By Christopher Cudworth
In 1982 during a period of peak or full fitness produced by miles and miles of running that year, I chanced to have my body fat tested at a corporately-sponsored race in the city of Philadelphia. Standing in line with all the other runner types I was typically restless and wondering how long it would take for all these people to have their fat pinched and their bodies tested. When it comes to keeping weight low, it helps to have a hyper metabolism.
Finally it was my turn to have the calipers applied to my 140 lb. frame. The nurse gripped the calipers and grabbed what she could on my side. There wasn’t much to grab. She tried a few other spots around my frame and wrote down the results on a sheet of paper. Then she added it all up and looked me in the eye. “Don’t get caught in the rain,” she said. “You’ll die.”
One can’t tell how accurate tests like that really were. But the nurse gave my results as 2% body fat.
Again, I had just come off a 65 mile training week preceded by weeks of 78 and 82 miles. It was autumn and my fitness was swinging toward a new set of PRs at 10 kilometers.
Coincidentally that winter I did get caught in the rain. We ran 30 miles at 8:00 pace in 45 degree weather in a steady drizzle. I did not get hypothermia from that effort. I did sleep 12 hours when it was all done but that’s normal. I also dropped two lbs. off that 140 lb. frame.
Frankly I was a little too skinny for my own good. Overtraining was a key challenge. Resistance to colds and other mild infections was low. There’s a tradeoff in being that lean, thin and fit. You walk a razor’s edge between fitness and sickness. It’s the tarsnake of training.
These days my body fat is somewhat higher than it was back then. I weigh 175 lbs. now, 35 lbs heavier than my competitive weight back in the early 80s. People still call me “thin” these days, but that’s because my frame has always been lean. And obviously I do work out. So there are not fat slabs hanging from my butt or gut. But like everyone, I’d like to be leaner. Probably you would too.
Last time I had my body fat percentage taken and BMI (Body Mass Index) checked it was over 20%. That disgusted me. 20%! Does that make me 20% slower? Yes, to be honest, it does. Possibly 40% slower.
Some of that is age. We can’t stay young and fast forever. But we can stay as fast as we can forever. And we can stay healthy and lean as possible.
Using fitness to watch your weight is one of the most reliable ways to gain and keep control of what you weigh.
Waking up to weigh yourself on a scale is one of those highly individual and highly subjective processes. But it can be tricky. The “ideal weight” we carry around in our heads might be based on a level of fitness we reached a year ago, 5 years ago or 10 years ago.
We can be critical of ourselves from so many perspectives. But we do have to be careful what criteria we apply to judge ourselves. Six or seven years ago, for example, I rode like a nut all summer and dropped to 163 lbs. I was lean but not skinny. It felt good. It also took a lot of time and was somewhat in response to employment transition and a wife being treated for cancer. I rode like hell for sanity.
And it worked. But I’m not that person these days.
Ironically? That’s 163 lb. frame is the weight that an insurance company fitness chart told me was ideal for my height and frame.
People tell me not to be ridiculous when I say that my fitness is not what it should be, or that I’d like to be a little less heavy. But I’m not going to make fun here by making jokes about sticking fingers down my throat or anything like that. There are serious body image problems that do not deserve to be lampooned. Those are no more funny than alcohol or drug abuse.
So it’s important to keep it all in perspective. The right thing to do if you’re feeling a little pudgier than you’d like is to map our a month or two where you increase your commitment to exercise and fitness. It’s that simple. Generally those few extra pounds will come off if you organize your life to work out more, and with more intensity.
It’s not some radical strategy that any of us need to adopt. Let’s just look at it as “dialing it up” a bit if you want to lose 5, 10 or 15 lbs for better fitness, performance and self-image.
I’ll never see 2% BMI again. Nor would I ever want that to be the case. But 15% might be nice. Lean and mean. Healthy and clean. It’s what we all want. But it comes down to how much we all want it.
See you on the road.