Tuesday, August 26, 2014

When Losers Become Winners - The Biggest Loser Run Walk Half Marathon in Casper, Wyoming

One of the things I love most about races is the look on the faces of the winners. I'm not just talking about the folks who cross the finish line first, hands in the air, breaking the tape with a blazing time. I'm talking about the folks who've beaten their best times, the ones who finally hit a goal time, or best of all, the ones who've finished, especially for the first time.

The Biggest Loser RunWalk came to Casper, Wyoming last week. The city had reached out to organizers Dan and Jackie Evans from Season 5 of the show over a year and a half earlier. Their commitment and preparation showed with outstanding organization and support. Susan and I were thrilled to volunteer to manage the speaker schedule at the expo and bib pick up at the Wyoming Boys and Girls Club on Saturday. Thanks to Tyler, Shane and the rest of the TBL road crew, we were able to set up a few tents for the speakers and audience as temperatures climbed into the 90's. 

We kicked off the speaker program at 12:30. We told our usual story about how we started our marathon journey with a bucket list and eventually raised goals to 50 events by age 50, then 100 events by 50 and even marathons on 7 continents and half marathons in 50 states. We also emphasized how this new lifestyle changed us both physically and mentally. Marathoning helped us each lose 50 pounds, greatly improved blood panels and strengthened our marriage (19 years and still going strong!). 

Photo courtesy of our friends at The RooSport
We spent the second half of the hour doing a mini walk technique clinic. About 20 people followed us through our Walking with FLASH mnemonic (Feet, Legs, Arms, Stride rate, Hips). I'm pretty sure it stuck because we saw quite a few people using some good arm form on the course the next day. 

David Hotle from the Wyoming Department of Health spoke next. His personal story of addiction and recovery was spot on for the audience. His one piece of advice for people who want to get on the road to a better life is "just do SOMEthing." Start small. Every step is a step in the right direction.

Ashley Bright, CEO of the Boys and Girls Club of Central Wyoming was our third speaker. He arranged to have the expo and start/finish line in the parking lot of his facility and was a big fan of bringing TBL to Casper. He asked us a lot of questions about the race and how it compared to other events. I reassured him that this was a solid turnout. 

Season 14 finalist Jackson Carter was next up. Having been on the show most recently, he had a lot of good stories about his new life as a personal trainer, behind the scenes stories and even a very diplomatic commentary on season 14 winner Rachel. Jackson lit up the stage with his enthusiasm.  And his pants.

Jackson got his pants in a small shop in Colorado. That was the first question from the audience.
One of Jackson's questions came from a woman who was doing her first half marathon. Briana drove to Casper from Oregon and said she felt like a 'fake athlete', even though she'd already lost over 100 pounds on her way to getting healthier. Jackson asked her what an athlete looked like. He saw athletes of all shapes and sizes everywhere in the audience. It's not a look. It's an attitude.  

For perspective, losing 100 pounds is the caloric equivalent of running 4,100 miles. There's nothing fake about what Briana had accomplished to date.

Closing the speaker set were Season 5 contestants and race organizers Jackie and Dan Evans. They were the first mother/son team on the show. Together they lost over 230 pounds during the 6 months of the show. We don't see them much on the RNR race circuit now that they have a whopping 26 events of their own on the TBL calendar. They've added a new race series in the Six Flags theme park locations this year, kicking off with a 5K / 10K / 1 mile Kids run at the Washington DC location on September 28th. 

How excited was the city about this event? Local businessman Chas Farnham holds an annual tent sale at Farnham's Furniture Galleries that happened to coincide with race weekend. He opened up the tents and collaborated with a local restaurant to host a free barbeque for participants and friends. Dan and Jackson were on hand to speak and sign bibs. We went downtown for a quick, Susan-friendly pasta dinner at Botticeli Ristorante Italiano

Race morning was well planned as is typical for all Biggest Loser events. With the half marathoners starting first at 8 AM, there was plenty of parking for the 100 or so half marathon participants within a block of the starting line. There was a somber moment as a local officer asked for a moment of silence for a young boy who drowned in the river earlier in the week.  13 year old Alex saved his 8 year old friend who was being carried away by a fast tide. Alex didn't survive. There was a memorial on one of the bridges that was part of the original half marathon course. 

