Racing Weight and Me

I did a brief review of Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight in a previous post, and in this post I set out a personal account of how I cautiously implemented a couple of the ideas from the book into my last training cycle, as well as what I hope to add into this next cycle.

First, some context about where I’m coming from with regard to food and weight. Having had a previous history of an eating disorder, I am extremely hesitant about focusing too much on my food and weight. Like my recovery is based on trying to eat healthy and be a normal weight but doing my best to stay out of any obsessive territory. It goes without saying that the word “diet” is mas verboten. So with that in mind, I dipped my stubby little toe into some Racing Weight principles.

The main theme of Racing Weight is what appealed to me. Its focus on performance rather than aesthetics or a specific number was a definite attraction, and this idea was backed up by its suggestion to not try to lose weight during a training cycle, but rather to attempt weight loss in the off-season when performance didn’t need to be peak. It also stated that ultimately the number that determined my optimum racing weight would be my training and race times — not the number on the scale. Yes and yes! I proceeded with hope.

The first commitment I made was to eating animal protein. I had been on-off vegetarian and nearly vegan for six years when I started having a health issue that needed some regulating and experimenting. I started adding animal protein into my diet sporadically but would then get grossed out or feel guilty about it and go back to eating veg. Then I’d feel crappy physically and go back to eating meat. This dance had been going on for about a year and a half, and I finally decided that for this last cycle I would stick with eating animal protein. I’m not saying that Fitzgerald says not to be vegetarian, but he does note that it’s more difficult doing it that way, so since training was hard enough, I didn’t want to concentrate too much on making sure I ate enough protein. While ethically I can feel conflicted at times, I just feel better physically eating animal protein…for now.

Another principle I added last cycle was to focus on adding good foods rather than subtracting things (i.e., no sugar, no white flour, etc.). I concentrated on making sure that I had as much nutrient dense foods in my daily allotment as possible, regardless of portion size, calorie count, or if I ate shit in addition to the good foods. So basically I added more fruits, which is the food group I most loathe. Then, post-cramping at the Hollywood Half Marathon, I also added a pre-workout drink to any run seven miles or longer, which I never did because I was never hungry and didn’t want the extra calories. I also tried to make my evening dessert a better choice. Honestly, I’m just not willing to give up my “treat” at the end of my day. I don’t drink or smoke, I’ve been monogamous for like 16 years, I pay my taxes and don’t park in handicapped spaces, not to mention all those other responsible adult things I do, so I need a little fun in my life, OK?!? I also read what the elite athletes ate in Fitzgerald’s book, and if Shalane Flanagan can have dark chocolate at the end of her day, then I can have a damn Lenny & Larry’s vegan cookie. (Please don’t state the obvious.)

I eat half of these a night. They have protein!
I eat half of these a night. They have protein!

Get this. A strange thing happened. By adding more food and calories, albeit healthy, I got slightly — I mean minutely — leaner. The number did not change, but my body felt different. I also found that I didn’t want to eat the crappy foods as much, so that incidentally diminished. And oh yeah, I PR’d my marathon last month. Cool.

So that’s what worked for me last cycle, and what I’ll implement this cycle is to actively track how food is affecting my performance. If I perform well on my long run or tempo run eating X, then I will make sure to eat X. I’ve never consistently monitored or paid attention to what I ate in this way. Previously, I only made note of food with respect to performance if something I ate made me sick, so this will be a small but important change.

My hope is to find a sweet spot where I can detachedly monitor my food-weight-performance and determine an optimum achievable (without spinning out) racing weight for me. This weight focus is a bit odd, and I’d rather not think about it, but these baby steps have so far not felt obsessive or weird, and are thankfully doable. I never felt like I was white knuckling it, but there’s definitely some effort and consciousness about this.

Below is a photo of me at my current weight, which is a healthy weight for a woman of my age and fairly easy to maintain, but not the typical runner’s body. The “funny” thing is that as a woman of a certain age, my face looks good at this weight. Not sure how it will fare if I get to an optimal racing weight. Ageing is a bitch.

Meh. No ripped abs and a bit stubby but servicable.
Meh. No ripped abs and a bit stubby but servicable.

Racing Weight is a reasonable and informative guide for getting one’s body to its optimal performance weight, and I’m hoping that the principles espoused will help me get the best out of this old but strong bod. I’m excited for another cycle of experimenting, and I’ll let you know how it goes. Cross fingers I don’t lose my mind and end up at 7-Eleven in the middle of the night scarfing down candy bars and rotisserie hot dogs.

Finally Read the Whole Book! Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald

I picked up this book over a year ago, and while I cherry-picked reading the parts that interested me (“Hmmm, wonder what Shalane Flanagan eats”), vacation post-PR marathon afforded me the motivation and convenience via Kindle version to finally read it in toto.

racing weight

While Fitzgerald at times tries to paint broad strokes to appeal to a larger audience, this book primarily speaks to my particular weekend warrior niche. I’m obviously never going to be Kara Goucher, but I’m also not a couch potato who thinks a three-mile morning stroll is a workout. For most of my adult life, I have been a runner, involved in a sport and various fitness activities, or a gym rat. I’ve also eaten pretty healthy and maintained a weight in the normal range. This book addresses how to kick it up a couple notches to reach optimum performance for my athletic level.

Racing Weight hits the right tone not only for whom it addresses, but in its level of information. It backs up its proposals, but doesn’t get bogged down with too much research data and is quite accessible even for the numbers-and-formula challenged like myself.

This book is practical, and while it gives some hard numbers and guidelines, it also allows for a lot of flexibility and figuring it out yourself. For example, there is a specific formula to determine your ideal racing weight, but Fitzgerald suggests you monitor your performance because, as one example demonstrates, you might perform better at a slightly higher weight than what was originally determined as your optimum racing weight.

If you’ve been running races for a bit but find your times stagnating in the same range and have not fully addressed your nutrition and weight, this book can give you the information and motivation to get you to the next level. Racing Weight is accessible but geared toward a non-novice like me, and I will for sure be referring back to it as I continue to strive for faster marathon times.