I’ve been attending a boot camp class through a work wellness program since 2009. Up until about two years ago, our instructor was Christine Walkup, who was employed through our wellness provider. Christine’s workouts were always challenging and left the four-to-six regulars soaked in sweat. When the company changed providers, we lost Christine, but agreed that we wanted to continue working out on our own. And that’s how I came to lead our group. It was afterward that I decided I wanted to be like Christine and be a certified group fitness instructor. So, in a way, she was my role model.
Christine likes muscle, and therefore strength training. She has a fit, athletic build and often works out more than once a day. She continues to teach boot camp, HIIT and weight training classes at Nationwide Insurance and on her own with family and friends. She is also studying for her personal training certification through NASM. Despite all of that, Christine also runs regularly and recently ran the Columbus Marathon, her first.
I’ve considered running a half marathon in the past, but was concerned not only about being able to run that distance, but also about sabotaging my muscle gains and fitness goals through steady state cardio. After the marathon, Christine and I had a conversation about her training in which she dispelled that theory, at least in her case. In fact, she went on to describe how she really only ran twice a week. What? Her marathon time: 4:17:34. She had a lot to share in this area, and I thought it important to share it with you, so I asked her to guest blog.
Here’s Christine’s marathon experiment …
After completing probably nine half marathons during the last four years or so, I’ve had completing the full marathon on my bucket list. I ran the Cap City Half Marathon in May, and continued to run once or twice a week with one of the runs being a “long run” of anywhere between seven to 10 miles. I decided during the summer that it was now or never and signed up.
I used marathonrookie.com as a starting point to come up with a plan for my long runs, which would be on Saturdays. I officially started marathon training with my first long run of seven miles on Aug. 7. The rest of my training consisted of one three-to-four miler per week. A few times, I ran two three-milers a week in addition to the long run. My long runs were (in order): 7, 10, 12, 15, 7, 15, 18, 18, 8.5, 20, and 10. So I only had six runs over 10 miles.
In addition to the running, I continued to teach group fitness (boot camp/HIIT/weight training) and lifting heavy on my own. Weight training and boot camp-style workouts are what I’m used to and what I rely on to see gains in physical strength and endurance while also trying to tap into being a “fat burner”. I teach at least one of these types of classes each day.
Fitness experts had me concerned that I would lose a significant amount of muscle mass and strength by training for a marathon. Studies show steady state cardio eats away muscle and results in muscle catabolism. If fat burning and leanness is your goal, you should avoid it, the experts say. So, the question I asked myself was, how was my body going to change during this marathon training? Was my muscle going to waste away? Was I going to become weak? These were scary thoughts for me! However, I’m glad to say that at least for me, nothing much changed.
I believe that continuing with my normal workouts — strength and boot camp training, TGM classes (traceygardnermethod.com: a hot, steamy, body leveraging/strength/stretching workout) — kept me strong, flexible and injury free; provided the basis for completing my long runs and finishing the marathon without walking at a 9:50 pace; and prevented me from losing muscle mass. Because my long runs were on Saturdays, I was usually hard on my legs at the beginning of the week and scaled back as the week progressed. I still did burpees, but maybe sets of 10 at a time instead of 20. My legs were always somewhat sore to start Saturday’s runs.
That said, I agree to a point with the studies that conclude steady state distance running does little, if anything, to aid in fat loss. The key is to find your “tipping point” – so, after what point are you becoming too efficient at something. After my first 18-miler, I realized I was becoming pretty efficient. At least physically, 15 miles didn’t feel much different than 12; 18 felt no different than 15, etc. I didn’t feel I was getting any cardio or fat-burning benefit from those distances other than to condition my body and mind to complete the 26.2-mile-course. After my 20-miler, I mowed my grass, went grocery shopping and drove around Columbus trying to reunite a lost dog to his owner. I’m not saying I wasn’t sore from running or that all long runs were a cake-walk, but I quickly realized that I was becoming too efficient – not something ideal for my fitness goals. Granted, had I run faster, I would’ve been more sore. But one of the most important parts of my marathon training was to learn personal pacing so that I could run the entire 26.2 miles without walking. Ten miles is probably a good distance, or “tipping point”, for me right now. If I need a challenge, I will just try to run it faster.
I think it is also important to figure out your tipping point because I realized that after a certain distance, I was hungrier the following night and ravenous the next day. After 15-plus miles, I wasn’t hungry for about five hours, then BAM! I was starving! This is one reason why some marathoners gain weight while training: you expend alot of energy that needs replenished, so you can more easily justify eating crap that you normally wouldn’t eat.
I was also very happy with my recovery time. The day after the marathon, I went to a TGM class. By Tuesday, I was lifting upper body and light legs, and by Wednesday … burpees! So much for resting for 26 days.
If you told me a year ago that I could run a marathon by running twice a week (occasionally three) for the 11 weeks before a marathon, I would have thought you were crazy. Every marathon training plan I’ve reviewed has built-in rest and cross-training days, but the plans are primarily dedicated to running. I would have been burned out in week two had I followed those plans. In less than three months, I found out what worked and didn’t for me.
Fitness is all about trial and error. Don’t be afraid to do the trial, or error. In the end, you will become the “expert” on you.