Thursday, March 31, 2016

The Quest for "Racing Weight"

Out of the five marathons I have done, only one other has been a spring marathon- my very first at Rock and Roll DC and my goal there was truly just to finish.  After a few fall marathons and my latest feeling super strong coming in at a 3:51, I thought to myself....I am going to try for a Boston Qualifying time.  I need to knock off 11 minutes.  I know it's doable, but will be full of hard work. 

One of things I notice about myself every year is that my body always seems to put on a "winter layer".  Extra body fat all around.  The last two winters I was able to blame it on my vitamin D deficiency and the weight gain that is associated with that, but this year I did not have the vitamin D issue through making sure I was taking my vitamins and getting out in the sun daily and using my sun lamp.  I am not sure what causes my body to go into "survival mode" and add an extra layer of protection each winter but perhaps I am eating more comfort foods than I realize.

For fall marathons, I always had the luxury of being closer to "racing weight" meaning having a lower body fat percentage going in to race day with out really trying.  Late Spring and Summer the extra fat usually disappears- probably from getting out more and eating more fresh fruits and vegetables. With this spring marathon, I don't want to leave anything on the table.  I want to have all my bases covered as I am going for that big, scary goal- the BQ.   I was explaining to my husband that carrying around extra body fat is like carrying a dumbbell through the race, weighing you down but not helping you.  Muscle weight helps you and powers you, extra body fat is just extra weight.  Don't get me wrong, body fat is essential to survival and function of your body.  I am not advocating to get rid of all fat (that would be impossible!) but I am saying that you can get into your optimal racing body fat zone. 

I just started reading, Meb for Mortals and in that book he explains that he essentially does the same thing.  Before a major race, he tries to loose any extra body fat that could hinder his performance.  He didn't say how far in advance of the contest he starts cutting back, I am going to ask him that when I meet him tonight! 

I recently had my body fat measured by Composition ID located at MINT gym in Dupont, D.C.  They have a very high tech measurement process in which your entire body is scanned and you get the breakdown of fat concentrations and lean muscle on different parts of your body.  You should check it out, and tell them I sent you!

Anyway, using the data I gathered from my Composition ID, I knew that my body fat percentage was now at 23.5%.  (Yikes, it was at one time 14% which was measured from a skin fold test).  You can gather your body fat percentage via a skin fold test from a personal trainer at your local gym. A body scan such as the one from Composition ID will be more accurate and will give you not only body fat percentage but also your fat mass and lean mass which may differ from the estimates using the Competitor Magazine Calculations.  I will calculate racing weight using only the body fat figure first and then calculate a second time with the additional information I have my Composition ID scan.  

Calculating Racing Weight (process gathered from Competitor Magazine using only body fat %)
Step 1: 116.2 (current weight) x .235 (body fat % as a decimal) = 27.3 lbs (current body fat mass)
Step 2: Lean body mass = 116.2 (current weight) - 27.3 (fat mass).
Step 3: Goal weight = 88.9 (current lean body mass) / .83 (goal lean percentage)
Goal lean percentage is 1.0 minus your goal body fat percentage expressed in decimal form.  For me that was 17% goal body fat so that equates to using .83 as my decimal. 

Goal Lean Percentage Chart

My goal weight for racing: 107 lbs.  That means I have 9 lbs of body fat to loose.  I have some work to do! 

More accurately, the Composition ID measured my body fat mass as being 26.1 lbs and my lean body mass as 85.1 lbs.  I will use these figures to recalculate using the same process. 

Step 1: Body fat mass from Composition ID 26.1 lbs. 
Step 2: Lean body mass from Composition ID 85.1 lbs
Step 3: Goal weight = 85.1 (current lean body mass) / .83 (goal lean percentage)
Goal lean percentage is 1.0 minus your goal body fat percentage expressed in decimal form.  For me that was 17% goal body fat so that equates to using .83 as my decimal.  Using that for my calculations instead leads me to 102.5 as my more optimal racing weight at 17% body fat.  That would mean 13.7 pounds of body fat to loose.....yikes!

