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Burning Runner: Dropping Pounds, Upping The Ante

Week 2: Mixing half-marathon training with performance weight loss.

Written by: T.J. Murphy

After I turned in my first column to web producer, Mario Fraioli, he challenged me to bump my goal up from 10 pounds to 20 pounds. “It’s the coach in me,” he replied when I asked him why.

So what the hell? I’ve set the goal at 20 pounds in 20 weeks. I figure if I’m going to make the effort to truly focus on weight loss, training, diet and food I might as well take a solid rip at it.

I have a few key principles in mind that I intend to employ during this 20-week process of focused training and diet, the intention to prepare me for a good race at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas on December 5. As I spend time talking to coaches, athletes and appropriate experts I hope to see what works for me and what doesn’t work, what I like and what I can’t stand, and land the ship in the right place at the right time. Here are the core thoughts:

  • Health is not to be sacrificed for weight loss. I think in the world of elite endurance athletes this is a common exchange. Health is not the goal but getting to the finish line first is the goal. I know one thing: I’m not going to win the race in Las Vegas, just like I’m not going to win the Tour de France.

I recently had an excellent talk with triathlon coach (and former elite swimmer) Matt Dixon. Whether you’re an elite athlete or an age-grouper, he wants his people to retain contact with a vibrant, healthy state of mind and body. Certain elite athletes he now works with came to him with all sorts of vitamin deficiencies, chronic fatigue and even anemia. His first objective is to train them to understand that they can’t consistently achieve optimal performance until they’re healthy and happy.

I’m adopting that attitude: I want to arrive at the starting line weighing less but also in an honest state of excellent health.

  • Strength train to avoid injuries and illness. Or, to put it another way, do whatever I need to do to train consistently.  I’ve had my share of annoying aches and pains in the past and know the halt they can bring to a program. On that note, I’ve started working with a personal trainer from my local 24-Hour Fitness, Frank Alvarez. Number one, Frank is a well-qualified trainer, but to me (and equally important), the guy is a runner. In fact, he’s finished multiple marathons. So when we went through an initial consultation he understood what I was looking for when I said I wanted to protect my knees, my hamstrings, my feet, my lower back and do so in a way that I actually enhance my efforts to burn off pounds.  I’ve worked with Frank now three times and it’s already been an education—I’m a guy who has had trouble letting go of the notion that strength training meant hitting the bench press. With Frank, the few times I’ve used weights they’ve been, for example, five-pound dumbbells. He’s introduced me to the strange new world of the Bosu ball, where the simple act of performing knee bends sets off all manner of core-body muscle firings. I’ve been reading about this kind of work for years but my solo attempts to learn how to do it were short-lived. Right now I’m sold on it. Thanks Frank!
  • Overhaul my entire life when it comes to food. I realize that if I’m going to accomplish more than a temporary success I have to throw out the way I shop, cook, eat, eat out, etc, and fundamentally replace it all with new habits. Habits that produce meals I enjoy and ban me from going back to my old ways. This won’t happen overnight but is core to the goal of having a good race in Las Vegas.

At the end of this week I’ll file my final column before I go off to Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago and set my benchmark half-marathon time. When I return I’ll begin the step-by-step process of rebuilding my kitchen, my pantry, my grocery list and embark on a few experiments in super-clean eating. Thanks to those of who have offered support for the Burning Runner experiment and are interested in following my progress. Each Monday we’ll post a new report and new set of box scores charting the numbers (see here).

Approximately every four weeks I’ll go through an official weigh-in and body-fat measurement to get glimpses into how things are progressing. After Chicago I’ll set a time goal for December—something challenging but not impossible. I’ll run it past Mario to make sure I’m not wimping out.

To read the first installment of T.J.’s Burning Runner column, click here.


T.J. Murphy is a contributing editor to Competitor and the Editorial Director of Triathlete and Inside Triathlon magazines. He can be reached by e-mail at