Being a Bigger Runner or Triathlete

In triathlons, we have these fun categories called Athena and Clydesdale.  A lot of people think that means “fat,” but really, it just means heavier.  It’s a way to recognize that some people are lugging a lot more bulk.

So what qualifies you as an Athena or a Clydesdale?  Well, some races have different rules, but USA Triathlon, the governing body for triathlons (and the group that creates the rules we all follow) says that an Athena is a woman 165 pounds or over and a Clydesdale is a man 220 pounds or over.  What this doesn’t account for is height.  A woman who is 5’10” is in a healthy weight range at 165 pounds according to the BMI charts.

But I’m getting off track.

The stereotypical runner is someone with a long and lean body.  That’s what we think of when we think of runners and who we typically see competing at the Olympics.   And there’s nothing wrong with having that body type.  I’m not about thin shaming or fat shaming.  People come in all sizes.

What I do want to talk about is some of the difficulties that bigger athletes face.  I read an article from Active about it a few weeks ago and it stuck in my head.

First off, a lot of people worry that they are too big to get into the sport.  Not because they’re worried about their health, but because they’re worried what others will think.  WHO CARES?  Don’t let that bother you.  Go out and do your thing.  Yesterday, driving home, I was behind a bigger girl biking down the road, and I was so impressed with her ability to power up the hill.  Also with her confidence in traffic.  I only work 7 miles from home but I don’t bike it because the traffic terrifies me.  You go, girl.

Bigger runners do have to think a little differently about shoes.  You might want more cushioning under your feet because you’re putting more pressure on your poor footsies.  But there are many awesome shoes out there.

Gear can be tough.  There are some awesome companies, like Sparkle Skirts, that carry up to 3XL (theirs is equivalent to a 24-26) for bigger female runners.  And men have somewhat of an advantage in that football players tend to be big guys.  They need wicking clothing to workout in, so hey, the average runner can probably get some too.  But a lot of companies don’t make clothes for the bigger runner.  Heck, I’m not THAT big and I find myself buying gear in 2XLs just so it fits without suffocating.  And let’s not even talk about wetsuits.  Those are made of torture.   For sports bras, I’m an Enell fan.

One big key for bigger athletes of either gender is that your nutrition and hydration needs might be different than a smaller athlete.  I know runners who can get through a half marathon with one gel.  I cannot.  I actively get hungry if I don’t have more than 100 calories while out on the course.  I’m not sure if that’s a function of my weight or a function of the fact that I’m out there longer.  Either way, I’ve had to find a fueling method that works for me.  The same goes with hydration.  If you sweat more, you need to drink more.

Every so often, I do a sweat test.  Before you workout, get on the scale in the buff.  Record your weight.  Go for a run.  Take your water bottle with you, but make sure you know how much water is in it.  When you get back from a run, strip off your sweaty gear and wipe off as much sweat as possible (ick).  Weigh yourself again.  Subtract the number of ounces of water you drank and that’s how much weight you lost in sweat.  So that’s how much water you should be drinking to rehydrate.  Ideally, your weights should be about the same.

We often talk about the look of the stereotypical athlete.  Let’s keep changing that stereotype.  Get out there and be awesome.


5 thoughts on “Being a Bigger Runner or Triathlete

  1. Interesting post. The food, fuel comments based on size made me think about my own fueling. I a tiny female but require a lot of fuel for my training and races. For a half marathon I can go through 3 gels in around 2 hours. During my marathon I ate 2 bananas, 5 gels and pretzels! And I had another banana before and after the race! I’m also a huge fan of Sparkle Skirts They are great for any size runner!
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  2. Chrissy, my favorite bra is by Enell. They have two styles, but I prefer the original hardcore one. Anita is another good brand for bigger sizes. Bare Necessities (.com) carries a lot of brands and has a great return policy. A lot of people also rave about Moving Comfort, but I am too well endowed for their lines.

  3. Pam, that is a great point! Race nutrition and hydration varies so much from person to person. Size does play a role, but even that doesn’t prove anything. You have to find what works for you!

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