Can Being a ‘Fatty’ Make You Faster?
Anyone watching video of Saturday night’s 10k couldn’t have missed a subtle discrepancy literally sticking out among the lead packers. It was the head and shoulders of Chris Solinsky, bobbing above and abroad the otherwise streamlined peleton.
That he won the race and broke a record merely brought attention to this attribute. LetsRun.com got it started by producing a really nifty table showing just how rare a runner Solinksy is. According to the table, Solinsky is the heaviest and tallest runner to have ever broken 27 minutes in the 10k.
And it’s not even close.
At 161 pounds (and 6′1″), Solinsky is 39 lbs heavier than the average weight of the others on that list (122 lbs). The difference alone makes up 32% of their entire body weight.
For personal reasons, it’s exciting to see height and weight examined in competitive running. I’m 6’6” and carry a frame built better for small forward or tight end, or, at the very least, a swimmer. Yet I’ve competed at the high school, college and post-collegiate levels and my best PRs – 49:27 15k; 15:05 5k; 8:33 3k; 4:18 1600m – have come at a race weight of no less than 190 lbs.
I’ve always thought of running as a great equalizer when it comes to body type. Unlike basketball or football, where specific bodies usually predetermine how successful one can be, individual runners compete against only the stop watch. Being too short or too thin or, well, too tall, was never going to get me cut from a team. I liked that.
So it may sound naïve, but I never really thought of myself as being at a competitive disadvantage when I lined up next to shorter, lighter opponents.
LetsRun.com doesn’t get into the scientific evidence explaining why lighter runners excel, but some exists, fleeting and inconclusive as it may be.
According to a New York Times article about the subject “exercise physiologists agree that if your sport is particularly affected by the tug of gravity — running, cross-country skiing, cycling up hills — you are penalized for excess weight.”
In the book Racing Weight, which I haven’t read (although co-contributor Megan Kretz is reading it and will hopefully do a proper review), author Matt Fitzgerald notes that a 160-pound runner – like, say, Chris Solinsky - “has to muster about 6.5% more energy to run the same pace as a runner weighing 150 pounds.” How this number was determined, or if it changes based on any number of variables (pace intensity, distance, weight variations, height, etc.) is not clear.
But based on this sketchy number alone and extrapolating it from a 10-pound difference to that of the historic counterparts (122 lbs) who share the all-time 10k list with him, Solinsky had to exert much more energy. How much more is hard to say.
But is it possible that this physical attribute could have actually given him an advantage?
As someone inclined to ask “big idea” questions to headline, and conclude, blog posts – while declining to answer them – again…hard to say.
It only shows again how special his performance was.
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- Chris Solinsky is first non-African to break 27 minutes in 10,000 meters (that’s a 4:20 pace-per-mile) (trueslant.com)
- Video of Chris Solinsky’s American Record 10,000m (LetsRun.com)
- Personal Best: Slimmer Doesn’t Always Mean Fitter (nytimes.com)