Strength Training: A Second Factor I Swear Fueled My Recent Marathon Success

When training for a marathon, it’s really important to do more than just run. 20131108-153516.jpg Sure running and running long should be a primary focus of any marathon training plan. However, something I’ve learned over the course of training for 4 marathons is that strength training is a vital aspect to running well, and fast, while also running long. Better yet, when done properly, it will also help your odds of remaining injury-free. Looking back on my marathon history, I attribute the introduction of strength training to my 20 minute drop in my finishing time from my first to my second Marine Corps Marathon. During my first shot at training, I did little-to-no strength training at all. Those who know me will attest to the fact that, at that time, I was just getting into working out in general – I didn’t really know what I was doing, except that I should just make sure I ran the required distances each week – I pulled the “couch-to-marathon” card, and thinking back to it, I understand how that was completely mental a little crazy to do. However, those close to me will also tell you that I don’t do anything half way, and my fiance now often uses the phrase “she’s a person who decides one day to ‘get in shape’ by tackling a marathon” to describe my personality. Hey, go big or go home, right?!

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some of the strength training sessions I like to use to switch things up are on DVDs like these

Anyway, between my first and second marathons, I had been introduced to the Tone It Up program and was reading more about running, racing, and getting fit. I started incorporating some light dumbbell and body-weight exercises a few times a week. Not only did I develop more muscle tone all over, but I ended up dropping a whole 20 minutes off my marathon time and ran the marathon feeling so much stronger! Here’s my reasoning as to why it would benefit any runner to incorporate some strength training into their exercise routine, at least a few times a week:

  1. it can help correct musculoskeletal imbalances that make you more prone to injury. Running only works specific muscles in the body, and even in the legs themselves; when done properly, strength training moves can train the other muscles that tend to be weaker in runners who only pound the  pavement.
  2. it enhances your speed AND endurance. Strength training in runners has been shown in scientific studies to lead to drops in race times, increases in pace, and being able to run longer (1). And we’re not just talking about strengthening your legs! Your upper body, abs, and back are key too!
  3. it helps you keep good form, even when you’re exhausted and in extreme pain discomfort in those last miles.  A strong core helps to: hold you upright to prevent slouching, and keep your torso straight rather than swinging from side to side with the movement of your arms. This improves your efficiency, and a toned tummy has been shown to reduce 5K times by 42 seconds (1). That’s quite a lot in a 3.1 mile race! A muscular upper body makes your arms primed to kick in and pump even more as the miles go on and your legs begin to tire. I swear, it’s incredible how much this helps! Research has shown that a sculpted upper body improves your pace by about 4% (1).
  4. you just FEEL stronger. As I gained muscle mass and tone, along with it came more confidence – in my running, in my body, and in life in general. Feeling stronger also provided me with greater mental fortitude to push through those inevitable physical and mental lows of any marathon. When you feel powerful, you become more powerful.

All four of these aspects came into play during my most recent Marine Corps Marathon a few weeks ago. I cut another 14 minutes off my best time, pushed through my hip pain and exhaustion with so many fewer “walking breaks,” and mentally (as well as physically) was able to propel forward even harder as the race went on – I even ran negative splits the whole way! Ever since that second marathon, I’ve committed more and more time to strength training. Right now, that takes the form of using a combination of free weights, body-weight exercises, and kettlebells, in addition to hot vinyasa yoga classes at Evolution Power Yoga. It’s now commonplace for me to do some type of toning almost every day of the week (I’ll focus on different body parts on different days to avoid fatigue and allow for recovery). I do it so often simply because I’ve grown to love it and the results it has given me. The key, as with any fitness routine, is to find a type you enjoy, stick with it, and switch it up whenever boredom strikes!

Happy muscle toning!

20131108-153700.jpg To catch up on the first part of my marathon recap and my plant-based fueling, click here — References: 1. Cassity, Jessica. “Love Your Run.” SELF. July 2013. 87-91.

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