In reading Meb for Mortals, he highlighted that even elites struggle with extra weight and work to get down to their optimal racing weight so I guess I don't feel so badly! 

Have you ever worked to get down to a "racing weight" for a big race?  How did that go for you?  Any tips or tricks to share?


  1. You look so strong! I can't imagine you needing to lose weight. I will say that I have added on quite a few pounds over the last two years and I think that it definitely puts a strain on my body - like you mentioned - no one wants to carry around a 10 pound sack during a race. I'm just terrible at sticking to a nutrition plan.

  2. Awesome article and great tips. I want to go play around with the calculator! The last two marathons I have gotten down to racing weight: 9% BF. It was tough but I did it with a high calorie diet (up to 3,000/day by race day). Every 4 weeks, throughout training, I increased by calories based on training. I had 5 days of hi carb/low fat meals and snacks and the two days were low carb/hi fat meals. Protein stayed about the same each day. I hate when I see runners not eating enough because they are trying to hit race weight. You need the extra calories to fuel the body and because you are working so hard, your body will burn off all of that food at a more rapid weight. Good lcuk chasing your BQ! I have to knock off 3-minutes until I hit that magical 3:40 time!

  3. I did one of these compositions a few years ago...(I need to find that) and it was very helpful in getting good accurate info.

    I was contemplating using the racing weight program but can't get with the weighing once a week. I literally threw my scale away because I was having an unhealthy relationship with it.

    I may have to get another body composition done and see where I am. Do you know od any places in MD?

    1. If you go to they offer in office Dexa Scans for $129. If you use code "livefree" they will take 20% off any service. They also offer the service through their mobile van which is held in different locations around the DMV for $99. The locations of the scan van can be found on that website too!

      Yeah I don't plan on weighing myself but I do have my own calipers and will be measuring my body fat myself then getting rescanned at end of April before my race to see if I met my goal.

  4. I find this so interesting! Thanks for sharing! I look forward to hearing more about your journey--do you know how you'll go about losing body fat? I'm curious what the best way to go about that is. Also, if you don't mind me asking, how much did it cost to get the Composition ID done? I'm interested in finding out my percentages.

  5. This is really interesting. I know that I run easier and faster at a lower body weight but never thought much about the fat %.

  6. Very interesting! I'll be really curious to see how you do! Although you are so close to a BQ already, this might be just the thing to give you that extra oomph!

  7. I have calipers but no clue how to use with all the loose skin from my weight loss journey. I have a scale now that'll give me the %s.

  8. I don't typically worry about race weight. I think it can be valuable for athletes who are competitive within their age group or who are trying to qualify for something. But for the average back of the pack runner like me, the 10 minutes I gain by losing 10 pounds would still not make much of a difference time wise. I'll take the flexibility with eating and not worry about those extra minutes :) It sounds like you've got a great goal though, so good luck working towards it!!

  9. I haven't had my body fat measured by anyone, but I know I'm "fluffy" right now. I'm trying to drop 10 pounds in the next 6 weeks to get back to where I'm comfortable with how everything fits me. I'd love it if that actually brought my running speed back down where it used to be LOL.

  10. Great post, Colleen! I'm trying to get myself down to first-time-marathon weight. I have a pretty cool scale I've been using, but this sounds pretty neat as well. I definitely do not miss the little pinchy thing our trainers used on us in college. This sounds so much gentler!

  11. This is very interesting, thanks for sharing. I am very far away from my ideal racing weight but hope to be there soon!

  12. I've put on a few pounds this year, and I do feel it, but I'm not focused enough to do anything about it!

  13. This was an interesting read--I've never thought about my 'race weight,' but I know that, like you, I feel as though I have a bit of fluff still from the winter season. I find that strength training helps, but it's really hard for me to lose the fluff around my middle. That's always the toughest area!