Wednesday, January 26

How NOT to train for a marathon

Two posts in a row about running? Who am I?

Let's jump straight into it, shall we?

My words of wisdom can be divided into three categories: training, diet, and lifestyle. I don't consider myself an expert on the topic, but as someone who obsessively compulsively researches things and considers Google to be the 2011 version of the big man upstairs, I want to share what I've learned. My hope is that someone can learn from the mistakes I have made and prevent injury to themselves in the future. Please feel free to include your own advice, input, concerns, or disagreements in the comments section. I'd love to hear other people's opinions on this topic!

1. Training plan
I based my training plan off Hal Higdon's Intermediate 18 week Schedule. You can find the Google doc of it here. The plan is more intense than other ones he offers, especially for someone who has never run more than 13 miles before. But because I want to eventually qualify for Boston and I tend to think I'm quite the bad ass, I pushed myself beyond what I was really ready for. This was my first mistake. The plan called for 4 days of running during the week, a long run on the weekend, and a cross-training day, only leaving me with one day of complete rest.

When I created my plan, I had intentions of doing hot yoga as my cross-training but classes were too expensive to carry on for the long haul. That, coupled with hesitancy from a track coach who advised me that the heat and excessive stretching could put extra strain on my muscles, led me to drop the cross-training completely. Because we do not have access to a gym here in London (unless I want to drop £65/mo. eeeeek!), I wasn't strength-training either. No cross-training, no strength-training, and 5 days in a week of running. No bueno. When I marathon train in the future (God willing), I will be sure to incorporate cycling, swimming, or the elliptical into my plan.

I was already running a lot, but on top of that, I was running very fast (in relation to my own standards). I didn't understand the concept of slow, easy, recovery runs. I viewed every run, even if it was for 3 miles, as a race to beat my previous time. Sure it was nice to brag that I ran 11 miles at an 8:07 pace, but I couldn't walk after that for 4 days. I know that speed work is an important part of marathon training, but there is a big difference between practicing speed work and being a speed demon dummy. I was the latter.

2. Diet
Running and food seem to go hand in hand. While training, I certainly took advantage of the extra calorie and carb intake. My pre-run fuel consisted of peanut butter toast with bananas...the official breakfast of every runner everywhere.

I stuck with Gu gels for any run over 6 miles and would typically have 1 Gu for every 5 or 6 miles depending on how long the run was. On my runs over 10 miles, I'd stop somewhere and grab a Powerade at the 9-10 mile mark.

Overall, I don't place a lot of fault into my diet. I generally eat pretty well and although chocolate makes an appearance quite frequently, I like to side with the belief that it's good for the heart. However, I wish I made a more concentrated effort in my calcium, iron, and other vitamin intake. I only drink almond milk and rarely eat yogurt, so the calcium in my diet is severely lacking (unless cheese plates count. and pizza. Do they? Can we talk to someone about making cheese pizza into an appropriate calcium source, because I can't seem to get enough).

In the future, I am going to be sure that I am upping my supplements during intense training periods and having a more balanced diet to ensure that my body heals properly from all the work I'm putting it through.

3. Lifestyle
I'm using the term lifestyle to encapsulate an array of different topics. First, it is important to make sure you are wearing the proper shoes and not running in ones you shouldn't be wearing anymore. I should've swapped my shoes after 300 miles and I estimated mine to be around 600 when I switched them up. Oops. I love my Saucony Kinvaras, but they are a "minimalist" shoe. My PT said that for the time being I need a shoe with more heel support to get over my injury. A lot of stores will offer a free Gait analysis. It is valuable to get one done and see how you run and figure out what shoes are right for your individual style.

Did you see my ice bath video? You probably should. It's kind of awesome. I sing the ultimate Mariah Carey song. Ice baths came into my life on my first double-digit run of this plan and I instantly fell in love with them. (Yes, you read that correctly)

They helped me recover from my long runs so much faster. However, when I was home in the States over Christmas I ran a 15 mile run on a Sunday and then an 11 mile run on a Friday (with 3 shorter runs in between) and didn't take an ice bath at any juncture. It was the morning after that 11 mile run that the shin pain began. I credit this injury to my lack of ice baths. My body had gotten used to them and I packed in two long runs in a week without any proper recovery.

Lastly and most unfortunately, one of the other main causes of my injury were my high heels.

(These Louboutins are for dramatic effect only. If I actually owned a pair of them I'd wear them EVERYWHERE. I'd probably shower in them. Doctors be damned)

This makes me the saddest of all. In the hours following my 11 mile run, I threw on a pair of 4 inch heels and strutted myself to the infamous New Year's Eve party. Now, I'm no mathematician but an 11 mile run - ice bath - proper stretching + 4 inch heels + dancing your ass off like a Spice Girl= disaster in waiting. Sigh. I avoided high heels for the 3 weeks after that (Although not actually on purpose, more because I am SUPER lame and had no where fun or cool to go). That was until this past Friday night, Sean and I went on a quadruple date to a fancy Chelsea restaurant and there was no way my Uggs were making an appearance. By the end of the night, my shin and ankle were so sore I could barely walk down the street. Major fail on my part. Along with no exercise for the next 2 weeks, I am on high heel restriction for much longer. Perhaps I'll just go barefoot like my girlfriend Brit Brit.

Just kidding.

Last, but certainly not least, the most important thing I've learned during this process is to never ignore an injury. I first felt pain in my leg on New Year's Day, but didn't get an x-ray until the 8th. After that, I spent two weeks off and on running. I even attempted 6 and 8 mile runs while in pain a majority of the time. It wasn't until January 20th that I finally sucked it up and realized this isn't going away any time soon and made another appointment. On January 24th, three and a half weeks later than the first time I felt pain, I finally faced up to the facts. I can't help but wonder, if I had taken the time to rest properly and spoken with someone sooner, where would I be now? There is something to be said for pushing through a mental or physical obstacle, but the important thing is to know your limits and know the difference between a "good sore" and an "oh shit, what did I just do to myself".

So there you have it. All the things I believe you should avoid doing when training for a marathon.

As I sit angrily on the couch, looking out the window scornfully at all the happy people running and frolicking about (dramatic, much?), I can't help but be a little pissed off at myself. In hindsight, a lot of the things on this list are fairly obvious. But maybe this is all part of it. It's a learning process. Back in the day, before healthy living blogs caught on like wildfire and marathons became equated with walking to the end of the driveway to get the mail, marathoners were considered to be h.a.r.d.c.o.r.e. They were few and far between and highly revered. There is a reason for that. Marathon training is hard. I knew it'd take a lot of physical effort, but I didn't realize how drastically it would impact the other facets of my life. Now I know and I'm going to carry all of this with me into my next training cycle.

Next time, I'm going to do it right. I don't know whether that will be in June, July, this fall, or 2012, but one thing is certain: one day, I will earn the title of marathoner.

(and when I do, I will be that obnoxious girl who wears her medal for like 3 days afterwards so people ask me about it. I'll also be sure to write a marathon recap post so profound that I'll have you simultaneously crying and peeing your pants with laughter. Get excited.)

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