Should Runners Be Classified According to Weight?

By , SparkPeople Blogger
In my almost 5 years of running in races ranging from the 5K to the marathon I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of other runners of all shapes and sizes from all over the world. The great thing with running is there is not a standard 'runner's body' per se when it comes to the sport. While the elite runner may have less body fat than say a bodybuilder, there is no truth behind the notion that having longer, leaner legs makes for a faster more efficient runner. In fact leg length has little to do with speed. Speed comes from leg turnover--in other words the speed at which each foot strikes the ground in a specific period of time, and other factors such as the amount of fast twitch muscle fibers one has. However, it has been noted that the more weight a runner carries, the slower his/her time may be.

As charity races become more popular race directors are looking at new ways to draw runners of all sizes to join in on the fun. In a recent blog published earlier this month in the New York Times, Tara Parker-Pope explores the world of Clydesdales and Fillies, terms used to describe male and female runners over a certain weight classification. This blog got me thinking as to whether or not heavier runners should be given their own classification.

For years race directors have classified runners according to their age on race day, but in the late 1980's a trend of classifying runners according to weight started making the race circuit. The term Clydesdale refers to men over a weight of 200 pounds regardless of height. Filly, and in some running arenas the term Athena, is the classification given to women over 140, sometimes 150 pounds, regardless of their height.

The idea behind this separate classification is to give some credit to runners who tend to be on the heavier side. With other sports such as boxing and wrestling classifying their athletes in weight categories, it seems fitting that the same could hold true for running. Carrying an extra 20-50 pounds or more can be a disadvantage when competing with lighter weight runners, but this does not mean the heavier runners are any less fit than their lighter counterparts.

Studies have actually shown that weight is not the best predictor of health. So while we think nothing about classifying runners in an age category, shouldn't the same be true for their weight as well?

In the over 100 races I have participated in, only a few have offered the weight category option. Although this topic is up for debate in running circles, I am of the mindset that whatever it takes to get people active and inspired to go out and run every week, than I am all for it. Trust me, there is nothing like crossing a finish line and feel as though you did what so many people never dared to do and that is to not only run the race, but to get out there during all types of weather conditions and train. If classifying a runner in a weight or age category is what it takes to get people motivated, than what is the harm?

If you are classified as a Clydesdale or Filly, here is a link to the USA Clydesdale and Filly Racing Federation to find races across the country. I just love this quote from the website that reads, "We are runners, cyclists & swimmers 1st and Clydesdales and Fillies 2nd!" So true!

Do you think there should be weight categories for runners? Do you think having a weight category takes away from the sport of running?

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I have been running races for 7 years and have never been forced to choose a label. I’m okay with just age/sex categories. Report
I find it offensive to classify by weight. Do they run separately? Are they given an advantage? Do they put the heavier class in the back? Either way, a runner is a runner, regardless of size and I don’t like the idea of categorizing people. Elite runners already get a space up front, and most races categorize by your minutes per mile. That is fair. Report
thanks Report
I feel that being weighed in a public place, especially in a place associated with fit healthy people, would be a deterrent for many over weight people. As a society we put so much value on numbers like weight that even healthy people are ashamed by their weight. Report
Interesting. I can't say that I agree with a weight classification, especially since it isn't taking in height. So I am 5'3 and my cousin is 6' and we weigh the same. I am overweight and she is considered very lean. So who is really benefits? Not the short overweight runner but the tall lean runners. Report
Thanks. Report
I don't care what they do because I can't run because of my ankle is bone on bone and I also have lung problems that prevent me from running and I have a hard time just walking, so running is out of the question for me. Report
I think 140 is a ridiculous number to consider for the "overweight" category. I'm 5'8" and even when I was dancing in a professional ballet company, I wasn't under 140. I would have to be unhealthy thin to not be classified in the overweight category. If there was a consideration for weight, it would also have to take into account height because 140 is not realistic for most women. Report
great. Report
Interesting concept, but not necessary. Report
If you classify by weight, you must also categorize that by height. After all the 6'3" runner and 5'0" runner are still separated when both are in the 150 pound class. In reality there is only one first place. There are only so many who have a chance to finish on top. Most of us are running against ourselves only, and maybe a few friends.
I like to think of this type of event as an organized run, not a race. In a race there is 1 winner. Let's just do it for fun, fitness, or the project it supports. Make the best of it. Report
weight should not matter Report
Not a big fan of being categorizing by weight. From an organizer's POV, that's what? 3 extra trophies per age class? Many of the races I run either wouldn't be able to afford it or it would take away money from a good cause -- even worse. I'd rather win/ place straight up. And I have. Even firmly in the Athena division (165 lbs), which they didn't have. I'm fine with the whole "participation trophies" for children because kids sacrifice their time and get injured but learn to work through pain & overcome defeat. (I'm fine with those lessons being rewarded with a souvenir of their dedication.) Adults don't need participation trophies. We compete against ourselves. Regardless of weight. If we're not, then we're probably running for the wrong reasons. Report
Would be interesting to have some races rank by weight and have more categories (like wrestling) see what happens and where I would place. Report
I don't think I like being segregated by weight. Report
I think this is a good idea. I also think though that runners should be classified according to their height. While height doesn't necessarily mean you're slower, you do have to exert more energy to get the added leg turnover. Therefore the shorter person may start to tire out sooner than the person with longer legs and in turn slow down. Report
When I was in high school track there were "baby whale" events. These were running events where you had to throw the shot or discus a certain distance to qualify. This eliminated all the 150lb runners and brought out some of us big guys.

