Happy Dance

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Published on: November 9, 2012

This race report is about, oh, a year in coming, but I figured you deserved to know.  You’ve been waiting a year, right?

So, without further ado, my Chicago Marathon 2011 race report:

The day started out ominously enough with a migraine. Blinding headache, nausea, shaky hands, the inability to open my eyes beyond little slits.  Yup – that’s exactly how I would have planned out my perfect marathon morning.

My normal pre-race Poptarts weren’t playing so nice with my stomach, so I opted not to be smart and not antagonize my stomach any more than I already had.  I wandered around the pre-race area (I had signed up with the running group CARA to train with and they had a spread out), trying not to puke, and after about an hour started to feel the meds kicking in … thank God.

I managed to force down half a banana and a few bites of a plain bagel and called that a victory! Headed out of the hotel to wander the streets — it was going to be another warm marathon — and once again was thankful for paying the money to train with CARA: they had special porta-potties just for us.

After all the pre-race rigamarole, I made my way to my 9m/m pace starting corral and bounced around nervously.  I was going to DO this!

The day started out ominously enough, but that all ended up being a non-factor, surprisingly enough.  I met the migraine with a “well, I’ll just have to deal with this” kind of attitude and I think that helped… getting all worked up about it certainly wasn’t going to make it better.

Went into the race as well-trained as I’ve ever been for a marathon. Nursing injuries that were only bothersome rather than worrying. The only downside: I had gained a good 5-7 pounds in the 2-3 weeks before hitting the start line. I’d like to have a mulligan on that, please.

Anyway – crossed the start line about 8.5 minutes off the clock time – not too shabby! I had lined up with the 4 hour pace group, but as we shuffled forward, I somehow ended up with the 3:55 pace group. This was *not* in the plan, but I just went with it. I had wanted to stick with a pace group, and ya just gotta roll with things, sometimes.

The 3:55 pace group disappeared by the third mile or so — I wasn’t really working to keep up with them — and I found myself all on my own. At that point my strategy was to keep as close to 9m/m pace as possible, without feeling like I was working too hard.

I was expecting spectators around the 3.5 mile mark, but they didn’t make it out — disappointing, but looking for them certainly kept me occupied! — and I knew that I’d have a long slog north and then back south before seeing friendly faces.

This first stretch actually went pretty well. I was feeling fatigued, but I thought it was “just enough” … meaning, I was pushing but not so much that I couldn’t keep this up. I had to keep reminding myself that it wasn’t supposed to actually feel “easy”.

Saw my posse around mile 11.5 and that was a huge boost! They were screaming and yelling and had great signs they made, too! I stopped and chatted for about 30 seconds while they kept urging me to keep running. :)

Got through the half marathon mark at around 2:00:50 … so, less than a minute off my goal pace. It was at this point where I acknowledged that sub-4 probably wasn’t going to happen, though I still figured I would keep pushing until I couldn’t and see how the chips fell.

Miles 13-16 kind of flew by. At mile 16, I think I made a mistake — I tossed the water bottle that I had been carrying. Since it was warmer than planned, I wanted it with me, especially during the early parts of the race where the water stops are fewer. After mile 16, I knew I could count on there being water at least every mile, so I tossed it. Never should have done that, in hindsight, because it slowed me down (I had been stopping for Gatorade, but drinking my water from the bottle on the run). Oh well. Lesson learned.

And a note about the heat: the race started out in the lower 60’s and was in the low 70’s by the end. Definitely not ideal marathon weather. But, while I know I probably could have gone faster with cooler temps, I also didn’t suffer any major consequences from the heat, either. And plus, it was PERFECT spectating weather!

Somewhere between 16 and 17, I saw another friend who was watching out for me — total surprise to see her there! I almost missed her, in fact, despite the fact that she was screaming at me like a crazy person. Lesson: if *I* don’t know you’re there, it might not matter if you see me…

The wheels started falling off this marathon around mile 19 — I could feel my legs starting to tighten and cramp. And I basically told myself, “Don’t suck. Just do it.” like the Nike t-shirt said. Remarkably, I think that kept me moving forward more than I might have otherwise…

I didn’t allow myself to walk except during water stations. Of course, as the race progressed, I stopped earlier and walked longer, and you can see that in my split times.

