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.

Meet My Therapist: Her Name is Yoga

And she is a savior.

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Recently, my life has kind of been in an upheaval of change. Most of the changes, mind you, have been incredibly positive:

  • I graduated from medical school
  • I moved up the east coast from North Carolina to Pennsylvania
  • I traveled abroad
  • I am learning how to balance being back in an area with family and old friends close
  • I am finally “out in the real world” – no more being a full-time student living off of loan disbursements
  • I’m training for my fourth marathon
  • And finally, I made a huge professional change when I realized that the traditional road a physician takes upon graduating medical school is not the path for me and does not make me happy.

I am now following my dreams & opening my own holistic health coaching & fitness practice where I guide clients to increase their energy, decrease their stress, banish their cravings, lose weight & tone up, and enhance their inner health & beauty (thereby reducing their risk of illness) in a personalized, natural, whole foods focused, non-pharmaceutical manner. It is exhilarating! But it’s a huge change, and I’d be lying if I told you it wasn’t a tad scary to turn your back on a sure thing and instead follow your gut (or heart, or whatever you want to call it) & build your own niche in society.

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Anyway, there’s been a lot of good life “adjustments” recently. I am/was in need of some stability, reflection, and stress relief. And I don’t know about you, but my root nature is an anxious, Type A, “I want all the details figured out, and I want a solid back-up plan & then a back-up plan to the back-up plan, and it better all make realistic sense or else I’m going to be worried” woman. I also like to figure everything out myself, including figuring out the “whys” of my own emotions, feelings, and personality traits, and I believe that this fact about me is why the traditional therapy route I tried at one point in the past didn’t stick. Yoga didn’t really stick at first either. But I noticed that I was able develop a sense of calm, of serenity, and of almost complete non-stress at the end of a session (whether in my living room or a studio) that I never experienced anywhere else. I need that, and I’m grabbing tight and running with it now. In a business development talk I attended recently, the lecturer told us to “just say ‘yes'” to whatever opportunity comes my way, so I’m saying yes: yes to becoming a yogini and yes to taking my therapy to the mat. Yoga allows me to come as I am, in whatever form, energy level, mindset, and level of physical ability I have that day. While I’m with her “in session,” I can even keep my thoughts, feelings, and worries to myself if want, or if I’m comfortable, I can release them into the world if. I don’t even need to talk if I don’t want to – I can simply step inside, unroll my mat, curl into child’s pose, and just be. At the same time, I feel a sense of something larger and a part of a loving community with the chant of every “ohm” and the coordinated movement of every flow. There is no feeling of judgment, and I feel free to go as far as I want to go with any pose, stretch, or thought. I can push myself to “my edge” and beyond, or I can relax back into comfort.

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Yoga gives me a sense of connection to my innermost self by giving me a space to be alone with my thoughts. She guides me to be conscious of both my breathing and my body in space. Furthermore, she brings awareness to my tense shoulders, rigid neck, or stiff lower back, displaying where I’m pocketing my worries & stress & allowing me to drop them on the mat. Yoga lets me know that it’s okay not to hang on. It’s okay to be calm. It’s okay to be present and not worry about the future. It’s okay to love myself for who I am right now. I leave with serenity and bliss and an easy smile on my face. Ready to take on my day with compassion and confidence. Every time. I can’t ask much more of a therapist. I think I’ll keep coming.

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Have you tried yoga? If so, what do you like most about your practice? If not, what’s holding you back? How do you bring yourself back to center from the fluxes and stresses in your life? Do you like to talk it out or figure it out yourself? I’d love to hear from you.