Personally I'm for anything that gets people active and if a class for Clydesdale/Athena athletes helps that all the better.

In cycling larger riders are at a disadvantage even if they are lean. When you look at climbing specialists you see small riders like Pantani, Hampsten, Contidore, etc. The fittest larger riders at their best can keep up with the climbers. Report
I like the idea of creating classifications that help level the playing field. I can't compete with runners that weight 20-30 lbs less than me. But without reference to height, the weight classification is meaningless.

Ultimately, my biggest competition is myself. I run again my PRs. And sometimes I don't compete at all, I just enjoy the race. Report
I am of two minds on this subject. On the one hand, I don't like the idea of being classified as overweight at a running event; it puts additional pressure on the competition aspect of an event. On the other hand, perhaps having a weight classification, or category, would even out the field, so to speak, and give that overweight person a cnance to distinguish themselves when competing with others who are in the same category. So, I don't know what to think as being better. I'd be a short female Clydesdale, for certain...! Report
I don't really want to be classified as a I don't think this classification is really helpful. I weigh over 200 lbs and can out run several of my lower weight friends, just as there are 45-50 year olds who can out run me at the age of 26. Report
This article struck me as "offensive". Really. I don't want to be categorized by my weight. I wear a size 6 and weigh 153 lbs. Categorize me by age, or pace, but don't lump me with a fat designation (whether I am or not). I think it's a put down and irrelevant. Report
not sure that seperating by weight classes would help as much as skill level. I participated in my first Race for the Cure this year (I walked to see what it would be like) and it was overwhelmingly crowded. A good thing since its for a good cause but I don't know I'd want to try to run it as it was SO crowded and I know that other charity races in our area tend to follow the same trend. I think the biggest help would be to break the event into skill levels (beginner, intermediate, advanced) and start it in 15 or 20 minute waves so that the course is thinned out.

