Like most people, for the last two months, I’ve mostly been staying at home. Like most people, I’ve been eating more than usual, and I’ve been gaining weight.
Some of it may be “stress eating.” Some of it may be “boredom eating.” Mostly, though, it’s too much temptation. I’m always home, and there’s too much good food in the house.
In early March, Deb and I made sure we had enough food at home that we wouldn’t run out of anything if we had to go for two weeks without leaving the house. We were able to get enough of the foods we usually eat, although finding bread was difficult.
I think lots of people had difficulty buying bread. It seemed like everyone I know was baking bread and posting recipes. Soon, Deb and I were seeing friends posting all kinds of interesting recipes. I had to try some of them. One was a recipe for brown bread. Another was for strawberry shortcake cookies.
We also made some of our old favorites. Deb made rice pudding. I made my mom’s banana bread recipe and two large deep dish pizzas. On the weekend of the Boston Marathon, we had pot roast and Indian pudding, which are two foods I use to eat whenever I visited Boston. Most of these recipes make enough that we had leftovers for the next few days.
Since the middle of March, restaurants in our area have been takeout only. Many restaurants are struggling to stay in business. We could easily fix all of our meals at home, but we’ve been getting takeout orders from a few of our favorite restaurants to help them survive. Naturally, these meals always leave us with more leftovers.
Do you see the problem? When you rarely leave the house, and you’re surrounded by good food, it’s hard to resist eating more than you really need. Before I knew it, I had gained five pounds.
Last summer, I worked hard to lose 15 pounds, so I could bring my marathon times down. You can’t do that through diet alone. I ramped up my running until I was averaging 10 miles a day. That’s not an option right now. Since December, I’ve been recovering from a minor case of Achilles tendonitis at the insertion point in my left heel. It’s improved enough that I can regularly run eight or nine miles without any discomfort, but I sometimes feels tight afterwards. If I try to ramp my mileage too quickly, it’ll flare up again.
I used to do lots of cross-training. There was a limit to how much I could run without getting injured, so I would supplement my running with aerobic cross-training. I’d get up early, so I could do 30 minutes on the stationary bike before going to work. That’s like an extra three miles of running, but without the same injury risk. I could do that before work, and still go running after work.
I also used to do lots of weight training. When I was in my 20s, I dedicated as much time to weight training as I did to running. As my priorities changed, I cut back on the weight training, so I could have more running days. It’s hard to do both on the same day. By my late 30s, I was no longer trying to build strength. Now I was just doing maintenance workouts.
All of my cross-training fell by the wayside three years ago. When I was recovering from back surgery, I was only allowed to walk. Eventually, I was able to add running back into the mix, but it was more than a year before I was doing more running than walking. Until recently, I never got back into cycling or weight training. I had a home gym, but the only equipment I used was my treadmill.
One of my friends recently created a private Facebook group, where he and his friends could post photos from their workouts. It was a vehicle for encouraging each other as we were each trying to stay in shape while sheltering at home. I posted photos from some of my runs, but as I saw others posting about all their workouts, it inspired me to begin cross-training again.
I started by dusting off my stationary bike (literally) and adding short cycling workouts in the morning. I usually ran in the afternoon, so these were “extra” workouts.
My stationary bike has 15 resistance levels. I used to use levels 2 and 3 for warming up and cooling down. I’d do most of my workout using resistance level 4. Occasionally, I’d go higher, but I’ve never been above level 7. I can’t imagine what level 15 feels like.
Since I’m not currently used to cycling, I had to start out doing just 20 minutes. At first, I was doing the whole workout at level 2, and it still felt like my legs were going to fall off. Now, I’m started to use level 3, and I’m stretching the length of these workouts. I still find cycling to be more tiring than running, but it’ll get easier with time.
One of the first running books I read was called the New Competitive Runner’s Handbook. The authors of that book used the terms, “running equivalent” or “RE miles.” The concept was that if you did an aerobic cross-training workout, you could consider it to be the training equivalent of running whatever distance you would’ve covered if you ran with the same effort for the same amount of time. That’s all well and good, but it can sometimes be difficult to compare the effort of different activities. I can run for more than an hour and have it feel effortless. If I spend half that much time on a stationary bike, I’m already fatigued. Does that mean my cycling workouts are more intense? No, I’m just not used to cycling yet. To convert my cycling miles to RE miles, I divide by three. That’s a rule of thumb I’ve heard from triathletes.
A week after I started doing cycling workouts, I started doing weight training again. Twice a week, I’m doing six exercises that work most of the large muscle groups. I’m using far less weight than I used to, but it’s a start. I’ve lost a lot of strength in the last three years. It’ll take time to regain it.
I like to keep a spreadsheet that summarizes all my training for the week. I’ve been doing this for more than 20 years. I convert everything to “RE miles,” and add it up. It’s hard to compare intense anaerobic workouts like weight training to running, but I do my best. It’s imprecise, but I want to be able to summarize my total training volume.
For the past two weeks, I’ve done at least two workouts every day. Usually, it’s cycling and running. Sometimes, it’s cycling and weight training or running and weight training. In addition, I sometimes go for short walks with Deb.
Here’s a graph that shows my weekly “RE mileage” since the beginning of the year. Until recently, it was mostly just running mileage. Occasionally, I did a little bit of walking, but it wasn’t a significant proportion of my total training. In the last three weeks, the graph looks different. I’m still doing the same amount of running, but I’ve added both cycling and weight training. As a result, my weekly “RE mileage” has roughly doubled, compared to three weeks ago.
The legend may be too small to read, but blue is running, light blue is walking, green is cycling, and red is weight training.
These cross-training workouts serve more than one purpose. In the short term, they’re helping giving me a new source of motivation, now that I no longer have any races on the horizon. In the long term, they’ll hopefully help me control my weight. In the last two weeks, my weight has leveled off. I’m not losing weight yet, but I’m no longer gaining weight. That’s a start.