Data Porn: Training for the World Marathon Challenge

The first leg of the World Marathon Challenge begins in just 10 days, kicking off January 30th in Antarctica. We’ll be running a certified, full distance marathon (26.2 miles) on each of the 7 continents in 7 days. The route will take us from Novo base in Antarctica, to Perth, Dubai, Lisbon, Cartagena and finally to Miami.

World Matathon Map

I really began to get serious about my training for this adventure in October last year, and the dork in me wanted to have a real sense of the impact, fitness-wise, of that training on my body. I got a DXA scan (dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry) by BodySpec on September 23rd and just today (January 20th) to look at how my body fat and lean muscle would change.

To be clear, I wasn’t starting from scratch. I ran a 50 mile race in March ‘17, a Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim in May ‘17,  and the 120 mile TransRockies stage race in August ‘17. So over the past 4 months I added more miles to my training, and more back to back runs, but I actually did less cross-training (weights and swimming especially).

Before I get to the numbers on training and impact, I do want to note what I didn’t do. I didn’t make major changes to my diet. I eat red meat. My family likes loaves of bread at dinner. And I drink beer. Unapologetically. I think I did the fourth leg of the TransRockies still drunk from the prior night. I did try and get more plants/fiber/protein in the morning by adding some smoothies into the rotation with soybeans. And I balanced that out with IPAs. Translation, I wasn’t coming out of the gates as the most lean human on the planet, but the point here is more normalization to the impact of training – and specifically running – changes only.

Here are some quick training stats for context with summary first. Important to note I tore my calf muscle in late March so I logged no miles in April. Sad, lonely, drinking time. I excluded it from the averages entirely to not skew the data, and believe there was enough ‘return to baseline’ time in May – September to justify the broader comparison.

Averages Distance (Miles / Month) Activities / Month Activity Time / Month Average Pace (min / mi)
Jan ’17 – Sep ’17 130 17 1370 11:05
Oct ’17 – Jan ’18 197 23 1888 9:29
Percentage Change +52% +40% +38% -14%

This data doesn’t include a complete January 2018 since it’s only the 20th, so there is some slight reduction in at least that distance average.

So all in, I increased miles by about 52% per month and increased the overall length of runs (as evidenced by only a +40% increase in activities/month). My pace increased, but the size of that change is more driven by moving from training on trails to training on roads for the World Marathon. That said, for a direct comparison, I looked at a number of similar distance / terrain runs across months. I would say cruising speed on pavement moved from around 8:30 in September to 8:10-8:15 now. Not Boston qualifying by any means.

Okay, so what does a 52% increase in miles for 4 months do to the body of a 42 year old man.

DXA Scan Date Total Body Fat % Total Mass (lbs) Fat Tissue (lbs) Lean Tissue (lbs)
9/23/17 20.6% 178.6 36.7 135.4
1/20/18 15.5% 174.1 27.0 140.5
Change – 5.1% (net) – 4.5 – 9.7 + 5.1

Where were these changes coming from?

Change in Fat (lbs) Change in Fat (%) Change in Lean Muscle (lbs) Change in Lean Muscle (%)
Arms -1.0 -3.8 -0.1 -0.5
Legs -3.0 -4.3 1.8 3.8
Trunk -5.6 -6.6 3.9 6.2
Android -0.7 -6.4 0.5 5.5
Gynoid -1.2 -4.3 1.0 4.8

Note: Android is your lower abdomen. Gynoid is your hips, upper thighs and butt.

Reflections / Observations / Conclusions:

  1. I spent a GOOD DEAL of time during this training pissed off at my scale because I expected more. And you’ll see, while I did drop 4.5 lbs net, the reality is I dropped 9.7 lbs of fat and put on 5.1 lbs of lean muscle. This is the real risk of scales for anyone trying to get into shape. They aren’t the full story.
  2. I’m really surprised I didn’t put on more muscle in my legs. I mean, what the hell are they doing down there? I have to assume the 1 lb in the gynoid is mostly in my butt……which is nice. But my big conclusion is your leg muscles are already plenty strong enough to carry you long, long distances. It’s all about tuning.
  3. I’m actually happy I didn’t lose more muscle in my arms considering the slow down in swimming and general weight training. Along those lines, I’m surprised there was such growth in my truck lean mass. Banging out hills and speed work must add to the lower back and abs.
  4. While I feel and look leaner….completely losing those god damn love handles seems just impossible at 42 years old. A drop of just 0.7 lbs in the Android isn’t going to cut it if I am going to body double for Zac Efron any time soon. (You can all zip it about the beer).
  5. Finally, I’m going to keep up the scanning. In May I’ll take receipt of a home scanner from Naked Labs and likely dial up the frequency and experimentation behind this all. It’s very, very encouraging to see the granular impact of hard work. (Full disclosure, I’m an angel investor in that company because I liked their technology).

I’m happy to share more details on the actual training plans for anyone interested. Hit me up in the comments. I’ll be sharing more on the experience here on andhesays.com and on instagram @acbrooks.

Note: Special thanks to my coach, Jon Fecik, at Power On Coaching.

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