I knew my parents were going to be at mile 22.5 and it was awesome to see them. I stopped for a bit, and both of them just kept snapping pictures of me standing there. Hee. My family doesn’t understand my desire to do these things even one bit, so it meant a ton to me to have them out there in support.

It was hard to get moving after that, but I did. And felt the blinders go on and the focus just be on one step after the other. Move forward. Go faster if possible. At this point, I was shooting for sub-4:10…

The rest of the marathon after seeing my parents was tough: I had thought I’d have some posse on the course, but never saw them (to their credit, they were there, but since I didn’t know WHERE they were, I ran right by them, oblivious to the screaming). But I knew I was just SO GLAD to almost be done with this thing.

Going up the bridge on Roosevelt and then turning the corner to see the finish line? Best feeling ever. But I knew I still had work to do — I was running right up against the 4:10 demarcation point that I had made up in my head somewhere down the line. So, I dug deep, upped the pace and stumbled across the finish line, 20 seconds ahead of the 4:10 mark.

And then I just about collapsed. And then I started crying. And then I started thinking, “damn, if I hurt this much NOW, I’m not even going to be able to walk tomorrow!”. Hee.

Got some water, got some food, took pictures and the sloooooowly made my way back to the hotel, where I was meeting up with everyone.

All in all, this was — by a huge margin — my best marathon.  I never gave up.  I never gave in.  I trained as well as I ever have and I know that I left everything I had out on the course.  Absolutely no regrets.

At this point I can say: I’m satisfied with my results and I’m never going to do another marathon ever again!  Yay!

(do you believe me?)  :)


Holiday Plans

Categories: me, race, training
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Published on: November 6, 2009

So, where were we?

Let me summarize my life the past few months (since I’ve been alarmingly absent from this venue for awhile)…

Chicago Marathon training.  YAY!

Ankle injury.  No training at all.  BOO.

Vegas Marathon training.  YAY!

Chicago Marathon with friend as training run for Vegas.  YAY!

Mystery foot injury for entire week before Chicago Marathon that was so painful that I broke down and went to the doctor (mostly to ensure it wasn’t a stress fracture).  BOO.

Ran the full Chicago Marathon.  YAY!

Endured my most painful marathon EVER.  BOO.

Conversely, experienced my most enjoyable marathon EVER because I got to run the entire thing with an awesome friend of mine (sans a few miles where I frantically ran to catch up after an unanticipated bathroom stop). YAY!

Which just about brings you up to date with all my goings on.  Nope – you didn’t miss much.

Because of the injuries and the “I’m training!” and then the “I can’t train!” and then the “I’m back again!” and so on, I decided to end my season on the high note of the Chicago Marathon.  I had done (kinda) what I set out to do at the beginning of this year, and finally acquiesced to the signals my body was screaming at me and shut it down.

I mean, what fun is training if you’re always worried about how much things are going to hurt when you hit the pavement?  I’ll tell ya – no fun whatsoever.

And since the joy was gone, I decided I needed a break.  A long break.

So – I’m on a self-imposed running boycott.  It’s been almost 4 weeks now since I’ve run at all, and I almost don’t even miss it.  The act itself had gotten stressful because I never knew what to expect (and conversely, always had such high expectations that I was trying to meet). Though tinged with regret and sadness, it felt good to let it all go and give myself permission to not run.  And to not worry about not running.

It took a bit, but I’ve developed a new plan (yes, another New Plan… I’ve got an endless supply of ‘em…).  For now? My focus will be in two areas:  biking and strength training.

I’ve taken up a Winter Cycling plan created by one of the talented coaches that frequent beginnertriathlete.com (which is where I call home and hang my virtual hat) that will turn me into a monster on the bike by early next year (that’s a promise, he says!).

And the strength training?  The program my trainer has put me on just might kill me, but if it does, I’ll look damn good in the casket.  I had started to see results from my previous efforts, and with this kind of focus and planning, I’m going to be a rock star by early next year.  And that’s a promise, too.

Running will be slowly added back into the mix, starting in the next few weeks.  Easy runs. Short runs.  Runs without any expectations of pace (my biggest obstacle to ever being able to “ease” back into things).  I have plenty of time between now and next race season – no need to rush.

