This is another in a series of personal reflections contributed by Elite Athletic Development | CrossFit Arlington Heights athletes about the mental, physical and emotional changes experienced since joining our health & fitness community. Plagued by recurring injuries and unimpressed with the plan of action outlined by a running “expert,” endurance athlete Wendy R turned to EAD | CFAH for help. You can learn more about Wendy on her Blog | Taking the Long Way Home, Facebook, or Instagram. This is Wendy’s story.
I have been a runner for almost 25 years. Initially, I started running to help manage anxiety and stress, but found a love for an activity that I hated as a youngster. I continued to run through the years while raising my boys and working as a nurse practitioner. About five years ago, I started running half marathons. I finally got the courage to sign up for the Chicago marathon in 2011.
I chose to train for the 2011 marathon using a traditional plan, which incorporated a lot of miles—and not much else. I did well with this plan, and my 20 mile long run went off without a hitch. I thought I was ready. But the morning of the race, the temperature was 75 degrees and sunny. Having struggled with running in the heat all summer, I was extremely nervous, and my lack of confidence did me in. I finished in 5:26, a full hour longer than I had anticipated. Several months after the race, I developed a stress fracture in my foot and battled plantar fasciitis, injuries which sidelined me from running for several months.
After I recovered from my injuries, I got up the courage to run a few more half marathons. While I did well at this distance, I continued to have all kinds of nagging injuries. I did some research on running after age 50, and almost everything that I read emphasized the need to add strength training. It seems that we older folks lose muscle mass at a faster rate than younger runners and athletes.
Initially, I consulted a running coach for advice. A fast talker, she told me to prepare to take some time off of running as she would rework my regimen. “Lots of drills,” she told me. Take time off from running? Drills? I’m in my 50s…the thought of taking time off and rebuilding was not attractive to me. When I asked the running coach about her background, she told me she had been a star collegiate runner. But she had no formal training as a coach. It just didn’t feel right to me.
So I called Coach Karen for advice. She recommended that I come in to meet with Coach Becky (Editor’s Note: Becky is an certified and licensed Athletic Trainer / Corrective Exercise Specialist / Performance Enhancement Specialist) for an evaluation. I was a little intimidated. After all, I’m a runner, not a weight lifter. But immediately after I met Becky, I felt that I was in good hands. Becky told me right away that she didn’t know much about running. But that she’d let me keep on running while she worked with me. I liked the idea that I’d still be in control of my running while she “rebuilt” me. She evaluated my strength and focused on areas of weakness—my hips, my glutes, my “posterior chain.” At my weekly sessions with Becky, she had me doing things I never imagined I could do—lifting heavy weights, doing intervals, flipping tires—you name it. Over time, not only did I get stronger, but my running pace, time, and form improved dramatically, culminating in a huge finish at a half marathon last fall—my fastest time in several years and my strongest race to date.
This summer, while Becky and I were completing a six week session of heavy lifting, I learned that I won a free entry to the Chicago Marathon. I looked at this as an opportunity to redeem myself from that disastrous marathon three years ago. I asked Becky if she would train me and she developed a personalized training plan. We increased our sessions to twice weekly. Initially, I questioned her wisdom as the plan was fairly low in mileage compared to anything I had done in the past. In fact, she had substituted long bike rides in for some of the long runs! She told me to “trust the plan.” I took this advice to heart, using it as a mantra, and adopted several other mantras along the way, such as: “I can and I will”, “Running is fun” and “Control what you can control.”
Some of the workouts were impossibly difficult. Becky had me doing intervals—rowing alternating with Burpees, Slam Balls, Sumo Deadlifts, Kettlebell swings…you name it. Weight days were heavy lifting with progressive Deadlifts, Back Squats, pulling the sled, pushing the Prowler…sometimes I felt like I was going to vomit after those workouts! I never stopped though, and felt amazing when I recovered. I saw the results of these workouts in faster, stronger running sessions. Becky also added weekly speed work sessions—something I had never done as a runner but found to be something that I loved as I got faster and more confident.
When several accomplished marathoners learned that I was training for another marathon, I shared with them what I was doing. “Really?” I heard from one. “I’ll be REAL CURIOUS to hear how this goes for you,” said another.
During the training, I voiced self-doubt about my ability to successfully complete this marathon. Becky came up with a great strategy to help me shut that down. She told me for every word of self-doubt that came out of my mouth I would have to do 10 Burpees. I hate Burpees. She never actually made me do the Burpees, but the whole idea of doing them made me push past those negative thoughts.
The day I knew I was ready for the marathon was about three weeks before the marathon when I ran my speedwork session faster than I had run since my 30s. Those mile repeats were sub-8 mins/mile. Who’s old? I couldn’t stop smiling!
The day before the marathon, Becky gave me a card all about accomplishment, and a rock, on which she had written “believe” on one side and “26.2” on the other. She told me that she never doubted that I could do this. With those words in my head and that rock in my pocket, I lined up for my second Chicago Marathon.
I finished the marathon in 4:17:55. My legs were strong and I never hit the wall. At mile 23, my hamstrings were starting really hurt, but I pictured myself getting down in the middle of Michigan Avenue doing 10 Burpees and busted out laughing. I was going to finish this thing! I was proud and excited to crush my previous finish time by 1 hour 10 minutes.
Two days after the marathon, I went for an easy four mile run. That’s how good I felt. I continue to run strong throughout my recovery. This is almost as good as my marathon performance!
Here’s what I have to say about my training. It’s one thing to be a runner, to be fast to put in the miles. But what made me stronger was all those intervals, all that weight lifting. And what made me mentally tougher was pushing through those hard workouts. Endurance is endurance. No matter how you get it. Sure, you have to put in the miles. But there’s a lot of ways to get to the finish line. This was fun. And would I do it again? Definitely yes!