Will Running a Marathon Make You Skinny? A Surprising Answer is Not Necessarily

The marathon is the iconic distance shrouded in mystery, and crowned with glamor. Just finishing it is considered an accomplishment.  At one time it was widely believed that just running a marathon would make you immune from a heart attack, and this belief was widely held until running evangelist Jim Fixx, and best selling author of The Complete Book of Running, died of a heart attack – while running:

Fixx often quoted California pathologist Tom Bassler who stated that any nonsmoker who could run a marathon in under four hours would never die from a heart attack.

www.villages-news.com/remembering-running-guru-jim-fixx/

So, can people run marathons without necessarily losing weight?  The study is small, the exact implications are not clear, but fitness researcher Mary Kennedy of the Harvard Medical School was surprised to find  that for whatever reason some people who run marathons will not necessarily loose. weight. There are many breathless iterations of this story on the web, and I have not been able to find the original research, but New York Magazine’s “The Science of Us” web page carried the most reasonable version of the story stripped of the sensationalism. Here is a quote from that story:

She conducted a small, simple pilot study, limited to her group of 64 charity runners, comparing their weight before starting the training program to their weight after completing it. About 11 percent of them did lose weight, but just as many gained weight (and of those who gained, 86 percent were women). But for the remaining 78 percent, their weight stayed almost exactly the same, even after three months of running four days a week.

This summer Runners World ran a remarkable article about Mirna Valerio who is a 250 lb, and they actually use the term, “obese runner.”  She is a distance runner who also runs the occasional marathon.  You can read the story here:  http://www.runnersworld.com/runners-stories/ultra  and I urge you to visit her  interesting blog Fat Girl Running.

So now we know that running marathons does not guarantee that you will not have a heart attack, and there continues to be reports of runners who look fit, but who die while running like my friend and mentor Arne Richards, of whom Joe Henderson has written so movingly.

We need to understand that being thin, my friend Arne was very thin with practically no body fat when he died while running at age 42, does not guarantee being physically fit or healthy. Same thing applied to Jim Fixx.  Conversely, we need to understand that running long distances is no guarantee of shedding pounds.  It is more complicated than that.

A life of holistic moderation lived mindfully is the target that I am aiming for.  That includes a good diet, adequate sleep, reducing stress, and an exercise regime that is backed by empirical evidence rather than wishful, and simplistic, thinking.  All of these things work together.  I will close now by referring you to an article in Women’s Running by Rachel Cosgrove which is simply outstanding.  It is entitled Weight Loss Fact and Fiction.  Please read it.

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Running Ugly: The Upcoming Book

This is the preface of my  upcoming book Running Ugly: A Fitness Memoir.  I would love to get feedback from you.  

Preface

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

To be a consistent winner means preparing not just one day, one month or even one year – but for a lifetime. Bill Rodgers (American marathon runner. b. 1947).

This is the story of a very ordinary runner, and a very ordinary person. No matter what they mean to me, my accomplishments are modest to the world, and if there are any strengths in this book it lies in that fact. This is a book for persons of modest means. What I have managed to accomplish was by the way of humble tools, and a meager athletic ability, fortified by persistence. I am still astonished at what happened, and can scarcely recognize my own hand in it.

I started this book when I was 56, and will be over 59 years old before it is done. In the meantime I have explored the jagged edges of my emotional, physical, and spiritual capabilities. In the meantime I have twice become a grandparent. I have become more at peace, and more comfortable, with myself. Fitness, the weight loss, all those original goals have become secondary. It turns out running was a tool, maybe even a metaphor, for something else, and there is no denying the existential aspect of what running represents. But, we cannot run forever. We must take time for other things, and eventually even the best runner can run no more. Aging is something that we cannot conquer but, that we can perhaps come to a gentleman’s agreement with.

What is this book about? This book is about a journey to regain my health so I could live better, and perhaps longer, and where that journey ultimately led me. I wrote it because I think there are a lot of people like me, and that I may have learned something from my experience that may be useful to them. I also wrote it for deeply personal reasons, perhaps even selfish reasons, as part of my struggle to understand what happened as well as what it might all mean in the end. This book is also about hope. This book is also about our ability to assume at least some control of our destiny rather than to be passive recipients of what popular culture wants to spoon feed us figuratively, and literally. This book is about running ugly. So what is running ugly?

