrives on challenges. I've submitted myself to some enormous mental challenges in the past and I've buckled down to push myself to study and learn what I need to. Trust me, I never wanted to sit and study for 15 hours at a time, but I knew I needed to. Sometimes you just have to force yourself to get through one more chapter, no matter how tired you are. So if I have the strength and drive to get myself to push through in this regard, is running one more mile any different?

I think it's all the same principle, to be honest... so when I look at a marathon like that, why can't I complete it? As enormously cheesy as it sounds, I'm a huge fan of The Biggest Loser, and at the end of each season, the final few contestants take on a marathon. I'm always in awe of these people, many of whom have lost over 100 pounds (and often much more), who in a few months time got themselves off the couch, and just started to change their life one day. And then they finish a marathon? What an amazing milestone.

We are planning on using a run/walk program. I've done a good amount of reading that supports first-time marathoners using this type of plan to prevent injuries and increase success. The phrase "it's not a sprint, it's a marathon" has a lot of validity - this is a five hour event and endurance is everything. I think using the run/walk strategy and forcing myself to take breaks early and often will help me succeed in the end. So when I say I'm going to "run" a marathon, maybe that's unfair, but I will be propelling my own body 26.3 miles towards a goal. I have very, very loose time goals in mind (like finish before the water stations are shut down!), but I'm not doing this to achieve some set pace or time. Complete, not compete.

If you've ever participated in a run/walk, bike ride, etc, you know it's a social event. Hundreds or thousands of people joining in an attempt to achieve one common goal. The excitement and drive is often palpable. I can't wait to join 40,000 other runners at the finish line and prove myself wrong.

Sunday, February 13, 2011


It’s been almost two weeks since my previous post, but that’s not to say that I haven’t writing and re-writing my thoughts during that time. As I write this, I’m aboard a plane returning from Punta Cana, and my vacation is officially drawing to a close.

One thing I truly enjoyed about my reprieve – aside from plenty of warmth from the sun – was time to think. It sounds so silly… but I rarely sit and just allow myself to think and reflect, uninterrupted. It’s true that my mind is rarely (okay, never) still; my brain is chugging at impressive speeds up until the very second I fall asleep at night. And at times I’m particularly stressed or consumed with something, I often find myself dreaming about it, as if a reminder to attend to it the next day. But I spent a considerable amount of time over the last week just letting my thoughts travel to wherever they may go. Naturally, I have already planned my next (or perhaps next few…) vacations in my head. That’s no surprise. I also spent a good amount of time thinking about my family, friends, my relationships in my life in general; thinking about what goals I want to set for myself in the next few months, during residency, or even the next few years; thinking about where I might like to move to for the next stage of my life.

Predictably, a good portion of my time thinking and reflecting was devoted to my weight loss and my marathon goal. Before my departure, I struggled a lot with the idea of vacation and how it fit into my new lifestyle – I felt there was a range from “totally letting myself go” to “counting Weight Watchers Points,” and I just didn’t know exactly where to place myself on that continuum. What came of it was a bizarre mix. I have learned that you’ll never succeed at any dietary or lifestyle change if you don’t give yourself a break. You have to allow yourself to enjoy the things you love now and then, or you’ll never make it. Truth be told, I likely enjoyed too much, but in my heart of hearts, I do believe that for one week, it won’t kill me.

