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Champion Sumo Wrestler Completes L.A. Marathon


Kelly Gneiting broke the Guinness World Record for "Heaviest Person to Complete a Marathon" by crossing the finish at the Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday.

The former U.S. sumo champion, who weighed in at Dodger Stadium on Sunday morning at exactly 400 pounds, finished the race in 9 hours, 48 minutes and 42 seconds.

Gneiting, of Ft. Defiance, Ariz., walked the last 18-plus miles of the race after jogging through the first 8 miles.

Shaunta at Llve Once, Juicy has written a post about the Anger Kelly Gneiting inspires among runners, and she makes some excellent points.

Reading the media coverage of Kelly's accomplishment, I was struck by the condescending tone in a lot of the articles. There are the usual fat-ha-ha plays on words and a very prominent focus on how difficult and painful the marathon was for Kelly; how his feet hurt and he had blisters. However, I'm pretty sure that marathons are difficult and painful for everyone. Looking at the ESPN footage of Kelly finishing, he looks tired but in control - and there are plenty of people behind him.

Now, the L.A. marathon has a 26.2 mile course. The top runners finish in a little over 2 hours. The average time for people who finish the race is 4-6 hours. For the 2011 L.A. Marathon, the average was 5 hours 16 minutes, and the last participant came in at 12 hours, 23 minutes.

Kelly was slowed down by his weight, no doubt.

However, here's a controversial thing to say: if we fat people can keep up with lighter people, showing no more strain than they do, then that means that we are stronger and more cardiovascularly fit than they are. How many people can walk 26 miles, let along run the first 8? How many people can do it without having a very low fat percentage? There are comments on the stories about Kelly talking about "strain on his heart." What people seem to forget is that the heart is a muscle. If you're heavy and active, then it gets to be big and powerful (and when you lose weight, it shrinks - this is why so many people have heart attacks while regaining weight they've lost).

If you're a thin fitness type reading this and shaking your head, then I have a challenge for you: attach enough weight to your body to make you equal in mass to an active fat person of your acquaintance. Then try to keep up with him or her. Frankly, I doubt that either you or I could walk a block, let alone a marathon (let alone run the first 8 miles), with enough added weight to equal Kelly G.

If you want to know how the performance of the type of thin, active folks who are considered fittest responds to added weight, then take a look at the military finish times for the Baton Memorial Death March, where participants can compete while wearing 35 pound backpacks. When you compare military men with and without packs, the packs add over an hour to the median time. Incidentally, the median time with the packs is similar to Kelly's time in the LA Marathon. Remember, these are the completion times for athletic members of the U.S. military who are only carrying an extra 35 pounds. Wonder how far those military guys would get with 200 pound backpacks.

This is a real athletic accomplishment, not just luck or some kind of fuzzywuzzy-newsy "triumph of the human spirit." Kelly trained hard, he did something that, in terms of weight, was more difficult for him to do than for any of the other almost 20,000 participants in the marathon, and he did it with grace and dignity. Cheers, Kelly!

Oh, and there's a beautiful photo of Kelly demonstrating his strength, flexibility and balance (by Mariah Tauger of the L.A. Times) here . I wish I could have used it to illustrate this post, but that would be a copyright violation. (curses!)

Emergency Room Poster: WLS Complications | Study: 60% re-operation rate with Gastric Bands

Viola's picture
March 22nd, 2011 | Link | Thanks for posting that. I

Thanks for posting that.

I didn't realize that runners were angry that people walk marathons. If the marathon allows walkers, or doesn't pull you off the course after a certain amount of time, it's fair game. I did a marathon 9 years ago. I didn't say I ran a marathon, just that I did a marathon or walked a marathon or whatever.

The Bataan Memorial Death March marathon numbers were interesting. The civilian numbers and running clubs were better than the military times, except with the heavy, there were two male military heavy number at 4:20 which was close to or better than the two the male military light top finishers who clocked in at 4:18 and 4:37. I assume if those two guys had run light, they'd have had a better finish time. The civilians really did a lot better at performance without added weight, although their latest finishers clocked in at over 13 hours. The military light marathoners were all over 4 hours and went up to 12.5 hours.

I'm assuming that the Bataan Memorial marathon course was harder than the LA Marathon course. It's off road, the terrain is sandy and there is an uphill portion, looking at the course map. Of course, I think street marathons have their own issues, one being that after a certain period of time, they open the roads back up to traffic. I don't know if this is true for LA, but that was my experience in Las Vegas. I had to start waiting for the walk signs at crosswalks, and they didn't have anyone out giving water anymore. So I think it's kind of ridiculous to get perturbed about fat people in marathons. I think people have different reasons for doing marathons, the biggest one is just to actually accomplish it. The people who were the top finishers have little tricks to shave time off of their finishing time, but not everyone is in it for that. The world's slowest marathoner uses crutches and it can take her over 30 hours.

He broke the world record for heaviest person to complete a marathon. That's exactly what he did, I don't get why this would make people angry. I'm sure there are world records for youngest, oldest, etc.

