Weighty thoughts: Can you be a fast runner without losing weight?

Me at the finish line of the 2010 MCM10K

Rocking the sprint finish at my first, and speediest, standalone 10K.

So I’ve been running a lot recently, yeah? I’ve mentioned this thing once or twice? And, as I’ve also complained, I’ve been getting frustrated at the sloooow progress of the return to my previous running speed. In a fit of data geekdom, I’ve been comparing the data from my running ramp up from two years ago (when I got speedy) to this year to see what I was doing differently and been disappointed to see…they’re not much different. I’ve been running just as much (slightly more, actually), just as far. Similar average HR values too. I’m just slower this time around! The only obvious difference is that I am about 20lbs heavier than I was 2 years ago when I worked from home. During that first year, I lost about 30lbs unintentionally while learning to become a triathlete. This year, I haven’t lost much weight at all over the course of the season, even though training volume and intensity has been pretty equal.

Now, I don’t particularly care if triathlon generates a lot or no weight loss for me as I do it. I am into triathlon partially for the health benefits, but when I say health I mean health, not weight. I use it as a mood stabilizer and a blood pressure reducer, and I am more excited to see my resting heart rate get down into the 40s than anything the scale has to say. But I also really really want to be a faster runner. I want to be able to keep up with my running friends, to fly down the sidewalk when I’m feeling frisky, to slow down to something that’s still considered a run when I’m not. And it’s been pointed out that, like it or not, those extra 20lbs are a decent amount to haul around for miles at a time. It’s like carrying a backpack full of my cats (who would be even less thrilled to go running than they have been to go biking, spoilsports). The difference in my speeds between two years ago and now is about a minute and a half per mile. If I were to drop 20lbs, that’s probably the difference I’d make up with the sudden extra lightness.

But I have to assume here that I’m not going to lose weight any time soon. I haven’t been at all this year, and I can only think that trend is going to continue. So the question becomes, can I still become a fast runner without ever losing a pound†, or will I always be pokey & slow because I’m running around with backpacks of cats? Is it a matter of giving it more time? The speed just takes longer when your body is lifting more? If I were to focus more on strength training and gain more muscle, would that help? Or, is it always going to be a Amount of Stuff to Move = How Fast You Go problem?

I don’t, as a rule, diet. I’m willing to play with what I eat in various ways (add meat, take out caffeine, eat more beets after 6pm, etc), but the goal is usually focused and directed toward solving a problem or providing a very specific benefit (e.g., stop wanting to throw up during a run, have an easier time falling asleep, don’t crash in the middle of the day, etc.), and I never calorie or portion restrict. There are a lot of reasons why I don’t restrict my eating, some are related to sanity issues, others are because I don’t think it works long term, but, point is, dieting is not on the table.

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