And between now and race season is the holiday season!  For which, I’m hoping that armed with a solid bike/strength training program, I’ll navigate with a minimum of poundcakes added to the hips and without thighs that look more like well-endowed turkey legs than the legs of an athlete.  And here’s hoping that Santa will be nice to me and send me muscle tone and motivation in a pretty, bow-tied package for being such a good girl all year.

It could happen.  :)

One down and, like, eleventy billion to go.

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Published on: September 24, 2009

This felt like my first “big” weekend with the whole marathon training thing.  One weekend is now in the books.  And an incomprehensible number more to go.

On Saturday, I had to run 7 miles at marathon pace. 

First off – marathon pace??   I have absolutely NO idea what marathon pace may or may not be.  Well – that’s not true – there’s the marathon pace I’d LOVE to run.  There’s the marathon pace I’d be pretty excited about running.  There’s even the marathon pace that I’d be pretty satisfied with.  And then… there’s the marathon pace that lives in reality instead of in my dreams.

So, I decided to start off at what I thought was a conservative pace and get faster from there to see if I could find a “sweet spot”.  That turned out to be one of those “good in concept, not so good in implementation” ideas.  I started out somewhere around 10 minute miles, and moved down to about 9:30’s for the last few miles.  And, as it turns out, anything sub-10 is more a of tempo pace for me these days.  How frustrating!

But, in the end, that run felt good.  I worked, sweat a lot, finished up feeling like I had accomplished something.

And then – Sunday.  14 miles.  Uh oh.

I decided to tackle it in two 7-mile loops to give me a break to refuel (and, uh, defuel, if you know what I mean).  The first loop? Not exactly my definition of “fun”.  Legs started out feeling heavy and sore and my mind was set on trying to get me to stop.  Running at my long run pace was difficult – and long run pace is supposed to be the speed where you feel like you could run forever.  Me?  I could barely fathom finishing off the first 7 mile loop.

But – I somehow managed to squash my basic instincts to stop and toughed it out.  And once I hit home and took in some more nutrition and water (and took a minute to stretch out my incredibly tight achilles and calves), the second loop didn’t seem quite so daunting.  Or, at least, I couldn’t come up with a good, believable excuse not to go out and run it.

The second loop was an interesting little thing.  The first three miles went by with a “whoosh!” kind of feeling.  Like, when you’re driving somewhere and look up and realize that you’ve missed your exit by 20 miles.  All of a sudden I was done with 10 miles.

Miles 11-12… working, working, working… but getting it done and feeling mostly okay.  The end of the run seemed tantalizingly near.

Miles 13-14?  Well, let’s just say that every car that passed, I was hoping it was someone I knew (or even just a car I recognized) so that I could flag it down and tell them to bring my broken, beaten body back home.

And that was only 14 miles.  Last time I checked?  Yea, a marathon is 26 miles. 

It freaks me out that this itty bitty little 14-miler did that to me.  That it pushed me to that place that I only associate with the end of half ironmans and the last few miles of a full marathon.  Seems to spell trouble, doesn’t it?

And then I rationalize:  I ran 7 miles the day before.  I didn’t eat like I should have the night before.  I ran much later than I usually do.  That all makes a difference, right?

I suppose I’ll find out.

You know, in one of those eleventy billion weekends I have ahead of me.

And so it begins

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Published on: September 18, 2009


Vegas.  December.   Marathon.  26.2 miles of suffering misery challenge and wonderfulness.

The training is just starting to pick up and become more hard work, sweat, aches and pains and less about the pure joy of running.  And it’s not like I’m even doing the Really Long Runs yet – just the Itty Bitty Long Runs so far.  This week, in fact, is the first time I even edge over the half marathon distance.

Things so far have been going pretty well, considering that I went from full training down to 50% mileage down to 0% mileage and then sky-rocketed to “Hello MARATHON TRAINING!  Here I come, ready or not!”.  I’m pretty pleased that my ankle hasn’t really caused me any trouble yet (though it’s a sneaky bastard, so I’m keeping an eye on it) and I haven’t managed to mangle any other body part yet.

