A lot of people ask me if they should train for a marathon in order to lose those last unwanted ten pounds. I tell them no. Sorry, but no.
But what if I run 50 miles a week? No, and don’t even think about doing that unless you’re looking for a slap upside your head.
But what if I cut my calories to 1200? Ummm, there is so much wrong with that I can’t even begin to start but I will just say NO.
But what if I lift 4 days a week and spin 3 days a week and do yoga every day AND marathon train? Good luck with that.
But, but, but…sorry, folks. Historically, it just doesn’t work out like this. First of all, unless you are overweight, marathon training will likely help you maintain your weight, albeit with different fat-to-muscle distribution. If you are overweight, marathon truing probably will help you drop some poundage, but you have to have that poundage to lose and this, in most cases, means more than 15-20 pounds. You might even (hold onto your hats) gain weight during marathon training. I know. It doesn’t make sense, does it? Well, it sorta does…
Marathon training is hard and long. Increasing mileage makes you hungry ALL THE TIME and, typically, those training for a marathon rationalize that all the added mileage will compensate for eating ice cream twice a week, half a pizza for dinner and a pound of pasta on “carbo-load” nights. Even if you’re not overindulging, you have to eat more, which usually ends up canceling out the calories burned while running. And while increasing mileage does, at the most basic level, mean that you’re also burning more calories, it is often overstated just how many calories you are burning. And do you really know how many calories are in that milkshake you’re eating? You probably erased two weekday runs with one indulgence. You’d be surprised.
And here’s the most frustrating news for those of you who are looking to drop those last ten pounds: the lighter you are, the fewer calories you burn while running (or exercising, in general). This is because it takes less energy to push around 140 pounds versus 220 pounds. Makes sense, right?
The other simple fact is that you do have to eat more when you undertake such a rigorous workout program or your body won’t tolerate the added work load. You’ll get sick, you’ll be tired all the time, you’ll get injured and your body will otherwise reject the increase in activity if you don’t also increase your caloric intake during training season. If you deprive your body of the nutrients it needs to rebuild what you’re breaking down in your workouts, there will be no growth. Plain and simple.
DON’T DESPAIR!!!! There’s hope! This is why I am adamant about training like professional athletes and cycling through training seasons the way that they do. The off-season is where you can drop a few pounds. The off-season is when you spice up your workouts with a little less running and a little more strength training, with a dash of different cardiovascular workouts (think swimming and spinning!) to give your bod a break from pounding the pavement. You can also better control your calories during this part of your training season because you aren’t going bananas once a week with 15+ mile runs accompanied by carbo-loading and gigantic recovery meals.
As you become a more seasoned marathoner, you will better learn how to tailor your diet in order to avoid weight gain during training season. But it shouldn’t really be the focus of your training anyway! You should be concentrating on getting the right nutrients to prepare and recover from your runs and putting 100% into your runs in order to maximize your potential for marathon day.
In short, don’t count on marathon training to help you drop weight. In my experience, people are seriously disappointed when they hop on the scale mid-way through their training and realize they’ve gained 3 pounds.
Are you feeling strong?
Are you getting through your runs successfully?
Are you feeling good about your marathon?
Good. Keep going. And forget about the scale (within reason…I mean, don’t go and gain 20 pounds) while you’re working toward this goal. Check in a few weeks after your marathon and use the off-season to shed those extra pounds.
Get off the scale and go out and run!