Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Are you Trying to Qualify for the Boston Marathon of Weight Loss?

This year I turned 40.

In so doing, it bought me an extra 5 minute cushion for my Boston Marathon qualifying time.

But here's the thing.

I'm an incredibly slow runner, and I've yet to run a marathon. That said, I'd like to run one, and I figure a realistic time for me will likely be somewhere around the 4:30 mark.

But let's say I get it in my head that my goal isn't just to run a marathon and try my best, but rather my goal is to run a marathon and qualify for Boston.

The way I see it, there are only two possible outcomes:

1. I qualify.
2. I don't.

Unpacking outcome number one, qualifying sure wouldn't come easy. In order to qualify, in a best case scenario it would likely involve me killing myself training for nearly a year. And I mean killing myself. I'd have to neglect my family to the point of my wife threatening to leave, I'd have to abandon my patients and I'd have to hurt all the time from the insane amount of running I'd be doing.

Here's something else I'm pretty sure of. If I did qualify after killing myself training, I'm certain that when I finally ran Boston my time would be slower than my qualifying run. Why? Because why would I sustain a level of training that very negatively impacted my quality of life if I already achieved my goal?

Unpacking outcome number two, if after killing myself training for a year I didn't come anywhere near qualifying, chances are I'd just stop, because after all, what'd be the point of continuing to try if my goal was qualifying for Boston and I came up way short after all that incredibly hard work?

I think you probably see where I'm going with this.

Setting a massive numerical weight loss goal simply isn't wise. If you have to kill yourself to get there, you probably won't stay there, and if you kill yourself only to fall short, you'll probably stop killing yourself.

For me, my running goal will simply be running. Yes, a marathon is actually on my bucket list, but if every time I started running distances I began to hurt too much, or simply hated it, chances are I'll just take it off my list. Really, at the end of the day, my running goal is to be able to look back upon my training and feel like I did my best. Not the best I could tolerate, but the best I could enjoy.

That's not so strange. Generally we accept our personal bests as great at most everything, and if I feel I tried my best, I'll be alright with that.

What's truly strange is that somehow, when it comes to weight, people tend not to want to accept their personal best as great. Somehow when it comes to weight, everyone seems to think the goal isn't their best, but rather it's to qualify.

Well I'm here to tell you, your best is great, and whatever weight you reach when you're living the healthiest life you enjoy, that's damn great.

So if you qualify for Boston, well that's a heady bonus, but your real goal? Just enjoy your running, pace and time be damned.

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  1. I'm going to have to disagree and say that in my observations, the majority of people expect far too little of themselves and are way too willing to accept the minimum or mediocre as far as life goes.

  2. I needed this perspective today. Thank you.

  3. I like to set small goals. Since starting my weight management, I have set small 10 lbs goals at a time. There is a lofty goal yes but that is not my focus. My focus is 10 lbs at a time. As with all goals, you do need to set a date to reach that goal. I always give myself a lot of time so as not to pressure myself and to reach that goal sensiablely.

  4. Anonymous9:08 am

    A lot of wisdom here. Thanks

  5. I think your post is wonderful.

  6. Rhodia10:06 am

    I like this post! I am 5'2.5 tall and on April 1, 2009 I weighed 210 pounds. Now my weight fluctuates between 143 and 148. I was trying for my "boston qualifying" weight loss goal of a non-overweight BMI (under 140). But the weight is not budging and I think I should be satisfied with it.

    I do not believe, as Norma does, that this "expecting far too little of myself and being way too willing to accept the minimum or mediocre". It is not mediocre to prioritize my mental health, my marriage, my hobbies, my career, my spirituality, when I know full well that pushing for my ultimate weight goal would be at the detriment of at less some of those things. I have achieved what I really wanted: health (by all measures except the arbitrary BMI). I have brought my blood pressure down and no longer take medication. I eat healthy, unprocessed food, with about 8-10 servings of vegetables and fruits per day. I get a large amount of physical activity that I enjoy and look forward to doing, and have participated in 5Ks, 10Ks and a triathlon. My weight does not get in the way of anything that I want to do. This is not mediocrity.

  7. Please don't take my comment personally, Rhodia. You achieved a very big goal and are at a very healthy weight and able to pursue an active lifestyle that makes you happy with the way you look and feel. I've been stalled 5-7 lbs. above my goal weight for nearly four years so I understand exactly where you're coming from. However, another person in your "before" situation might have looked at their 210 lbs., decided 140, 150, 160, etc. would be too much work/take too long/be too hard, etc. and decide on a goal of 190...which would be far less than that of which they are capable or which is would be healthy. Your situation is a lot different than someone who at 210 decides not to bother trying, sets a small temporary goal but never pushes past it once reaching it, etc. Most people go way too easy on themselves and never realize what they are truly capable of -- in life, not just in fitness.

  8. Anonymous11:03 am

    I tend to disagree with the avoiding goals. I think goals are very important, however I do think it is important to have reasonable goals. If you are a 4.5 hour marathoner, the goal of a Boston Marathon is aiming way too high, but a 4:20 marathon may be a better goal.

    With weight loss, I also find goals important, because it allows me to estimate calories and exercise. Planning on losing 30 pounds in a month may be as big a folly as running Boston as a 4:30 marathoner, but planning on losing 5-15 pounds in a month may be perfectly reasonable depending on starting weight.

  9. In the traditional French school system, students judged lacking are excoriated, insulted and told repeatedly that they are useless failures. Perhaps things have changed, but French people I know (in their 40s and 50s) were brought up in this soul destroying world. Of course, there's no need to be French to have the same attitude.

    Here in North America, we often to go to the opposite extreme: everyone is good, intelligent and capable, no matter what their life looks like.

    I think that Yoni's article strikes the proper balance.

  10. Rhodia1:03 pm

    Thank you for clarifying Norma. I did, however, have intermediate goals: the first one was 10% of body weight (which was approx 190 pounds), and the next one was the no-longer-obese weight (I forget what that was -- in the 160s I think).

  11. Great post! I love your philosophy that one must find a way that can be enjoyed and sustained for a lifetime.

  12. Great post, Yoni! Will be sharing with my clients. Definitely something to keep in mind when it comes to my kickboxing/life goals...

  13. Anonymous6:38 am

    I am the only loser I know of that didn't really set a weight goal, but a "Let's see how long I can do this calorie counting thing."

    My mother persuaded me to try a calorie counting app (LoseIt), although I wasn't really upset with my weight -- perhaps a bit annoyed at discovering I was at BMI 27.3, into the "overweight" range. So I said I would try it as long as I could put up with it, though I was at the time convinced of the set point - destined to be at this weight theory. At the end of two weeks I had lost two pounds, which was just enough to actually show up on my scale (I have a very cheap non-digital IKEA scale which is in kilos!). I basically said, "Huh, it's probably a fluke, but this isn't so bad so I'll keep doing it another two weeks." And there it was one more notch on the scale!

    By the end of it I had lost 45 pounds. Go figure. (After a couple of months I did set a vague goal of "let's see if I can reach the "ideal weight range", and I am now stabilized at about 22.4.)

    My mother lost interest in the LoseIt app herself after about two weeks and moved on to a Word Power game.

  14. Anonymous8:38 am

    "If you have to kill yourself to get there, you probably won't stay there"

    Isn't killing yourself to get somewhere create even more incentive to stay there?