Monday, March 7, 2011

Racing Weight and Lent

This morning my shiny home scale/body fat monitor pegged me at 134.6 pounds and 23.4% body fat. Since I am about 5'7", this puts my body mass index (BMI) at 21.1.

The healthy body fat range for women is between 25% and 31%, according to a article quoting the American Council on Exercise. I was surprised to read that I'm *below* that range. As for the BMI figure, the CDC puts a normal range at between 18.5 and 24.9. I'm right in the middle of that.

So far so good: I'm healthy and fit. But here's the rub: the body fat range for athletes seeking to compete at "racing weight" (your best weight for best performance) is much lower. I learned this from a pair of wonderful books by Matt Fitzgerald called Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance (see cover above) and Racing Weight: Quick Start Guide. Specifically, for women in their 30s, the body fat range that usually indicates you're at racing weight is between 11% and 17%.

I sat down and did the math, using research-based formulas in the books, on what it would take for me to get to 17%. The result: I'd need to get down to 120.7 pounds. That's a loss of about 14 pounds of fat. A lot, in other words.

Fitzgerald notes that it does you no good to lose weight if you're losing mostly performance-enhancing muscle. In my case, that means being a weak 120 pounds probably won't give me marathon times that would be any better than they'd be at a strong 134 pounds. He's also quick to point out that it's unrealistic to expect that anyone can or should stay at their racing weight at all times. Rather, this weight should be a target atheletes seek to hit when they have a significant race coming up.

A significant race. Like a marathon where at the very least you want to hit a personal record. Like I have coming up on the not-as-far-away-as-I-think date of September 17.

SO. I am going to embark on the Racing Weight Quick Start plan. This involves taking a period of time between training cycles (which I have between the Boulder Spring Half on March 27 and the beginning of my marathon training in early June) to "jump start" fat loss. It's like going on a diet in that I'm pretty much going to have to cut out all junk food for eight weeks. But (and this is the happy part) it's NOT like a diet in that I get to eat around 2,000 calories a day since I'll continue to train intensely (remember, Bill Pierce suggests I use this time to "get comfortable" with 15-mile runs).

I don't expect to get all the way down to 120.7 pounds in eight weeks. It wouldn't be healthy to try for that anyway. But I can get a head start, form some decent habits that will take me through the summer's training and cross my fingers that my weight will get itself to where it needs to be by September.

This also jives neatly with the beginning of Lent. I was raised Catholic, and was a fairly committed Catholic until a few years back, when some of the Church's anti-women and anti-gay social stands finally got to me. Since last summer, I've happily attended an Episcopal Church and am raising our kids in that tradition. But a big part of my heart will always be Catholic.

Each Lent (Lent being the 40 days before Easter), I try to give up one bad habit and start one good one. This year the good one will be eating the Racing Weight way. As for the bad one, most years recently have involved giving up sweets. But this year I'm going to try something harder: giving up dining out. This is harder because it will require me to do some things so dull my good intentions with regard to them always fall by the wayside: plan my meals, make them at home, brown-bag it at work.

Having the marathon on the horizon and some helpful meal ideas from Racing Weight will help.

But really, no Chipotle for 40 days and 40 nights? Can I do that?

We'll soon find out: Ash Wednesday is this week. To help me stick with this plan, I'm going to use this blog as an occasional food diary. Food diaries are tedious, I know, so don't worry that I'm going to make this into a boring record of each crumb I consume. But forcing myself to note my meals and my fat-loss project here on a regular basis will help keep me on track, just as it's helped keep me going with my running this winter.


  1. I need this book! I have quite a bit of weight and fat to lose if I ever want to get to racing weight, but it's good to have a target.

    I hear you on being Catholic. The anti-woman, anti-gay, and anti-child stance makes me sad.

    Oh, Chipotle can fit into a racing weight diet plan! The rice, beans, and salsas are so healthy and delicious!

  2. Oh! I just realized the Chipotle is for Lent and not for dieting! Derp!

  3. Wow, you know, I think there is some significant variations in what might be considered lean weight, but at my height, 5'8" and a bit, if I get down below 140 that is reaaaally pushing it. It is hard to believe that race weight is as low as 120 for you.

    That said, I don't want to poop on your parade! That is some serious determination, and if you're already at 134 and think you can drop more than you're already tough as nails in my book. Good luck with the junk food! Alcohol's been my downfall of late, that and crappy cold weather, but I'm still hangin' in. At least you'll have warmer weather on your side, which (well, for me at least) always signals decreased appetite and more activity (kids run around outside = more calories).

  4. I have to leave one more comment, which is that it is interesting that this book is written by a man, featuring a man on the front. How much of this diet plan is based on women-centered research? And would it be impossible to ask the question, how many of those women were above 30 years old, had been pregnant full term? Because my fat distribution has definitely changed with age and pregnancy, and I just wonder how much of that 'race weight' is based on the premise of a male-centric fat distribution.

    Anyway. My rant of the day. So sick of health being based on an 'equilibrium status,' male patient only process (because there is less variability of course).

  5. ...and, my last comment didn't make it? Weird. maybe it's because I said a bad word. my thought was just that 134 sounds super hard to begin with, making 120 or around there sounds...well, not completely sanity-keeping I guess, but heck, you're already at 134 so you're touch as nails in my book. You go!

  6. Hey ladies! Penny, believe me that I wouldn't start any plan that looked like it wouldn't work for me. The key with this one is that the calories are adequate for someone who exercises a lot--the hard part, of course, is cutting out the junk.

    I definitely wonder whether 120 is actually possible given that I am NOT an elite athlete (Kara Goucher, who IS an elite athlete, is listed at 120 pounds and 5'6" on her USA Track & Field page). I haven't weighed 120 or below since high school. But I do have visible fat in unnecessary places, so I feel taking a few pounds off and getting below 130 will be realistic (I was below 130 pretty consistently before I got pregnant). I figure I'll just eat as the program describes for six weeks and then let marathon training accomplish any further fat loss that needs to happen. And if it doesn't need to happen, it won't.

    I'm feeling so much better these days that I'm super curious what a conscious reduction in junk will do for me!

    Jenne, you can bet I will be back at Chipotle as soon as the Easter bunny comes. I'm going there today for my Mardi Gras last hurrah.

  7. Listen to you body!! Last year when I did the bulk of my weight loss I found a window of weight where I felt great and if I went any lower I felt lousy (in regards to daily running). I was still in a healthy BMI and my muscle mass seemed stable but there was that fine line of right and wrong for me. However, on a well developed plan I bet you will do better.
    Is it wrong to give up Reeses Peanut Butter Eggs for Lent as they only come out before Easter or must one sacrifice on a grander scale? ;)

  8. Hey Kathy--I think giving up PB Eggs is definitely a sacrifice. Just remember...the Sundays in Lent aren't included in the 40 days, so you're off the hook once a week. :^)