I am looking forward to next years event but I will definitely take the advice of some veterans to our area races and stick to the back of the pack and start after giving them a 5 minute headstart keeping track of my own time so I can set a steady pace. Report
I agree with Shadoza (#61). Running is not a contact sport so weight classes are not really an issue. It just seems a little much to me. Maybe if classifications ranked from beginner, intermediate, experienced, advanced and so on, but I do not think weight should be a component. Report
Just since reading sparkpeople have I realized that so many Clydesdales actually run. Of course, the 140, 150 pound criteria is totally ridiculous! I am 5'7 and at 150 I look hot as hell at 140 I look like a cancer patient in chemo treatment.
Back in the day, my girlfriend used to run 5 and 10Ks. I would sit at the finish line and cheer her on. She was one of the fastest clydesdales there and would always take ribbons for her time. If they do it at all I think it has to go with height. I have always thought categories were fine and winners determined by fitness level. Report
This is great to read, I am often put off the more "professional" 10k races because I feel too fat and the wrong sort of runner. Some food for thought in this blog.... Report
Great article!!! As a "Filly" or "Clydette", I love the weight categories. I am 5'3" and 150 lbs. Although I have had a lot of success on Sparkpeople, I struggle to keep my weight under 150, even though I "should" weigh at most 142. Before jumping on my habits, please realize that I have tracked my calories daily for over 2 years and run 30-40 miles per week, ran 5 half-marathons this year as well as crosstrain because I do triathlons. That being said, I am always in the last 10-25% of the field to finish. I do MUCH better when competing with people in my weight class. I don't think there should be multiple weight classes, just the Filly/Clyde system in place. It helps give motivation and self-esteem to those heavier runners that really need the boost. I'd like to see the speedy runners at front run with an extra 50 pound pack on their backs! Report
5 minutes that I cant get back! Report
They would have to adjust for height or it wouldn't be very accurate and even then it probably wouldn't be accurate. I think they need to leave it alone. Report
I've run two 5k events at 180 (I'm 5'5"+) and like the BMI standards, I am skeptical of having a weight class for running unless the height is also factored in. I don't consider myself "almost obese," but I am at the high end of the Overweight BMI category. It's like body builders who would be considered Obese by BMI standards b/c of their muscle weight. I'm also not that competitive that I'd want an "apples to apples" approach to my local races. At this point, I'm just happy to be healthy enough to run and finish! I suppose if I were more competitive with others, I might want that kind of distinction (of knowing how I performed in my weight class), but right now I'm just competing with myself - to improve my race time each time I run! Report
The 140 pound mark for women kind of offends me. Anyone who is even a little taller than average could be quite slender and fit at 140 and someone who is tall would likely be underweight! Is that really a healthy message, that unless you weigh less than 140 you get a special "husky" category? Report
Quite the sensitive topic. I, personally, think it should be an option if you want to race in the "Clydsdale" or "Filly" category. I race in a city with a LOT of elite runners/athletes and think that it would be nice if the purse included those that are NOT. I also like th idea that someone mentioned of "running for less than a year" category. I think it just evens the playing field for runners and makes those of us that are slower and heavier more confident about entering into races. Report
The best way to compete in a "weight related" category would have everyone jump in the tub and have a fat analysis done and give a handicap based on that.

Howerver, that's not very realistic.

You could make an optional BMI category where weight and height are handicaps. That way those of us with higher BMI numbers wouldn't be worried about the negative perceptions we already face.

The BMI handicap would be applied to the finishing times and even BMI's needn't be posted. It would just show that we had chosen to walk/run in that category.

When I was younger, I trained for a year, running more and more miles every month, plus doing calesthenics for a total of two hours per day and free weights for an hour every other day. At the finish of that year of training, I had a body fat of 15% according to the displacement method of computing body fat.

According to the "charts", my "ideal" weight should be between 151 and 154. I weighed 164 pounds after my years worth of training and would probably have to lose 10 pounds of upper body muscle to get that light.

If there were to be some sort of weight category, it shouldn't be broken down by weight alone, height should definately be a factor. I'd definitely be a chunk at 200 pounds. but at 6' tall I wouldn't appear to be overweight. At 6'3" and 200 pounds, my dad would have looked unhealthy at 200#. Report
Okay first, 140 pounds being the cutoff is ridiculous. More like 175. I have lost 60-some pounds now and am still over 175, and 140 is lower than my goal. SO they're saying if you're 21 years old and stick skinny you're in one category, but if you're working on losing weight you're just lumped in with everyone else. I don't mind the age categories, and the races where they publish everyone's finish times lets me know where I ended up. But as a matter of information, it might be nice to know how I finished amongst other fat ladies, but I sure as hell don 't want my weight listed on the race results. It's fine the way it age. I'm NOT in danger of winning any of these races, I am doing it to see how much better I can get and move on to the next thing (10k, then 15k, then half marathon, then marathon). I do think if they want more people to join they should give out more prizes. I can't compete with people half my age or that have been running for years, but I CAN compete with myself. Report
my daughter and I went for 5k was ok for me but not for her she was so sick until today Report
I don't like it. I'm 5'10 and would have to be under weight to not be a "Filly". It feels like a classification for "fat" runners. I'm running just to prove I can. So I can be stronger than I ever have been before. Report
I think if people want the option to run in a weight category, then they should be able to, but in no way should it be mandatory. I think the "filly" designation is kind of ridiculous anyways. I started running at 275 lbs and I probably NEVER will be under 140 lbs (and I would be at a healthy weight for my height at 150 lbs). What am I? A "super filly"? Report
There is a standard formula that says you add 5 seconds per mile per pound or something like that. It goes with my own experience-- I used to do a lot of grueling track workouts but follow them up with high-calorie feasts. When I joined SparkPeople and stopped out-eating my calories burned, I lost about 15 pounds, and despite not doing any tough speedwork, took about 45 seconds per mile off of my 5-mile race time. It was astonishing! I hadn't been beating myself up on the track, yet running was MARKEDLY easier and I felt like I was FLYING! I miss that feeling, because I've since gained a lot of the weight back, and I can feel it when I run.

