Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Half marathon madness

Three key messages in this post:

  1. I've been inspired to do a half marathon

  2. I want your sponsorship money

  3. I'll give you advertising in return

The Half Marathon

I was watching coverage this morning of last weekend's Great North Run - a half marathon in the north of England which this year had 54,000 registered entrants, making it the world's biggest half marathon.

Whenever I've watched one of these mass participation events, I have found the people who do it to be truly inspiring. Both the people at the front who are supreme athletes, but perhaps even more so the people in the midfield and at the back who have had to fit their running training around busy work and family schedules, and who most of the time don't have the expert coaching that the elite runners get.

Historically, I have rationalised the fact that I don't enter by telling myself that I'm not built for running distances. Well this excuse is starting to feel a bit thin. I'm The Fat RUNNER after all - not The Fat COUCH-POTATO!! And my recent 5k personal bests, strength training and weight loss all points to the fact that it's time for me to do something a bit more challenging than a 5k.

A quick chat with a marathon-running friend confirmed my suspicions that it would take at least 4 months of training led me to look into 2010 for a suitable event, and I am now registered to run the 2010 Adidas Half Marathon at the world-famous Silverstone racing circuit. I've got to admit that my childhood dreams involve me racing around Silverstone, but not without a car!! But I'll take what I can get...


I'd like you to sponsor me. I've set up a sponsorship page at JustGiving which administers the payments and allows you to pay with a credit card or even a paypal account, meaning that it accepts payments from all over the world. And if you're a UK tax payer, then they can even claim the tax back on your donation.

The charity I've chosen is Save the Children. Save the Children is the world's independent children's charity. They are devoted to helping the millions of children are still denied proper healthcare, food, education and protection and are working flat out to get every child their rights.

Furthermore, as a large and professionally-managed charity, more of your money goes directly to helping children. In fact, 83% of all donations is spent on charitable expenditure directly benefitting children.

Finally, although the charity is headquartered in the UK, it acts on a global basis, so wherever you are in the world there is a reason for you to sponsor me.

Advertise your product or blog or whatever

And when YOU sponsor ME, then this is what I will do for YOU.

If you have a blog or a product you want to promote, I'll do it for you in the box on the right.

You can promote anything within reason - as a guide, look at what Google excludes from their advertising network here. If they're happy with it, then generally I'll be happy with it.

So how do you do it?

Firstly, go to the Fat Runner sponsorship page and follow the instructions to sponsor me - even the smallest amount is very gratefully appreciated.

Secondly, come back to this blog, and go to the Contact Me form and let me know the text you want and any links (if you know html, then just send me that). I'm happy with up to 100 characters in your blog mention or product advert. You should also include your email address on the contact form - that is my way of matching your donation against your promotion request.

Finally, hopefully within 24 hours your text will be up on this blog. The adverts/mentions will be ordered according to the size of the donation (biggest donation at the top, obviously), giving you the incentive to dig deep and support something truly worthwhile.

So, I think that's it. The donation page is already live, and as soon as I get some sponsorship (even if it is only 1 cent!) I'll start putting adverts up.

Let me know if you have any questions, but in the meantime, please give generously.

Monday, 21 September 2009

5K personal best for The Fat Runner

Another week, another 5k personal best!! This time, down to 28:16 at the Wimbledon Common Time Trial.

While I know that I'm not troubling the front-runners, this is quite major for me.

I've been running for a few years now, and up until a few weeks ago, I only succeeded in maintaining my (slow) pace - I wasn't getting any quicker at all. Very annoying!

So what is different this time?

Well I'm gradually getting lighter through intermittent fasting (based on the Eat Stop Eat book) than I used to be - which must help.

I'm doing more strength training to improve my core strength (using Turbulence Training) which again must help.

I'm also doing a few more mid week runs (well one is more than zero, right?) than I used to.

Finally, my training runs are now made up predominantly of intervals (between 1 and 4 minutes long) to get my body used to running at faster speeds.

