Marathon Training & Weight Loss

Tuesday, March 26, 2013 | By Hal Higdon
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Got a question about running? You're in the right place. Every Tuesday, world-renowned coach, author and athlete Hal Higdon posts and answers athlete questions here. You can submit your question by joining the discussions on Hal Higdon's Virtual Training Bulletin Boards.


I am following your Novice 1 program for the Flying Pig Marathon in May. (I ran the half at that race last year.) I am age 52, 5 feet 9 inches and weighed 195 in January when I began the program. I lift three days a week and have done so for 30 years, so I have built up a big chest and arms. My desired weight is 170 pounds, which I have not seen in 12 years. I bought an app for my phone recently to count daily calories. The app figured that if I eat 1,400 calories per day, with exercise, for three months, I would reach my goal of 170. Couple that with the fact that I'm training for a marathon, and I figured that I would easily hit my goal.

After two months of training, I am only down to 190 pounds. I received your tweet recently saying that if someone is training for a marathon and running 25 miles per week, they should be eating 3,000 calories a day. So I am conflicted as to how best train for the marathon, stay healthy but also lose weight in the process. Today, for example, I will burn 800 calories by running and will eat 2,200 calories, thus hitting my 1,400 mark. From your tweet today, it appears that I am not eating enough, but even at that, the weight isn't coming off like I thought it should. I'd like to train per your instructions so as to be healthy and complete the marathon, but I'd also like to lose weight in the process and keep it off by continuing to run after the marathon is done.


In all honesty, I feel that training for a marathon and attempting to lose weight are conflicting goals. I know a lot of people try to link marathon to weight loss, but I've never considered that a great idea. You need calories for energy, and if you're starving yourself with a low-calorie diet, you may not have enough fuel in your system to do the long runs comfortably. Trying to lose weight while marathon training is like having two masters: Which one do you want to please?

And while it might not be realistic (or healthy) to go from 195 to 170 pounds (25 pound reduction) during a single marathon cycle, you already have lost 5 pounds, so what's the beef? You're doing well enough without allowing some app to tell you how many calories to consume or burn. And by the way, that 3,000 calories cited was just an estimate. People differ greatly in terms of losing or maintaining weight by exercising at a certain level.

Why don't you simply relax over the next several months as you prepare for Flying Pig? Make sure you get enough calories for energy, but don't overeat. Your continued activity, particularly as the mileage climbs, should allow you to drop a few more pounds, but don't set the weight loss bar so high that you guarantee your own failure.

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