Please read this article from today's NY Times. It's terrific.
Crossing the Finish Line 25 Pounds LighterOn a recent dreary morning I dragged myself to the gym. I'd run two miles in the rain earlier that day and really didn't want to do my usual 20 minutes of weight lifting. But I showed up anyway and tried to blast myself through my routine with very loud and fast music playing in my ears.
I was about to cut my workout short when a trainer who works at the gym came over to me.
"I just want you to know that I've watched you work hard this summer, and it does make a difference," he said. "You look like a completely different person."
I blushed, for a few reasons. First — hey, he's cute. Second, I haven't talked much about how I lost 25 pounds in a year, 20 of them over the summer. I'm almost embarrassed about it: that my weight had slowly crept up to 165 pounds, and again that I felt the need to lose them.
Jen Miller running the New York City Marathon in 2014 (left) and, 25 pounds lighter, the Fifth Avenue Mile in 2015 (right).
Mary Miller / Courtesy of the New York Road Runners
Mary Miller / Courtesy of the New York Road Runners
I've been running since 2006, and started running longer distances as a way to rebalance my life after a bad breakup and the death of my grandfather. Running kept me neat and trim, until I started to train for marathons. I slowly slid up the scale because I believed — falsely — that I could eat whatever I wanted if I was running three to 20 miles a day. After nearly breaking my foot in 2013 and being forced to take three months off, I kept eating like I was still running and didn't stop.
I went from 140 to 145, and then up to 160 and 165. My times in all distances slowed. I wanted less and less to get out the door, though I still trained for and ran two marathons at that weight.
At a doctor's appointment in January, as I waited for her to come in the exam room, I looked at the B.M.I. chart on the wall and saw what I'd tried to deny every time I put on my favorite pair of jeans and they didn't fit: I was solidly overweight.
My first impulse was to tell myself, "I do not want to be at this spot on the scale," and guilt hit me almost immediately. I felt like I was trampling on every single thing I believed about women not needing to be as thin as fire poles in order to be attractive. What kind of feminist was I, anyway? I told my female friends of all shapes and sizes they were perfectly fine at those shapes and sizes — and I believed it. What did it say about me that I couldn't apply the same words to myself?
Then the fear of the task ahead held me down: It had taken me years to slide up to 165. So I did nothing. I kept running, slowly and without enthusiasm, and did one of my worst 10-mile races of my life that spring. The weight wasn't the only reason, but I knew it was a big part of it. I looked at my finishing time and knew something had to change, guilt be damned.
I'm an athlete — an amateur one, but still someone who wants to improve at her sport in every way she can. Carrying around 25 extra pounds wasn't going to help me improve in my sport. So I rejoined the gym, bought a new scale and weighed myself once a week, starting on April 29 at 159.8 pounds. I set what I thought was a modest goal of losing 10 pounds by Labor Day.
Instead of training for a fall marathon, I set my sights on running the Fifth Avenue Mile on Sept. 13 in under seven minutes. Workouts for a one-mile road race are much different than a 26.2-mile slog, and they included shorter track sprints and a lot of time in the weight room strengthening my legs, core and upper body so that they could swing me through the finish line. I ran in the early mornings to beat the heat, and then on weekdays I lifted weights for 20 minutes. I skipped the weekend long run and instead ran stadium stairs every Saturday morning, doing walking lunges and skips and sprints on the track between each round.
I thought I'd see this task as a chore, but I found I enjoyed the shake-up of my usual routine. Every time I shifted to a heavier weight set at the gym, I high-fived myself. Every time I finished a 400-meter sprint faster than the week before, I cheered.
I also changed the way I ate. I didn't count calories or go on what I'd call a diet, but I cut back on carbs and alcohol and ate more full-fat foods: whole fat yogurt, bacon, dark chicken with the skin on and vegetables sautéed in butter. I learned new recipes to fit in with a new way of eating, one devoid of diet foods and instead focused on real food. I never felt hungry, and food tasted so good.
I hit my 10-pound weight-loss goal by mid-August. By the time I crossed the finish line at the Fifth Avenue Mile, a full 28 seconds faster than my goal, I had lost another 10, leaving me a full 25 pounds lighter than when I ran the New York City Marathon the fall before.
So the trainer at my gym had stellar timing in giving me that compliment. I finished my workout with gusto, dead lifts and all. On my way out, I stopped him again and said, "I hate to say this, but you really just made my day."
"Oh, of course," he said. "Some people come in here and never change. You did. And I wanted to congratulate you on it."
I haven't been able to shake off all the guilt yet, and only recently started to wear clothes that fit this new me and not the old one. Even though I am running faster in every race I do, part of me feels bad that people look at the thinner me differently. But the athlete in me will always win. She's the one who wants to cross that finish line as fast as possible, and I'm going to do what I can to help.
Jen A. Miller is the author of "Running: A Love Story," which will be published in March