Friday, July 30, 2010

Weighing In

Fuzzy scale available here.
I've seen a flurry of blog posts and comments whizzing around the internets these past couple of weeks on the subject of running and weight. Those of you who've been reading my blog for a while know that I am not shy about discussing this issue and definitely buy into the lighter=faster hypothesis (acknowledging notable outliers like Chris Solinsky and Erin Donahue).  So, it has been interesting to see what others have to say on the subject.

Girl in Motion has been candidly blogging about her plans for becoming a lighter runner and has provided useful tips for other runners looking to shed some pounds.  She links to this healthy conversation about weight loss, and, in this post, she makes the important distinction between weight and racing weight.  I want to follow that thread just a little further.

Racing Weight

I like that GIM called out racing weight versus, say, your everyday, off-season weight.  This is a modest but important distinction.  When I discuss my plans for weight loss, I recognize that the weight I get myself down to before an important event is likely not a weight that I can (or want to) sustain for long beyond that goal race.  I have to work, and work very carefully, to get myself down below 125 and 10-11% body fat.  The pounds don't fly off simply by ramping up my mileage during marathon training, though sometimes I wish they would.  Higher mileage means I have to eat more to sustain the volume and intensity of my training.  Skimp on nutrition, and I'm on the road to injury.

With a big marathon only 10 1/2 weeks off, my weight and body fat levels have been on my mind.  Even though I was doing some pretty intense cross training (or perhaps because I was), my weight peaked at about 128 during the 6 weeks I took off from running back in February, March and April.  That figure is about 3 lbs. heavier than what I weighed right before the Twin Cities Marathon in October 2009.  Slowly, and I mean slowly, the pounds have been coming off.  That's not a bad thing because it means that my weight loss has been smart.  But, as I mentioned above, it has taken much discipline in my eating and training.


Part of this discipline amounts to carefully recording everything I eat and evaluating its nutritional value.  I try to maintain a certain ratio of carbs-protein-fat based on where I am in my training, loosely following Chris Carmichael's program in his book Food for Fitness.  What I have found from doing this for a couple of years is that I am designing my own program based on my own data.  This is immensely geeky but really useful.  I can look back at my records for the months leading up to Twin Cities last year and analyze what I ate, how many calories I took in and at what ratio of carbs-protein-fat.  I also know that I was losing weight (in a healthy way) but also becoming fitter resulting in a 2:46 marathon.

When I looked at the numbers recently, I found the total number of calories I was consuming stunning mainly because it was about 25% lower than any of the calorie calculators said I needed to take in to maintain my weight.  I recognize that the calculators may be accurate and that the way I calculate my caloric intake may be off by 25%.  Regardless, if I recorded the number of calories these calculators said I needed, I would be sporting an extra 5-10 pounds each year.  Knowing how much I can eat (using my method of calculation) for a given amount of weight loss/gain is priceless.   Bottom line: I highly recommend getting to know your body better by keeping track of the foods you eat and doing your own mini-experiments.  You'll be surprised at how much you can learn over time.     

For the last few days, I have weighed in just under 125.  I have steadily lost about a pound per month since April.  There have been some ups and downs as I've battled GI issues and bloat, but I finally feel normal again.  My body fat is still up around 11%, and I'd like it to get back down to 10% before the race.  While I don't have a specific weight goal, I can see myself getting into the low 120s and feeling good about that especially with a concomitant body fat measurement around 10%.  The best news is that my energy level has never been higher, and I haven't been falling victim to the 3 p.m. energy trough that I had begun to appreciate as a normal part of my daily life.

To My Health

Ultimately, my intense interest (that some might read as obsession) with food and weight issues has made me a much healthier human being.  This became clear to me the other day when I was buying groceries at my favorite store, Trader Joe's.  The checker was scanning my food items and said, "hey, you should really think about cutting out all of this junk food."  He was being completely sarcastic, of course.  He smiled and then said, "You don't have a single bad item in this cart."  Wow, I thought.  Five, no, even two years ago the cart would have been loaded with sugary snacks, processed crap food and fatty dairy products.  This is perhaps one of the biggest benefits of becoming a runner: a relationship with food where I view it as fuel for my body rather than a vice.  I smile when I think that I could be eating all of those foods and not getting fat, but I really don't want to anymore.  That is a true life change.


While people typically associate weight loss with looking better, I have to say that I don't like the way I look when my body fat is low.  As a 43-year old who has spent some time frolicking in the sun, every single line and wrinkle seems a lot more visible when my body fat drops.  There's just less fluff underneath to plump up my skin, I guess.  Well, I may look like I'm 50, but this old lady will smoke your ass in the next marathon!  

Happy scales, everyone!


  1. Love this post and thank you for the shout-out. Your last paragraph is so true and something us 40-somethings have to consider. But girl, you're so far from looking 50, put that one away, even as a joke. You're very girlish in all your race photos.

    Also, I completely agree that finding out how many calories you actually need is key. Using those online calculators is like using the 220-X calculations for Heart bullshit.

    Very impressed with your body fat percentage, too. My post today includes a video of one of my secret embarrassments: my hidden fat. I made it so people would understand I have real weight/fat to lose. Does anyone act concerned about your weight as you get into fighting shape?

  2. I think it is smart to be looking at body fat rather than just weight AND keeping tabs on how you feel at different weights. I race better at a lower weight, but I know what you mean about looking not so much our best when we're at race weight. I've also found that when I'm base training I don't slim down as much as when I start pushing the speedwork. Good luck in your training!

