I love running. I’ve been running since Kindergarten and I’m always going to love it, but lately there’s one thing about the sport that makes me mad. It’s something I never thought about in grade school, high school, or even college, but now that I’m trying to be more competitive, it’s more prevalent than ever. It’s my weight.
This is such a thinking out loud post if I ever did read one. Don’t worry, this isn’t an article where I start talking about how I think I’m fat. I don’t think I’m fat.
I’m not upset with my body or the way that I look, but what makes me mad is when I come across articles or websites that tell me I have the wrong body type or need to cut fat to reach my “optimal racing weight” in order to become faster.
While I understand the racing benefits of having a lower body fat percentage, it doesn’t necessarily mean that less is optimal for each runner or for me. My “optimal weight for racing” has to take into consideration what I need to maintain a healthy body fat percentage.
I never struggled with my weight even in the slightest until his marathon training cycle. Although I’ve been perfectly happy with how my body looks, I haven’t been fully satisfied with how it’s performs. It’s something I’m still working through and researching. I’ve been battling between being thankful for what my body does, but still wanting it to do more.
These feelings all started at a party full of runners. Halfway through the night, a very talented guy said to my coach something along the lines of “when are you going to have Margaret start cutting weight?” I knew it was a complete joke without a trace of seriousness and even though I laughed and didn’t think anything of it at the time, it planted a seed. From that moment, every time I couldn’t quite hit a pace in my track workouts or I fell short of my times in a race, I started thinking that’s what I’m missing. That’s what I need to make me faster. I need to cut weight.
Fortunately, this doesn’t work as well for someone who loves food as much as I do. Even when I have the intentions of losing body fat, I’m going to eat when I’m hungry and training for a marathon makes me really hungry. I’m one of those who gains a little during marathon training, but I can see how this could be so dangerous for someone who struggles or who has struggled with an eating disorder as a runner.
This was also at the end of my Whole30, where I was at my smallest I’ve been in a long time and I couldn’t imagine myself falling too far below 125lbs without forfeiting feeling healthy.
In this picture, there’s probably about a 5-10 lb difference. I don’t own a scale, but based on doctor’s appointments, I think I was 130/135 lb on the left and 125 on the right.
Visually, there’s a pretty big difference between 5-10 lbs. Could you imagine me dropping down to 110?! No, thank you.
The more I thought about this, the less I understood why so many talented female runners can be my same height and be perfectly healthy while weighing 10-15 less lbs than me. Is my body not made for running?
Lauren Fleshman talked about this quite a bit in interview in the Runner’s Connect Run to the Top Podcast. She said there are at least one or two top distance runners who aren’t healthy and they have short term success through eating disorders. She said it’s hard to accept that they might beat you, but again, it’s short term. She looks at eating disorders and cutting dangerous amounts of body fat as a shortcut.
Here’s the part where I need to be very clear and say I agree with this being a shortcut that leads to short term success, but not every great runner has an eating disorder and not every runner with an eating disorder chooses it for their advantage. I’ve lived with a couple of friends battling with eating disorders and I don’t see it as a choice. Even if it’s a shortcut to becoming faster, I couldn’t imagine someone inflicting that upon themselves, but in running some people choose to cut weight, which in some cases could lead to unhealthy behavior. Not necessarily in my crowds, but it happens.
With that being said, I’m a firm believer that running while you aren’t fully healthy can lead to injury and prolonged absence from running. This is something I’m not willing to forfeit for crazy PR’s right now. If I had been back to my 125 lbs for this marathon, I might have gone faster, but it was a very difficult weight to maintain while I was running 40-50miles a week. It was important for me to eat what my body was telling me to consume and in that I got back up to 135ish for the race, but I got a pretty good time and zero injuries to show.
Also in the podcast, Lauren Fleshman then went on to suggest to accept that there’s not one right body type for running. She said to find distance runners who are more like you and to look to them for inspiration.
So the answer to my question of “is my body made for running?” Yes, it is made for running, but I don’t think it’s made to ever be elite.
I think some people are bred to be great runners. They are naturally lean and can have a small body fat percentage without being unhealthy, but I don’t think I’m one of those people.
Moral of the story, my body likes a little extra fat and I have to accept that. It might hold me back from being as fast as I want to be, but I respect the longevity of the sport and as long as I can run until I’m 90, I’ll be happy.
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This post was difficult for me to write, so no specific questions, but I’d love to hear your thoughts. Be gentle on me!