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Thoughts on the Run: A weighty subject

Andy Shearer
Andy Shearer

I graduated from high school in 1981 (yes, kiddies, we did have high schools in the last century). When I graduated, I weighed 122 pounds. No, the football coach never approached me about being the guy who sprinted out to grab the kicking tee. 

After four years of college athletics and development, I had risen to a whopping 128 pounds. My dream of someday being used as an anchor on a hot air balloon was also dead, never to be realized. I can’t say my college diet was “healthy,” but it was caloric.  In 1986, a dunk-tank measurement tagged my body fat percentage at 5.9%.

At present, my weight ranges somewhere between 136-140 pounds, depending on where I am in my strength work, training, hydration plan and racing cycle. I am painfully aware that my chemical composition isn’t what it once was, meaning I’m probably less muscle and more … “not” muscle. But at 5-feet-8 (or slightly less, depending on the weight of gravity that day), I’m still firmly just below the A.M.A. “optimal range.” 

I do not share this information with you in order to pretend to be a skinny mini. Rather, I share this as the reality of my athletic life for the past 44 years. It is a lifestyle, not necessarily a conscious effort. I also realize I am extremely fortunate that I do not have to battle the scale regularly.

But healthy is healthy (or is it “healthful is healthful”?). And my 43+ years as a runner has provided me with a healthy attitude about my weight. I have never sought out a scale in order to “check” my weight or my health. Other than the regular wellness trips to the doctor, I personally wish all scales would disappear. 

Too often, we rely on the wrong feedback to determine our wellness. A few years ago, I met a former NFL lineman, who had played for the New Orleans Saints for seven years.  His playing weight was close to 300 pounds, and he hadn’t slimmed down much from that orbit. He was managing a culinary school! Regular checks indicated his blood pressure, cholesterol, resting heart rate, and other factors were all VERY good. He exercised regularly, ate pretty well (meaning VEGETABLES), and slept 7-8 hours every night. He was healthy AND healthful. 

The other side of that coin is that running 30, 40, 50 miles per week does not immunize you from risk factors you may have inherited or even developed. Do you know how often I get ribbed about Jim Fixx? For those of you unaware of Mr. Fixx, just use the Google.  He wrote two huge-selling books about running in the 70’s and 80’s, then dropped dead from a heart attack while out… running. 

The scale, especially for young athletes, is an awful tool. Coaches who insist you “weigh in” weekly should be banned from the ranks of coaching (wrestling and football “perhaps” can get a pass, but then let’s talk about “healthy, healthful” habits, shall we).  The equation is about ALL of our habits, not just our caloric intake versus outgo. What do those calories look like? Are we drinking enough water? Fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, sleep, exercising, reducing stress on our minds and bodies … the list goes on.  Quite frankly, unless your doctor says you have a medical need to do so, stay off your scale or, better yet, throw it away! 

About 10 years ago, I consulted with a Registered Dietitian (my good friend Irene, who loves cookies). She asked me to keep a written diary of my actual daily intake (not my imagined one) for a five-day period. She reviewed my habits, stated it was a good thing I ran as much as I did (eating 3,200 calories a day will do that) and then tweaked how and when I ate, not necessarily what I ate. She did make some suggestions for alternatives.

This consultation had nothing to do with my weight and everything to do with my running health and long-term health. Knowing my blood pressure, resting heart rate, and cholesterol level, along with having baseline information about my blood counts, and yes, even occasionally my weight (like, annually) will keep me firmly in-the-know. 

Be healthy AND healthful. Unless weight is the problem, it’s not the problem. And only your doctor and the folks who operate hot air balloon rides can tell you the real skinny.

I hope to see you on the roads, tracks and trails.

Former standout Lock Haven University runner Andy Shearer is a member of the Middletown Athletic Club, the Greater Philadelphia Track Club and USA Track and Field.