I’m just back from leading my team of Peeke Performers through the MORE and FITNESS magazines half marathon on a sunny but chilly Sunday in New York City’s Central Park. We were joined by 12,000 adventuresome women, kindred spirits wrapped in layers, ready to take themselves on for the 13.1 miles of rolling hills surrounded by the vibrant colors of spring. I love this event because it’s unique. This isn’t the Boston marathon where it’s all about outperforming yourself and obsessively watching the clock. That’s perfectly fine for those folks. Ours is all about having fun and sharing with other women equally as anxious about finishing. Having done this three times, I love to turn newbies onto the experience, and show them they can push their mental and physical envelope. The reward goes far beyond the medal. It’s a priceless mind-body transformation.
Prior to the event, there’s a two day expo, where participants pick up their race packets, mingle with other runners walking through the aisles of nutrition and fitness booths, and listen to lectures by experts. Hey, that’s me! While up on stage, I’ll usually pick lots of women from the crowd who are first timers to hop up on stage and share their stories.
After having done this for the past five years, I’ve been noticing a couple of trends. First, we’re getting more and more women of all ages who’ve decided to use this as a challenge. Second, when I ask the question, “Why did you decide to do this run?” I’m now hearing a growing number of women say that it’s to celebrate a major weight removal. They would march up to the stage and proudly announce, “Once I dropped the 80 pounds, I realized I needed to keep it off. So, I made activity challenges to keep me on track and this is one of them.” 80 pounds! For two days I kept bringing women up to share, and the lowest amount of weight shed was 50 pounds. That’s quite a sign of the times. Long gone are the days when we only needed to drop a few to get into shape.
The most memorable woman was a 5’2″ 61 year old woman who bounced up the stairs and stood next to me and unabashedly declared, “I had a gastric bypass three years ago and shed 230 pounds. Running in an event like this was always a dream. I may be slow and will end up walking a good part of it, but I don’t care. I’m going to do it to celebrate my new life.” This brought the house down. The audience gave her a standing ovulation (women’s version of the ovation LOL).
The night before the event, participants gather downtown for the traditional pre-race dinner of grilled chicken, veggies and pasta. Again, I had the honor of providing a royal rah-rah to stoke the fires of anticipation and challenge that will drive them all to the finish line. At the dinner, I met Tara Costa, a well-known Biggest Loser graduate who was also doing the run. She and I could speak eye to eye since we’re both 5’9″. She’s a striking blond, former financial manager, who joined season seven of the show at the age of 24. Now 27, she noted she dropped 155 pounds from her original 294 pounds to 139 pounds, but has actually been maintaining a weight of 160-165 pounds. This is the usual wiggling around in weight as people learn how to adapt and adjust to living in the real world landmines of temptation. Appearing strong and athletic, we talked about our mutual interest in the triathlon. Then, I noticed she was wearing a rather unusual bracelet on her right wrist. It was one of those little girl’s alphabet bracelets. Hers read “I (heart symbol) Kona”, interpreted as I love Kona. Now Kona is the mack daddy of all Iron Man competitions in the triathlon and the most difficult competition of all. Tara told me that’s her goal and she was adamant about achieving it.
“Hey, great way to keep your focus. You just wear it!” I exclaimed, to which she replied, “It’s bigger than that. Watch this.” She glanced over at a table where a waiter had just laid down a platter of cookies. As she reached for one with her right hand, the bracelet’s message was plain to see. Smiling, she said, “See? Every time I reach for food, I’m now totally conscious of the choice I must make. In this case, Kona or cookie. I’m going with Kona,” and withdrew her hand. There’s your lesson from a Biggest Loser who struggles and lives with the challenge along with the best of us. What a terrific tool to keep the goal in mind.
So, here are some takeaways for my wonderful WebMD members.
1) Celebrate every single step of the way. You don’t need to wait until you’ve unloaded 80 pounds. Get on out there and celebrate every single success, no matter how trivial you think it is. It isn’t. Always a breakfast skipper and now you’re eating nutritious breakfasts? Celebrate! Get outside and take a long walk with a friend and celebrate the fact that your body works well enough to do that. Breathe the fresh air. Embrace your life at that moment. Life’s a celebration, every single minute. You have the power to see it that way and live it every day.
2) Plan your celebrations. Like these women, they looked ahead and found something wild and wooly that appealed to them. None of these women are athletes. Most of them walked and jogged the 13.1 miles. They had no aspirations for joining the Olympics. They just wanted an amazing event to honor their achievement and journey, and to have fun. So look ahead and find that hike, that beach or mountain adventure and get into shape to thoroughly enjoy it. If you fail to plan, to plan to fail.
3) Stay vigilant. Tara had a unique way to keep herself from falling off track. She chose a goal that meant so much to her that in a pinch, when she was tempted by food, she was fully conscious of making the right choice. People are human. You forget about your goals and objectives. You get tired and overwhelmed and succumb to your old habits. Everyone does. Create unique tools to help you stay vigilant. One of my patients keeps a little self-made motivational video on her iPhone and plays it when the going gets tough. Keep motivational mantras and pictures around to keep you focused on these all important goals.
4) Keep it going. True success is achieving a goal and sustaining it. Getting into shape and letting it all go is not success. Keeping it going is. To stay on track, people need goals. It could simply be to keep your blood sugars or blood pressure or cholesterol normal. It could be hopping into your skinny jeans, or joining your gym’s 8 week challenge striving to win the award for your age group. Heck, it could be walking up the stairs without having to speed dial 911 to make it to the top. You need to continuously create more goals once you’ve achieved your original ones. After the half marathon, many of the women had already planned on their next fun challenge. You need that to keep it going for a lifetime.