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

Fri, 19 Jul 2002 23:24:58 -0400

Weight and See


About the best question that one runner can ask another is, "Have you lost weight?" Ironically or fittingly, the last time anyone asked this of me was over a meal.

Runners think and talk a lot about our weight, and never more so than when we spend several days purely in the company of runners. This happens for me each summer at Jeff Galloway's running camp.

Many of the campers are repeaters who notice how we all change from year to year. One of them asked me that delightful question about weight.

Behind it, I reminded myself, was an unspoken thought: Your extra pounds were showing the last time we met. Runners notice these pounds, coming or going.

I'd put myself on display for about a half-million potential readers, and hundreds of possible viewers, this summer by writing about weight in Runner's World. That August column confessed to my gradual gain of 20 pounds in 20 years while not paying attention.

I told of cutting the excess by half in recent months. The tricks were simple: run a little more, eat a little less, and check the scales daily. (After reading this advice, a friend called me "the master of the obvious.")

The problem was, I wrote that column six months ago. That's how lead-times work at magazines. I gambled that the weight would remain off, or even slip lower, at publication time.

It didn't -- quite. The drop stopped, then reversed by a couple of pounds before leveling off at a net current loss of five to seven pounds (depending on the length of the previous day's run and size of the previous night's meal).

No one will ever mistake me for a Kenyan, but the loss is enough for another runner with a good visual memory to notice. A loss of seven pounds (on one of my better days) may not sound like much, but it represents a noticeable (to me) five-percent drop in body fat and a corresponding five-percent jump in aerobic capacity.

That was the point of my original column: how a lower weight translates into better running performance. Some of this point was lost when the column went into the RW editing machine.

What came out in the magazine was different from the original. One whole section disappeared, and some of the new wording -- which read fine -- wasn't mine. I'll reclaim the missing piece and review another section here.

At the Galloway camp I was asked to repeat the Tom Osler formula that appeared in the column. This wise writer of early running books observed that losing one pound of excess fat saves two seconds per mile.

The loss of a single pound doesn't mean much for a single mile, but the effect multiplies nicely. Ten pounds equals 20 seconds per mile, which grows to a minute-plus in a 5K, more than two minutes in a 10K, nearly 4-1/2 minutes in a half-marathon and almost nine minutes in a marathon.

The lost fat alone grants the faster time; you don't have to run any harder for it. The reverse is also true, of course, with gained fat costing the two seconds per pound per mile.

Gone from the published RW column was the concluding section. Here, where no editor stands between us, is the original:

SIZE, OR lack of it, matters in our sport. The best athletes are small and light, with a few exceptions who stand out as proof of the rule.

Very few runners ever "beat their weight: in a marathon. That is, run fewer minutes than their weight in pounds -- which requires a 130-pounder to break 2:10 and a 200-pounder to run sub-3:20.

This formula discriminates against women, the best of whom seldom run within 30 minutes of their poundage. The fastest woman for her size appears to be Marian Sutton of Britain, who weighed about 140 pounds when she ran 2:28 (a weight-to-time factor of plus-eight).

The greatest man, pound for pound, probably was Derek Clayton. The Australian set a world record of 2:08:34 while weighing about 160 -- an amazing minus-31 factor. Much more typical is Bill Rodgers, who PRed at 129 minutes and 128 pounds.

How close have you come to "running your weight?" My best was plus-22, and that was a long time and a lot of pounds ago.

Timewise, I'm less of a runner than I used to be. But weightwise there's also less of me running than when this year began. I picked an acceptable weight, about midway between my old low and recent high, ran a little more and ate a little less, and have reached that new level.

Running far more and eating much less might take off even more weight. But I enjoy both activities too much to make grim work of either one.

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