Running ugly means running for the joy and the benefit of it rather than for the laurels of victory or the false accomplishment of trying to look good. If the laurels, and looking good, come to us it is a by-product of almost no consequence. A light desert to an already satisfying feast. Running itself is always a process, never a product. When you are in your fifties you are no longer the belle at the ball, and in our youth oriented society you are considered a has been anyway. So why doll yourself up for nothing? Don’t worry about how you look, how fast you are going, if you look weird, if you run strange, or lumber about on the track without grace. If so, you are probably doing something right. At the very least you are at least doing it. You have been freed from the the prison of the couch. Just run.

Run ugly. Run often. And if you can’t run too far, or often, do what you can. If you cannot run walk. If you cannot walk, live a mindful life. Exist with gratitude for the experience of being a part of it all.

I said earlier that running ugly is a metaphor. Perhaps a metaphor for something very much beyond running. Perhaps it means for us to have patience, curiosity, and grace as we explore the contours of our lives in order to make meaning of it. Perhaps it means that we cultivate an inner beauty by letting outer appearances take care of themselves as we strive to become beautiful on the inside. To become kinder to ourselves and others. I went outside to run, but instead entered a classroom.

Calm Energy: How People Regulate Mood with Food and Exercise — a review

This is a review of  Dr. Robert Thayer’s last book (b. 1935 – d. 2014). Dr. Thayer was a psychology professor at  California State University, Long Beach.  He was an internationally known mood scientist, and his book is worth a look.

Dr. Thayer’s book explores the relationship between a depressed mood and over eating, and  not having the energy, or not feeling like, exercise.  His premise is that we often eat to help regulate our mood, and that even a moderately DSC_0002depressed mood drives us toward inactivity.  Paradoxically we do not have the energy to exercise, and use food to elevate mood creating a feedback loop.  While written in 2001 Dr. Thayer had already identified technology as something that has contributed to a rise in chronic background stress over and above what occurred previously.   Now I am going to tell you why you should read it.

I think the science clearly shows that our mood does effect when and how we exercise, as well as when and how we eat.  This book provides some great advice, and I will mention just a few things:

1. Sleep.  Get enough of it.  Lack of sleep has an adverse effect on mood.  Not only do we perform poorly when we have not had enough sleep, it does contribute to a negative mood, and to poor eating habits.  I am working very hard to get my own sleep regulated, and I suffer for it when that does not work out.

2.  You can use exercise to reduce the urge to snack.  Here is a quote:

If one of the reasons we snack is for the pleasure it gives us in the form of increased energy and reduced tension, and if exercise also gives similar pleasure through its effects on our moods, then it ought to be possible to substitute exercise for snacking, at least in a limited sort or way. pg. 79

He cites research that shows exercise can suppress appetite, and is particularly effective for when we cycle through our periods of low mood which happens periodically as a matter of course.

There is a lot more good information in the book.  Dr. Thayer has started us down the road into understanding how self-awareness can help us to not only be more aware of what is happening with our bodies, but also to  begin learning how to take evasive action to avoid the negative things in our life.

I am predicting that in the future we will find out that  learning how to control our moods will be a critical part of our fitness arsenal.  Running is nothing more than a tool for me, and one of many, no matter how much I like it.  And remember, at least for me, this is not just about  staying fit. I am not in it for the six-pack.  Not at 58 years of age.  It is about leading a sane life, with joy, vigour, and pleasure in every moment that we can.  I am also continually amazed at how everything is connected.  We cannot ignore one thing at the expense of another.

Live long and prosper. And get some sleep!

Mike

“You can’t out train a bad diet.”

I am working on the post about weight training at home I promised a couple of days ago.  But, I read about this video in the Runner’s World article by Amby Burfoot, and it made a tremendous impression on me.

Intuitively we know this to be true.  But to actually see it in this video really drives it home.  For all the emphasis we put on exercise, and it is important, it is the diet that is making the biggest difference.  Another hard truth is that the standard diet in America is fundamentally unhealthy.  This video, and the movie/book  Forks Over Knives along with the movie/book Fast Food Nation has convinced me, that for me, a vegan diet is the way to go.  I don’t advocate vegan for everyone, but for me it works.