Jeanne Backofen Craig

I'm a wife, mother, pianist, and runner living in Central Virginia.
You can learn more about me at
My videos can be found on my YouTube channel.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Finding What Works... Rolling Along

On January 1st of this year, I had the humbling realization that I weighed only 3 pounds less than when I checked into the hospital to have my first baby 21 years ago.  I hadn’t been able to fit into most of my dress pants for well over a year, and I was tired of having to wear the same few pants over and over.  I refused to spend money on bigger clothes and have to figure out where to store the old ones.  At 16 pounds over my pre-pregnancy weight, I set a goal to lose 12.

I lost about 5 pounds rather quickly simply by tracking my food intake.  I know people say it doesn’t take a lot of time to track, but to me, it does take too much time – even with the SP food tracker.  And frankly, I just don’t want to do it.  So of course, I didn’t stick with it. 

The result was I stayed at that weight, more or less, for the next 2+ months.  At least I wasn’t gaining, though.

Since I know I won’t track my food… at least, not long-term, I needed to find something else.  So I set a new exercise goal for myself – something I enjoy.  I decided to enter a summer race series to see if it might motivate me to train again.  There are seven races and you earn points based on your finish placement.  At the end of the series, they award top 3 overall, top master, and top 3 in each age group. 

At the first race, a 5K, I won a surprising 3rd place in my age group.  I knew if I made an effort to train a little more, I’d be able to run even faster the next time.  So I made sure to run at least 4 days a week and do a little hill training, too.

At the second race, a 4-miler, I came in ahead of the woman who had won 1st place in my age group at the previous race.  In fact, I wound up winning the 1st place female master award (meaning out of all women over the age of 40).  The most satisfying thing, however, was that my overall pace was faster than the 5K just 3 weeks prior.  My training was working.

Then to my surprise, the running club posted the first ranking of the people in the race series.  My name was at the top for female master.  Seeing my name there motivated me to do what I can to stay there, which means to continue to run as well or better.  To do that, I really need to drop those extra, unneeded pounds and get to my goal.  The general rule of thumb in running is that for every pound you lose, at a certain level of exertion, you can run approximately 2 seconds per mile faster. 7 pounds less… 14 seconds per mile faster… that was a great incentive.

Knowing that I won’t track my food, I decided on the “just don’t buy it” method, combined with the “keep busy” method.  Luckily, there’s a lot going on in my life right now – good things – to keep me busy and away from the TV (a trigger for me).  That, combined with better training, has led to another 3-pound drop in the last month.  I hope I will reach my goal weight by mid-July.

I always tell people who are starting to exercise:  you have to find what you enjoy.  If you don’t have time for it or dislike it, you’re not going to stick with it.  We each have to find what works for us and is sustainable, long-term.  I have found that getting that ball rolling is the hardest part, but once it starts rolling, it almost feels like a downhill with the finish line in sight.

I have no idea where I’ll end up in the final rankings of the race series, but in the end, that particular result doesn’t really matter.  The victory will be to keep rolling along until I reach my goal weight and the successful completion of the race series.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Making the Grade

With school ending for many people at this time of year, you might think that's what this blog is about.  But it's not.  It's a continuation of my Heavy Breathing post.  HILLS!

Yesterday, I ran my hilly route again - this time I did 5 out-n-backs for a total of 8.4 miles, with 10 hill climbs.  I checked RunKeeper this morning to see my splits.  I looked at the elevation profile and wondered what % grade the hills are, as one hill is shorter & quite steep, and the other hill is longer but not as steep.

The long hill (0.5 mile) has about 150 feet of elevation change.
The short hill (0.3 mile) has about 90 feet of elevation change.

The grade of a road is the road's steepness, meaning: "rise over run."  So this means to find the % grade, you divide the elevation change by the distance.  Of course, they need to be in the same units (feet, in this case), so you have to convert the miles to feet.

There are 5280 feet in a mile.
(0.5)(5280) = 2640
(0.3)(5280) = 1584

Now to find the grade:
Long Hill:  150 divided by 2640 = 0.05681818
Short Hill:   90 divided by 1584 = 0.05681818

What???  They're exactly the same grade!!

Written as a percent, that means both of these hills have a steepness grade of 5.68%, which is a pretty decent slope.

I was shocked when I got this result.  It is EXACTLY the same... I mean, super duper unbelievably exactly the same.  I could swear the shorter hill feels harder and steeper.  Shouldn't the longer hill, of the same grade, feel harder?  Because of this, I wondered if I calculated incorrectly.  So I double- and triple-checked my math.  You are welcome to quadruple check it for me and confirm it, but I'm quite sure I'm right.

This was quite a revelation this morning and I'm not sure what it means for my future hill runs.  Either the short hill won't seem quite as difficult or the long hill will now seem longer & more difficult.  I'm hoping for the former, since I try to think positively when I exercise.

