Saturday, November 19, 2011

Doping for Runners

Losing weight is the cheapest form of doping there is”--Dr. Mike Joyner, Mayo Clinic

Readers of Runner's World may recognize this quote from one of Peter Sagal's recent articles.  Peter was trying to see if he could stop or turn back the clock and continue to run PRs despite his advancing age.  He spoke with Dr. Joyner, a noted anesthesiologist and researcher at the Mayo Clinic.  I actually met Dr. Joyner when I was a medical student doing research at UNMC.  He is a sub 3 hour marathoner, so he has plenty of "street-cred," too.

When Peter asked Dr. Joyner how he could improve his running times, Dr. Joyner asked about his body stats and replied, "Lose some weight.  Losing weight is the cheapest form of doping there is."

The reason is VO2max.  Without going into too many boring details, VO2 max represents an individual's maximum oxygen uptake, and is considered the best indicator of cardiovascular fitness.  The units of measurement are ml/kg/min.  So as you see, for the same level of fitness, there is an inverse relationship between VO2max and body weight.

Obviously, there are many factors to consider, but in general, an easy rule of thumb is that losing 1 lb can shave 1 minute off the marathon time, 5 lbs=5 minutes, and so on.  Looking at my own marathon times over the years, along with my advancing waist line, I have found that the rule of thumb works pretty well in the other direction, too.  Like Peter Sagal though, I intend to take Dr. Joyner's advice and start doping and break 4 hours in 2012.

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