Monday, February 15, 2010

A fat chick's guide to the Couch to 5k, exploding prostates and a great arse.

When it comes to diet and fitness, it appears the old fashioned options make people nervous. While I can announce I’m following the latest celebrity diet and get polite interest in response (after all, how can you go wrong following the directions of genetically-freakish neurotic stick insects who have embraced size zero as a concept), every time I mention I have taken up running people tend to respond with shock and admonishments.

Never mind that I am following a conservative program, the Couch to 5k, so called because it aims to get you from being a non-exerciser (that’s the couch) to running 5 kilometres comfortably in nine weeks of training. Never mind that I am an unfit cow who could clearly benefit from getting up off her fat ass. Never mind that I can see the results in my fitness, shape and heart rate after a few months. Never mind that it appears to be working and I enjoy it.

It won’t work, they tell me. Jogging is too hard. It’s strenuous and bad for my joints, they wail, won’t someone please think of my joints? My poor knees!

Everyone wants to worry about my knees. From what I can gather, a small but significant proportion of the population appears to have explosives in their patella that – much in the manner of the bus in Speed – that should they start to jog will detonate once they go back to a walk, shattering their knee cap, a nearby bus and any idea they might have had that Keanu Reeves can act. Running is a sure fire way to exploding knees and injuries, they tell me, have I considered the more suitable low impact alternatives?

No, no, I haven’t, and for one simple reason. Those low impact alternatives don’t work for me. I can slide on the elliptical trainers until the cows come home quite happily, or do yoga until I pass out to sleepyland on the mat but the simple fact is they don’t fecking work for me. Exercise is not meant to be about ease. If your work-out doesn’t challenge you, you are doing it wrong. In my case, the task of hauling my (very oversized) frame at a fast jog is an excellent method of getting myself a bit fitter and my frame a bit smaller.

“But, but … your knees!”, they cry. A wonderful rejoinder to this is, “My grandad ran for 50 years, it was his prostate that got him.” Which usually shuts them up. No one likes to hear the word prostate, especially when they are unsure HOW the prostate would get someone. Cancer, perhaps, or sudden explosion? If the exploding knees don’t get you, that darned detonating prostate will.

I am, as a fat chick who can get fatter, willing to take my chances with an explosive prostate. That said, while the “too fat and unfit to try" argument holds no water for me, being a big girl does add a few considerations to the program. For a bit of background – and because I have no shame about this – while I can wriggle into a size 14, I tip the scales at 85kg. And at 5”5, that puts me well into the obese territory of BMI.

I’m a big build, huge shoulders, lots of muscle, small bum and strong legs. But there’s lots of fat there too. And a beer belly. Don’t forget that belly. I can witter all I want about big build, but I am also simply overweight and out of shape. Here is my guide to the Couch to 5k as a big chick, and what I have learned along the way.

It’s fine to repeat, repeat, repeat
The program tells you that it’s fine to repeat weeks, but in the initial flushes of enthusiasm, you imagine yourself cruising straight through it and on to 10k runs in Olympic time in under 4 months. This will not happen. Sooner or later you will have a bad week, whether it’s that you get ill, or work gets crazed or you’re just finding it too tough. There is nothing wrong with repeating a week, the object is build your muscles and stamina. It is fine to stagger along at your own pace. You’re building, not breaking, take your time. That said, if you get horribly stuck…

Check your shoes
I got stuck on Weeks 4 and 5 for two months, thanks to agonising calf and ankle (not knee, dammit) pains. Eventually I realised it was that I was running in the wrong type of shoes – unlike most of the population I walk on the outside of my foot (or supinate - the opposite of being flat footed) and it had never shown up before as I had never run for that long. When I got my new and improved shoes, my muscles then had to readapt. End result? I spent three months on two weeks of the program. Check your shoes if you are having issues and if you are buying shoes, find a decent sports store and bring in your last pair of shoes so they can see how they wore down and recommend a type. As a heavy girl, I need the tougher shoes – most of the regular trainers are designed for people under 70 kilos, and getting a recommendation is worth it. It won’t cost much more than an extra twenty to get the right shoes for you, and could save you three month’s injuries.

Join a gym – then leave it
While part of the charm of running is that it doesn’t need specialist equipment, starting out in a gym makes the early runs more understandable. You can measure your distance and speed exactly, not worry about road-crossings and tripping, and running on a treadmill is softer than running on the road. Graduating to the road is more fun for your run, but initially running on a treadmill makes getting the hang of things that bit easier. Also, there will probably be air-conditioning, which leads me to my next point…

Stay cool
If you are overweight, you’ve got an additional layer of insulation. Great in Winter, not so cool when you’re trying to exercise. While it can be tempting to wrap up all your wobbly bits, that makes it harder for your body to cool off. Jog next to the aircon unit or in a breeze and, once you start going for longer runs, try swapping that tent tepee and tracksuit pants combo for a singlet and long shorts. Watch out for humidity too, last week here was 80%+ most days and I was struggling with 4kms badly, this week it’s dropped below 60% and I just cruised through 4.5kms.

Judge yourself more fairly
This is not a “winning is taking part, and it’s okay to fail” speech. That’s bollocks. Having perpetually low expectations of yourself and then failing to meet them gets you no awards and won’t help get you fitter. You can do the Couch to 5k, if you take it at your own rate.

