Weight and the Marathoner

If I am going to become fast enough to qualify for Boston (a goal that is at least two years and probably four years off), a number of things have to happen. Most importantly, I have to get faster (duh). But in order to get faster, I need to get stronger and lighter. No one at my speed, and (probably) no one at my weight, qualifies for Boston. Today I am going to write a little about weight and running.

Weight is a serious consideration for anyone doing endurance sports but finding information directly relating a persons weight and performance in running is a harder than you’d think. What follows are what I’ve been able to piece together. . Also keep in mind that my thoughts on weight loss and what is a good weight are entirely wrapped up in what is a good weight for someone attempting to take marathon running seriously. Not the average person, not even the average athlete or healthy person, but the average guy who is thinking about qualifying for Boston someday. Please also note that I am not a doctor or a nutritionist and this article is based on information gathered from freaking websites, so don’t take it as gospel, take it as a starting point. Ok, with that out of the way…

At six feet and (currently) 178 pounds, I am a pretty big guy for a runner. No one describes me as skinny, but people don’t think of me as obese either.  I doubt this is the shape of the average Boston Qualifier. From my informal study, most of  are lighter than me. Many are also shorter. However, finding out what exactly the physique average Boston Marathon qualifier isn’t an easy task.  If you’re reading this, and you’ve qualified for Boston, I’d love to see your stats. Fill out the form available under the BQ Questionnaire tab on this website.

While I don’t have a firm idea of the average weight of a BQ runner, I have found are some interesting articles on the relation between a runner’s weight and performance at different distances. As Mel Williams at marathonandbeyond has written, up to the point of being dangerously underweight (i.e. no body fat and your body is eating muscle for food; or if you start dipping below 18.5 in BMI) in general for every one percent of body mass lost there will be an approximate one percent gain in speed. What would that mean for me? Using the same basic ideas about maximal aerobic capacity, runnersworld drew up a great chart and all other training aside, if I were to drop ten pounds, I could take a minute off my 5k and a whole ten minutes off my marathon time. Twenty pounds and I would take two minutes off my 5k and almost eighteen minutes off my marathon, again not counting the additional level of fitness I would reach in dropping those pounds.

Those rough numbers are pretty impressive, and they make sense. All other things being equal, the less weight you’re trying to move through space, the faster you should be able to do it.

So, how much weight loss is ideal? Obviously, this varies from person to person. Height, body type, and how much you want it are all going to factor in what is the best weight for you. Most of the message boards and articles I have read put “elite” runners somewhere in a BMI range of 18.5 – 20. If I was going to run at that level it would mean I would have to weigh roughly 145, or thirty pounds less than I weight today. That isn’t going to happen. I don’t have the body composition for that, and I don’t want to give up the amount of upper body strength I would need to lose in order to get there.

And besides, I’m not interested in going sub 2:30 in the marathon. I just want to go sub 3:10.

Plus, I have other interests. I rock climb, I lift heavy things. I bike. I swim. I like good food and strong beers. I am willing to sacrifice a lot, but not everything, in pursuit of this goal and I think I can get there with some serious, but not extreme, changes to my body composition.

If I’m not going to get down to 145, and let’s face it, I’m not. What will I get down to? What is a reasonable goal? For now, I am going to set some modest goals. If I were to lose ten percent of my body weight, that would put me around 170 pounds. That is  much skinnier than I have been in the last, oh, ten years. But not abnormally thin for my height. At the peak of my mileage last year before, before I got injured, I was weighing in around 173 and honestly even at that weight I thought there was a fair bit more I could lose.

As of this writing, I’m getting back to some semblance of shape, and running decent miles again. The next step will be tonight.

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