Pirated .jpeg of me finishing 2018 Philadelphia Marathon (I refuse to pay the outstanding prices for these meh photos (most of the ones I’m “in” don’t even have me in them))
On November 18, 2018 I ran my third full marathon in the Philadelphia Marathon. This was the first time I ran in consecutive years and the first time I ran the same course twice. I finished with a time around the four hour and two minute mark, improving my personal record pace by fifteen minutes from the year before but falling just short of my personal goal of under four hours.
Because I was familiar with the course, I was able to gauge how well I was performing compared to last year. For the first twenty miles I was very strong. I was hovering around the nine minute per mile pace and was on goal to easily beat the four hour mark (I had been consistently running ahead of the four hour marker). My pace crashed though when I stopped for a brief second at a water station to make sure I drank all the water to gear up to finish the last six miles strong and both of my quads cramped up extremely tight. I was still able to run the remaining distance but it was much much more difficult. For the last mile I was able to gather all I had left and finished by “sprinting” the remaining mile. This was the first time I finished a marathon and didn’t cry because I was angry that I had finished just two minutes shy of my personal goal.
I started training for this race almost immediately after graduating from PAFA in early May. I began when I went home for a little R&R by just going up to the park near my mother’s house where I ran in high school and tried to get the level of running four miles everyday comfortably again. Because I had spent most of the winter and spring focusing on school, I entered those runs completely out of shape. My aim then was to shake off the rust before the real training began. Believe me, those four mile runs then were rough.
This year was easier to maintain a stronger training regimine. I was able to make a good amount of money to live on from selling all my paintings in my graduation exhibition so I wasn’t immediately pressed to get a job during the summer. Even when I did finally get my job in October, I was able to continue to maintain my running schedule because my hours there are in the evening Monday through Friday. Last year was much more inconsistent because of being in school and having mandatory meetings plus classes in the morning.
I decided to not use a premade scheduled daily distance calendar to base my run around. I wanted to listen to my body and really allow myself to push myself when I wanted to push myself and back off when I needed to back off. Once I was in shape again, I felt that it might be possible to try to turn my weekday short three to five mile runs into daily ten mile runs. This ended up being a big mistake. After a couple of weeks trying to do this I was completely gassed. It was just too hard for me to maintain. I eventually did settle to six to eight miles everyday and found that distance manageable with my sunday long runs.
This year was also the first year I suffered some injuries during training. Because my quadriceps weren’t strong enough to adequately sustain the correct running form from these longer runs, I started to develop runner’s knee in both my knees and I was feeling sharp pain on my shins right below my knees when I flexed the knee joint. After resting and icing the sources of these pains, adding my squat’s to my general strength training, and getting my form back to optimal, I was able to overcome these pains and even really start to see an improvement in my overall ability as a runner. I also occasionally tweaked my right foot with some minor stress injuries that generally healed in just a couple of days.
Last year’s marathon in the wind made me realize that my core was not as strong as it needed to be to reach my target goal. This year, in general, I balanced the miles running with very basic body weight strength exercises. Firas Zahabi, on an episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, talked about his prefered training method of trying to achieve workout flow and then immediately shut it down. He argues that you should never feel sore after a workout and that you should also be having fun when you work out. He uses Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow towards working out. Basically, if you can only run three miles maximum, then you should run one and half and then stop until that one and a half becomes routine and then you can slowly increase the distance and then make that new distance routine. Ideally you can maintain this daily intensity pretty easily with little to no soreness. The idea being, let’s say, you can run a maximum of three miles but for the next two days you are too sore to go back and run again. If you compare the two different runners used here and map out their total mileage for a year, the former runner would have run much more total mileage than the latter.
Zahabi also makes a key observation in that what we see when an elite athlete performs is vastly different than what we see when an elite athlete trains. For example, Steph Curry makes shooting three point shots look effortless when he plays in games. What the viewer doesn’t see is the years and years and years of endless shots he practiced to make it that good. Same can be said with a powerlifter. When we see them perform, we see them at their peak performance and pushing themselves beyond their limits but what we don’t see is where they began and how they train. What this does is it makes the viewer think that if they want to be like that then they have to work out like that when that’s not the case at all. Trying to lift powerlifting weight right at the start will only make you worn out and sore. It’s the high anxiety or low fun spectrum of Flow and is more likely not going to help get you back in the gym the next day to continue getting stronger.
Zahabi also distinguishes two forms of training: sport specific and general conditioning. Sport specific in my case will be the miles of running where the focus is on building the running strength be become a stronger runner. The general conditioning, for me, is a series of push-ups, squads and various core exercises that compliments the running. For these I do five sets of twenty push ups, five sets of twenty squats, and series of fifteen to twenty different core exercises that targets each muscle briefly. (I have to say that at this moment, I’ve been at the closest to having a visible six-pack ever.)
This year I also tried to really get in a much stretching as I could. At first I approached this via a yoga for runners video I found on youtube but I slowly just took my favorite stretches from this and just started to do them on my own when I could. My favorite new stretch is to start on your hands and knees and then bring your right leg through and place the cole of your foot down between your hands. Then slowly walk the foot over and then turn foot onto its side so your sole is facing out towards your opposite hand. Then slowly shift your weight back and the stretch will happen on the outside of your right leg. Do the same thing but with your opposite leg too.
As far as diet goes, I tried to keep a very consistent diet throughout my training. This year I was hell bent on as little sugar as possible. A typical daily diet for me was (and still is) breakfast: toast with peanut butter and banana, coffee. Lunch: four eggs, turkey bacon, kale smoothie. Dinner: chicken/tuna/steak, rice/pasta/potatoes, salad. Here and there I’ll have cheat meals (especially after long runs on Sunday). I also ensure to eat all of this in as tight a window as possible to allow my body to digest the food properly overnight.
I did try the recently popular ketogenic diet but I did not respond well to this diet. This diet seems to be the best for those who don’t need a surplus of calories to maintain their daily schedule. I couldn’t afford to cut carbohydrates because my body needed them to sustain my running.
The most important thing I discovered about myself this year is how important running is for me for my sanity. A part of my psyche I was disconnected from revealed itself to me and ha s a connection to level of physical assertion. When I maintain a healthy routine running schedule this part presents itself as a proud warrior but when I am stagnant for long periods of time it presents itself as a tantrum throwing toddler. This negative aspect of this part manifests itself to me by feeling of unease and anxiety. This makes complete sense especially when I look back at the times of my life when I felt little to no versions of this anxiety as I’ve been the most calm during periods of routine running or physical activity.
Though I didn’t meet my goal this year, I am extremely excited to get back into training mode for my next marathon. I recovered the fastest after this year’s race and I also didn’t have lingering joint pain afterwards either. I really hit my stride a couple of weeks before the marathon when I really cleaned up my form and I’m hoping to continue to get better at running.