Thursday, 3 June 2010
BMI in women's running
Ilsa Paulson (above) won the Twin Cities Marathon in 2009, beating Colleen De Reuk, with a time of 2:31. Should women runners strive to be her weight to be fast, or is she unhealthy?
I've been looking forward to writing this for quite a while. It's a topic basically everyone is hesitant to broach because weight, for some reason, is such a sensitive topic. But what if for a moment, we all talked about weight in women's athletics honestly and realistically?
First, on being skinny:
I would have had to be blind to not notice that the top 5 female finishers at Copenhagen Marathon were thinner than me. First the winner, Colleen Van Deuk has a BMI of 17.3 (normal: >18.5) and certainly has a higher BMI than Ilsa (above), who has beaten her. I saw Anne Sofie Pade Hansen, number three at the Copenhagen Marathon, walking around near me after the race and was astounded by how thin she was. Here is an old picture of her where she weighed more than she does now:
My friend Mette, who took 5th has slipped comfortably into the below normal BMI over the last year and I challenge anyone to find an elite female runner of the 5000 meter to marathon distance who is of normal BMI.
And, correct me if I'm wrong, but most women who enjoy running competitively would also like to be as thin as these women, but it is HARD to stay so thin. But what is even harder, is knowing where to stop with the weight loss before it becomes unhealthy.
On not being too thin:
In college I lost a lot of weight and for a while plateaud at a happy 5'6" 105 lbs (BMI 16.9). Everyone told me I was too thin, but I felt just AWESOME. But my periods stopped and I felt more and more, well, asexual, and by the second year of med school, I fell to 95 lbs, was admitted to the hospital due to almost being killed by a bacterial gastroenteritis which caused me to lose an extreme amount of blood and was discharged to many follow-ups which revealed what I had feared: my estrogen was too low, I had osteoporosis in some spots and osteopenia everywhere and even had multiple painless stress fractures. I embodied the female athlete triad. Partly against my will (anorexics are crazy), I gained weight and then just kept on gaining. My periods didn't come back and I was just depressed.
Anyway, as of this morning, I'm at 115 lbs (BMI 18.6) and would love to lose at least 5 lbs, bringing me back to where I was a year and half ago when we moved to Denmark. I want to be healthy and feel good and be a fast runner. I want it all. But can I? Can we? I just had this discussion while on a run with Helle and the thought of weight loss is exhillarating to us both (and most people would also look at her and not find she had anything to lose). Don't we all want to be that perfect thin weight without having any health problems? Why is it that all non-elite athletes who are thin are attacked for being "too thin", while elite athletes with the same BMI are praised? What IS actually healthy? I KNOW, I'm a doctor, I should know this, but I don't.
I will quickly add that many people say that the best female ultra runners don't need to be thin. And there is some evidence of this. But if you look at the largest ultras (not that there are any nearing the size of a large city marathon), the female winners also tend to be thin, though there are exceptions.
Here was the winner of the 24 hour run world championships in 2010, Anne Celine Fontaine (who ran a sweet 240km) and the winner of the 2008 USATF 50 mile championship, and course record holder, Suzannah Beck.
I hope if I wave a magic wand now, an interesting conversation will develop in the comments section /**** (that was the wand)
Oops. I almost forgot about this freakishly good running song of the day: Farewell to Wendo by Mock & Toof (deserves it's own blog post, which I won't write)