Nanu, Nanu! Space Age Bod Pod Testing

I just got back from outer space.  At least that’s what it feels like inside a Bod Pod body composition analysis chamber.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you were probably born in the 90s and missed the classic 70s/80s show Mork and Mindy with Robin Williams.

Here’s a visual:

Mork cracks open his egg spaceship and arrives on Earth

I’ve been going to UNC Asheville’s Biometric Center each February since 2015.  When I starting training hard for marathons, I dropped about 12 pounds and I was worried I was getting too skinny.

Turns out I wasn’t.  In 2015, my body fat percentage was 17.4% which is normal for female athletes.  When I went back the following year, my weight had stayed stable, but I lost 2.4% of my body fat and put on 2 pounds of muscle.

Naturally, I was really happy about that because I’m a petite 5′ 3″ and 2 pounds of muscle is a lot for me.

So I figured that if I kept doing the same things, I’d stay the same.

Not exactly.

After Boston last year, I gained 6 pounds in two weeks while recovering.  This is completely normal and expected so I didn’t mind.  The body needs to heal and repair and you can’t expect to stay at your peak leanness all year long.

But then when it came time to get lean again for fall racing, the scale wouldn’t budge and even creeped up a bit higher.  I made sure that I was eating well–not too much and not too little–but what had worked for me before didn’t work anymore.

I had had to dial back my heavy strength training last summer because it was making me too tired and sore to run well, but I never gave it up completely.  I suspected that I was losing some muscle and gaining some fat, but I couldn’t figure out why.

But yet, I was still getting faster.

On route to a PR at the French Broad Half, October 2016

Last fall I was logging 70 to 80 miles per week (more than ever!) and yet I was getting just a little heavier.

My clothes still fit, but I gained an inch around my thighs and my waist. Ugh.

What the heck was going on?  Don’t tell me it’s hormones or getting older or any of that!

But could it be?

Being lean is important to racing your fastest, but all pounds aren’t equal.  If you gain weight and most of it’s muscle, you will be faster because you are leaner and stronger.

Being light is not the goal.

I don’t want to be skinny.  I want to be strong.

And fast.

The Bod Pod is one way of measuring how much fat and muscle you have that is a lot more accurate that a simple skin fold test.  It’s not perfect, but it’s been shown to be within 1-2%.  The absolute numbers aren’t as important as the change over time.

I could tell just by looking in the mirror that the muscle definition in my abs was not as pronounced as it was before Boston.  I was prepared for the test to reveal that I’ve gained some fat.

And even though I’m picking up heavier things again, I doubted that I could have put on much muscle, if any.

I braced myself for the results.

Turns out I have put on a little over two pounds of fat from last year, but I still carry less than I did in 2015.  I came in at 16.9% body fat, which I am very happy with.  I was at 15% in 2016 and that’s about as lean as I ever want to be.  Anything less than that for women can lead to compromised performance, which I definitely don’t want!

But the cool part is that I’ve gained another pound of muscle.  So that’s a total of three powerful pounds in two years.

Not too bad!

So that explains why I couldn’t get back down to “race weight” despite doing the same things I was doing before.  Now that I am stronger, my ideal race weight is different and that’s a good thing.

Body weight and body composition can be a sensitive topic for some people, especially women, so I want to address that part of why I do this testing and why I share my numbers with you.

I love running and I love food and I love to nerd out on nutrition and data and analysis.  I share my numbers not to brag or complain or compare to anyone else, but to be honest with my experience and the things I find interesting.

I like to get tested once a year so that I can have a little reassurance that I’m on the right track.  I know now that I might never get to 110 pounds again and even better, I don’t even need to try!  I can let go of the idea that I have a fixed “race weight” and something is wrong with me if I can’t get back down there again.

You can be an amazing runner at 15% or 20% or 25% body fat or even higher than that.  Body composition is only one piece of the equation and not even remotely the most important one.

We are all striving to be the best we can be for ourselves and that looks different on every body.

And with that, I’m going to get something to eat!

 

The Belly is the Real Window to the Soul

If you are a runner with kids and are looking for inspiration, check out Stephanie Bruce.  She is an elite distance runner who has had two kids in less than two years and ran the Olympic standard in the 10K six months after giving birth.  That alone is an awe-worthy feat, but what has forever endeared her to me is this photo.  In a world of carefully curated Instagram pics, Bruce decided to bare her post-baby belly and a bit of her soul.  “The postpartum body is a complicated and hot mess,” she wrote, “but also one that brought life into this world…it’s the most natural part of existence.”  Bruce feels most comfortable training and racing without a top over her sports bra so she does, no matter what anyone thinks.  It says a lot about our society that simply baring her natural body is an act of bravery, but it is.

A couple months after Bruce’s post, I downloaded my race photos from Boston.  It was a hot day and I raced in a sports bra and shorts for the first time ever.  Some photos looked fantastic.  At a few points during the race I noticed the camera and purposefully smiled, opened up my stride, and raised my arms triumphantly in the air.  Those are the ones I’m going to love when I’m 90. But other photos showed the extra skin on my stomach from my pregnancies strangely twisting across my middle like ropes of floppy bread dough. What was that?  Is that really me?  I think I look pretty good (and not just “good for my age,” but good period) and those photos said something else to me. “Is that how the world sees me?” I wondered.

So I started editing the worst offenders.  I smoothed out the striped shadows across my stomach and blurred my belly lines away.  That was much better!  It was magical how the retouch button created the illusion of the perfectly toned tummy. I worked so hard to run that race and I wanted my pictures to show the lean, strong, badass woman that I am.  I don’t want people to think that I look “great for a mom.”  I want people to think I simply look great.  Doesn’t everyone? I smoothed and blended and blurred the images until all signs that I carried two children in my body were eliminated.

Then I thought about Stephanie Bruce.

I started to feel guilty.  And inauthentic.  A bit of a fraud.

I am lucky enough to have been spared some of the harsher physical side effects of pregnancy and I am generally happy with the way I look.  Standing up. Sucking in.  Flexing my abs.  If I lean over or God forbid do a downward dog in a crop top, the lie that I’m a childless twenty-something exposes itself.  Even though I’m fit and thin and have 15% body fat, I have inches of extra skin on my middle, my arms, my legs, and probably even my earlobes.  My thighs gap, then meet, then gap, then meet like a pair of passionate tango dancers.  That is simply who I am right now.  With time and training and life, my body will change to reflect my journey. My choice is either to wish that weren’t the case or to let go and embrace it.

I wear a sports bra without a top when it’s hot.  Not because I want to show off.  It’s because it’s hot!  Will I still try to flex when someone takes my picture or cringe a little when I see the extra skin happily waving to the camera?  Of course.  My self-confidence is not always perfect and neither am I.  But I’m not going to hide who I am out of fear of judgment that is probably more from myself than from others.

And I’m not going to Photoshop either.