If you use a fitness app that tracks elevation, this is a fun way to see just how hard you're working in various parts of your walks, hikes, runs, or bike rides.  If you need any help with the calculations, you can always ask Google "how to calculate the grade of a hill" and find a nice description, complete with a picture.  It's just one more tool to measure our individual progress and "make the grade!"

Thursday, May 11, 2017

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of... Heavy Breathing!

Did that title get your attention?

I live in rural Virginia.  Hills are everywhere!  About a week ago, I did 6.8 miles with 8 substantial climbs.  The whole run was four out-n-backs.  A long down followed by a not-as-long climb... then turn around for a not-as-long down, and a looong climb.  I tried to make the most of it by working myself hard and running at a pretty good clip.

At one point, I marveled at the beautiful scenery, and heard in my mind Julie Andrews singing, "The hills are aliiiiiiive with the sound of" and then I realized I was breathing quite loudly through my mouth.  Hence, the funny title of my blog today.

Hill workouts are quite the challenge and they are very effective in burning calories, building muscle, and improving cardiovascular performance.

One result I especially like that comes from running in a hilly area is that when you run on flat terrain, it feels easy.  When I run at the beach, everything feels downhill... and my breathing is nice and quiet!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

With an Oink Oink Here and an Oink Oink There

I went to walk at the track with my daughter after dinner yesterday evening.  As we approached the elementary school, I remarked, "Oh great, there's a dog on the loose."  As soon as I said the word "dog," I realized it was NOT a dog.  It was a large pig, complete with tusks.

There's a farm next door to the elementary school, and my daughter informed me that now and then, different animals get loose and crash their marching band practices.  (They rehearse on the field inside the track.)  I remember when I taught in a classroom trailer at that school 20 years ago, I'd periodically have to chase animals away, too.  I once looked up to find a goat standing in the open doorway of my music classroom.

Having lived in a rural area for 25 years, I've gotten used to assisting animals back home.  Several cows.  A miniature horse.  A regular horse.  I even helped an owner get her bull back in her pasture once.  (That one was a little scary.)

The pig headed toward the rather busy road in front of the school, so we ran after it, picked up long sticks, and headed it off.  I had my RunKeeper app going, so it recorded the whole crazy route as we tried to herd it back home... with an oink oink here and and oink oink there.  Eventually it crawled under its owner's fence in the woods.  Last we saw, it was happily munching grass at home.

And here you have the crazy route.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Mindless Eating - at a Whole New Level

We've talked about mindless eating and how we should be careful not to do it.  This morning I blogged about resolving to make good choices, and so I have.  All day.  However, I did mindlessly eat once.  Keep reading.

I was at work, finishing up the latest schedule for liturgical ministers.  It was my first time using this particular software and it's not very user-friendly.  I had to really concentrate.  It was lunchtime and I got two peeled, hard-boiled eggs out of my lunch bag.  I ate one while I worked.

Then a church member came in and started talking to me.  I conversed with him while continuing to work.

After he left, I reached for the second egg.  It was gone!  What?

Talk about mindless eating... I have absolutely NO recollection of picking up that egg and eating it.  It's like I was in the Twilight zone.

At least it was planned and nutritious, but it's a reminder of just how easy it is to put food in one's mouth without thinking about it.  Whatever is our plan for the day, it's probably a good idea to portion it out so we don't accidentally wind up eating more.  I wonder what else I might have consumed had it been sitting in front of me during my conversation.  I'm glad it was just a single egg!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Power of One Decision

Yesterday I was looking through the SparkPeople Community Feed and there was a post from a 20-something woman who has lost 201 pounds in 15 months.  I looked at her SparkPage where she suggests checking out her YouTube channel which details her weight loss journey.

I watched her one-year video entry, made in early January.  A few comments jumped out at me.

"Wishing it isn't going to make it happen."

"Be the change that you want."

She asks if we believe that one year can make a difference.  How about one month?  How about one decision?

Right before I watched that video, I had made a poor decision, diet-wise.  I was at home, studying for a test, and I suddenly craved sugar.  Lunch was only 45 minutes away, at best.  Instead of simply waiting for lunch and eating something healthy, I ate a toaster pastry (an organic one, but still - 200 calories of something my body didn't really need.)

I realize that when you're 357 or 558 pounds, you probably don't want to hear a 122-pound woman lament her bad choices.  However, remember, it's all relative.  I don't fit in my pants.  Either I have to buy new pants and forget about wearing that blue dress I bought for my upcoming performance, or I have GOT to carefully consider every decision I make.  Every decision adds up to have either a positive or negative effect on my body.  If I don't change my ways, I'll eventually be buying bigger and bigger clothes until I've got a lot more to lose.