This weekend scares me a little bit, though.  I’ve been following Hal Higdon’s marathon training plan, and the hallmark of this training is the marathon-paced run on Saturday followed by a long run on Sunday.  As a concept, this is pretty revolutionary to me:  I’m a hard-core rest-before-rest-after the long runs kind of gal.  So, to go out on Saturday and put down 7 miles of marathon-paced running before hitting the pavement for 14 more on Sunday makes me just a teensy bit nauseous.

But it’ll be good, right?  Sure, my legs will be tired and all whiny when I go out Sunday.  But that just means that when race day actually hits — and after I’ve taken the requisite rest days — my legs will feel like wings.  Just like if I drank a Red Bull – I’ll have wings! (and no, I get no money or free product for that plug…heh…).

Until the wings grow in, though… if you see me on the side of the road, napping or otherwise not moving forward any longer, please call the numbers on my Road I.D.  You’ll do that for me, right?

My kind of town… Chicago is…my kind of… eh, scratch that.

Categories: me, race
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Published on: September 1, 2009

So, after all the brouhaha, what’s become of my grand plan to race the Chicago Marathon?

Mostly, it’s dead.  And I’m bummed about that.  Seriously bummed.

In the end, good sense had to prevail:  after 5-6 weeks of limited running and then 3 weeks of absolutely no running, I couldn’t just start up training where I left off (never mind starting my training at the point of the program that I should have progressed to by now) without risking re-injuring the ankle or developing some new-and-improved injury to some other body part.  It just wouldn’t have been prudent.

And lord knows, I’m nothing if not prudent.

Or something like that.

What’s the new plan, y’all ask?  Well, let me tell ya:

I’ll still run part of the Chicago Marathon.  I mean, I paid for that race and I’ll be damned if I don’t at least eat some of the post-race food (how many bagels do I have to eat to match the $125 entry fee?).  The plan right now is to keep a triathlete friend of mine company for whatever my long training run is for that weekend.

Wait.  Training run?  Long training run??  Oh yea -so, out with Chicago and in with VEGAS, baby!  I’m targeting the Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on December 6th.  There’s a full and half marathon option – something for everyone!  Who’s with me?

Grounded, part deux

Categories: me, rant
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: August 26, 2009

So, where was I?

Oh – that’s right – able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

Life over the past couple of weeks has been a blur of swimming with a pull buoy (wouldn’t want to have my legs kicking or anything!), doing upper body strength training and physical therapy.  Lots of physical therapy.  Three times a week at almost 2 hours a session, in fact.

When I went into the PT place on the first day for my evaluation, it was funny – because my other, non-hurting ankle was swollen (softball injury from earlier in the season… we’ll call this “Good Ankle”), they thought that was the one they were working on.  Uh, no.  Yea – see that other ankle that looks perfectly fine?  Yea, that’s the one I can’t put weight on first thing in the morning (“Baaaad Ankle!”).  After a half dozen quizzical looks and a game of 20 questions (Good Ankle measured out worse than Baaaad Ankle! in terms of strength and range of motion… huh…), they finally believed me. Mostly because they had to, because I kept insisting I knew what I was talking about.

PT turned out to be this funhouse of poking and prodding and electrical do-dads being hooked up to me, along with more exercises than one person could keep track of without the aid of a large computer, practically.  It was like a time warp – every time I walked in there, masked behind their good humor and funny stories, they managed to keep piling on more things to do until I almost felt like they should assign me a permanent table since I was there so long.

But – it was all for my own good, right?  All in the name of getting me back on the road.  So, I was on board.  I put in my time, did my home exercises and worked my way back to perfect health.  Easy as pie (though, really, unless you’re “baking” at Baker’s Square, pie really isn’t so easy, now, is it?).  I routinely informed my physical therapists of my rather modest expectations:  “just a miracle, please.  That’s all.”  One told me that all it took was wishing hard and little bit of pixie dust… so, I figured I was good to go (they told me they just got a new supply of “the dust” in)!

In the meantime, I was a really good girl.  Honest, I was!  Even though my PT didn’t believe me, I didn’t run at all, didn’t hop on my bike, didn’t do ANYTHING (well, except become a world-class snacker… I do have me some mad bad-food snacking skillz).  Really, with the exception of a 5-hour weed wrestling session (don’t even ask…), I gave my ankle the rest the doctor said it needed.

