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 I need to get 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 little harder to find that you’d think.
Now 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 gotten 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) 190 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 (though according to the BMI I am overweight, but more on that later). I doubt this is the shape of the average Boston Qualifier. However, finding out what exactly the physique average Boston Marathon qualifier isn’t an easy task. Matter of fact, with hours of googling behind me, I still haven’t found an answer to that. If you’re reading this, and you’ve qualified for Boston, I’d love to see your stats.
What 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” somewhere in a BMI range of 18.5 – 20. That would mean I would have to weigh roughly 145, or thirty five 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 lose 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 three hours in the marathon. I just want to go sub 3:15.
Plus, I have other interests. I am starting to get into rock climbing. I swim. I like beer. 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. I imagine it will take six months or more, but with a weight around 170-175 I will weigh less than I have in a long, long, time and all other things being equal, it’ll make me faster. From there, we’ll see where it goes.