Why You Shouldn’t Try To Lose Weight During Peak Training or Taper

Originally published by Mint on April 2, 2013 (five years ago today).

You know that saying that sometimes bad runs happen to good people? I have another one: sometimes smart runners do really dumb things (which in turn causes bad runs to happen to good people). Of course that smart dumb runner is me.

This week, I broke one of the cardinal sins of training:

I cut too many calories during my peak training week all in the name of weight loss and reaching my ideal race weight.

I paid for it dearly too.

The worst part is that I really do know better. Cinnamon warned us about this a couple of weeks ago. My coach advised me last weekend to get good sleep and eat well this week. I know that proper fueling is key to good workouts and races. But I went down that road anyway. The unfortunate truth is a lot of runners – especially women runners – make this same mistake. So I am sharing my foolhardy choices with you in the hopes it may prevent you from making the same mistake I did.

What happened, you ask? Well, frankly things are different this season and I did not adapt accordingly. I typically train for a marathon each spring and each fall. I run relatively high volume mileage so that by the time I hit my peak in training, I am usually right around the race weight I want. I don’t have to think about it much as the high mileage does the work for me. After I race my marathon, I usually take a month or so off to recover. Never fail, I gain 5-8 pounds as my mileage drops off. Not a big deal, it is just part of the cycle.

Fast forward to this season. I gained my usual weight after the Chicago Marathon, then started training again. This time, I am training for a half marathon though, so my mileage is significantly lower than normal. This is all good, but I am still up a few pounds. Given my goal race is right around the corner, I decided this month that I needed to really clean up my diet so that I could get to a better race weight.

I started eating tons of fruits and veggies and was eating much lighter meals. When the scale dropped some this week, I was thrilled. But my speed workout on Tuesday was really hard. In my head, I said no problem. It WAS a really hard workout. Then Friday rolled around. I was scheduled for a relatively hard (but not killer) speed workout. And I.could.not.hit.my.paces. Not even close. After my warm up and some short, fast intervals, I had a set of .625 mile (1000 meter) intervals to do. But I couldn’t. I was slow even though I felt like I was working so hard. I had to stop a couple times during each it was so hard. I finally bagged the workout after 40 minutes and went home feeling very dejected.

Then it dawned on me that the last several days, my caloric intake has been way too light. No wonder I couldn’t train hard. Duh.

I still want to drop those extra pounds, but I know I need to do it in a better way so I can continue to train hard and – most importantly – have a strong race when race day rolls around. Here is what I am going to do:

1. Keep Eating Better Foods, But Keep Diet Balanced. I’ll continue focusing on my fruits and veggies – along with other whole, unprocessed foods, but I am also going to make sure I am getting in enough calories to support my workouts. You cannot run 50 miles a week with three high quality workouts on 1400 calories a day. So I will pay attention to both the types of food I am eating and the amount.

2. Keep Hydrating. I don’t know about you, but in the winter I don’t tend to drink as much water. I am going to really boost that to ensure I am properly hydrated as race day nears. Also, often we mistake our thirst for hunger. So if I feel hungry mid day even though I just had a snack, I am going to reach for water before the candy dish at work (which will no doubt be filled with chocolate this week!).

3. Make Peace With My Poundage. I should have jettisoned my extra tonnage before I started heavy training. But I didn’t. I made that mistake and I have to live with it. I may still be able to drop a pound or 2 by eating better foods and cutting out junk (yes, I am thinking about chocolate again). But, I may not. If I have to race with a few extra pounds, that is what I’ll have to do. It is not the end of the world. I can make peace with that and try to drop the extra pounds after my race.

I ask you to take my experience to heart and avoid making the same mistake. Whether you are in peak training or taper mode, your body needs fuel to perform its best when it counts!

Have you ever made the mistake of cutting calories during heavy training? Did it sabotage your workouts or race?

Sal is a 4 year old 77 hour trail marathoner looking to whittle a few minutes off next time. Being a gastropod, Sal is neither male nor female but will accept either set of pronouns. Sal's spirit animal is the cheetah and Sal's mantra is, "What's slow to some is fast for others." Sal writes about Salty Running news.

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