All of these things have, I think, contributed to bringing my 5k time down, and therefore I'll continue to do them. Seeing the results of my fitness push, both on the scales as well as on the time clock, is doing wonders for my motivation to keep on going!

Talking of motivation, there's someone I want to mention who also runs at the Wimbledon Common Time Trial (let's call her "X"). She's a little older than I am (according to the website, she sits in the 40-44 year old category) and she's probably a little overweight.

However, since I started running this event, she has always been faster than me (other than last week).

I could never understand it - she's older than I am, she's of the statistically slower sex, she's quite short, and she doesn't "look" fit. So how was it that she was, at times, substantially faster than me?

Well the answer came when I was running alongside her for the first time last week. She sounded like a steam-train she was breathing so hard! So basically I think a big reason for her being as fast as she is, is that she puts a hell of a lot of effort into every 5k she does - really inspirational considering she's nearer the back than the front.

Now, whenever I feel like slowing down or stopping to walk for a bit, I ask myself "Would X slow down or would she keep on going?".

She's a real inspiration (and doesn't know it).

Monday, 14 September 2009

Fat Runner 5k personal best

As promised in Thursday's post, "Lose Weight, Run Faster", here is my update on my 5k performance after losing a little more weight, running a bit more in the week, and thinking much harder about my technique.

Well you'll probably have guessed from the title of this post "Fat Runner 5k personal best" that I managed to run it faster than I've ever run it before!

In fact, I got down to 28:30 - which is a full 50 seconds off last week.

So what was different?

Firstly, I weighed a little less than last week - but only by a kilo or so, so not enough to explain the difference.

Secondly, I think I ate a few more carbs on Friday versus the week before, so perhaps a bit more energy in the muscles?

Thirdly, the training that I'd done in the week hopefully had two effects - getting me to think harder about technique as well as getting my body used to faster speeds (even if I could only sustain them for short distances).

Interestingly, this PB included four short periods (30-45 seconds) of walking which seemed to allow me to keep a much higher pace when I was running - more support for the "run walk run" technique, at least for beginner/unfit runners like me!

Of course, this could all be a bit of a fluke, but I'll be going through the same routine this week to see if I can take any more time off my 5k race time. So, intervals tonight, a longish (or at least longer) run perhaps Wednesday, and hopefully another kilo or more of weight loss...

If I'm lucky next week, I'll break 28 minutes!!

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Death by diet

Tragically, a British bride-to-be died this week, with many pointing the finger at her low calorie diet as being the reason for her death.

Samantha Clowe was 34 years of age and had been following the "Lighter Life" diet for eleven weeks, losing over 3 stone (42 pounds, 19kg) in the process.

Unfortunately, Samantha is not the only one on the "Lighter Life" diet who has suffered.

In 2006, Matilda Callaghan died after losing 10 stone (140 pounds, 64kg) on the diet.

Last year, Jacqueline Henson (a mother of five), died three weeks after starting the Lighter Life diet. The diet apparently suggests drinking 4 to 6 litres of water per day (140 to 210 oz). She drank four litres in two hours, causing her brain to swell, leading to her death.

Sarah Barker was also on the Lighter Life diet - shedding 11 stone (154 pounds, 70kg) in eight months in 2006. However, Sarah now blames the diet for continuing muscle pains, poor vision, memory loss and tiredness, three years after having given up the diet.

In 2007, Christina Massingham began the Lighter Life diet to reduce her weight from 22 stone. Within less than a year, she had lost over 11 stone and tried to start eating normally again. Unfortunately this didn't work and she ended up losing a total of 13 stone, and was diagnosed with anorexia.

Before I get sued, I need to stress that no inquest was able to prove a direct causal link between the diet that these women were on and the tragic consequences.

It's also worth pointing out that, on the newspaper websites on which these stories are reported, that there are a substantial number of comments from people who have followed the Lighter Life diet, lost substantial amounts of weight, and have kept it off. There are also comments from people who have lost a lot of weight and then regained most or all of it, or sometimes regained even more than they lost in the firt place.