And the ankle?  It felt better for the resting.  Really it did.  Of course the rest of me suffered… this is – by far – the longest I’ve gone without running in about 6 years.  And, really, who knew how critical it was at keeping me from becoming a raving lunatic?  Go figure.

Fast forward:  it’s time for me to see the doctor again.

I knew my fate was in my own hands.  In truth, they weren’t going to x-ray me, or get another MRI and the whole enchilada was going to based on how I said I was doing.  I started out with “It’s a miracle!  I’m healed!” … unbelievably, that was received rather skeptically (I need an acting class, apparently).  So, I figured I might as well go with the truth (quite a concept, I know):  it’s feeling much better, but since I haven’t been allowed to run, I can’t really tell you how it’s feeling.

And with that (and a few more probing questions where she tried to figure out if I was lying to her), I was released back into the wild and told to return to my normal life.

Now perhaps I can cancel the APB put out to search for my sanity…


Categories: me, race, rant
Comments: 2 Comments
Published on: August 8, 2009

I didn’t get caught buying a candy bar from the lunchroom vending machine and get punished.

And I didn’t even try taking a flight somewhere and end up sitting on the runway for hours on end, waiting for bad weather to pass.

No, I was grounded – by of all people – my doctor.  For three weeks.  THREE WEEKS, people! Seems rather unreasonable, doesn’t it?

Okay, let me back up a bit…

It all started innocently enough.  I’d finished my strength training for the day, and I was just getting in a quick little 5-miler on the treadmill before heading out for softball.  Then, right at around 3.5 miles into the run, WHAM! – pain in my ankle.  Like a light switch, it went from feeling just fine to, well, not so fine.  Not good.  So, what did I do?  I kept running of course.  I mean, what runner doesn’t experience weird pain from time to time?  After another few minutes, the pain didn’t abate and so I did the lazy smart thing and stopped running.

After that, it never really hurt as sharply as it did the first time, but it didn’t feel right.  Hurt a few miles into every run.  Would kill me to walk first thing in the morning until it loosened up.  Even just sitting around I could feel it aching.  But the problem was that it didn’t hurt badly enough.

Why’s that a problem, I hear people out in blogland asking?  Because it made it easy to ignore.  Right after it started bothering me, I made a half-hearted attempt to rest it.  I was in Vegas for 5 days, so that made it easier – I only ran once while I was there!  That’s resting it, right?

And so, having given it 6 whole days where all I did was just a teeny tiny bit of walking around Vegas, bowl in a bowling tournament and just one small 6 mile run, I felt like I had given it a total reprieve and more than adequate chance to heal.  It’s not like I was asking for miracles or anything.

Of course, that wasn’t the way things went – even after this loooong rest period, it was still bothering me.  So, what does a good runner/triathlete/fool do?  Ignore it.  Keep going.  Don’t skip any softball games and god forbid you back down on the marathon training.

After doing this for a few weeks, I was convinced by my trainer (yes, you read that right – I had to be convinced by someone else – this wasn’t my decision) to go see a doctor.  It could be a stress fracture, it could be nothing… but with the marathon training looming I agreed that it would be best to find out exactly what I was dealing with.  You know, be proactive and all that.  VERY un-Laura-like but probably the best choice.

And so, that’s what I did.

I went back to the doctor who had initially treated my arm.  The good news is that I wouldn’t have to explain to him how much the marathon meant to me, or get across my point that it was important to me to stay active.  The bad news is that he already had some idea of how hard-headed I am and that my high tolerance for pain sometimes causes me to make, well, ill-advised decisions.

I told him what was going on, how it hurt but not too badly, how it bothered me but not so much that I couldn’t run through the discomfort.  His initial diagnosis after x-rays?  Tendonitis (doesn’t that sound so… benign and un-injury-like?).  Probably not a stress fracture, though he suggested I get an MRI done just to be sure (you know, since I’m “not like a normal person” who would be limping if it were actually a stress fracture).

While waiting on the MRI and its results, I was advised to cut down on the activity and take an anti-inflammatory.  “That should help matters” the doctor confidently told me.