What bugged me a bit is that I saw how quickly I could jump back to old habits, especially eating too much of something because it tasted good. I also found myself struggling with something that’s been a thorn in my side for the duration of my journey. Let me explain it this way. I see myself having two little characters sitting on my shoulders, just like in cartoons. On one side, picture a fat, ruddy faced, yet terribly convincing devil in a bad costume. On the other, the proverbial “angel” who is healthy and fit, wearing shorts and a tank-top with skinny and fantastic arms that I am quite jealous of. Every day, I haggle with these two each time I decide to eat or exercise (or not to, as it were). I’ve become great at ignoring the bad advice of my little devil friend, but every now and then he still gets me. On the rare day that I fall off the wagon, the devil takes hold… and somehow it becomes an absolute free-for-all. I let the little devil convince me that if I’m going to be “bad” today, why not be REALLY bad? Unfortunately, the devil had a bit too much of a hold on me over vacation. I’ve got to admit that eating things I hadn’t had in a while tasted good… but when all was said and done, I didn’t feel all that great about myself. I’ve got to find a way to meet in the middle somehow – allow myself to splurge now and then, but to control it better. Needless to say, there won’t be a weigh-in for me this week, as I’ll give myself a little chance to recover from the damage. But after months of being on the straight and narrow (even over the holidays, for the most part), I think a week of indulgence is okay.

On the exercise front (after all, this blog was inspired by running!), I hit a bit of a snag. I was so excited to get to the warm weather – I of course brought my workout clothes, my running shoes, and an iPod filled with songs to fuel me as I went for long morning runs. Hate to say it, but Chicago isn’t exactly the best place to run outside these days, and I just wanted to enjoy the week of warmth and the opportunity to be outdoors. But as luck (or lack of luck) may have it, I came down with a viral head cold the day I landed in the DR, and found myself wheezing on and off for the duration of my stay. Alas, no running for me. I took the opportunity to rest and get better.

I find myself eager to get back to my routines and start working out again. Hustle Up the Hancock is just two weeks away, so I better start adding that stair mill back into my routine! Among the rest of my thinking time, I’ve also formulated a post on my reason and drive for running the marathon, which will be coming soon.

So, from start to finish it was a wonderful and much needed vacation. I feel emotionally, mentally, and physically rested and rejuvenated. One more day of vacation before I have to get back to reality, but I find myself excited about my new-found energy and eager to get right back at it. You know I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Year of "I can"

morbid (adj):
1. (a) of, relating to, or characteristic of disease
(b) affected with or induced by disease
(c) productive of disease

This is a term we use all the time in medicine. Even the public uses it, as we are well aware of the increase in and impact of morbid obesity on our society. Not exactly a term I've ever wanted as a self-descriptor, but I have to be honest with myself. Though my body mass index never fell into the "morbid obesity" category (>40), I was certainly knocking on its door with a BMI of 38.1 at my heaviest when I graduated college.


It's a scary thought - a 22 year old with so much excess weight that she's almost morbidly obese. I was on a downhill slide with no signs of stopping.

One thing medicine has taught me: Morbidity ---> Mortality.

Not for this girl, not now. I'm proud to say that a lot has changed in 4 years. Not just my weight, but my mindset and my lifestyle. I stand (er, sit) before you 70lbs lighter than my college graduation, and on my journey to (and approaching!) my goal weight. I'm healthier, happier, and feeling better than I ever have before.

I'm not writing any of this in search of congrats or encouragement; in some ways, I think I need to put this down in writing; to admit where I've been, what I've done, and where I plan on going. I was enormously overweight, and even today - 70lbs thinner - my BMI STILL places me in an overweight category. Every day I see people who suffer from obesity; I see heart attacks in 30 and 40 year olds, amputations from diabetic complications, and children losing their parents to obesity and its sequelae. So I made a resolution that this would never be me. And I'm sticking to it.

I never thought I'd be able to lose 70lbs, let alone my ultimate goal of 90. But, I'm deeming 2011 the year of turning "I can't" into "I can." Because if there's one thing I've learned, it's that we are all capable of amazing things if we put our minds to it.

And so today, February 1, 2011, I've taken this to a whole new level: I have signed up to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 9, 2011. And now I've put it on the internet for all to see... to hold myself accountable and to fuel me forward.

26.2 miles - am I nuts?!

I can do this, and I will. This blog is going to serve as an outlet and a record of my journey to the finish line, and I invite you to read it and follow along as I attain a life goal.

249 days to go. Let's get busy.