So why am I writing about these tragic stories? Because I was worried that I too may be losing weight too quickly and risk having similar effects. My weight loss is currently averaging around 1.5kg per week - equating to around a stone per month. This is a similar rate of weight loss which these women were also experiencing.

On a bit of closer examination, however, I'm comfortable that the approach I'm taking is a long way away from the Lighter Life.

Firstly, the Lighter Life allows around 500 calories per day every day. I may get down towards that on my fasting days, but am substantially above that on other days, so overall I'm getting a lot more nutrition than anyone on the Lighter Life programme.

Secondly, much of the calorie deficit I'm creating is coming from exercise. The stories I read about these women suggested that exercise was not a large part of their programme.

Thirdly, I'm not intending to be cutting calories to the extent I am for any longer than three months - by that point I should be at (or close to) my goal weight of 85kg.

However, the question still remains around what is a 'healthy' rate of weight loss. Almost everything you read suggests that it is between 1 to 2 pounds per week. However, the I've yet to see the science behind why this is the right number, and not the 3 to 4 pounds per week which I'm currently losing.

Let's take the NBC show "The Biggest Loser".

The last winner of that competition, Helen Phillips, lost 140 pounds over the course of the show. Just taking the regular part of the show into account, when they had weekly weighings, she lost 91 pounds between week 1 and week 17 - over five and a half pounds per week.

Mike, however, lost 142 pounds over the same period - almost 9 pounds per week! To be honest, I don't understand how that is possible, as it equates to a caloric deficit of well over 3,500 calories per day and that's allowing for the fact that some of that weight loss will come from water and lean tissue and not just from fat. Creating that kind of caloric deficit (assuming that he's still eating at least something - 500 calories per day?) means that he is burning up over 4,000 calories per day, every day. Lots of lots of exercise - very impressive.

But these cases lead me to the conclusion that my, relatively modest, three to four pounds per week weight loss, is well within the range of being healthy.

You can keep up with my daily weight loss progress in the top right corner of my blog, or click on my "Losing Weight" page to see my daily weighings since I started trying to lose weight properly.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Weight loss mathematics

Being roughly half way through my weight loss programm, I thought I'd indulge myself in a little bit of mathematics to get an idea of where I might get to.

What I wanted to see is where my body fat percentage might end up if I hit my 85kg target.

To calculate this, I'll need to make an estimate of the proportion of weight I'm losing which is made up of fat, and how much from lean tissue mass. I'll also need to know my starting body fat percentage.

Well I reckon when I started this weight loss initiative that my body fat percentage was around 22% - this is at least what some scales in my holiday home say (I don't have body fat measuring scales at my normal home).

And reading a couple of research reports into restricted and very low calorie diets, it appears that between 80% and 90% of weight loss is from fat with the remainder coming from lean body mass.

So, putting all of that together gives me the following prediction - if I get to 85kg (my goal weight) then I'll have 9% body fat. Not the most amazing in the world, but equally well lower than average and it should mean that I'd have plenty of definition in my muscles.

So, here is the working:

At the start of this exercise, I was 102kg with 22% body fat - so lean mass was 79.6kg and body fat was 22.4kg (I hate to think what that would look like if made out of butter...)

If I lose 17kg and 80% of the weight loss comes from fat, then I will lose 14.4kg of fat and 2.6kg of lean body mass.

Therefore, I'll be left with 8kg of fat and 77kg of lean body mass with a total mass of 85kg - this equates to 9% body fat.

All very interesting in theory - so let's see if:

  1. I can get down to 85kg

  2. 80% (or hopefully more) of my weight loss is in the form of fat

  3. I was only 22% body fat when I started this and not substantially more!

I'm not sure how long it will take to get down to my goal weight - I think it'll take me at least until the end of October - stick with me and we'll see if my calculations are right!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Lose weight, run faster

Intermittent fasting and substantially increasing the amount I do physical exercise has kept allowing me to lose weight - I am now down just over 7kg (around 16 pounds) in just over 4 weeks.

