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runner's feet
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Over the course of the year 2010, I ran exactly 173 miles. I know the precise figure because I used the Nike Plus system to mark my progress. Every step I took was duly noted on my iPod, and then uploaded to my computer, where I was able to annotate each jog with the important details of each excursion. Cold today. Ran on Promenade. Almost stepped on a rat.

To people who are serious runners, 173 miles isn’t all that much—perhaps a year’s worth of 10K races, or about six and a half marathons. But for me, every one of those 173 miles were momentous. After spending 15 years playing basketball six days a week, I spent the next decade relaxing. The most exercise I got in any day was likely from sitting on my couch, playing FIFA on my PS3. Some might say I gave up, yet I always considered it to be a time of physical recompense, giving my body some time off and a chance to heal after the years of abuse it had weathered.

If using my free time to sit around was my life’s only passion, it probably wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. But as my love for being sedentary increased, so did my understanding of and appreciation for food, glorious food. I got off the couch long enough to visit restaurants and grocery stores, and I spent these years discovering new foods and exotic flavor profiles.

Before long, I had a problem. My doctor scolded me and told me to lose weight. He suggested I begin running. I have never enjoyed running. By last spring I’d gotten big enough that I no longer needed to wear a belt, which alarmed me enough to get me off the couch. Continuing to pursue my love for food would mean forcing myself to get into the habit of exercising. And so I did, for 173 miles, which was good for a few inches off my waist and about 25 pounds. When it became too cold to run outside, I took a few weeks off and instead began exercising something else—portion control, which would have been completely unthinkable to me a few years prior.

I understand that running has many health benefits, from lowering blood pressure and cholesterol to improving cardiovascular health. Since I started running, I not only look better—more like a Michelin executive, less like the Michelin Man—but I feel superior to the way I felt before running. But if I’m being honest, the only reason I keep going out there and shuffling my feet ahead of each other is because of food. Instead of having a carrot on a stick dangling in front of me to keep me motivated, I often imagine an unreachable platter of bone marrow on toast, or fried chicken accompanied by creamy gravy. As I glance over my shoulder at the Hudson, I see a river of luscious chowder. When I look down at the cracked pavement, I see a sheet of buttery peanut brittle.

We all need our motivations, and this is what drives me. Like many of the best things in life, I have to sacrifice to get what I want. For me, eating great food will never be a guilt-free experience.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going for a run. I’ve got a reservation at Marea tonight and I can’t stop thinking about the ricci.

Love to eat but like to keep the pounds off? How do you stay fit without sacrificing flavor? Tell us in the comments

Lang Whitaker is the Executive Editor of SLAM magazine, a contributing editor to Antenna Magazine, a contributor to NBA TV and the co-host of NBA.com’s Hangtime Podcast. He is the author of the memoir, In The Time Of Bobby Cox: The Atlanta Braves, Their Manager, My Couch, Two Decades, and Me.