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Burning Runner: Let The Weight-Loss Game Begin

By learning to cook and eat the right stuff, a 40-something year old runner making his return to the sport works to burn off at least 10 pounds in 20 weeks as he prepares for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon.

Written by: T.J. Murphy

About one year ago I had fallen desperately out of shape. Training of any kind had been inconsistent at best, and the extra weight just piled on. I could offer up the usual excuses, but the fact is I had simply allowed my training to slip down the ladder of priorities and over time my weight climbed to 205 pounds. And for the record, it was not a lean 205 pounds. At six feet even with a medium build, the extra weight made running an unpleasantly slow experience, and memories of once being in 15-minute 5K shape (I’m in my mid-40s now so this was some time ago) didn’t hesitate to torture me with a scolding from my past self.

It was a paragraph from the book “The Daniels Formula,” written by the great American coach, Jack Daniels, that helped me get things started toward turning around. He writes about how memories like the kind I had can give a runner trying to make a comeback a false idea of how long it’s going to take. He says we forget how hard it was the first time we got into good shape. The message got through to me and I realized I was going to have to put my head down, ignore my ego and simply be patient while doing the work. By the end of last year my weight had burned down to 190 pounds and my training paces gradually increased.

But since then I’ve only lost five pounds, despite very disciplined training. My body fat measurements recently showed that I’m now under 20% body fat—just by a little bit—so there’s still plenty to lose. Right now I’m at 187 pounds and at 19% BF, so I’m hauling around 37 pounds of fat. Of course, not all of this is excess–we need some to protect inner organs and all that–but 37 pounds! When I pick up a barbell that weighs about this much I’m beyond alarmed. In two weeks I’ll be running the Chicago Rock n’ Roll event, a half marathon in what is likely to be the summer weather the Midwest is known for. How nice it would be to leave that barbell at the starting line.

Hence I’ve set up a game for myself, a challenge to spur additional learning to help me kick and scream my way to the next level. Using my race time in Chicago as my starting point, and throwing everything I can at improving my diet in such a way that, combined with a solid training program, I blowtorch off some pounds, I’ll race the Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Half Marathon as the closing bracket. The best way I’ve found to get the most out of my training is to make a game of things, so this is the experiment, starting now: see how much I can improve, in both finishing time and race weight, by December 5 in Las Vegas in a second 13.1-mile race.

My interest here is to take a deep look into the dietary side of being a runner. When you’re in your 40’s, I’ve found like others have before me that running alone may not do the trick. Being smart about what, and how much, you eat and drink plays a huge role. But I don’t simply want to adopt some brand of unsustainable dietary regimen. I want to adopt a way of shopping, cooking and eating that I actually prefer to the scattershot one that I have now. I know, for example, that any recipe that looks as long as a chapter in a novel is not going to stick with me. Same with ingredients that require exceptional amounts of time to gather. Simplicity and ease of preparation are big things with me. That said, I do accept the fact that I should probably pick up some basic cooking skills.

Last March I tried a one-day juice fast–an interesting experience–but I thought it fell short of a whole criteria of things. How much good can come out of one, two or three days? Perhaps a lot when it comes to detoxification, but I can’t imagine it’s much of a big deal unless you back it up with an overall healthy approach to food.

So that’s the game: Burning Runner. I’m out to discover what the best combination of eating and training is for me in terms of ridding some extra pounds in tune with ridding some minutes off my current half marathon time.

I’m at 187 pounds right now with a BF percentage of 19%. My goal is to try and shear off 10 pounds by December 5–approximately 10 pounds in 20 weeks–and I’ll be reporting on my progress (or lack thereof) and notes each week from how much I’m able to turn myself into a healthy culinary wizard.


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