And last week at the Wimbledon Common 5k, I managed to get my time down to 29 mins 20 seconds. That is the second fastest time I've ever run it. The only time I beat that was in March 2008 when I ran 29:14. Unfortunately I don't have a record of what I weighed then, but going back over my training log in Garmin Training Center, it seems that I had been running more than usual for back then, including adding in some long slow runs...

As well as losing weight through intermittent fasting, the other thing I've been looking at recently is improving my running technique to run faster.

Unfortunately running technique is a little like losing weight - no one seems to agree on the best approach!

However, I've found in weight loss that many people will argue about the exact details, rather than just getting on with it and cutting calories. Almost every diet which works relies on calorie reduction in one way or another.

And as far as I can see, much is the same for running. Whether you use the Pose method, or Chi running, or something else, most people seem to agree that good running technique has:

  • a fast leg turnover - something in the range of 180 foot strikes per minute

  • feet landing under the hips

  • landing on the midfoot rather than the heel

  • picking the heel up at the end (rather than swinging a straight leg forward

There are plenty of other things I can look at for when I get better/faster, but just focusing on these will be enough for now I think.

The other thing I read was that the way to run faster is to run faster. In other words, practice running faster during your training so that your legs are used to the pace when you want to use it in a race. So that's what I did on Monday night.

Tuesday night was going to be a long slow run, but I think I pushed myself so much on Monday that my legs were absolutely not up to anything more than 5k...

I'll report back next week on how my Saturday 5k race went and whether I've managed to achieve an all-time personal best (rather than just a seasons best)...

I've also put a graph onto my "Losing Weight" page which shows how my weight has come down day by day. It's part motivation for me, but hopefully it's useful to you if you're trying to lose weight so that you can see that intermittent fasting appears to work.

Until next time.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

Losing Weight through Intermittent Fasting

In my last post which looked at my recent (and continuing) weight loss success, I promised to talk about how I had changed my diet to achieve this level of weight loss.

What I have been doing is a form of 'intermittent fasting' based on the book "Eat Stop Eat" by Brad Pilon.

Without going into the whole whys, wherefores, reasons and whatever around intermittent fasting, what it basically means is not eating for around 24 hours at time - and Brad recommends doing this 1 or 2 times per week.

Before I got the book, I had a handful of major questions, some of which were answered by the book, and others through my experience of sticking to the plan (which I have done now for just over 3 weeks).

Question 1) Would I lose weight - what about starvation mode?

Well I think that my weight loss results , so far, speak for themselves. I'm still continuing to lose weight although at a slightly slower pace than at the start. Initially, I was losing around 2kg per week, but this week it's more like 1.5kg. Not sure if this is a blip or not - we'll see over the next few weeks I guess.

I don't have body fat scales at home, so I can't tell you anything statistically about body composition, other than I look much flatter in the mirror.

In terms of 'starvation mode' then I looked up a few of the studies which Brad researched. There is a key study which looks at the impact of intermittent fasting on metabolic rate, lean body weight, body fat etc. The study (and Brad) point to the fact that the base metabolic rate of the subjects is roughly the same on fasting and non-fasting days to say that there is no drop in metabolic rate from intermittent fasting.

However, when you compare the metabolic rate 21 days after starting intermittent fasting, to the day before starting intermittent fasting, there is roughly a 10% drop. Before everyone screams "starvation mode!" let's compare that to the fact that these subjects are now ingesting almost 50% fewer calories. Therefore, the calorie reduction massively outweighs (no pun intended) the slight reduction in metabolic rate.

Furthermore, between 80% and 90% of the weight loss was in the form of pure fat, with the rest being made up of muscle. Again that gives ammunition to the 'starvation mode' camp - the fact that they lost muscle mass - but the vast majority of weight loss was in fat. Additionally, it is apparently normal for 'fatter' people to have more muscle mass than lean people anyway - we need it to haul our fat butts around! So when we lose weight, it only makes sense that we need less muscle...

