The clock is ticking.
With each sweep of the clock's second hand, the end of the 12th annual Tribune Chronicle / St. Elizabeth-St. Joseph Health Center Fitness Challenge draws nearer.
For those teams at the top of the leader board, this week is the last fleeting opportunity to push for the crown.
Trumbull Career and Tech Center student Emily Tharp, 16, of Champion, right, gets weighed in by Kent State Fitness Center student staff member Bethanie Mauerman of Champion.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Meanwhile, if you've found yourself hovering over the cookie jar more often than burning rubber on the treadmill, these last few days afford you a final chance to finish the challenge on a high note.
It's a dash to the tape, friends.
Looking at the standings after nine weeks, the Kingz of Carz are doing everything in their power to make the 10th and final week more of a victory lap than a photo finish.
Once again, the Kingz stole the show, finishing week nine with an almost unfathomable 2.0 percent decrease of their initial weigh-in mark.
Even during a strong week for all the top contenders, none could match the machine-like consistency of the Toyota of Warren quintet.
This marked the third time in the last five weeks that the Kingz reigned supreme, claiming the week's high score.
In addition, by moving to 17.15 percent of weight lost overall, the Kingz increased the gap between their position at the top of the board and the next closest squad to 2.06 percent.
That's where Just Weight continues to sit ... and wait for the Kingz to slip up.
So far, team captain Stephanie Iacozili has had to make due with the second position, which they have occupied since week five.
Still, Iacozili and her charges turned in another successful week, dropping 1.43 percent for the week and 15.09 percent overall.
In third place, the Wellness Warriors sit after a decrease of 1.19 percent last week, bringing their overall percentage of weight lost down to 14.21 percent.
The Fatagins (13.42 percent) and Weight No More (12.63 percent) round out the top five teams through nine weeks of intense competition.
Expectations are high for a strong finish by all 48 teams.
And, a piece of Fitness Challenge history may also be on the line ...
There was a time, in the infancy of the Fitness Challenge, when champions were awarded the top prize while not meeting or exceeding the 10 percent of weight lost mark.
Yes, back in the old timey days of 2002-04, winning teams in the Fitness Challenge hovered around the 8 percent mark.
Things were simpler then.
Nowadays, that number might be good enough to put you in the top 15 overall.
In fact, the Kingz of Carz's incredible rise to power puts them in potentially uncharted territory heading into the final week.
The high water mark through the first 11 years of competition was set by Never Say Never in 2010, who stunned the Fitness Challenge world by losing 18.9 percent.
Like the Yankees' Roger Maris and his incredible 1961 season wherein he smacked 61 home runs to set the single-year record, the 18.9 percent mark seemed insurmountable.
However, team captain Tino Merlo and his Kingz are not just chasing the 2014 crown, but they also have a shot to set a new record.
Just so we're perfectly clear, the task will not be easy.
With just the one week remaining, the Kingz need to lose 1.75 percent to tie the record, 1.80 percent for a new one.
At this point in the competition, that is a big number, but coming off of a 2 percent decrease, anything is possible. If they match their week nine performance, the Kingz will shatter the old mark.
That also isn't to say the Kingz have the championship in the bag. Just Weight, at 15.09 percent lost, will put up a historically big number as well, and would have already wrapped up the title in the majority of the first 11 years of competition.
A loss of focus and a big week from Iacozili's team could shock the world with an incredible comeback win.
Anything is possible.
Pass the salt ...
The evolution of the Fitness Challenge is a point of contention for many in the world of weight loss competitions.
Some will say the tendency toward higher scores points to a much greater understanding of fitness and nutrition in general.
Others believe something more menacing may be behind the wave of high scores over the last four years.
Last week, fitness guru and Kingz of Carz team member Bob Marzullo gave us a window into his world.
"I'm going to tell you my secret," Marzullo said. "I drink green tea every morning and I also eat cinnamon. That helps slow down your metabolism."
"Cinnamon" and "green tea," eh Bob?
We're not sure if these items are considered "performance enhancers," but Marzullo certainly seems to think they are helping.
We'll keep on this news at it develops.
The doctor is in
All joking aside, the way the majority of teams in the Fitness Challenge continue to lose weight, week after week, is attributable to changing the mechanisms inside your body, according to Lana Eddy-Campfield, exercise physiologist at St. Joe's at the Mall.
"A body at rest tends to stay at rest. A body in motion tends to stay in motion," Eddy-Campfield explained.
"Inwardly, the physiology at rest tends to want to seek calories and convert them to storage fat or triglycerides. Moving and taking time week-to-week over a nine-week period, when you can really get a body into tip-top shape, changes things."
Eddy-Campfield said this "new body" wants to be in motion and will seek out the kinds of nutrition that help it do so.
"It wants to use calories," she said. "Using those calories means motion and heat and it gives off fluids. That's how you lose weight. Your weight will just slowly, consistently come down, by about a pound a week."
Fun with numbers
Week nine wasn't just a boon for the Kingz of Carz, but for all of the teams in the Fitness Challenge.
Every team in the top four lost more than 1.0 percent of their initial weight. That may not seem like much, but at this late stage of the competition, the pounds tend to come off slower and slower.
This week saw an opposite trend emerge.
As a result, of the 48 teams in competition, eight have now lost more than 10 percent of their initial weight, while the next 22 teams have now lost more than 5 percent.
With one week to go, everyone deserves a round of applause for a job well done.
Let's finish strong with an even better week 10.