So you’re an ‘endurance athlete’ and lean is mean, but it’s not always easy to stay lean and mean when you’re built like a 5’11″ brick and naturally greedy! Losing the weight once is easy because a simple rule like just saying no to everything is easy enough to understand, but keeping it all off when you start to realise you can still get away with greed if you’re active enough (to quote John L Parker Jr from Once A Runner, ‘If the furnace is hot enough, it will burn anything’) is much, much harder.
So what can you do when the greed’s taken over and you’re training for something important? Well, apart from the obvious ‘don’t be greedy’ (and I do try, succeed in, and even enjoy the discipline of that aim much of the time), I have various strategies to deploy depending on the scale of my fall from grace. The most drastic (so reserved for the very last resort) is to weigh absolutely everything I eat, calculate the calories and record it all. As I did throughout June 2006, when a pretty active month saw me losing a stone off an average of 2,750 calories a day (suggesting that I must have been burning well over 4,000)! Next up is writing down what I eat (still a pain) but not actually weighing it. But my preferred method (for when I need such a thing) of dealing with the problem is simply to track my weight, as I started doing this April with the West Highland Way Race in mind and have carried through to the end of July to maintain the discipline for my recent Ramsay’s Round…
Now, while I’d think that most of this graph is pretty self-explanatory, it might help to clarify a few points:
- Since all weights were taken before breakfast with my SECA electronic scale (which I believe to be close to medically accurate and resolves to 0.2lb), all those interesting daily ups and downs (sometimes clearly influenced by hydration or lack of it) are genuine!
- There are no readings for two days when I was camping with the school (the D of E expeditions), two days when I’d already been out running for hours by ‘breakfast time’ (WHW Race and Ramsay’s Round) and two days when I was away for the Cateran Trail Race (when I could have taken the scale but didn’t think of it in time).
- While the obvious low point (158.6lb) of 23 May also marked was no surprise to me (being the day after getting cooked on the greater traverse of Cruachan), its companion a few days later (following a pleasant night run from Milngavie to Balmaha) is a little harder to grasp.
So that’s ‘weight’, but how about ‘Racing Weight’? That’s the title of a recent book (and website) by renowned sports nutritionist and triathlete Matt Fitzgerald that I’ve just bought and read. It’s primarily aimed at endurance athletes (not such a bad reason for me to be reading it, then?), but surely both readable and relevant enough to be of interest way beyond its target audience. Now, perhaps (like me) you’re naturally wary of something billed as a ’5-step plan’ to anything (in this case ‘optimal body composition and better performance’), but there’s no need to be because it’s really good stuff and, as always with proposed ‘systems’, you can weigh things up (metaphorically speaking!) before making up your own mind how much of it to adopt. So I’ve got started with this lying toad of a hand-held Omron body-fat monitor (no ‘athlete’ mode, see?) trying to tell me I’m currently 16–17% body-fat (hope not!), which would place me roughly on the 75th to 80th percentile of 40–49 year old men as tabulated on p32 and probably make my initial target for improvement or estimated ‘optimal performance weight’ about 156lb. Which you might correctly deduce that I’d find tough to get to and even harder to maintain (although you should also know about the 8 Percent Rule), but perhaps isn’t really so very far (lying ‘toad’ or not!) from my gut feeling that anything below 160lb would be a pretty lean, mean weight for me to make for big races and challenges. Except that I’m thinking of weighing in kilos in future (despite 72.7kg being sufficiently uninspiring to make targeting 72.0kg sound almost attractive!) because it makes cross-checking various references so much easier (have I lost you all yet?)…
Must also stress that this book is about so much more than just weight (like eating and training and all kinds of things), but I’d be struggling to sum it all up concisely here. So perhaps the simplest, strongest endorsement I can give it is just to say that I liked it so much (finding it so consistently interesting and illuminating) that, despite the stacks of running books already in the house, I’ve just ordered two more (Brain Training for Runners and Run) by the same author.
Have to say that’s us finished for tonight with the book reviews and history of a distance runner who finds weight tricky, but suppose I might tell you what I did today with yet more Lochaber rain. So, following Wednesday’s little MTB epic and two good, short hill/trail runs Thursday and Friday (not yet running as freely as I was before the Ramsay!), the bike had to get the nod again this afternoon (it’s proving to be really quite rejuvenating sometimes when I’m a bit run-out) and I set off to find out where the interesting-looking forestry track starting just short of Glencoe actually goes. And the answer is currently nowhere, although it appears to be still under construction (top part just rough hardcore awaiting surfacing?) and I might have missed a trick in not checking for connections to the mapped path apparently cutting across this dead end (hmmm, need to go back for that!).