  3. Another good blog post; thanks!

    I've also noticed that I begin to look a bit more than my age when my body fat percent drops close to my racing weight. Oh well; agreed fully with your attitude!

    I admire your dedication to both your health and your running performance in tracking closely and recording every element of your diet. Having never done so I've not been able to do the energy balance versus my actual weight changes as you have. While a bit of a moot point - since you're obviously totally on top of your weight maintenance and its impact on your running performance - with regards your conclusion that your actual consumed calories may be 25% low, I'd speculate instead that your calculation of calories burned while running is likely to be low (I recommend using the *net* calories burned equation found at,7124,s6-242-304-311-8402-0,00.html, i.e. 0.63 x weight in lbs. x miles run. This calculation results in a 10 to 20% *lower* number than the numerous B.S. on-line calculators.) If doing that doesn't fully close the gap vs. your actual weight changes then I'd adjust your estimate of your resting metabolism.

    John Blue - I too have noticed that it takes speedwork to slim down, which wasn't intuitive to me either, until I read an excellent blog posting on-subject by RunnerDude. See:

  4. Flo, thanks for the compliments. I like the fact that the pictures you see are far enough away that you can't see those fine lines and canyons in my face. When my BF gets really low, I feel like the woman in that Seinfeld episode where she looks hideous in a certain light. Like my friend Theresa said on FB, it's way better than the alternative!

    I watched your video and think you are one brave chickadoodle for posting that. It says to me that you're very comfortable with your body though you might not like some things about it. I think every person has a little something that they don't like about their body. I agree that you look fantastic!

    The only person that has ever really been openly worried about my weight loss is my mother. Since she "liked" this post on FB, I'm thinking she's gotten over that. I always wonder whether people say things about it when I'm not around, but that's one of the reasons I spend time blogging about--to get the facts out there.

    John--my coach was the one that started me focusing on body fat rather than just weight. She made the point that fat is pretty useless to a long distance
    runner, so, if you're looking to lose weight make sur you're working off the fat rather than muscle. I agree about base training and weight loss. I've experienced that.

    Mark U. What great insight! I used that calculator and found that 25%. The old 100 calories burned for every mile run doesn't quite pencil out. It showed that I burned 1780 calories in my 22 mile run today versus the 2200 my calorie counter calculated. Thanks so much for the tip.

  5. "that's one of the reasons I spend time blogging about--to get the facts out there."

    And I love that you do, it's great to hear your thoughts on it and see how you implement it. Even though you're in such a different league, it's applicable to anyone with competition in mind.

    Glad you mom is coming 'round. My ex wasn't happy when I started eating better and lost weight for running. But then, he wasn't happy with my passion for the sport as a whole. Which is one reason he's my ex. :-)

    Thanks for calling me brave about the vid. It was scary but freeing, too.

  6. I'm in agreement with GIM - you do look girlish in your photos, but maybe that's just a result of your phat attitude ;) I would have said closer to 33 than 50.

    That was illuminating about nil "bad" items in your shopping cart. I found it hard to even find the fruit and veg aisle in US supermarkets. When I did, it wasn't even an aisle - just a section of an aisle!

    On a personal note, when I ran my PBs, my racing weight was 70-71 kgs. Now it's around 74-76, but I think the lack of PBs is more likely due to being 20 years older, not 3 kgs heavier ;)

  7. How are you keeping track of what you are eating? Are you using a specific computer based program? Also, what does a typical couple days worth of food look like for you?

  8. GIM--Good move on ex-ing that one. I've never quite understood that dynamic in a relationship, but I've been there too. Oh, and I have little bat wings too!

    Ewen--you and GIM are my favorite commenters right now;) Thanks for the phat compliments. I guess when you look at my next post about what I actually consume you'll see the "bad" items that remain in my cart--fat free frozen yogurt and light chocolate syrup. Everything in moderation, right?

  9. "I found the total number of calories I was consuming stunning mainly because it was about 25% lower than any of the calorie calculators said I needed to take in to maintain my weight."

    J, it is fantastic that you found the calculator that shows you burn less than you thought while running - I definitely know that's the case when our bodies "know what to do" when we head out for a run.

    But further, you could *probably* eat more and not gain weight, because the body tends to have a fuzzy zone of calories where it will maintain your weight. If the calories are a wee bit too high, it will compensate by being less efficient, fidgeting, etc. I've seen many people who eat exactly X calories per day and will not budge higher for fear of gain, but in reality X+5-10% is probably going to have zero effect, especially if day to day the number bounces around.

    Yeah, I'm a nutrition geek stuck in this body. :-)

  10. Andrea--Thanks for your comments. I meant to follow up on that calculator in a post, but forgot. When I looked more closely at the calculator that Mark U. referred me to, I found that it simply subtracts BMR from the calories burned for the amount of time that you're running. It still shows that I burn close to 100 cal/mile, but it's closer to 78 if you subtract out the calories I would have burned had I been sitting on my butt watching t.v. or some such. It ended up not being that helpful because I wasn't simply adding my running calories burned to my BMR (+some additional calories for basic activities) to get my total caloric need. I had taken the time to create a spreadsheet that added calories burned for my various activities throughout the day and even that total was reading 25% higher than what I actually can consume without gaining weight. What I do know is how many calories I eat and how that affects my weight. You're right that there seems to be a range rather than a single number, and my range is 2400-2800 calories per day when I'm in full swing training.