How Running Makes You Fat.

OK, bear with me on this one..

This is something that’s been swirling around in my head for a while, and I’m finally finding the time to sit down and write it out.

So all of this half marathon training nonsense is something I’m sure you’re all sick of hearing about- sorry, guys- here comes more!

Training for distance and training for speed are almost two different animals, but you knew that, right?

Training for speed, independent of distance (running sprints as a function of High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT) is a marvelous way of burning calories and losing weight. I could go on about all of the different ways you can incorporate HIIT into your workouts- but for the sake of time, just google it if you’re interested =)

Training for distance is where things get a little tricky.

Sure, after a 10 mile run or so, you’re already at about a 1,000 calorie deficit for the day- from a calorie-counting perspective only, this seems simple enough if you’re hoping to lose weight by means of training for a half marathon or something of the like. But it’s really not all that simple.

Something funny happens once you start exposing your body to running distances. I’m not sure of the minimal distance that’s the threshold for this- so bare with me on the distances– so we’ll just go with half-marathon distance and up from there.

Running distances is a STRESSFUL event for your body. Obvious, right? Maybe not. If you’re like me, after a while on your long runs you start to feel euphoric. You can thank your endorphins for that. What you can’t really feel or control is the release of cortisol- the hormone that’s released in times of high stress. It’s associated with the “fat around your belly” and although we’ve been bombarded with cheesy commercials selling pills that “tame” the release of cortisol, (bunch of horse shit, by the way) it’s still a very real occurrence inside of your body.

Another funny thing about steady-state cardio (read: stuff like distance running in which you maintain about the same speed- or the same heart rate for a majority of your workout as opposed to stuff like HIIT or running sprints in which your heart rate is going up or down in between sprint intervals, etc) is that you pretty much only burn calories WHILE you’re working out. Sure, DURING your 10-mile run, you’ve burned ABOUT 1,000 extra calories for the day- but once you stop, once you sit down and you’re done running, your metabolism SLOWS WAY DOWN. When compared to what happens to your metabolism after you’ve WEIGHT TRAINED, this is horrific. After you lift weights, and I’m talking a good lifting session– not 10 reps for your biceps and callin’ it quits- your metabolism is kicked into high gear and burns extra calories for up to 24 hours. It’s not a SIGNIFICANT amount of extra calories, but about 10-15 extra calories per hour for up to 24 hours. This is because your muscles are working OVER TIME trying to repair themselves- which requires fuel (mostly protein!) to do so.

So between the fact that after a long run, your body has just been overloaded with cortisol (associated with belly fat!) AND your metabolism pretty much comes to a screeching halt, this is pretty much a recipe for disaster, right?

It gets worse.

You absolutely NEED to fuel your body properly after a run. Chances are, even though your metabolic rate has slowed (pretty much, your body thinks it’s starving- which in most cases, it kind of is- which is why it’s important to fuel DURING your runs, things like GU and so on, so that your body doesn’t literally feed off of your muscle as a fuel source—this is when bad things happen, like a surplus of myoglobin in your blood- which is a serious medical issue). HOWEVER, you’re going to be hungry, and rightfully so- you just burned 1,000 extra calories for your day! But chances are, if you’re anything like me- you’re going to become so ravenously hungry, that you’re going to eat everything in sight. And it’s completely validated! Right?

I mean, you just ran 10 freakin’ miles- EAT WOMAN, EAT! Wrong. So wrong. I am NOT saying do not eat. But you still need to be extremely mindful of how you’re fueling after a run- or ANY workout for that matter. Macaroni and cheese by the multiple-bowl full? Probably not the wisest choice. A banana with peanut butter and an Almond Milk & Whey Protein shake? Probably a MUCH better choice!

I’ve read HUNDREDS of stories of people who gain 10-pounds, IF NOT MORE, while training for a marathon. I’ve heard less extremes of this for people when training for a half– which makes sense because if you’re training for a full, you’re laughing at my “long runs” of 10 miles as you’re crushing 20+ miles on consecutive Saturday mornings (and for that, I envy you). I’m not an expert (yet) but the most-likely reason for this marathon weight-gain is due to an over-estimation of how many calories your body is burning while running and an under-estimation of much you’re actually stuffing your face once you’re done.

