by Rich Stiller
This article originally appeared in the Jan/Feb 2015 edition of our magazine.
Back in my time as a serious competitor I trained almost daily for ten years with the same four guys. We all ranged in height from 5’6” to 5’8”. We all peaked at the same time (our thirties) and ran 10k’s under 33 minutes, ten miles under 55 minutes, and the mile in the 4:30s.
That’s where the similarity ended. John was 5’6” and 130 pounds. Of all of us he looked most like the classic long distance runner with his small light frame. Dave and I were both 5’7” and 140. Dave was lanky and wiry. I looked like an underfed Basque peasant. Jake trumped us all. At just a hair under 5’8” and hovering between 155 and 160 pound, he looked like a weightlifter gone rogue. When he lined up in the front row at races other runners, the ones that didn’t know him, shot him weird glances. What in the heck was he doing up here? Stocky, barrel chested Jake ran 53:20 for ten miles. He ran 10k in 32:38. He blasted a 5k in 15:31. After you raced Jake you no longer asked what he was doing in the front row. What you did was move over and make room for him.
Peasant Rich (me) ran a 4:31 mile, a 9:44 two miler, a 15:46 5k, a 25:45 five miler and 32:34 for 10k. I think at my best I sort of resembled a runner. I never had a six pack. At best I had a kegger for abs. But like Jake I verged on stockiness. My saving grace was longer than usual legs for my height.
Over the years I’ve heard too many runners and observers of the sport often comment on how Runner X must be so good because of his long legs. Ahem, Haile Gebrselassie is 5’5” and no one would accuse him of long legs.
Recently an uninformed British friend told me that he was surprised that I ever chose running as a sport. I asked him why. “You’re a mesomorph,” he said without meaning to be insulting. “Very observant,” I replied but with that logic you’d better tell Prefontaine he should have stayed on the football team.
Years ago I saw Pre up close after a race. He may have been 5’9” and weighted as much as 150. He had just crushed the field in a Pac-8 cross country championship. A few weeks later Pre won the NCAA’s. Stocky, chunky, fast. I later found out from a teammate that he was closer to 5’8” and 155 by his senior year at Oregon.
Of course, despite us mesomorphs accepting our body types, we still secretly want to lose weight in the mistaken belief that we’ll then be mistaken for endomorphs or small boned skinny types that inhabit the world of competitive racing. Losing that magic five to ten pounds will also make us faster runners, but it’s also nice to look like you belong.
Jake, who often topped out at over 160 pounds, went on a particularly annoying diet years ago. Deciding it was time to lose ten pounds, he began his diet right after we had both run a twenty mile race. We had a good two hour drive back home afterwards, so it was only logical that we stop for lunch. To my chagrin, Jake announced in the car that we weren’t stopping for a meal. Since he was driving, I was sort of stuck. By the time Jake dropped me off, I was about ready to start chewing on his leather seats. I made it to a nearby mini market and scarfed down three balls of mozzarella cheese and Gatorade. Not exactly carbo replacement therapy, but it stuck to my ribs and until I got home where I promptly devoured two bowls of chili.
The next day Jake and I were out running and I asked him how the diet was going. “Oh, I made it to dinnertime and then caved and ate everything I could lay my hands on,” he said. At the moment I hated him.
The moral of this essay? There is no ideal body type. Your ideal body is the one you own, so make the best of it and don’t try to mold yourself into something you’re not. Don Kardong, the 1976 Olympian put it best: when you start running significant PR’s step on the scale. That’s your perfect weight.
Rich Stiller has been running and racing since 1968.
If you would like to read more from our Jan/Feb 2015 issue, click here.