Friday, September 24, 2010

Ruminations on Weight

I think most people who care about their bodies have been dissatisfied with their weight at one time or another. In the past, I've been underweight a couple of times. 135 is really not enough for me. My old high was when I was in college, eating at the dining hall, dancing about six hours a day, and lifting weights. I managed to get to 152. After college I was steady at 145 for a very long time. I was happy with 145. Actually, I didn't really think about it - so maybe "content" would be a better word.

Over the last couple of years, things have been shaken up a lot in my world. I had to stop eating meat for a while, moved from New York to Seattle, and then lost the job I got when I moved. With a vegetarian diet and nothing to do but ride my bike, I got down to 136. I didn't really notice it until I developed a cough that didn't go away all summer, and the doctor weighed me for an unrelated reason. I started eating meat again, traveled in Bhutan, and gained the weight back.

This winter was bad, though. I was used to eating to support a pretty high training level, and to make up for the lower energy density of most vegetarian foods. Going back to school took away a lot of time from riding my bike, and eating meat again meant that the same amount of food by volume or mass had a lot more calories.

I noticed that I wasn't as lean as I like to be, but didn't do anything about it at the time because getting underweight last year scared me. I figured if I went into the main part of the season slightly overweight, the weight loss I anticipated from stepping up my cycling would bring me to a good racing weight, rather than making me underweight. That's a nice theory, I think, but between school, working for the census, and having a much better social life than in the winter and spring of 2009, my training volume didn't increase all that much, if at all. I probably kept gaining weight, although I don't own a scale so I don't really have accurate records.


So this brings me to now, and I'm doing something I've never had to do before. I'm watching how much I eat to facilitate losing some weight. I weighed something like 167 lbs a few weeks ago. That's more than I've ever weighed. When I stand up straight, my belly isn't concave. My waist is bigger, and my pants, bought for comfort, are too tight. Finally, and more importantly to me, my race results haven't been very good. Part of that was losing a couple weeks mid-season to a medical thing, but I think a lot of it is that I'm hauling an extra twenty pounds up a hill. Usually, climbs are my office - the place I go to work. This season, they still were... but not the way they used to be. It took me an improved shift pattern and a lot more work to beat people up the hills. I don't think my class is getting faster. I think I'm getting slower.

I've eaten like an overeater since college, so it's a somewhat difficult habit for me to break. I've knocked a few hundred calories off the lunch I prepare for myself at home, and the two dinners I tend to alternate. At buffets, I'm trying to cut back to a salad and a full plate of food, rather than the two full plates I'm accustomed to. I'm also trying to be a little more aware of the choices I make when I snack. I don't really want to be hungry or starve myself, and I think that the above changes already cut a few hundred calories from my day, so I don't think I need to eliminate snacking. However, getting a jelly donut or a gigantic pastry every time I have a cup of coffee is probably not necessary. I'm trying to keep some bananas around so I have things to eat and don't get into a pattern of getting super-hungry between meals and overeating. I'm trying to recast the donuts and pastries and things as more of a treat or a reward, maybe something to eat at the tail end of a bike ride, when I need to replace a lot of calories anyway.

My Mom's scale put me at 162 this morning. So I'm making some progress. I'd like to be at 150 by January 1st, when I plan to start base training for next season, and around 145 for next season's races.

One of the things that's interesting to me about this is that it shows just how large a range of weights fit within healthy. I wouldn't say I'm not healthy right now - I'm just not as lean as I'd like to be for best performance. And I'd say I'm pretty healthy at 140. I'm choosing 145 so that if I dip, I dip to 140 and not to 135. So between 140 and my recent high at 167, there's 27 lbs of variation. That's more than one of my bikes, or two theatrical lighting instruments. On me, it's a visible change, but still fairly subtle. I've imagined thirty pounds to be quite a lot of additional volume, but apparently it doesn't have to be.

I've always thought that sooner or later, my metabolism would slow to a point requiring me to put in some effort to maintain a stable weight. Now it's here.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sometimes, Just Finishing is an Accomplishment

I had my first 'cross race of the season on Sunday. I've had a cough for about two weeks, and I wasn't sure if I was going to be up to racing at all last weekend, so I didn't pre-register. I noticed that, riding my bike to work, I'd be more-or-less okay once I got warmed up, so when I felt more-or-less okay on Sunday morning I decided to go through with it.

The parking lots were already full when I got to the park, so I had to mess around with that for a while before registering. Then I found that the previous group of racers were still out on the course, finally finishing their race well after 10am. Since my start was supposed to be at 10:20, I decided to forego my usual pre-ride. I thought that might happen, so I warmed up in one of the soccer fields for a while before the race. My heart went from zero to sixty incredibly quickly when I was warming up, and I felt a lot of resistance riding on the field. I'm not sure if that's mostly me or mostly that grass tends to generate a lot of rolling resistance.

For the first race of the season, the organizers placed people according to the last digit of their race numbers. I was placed on the third or fourth row. That wasn't really where I wanted to be - I already had a good idea that just finishing would be a struggle.

As I rode the course, I learned that it was almost exactly the same as last year. They'd added some more turns on the grass, but that was it. Of course, riding on flat grassy fields is pretty much the weakest aspect of my 'cross riding, but I don't think it mattered on Sunday.

Every pedal stroke came hard while I was racing, and I lost place after place after place. However, my dismount seems to be intact, and I was fine on the run-up, which was mercifully short. I probably could have ridden it easily on my mountain bike, or even on the 'cross bike if the line in wasn't blocked by a tree. As it is, I found I could ride about halfway up, but couldn't maintain momentum.

Finally, I heard the bell going across the line. The announcer was (mistakenly) calling one to go. I hadn't been lapped yet, and I was proud of that. Not too long after I crossed the start/finish line, though, the announcer corrected his mistake - two to go. I was tempted to walk off the course, but I was also determined to finish.

So I made it through the remaining two laps, and even sprinted across the line, mainly for the sake of practice.

The owner of the shop sponsoring my team was there, with his new job, so I put my bike near the booth he was manning and coughed for a while. I'm surprised I didn't also dry heave or something - I felt pretty rotten. No nausea, since I couldn't dig deep enough for that, but my asthma was definitely back in force. I collected my things, hung out for a while, and drove home.

I did manage to do the whole race at my short race effort level, so I'm happy with that. I finished in 59th place - my worst 'cross finish ever. However, I did manage to stay in the leader's lap, so that's a small victory. My bike also worked flawlessly during the race, which made me happy - that was one of the reasons I went.

I'm hoping that all this means that when I go to my next race, having had some time to rest and get over my cough, I'll actually be fast enough to be in the race, and not just on the course. I'm glad I did it, though - I did not want to start the series by missing the first race.