By Mary Beth Galarneau
After: 131 (10 more to go)
Went from tight size 14 to a loose size 8
Months it took: 12
Dawn Lajeunesse can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t aspire to lead a healthy lifestyle. But like many people, the aspiring part wasn’t enough to make her change her lifestyle. Motivation did come, however, from debilitating health problems that were interfering with her quality of life.
Growing up, Lajeunesse maintained a normal weight with minimal effort. But like many people, she gained a lot of weight in college, lost it after graduation and yo-yoed all of her adult life. Her early fifties brought with it a cardiac scare that resulted in her being hospitalized at Albany Medical Center for a night. The problem was not acute, but highlighted her risk factors: high blood pressure, cholesterol and family history. Like many other times during her life, Lajeunesse lost weight, only to put it back on in a few months.
Her mid-fifties proved more difficult. “I was always tired, and the more I rested, the less I felt like doing. I just felt lousy all of the time,” she said.
A nurse for 37 years, she knew that her health problems were lifestyle-related.
Three years ago, she had a minor surgical procedure that created imbalance problems and caused chronic vertigo. Though it decreased over the year, it never completely went away. Her inability to endure any kind of physical fitness caused her weight to creep back up.
Not only did she walk like she had a stroke, but she couldn’t walk a straight line without holding onto something. “I felt vulnerable and old and then I got mad, more at myself than anything else. I knew I had to take control,” said the 59-year-old.
About four months after the minor surgery, she contacted Judy Torel, a long-time Capital Region personal trainer with over 25 years experience based out of Planet Fitness in Loudonville. Lajeunesse had followed Torel throughout her career since her days teaching at the old Colonie Athletic Center in the 1980s. Formerly a resident of Loudonville, Lajeunesse, who now lives in Chestertown but works in Albany, said it was a no-brainer to seek out Torel.
“She exudes energy, fitness and drive. Many trainers have some of that, but Judy takes it to another level.”
Upon seeking out Torel, she began her on a strength building routines to rectify her muscle strength imbalances. “Fitness and weight loss were less of a focus at that point,” Lajeunesse said.
Though she sought out physical therapy for her problems in the past, it didn’t help. But Torel’s routine zeroed in on the problem and, within a few months, even with the chronic vertigo, her muscle strength was balanced and sufficient enough for her to begin a more active program.
Torel took Lajeunesse’s baseline weights and measurements and conducted metabolic-type testing to identify the appropriate balance of carbohydrates, protein and fats for optimal health (40-40-20 percent). She also set up an exercise routine that incorporated cardiovascular exercises into the mix.
“Mostly what I did was time on the elliptical and walking (with increasing elevation) on the treadmill about three times a week.”
As for the diet, Lajeunesse, a former “junk food junkie”, found that the 40-40-20 balance satisfied her enough that she wouldn’t overeat. Very occasionally, she will allow herself junk, calling it “therapeutic”, but is quickly reminded how lousy they make her feel.
Be don’t be misled: changing her diet, which sometimes consisted of chips and candy for meals, was not easy. “Judy recommended going a certain number of days with only protein and water vegetables to help clear my system and reduce cravings.” Though she slid backward many times, she eventually settled into a healthy pattern.
With portion control and moderate exercise, the weight slowly started to come off. “I wasn’t really focused on weight loss as getting my functional self back.”
About a year later, she reached a plateau and felt ready to push herself further. “It was very much an evolving process,” said Lajeunesse, who then started weekly training sessions with Torel.
Another ailment she suffered from for years was chronic back pain, which didn’t completely go away when her strength imbalances were corrected. Physical therapy, chiropractic care and even cortisone shots in her hip and spinal column didn’t help.
“Judy didn’t give up until she identified a possible cause.”
The cause turned out to be a discrepancy in her leg length and the solution was as simple as wearing a Dr. Scholl’s insert in the shoe on her shorter side. Within a month, her recurrent back pain was history and thoughts of running a marathon started creeping into her mind.
Though an attempt to run a marathon 10 years earlier was an unpleasant experience for Lajeunesse because of her chronic pain, she still loved long runs. Now that her health had improved, the thought of running another race enticed her. In early 2008, she turned to Torel to assess her capability to run and to design a program.
“At that point, we began the online training format, with only occasional in-person encounters to adjust my weight workouts.”
Torel provides her with a week of workouts at a time, and Lajeunesse logs in daily to record her completion of the workouts. This program also has a nutrition log component, but Lajeunesse admits to not having been as consistent with that as the workout log. Torel reads the log and adapts the workout schedule, increasing, decreasing, or just modifying routines as needed.
Following the plan and eating healthy without counting calories, Lajeunesse felt herself growing leaner and feeling fitter by the week.
“I lost about 15 pounds during the training and felt better than I could ever remember – even in my youth.”
But a strained calf muscle during a half-marathon (13 miles) three weeks before the big marathon caused her to have to stop at the 13.5 mile mark. But it certainly didn’t dampen her spirits; instead, it has only egged her on. She plans to run in the Vermont City Marathon in Burlington this May.
“In a way, that was a good thing because now I have unfinished business. There is no way I’m going to slack off on training.”
And, if all goes well, Lajeunesse plans on doing another marathon in the fall, before she turns 60.
Lajeunesse’s typical weekly workout schedule (it varies a little, depending on the phase of her training.)
Sunday – long run (2-4+ hours)
Monday – off
Tuesday – moderate (4-5 mile) run or 1 hour elliptical (strides 180/resistance 7) plus 30-45 minutes strength
Wednesday – 1 hour elliptical
Thursday – Speed work – 4 miles inclusive of intervals of running at LT pace, plus 45 minutes strength. (LT pace stands for lactic acid threshold and is the pace when you start to reach an intensity that you can no longer sustain without an excess of lactic acid starting to accumulate in the blood. It is also known as “race pace”.)
Friday – off
Saturday – easy run or 1 hour elliptical plus 45-minutes of strength training
Intensity is key to staying in shape. “In the old days I would spend 45-60 minutes on the elliptical and barely break a sweat.” Now, with the speed and resistance training added in, Lajeunesse is soaked within 10 minutes. Before, she would alternate running and walking on the treadmill, now she alternates running and running faster.
“The length of the workouts and the intensity both contribute to fat burning,” she said. In addition to her workout schedule, Lajeunesse also canoes with her husband, hikes and walks her dog. She also enjoys the occasional yoga class.