Brains, not brawn in marathons

We’ve seen the walking wounded at marathons and half-marathons, watching the number of bandages and braces of the truly determined grow with each passing year. For the record, we do believe in overcoming obstacles, and pushing yourself until you find that inner strength. We all are striving for excellence and gaining ground on the elusive twins, health and fitness.

But all too often this level of commitment is floated out there like a badge of honor, without thought to consequence or injury or long-term negative reaction by the body. Think of it this way, discomfort during a challenging workout is cool. Pain during the same workout…not cool.

Your body has pain receptors designed to let you know when something has gone a little haywire, and also pain blockers (called endorphins) to over-ride these sensations and allow you to continue to push yourself. If the endorphins have already kicked in, and you’re still experiencing pain, it might be a good idea to take a break and analyze just what hurts. As we tell our Ironman triathletes, who endure hundreds of hours of rigorous training to try and take their bodies to new limits, “if you’re injured you’re not going anywhere but the hospital”. Peak performance and busted bodies generally don’t go hand in hand.

That being said, with the Rotary Run coming up this March, many of you will want to take a shot at the 13.1 mile half-marathon along the beautiful winding streets of Mercer Island. Begin slowly, gradually upping the miles each week and try to split your running efforts apart by a couple of days to allow your body the time it needs to heal. Opinions vary, but I think no more than three sessions per week should do the trick. Two of those sessions are designed to be shorter, 3 to 4 mile runs at a slightly faster pace than you plan on running in the event. If you plan on running 10-minute miles in March, then your shorter runs can be at a 9 to 9 1/2-minute mile pace. The third, longer run can start at around 3 miles in week one, then just add a mile per week over the next 7 or 8 weeks until your longest run is 10-11 miles in duration.

Another interesting concept here is that you do not actually have to run a half-marathon prior to running a half-marathon! Crazy, isn’t it? Your body will understand what needs to be done the day of the event, and assuming you have the confidence to trust yourself to go where you’ve never been before you’ll actually feel better entering the race without nagging injuries. You’ll be in better shape, and finish on strong legs and a free heart. Lance Armstrong’s first ever marathon in New York led him to the inevitable comparison between cycling and running. To paraphrase his thoughts, it seems the main difference is that the pounding the body absorbs while running weighs much more heavily on the mind. Train, but don’t over-train.

Finally, you actually want to feel like you have a little gas in the tank prior to the event, so the final week will consist of your 2 short runs, and then a couple of days off from all exercise immediately before the event to heal and focus. You should actually feel a little edgy about getting back out there to run as your body begins to wonder why you’re standing still.

Last year, after watching and listening to people log mile after mile, and continue to discuss and record injury after injury when training for long distance events, I finally decided to put these theories about over-training to the test by running only one day per week and entering the Portland marathon. Naturally, I have a job that allows me access to other forms of aerobic training like spinning and kickboxing and Step classes, but still…one day per week of pounding the pavement for 12 weeks until I had logged my longest run of 18 miles. Not only did my lovely wife Katie and I complete the event, but we managed to get back to work the following evening to teach our classes (granted, with a little more stiffness than normal!) The most rewarding aspect of the training was that there were no injuries to overcome. Nada. Zero. Zilch. If I were to do it again I would probably add a second day of shorter, up tempo runs, but point made. Less is sometimes more.

I know it feels good to change your shape, to literally run the pounds off. We ask only that you add a little logic and reason to the mix, and pick up at least one other activity a couple of times per week which is non-pounding to the body. Strength training mixed with a little work on an elliptical machine, for example, would do the trick. Whatever happens, slow your roll and listen to your body. It knows a lot more than you think it does.

Bryan Welch is the co-owner of Club Emerald on the Island.

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