Friday, March 20, 2009

Weight - John McDonnell's Comments

Jack McDonnell, the former great coach of Arkansas (coached a record 42 NCAA Team Championships and 105 Individual NCAA Champions), gave a great talk today at the Running Works Clinic. I will write up a bunch of notes from the day, but he presented his thoughts on a very controversial subject - weight.

This is a controversial subject because no one wants to suggest that athletes should lose weight - especially with so many people struggling with eating disorders like bulimia and anorexia. However, he stated that weight can be "one of the biggest factors in the success of a runner". He said he first noticed this when in Ireland where he grew up near a horse racing track and saw the difference Jockey wieghts made. He told a story of how a handicap race took a horse that was winning by at least 5 lengths to a second place horse simply by making him carry 5 pounds more (this for a horse that weighed 1,300 pounds!). He backed this up with examples and observations he has made watching his runners where a difference of 3-5 pounds was a major factor. Joe Falcone was a 4:03 miler at 120 pounds and a 3:53 miler at 115. Another runner was a sub-4 miler at 182-3 and a 4:10 miler at 186-8.

Of course I write this as I chew on an Oreo the night before the Haddonfield Adrenaline 5K that I intend to run tomorrow (I will the Oreos as an excuse when I run slowly).

This is a real complex issue. High School runners in particular are still growing and changing physically. They typically need to eat well to supply their bodies with the nutrients to keep them healthy and growing. On the other hand, many teenagers are simply eating a lot of empty calories. Many are overweight and still mal-nurished in terms of proper vitamins and minerals.

The science is pretty compelling. Jack Daniels and many others have documented the effects of the volume of oxygen consumed per kilogram as being the key to running performance. Doing the math, a loss of 3 pounds means an improvement of about 1 VDOT. This can be a 8-12 second difference for a high school 3200 meter runner.

I have observed a number of male and female runners who just naturally grew and gained weight as they went thru high school feel frustrated that there was something wrong with them as they either did not improve or perhaps moved backwards in terms of performance.

In my view, McDonnell did a good thing in talking about this sensitive topic. As he said at another point, telling the truth is a good way of remembering what positions you have established with your runners. Coaches, parents and friends need to find ways to helping those with eating disorders. They need to give runners the real logic and physics on why a 90 pound freshman adolescent girl becomes slower as she naturally develops into a normal 120 senior who can not run as fast. This is roughly a negative effect of -10 VDOT - about 2 minutes for an 11:00 2 mile. Rather than think there is something wrong with her, she deserves to know the truth.

1 comment:

Marc Pelerin said...

it's actually john mcdonnell..