A Note About "Race Weight"
Have you ever heard the "formula" that says: for every 1 pound of weight you lose, you can expect to run two seconds per mile faster? Or in other words, if you lose ten pounds that equates to running 20 seconds per mile faster.
I have heard this formula tossed around social media and the internet a ton. I had similiar ideas about weight and performance suggested to me and other teammates when I was a young competitive swimmer. I wanted to write this post to put out a real life experience that debunks this formula because there is SO much more that goes into running performance then simply body weight. I hope that ifa young athlete is Googling ”How much faster will I run if I lose 10 pounds” they might find this instead of an online calculator. I am also writing it for myself, in case I need to be reminded of this fact in the future.
At the end of March 2020, I started a 5k specific training program. I had never trained specifically for a 5k before and I was excited to try something new. During that first week of the training program, I ran a 5k time trial on the track and ran a personal best time of 17:32. I continued the training program that my coach laid out for me over the next 5 weeks. I did workouts that I had never done before, like 200m repeats and Fartlek's and hit fast paces that I don't typically don’t get near when marathon training. On the last day of the training cycle, I ran another 5k time trial and I improved my 5k time again, running the 5k in a 16:54. I was super excited!
Something else happened during that those 5 weeks; I happened to gain a couple pounds. I did not gain a ton of weight, maybe other people wouldn't even notice, but I was a few pounds heavier when I ran the second, faster 5k time trial. There are so many reasons I may have gained a few pounds. That 5 week training cycle was during COVID-19 quarantine so I may have had too many margaritas and treats with my kids😂 . I was coming off training for the LA Marathon, so my running volume dropped off. I may have gained a little muscle doing more speed work. My point is, WHO KNOWS? AND I STILL ran FASTER because my fitness had improved. Even though based on the "formula" I should have ran about 8 seconds slower per mile.
I'm sure someone would argue that if I had dieted really strictly during that last week or two of the training cycle and lost the extra pounds, I would have ran even faster. They could be right, but I have tried to go down that road before and it has not ended well. I have found I can not try to lose weight and perform at a high level. If I try to do that, I usually end in with subpar performance because I am underfueled. (If you have been following along my Instagram, my recent mile time trials were prime examples of this)
I am not saying weight does not matter at all, because obviously we can look at elite athletes and see that they are all very lean and in great shape. But fussing over a few pounds or starving yourself right before a race is NOT going to help your performance, at least in my experience. When or if I want to lose weight, I find it is easier and healthier to do it when I am not trying to peak for a race, but rather when I am doing easy mileage weeks.
What is your experience in this? Let me know.