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Clydesdale Weight Division Discussion
By Kevin Campbell

Click here to discuss this subject in our forum

April 25, 2002 - You cannot accurately enter any discussion over someone's true fitness or physical prowess level without first assessing one major component. That component, of course, is body weight.

Most experienced runners would likely agree upfront what any high school coach might do when first assessing a potential track candidate for his team (to place he/she within the event that they will most likely succeed). For starters, the rotund candidates are pretty much headed for the shot put, the lengthy or slender ones are headed for the mile or two mile events and the sturdy-muscular (fit but heavy) types are headed for the 100 yard dash, 1/4 or 1/2 mile tryouts. Although the coach's instincts must later be corroborated via tryouts, he usually ends up being relatively accurate with his assessments (experience prevails). I claim that such assessments by the coach were made via the inherent understanding of the limitations realized from certain body types, or more specifically, body weight.

While the above example does oversimplify the discussion, it demonstrates the fundamental yet apparent effect that body weight has over physical performance. In my high school days as a runner, there was no way that my solid 180 pounds statue could ever compete against my 127, 134 or even 142-pound teammates within the 2-mile event. Similarly, my 2 miler pals didn't have a chance against me in the "more powerful" ¼-mile or ½-mile events. Moreover, despite that fact that my 2 miler pals could kick my butt in the 2-mile event, nobody ever suggested for a moment that I was not an excellent and extremely fit athlete. My body type and workout regimen as well as my genetic profile simply defined my ability (or lack thereof) to excel in the longer distances.

Although this reality may have been intuitive in coaches since the beginning of competitive sports, the tools of today's scientists (and their capability to accurately measure the physiological profiles of athlete via medical trials and Physics) has at last opened up a new level of understanding about the heavier athlete, the Clydesdale.

Body weight is that obvious catalyst for the "Clydesdale" philosophy. Some prefer to better understand Clydesdale types as simply "gravity challenged" runners who generally weigh 190plus for Men or 140plus for Women. The actual study or effects of body weight versus athletic performance has seemingly found a suitable home among researchers within the marathon & long distance running arenas. In fact, the marathon has apparently served as an excellent trial for such studies given the rather extreme nature of the event (measurement of energy expended, etc). The resultant data (with very measurable deltas) from the marathoners has helped science confirm and better chronicle their findings.

Remarkably, the scientific & physiological studies with repeatable statistical data has all yielded rather consistent findings (especially when measuring & predicting the actual performances levels of Clydesdale participants). When it comes to roadracing or marathoning, the scientists seek to determine one magical equation; "how many pounds will slow you down how many seconds?" In a nutshell, body weight, regardless of cardiovascular fitness, muscularity or body fat percentage - simply reduces speed.

Just imagine how amazing it would be for a 190 ponder to achieve a similar feat (say a 2:15 marathon). One cannot imagine it because it has never ever even come close to happening. Scientists claim it has never come close to happening because it simply CANNOT happen. It CANNOT happen because such achievement clearly defies the laws of human performance. Moreover, such achievement defies the laws of PHYSICS.

Mass is a qualitative measure of a body's resistance to being accelerated. Force = Mass x Velocity. As such, the Clydesdale or heavier runner simply has a larger mass component that must achieve the same velocity component as the smaller or lighter runner. Hence the Clydesdale shall need to use MORE force (energy) on his/her bio-mechanical system to cover a given distance.

Recent research studies from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports (human performance lab) have indeed asserted that the Clydesdale runner simply needs MORE energy to drive his/her body over the Marathon (or 10k) distance. Experts in human physiology agree, there is rarely enough "energy" stored within the average marathoner anyway. As such, the "energy" problem becomes FAR more acute for the bigger runner (the Clydesdale).

Example: The amount of energy that it takes to move the body during running or any other weight-bearing exercise is directly related to the body weight. Consider this example of estimated energy expenditures:

To run one mile in ten minutes:

a 120-pound athlete burns ~78 Calories
a 160-pound athlete burns ~105 Calories
a 200-pound athlete burns ~131 Calories
a 240-pound athlete burns ~157 Calories

So, the 240-pound athlete that has "ONLY" just passed the halfway point when the 120-pound athlete crosses the finish line has actually worked harder in that athletic achievement!

Roadrace participants should set their old prejudices aside and look at the scientific evidence! Given these truths, I believe it is important for future race directors to include weight classes in all running competitions, so that runners may compete on a "level playing field"!

Clearly, in most athletic events, the BIG guy/gal has an inherent disadvantage in the competition, particularly those that involve moving the body weight over the ground or the body through the air or water (such as: running, swimming, bicycle racing, triathlons). Heck, most everyone is already familiar with many types of athletic competitions in which athletes compete on a standard basis in weight classes: wrestling, boxing, weightlifting, martial arts, etc. Why not road-racing?

Fortunately, there are now many new roadrace events emerging with weight divisions. Specifically, statistics kept on weight groups at both the Marine Corps Marathon & Portland Marathon also show that, even when fit, a person will absolutely run slower as their weight (mass) increases (even when impeccably fit and exquisitely trained).

Most runners concur that roadracing (and marathoning) is arguably one the truest tests of one's fitness level. If you choose to expand that test to evaluate the performance characteristics of the heavier runner, then you shall clearly do a better job at scientifically (& fairly) chronicling one's standing among his true athletic peers. After all, isn't that what competition is all about?

In closing, I believe it is most accurate and fair to say that you do not have to be thin to be fit! All runners are NOT lightweights. Far from it ! Some are big, and they call themselves Clydesdales. Such folks ought to be rightfully proud of their strength and endurance and performance given the many extra challenges that they face when marathoning or running long distance.