Monday, January 12, 2015

Cracking the Weight Loss Code

The past few years have been filled with some really exciting long runs and exotic tests of my endurance.  In 2010, I ran the 202 mile American Odyssey Relay solo.  In 2012 I ran the coast of Oregon (350+ miles) in one week.  I ran from Dane, WI to Davenport, IA in 2013 - then ran a marathon the next day. Also, since my last marathon PR, I have had two separate bike crashes, an extremely dangerous staph infection in my foot, and a litany of bad luck, illness, and what have you. I also have had some widely yo-yoing in my weight.

Studies have shown that regardless of what your weight is made up of, ten pounds is akin to an extra nine minutes of time over a marathon distance. Obviously there gets a point where too thin is detrimental, but suffice it to say, a 6’1’’ 185 lb runner (me) will have a harder go at the marathon than his exact 175 lb twin (that smug skinny bastard.)  It is the simple physics of mass through space.

Feeling healthy and strong for the first time since, well, about 2009, I am looking forward to going for a PR in the marathon at some point in 2015. But I know I need to slim down a little bit in order to attempt that. Unfortunately, it has not been that easy.

I was entering my workouts into my Timex TrainingPeaks gadget and saw in the previous 7 days I had run 65.6 miles. This came to 8 hours and 39 seconds of activity. I thought that amount of miles would have a total exercise time much greater. Eight and a half hours is an extremely small amount of my week. In fact, with 168 hours in a week, I only spent 4.8% of my week exercising. If I slept 8 hours a night (I don’t) that means I spent 96% of waking hours not exercising. Therein lies the problem.

We runners like to think we are expending so much energy with our runs. Calories are just pouring out of our skin and after a hard hour run we can come home and gorge ourselves. We “earned" it! The problem is, we earned far less than we think.

In my scenario above, I burned, according to online calculators, 9302 calories. To lose one pound, you must burn 3,500 more calories than you take in  (perhaps more according to some new studies.) That means my exercise burned off 2.65 pounds by itself. Sure, the body keeps burning after the exercise is down and if the metabolism is high and revving there is a continual calorie burn. But the 2.65 pound weight loss only exists if I didn’t gain those 9302 calories in some other way. Sounds tough but that is only an addition of 1328 calories a day over a week. When you run a ton, or feel like you do, you are going to be quite hungry. Those calories will add up and add up quickly. I think about this all the time.

I know I am on the cusp of losing some of you with the numbers and the math. Let me cut to the chase. You aren’t burning nearly as many calories as you think you are.
Thanks to

And by “you” I also mean “me.” In fact, seeing all of this was a tad bit disheartening even though I have been preaching to others that if they “run so they can eat” they are going to learn, especially as they get older, how often there is no way they can outrun their eating.

Since my profession is writing and speaking (not running, but I am flattered some think so highly of my running skills to see that as part of my dream job) I spend a lot of my non-running time sitting. Less of that time has been sitting recently since I have started using the VARIdesk, but I still spend far too little time being active. So, on top of heavier, more intense exercise and trying to cut down on snacks, I am realizing I need to move around more each day.

This article is also my ode to those who think I do not understand what it is like to battle the bulge. Weight-loss, physical fitness, and being healthy do not come easy to me. People see the ultras and the 152 marathons and think effort does not go into these endeavors. I should be flattered that I have made it look easy. Or perhaps I don’t complain enough about sore legs, cramps, and being tired. But suffice it to say, I understand the struggle to stay fit. I know what it is like to be overweight as I have been there. Maybe not morbidly obese but far heavier than I am now (I topped out ~230 playing rugby in college and then in the year after before my running began.) Not only do I never want to go back there for running reasons, I never want to go back there for life reasons.

As such, I struggle forward. I battle each day, tinkering with exercise and diet and rest and recovery to find the perfect balance that allows me to run hard, run fast, and run healthy. I haven’t found it yet and I doubt I will. But that won’t stop me from trying. I hope you join me on my journey of discovery.


  1. Thank you for that! It is hard to believe that someone that looks like you has trouble with his weight, but it inspires people like me who is at war with my weight every day.

  2. This 195-200# 6'1" marathoner is working at losing weight too. Good post. Keep it up! :)