Question 2) Would I feel sluggish the way I sometimes do if I get hungry?

From my experience so far, absolutely not. In fact, there is some research to suggest that metabolic rate actually increases slightly in the first 24 hours of a fast. Some have postulated that this is a sensible evolutionary trait - when our ancestors got hungry, they would need to be more alert and energetic so they could go out and hunt food. This makes sense to me (although I'm no dietician...).

Question 3) Would I feel hungry when fasting?

The biggest surprise to me is that I don't feel hungry when fasting. Well perhaps just a little bit but no more than usual. I used to hit 12 o'clock and immediately race out to get some food. Sometimes earlier. Now that I'm fasting, I realise that that urge to eat was not a need to eat - it was purely a learned pattern of behaviour that I'd need to unlearn. Just as someone may feel that they need a drink when they get home from work. They don't need that drink (unless they have alcohol dependency issues) - it's just a learned pattern of behaviour.

So when 12 o'clock comes around, rather than going to get food, I instead go to the coffee machine and get myself some green and peppermint tea which seems to satisfy my urge to put something in my mouth.

(By the way, I hate the taste of green tea but I hear that it's very good for you. So what I do is to put a green tea bag and a peppermint tea bag into the same cup so I get the benefits of the green tea but the taste of the peppermint tea. I've now noticed a number of my colleagues do the same now that they've seen my trick!)

Question 4) Is intermittent fasting healthy?

Well, as far as I'm aware no-one has proven that intermittent fasting is unhealthy. People have been able to prove that prolonged fasting or severe calorie restriction have depressed metabolic rate (although never enough to cancel out the impact of reduced energy intake on fat stores) and have reduced muscle mass (albeit with between 5 to 10 times as much fat being lost). I'm happy to take these two impacts along with the benefits of fat loss.

In addition, however, Brad'd book puts forward a bunch of different health benefits from intermittent fasting, including increased insulin sensitivity. In fact, it was this alone which made me look at the book in the first place. As an overweight (previously obese) person, I was at high risk of contracting diabetes and I wanted to make sure I didn't get there - hence trying to reduce insulin resistance.

Two of the other key benefits I have seen however as as follows:

Firstly, I just have much more time in the day. I no longer spend 10 minutes in the morning eating breakfast and tidying away. I no longer spend 20-30 minutes getting and eating lunch - instead I can work straight through and stay massively focused on what I'm doing.

Secondly, I have a completely different relationship with food. When I look at food now, I'm no longer eating because I feel massively hungry and just have to get food into my stomach. I'm far more balanced, and can make much more sensible food choices. I now ask myself what the food can give me, rather than just grabbing whatever is available. I actively choose salads and vegetables in restaurants now - not because I want to 'be good', but because I know that I want to get a bunch of vitamins and minerals into me.

Question 5) Would I be able to work out while fasting?

Apparently, adrenaline levels are slightly increased in the first 24 hour of a fast - for the same reason that metabolic rate increases. Which should mean that workouts should be just as effective (if not more so) when fasting.

However, I'm not quite sure how this works. Presumably in a fast, all of the muscle glycogen gets used up (that's why fat is being burned). But that means that when you work out, there is no muscle glycogen left meaning you need to burn fat instead, which is (as far as I understand) much slower to release energy. I'm going to ask Brad about this and see what he says.

My workouts have felt just as intense as before I started intermittent fasting - however I was not working out consistently before I started, so I don't have a quantified benchmark with which to compare my strength. What I am able to say, however, is that my strength has definitely increased WHILE I've been doing intermittent fasting. Not massively (I was always quite strong anyway) but it's definitely noticeable.

The thing which I find most puzzling at the moment is my 5k time, which has stuck at between 29:30 and 30:00 despite losing 6kg.

There are, potentially, a couple of explanations I can think of.

