Thursday, May 16, 2013

Weight is a number. Clydesdales are horses. And Athena is a goddess.

I'm about to disclose something that I don't normally do.  

Most people don't.  

And, that is my weight.  

As I sit here to type this, I'm thinking--really?  You're going to do this?  

Wait for it....

Wait for it....

(Pun intended.)

Yes, I am going to disclose my weight.  Because I have a point to make with it. goes.  I weigh somewhere in the 140's.  And, that's not deliberately vague (well, maybe it is), but my weight varies between the high and low ends of that number.  I've weighed less and I've weighed more, but that's been my average for my adult life.

And, while --like many of us---I always want to shed a few pounds--I feel healthy and strong.  Again, although I'm at the upper end, I still fit into the "ideal" weight category for my height and my body fat is never more than 25%.

So, why the fuss about this in a running blog? 

Because the running community has deemed me as a "large" athlete.  How so?

In some races, I could be considered an "Athena"--which is the running term for a larger female runner or triathlete.  Depending on the race, an Athena can be categorized as a woman who weighs more than 140 or 150 pounds.

I recently talked with a volunteer at the booth for this at the Pittsburgh marathon expo when I asked what the weight limit was for that race.  His response?  

"I can tell you wouldn't qualify."  

Me:  "Don't be too sure.  I might only be a pound or two off."

I struck him speechless.  For about a half a second.  I couldn't tell if he was serious or just being nice when he said I wouldn't qualify.   Then, we continued our conversation in which I told him I might go bulk up and come back the next day for a weigh in after he told me they had the 150 pound limit. 

There was a part of me that was serious.  But, the part of me that has to worry about race day digestive issues knew better.  Of course, that meant I wouldn't be getting the way cool Athena and Clydesdale finisher glass.  However, my new friend told me to find him at the finish line and he'd give me the regular finisher medal.  (Oops...forgot to look for him at the end.  I hope he's forgiven me.)

So, how did this category come to be?  

Apparently, in the 1980's a "Baltimore-area accountant analyzed 20,000 runners in 10-kilometer races and marathons. The analysis showed that once men reach about 170 pounds, their performance declines relative to athletes of about the same age with a slighter build," according to a blog in the NY Times

That led to the Clydesdale category for men who, typically, are considered to be male runners weighing more than 200 pounds.  This allows them to potentially place in a race they might not otherwise have been competitive in.

While I couldn't find any information about the history of the Athena category (also known as a "filly" by the USA Clydesdale and Filly Racing Affiliation,) I assume it came about shortly after the Clydesdale designation.  

And, my joke about bulking up really isn't a joke for many people.  Apparently, the famed Marine Corps marathon takes Clydesdales and Athenas at their word after the race director (Rick Nealis) overheard some entrants who, like me, might have only been a few pounds off talking about how much they'd need to eat to tip the scale.   

"I heard someone make the comment, ‘Go eat pasta and come back and weigh in,’ ” Mr. Nealis said [in the NY Times blog.] “I was thinking, this has got to be wrong. We shouldn’t be doing this. Now we don’t weigh in for the Clydesdales. I go with the integrity of the runner.”

And, runners wrestle with whether or not to opt into the "fat category."

In her blog, the Princess Runner said, "And yes I will fully admit that while I am not one to hide behind the numbers, secretly I would feel 'fat' registering as Athena. Now I will state that I understand that I am not fat, nor does being an Athena/Clydesdale racer make you fat. It has nothing to do with the public label of being an Athena/Clydesdale racer. This for me is more personal in having to do with admitting that I understand that I am not like the other women in my age group."

I get that. 

I know I'm not a skinny mini, but I also don't think I'm fat--although I've sometimes applied the "chubby" label to myself, knowing that's not entirely true either.  (But, I have a really nice personality!)

Plus, in many cases, contrary to what the Baltimore accountant's numbers said, weight doesn't always correlate to speed or lack of it.  During many a race, I've tried to catch up to a runner obviously larger than me. 

Once at a start line, I overheard another runner telling her newbie friend, "Don't be surprised by the way some of these runners look. Some of them might not look it, but they will finish fast."  I chuckled as I thought, "Yeah...don't I know it."

On the flip side, according to Amby Burfoot, the winner of the 1968 Boston Marathon and Runner's World contributing author, studies show that if an athlete loses one pound, he or she will gain two seconds per mile.  That would result in an improved marathon time of more than 17 minutes for someone who loses 20 pounds.  (Find the full table here.)

So, if I lost 20 pounds, I wouldn't be an Athena and I'd still be in my ideal weight range.  But, I still wouldn't be competitive and I'd still have my view from the back of the pack.

Knowing all of this, what am I going to do?


I'm just going to keep chugging along and not worry about weight....and that means I promise not to calculate how much weight I'd need to lose to challenge the elite runners.  (Remember them?  The ones I talked about in a recent blog--the ones who get their own water stations?)  The main reason for the promise?  I'd probably have to lose around 100 pounds to get close to an elite time.  Guess I should have been running when I was a kindergartener. 

Then, I'm going to read "The Slow Fat Triathlete: Live Your Athletic Dream in the Body You Have Now".   by Jayne Williams.  If nothing else, I hope it reinforces the fact that just getting out there and doing it is better than sitting on the couch. 

Finally, for any of my fellow back of the packers who might be in the Athena or Clydesdale category, take comfort in this calculator that will calculate what your race time would have been if you were 25 years old and 110 pounds (for a female) or 143 pounds (for a male!)  

Repeat after me...Weight is a number.  Clyesdales are horses.  And, Athena is a goddess.  

Catch you again at the Back of the Pack! 


  1. Many Thanks for the wonderful shout out! You have some great stuff on here!!!

  2. Thanks, Stefanie! I appreciate it. I've been having a lot of fun with writing this blog.

  3. For a long time I never wanted to disclose how much I weighed. I dreaded going to the doctor and stepping on the scale because I knew that it would lead to the "you must lose weight" conversation. It has taken me losing 70lbs in the last year to finally be able to say to friends and family, that I weighed 320lbs. I still can't believe it when I say it. I just started running about 3 months ago (back of the pack here!), and it has made me feel great. I'm the girl running on the trail sweat pouring off me as if I was running in a rain storm, while the healthier thinner runners are going at it with greater ease and little sweat. I never liked running growing up, but here I am at 34, and it's the one thing I want to do everyday.

    I'm enjoying reading about your adventures in the running world. Good luck!

  4. Good for you on the weight loss and the running. It's definitely addictive, isn't it?

  5. My name is Vince Stead and I just got done looking at your site and really liked it. We make Horse books in Paperback, Digital and Audio too. You can see them at and the audio books are fun to listen to. Thank you very much and I enjoyed your site!

  6. I *detest* the "Clydesdale" category. For the Stockade-athon 15k, the term is used for both men and women, and the women's category is 140 pounds and up. That is not overweight for anybody taller than 5'2", while the men's (200+) is overweight for anyone 6'2" or shorter. I get angry whenever I register for this race. (I fluctuate so that I can hover below or above 140--but I would never check off the box for that stupid category.)