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that WEIGHTY issue

It's been said to us climbers that what we do is dangerous, and irresponsible. How could we risk our lives like this? And distance trail running, if it compromises our health why do it? How dare we take that time away from our families? And yet, to even make mention about a different lifestyle, one of weight, obesity, and all of the very dangerous and risky components it involves is socially disgraceful, insensitive, and cruel. I bring this up only to show how much weight, in general, is not "ok" to talk about. It's a sensitive subject, even, no, especially, for those of us already at a healthy weight who use our bodies to their fullest daily...

Now, this blog is about running, ain't it? Yep. So while there's a lot of "weight" we could cover in this "weighty" area, we'll just go over one. Running.

Running and weight are intertwined. I'd like to say that this post is primarily for the ladies, because we typically store more weight than the guys do, we talk about it, and we have all the imagery around us that makes us assume we need to look a certain way. But I know that guys do too- I was a rock climber long enough to see so many very fit, healthy looking men who are anorexic. Climbing is often a sport where they can get away with eating little. (I swear, the average 20-something male climber lives off of two things: weed and beer.) In ultrarunning, we have to eat the calories or we have no gas in our tank to go anywhere.

but I *could* look like this.... maybe.
It's no secret that I've ALWAYS wanted a six-pack. What girl wouldn't want to run around flexing the abs in a sports bra? Seriously, that'd be quite wonderful. Yes, I'm an ultrarunner, I fart and pick my nose and don't think twice about jumping in the mud, but I am also a girl. I paint my nails, I do my hair and I like to go shopping.... i.e. I do care about my appearance.

It doesn't help that as running becomes more popular, so does running for weight loss, and the associated six-pack "success" images. 

Runner's World is constantly emailing me about how losing 5lbs would take 8 mins off my marathon time. Hmmm, I think to myself, that's a half hour off of my 100 mile time! What would happen if I lost 10 lbs?!

I've hit the trails with enough runners to know I'm not the only one watching the numbers. We all wish we could lose a little weight. I think that many of us have gained a bit since we started ultrarunning- be it from muscle or fat. As much as we reassure each other that extra weight will come off, and that we have better things to worry about, it doesn't matter. It "weighs" on our minds all the same. (Oh, I'm so punny.)

Lately it's been on my mind-- training weight, racing weight. Healthy weight, ideal weight.

My weight cycle goes like this: 
  • I lift a lot of weights for a couple months and slow running to less than 20mpw. I drop to 102 and 17-18% body fat and feel good.
  • I start running in the 30-50mpw range, or climbing more, or just don't pay attention to what I eat. Weight settles to 104, 18-19% body fat. It'll just stay there.
  • Oh no, training time! Peak weeks, taper, and a month of recovery- Weight in the 106-108 range, body fat 20+%.
  • some of the original ultra legends DO have
    the ideal body!
  • I get mad at weight, stop running so much, start lifting again, and drift all the way back to 102...
See, after going through this EXACT cycle... say 5 times... I started to notice.

It get's me thinking- how does weight play into my training? The poundage I put on isn't all muscle. I track my fat too. Usually half or more is just flub. Right on my belly. Flub, flub, flub when I run. Silly ain't it, the only times I'd feel confident running shirtless is when I'm not running much anyways? But why does my body seem to want to store all that flub whenever it works hard? Does my body need the extra weight to carry me throught those tough weeks? Is it water, inflammation, or glycogen being store? Or just plain ol' fat? How much should I worry about it?  

Anna Frost, one of the fastest ultra women
Then, lightbulb!

Skinny does not equal fast.

Just ask my friend who ran a sub 3 hour marathon less than a year after having twins. Who (after more kids) runs faster on the roads than 99% of people ever will, and is frustrated with her weight?

"Well," she said in a recent convo on the woes of belly flub. "Really, when it comes down to it, I'd pick being fast over being thin every time." She'd rather win than have a 6 pack.

I like this. 

Some of the people I find most inspirational- some of the women who have killed it out on the trails breaking international course records, aren't super thin. They're healthy weight, body fat, etc. They're just not that uber-thin/muscular image that many sprinters have.

Sure, sure- there's Ellie Greenwood and Ann Transon who have those perfect bodies. There are also those who are naturally thin or those who don't put weight in the middle, but store it on their hips (jealous!) or legs instead. 

But there's also a new generation of runners- Emelie Forsberg and Anna Frost come to mind, who aren't super duper skinny or ripped--and they run like hell.

So how do I "weigh in" on this issue? (oh man, the pun gets worse every time I do it). Well, I'd be a liar if I didn't admit I still/will always want to have a six-pack. But I also think that accepting my body, and loving it, is even more important. Hey, this body can do some pretty incredible things! I've got to give it the love and care it needs if I want to be able to perform to the best of my abilities. So I'll continue to ride my weight roller coaster and try not to cringe at my training weight. 

I recently ran in a sports bra, as my first move to just accept my body, as it is, for what it can do, and not care who might see it and what they might think. Yes, it jiggles a little. Yes, there are stretch marks from my babies. Oh well.

So, yeah. Just remember- Skinny isn't fast. Sometimes it's just skinny.

And fast.... it can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. 6 pack optional.

***this post is not meant to undermine the success of running for weight loss with obesity, the risks of excessive weight, or any other weight-related issue. it's just my ramblings on trying to accept a healthy body weight, body image, and body percent fat, which doesn't involve a 6-pack for most women (which is often thought of as the "trophy" of real fitness or health)


  1. Jennilyn, these things just SO need to be said! I wish that the term "perfect body" could be accepted as different for different people when it comes to performance. You and I have talked about this, but I'm also one of those who has gained about 5 lbs. after getting into ultra/trail running. I don't like it as a number, but I do like how much stronger I am. I'm kinda looking back on my punier self and thinking, "Wimp."

  2. Try running 6 months pregnant! It jiggles A LOT!

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  4. Funny how relative the ideal body can be. I guess you just have to go by results and/or happiness. If it's a question of looks, well, you can be a knock out to others and still look horrible to yourself, or vice versa. I've never felt comfortable in my body when I was a young man and now that I'm old and fat I couldn't give two shits about it: I'm happy. I'm happy as long as I am still doing things, moving forward, being adventurous, and making sure I stay healthy. I'm a hiker who used to find trail runners annoying as hell--jealousy perhaps. I've come around and now find you lot very inspiring.


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