Skinnier Isn’t Always Faster

Ed was a stocky 150-pounder I used to train with back in 1979-80. He figured the reason I ran faster than him was because I was skinnier. I tried to tell him that 150 or perhaps 145 might be just the right weight for him, but then I'd beat him in another foot race, and he'd get even more bound 

and determined to run more miles and lose more weight.

He kept building up his mileage ... 60, 70, and in too short of time got up to 80 miles a week, but only dropped five pounds -- and worse yet, still couldn't beat me.

“If I could just lose fifteen more pounds ... “ Ed would say.

We did the 1980 Boston Marathon together. Well, not exactly together, as Ed was 40, making his 2:45 qualifying time good enough to be “seeded” up front in the “masters” division, while my 2:37 was just a middle-of-the-pack time for a 35-year-old “submaster.” Marathon officials wouldn't let me past the rope that separated the seeded runners from the mid-pack folks, so Ed got a head start on me.

I had realized from the 96-degree, 12 noon start that it was too hot for any personal records, so I took it easy. My goal was just to finish. I finished. Ed didn't.

Ed said later that he “flamed out at about 17 miles doing a 5:45 pace.” That's a 2:30 marathon pace, which would have been a 15-minute PR!

Not realistic, considering the heat, but he told me that at least he “went for it,” which seemed to suggest that I chickened out by pacing myself. To make matters worse for Ed, since our photo was in the Willits News just before we left, everyone kept asking the same question: “Did you finish?”

Then I didn't run with Ed for a while. I like to take time off after marathons. I've found that you come back faster over the long haul if you lay low for a few weeks after a 26-miler, but Ed kept running. He wanted to break the national master’s marathon record, which was a 2:22 held by Santa Rosa runner Jim Bowers. I did not think that was realistic, but kept my mouth shut.

Then one day Ed invited me over for breakfast and a long run afterward. His wife made pancakes without oil or butter. They had eliminated fats from their diet, including all dairy products, all meat, white flour, sugar, and alcohol. 

My first reaction was, “Just what the hell do you eat?” But of course, the answer was mostly fruits and vegetables.

He said he lost five more pounds, but still had ten to go. Losing ten more pounds would put him in at 130. I weighed 130. According to his logic, he then would be able to beat me.

We went for a run, and I started talking as usual, but he kept pushing the pace, making it difficult to converse. After ten miles I knew he wanted to see who would drop first. I didn't really plan on this to be a competition. I just wanted to suggest we turn back, but he seemed to take that as a sign of weakness. He knew he had me now, and kept pushing, while I dropped a step back, observing his effort. Indeed, he was intense, which made me think of my own intensity, or lack of it. I loved racing, but my daily runs were my meditation, my daily dose of endorphins. I preferred to save that intensity for races. What was he trying to prove?

Let’s just have an enjoyable run and talk about stuff like we used to do. 

I finally let up and told him I was going to take it easy the last few miles. I hadn't been doing my long runs and didn't want to overdo it. He reluctantly slowed with me, and we talked. He said someone accused him of being a fanatic, and his reply was, “If that's what it takes to be the best, so be it!”

Then a few weeks later Ed showed up at my place with his camper full of his belongings. He wanted to show me something before he left town. He took an unsteady step into his camper and fell to one knee. He was shaking. He seemed weak. I asked him what was wrong?

He said he was fine but had run twenty miles that morning so he could get in his third straight 100-mile week and felt a little tired. His cheeks seemed badly sunken, emphasizing the tight skin around his facial bones, giving his eyes a deeper, more intense look. . His shirt hung on his once-burly shoulders as if on a hanger. His arms looked skinnier than mine. He took occasional deep breaths, as if he couldn't get enough oxygen just breathing normally. 

When we finally got inside, he pulled out an old bathroom scale. He got on and told me to look for myself. He was 130 fully clothed. I got on and weighed 131. He smiled and shook my hand, as if to say, “I guess I won this round, but don't feel bad, I've worked harder than you.”

He said he was going to run the national masters 25K in San Francisco the next weekend, and then follow the racing circuit in his camper. He was leaving his photography business to follow his dream of winning his age division at Boston. He felt the locals didn't appreciate him anyway, and told me if I stayed in Willits, I would never reach my true running potential. And then he drove away.

Jim Bowers won that 25K in a national master’s record. Ed was nearly ten minutes back. 

A few months later I read in the National Masters News that Ed ran another 2:45 in the Phoenix Marathon. And that was it. I never saw Ed's name again in any race results. And to this day I have no idea where Ed is or what happened to him. 

Author’s Note: This article was published in the October 1990 issue of Running Times, and they paid me $150. They changed my title, “Skinnier Isn’t Always Faster,” which was first published in the Willits News and the Anderson Valley Advertiser, to “How Skinny Is Too Skinny?” It was accompanied by a photo of a skeleton with a bib number on his chest. 

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