I need to control myself now so I don't get to a point where I have to make even more and more good decisions to reach my goal.  I wrote about this very thing a couple of weeks ago in "The Long Haul."  Right now, I have a short haul.  A mini haul, really.  Even a 5-pound loss would probably do it.

Whether you're in it for a mini, short, or long haul, let's all remember the power of each decision, and make sure the good ones outweigh the bad ones.

Here's the video that inspired me.  Her Spark handle is XOAmandaDawn.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Never Give Up! A Race Report.

I've been a runner for 15 years, but in recent years I've run less and less.  Even though in my head I know I'll always enjoy running just for the sake of running, it's become easier and easier to make excuses and not get out there.  I realized I needed some kind of a goal to give myself new motivation.  So I challenged myself to enter the local Roadrunners' Race Series.  There are 7 races over the next 4 and a half months, ranging in distance from 5K to a half marathon.  Runners accumulate points based on the quality of their performance and awards are given out at the end.  I haven't raced much at all in the last few years, so this was a big commitment for me.

Yesterday (Saturday) was a 4-miler, the second race in the series.  I had a bit of a rough week and was feeling a bit "blah" about the race.  It was a gray, rainy day, and it was tempting to stay home.  But in the end, I went.  About 12 minutes before the start of the race, my cell phone rang and it was my mother informing me that my grandmother died that morning.  For a few minutes I felt very sad.  It made me wonder what I was doing there, standing around in the rain, waiting to bust my butt and run hard at my age.

However, I suddenly resolved that I was going to TURN THIS DAY AROUND.  I was not going to give up.  I was going to run hard like I planned and see what I could do, and whatever that turned out to be would be fine.

When I run, I tend to measure my perceived rate of exertion by my breathing, which I coordinate with my footsteps.  If I breathe in 4 steps, and out 4 steps, that's a comfortable pace.  If I breathe 3-3, that's a little harder, but still somewhat comfortable.  If I breathe in 3 and out 2, that's what I'd call "comfortably hard."  Breathing 2-2, I'm working pretty hard but I can usually hold that level of exertion for up to 10 kilometers.

Normally, I start out any race at 3-3 because it takes me some time to warm up and feel good.  Today I jumped right to 2-2.  A half mile in, I was running at an 8:16/mile pace.  Slowly, I passed other women ahead of me.  About a mile in, the route turned to a long uphill.  I shortened my stride but kept the turnover rate and breathing the same.  (Hint:  that's the way to climb hills.  Shorten your stride.  It helps a lot!)  At the 2 mile mark, we turned around.  Yay!  Downhill for all of mile 3!  Downhills are my strength, as my quadriceps are freakishly strong compared to the rest of my leg muscles.  Usually I can pull away from people on long downhills.

So imagine my surprise when at mile 3, I was passed by a woman I hadn't seen before.  Where did she come from?  As she went by, I could tell she was younger than I am, and my first instinct was, "Let her go.  Give it up.  You can't possibly keep up with her."

But then I thought, "Why should I give up?  What if I *can* keep up with her?  I may feel tired but I don't feel bad.  I'm going to see how long I can hang with her."

I stayed about 10 feet behind her and then to my surprise, slowly started getting closer.  With about a half mile to go, I passed her.  She said something positive to me like, "You're doing great" to which I responded something like, "Thanks, I don't know if I can keep it up."  She encouraged me again.

I could hear her on my heels that last half mile and with maybe less than a tenth of a mile to go, she kicked it into high gear and flew by me, crossing the finish line ahead of me.  That was fine with me - I had nothing left in the tank to give and she was a great competitor.  I thanked her afterward for inspiring me to try harder at the end when I was thinking of giving up.  It turned out she's 22 years old - just a year older than my son.  It felt pretty good to know I can still keep up with the young ones.

When they gave out awards, I got a huge surprise.
First place Masters Female (that means over the age of 40)

I was the 5th woman overall and 1st out of 43 women over the age of 40.  I ran a 32:18, for a 8:05/mile pace.  The next woman over 40 was merely 45 seconds behind me.  I suppose if she had passed me, in the grand scheme of things, it would not have been a big deal.  I would have been happy for her.  However, I am so thankful that 22-year-old passed me and kept me focused on my goal and working to the best of my ability.  Today the best of my ability was enough to win.  Maybe another day it won't be, but it is always satisfying to know I gave it my all.

It's very easy to set goals from the comfort of the living room.  When I decided to enter the race series, I didn't fully appreciate just how hard it was going to be.  Life does all it can to get in the way, doesn't it?  A busy schedule, an injury, an illness... any unforeseen circumstance can wreak havoc on our plan.  And even when you're in the middle of it - like I was in the 4-miler - it's easy to just say, "Eh, what does it really matter?  I can just coast along and it's fine."

I think I am going to keep this trophy where I will see it every day to remind me that no matter what I'm doing at the time, to try my best and give it my all.