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Toning and Atoning on the Run

Some 'earn' their holiday dinners by exercising before they eat. Others gorge and 'burn.' Some sandwich a run between courses.

November 25, 2005|Sue Horton and James Ricci | Times Staff Writers

That meal you ate yesterday? Three thousand calories, give or take a few Brussels sprouts.

Which could explain why legions of cyclers, hikers and joggers turned out across Southern California for a Thursday workout.

Some were "earners." They started early, full of energy, determined to clear space for the mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie they planned to consume.

The burners showed up late in the day, hoping to burn off the Thanksgiving meals they'd already consumed. They were a slower bunch, each with a bellyful of regrets.

Brett Schneider and Nadine Logan of Fullerton were definitely earners, working in anticipation of the meal ahead. "We need some exercise before we pig out," Schneider said, pausing along the Gabrielino Trail in Altadena.

"We're way too fat and lazy to go out after the meal," Logan added.

Dawn Fairchild and her sisters were burners, heading for Palisades Park at sunset to atone for overindulgence. "We're disgustingly full," said Fairchild. But "we have dessert ahead of us, so we need to make room."

Robert Offray, who lost everything he owned in the New Orleans flooding, was grateful to be with his brother Fred in Pasadena for Thanksgiving. But the brothers did admit to overindulging. "When we first started walking [around the Rose Bowl]," burner Fred Offray said, "we wondered if we could do it. We were so full. But we forced ourselves."

The mild weather may have drawn abnormally large crowds Thursday, but for many families, a Thanksgiving walk is part of the tradition.

Camille Paton of South Pasadena was out on the same Altadena trail she hiked as a child every Thanksgiving. "We're earners," she said. "When I was a kid, we wouldn't eat anything all morning. My mom would get everything all cooked and then we'd go for a long walk and come home really hungry."

Paton doesn't exactly have contempt for burners: She just doesn't get it. "We get our walk in early, chow down the meal and then we go to bed," she said.

But for Becky Fisher of La Canada Flintridge, a walk around the Rose Bowl after dinner "was the price of what I ate."

Most of the Thanksgiving fitness buffs went into the holiday with no intention of holding back. Nicole Griffin, like hundreds of others, walked the three-plus miles around the Rose Bowl Thursday morning. She said she's in Weight Watchers and knows what a disaster Thanksgiving can be. But that didn't mean she would show restraint later.

"I love the rolls and the macaroni and cheese, so they're going to be my problem," she said. "Oh, and the desserts."

Canadian-born Avi Braz was taken aback Thursday by his first U.S. Thanksgiving. "I didn't know you had to train for the Thanksgiving meal," he said. "I didn't know that you had to eat so much in one day."

He said that although he was able to hold his own at the table, "the potatoes did me in." He wouldn't have made it to the Rose Bowl for an after-dinner walk, he said, without his friend, George Bagnall. "He had to drag me off the couch," Braz said.

Many of the runners and walkers on the hiking trails curling up the western edge of Griffith Park to the park's observatory admitted they'd taken to their legs in anticipation of voluminous holiday meals later in the day.

Roger Katz, a retired junior high school history teacher who lives in Los Feliz, says that calorie loading at Thanksgiving is expected.

"People tend to eat more," he said. "It's probably the stress of being with family -- or not being with family. It's the perfect excuse to chow down."

He didn't really expect his walk to put much of a dent in his dinner, but he was still glad to be out walking. "You're going to eat that food anyway, but you can at least chip off a little bit of it. It makes you feel psychologically better. Also, after you've exercised you feel good about yourself, and when you get to dinner it makes you think, 'Well, maybe I'm not just going to pack a lot of food in.' "

Hamil and Jerry Cooper, hiking in Altadena, were not worried about calories. "Today we're starting with our walk," Jerry Cooper said, "and then we'll have a nice normal dinner at home."

Fred Taylor-Hochberg, a UC Berkeley student home for the holiday, planned to eat turkey and all the trimmings. But he was optimistic about the effects of his half-hour run. "I read somewhere -- and by somewhere I mean on the back of a cereal box -- that 20 minutes of running really starts burning off calories."

If only it were that simple.

Exercise is an important antidote to holiday excess, said Cedric Bryant, chief exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise. But, he noted, "it's futile to think you'll be able to work off your Thanksgiving meal in one day."

The council estimates that it would take 30 miles of walking for a 160-pound person to burn off a 3,000-calorie Thanksgiving dinner. And at a brisk 3 mph, that would mean starting at dawn and walking until near dusk.

Informed of the daunting odds against offsetting her meal, home health worker Maria Tancredi just shrugged. "It's like every little bit helps," she said, walking down a path at the western edge of Griffith Park with a friend.

But Taylor-Hochberg was dismayed. "Wow," he said. "I might have to do another run later. Or I guess there's no law that says I have to gorge myself."

Times staff writer Ken Weiss contributed to this report.

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