I should, round about now, be returning from my first training run of full half-marathon distance.
Since Sunday is the traditional day for the Beijing Marathon (if it goes ahead this year; the country's political insecurities seem to be threatening to cause a cancellation), and for most other international marathons, I am intending to make Sunday my 'Big Run' day - forcing myself each week substantially beyond the distance I've so far achieved, and trying to replicate the race-day situation (i.e., getting up early, ready to start the run by 8am). I have, in fact, already run close to the half-marathon two or three times, and had hoped to push for the full distance for the first time last weekend; but I'm still having some stamina issues, so decided to wait another week. Hopefully, 21km won't be too much of a stretch for me now. Despite suffering a bad cold this week, I've still forced myself to run a couple of times, and I feel my confidence and pacing are slowly coming back to me. I'm managing to sustain a pace of nearly 10kph now, and I'm hopeful I can achieve a 10%-15% improvement on that over the next few months.
Whether or not I attain that increase in speed is almost entirely dependent on whether I manage to lose weight. I am alarmed, disgusted by how portly I have become in the last few years. Since I'm tall and have quite a broad frame, I don't think I'm yet in the zone of being considered 'clinically obese', but I'm uncomfortably close to the threshold of that category now: officially, in medical terms, 'overweight'; and, for someone who's been moderately lean and athletic for most of his life, I feel like a fat bastard.
I reached 80kg during my final growth spurt when I was in the 6th Form, but my weight then remained remarkably stable for a long time. Despite prodigious consumption of beer and kebabs during my student days, my youthful metabolism was more than capable of burning it all off (and I suppose I was doing quite a lot of exercise in those days; I began distance running back then, to get in shape for the Army reserve unit I had impetuously joined). My weight in kilograms might have crept up into the low 80s by the end of my undergraduate career, but that was mostly a gain in muscle rather than fat. And my weight continued uncannily stable for several more years - with only a few derangements.
At the beginning of my second year as a schoolteacher, I tore up the cartilage in my right knee rather badly (playing football in the gym with the kids), and wasn't able to do any exercise at all for several months (even walking was a bit of a trial for a time). During that period, my weight quickly ballooned above 95kg. However, I gave up drinking for the summer term (I had been rather over-indulging in the cheap - and very fattening - lager we had on tap in the Masters' Common Room), which helped to reverse that trend; and when I was able to begin running again in the autumn, the weight fell off, and I was soon back down to within a kilo or two of what I'd been before.
My teaching career was abruptly ended a couple of years later by a violent - and mysterious - dose of food poisoning, which nearly killed me and had me laid up in hospital for three weeks. During the onset of that illness, in the space of just a week or so, my weight plummeted to 75kg - the lightest I'd been since I was about 10 years old! However, a big chunk of that weight loss was probably just dehydration; I'd recovered a lot of it by the time I left hospital, and within a month or two I was back to my 'normal' weight of 82-83kg.
During my backpacking year a couple of years later, my weight also fell dramatically - particularly during my last few months in America, when I had basically run out of money and was subsisting on a starvation diet. When I got back to the UK, I was again not much above 75kg - but this time I was lean and wiry, rather than ravaged by dehydration and muscle wastage. That's the fittest I've ever been in my life. However, despite continuing to live fairly frugally and to run 10 or 12km almost every day, my weight soon bounced back to 80-something kg; that seems to be my 'natural weight' - or, it was then.
I've always been mildly bothered by a propensity to gain weight quite easily in the short-term; noticing myself put on a kilo or so whenever I've gone through a few days of particularly heavy beer consumption, and to add 2 or 3 kilos each winter as protection against cold weather. However, when I was a young man, I found it fairly easy to lose that weight again. Since I moved to Beijing ten years ago, it's become much harder. Now, a few days of heavy drinking can bloat me by 2kg, or more; the 'winter coat' gets thicker year by year - 4kg or 5kg, or even 6kg; and it takes a few months of determined effort to get that weight off again. In fact, I haven't been able to get it all off: my weight has begun to creep up insidiously year by year, as, despite my best efforts, I only manage to shed two-thirds or half of the weight I've piled on over the winter. I don't think this is anything particularly to do with the environment of Beijing (although many expats point a finger of blame at the fattiness of stir-fried food - or the cheapness and ubiquity of the local beer!), just a matter of metabolic slowdown as I hit middle age. In fact, I think I'd started to notice it in my last couple of years in England; the turning point probably occurred some time in my early-to-mid-thirties.
Things have got particularly bad in the last few years, though. I don't know if I should blame further metabolic changes or a more sedentary lifestyle or a shift to drinking a lot of premium lager or a drastic reduction in my running due to a succession of persistent injuries, but... in the last three winters my seasonal blob-out has amounted to 6kg or 7kg, and I've struggled to get any of that weight off again. A couple of times early this year my weight briefly peaked at around 105kg, a full 10kg more than it had been barely two years earlier.
I'd managed to shed a few kilograms of that before I quit Beijing in May. And I thought that, having mostly lived fairly healthily and done quite a lot of running, I would have shed quite a bit more during my extended summer holiday. But it seems that a few big beer sessions here and there had done their damage, and I was still a bit above 100kg when I came back here a month ago. I had briefly got down below 97kg, maybe closer to 96kg, a couple of weeks back - but that was perhaps partly dehydration after a long run in hot weather. Whatever - a few big nights out quickly set me back a few kilos again. Now I've given up beer for the coming month, and am committed to a more intensive programme of exercise, I feel I can achieve a substantial weight reduction. I seem to have been managing to lose 1kg or so per week quite easily, even when I was still drinking beer; so, I figure if I ramp up the amount of exercise I'm doing, and maybe throw in a bit of fasting, I should be able to drop 1.5-2kg, perhaps even 2.5kg per week.
At present, I am just over 97kg. By the end of the National Holiday Week (8th October), I aim to be 92kg - the weight I was when I last ran a marathon, six years or so ago. By my birthday (20th October), I aim to be 88kg - an even more psychologically significant milestone for me, since this is the weight I was just before I came to China.
If I can achieve these goals, I may push on a bit further with my dieting (and avoidance of beer!) to see if I can get down below 85kg. And if I can manage that, I'll try to see how much lower I can push it. I don't think I can reasonably, or safely, expect to get back down to 80kg. There are certain fat deposits that obstinately refuse to shift at this time of life; and my bones have got bigger since I was a teenager; heck, my liver has got bigger! But if I could get back to around 83 or 84kg, the weight I was in my mid-twenties, I would be very, very happy. This is MY MISSION for the next few months.
"A man needs goals and objectives to give his life meaning."