In 1976, I was 14 years old and, at the peak of my adolescent growth spurt, weighed in at 155 pounds. In January 2011, after gorging for days on rich seafood washed down with copious volumes of beer, wine and booze in Cornwall for our 25th anniversary a few days before the near fatal wreck, I weighed in at 155 pounds. For all but a few months (in the late 70’s when I actively tried to bulk up using the gym and ‘supplements’) in the interim 35 years I weighed between 154 and 156 pounds every time I stepped on a scale; at various times I might have been in fairly good condition, at others all my muscle was replaced by fat, and many times I was a mix of both wiry and bloated from excess consumption of drugs and alcohol but I was always 155 pounds…you could calibrate your scales by it.
For a couple of years after recovering from the collapsed lung, the broken neck, all the soft tissue damage, (etc, etc), I fluctuated between 165 and 175 (with a peak at 180) pounds despite maintaining a fairly consistent running regimen since the thoracic surgeon green-lit it and despite having far fewer pubs to tempt me in. The extra weight has meant carrying a handicap in races (I was 175 pounds at the start of the 2012 London Marathon, and I was carrying a backpack laden with beer and other treats) but it hasn’t had any detrimental effects on my performance or other health metrics so I haven’t worried about it too much. I’ve been fit enough for my purposes and have been happily stable at 12 stone (168 pounds) for roughly a year. Besides, since I don’t get naked in public very often anymore there’s no reason to worry about the offence that horrifying sight might cause.
Eight weeks ago, I changed my training regimen to durations of activity instead of distances or circuits and something weird began to happen…my weight began to fall back down toward 11 stone again. Diet, which has not changed in years, is still a questionable imbalance of remarkably healthy treats and carcinogenic and heart disease risk factors often ingested at the same sitting and almost always in inadvisably gormand-like quantities; and, I still think of ‘units of alcohol’ in terms of bottles of wine or tumblers of whisky.
When I say I was prescribing distances I don’t mean I was fundamentalist about it. Every other week I would do 18-22 miles on the long run with one 10 miler and two or three at 4-6 miles; the intervening weeks would involve three or four at 4-6 miles and one around 12-14. The gym was fit in once or twice a week (especially in rainy weather when the roadwork was often done on the treadmill).
I decided to modify my approach when I noted that my pace on the runs was consistently 7½ to 8½ minutes per mile and that I spent an inordinate measure of time planning routes for specific distances. It all seemed oppressive and a despair-inducing waste of time so I decided that I should try spending the 6-8 hours per week I was already doing on ANYTHING reasonably considered ‘exercise’ with a goal of an hour per day, two hours at least one day a week, and a day off if I just feel lazy. Stretching counts as long as it hurts or has a noticeable effect on flexibility. Running, time on gym circuits, cycling and rowing all count and one-third the time spent on vigorous hiking is allowed (fighting uphill through thorns happens frequently enough in my world, and not just metaphorically). Breaking a sweat at work does NOT count, nor do any of the household chores that come along.
After noticing the weight drop I found very little change in my total mileage although the long runs have fallen off to 15-16 miles nowadays (my weekly totals are still 30-40 miles). My pace still averages about 8 minutes per mile but varies a lot more with anything from 6½ to 9½ being sustained for up to a third of any given run. The extra time left over from the shorter ‘long’ runs goes mostly into more — and more focused — stretching and weight training but little has changed significantly.
It really is much more a semantic change than anything concrete, but I have realised some fantastic benefits nonetheless. Besides the tonnage, my physical efforts take quite a bit less psychological effort to overcome inertia. Running and other exertion was almost always pleasant once started, but now I feel eager to get out there…the way it always used to be: it has become playtime, again.
Don’t worry, kids. I’m still morose and misanthropic on the outside, where it counts. [Note: it might be time to go streaking on the Ridgeway once the stinging nettles die back a bit.]