What I’m referring to is judging yourself on weight alone. I’m exactly the same weight now as I was 6 months ago, despite jogging three times a week. So, is it a failure? Not if I look at my measurements (three inches off the beer belly), my heart rate (down from 75bmp to about 55) and, most importantly, my fitness. I can now run for over ten times as long and significantly faster and I can feel that on a day to day basis. I've put on muscle, and look a little leaner. I feel a lot fitter.

And, on a less worthy note, my bum looks fabulous. Just saying. :D

15 comments:

  1. Found your blog via Facebook, am on W3D3 and will be on W3 again next week. at a tad under 16st and 5ft 9 I'm a big girl too. Training for the Race for Life in June. Good luck I can really identify with you in some ways but all my friends have been really supportive. I've not needed prostates lol

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  2. Hi Janet,

    Thanks for stopping by and good luck with the program and in the Race for Life, it's a great cause.

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  3. Oddly enough, the shoes thing is amazingly important. When I started back exercising, I just used my Cons, and - while they're amazingly comfortable normally - I was covered with blisters and raw patches every time. Then dug out my old fencing shoes (not really designed specifically for running and random gymming, but make for easy movement and heavy-duty exercise, and cost £100 so I may as well wear the crap out of them!), and suddenly my times got noticeably better, and I was able to do two days in a row instead of one day and then three to let my feet recover.

    And same thing with the less fat /= less weight. I checked my BMI on both the weight-only calculater, and on the trainer's body fat monitor doodah, and the first said I was 31, the latter 26. I have a whore-tonne of muscle on my thighs and right arm (damn fencing!), so while I'm still overweight, a chunk of what I weigh is good stuff. And the trainer had me warned that as I got fitter, my muscle mass would increase, so essentially for every two pounds I lose in fat, I'll gain one pound in muscle, or close on. Made me feel better when, despite looking much better and dropping from a 14 to a 12, I'd barely lost any measurable weight.

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  4. I hear you on the muscle, I've been doing rock-climbing too and my arms look like very angry hams. I put on muscle fast, so I find adding a tape measure of my gut to the weighing scales gives me a better idea.
    Nice to hear from you again, welcome back to the interwebZ!

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  6. Great article,Inspirational! (W1D3 C210K)
    Although i've a seperate programme going on at the moment too.

    I don't think i've ever been able to run for more than 30 seconds at a time without slowing so I dread next week but at the same time am excited to find out if I can do it..

    Seeing as this article was written well over a year ago at this stage, you able to run that 5k nowadays? Have you gained even more muscle mass? Everything continuing to look even leaner?

    Go raibh mile maith agat Sadbh!

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    1. Hi Niamh, I can indeed run 5kms these days. It's got to the point where running the 5kms is pretty easy, but I need to work on getting my speed up. I can currently do it in about 31 mins, down from 35 or so earlier in the year. I'm definitely getting there.

      Also down about 8kgs, which is a nice benefit, and planning on trying aiming for a 9km run (gulp!) at some stage this year.

      How are you going?

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  7. Wow, I just checked my stats and discovered all the hits and comments this piece has got! Thanks for leaving a comment guys, I'll get cracking on a follow-up!

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  8. I'm so glad someone said it! I am SO TIRED of hearing people tell me "just don't run." Why would you discourage an obese person from any form of movement?! I'm also frustrated with this whole "skinny fat" thing. I get what people are saying. Cardio only will get the weight off, but you won't be toned. Got it. I also know that muscle burns more calories than cardio, although I'm not completely sold. What frustrates me is that there is now this whole movement now basically telling people that if they're not doing strength training, it's not good enough. So if I work my bum off and lose 60lbs, it's less of an accomplishment because I'm not also tone. The fact is, I hate strength trainig, but I LOVE to use the elliptical, and I love to run. I will stick to them because even though it is sometimes almost unbearably hard, I like to do it. True, if I did strength training every day I might lose weight faster, but that fact is obsolete because I would never stick with strength training every day. Sorry for the rant...it is just so frustrating to be trying so hard and people acting as though you're doing nothing.

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    1. I hear you - ff it ain't broke, don't fix it, and don't waste your time listening to people who want to sell you their version of how to get fit when you could be enjoying a run instead. :D

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  9. I just did the Breast Cancer Race for the Cure (walked the one mile part) and have decided that I want to run the 5k next year. I looked at the couch to 5k program, but I thought how am I going to get my obese ass in enough shape to make it through week one?! Thank you for writing about your experience, this will definitely help!

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    1. Good luck with it - here's hoping you'll be happily surprised with how easily it comes together for you!

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  10. Today was day one for me. Because it was a rough workout I googled "can I do the couch to 5k if I am overweight" and I found this blog entry! First of all thank you for making me laugh! Second, I'm pretty sure I can do it as long as I can repeat weeks! I was a bit nervous about getting this accomplished in 9 weeks and now I'm a little less nervous. I hope to be able to be about halfway thru by the end of 9 weeks. :-)

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  11. Today was day one for me. Because it was a rough workout I googled "can I do the couch to 5k if I am overweight" and I found this blog post. First of all, thank you for making me laugh! Second, I'm pretty sure that I can do it now knowing that I can repeat weeks. I was nervous about being able to accomplish this in 9 weeks but now I'm a little less nervous. I'm hoping to be halfway through the program at the end of 9 weeks.

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  12. Good advice and a lot of people need to hear it. I am stuck between week one and two but I'm working hard at getting able to run well.

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