Dan sang the national anthem and we were off. Within the first mile, we approached a "big" intimidating hill; fortunately, the race course turned left just before the hill and we went under a bridge along the Platte River. The course traced narrow bike paths, but there was plenty of room for the participants as we spread out. 

The 5 K started at 8:30 AM. Since this was an out and back course, we never crossed paths. Ashley said there was plenty of room for the nearly 400 participants in the 5 K. Susan and I finished in the middle of the half marathon pack, first and second in the Walk Division.

Kirsten and Adam (below) finished just behind me and I saw them as I was waiting for Susan. They were holding hands at mile 10 and Adam was sprinkling water on Kirsten's back to keep her cool in one of the areas where the wind wasn't blowing. When I passed them, they said they planned to cross the finish line holding hands too. I see a good future for their relationship.

79 year old Della Works was the oldest participant in the event, running the half marathon. She started running when she was 65. Dan interviewed her at the starting line and she was looking forward to turning 80 because she'd be the fastest person in her new age group.

Marathoning for Life?  You bet!
Oh, and our Fake Athlete, Briana?  She rocked it. And she left 'feeling legit!'

TBL had an optional upgrade for VIP that included snacks and tents for shade. It was super affordable and we were really glad we took advantage of it. We also got our obligatory celebrity pictures!

We had a late afternoon flight so after heading back to the hotel for a quick shower and check out, we went back to the Boys and Girls Club to cheer in the last few half marathoners. As the event wound down, we saw the volunteers and the road crew start working on the tear down. Naturally, we had to pitch in. We looked at it as more cross training.

In an hour and a half, the entire event was packed and ready to go to the next location
We gave Jackson a ride to the airport, stopping for food at (where else?) Subway. TBL had given every participant a coupon for a free 6 inch sub and a free work out at Planet Fitness in the goodie bag. They really do hold true to their mission. 

Jackie said that a lot of participants were first timers. Some told her they've never been awarded anything. Ever. The supportive and inclusive environment of The Biggest Loser RunWalk is really a great way to get started. Everyone starts somewhere. 

Even though we've been on the circuit for 9 years, every race we finish feels like a win.


The Biggest Loser Run Walk Series was held in Casper for the first time in 2014. There were 483 total finishers (156 in the 5K Run, 223 in the 5K Walk, 85 in the Half Marathon Run, and 20 in the Half Marathon Walk). Every single one of them was a winner.

This was our third event with The Biggest Loser Run/Walk having done the Sacramento 5K in March of 2013 and the Springfield, Oregon 15K in May of 2013. Both of those races were PR's for Susan and Ron. The entry fees for this national series are at local race prices. Included in the race entry fee are free photos for all participants!

This was the 13th race we entered in a Walk Division. Every time we've placed or won our age groups. Walking is a small discipline, but we like to think we're doing it proud. Combined this was our 134th half marathon and 161st half/full lifetime event. In the year of our 19th wedding anniversary, it was also our 19th state for half marathons. The Biggest Loser Run Walk has half marathons in Vermont, New Mexico, Alabama, Wisconsin and New York, all states that are still on our list.

Marathoning for Life

Friday, August 8, 2014

Taking the Plunge - BodyFatTest.com

"And now for something completely different"

We've been using MyFitnessPal for tracking our caloric intake and FitBit trackers for our step counts for a few years now with good success. I posted a blog last year about how we started and how important it was to keep track of things, even if things are going well. Now that we're in maintenance mode and training to get faster, we're taking more steps to get even more information to form a baseline. Our next adventure - Body Fat measurements.

Why should you care about body fat? On the extreme high end, excessive body fat can cause a variety of issues like heart disease, high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes, not to mention stress on joints trying to support the added weight. Conversely, you can actually have too LOW a body fat percentage and be susceptible to chronic fatigue, decreased athletic performance and increased risk of infection.  Overall, body fat percentage is just one other way to measure overall health.