Fast forward 2 weeks:  um, yea… not so much.  In fact, while I was running less than 50% of the volume I had been (with no speedwork or other taxing workouts), my ankle was still hurting.  And if you really want to know, it was hurting WORSE than before.  Yup.  Lucky me – once again, I defied medical odds.

So my question to the doctor – what’s next?

I’m thinking, “well, let’s just ignore it and continue on and see what happens.”  or (my favorite!) – “the MRI shows that it’s all completely made up in your head and you’re perfectly fine and healthy!!”

Instead he comes back with:  “I think you should completely rest your ankle for 3 weeks.”  And the remainder of that conversation?

Me: *dumb silence*
Doc: As in, absolutely no activity at all.
Me: So… no running?
Doc: No running.
Me: Probably no softball either?
Doc: No softball.
Me: But I can bike, right?
Doc: What part of “absolutely no activity” did you not understand?
Me: *sigh*
Doc: I could put you in a walking boot if you need it to keep you honest?
Me: *SIGH*  No… I’ll be good.
Doc: Just think of it this way — if you’re not sure if you should do something or not, pretend like you have a walking boot on and if you could do it with a walking boot on, then you’re good to go.
Me: I could totally ride my bike with a walking boot on.
Doc: This is not — I repeat — NOT a challenge for you to see how much you can do with a walking boot on.
Doc:  *eye roll*  Just do what I tell you.

So, I’ve got a three week prison sentence plus some physical therapy to go through.  Does it work?  Am I healed?  Cured?  Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound??

… stayed tuned for Grounded, part II…

I wish…

Categories: me
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: June 10, 2009

… that it were Friday.

… that I had a money-making idea that was easy to implement, would bring in loads of cash and allow me to live without the obligation of having to get up at 4am every weekday morning. Winning the lottery would qualify, though I’d have to figure out some way of doing this without buying tickets….soooo… any exceptionally lucky lottery players out there that need a new best friend?

… that I had the motivation to train for an Ironman.  Because while I *do* have the motivation to want to say I’ve completed one, I don’t have the motivation to do the work to get me there. Do you think I can hire a sherpa to do all the work and then claim the success for myself, much like some do when they climb Mt. Everest?

… that I lived somewhere slightly more temperate than Chicago.  Don’t get me wrong – I love this city and I love that my friends, family and life are here, but I do wish that winter wouldn’t last as long and that the summers wouldn’t get so dang humid.  Whine, whine, whine…

… that I could run fast.  Just cuz.

… that the lunchroom would clear out so I could surreptiously go get a candy bar from the vending machine (uh… did I just say that out loud..?  Busted….).

… that I wasn’t always so hemmed in with “have to’s” and “shoulds” instead of “want to’s” and “coulds”.

… that I could eat ice cream and pizza for every meal and still lose 10 pounds.  Or at least not gain 20.

… that I could not only survive, but be coherent on 5 hours of sleep a night.  Think of how productive I could be!

… that I had time for a dog.

… that I was skilled at going to parties by myself where I know practically no one, making small talk, mingling and feeling comfortable enough to really enjoy myself.

… that some of the many things I’ve ordered recently would be delivered.  Online shopping is both instantly gratifying and painstakingly aggravating.

… that I could write more prolifically.  When I’ve got an idea in my head, I can write for days. But oftentimes, those ideas are few and far between.  At least the ones suited for public consumption, that is.

… that I could take a mulligan on some of the decisions I made during high school and college. Even though college was an especially awesome time, I feel like there were some basic-to-me decisions that would have drastically changed my life had I the courage to have done things differently.

… that I had a good singing voice so that once summer comes I can belt out tunes while riding in my car with the windows rolled down and not worry about piercing some poor soul’s ear drum.  Not that it stops me.

… that I could hit a home run at every at bat.  Or at least not ever make an out again.

… that I could dance without embarassing myself.

… that I could figure out a good way to end my “I wish…” list….

So then – what are your wishes?


Categories: food, me
Comments: 4 Comments
Published on: April 30, 2009

This is going to sound strange:  recently, I’ve had two separate discussions (debates? arguments?) with two separate people on the oddest of topics – my body fat percentage.  Yes, this is what passes as lunch conversation here at work. I told of how I was currently measuring it — my Tanita scale (which – admittedly – is not necessarily accurate) and using body measurements and 3 different calculations that I averaged to derive body fat percentage (this is an example of one such method). They were all in the same ballpark, so I figured that it was about right.

