Before anyone freaks out, I’m not training for an Ironman. I’m training for my first half marathon (with Leukemia & Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training…woo!!). My boyfriend, however, completed his first Ironman almost two weeks ago. So I’ve learned a few things about training the body – firsthand and from the spectator’s box - in the past few months.
For those of you not familiar with half marathon or Ironman mileage, here are the stats: A half marathon is a 13.1 mile run. An Ironman – or “uber-triathlon,” as I like to call it – is a 2.4 mile swim followed by a 112 mile bike ride followed by a full marathon, 26.2 miles. Um, yeah, it’s a little insane…and completely FASCINATING to someone like me. But I digress.
Here’s what I’ve learned (so far) in my endurance training adventures:
The mind (and a little practice) can transform the body.
I know – surprise revelation from a Pilates instructor, right? Clearly, I’m fascinated by how the mind and body work together to allow for truly amazing athletic feats – friends will tell you that I’m enthralled by Cirque du Soleil and its pretzel-like performers – but endurance training is a whole new game. Think you’ll never make it past four miles? Train. Don’t have an athletic body type? Train. Never set foot in a gym and don’t care if you ever do? Train.
Training slowly, smartly, and steadily is a transformational experience, no matter your body type or athletic history. I’ve been blown away by the stretching of my body’s limits since I crossed my own “six-mile barrier” a few weeks ago. And my boyfriend – someone who only started exercising regularly as an adult – completed the ultimate endurance race with an hour and a half to spare because he trained for it. And here’s the thing: It happens so gradually that you don’t even notice it’s happening. Okay, you notice because you’re up early to train every day, but you can’t really see it happening until it, well, just happens. All of a sudden (that’s what it feels like anyway), I ran 11 miles with no problem. CRAZY!
My point is, ANYONE CAN DO THIS with a desire to make it happen and the right guidance. Trainers and organizations like Team in Training rock because they push you to push yourself past limits you didn’t even know you’d imposed on yourself. And they do it in a way that makes it feel like you’ve been running/swimming/biking/whatever for years.
Food is the number one most important tool for performance.
Again, big revelation coming from a health/nutrition counselor, I know. Training has just driven home this point for me. It’s a matter of precision, really. I already knew how my morning oatmeal, fruit, and egg whites helped me have sustained energy all day, particularly on days that I run; but the precision with which you can use nutrition to enhance performance DURING a run is kind of mind-blowing.
Since my longest run before Team in Training was about six miles, I didn’t use energy gels until a few weeks ago. You know, Gu and the like. (I’m still playing around with more “natural” brands since the, well, “goo” in Gu kind of grosses me out. And I’d really prefer to use “real food” instead of a gel; but have you ever tried to chew effectively while running a 9-minute mile? Yeah, doesn’t work so well. Suggestions on gels from more natural sources are welcome.) About 90 minutes into my almost two-hour run last weekend, I experienced the true glory of energy gels. I had my first gel about 45 minutes in – helped a little. At 90 minutes, I needed the boost a little more. Intellectually, I understand that giving your body a shot of almost pure carbohydrates (ie, sugar) in semi-liquid form will give you a jolt of energy; but actually feeling it was quite the enlightening experience for this sprint/middle-distance runner. So cool!! And, once again, reminded me of how amazing – and efficient – the body can be when we give it what it needs. Likewise, my boyfriend managed his nutrition and hydration so well during the Ironman that he was literally FINE after 15+ hours of intense physical activity. Sore and tired, but fine. Seriously. Amazing.
The surge of pride you feel when you reach a personal goal is nothing compared with what you feel when someone you love reaches theirs.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve felt enormous pride at my own accomplishments in life – including my 11-mile run last weekend – but I nearly jumped out of my skin with joy when my boyfriend crossed that Ironman finish line. I couldn’t yell loud enough, jump high enough, or run fast enough to get to the “friends and family” area to greet him after his six-month plus 15 hour journey. Still makes me smile like an idiot thinking about it.
I’m about seven weeks from my half marathon (Miami on January 30), and I’m feeling good so far. What I understand now in a way that I didn’t before I started training is that small steps add up to seriously big achievements. And that watching someone else go through the struggles and inconveniences of training in pursuit of a goal is almost as transformational as going through it yourself (almost).
Tell me about your own training journeys…or about the ones you plan to embark on soon. :)
P.S. Since my training ultimately benefits the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society through my Team in Training fundraising, I ask that you consider a 100% tax-deductible donation (never hurts to get one more in before the end of the year!) to this amazing organization, working to find a cure for blood cancers like myeloma, leukemia, and lymphoma. 75 cents of every dollar raised goes directly to LLS funds and ultimately towards research for a cure and patient support programs. I’m inspired every week by stories of those helped by the funds raised by Team in Training participants. Your support would be truly appreciated.
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