I didn’t get crazy and sign up for another marathon already or anything, I am merely still in that “reflecting” phase of the post-marathon blues. I feel like I still haven’t perfected marathon training, but I do really learn a lot about what works and doesn’t work for me from each training cycle. One thing that I wanted to talk about with my most recent 18-week training plan was accounting for total body stress.
I set out to train for Chicago 19 weeks ago, using THIS plan. Like most marathon training plans, it is very specific. Four days a week I would run, at different paces, accomplishing different aspects of training (speed, endurance, tempo, etc). Adherence to training plans is obviously key to a successful race, but what happens when you skip a rest day for the chance to go cycling with your dad? And what happens when you go for a long hike on your supposed long run day? One major lesson I learned and thankfully incorporated into this training cycle was the importance of accounting for total body stress.
One thing my doctor said to me in the spring when I was diagnosed with a metatarsal stress fracture was that stress is stress… your bones don’t know the difference between running stress and hiking stress and biking stress. They just know that there is only a certain amount of stress they can handle before they break down, whether that means a strained ligament, a stress fracture, or a broken bone. “Stress is stress” really stuck with me and it helped me to diversify my training routine, take time off when necessary, and not get worried that I wasn’t “running enough” when I was participating in other fitness activities.
In order to better explain what I mean, I’ll give you some examples from the previous 18 weeks of training. If you take a look at my original training plan you will laugh because what I had planned and what I actually did are two very different things. I felt prepared for the marathon as I had done some key marathon training components such as a 20-miler, a three week taper, a “test” half marathon race, and I ran at least 3 times a week for 95% of the training cycle, but there were many things that felt uneasy at first and not “according to the plan” when I did them…
- I hiked the 75+km West Coast Trail during a week in the summer with my dad. That means, leading up to the trip, I took a few extra days off to prepare, I didn’t run a single day on the trail (obviously), and I had to take a few days off after the trail to recover. That’s about three weeks of scheduled running out the window but my body was carrying 40-50lbs and hiking almost 50 miles in 6 days, a different form of stress on the body!
- I cycled the 166km Tour De L’Alberta on a Sunday in August with my dad. I was pretty sore, so instead of carrying out my normal run on Monday morning, I scratched it and picked up my training when I was ready again. Cycling may not have as much of an impact on the body but 6 hours of cycling in the sun definitely took a lot out of me!
- During the taper, a few nagging injuries were slowing me down, so I ran usually 3 times a week instead of my “ideal” 4 times a week. I think that in itself allowed me to have a fantastic taper and be really rested for race day.
- I didn’t do speed work. Okay, maybe this one could have increased my marathon time by 1.3% or something, but after taking so much care in healing a stress fracture for over 6 weeks, I was scared to run fast. For real. It’s daunting to run fast when you know that that is when you started to feel your stress fracture, when you were doing speed work. Instead of feeling guilty about it, I just ran the paces I wanted, did the best I could, and made sure to not get injured again. Running stress is enough stress on the body without the added speed work!
- I skipped a long run for a hike. Jo and I went for a 19km hike to Crypt Lake in Waterton, Alberta at the end of September. I was supposed to run a 12-miler that day but instead I embraced the chance to go hiking and let the hike be my endurance fitness activity for the week. Hiking forced me to use muscles I forgot I had and I was nice and sore after the adventure, a run would have been added stress my body didn’t need.
I guess what I’m trying to say, is that if you’re like me, you don’t “just run.” I wanted to get my bike on the road as much as possible in the summer and I can never say no to a hike in the mountains, so I incorporated different fitness activities into my marathon training plan. Running, in particular, marathon training, places a lot of stress on the body, and if I am adding even more activities to my weekly routine, that means in addition to running stress my body is accumulating other sources of stress as well. I am so happy I was able to make this adaptation, and not feel guilty about it, because it made my marathon training cycle 938174% more fun.
Yeah, you know what, I might have run a 3:40 marathon in Chicago, or I might have shaved 37 seconds off of my time if I had solely dedicated my life to marathon training, but it was more fulfilling to me to diversify my fitness and experience opportunities I might not have again. Let your body tell you how hard to work. Push your boundaries and step out of your comfort zone, but remember, stress is stress and ignoring that can lead to devastating consequences. I have yet to even consider running another marathon, but if and when I do, I will make my next training cycle just as flexible as I did this one.