Yes, there are always heavier people who may beat you, but you will DEFINITELY run faster if you are lighter-- that is, the lighter version of you will be faster than the heavier version of you. Whether it's worth it to your happiness to be the lighter version of you is another question altogether. I'm still weighing which version of myself made for a happier life. Report
I think having a weight classification is totally rediculous! I am "learning" to be a runner, I enjoy it but, I am slow. I have done 2 5K's and I am currently training for a duathlon. I do not think weight determines how fast you can run. I know plenty of people that are heavier than I am and they can out run me so I would think that by having weight classifications, for someone like me, it would have the opposite effect. I would have the mind set that I should be able to run faster because I weigh less than someone? SILLY!! Report
I understand organizers' desires to try to motivate more people to run but I think this is a BAD idea. It is another example of folks not wanting to measure up against a STANDARD. The idea is to compete against the BEST. The best are the fastest, regardless of size, shape, weight. Yeah....MY shape may not position me to win, but I will SEE how I shape up against the best. We need to KEEP the competition REAL; in sports, in academics, in business....instead of deceiving ourselves to feel better in the moment. The motivation to run needs to come from our desire to BE BETTER tomorrow than we are today. Period. Report
I don't see how classifying according to weight is motivating. If you're a runner, I would think that the love of running would be enough of a motivation to get out there. I don't think I'd like to be classified in any event according to my weight, especially with a horse reference. And as far as boxing & wrestling go, don't you think the weight of the contenders actually has some direct correlation to the outcome of those events? What is the correlation in running? One of the previous posters said she's been bested by heavier runners, so...? Report
Some people don't mind it, but I think separating and categorizing people by weight is a bad idea. I think this just adds more of a stigma to heavier people; we need to get rid of stigmas, not add to them.
I've been a runner for over 35 years and I've been easily beaten by heavier runners. Report
I really don't think weight has anything to do with running...It's all muscle Report
I did my first 5K at 250 pounds. I think having two (or even three) weight catagories would be interesting incentive. I have to agree with MIZLIZ8's comment (number 25) about not having it tied to height opens it up for abuses versus giving heavier runners a chance. (Her perfect example, "180 lb guy who is 6'3' isn't overweight, but he's beating out the fellow who may have been a couch potato 3 months ago and has made great strides toward a healthier lifestyle.") I knew I wasn't getting on any podium, but as I progress to being a more "serious" runner, I'm still going to obese for a while, and some recognition for a sub-30 minute 5k (not how I actually did, just a thought) while obese, for example, would be great.

- Josie Report
Separating by weight makes a lot more sense than by age. Other sports already use weight as a classification so why not? We all need to watch our attitudes and realize that the organizers of these events really want their events to be positive experiences. If it is not, then people could decide not to do that event again. That would not be good press for the event. We need to flex our minds a bit, feel free to experiment and maybe that will allow some better ideas to come to the surface so we can have successful events. Report
I don't think there should be a separation other than age. Report
I'm a penguin. ;-) Report
When I did (sprint) triathlons, I really liked being classified as an Athena! I would MUCH prefer having an A on my calf instead of my AGE!
I'd never heard of the "filly" category, but then, I haven't done any road races in years...
Guess I'd be a mare, not a filly (smile). Report
I think there should be categories for short and tall runners! As a shorter person, I know that there is no way I could ever catch up to someone with long legs and long strides no matter how much I train. Report
Who says there has to be one system? Why can't we do both? Report