In Support of Weight Divisions for Running

Beating a 5.09″ 150lb man at Taekwondo is a fairly simple process when you’re 6.5″ and weigh 215lbs. Basically the strategy is to kick them from distance, not letting them come close. If they do get close enough for a kick, you block and punch them, hard to the body, or crescent kick for the head. Without vastly superior training and natural ability, they stand very little chance.

Of course, this fight would never take place, weight categories make sure of this. Without weight categories the 150lb fighter would never make any headway in the sport – this would be the same in many sports – great middleweight boxers would surely be beaten routinely by the heavier fighter in an open division, lighter weight lifters simply would not compete, fighters in almost every martial art in the world would be today’s heavyweights and the lighter fighters would be left doing this as a hobby.

However, in a running race there are no weight divisions and just as the lighter fighter would be pushed out of the sport without them, the heavy runner has no hope of ever winning a race. Why is it that in one sport we protect those with natural weight differences, but in another we do not?

At a ‘hobby’ level, take for example the qualification for marathons. If you are of slight build / not very tall you have a huge advantage to qualify for these races, whilst larger and even very small runners must settle for the fact that it’s unlikely that they could make the qualifying time. Wouldn’t it be a fairer system if you could run at your natural weight on a level playing field?

Let’s look at the weight of some of the best distance runners of our time:

  • Dennis Kimetto – 120lbs, 5.5″
  • Tsegaye Kebede – 110lb, 5.2″
  • Emmanuel Kipchirchir Mutai – 115 lb, 5.4″
  • Simon Teare – 215lb, 6.5″

(That last one is my by the way, couldn’t resist). The point is that for marathon distances you have to be light and shorter than average to be competitive. The further you are away from this, the worse your performance is likely to be.

Running Weight / Pace Calculators

I have found a calculator, here, which enables you to go some way to investigate what your pace may be at another weight, but of course this is only loosely based on science and is largely dependent on other factors. (It predicts I could run 5km in 17:14 if I got down to 180lbs. This seems very unlikely of course as I’d be weak as a kitten at that weight!) What is really needed is a way of comparison with real times and weights listed so that you could start to understand what a good time is at 200lbs, 190lbs, 250lbs, etc. Currently I can not find anything which can tell me that.

Logistics

Logistically weighing everyone at the start of a marathon is, of course, impossible and I expect that this is actually the main reason why weight categories have not been introduced in many races (a few do have a ‘heavy’ category – I applaud these races). However, as a heavier runner I would love to be able to compare myself to other people around my own weight. This would be a very useful and motivational exercise for me. In addition, I would love the opportunity to qualify “good for weight” instead of just “good for age” for the big marathons. I know this will not ever happen, but I will moan about it anyway.

 

I guess the moral is that us heavier runners are destined to always be overlooked in our greatness – you could be the Floyd Mayweather of running and you’d never know: The greatest pound-for-pound runner in the world is unknown to us all, somewhere lost in a sea of average lighter runners as they huff and puff around a marathon course together, no one giving them the credit that they surely deserve as the best in the world. What a shame.

About Simon 126 Articles
Avid runner, cyclist and judoka.