Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 31 Jul 2001 09:16:31 -0400

Big Man on Campus


My talk at the Portland Marathon Clinic opened with my standard line about stepping out from behind the lectern "so you can see me." I can still hide behind the speaker's stand, but I'm a much bigger man now than a year ago -- 20 to 25 pounds bigger.

That's not as bad as it sounds. Most of these pounds are good ones -- the ones that carry strength and energy -- and not the bad ones that simply weigh me down.

At this time a year ago my flu from hell, which had hung on for almost two months, had taken more than 10 percent of my weight and most of my go-power. A talk to the Portland marathoners was one of several that the illness canceled.

I'm healthy again, back to normal weight and then some. But even at this size I still look the part of a traditional runner -- which is to say, small.

I'll never be mistaken for a Clydesdale. These runners qualify for special prizes at races, usually reserved for men weighing 200 pounds and up. (The women's division, called Athena, starts at 150.)

They are what's gently called non-traditional runners. They weren't recruited for their high school teams but were guided to a sport more suited to their size, if any sport at all.

A student in my University of Oregon class this spring was one of the non-traditionals. Let's call him Clyde S. Dale.

"I weigh 247 pounds," he told me with obvious pride in each of those pounds. "This is down from the 270 I weighed while playing football in high school."

He didn't continue the sport at Oregon. Instead he trained to become an Army officer, rising through the ROTC ranks to command the corps this year.

"I've never run a race," Clyde said. "I'm taking this class so I can improve my time in the Army's two-mile run test."

My first reaction to that statement was to stereotype him. The big guy is struggling to meet the minimum standard on this fitness test, I thought. I'd seen heavyweights like him, straining to haul their bulk through runs, when I breezed through these Army tests.

Clyde wasn't settling for minimums, though. He intended to max his test score. He also would rank among the best runners in our class, of any size, when he ran a 5-K in 19:46.

He asked, "Do you think I could run a marathon?" I'd seldom seen anyone this big run this far, but having seen what he'd done in class I told him, "I don't see why not."

He requested a training program for the Portland Marathon this fall and wanted to know, "What kind of time do you think I can run?" I figured 3:30 or better -- which would put him, pound for pound, among the elites.

Last winter I wrote about judging marathoners' abilities by their weight ("Join the Club," RC 350). Few of us can beat our weight -- that is, run a marathon time in minutes better than our size in pounds.

A runner weighing 130 would need to break 2:10. A three-hour marathoner would have to weigh 180 or more.

One of the best gaps between time and weight was Derek Clayton's minus 33. He weighed 162 when he broke 2:09 (129 minutes).

If Clyde S. Dale runs his 3-1/2-hour marathon and loses no weight in the training, he would outdo Clayton with a score of minus 37. Or put another way, Clyde's teacher would have to run 2:08 to beat him in time-per-weight.

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