This half-marathon training has been leaving me OUT-OF-CONTROL STARVING almost 24/7. I go to bed hungry, I wake up hungry. Every. Damn. Day. I’m trying my damn best to keep track of how much I’m eating WITH RESPECT TO HOW MUCH I NEED TO FUEL. I adjusted my caloric needs based on how much I’m training per week- that’s including runs AND lifting.

But I’ll tell you this much- with as much time I’m spending sweating my ass off by running and lifting, the scale is not moving and my pants are NOT getting any looser. It’s happening. The dreaded training-weight gain. And this is how this idea for a post got started. I’m working out more now than I ever have before (save for two-a-day gymnastics practices back in the day) and am seeing the least amount of progress. Jamie Eason’s Live Fit Trainer Phase 1 (as I have mentioned before) begs of you not to do ANY cardio within phase 1. But guess what? I have to. My number 1 priority right now is kicking ass in this half marathon. And even after that, it’s not over. It’s far from over, people!
-10K February 12
-Half April 28
-The Color Run- Chicago- June 2
-Ragnar Relay (!!!!!) June 8-9
-Muddy Buddy- Sometime in August, or July? I forget.
-Tossing around the idea of running the Chicago Marathon in October.
-Disney Marathon next January.

That’s almost a year left of running. Running DISTANCE. And even though I literally have been struggling for my weight to reflect how fucking hard I work, I just don’t think it’s going to happen any time soon. I thought about letting myself becoming devastated, frustrated, and upset. Busting my ass for miles and miles and gaining weight? Who the fuck in their right mind would do that?


As much as I complain. As much energy as it takes to sometimes get my fat ass out the door, I love running.

Being a part of the Running Culture that I didn’t even know existed up until a few months ago feels infinitely more amazing than a size 0 ever could. (I’m also saying that having absolutely no idea what it feels like being a size 0… I won’t hold my breath.)  

Talking about things like mid-foot strikes vs. heel-toe strikes with an employee at the Apple Store today (swoon!) while people are looking at us like we’re crazy because “WHAT IS A VIBRAM!?”, and talking about things like negative splits, Garmins, GU, and hydration-belts with anyone and everyone who will listen and understands.

Being a runner, albeit a slow one, is something that is few and far between. When I run along the busy streets at home in the freezing cold, people in cars passing by look at me like I’m nuts. Go ahead, judge me, the crazy girl without a coat on running in air so cold you can see every single breath I take— some of the people probably do think I’m crazy- good– the other people look at me from inside their warm cars and houses wishing they could bring themselves to do something so “crazy.”

I see other people running past me and we smile and wave at each other because even though we have no idea who the other person is, we understand. With snot dripping out of my nose and me spitting loogies on people’s lawns, I still look and feel more bad ass than the guy sitting in his car wishing he had it in him- to lace up his shoes, brave the cold, and just run. It’s like nothing else. It’s not sexy, it’s not easy, and sometimes it’s not even anywhere close to fun. More often than not, it hurts. Your lungs hurt, your stomach hurts, your head hurts, your legs hurt. But there’s nothing else like it.

I may never be a size 0. I may never even ever lose a single ounce ever again- but I’m obsessed with running. I’m obsessed with how much I love it, and I’m obsessed with how much I hate it– all in the same day, all in the same mile, all in the same stride. So bring it on, running. And bring on the extra pounds if you have to- but I’m still going to run.


3 thoughts on “How Running Makes You Fat.

  1. I think it all depends regarding weight loss and running for longer distances. 6 years ago, I took off 60 lbs by training, over the span of one year, to run my first marathon. I think it is when you get down to those last few lbs that the long distance running can prove to be less beneficial, vs the HIIT style runs…but perhaps it is just me. Perhaps when I get down to my last ten lbs, I will try working out using a HIIT method (negating all long runs), as a bloggy experiment and see how it goes. Plus, that should be around summer time, and it will be far more run to have short, fast runs rather than long, bake in the sun runs! lol.

    • you’re absolutely right! thanks for mentioning that. Of all of the “cases” I’ve heard of people packing on a few extra pounds during training, they’re already at their happy weight and did not need to lose any weight. But the point you made is a great one.
      As far as using HIIT as a weight-loss tool, there is countless evidence that I’m bombarded with as an exercise science major that proves that it’s a very effective and efficient way to torch calories. =) give it a try! I can’t wait to read about it!

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