Sometimes it takes a while for lessons to take hold. That was the case for me. I had been told many times that you can't out-train a bad diet. I tried. I couldn't.
What caused me to finally get the message?
I had mechanical failure for the second year in a row at the Lutsen 99er mountain bike race.
Obviously, there is nothing you can do about your bicycle breaking down. However, because I was so heavy and had to expend so much extra effort to barely make the cutoff times necessary to remain on the course, I had ZERO margin for error. After battling back to the aid station on a rigged up single speed bike, I took the SAG wagon (pickup truck) to the finish line. I was thrown in the back with bikes, boxes and other broken down riders. Watching people finish was hard. It was doubly bitter since I had high hopes of finishing this year.
After that disappointment, it clicked. If I wanted to continue to race mountain bikes (and by race, I mean participate in mountain bike races) I needed to make a significant change. This was just the most tangible signal of how bad things had gotten with my weight - easy rides and an otherwise sedentary life of a computer programmer tends to mask such things.
So what did I do?
I set a goal: The Leadville Trail 100 mountain bike race. I've dubbed it "Operation Leadville."
The primary task was to get my weight from 280 to WAY under 200 pounds (I'm 5'10" tall.) but retain my leg strength and to build up more general strength.
One evening, after the weekly Tuesday night ride at Plymouth Life Time Fitness, we all met up at a local restaurant for dinner. I happened to be seated across from Stephan Roufs, someone whom I had never met. During the course of our conversation, I recounted my Lutsen 99er experience and how I really needed to get a handle on my weight. He told me that he had lost over 100 pounds a couple of years prior and was keeping it off. He offered to mentor me if I wanted to give it a shot. I did.
After 2 months, I was down approximately 40 pounds. During that time I was mountain biking every evening at Elm Creek Single Track (my second home). Pushing the limits of the plan. The first week was rough.... I was way out of my comfort zone as far as eating. For me, it was a major mental exercise, but I decided I needed to trust the plan.
I have a fondness for my original plan since it was the tool I used to get started. I did have to modify it to increase the amount of protein I was taking in, but it got me used to eating small meals frequently and broke my familiarity with Culver's Crispy Chicken sandwich baskets. I'm not kidding... I used to walk into Culver's, and they would put in my order before I made it to the counter. It was bad.
I made a deal with myself when I started the initial program that the purpose was to break the inertia and move forward, but I didn't want that to be my permanent solution. So, after the first 2 months I began to do some research. Here is the thing, I thought I needed to gather a whole lot of new information. But I didn't. I already knew what was going on, and I knew what I needed to do.
Previously, I had worked with Keri Anderson at Life Time Fitness. She had given me the tools already. I just had to put it into practice.
I began to swap out the packets/prepackaged meals with whole foods that fell into the same basic nutrition profile. I upped my protein intake gradually, I still felt like I was behind the curve there with the amount of riding I was doing. The weight continued to come off. I just kept adjusting little by little - being mindful of what I was doing.
I would get asked a lot, "Wow! You must feel amazing!" I couldn't really say that though - at least not right away. Even fairly quick weight loss is a gradual process. Your "normal" changes. For me, I was still very heavy. It will probably seem strange when I say that I "suspected" that I felt better. My knees didn't hurt anymore, nor did my back. My laps at Elm were getting easier and faster, but I didn't have an epiphany until a few months ago.
One evening as I was leaving Life Time Fitness in Plymouth after my Performance Plus Cycle class (a small group, intensive program getting you ready to race) I was doing my usual inventory of "what hurts." Nothing. Nothing hurt. It's such a strange (wonderful) feeling, and it actually took me by surprise. My legs were fatigued, since I had murdered myself in class, but there was no pain. I felt light, I felt more upright. My clothes fit.... I had armpits.... Nothing was rubbing. That last bit might seem like a super bizarre statement, but anyone who has been significantly overweight will understand what I'm saying. I think the best way to describe what I felt is “free.”
I look at things very differently now, particularly things that involve athletic effort. I used to joke saying, "I only run when chased" or "Why run when there are perfectly good bicycles around?". (OK. I still believe that one - I LOVE cycling.) To date I've run 4 5Ks and participated in 2 Life Time Indoor Tris. I'm enrolled in an intensive race preparation training program at Life Time. I participated and finished the Barn Burner in Flagstaff, AZ (40 pounds ago). This year I'm slated to race in 3 Leadville Series races (the Austin Rattler in TX, the Wilmington Whiteface in NY, and the Barn Burner in AZ). I'll be returning to the Lutsen 99er and am considering the Telluride 100. All of them are physically demanding, long distance cross country mountain bike races. I no longer look at them and think, "I'll throw myself into them and see if I can drag myself across the finish line." I fully intend to show very well in my age group. It's exciting.
This kind of thing isn't done alone. I'm a fairly introverted person by nature. I like to do things on my own. But this was a group effort, and some of the people involved probably didn't realize they were a part of it.
I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to Keri Anderson, my trainer at Life Time. She laid the foundation, and I use that knowledge every day. I owe great thanks to Stephan Roufs for getting me re-kickstarted. I needed a plan. He had one, and it worked.
Tiffany Berenberg factors monumentally in this process. She kept me engaged though cycling, which first became my lifeline and is now my passion. I thank Jon Knutson for frequent encouragement and ass kickings.
Thanks to the crew at Erik's Bike Shop in Minnetonka/Ridgedale for being my pit crew, technical advisers and support crew. And to my friends (who I consider family) at Plymouth Life Time Cycle, thank you all for challenging and inspiring me.
In June of 2014, I weighed 282 pounds. As of today, I weigh 177 pounds. That's what? 105 pounds lost (or 2+ bags of water softener salt.) At this point, I still weigh myself, but weight loss is no longer my primary goal and that feels great. I am stronger than I was then - physically, emotionally and mentally.