Ask a Random Triathlete: Losing Weight & Buying Shoes

(Tinker*Tailor loves Lalka Follow/Flickr)

Hey, yo, if you want advice from a random triathlete — and who doesn’t — then ask me questions either on this thread on the forum (which has gotten wildly hijacked by idiots who wear GPS watches while swimming), or leave a comment below, or message me directly. I can promise that sometimes my advice is actually useful, like this amazing insight or this or this definitely less helpful but still fantastic advice.

Today I’m doling out wisdom on weight loss and triathlon shoes. Extra pro tip: lower-cut socks make your ankles and legs look skinner. Calf-length cycling socks make you look fat. True fact. 

I want to lose 13 pounds before my next race, in a few weeks. How do I do that? Or should I just give up? I don’t seem to lose weight even when I’m training.

13 pounds in a few weeks? Going into a race that, presumably, you care about? Great plan. Fantastic. Just the kind of plan I expect from a triathlete.

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(I don’t know if that gif really had anything to do with your question, but I’ve been wanting to use it.)

Look, if I had some amazing weight loss secret, then my advice would cost a lot more than you all are paying me. Stop drinking so much beer. That should knock off a few pounds going into a race and it sounds like you probably drink too much anyway. Other than that, there isn’t some big secret. Obviously, most of the time losing weight is just a matter of burning off calories v. taking in calories, over a prolonged and steady period of time. Obviously, there are also caveats to this rule, and special issues and conditions. And you might be one of those super special people. Or you might not.

But here’s my extra special caveat: I’m not sure you can lose weight and get faster at the same time. 

If you’re training a lot, and if you want to be fast then you should be training a lot, then you need to be taking in enough calories to maintain that training effectively. Sure, you can cultivate a slight deficit to lose some weight over weeks or months. And, sure, there’s something to be said for not going nuts with the Oreos just because you got your bike out of the garage. But is forcing the issue worth it? If you err on the side of too high a deficit, you risk injury and fatigue and, ultimately, being slow(er). (Unless you’re primarily swimming, because swimming is messed up and you don’t burn anywhere close to as many calories as you feel like you do, which has to do with the difference in water temperature v. body temperature, or is just because you took Michael Phelps’ diet way too seriously.)

So pick: skinny or fast? I’d always pick fast.

In reading an old race report of yours I saw reference to using running shoes instead of triathlon shoes. In all of my one year of experience in triathlon, I haven’t heard of triathlon shoes. How do they differ from regular running shoes? 

They don’t. Not in the basics: there are laces, soles, uppers. You run in them. But companies sure would like you to think they’re different and worth extra money.

Triathlon shoes, generally, have triathlon-specific features that vary in their usefulness, but that someone somewhere has decided are key to selling things to gullible triathletes:

  • Quick laces
  • Easy built-in loops to pull them on quickly
  • Seamless interiors for sock-less running
  • Drainage holes — which may be the biggest crock of shit triathletes have all universally agreed to accept as a thing
A "triathlon" shoe

A “triathlon” shoe

Typically, these shoes are variations on a basic racing flat, but often with slightly more stability or cushioning than your average racing flat. The assumption there being that triathletes are merely masquerading as runners. 

I think, once it gets to longer distances though, these things have even less usefulness than they might have before, and it makes more sense to wear whatever running shoes you like to wear. The most popular shoes at Kona this fall were Asics and the fastest marathon that day was run in a pair of Skechers GoMeb Speed 3s (which my husband still doesn’t believe is a real shoe). So, you do you. Wear whatever you want to wear. Just don’t wear Vibrams.

About the Author

Kelly O'Mara
Kelly is a reporter and writer in the San Francisco Bay Area. She quit triathlon for a few years, because triathletes can be annoying, but now she's back into it and only hanging out with the non-annoying triathletes. She blogs about stuff at Sunny Running.