Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Biggest Loser marathon episode

I am kind of a half-hearted Biggest Loser fan, a fan with reservations. I am fascinated with the show, fascinated by seeing the contestants lose so much weight, get in shape, "change their lives," etc. etc. But I am also a little disturbed by the huge amounts of weight the contestants lose every week, numbers that are unrealistic in real life (I think), and their huge crushing disappointments when they "only" lose four or five pounds in a week.

Still, I watch when I can. I have a yoga class on Tuesday nights that keeps me away from home until 8:30, then by the time I take out the garbage (Tuesday is garbage night) and make dinner, it's 9:00, and all I end up watching is the weigh-in. So in the last few weeks I've been skipping yoga to get home earlier (although the garbage and dinner still drag me down).

The other day I happened to see in the TV listings that the Biggest Loser players were going to run a marathon. Naturally I was intrigued by this. So I made a special effort to take out the garbage early in the day and leave the Y by 7:40 to ensure I was home and in front of the TV by 8:00. Success! (Although thanks to my television ADD and jumping up to get dinner during the commercial breaks, I still missed bits and pieces of the show.)

So this was the week that the four remaining players (two women, Tara and Helen, and a father and son, Ron and Mike), go home for one month before their last pre-finale weigh-in. Of course there is a lot of drama over the difficulties of adjusting to real life while still maintaining a punishing diet and exercise regimen. The two women, at least, seem well on the road to eating disorders, so trainer Jillian goes against type and shows up at their homes encouraging some balance and taking it a little easy on themselves. (Meaning that the world will not end if they have a glass of wine and something nice to eat.)

The big challenge for this week (or more precisely, for the month that they are at home) is a special "marathon" for the contestants to participate in—not an official marathon, but a 26.2 mile course for the players to run and/or walk. Thankfully there was no real competition surrounding the marathon, no special rewards for the fastest finisher, only a prize of $10,000 for each finisher to donate to the charity of his or her choice.

Runners love to watch marathons (at least I do), so this was a good entertainment to me, although I suppose other people might find it less than compelling viewing. I did, however, question the wisdom of using a marathon as some sort of training tool in a weight-loss program, especially when the participants were given less than a month to specifically train for this event. The official trainers, Bob and Jillian, also questioned whether a marathon was a good idea, and these are people who usually did not hesitate to push the contestants beyond any normal limits of endurance and exhaustion!

Some reasons why this was probably a bad idea....

  • With only 26 days to train, there is no way someone could get into legitimate marathon shape, even for walking the distance.
  • Untrained runners are much more likely to injure themselves trying to complete the distance.
  • Even marathon-trained runners are beat and debilitated after a marathon and have to take some rest and recovery time. These participants would not have that kind of time to recover before continuing with their weight-loss and exercise quest.
  • A marathon is not really a weight-loss tool. The distance itself probably burns off 3000-4000 calories—about the equivalent of a pound—although there might be considerably more water weight loss immediately afterward. The calories burned in a lengthy training program might help you lose weight, but on the other hand many runners who do longer distances, myself included, often find themselves eating voraciously to fuel the distance.

But nonetheless, it was a good gimmick and pretty interesting to watch. The two women finished first, and only they ran a substantial portion of the course. Actually the show never told us whether they walked at all (and only showed them running), but their finish times—though perfectly respectable—kind of indicate to me that there was some walking involved (it would be shocking if there was not). Tara (in her 20's) finished somewhere under five hours (pretty amazing for someone with little distance training), which would be less than an 11½ minute pace. Helen (age 48), finished under six hours, which would be 13:45 or faster average pace. Mike walked the whole way due to some injury which I didn't catch, although it wasn't bad enough to interfere with walking, and his father Ron, who never should have even tried this, finally finished after 13-some hours, tremendous pain, and a lot of people joining him to walk along with him (including Tara and Helen in the last bit). Hopefully he did not cause serious injury to himself.

So they all got their $10,000 checks for charity. As far as I know, we never heard what charities they were donating to, which is too bad. Perhaps they could have taken a moment to say, instead of the speeches they made at the final weigh-in about how much they've accomplished, how proud they are of themselves, and how their lives can begin again now. All true, perhaps, but it grated on me just a little bit. A little modesty goes a long way toward making someone likeable, in my book!

Okay, maybe I'm just jealous because even in this at-home month, they each managed to lose 7-10 pounds (which is something I've been trying to do unsuccessfully for many, many months).

But I am hooked now. I guess I'll forgo yoga again next Tuesday so I don't miss the finale. And make my dinner before it starts.

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