Nancy Lebovitz March 22nd, 2011 | Link | Marathons aren't necessarily
DeeLeigh's picture
March 23rd, 2011 | Link | Well, that's an extreme

Nancy, I agree that health and athleticism are not as closely related as people tend to think.

You give an extreme example, though; people who have trained very hard for many years, some of them running 100+ marathons. You could make the same point with less extreme athletes. For example, runners do have a lot of problems with their joints and I'm sure that's been documented.

However, that doesn't mean that athletic accomplishments aren't worthy of praise.

AndyJo's picture
March 22nd, 2011 | Link | So... Wait a minute here....

What in the Sam Hill is it about whether or not he "officially finished" the LA marathon? In the NYC Marathon, I have heard news reports of people coming in after 12 hours. They are reported as having "Finished" the it. It is a parade of people in all shapes and conditions and, yep, some are walking. What about people who are in wheelchairs and who either push their chairs with their hands throughout the marathon, or are pushed by a loved one? I wonder what the nasty wags at Runner's World would say to THEM? Is the LA Marathon some kind of exclusive Hollywood beauty club? Cheese and rice! The sanity points for a whole week consumed! Note to self: Never read the comments.

Who bloody cares WHY he did the marathon??? The guy did it!!! In bad weather! With a bunch of twits wishing him ill! I would NOT go out there and walk for 26 miles around my fair city! Uh, uh! Not in my present shape. ERGO -- the man had to train for this. And all the "ugh"s and the comments about Japanese whaling ships? Completely de trop, but it shows us what this is about - not health concerns or anything actually real. The man offended these people's sensibilities. He fatted at them in a major way. He fatted all over the place. He existed in their space. He did what they did, only slower.

Also -- what's up with the surgery lists in some of these people's signatures? The signatures are longer than their comments!

I must have missed the plot some place and I don't know how to get back.

Here's to Kelly Gneiting! My inspiration for the day!

--Andy Jo--

--Andy Jo--

Lillian's picture
March 22nd, 2011 | Link | I've thought about doing a

I've thought about doing a marathon. I can't run one since I have a digestive issue, but I might walk run one. When I was a kid, I did these March of Dimes walk-a-thons. Those are like a marathon; they were around twenty miles and most people did them in about five hours so the large percentage of us run/walk them. It was a time to chat. I can't see people talking to strangers when running a marathon. A marathon seems too formal.

I could run/walk one now probably at my current level of fitness. When I was running before my digestive issues made me stop, I got a subscription to Runner's World. I wanted to do a marathon right, try to run the whole thing, train for at least a year, etc. It didn't seem right to me to run/walk the thing. Perhaps, I could do one still. I could run/walk it to be easier on my intestines. I could still train for a year or more and learn how long it will take me. Still, it seems like a waste of time to train for many months maybe a year just to say that I did a marathon. I know I can walk all day. I've done it too many times. Perhaps, I could find a group of people at one that are run/walking it and I could join their party. It could be fun. It's something to think about.

Viola's picture
March 22nd, 2011 | Link | I think that article about

I think that article about heart damage and endurance athletes is interesting. That makes me curious about how much exercise you have to do on a regular basis before your heart starts to exhibit these effects--if you exercise enough to have an enlarged heart, even if you don't do endurance type of events, can that cause problems? I think I'm mostly curious because as a fat person, I have had this feeling in the past that I have to push things hard and feel a certain amount of discomfort while exercising for it to be doing any good; and then, of course, some extreme dieting and exercising in my past has probably made my health worse. This does uphold my belief that whatever doesn't kill you leaves you weakened, gasping for breath on the side of the road, prime pickings for any opportunistic infection that comes along.

But even so, the study can’t directly prove that the older athletes’ excruciatingly heavy training loads and decades of elite-level racing caused heart scarring, only that the two were associated with each another.

Correlation does not imply causation. Maybe that's true for other studies as well! Eye-wink

lilacsigil March 23rd, 2011 | Link | "Walk around with weights on"

I really don't like the comparison of a fat person to a thin person wearing heavy things. As a body gains weight, under normal circumstances* it also builds muscle and, as you say, the heart is a muscle too. I've seen "carry 20 pounds around all that's how much harder your heart is working and if you were this much heavier you'd DIE OF FATNESS" used in anti-fat campaigns. Kelly Gneiting is not an average-sized person (same size skeleton, organs, muscles) with a big layer of fat. He is a fat person with well-developed muscles to bear that weight.

I'm pretty strong and have no fat-related mobility problems. That doesn't mean that when I weighed about half my current weight (as a teenager) I could have picked up another me and carried me for long distances.

*I say under normal circumstance because I've gained weight in a normal way, and also, due to thyroid cancer, in an abnormal way, which left me very weak and unable to move well. This would be the case no matter what I had weighed, though, due to muscle weakness being a symptom.

DeeLeigh's picture
March 24th, 2011 | Link | I see your point. I've seen

I see your point. I've seen it used that way too. But in this case I was trying to illustrate how fat people are much more functional than thin people carrying heavy weights. I'm making the comparison to point out how it doesn't really work that way - and how strong we are.

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