Firstly, perhaps the reduction in muscle mass is greater than I thought and I'm too weak to take advantage of the weight loss to run faster.

Secondly, perhaps the intermittent fasting means that I don't have enough glycogen in my muscles at the time I do my run to ensure a good performance.

Thirdly, perhaps it's just the impact of a substantial increase in training volume (mentioned in my last post) which means that my muscles are more fatigued than they used to be, masking any underlying fitness gains.

Fourthly, perhaps it's my running technique and that, whatever weight/strength/fitness I am, I won't be able to run more quickly with poor technique.

Right now, I'm thinking it's probably a combination of the second and third reasons. If I'm right, that should mean that I will start seeing gains in my 5k time soon, as the weight continues to drop off (as I won't be MORE glycogen depleted, or MORE fatigued than I am now). If I'm wrong, I'll look at getting my technique looked at.

Wrap up on intermittent fasting

So, there you have it - my experiences of intermittent fasting with Eat Stop Eat. If you're interested in more of the science behind the approach, as well as how to apply it, I'd recommend picking up a copy of the Eat Stop Eat book by clicking on the link.

Rapid weight loss success

In my last post which chronicled my own weight loss stories, I mentioned that I'd started on a radical new rapid weight loss regime, and that it was, to date, highly successful.

You may notice that at the top of the right hand column of my blog, I'm now posting my daily weight so that you can keep track of how I'm doing in my weight loss quest.

Also, here is a graph which charts my weight loss over the last three weeks.

So, basically I've lost 5.4kg (12 pounds) of weight in 3 weeks. Given where I want to get to (around 85kg or 185 pounds) that means I'm a third of the way already - and in only three weeks.

How have I been doing it? In essence, it's based on the principles which I identified in my last post which worked for me so well in my teenage years.

  • Be active

  • Eat less

  • Get support

Be active

I have massively increased the amount of activity I do. I used to be lucky (if I'm honest) to get two runs or workouts in each week. Now I'm prioritising my health to the same level as my career success. This means that I'm running the Wimbledon Common Time Trial on a Saturday, having another run on Sunday, and then working out in the office gym two to three days a week. I'm following the principles of Turbulence Training which mean that I get a hell of a lot of exercise done in the gym in a short space of time. The Turbulence Training workouts are different to what I'm used to in three key aspects:

  • Supersets. Supersets are combinations of two exercises which you do one after the other without a break. Normally they use different or opposing muscle groups, so that's why you don't need the break. For instance, bench press followed by abdominal crunches. Different muscle groups used, so why do you need a break? You don't. This means I can get through around 30 sets of exercises well within half an hour.

  • Compound movements. Turbulence Training focuses on doing exercises which use a lot of different muscle groups at the same time, and also involve moving a lot of weight over a large distance to increase the amount of work you do in the workout - it can be rather intense! For instance, rather than using the hamstring curl machine, it advises doing a Swiss ball hamstring curl or Hungarian deadlifts - both of which force you to use many more muscles than just the hamstrings, and they also force you to stabilise your body through every move (so more of that 'core stability' we're all meant to be getting more of).

  • Weights before cardio. I always used to do cardio before weights. Of course, if you want to put maximum effort into the weights, then you should be doing it the other way around. What I do find, however, with this is that the cardio suffers a little. Turbulence Training advises to do hard cardio intervals after the weight training, and sometimes it can be extremely hard to push out the final interval at high intensity, particularly if there have been a lot of leg exercises in the workout.

Overall, however, I'm very happy with Turbulence Training - it has opened my eyes to a lot more free weights exercises and body weight exercises, is very balanced across the major muscle groups, gives me a clear plan of what I'm going to be doing every time I step into the gym, and gets me out of the gym in the shortest amount of time possible.

The guy who wrote Turbulence Training - Craig Ballantyne - has a very good phrase to remember:

You can't out-train a bad diet

So in my next post, I'll cover what I've been doing on the eating front - it's worth reading as it's rather controversial.