“Not so fast!” these two people intoned (not at the same time, but that would have been pretty freaky cool seeing as how the conversations happened days apart).  They both looked at me and couldn’t fathom how the number could be hitting around 30%.  I laughed at them good-naturedly, knowing that a very fashionable, drapey t-shirt frequently hides the worst of my body fat sins.  *I* knew that 30% was completely possible.  I mean, really – all you have to do is ask all my friends at Culvers what their opinions are and I bet you find people who will side with me on this issue.

But in the name of science and fairness (and something new to write about), I thought it was time to get a real body fat test done.  You know, the gold standard:  the dunk tank.

Now, if you’ve been coming here awhile, you know that water is not my friend.  From my first triathlon where I found that hyperventilation and swimming don’t mix (surprising, no?)  to this season where having said that I’m not seriously racing apparently means that I don’t ever need to climb in the pool, I’ve had a troubled relationship with the element that’s supposed to be my strong suit (I *AM* a Pisces, you know).

So, the idea of having to submerge myself to get an accurate body fat test result wasn’t really my cup o’ tea, but the price was right and the challenge had been made and I couldn’t back down.  I called and made the appointment at UIC’s Human Performance Lab (which, for whatever it’s worth, made me feel slightly rat-like).  The appointment came with lots of rules: no fruit/vegetables/fiber for 24 hours before the test, no eating at all for 4 hours before the test, and come in wearing the skimpiest, tightest, sleaziest bathing suit you own (I’m paraphrasing that last rule, but that’s exactly what they meant).  The idea is that any air that’s either in you (stomach/intestines) or trapped on you (in your bathing suit) is read as additional – and erroneous – body fat.  And, lord knows, we wouldn’t want THAT!

Twenty-four hours before starting, I nixed the fruits and vegetables and all things healthy from my diet.  Let me just say – that was harder than I thought it would be!  Many, many good foods have fiber in them, as it turns out.  I survived on a mostly-dairy diet… plain yogurt, eggs, cheese.  It was a very mono-colored diet.  Blah.  Ice cream would have been included in this diet if only I weren’t doing the whole, crazy no sugar thing right now… what a waste of a good excuse to eat ice cream, you know?

On the day, I arrived on the campus of UIC a little nervous about what was going to happen. I knew the basics of the procedure, but no real details to fill in the gaps of my knowledge, and the not knowing was making me a little edgy. My hydrostatic weighing tour guide for the day was a personal trainer named Vito.  With his understated brand of humor, he immediately put me at ease, assuring me that “hardly ever does anyone panic and drown when we do this”.


After putting my not-so-skimpy, not-so-sleazy one-piece bathing suit on (hey! – I’m a triathlete – it’s all I own), I met Vito in the weighing room.  The tank was about 4’x4′ square and perhaps 6′ deep (just guess-timating here).  It didn’t look terribly foreboding (little did I know!).  Vito took some measurements (height/weight) and calibrated the machine, and then in I went!

I took a seat in the water on some PVC tubing, my head just above water, and Vito explained the procedure for the test:  first, exhale ALL the air in your lungs, either above or below water. Then, put your head completely underwater.  As you start to float a bit, anchor yourself to the PVC tubing with your hands — though, he cautioned me against keeping a death grip on the tubing, since that would skew results — and NOT in my favor.  And then, Vito would watch for air bubbles, and as soon as they stopped, you had to stay there for 4 seconds until being told that it was okay to pick your head up.

Okay, so this is the picture:  no air in your lungs.  Breath held.  Head underwater.  At this point, these will be the LONGEST FOUR SECONDS of your life.  Trust me on this.  Try it now, just on dry land.  Go ahead.  I’ll wait….

Breathe out.  All the way.  Hold it now!  4…….   3…….  2………………………….   1…………………………

See?  Not too comfortable, was it?  Add water to the mix, and it was completely, utterly unnerving the first time through.