There are a number of ways to measure body fat percentage. The quick and easy way is a calculator based on measurements, gender and height. Active.com has a variety of calculators including the sometimes over-generalized BMI, a range for ideal weight and your projected caloric intake to maintain your body weight. For the record, my calculated BMI is 23, Body Fat is 13%. I think their 2512 calories per day (for 'low active' level) for me is overly generous, but I'll go ahead and remember to order dessert the next time I'm out for dinner. 

Our Fitbit Aria scale gives a body fat reading, but for the last year, it's been unreasonably low for me. I mean really low. 5% pretty much all the time. That level is telling me that I have nothing other than "essential body fat" required to keep my body functioning. The Aria measures body fat by electrical impedance and can be affected by hydration levels in the body. Accuracy is directional, but not something you want to depend on.

Last week, Clorox had an in-house wellness vendor using an e-InBody machine which uses a similar method. Again, since the impedance method can be affected by hydration, readings can vary widely. Having the device in the cafeteria after lunch may or may not have been the best way to do the testing, but at least people used it.  I came in at a reading off 11.8% body fat.  The vendor gave me a standard chart of 'normal ranges' saying I was getting close to the bottom of where I should be. Naturally, I took that advice and went to In-n-Out burger for lunch. I walked a half mile both ways. And ordered a protein style cheeseburger and tossed half of the fries before I sat down.

The gold standard for measurement is Hydrostatic Body Fat testing (aka, 'the Dunk Test'). We missed a chance last year at Sports Basement Walnut Creek because it was on a weekend we were out of town for a race. I know. Big surprise.

First, we have to find the truck (Thanks, Al for giving us the heads up!). Body Fat Test runs a mobile testing center that parks outside of gyms, sporting good stores or other locations to conduct the test. Appointments are encouraged since the walk-up service can be hard to time well. Check their calendar for national times and locations. Northern California test schedules can be found here.

Outside of Anytime Fitness in Newark. You can't miss it!
We showed up for our 4:30 appointment with Mike. The trailer has two changing areas, a scale, the dunk tank, a scale, a laptop station where the measurements get turned into the analysis for you to take home, share or post on a blog. We were told to bring a swimsuit that won't catch air bubbles since buoyancy is the key measurement for this test method. It's not as sensitive to hydration levels as the Aria or e-InBody, but they suggest not having a big meal within an hour of testing.  The test costs $49 per person for the first time and $39 for a retest.

Note to self. Refrain from dairy... or burritos.. before this test.
There are two variations of the tank configuration. In one, the subject is put in a seated swing. BodyFatTest used the prone tank with a wide scale. It has the advantage of using less water (about 10 inches deep. The water is filtered, chlorinated and dumped at the end of each day. It's also at a comfortable 90 degrees.The grey belt around my waist is a weight belt to ensure total submersion. To get the best result, you're supposed to blow out ALL of your breath. Mike would pound on the side of the tank when it looked like you were out of breath so you could come back up. It took me the three tries to get a constant result.  It took Susan a few extra tries to relax enough to feel like it was safe to stay under. Note to self: if doing this in pairs, let the water-lover go first to build confidence.

It looks scarier than it actually is, considering I'm face down in a tub of water and I've totally exhaled every bit of air that I had in me. The short sleeve shirt and sock tan lines, you'll just have to deal with.

Results? 8.8% Body Fat, somewhere in the 97th percentile, well into the "athletic range" and safely above the 5% lower level of 'essential fat'. An added benefit of this test is knowing my Base Metabolism Rate which is what my body would need to maintain weight if I never even got out of bed. It still sounds pretty high to me at 1920 calories per day. Even MyFitnessPal calculates the BMR at 1583 calories. 

After all this, I'm going to choose to stick with my current net calorie target. I have a feeling I underestimate my portion sizes and I try to add more steps on my FitBit. We'll come back and retake the test in six months or a year after our race schedule has a month break in December. Maybe we'll build up some 'room for improvement'.

Ron will be going to his first Spartan Race on Saturday in San Francisco at AT&T Park. No, he won't be racing. He'll be working as a volunteer security for The Biggest Loser Run/Walk participants VIP tent. Since its a local race, I still plan to get my slow mileage in by walking to Bart, taking the train to Embarcadero and walking to the race. Even though parking is only $10 at the event plus the toll across the Bay Bridge, it looks to be a beautiful day to be outside.