In fact, along with the instructions Vito also made it absolutely clear that at any point if I was uncomfortable underwater, that I should pick my head up.  During the first test, I came to the end of my rope, wondering why the hell he was leaving me in there to drown and picked my head up – luckily at the same exact time, he also shouted that I was done with that round of testing.  As I pulled my head out of the water and gasped for air, I managed to suck in about half the tank.  And then after the coughing fit, and then calming myself down, it was off to go through more trials.

The way the test works is that body fat is measured by the displacement of the water.  Any air — in your lungs or even trapped by your swimsuit — will cause more water to be displaced, and therefore your body fat will read higher.  Because expelling all of your air is not necessarily something you either get right the first time, or are able to consistently repeat, the test is done a minimum of 3 times and results averaged.  After that, if your results are consistent, you might go another round or two.  If not, you test until the results are consistent or you cry uncle.

After the first miserable go-round at it, I was really nervous about having to do this a dozen times before getting sound results – wouldn’t that be just my luck?  But – on this day – luck was with me.  Even though Vito wasn’t sure I was expelling all my breath, at least I did it exactly the same way 4 times in a row — and very little variance meant that I was done!

I shakily climbed out of the tank as Vito started printing out reports.  He asked if I wanted to see the results right then, or if he should keep me in suspense until I dried off, changed and met him back in his office.  Not anticipating stellar results, I decided to wait – and plus, I had no desire to have a conversation while sopping wet and shivering, with that dunk tank kind of laughing at me in the background.

Back in Vito’s office, the time came for the big reveal.  He decided to play with me a bit, asking me what I thought the number was going to be.  I explained how my Tanita and other methods routinely put me at about 30%, but that I was willing to think that perhaps that might not be too accurate and perhaps it might be as low as maybe 27%.

He had been starting to hand the papers over to me as I was talking, and when I said that, he stopped, pulled his hand back and remarked, “Really?  You thought that high??”  as if I were a body fat idiot (which – apparently – I am).  It was here that I got my first indication that perhaps, just maybe, possibly, other people had been right.

And what you’ve been waiting for (and have read this far down to find, presumably!) — drum roll, please…

The result:  21.2%.

I think the Tanita company owes me some of my self-esteem back for totally lying to me for the past 2 years.  Can you sue for something like that?  On the other hand, it’s gratifying to see how much body fat I must have burned holding my breath for that long…!

Photographic evidence!

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Published on: April 25, 2009

Well, it’s progress report time again!

Since mid-December 2008 when I started tracking until April 25, 2009…

Pounds lost: 9.6 pounds
Inches lost: 6 inches
Average BF%: 29.97% down to 28.16%*
BMI: 25.78 down to 24.13 (not that I put a whole lot of stock into BMI)
Pounds of fat: 45.0 down to 39.6 pounds
* used body measurements to calculate BF%.  Three different calculation methods used and then averaged.

So – progress!

And I’ve been taking pictures each month, and am feeling just brave and plucky enough today to share some with the whole wide interwebs world…

These are snapshots in December:


Pudgy, out of shape, and absolutely screaming “we eat too much ice cream!”.

And now – just 4 months (and countless hours in the gym and doing cardio) later:

Getting there...
Getting there...

What I like about these shots?  Progress.  Certainly I’m not done (though I’m happy that the saddle bags that I’ve had hanging off my butt cheeks are close to gone!), but it does wonders for my state of mind to know that all this work is having an impact.

I remember taking those first set of pictures and just being so disappointed that I had let myself get that bad – it was only a year or so earlier than I had been in the best shape of my life.  And more than anything, I wanted to – for once! – make a plan and stick to it.  Taking the photographs has probably been one of the best motivators in terms of helping me commit to the plan.  Nothing like undeniable proof that I needed to do something – FAST.

And – so it continues.  I feel like eliminating most sugar from my diet has had a positive impact — the past two weeks have definitely seen noticeable improvements — and I’ll continue this past the 30 days, most likely.  I also think that the weight training has been absolutely key in this process as well.  With summer and softball and other activities, it’ll be harder to fit in, but I’m not willing to let it slide and possibly take steps backwards.

It was good timing for this – just today I’ve been totally craving my beloved Diet Pepsi.  And pizza.  And, if I’m doing all that, a little ice cream to top it off.  But – I’ll be good now – I mean, I’ve posted pictures and everything.  Gotta be accoutable, right?

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