Marathon Fitness vs. Total Fitness
|April 22, 2011||Posted by Lauren under Fitness, Running|
Fact: you don’t have to be in excellent shape to run a marathon.
Now before you go thinking I’m crazy for saying something so counter-intuitive, let me explain. To train for a marathon, the only thing you really have to do is run. You start off running a little, and gradually over time, you build up enough endurance and strength to continue running for hours on end. Is this hard? Yes. Do you need to be strong to do it? Absolutely. But do you need to be in great all-around shape? Not really.
In case you haven’t noticed, running a lot isn’t automatically going to give you a strong core or great flexibility. When you run, you are essentially practicing the same movements over and over. Ultimately, this is going to make you really good at those movements, and it will help your body become very efficient at keeping you moving for long periods of time. What it doesn’t do, however, is work every single muscle, leaving you strong and toned all over.
In an ideal world, runners should supplement their running with other activities – like cross training and weight lifting. Not only will these things make you in better all-around shape, but they will also make you a stronger runner.
The problem is, similar to the training for any endurance event, the actual running part of training takes a lot of time. And for most of us, running isn’t actually our full time job (sadly enough). There’s only so much you can fit into any given day. So unless you’re willing to cut back on the running or add to your total time working out, it’s really easy to let the non-running parts of training slide.
Clearly, this is the only reason why Kara and I both run marathons, yet I do not look like this: (okay, fine… so there might be just a little more to it than that…)
This woman just gave birth and has better abs than I do
Other forms of exercise aren’t the only things to go when you’re marathon training. For me, when my miles go up, my other movement goes down. Way down. Sure, I may run for a couple of hours one day a week, but in the days leading up to it, I’m resting to conserve energy. And then for a day and a half after my run, I’m resting to recover. Anyone who has never trained for a marathon before might be surprised at how much resting is actually involved.
Not only that, but it’s easy to let fruit and veggie consumption go down too, as peanut butter and carb consumption go up. Meals become planned around runs, and it’s a lot easier to snack on pretzels before a run than an apple.
Add to that the decreased activity level that occurs during a taper, and then resting after a marathon to recover (but yet an appetite that still seems convinced I need to stock up on calories!), and by the end of the full cycle, I’m left feeling a bit like the Pillsbury Doughboy.
Don’t get me wrong. I love training for marathons. I love the discipline, the challenge, and the opportunity to push my body harder and further than I had ever thought possible. There is something incredibly rewarding and addicting about this test of endurance, and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean I think that marathon training is the path to a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle. And honestly, I like having time between marathons to build up my fitness base – and get back into better all-around shape.
I always go into a training cycle with the best intentions. I plan to cross train regularly, lift often, and take Yoga classes to increase my flexibility. But a month or so into training, the same thing inevitably happens. I get busy, and my motivation to do anything that makes me more tired on my runs goes out the window.
Now that my spring marathon is done, I’m fighting the urge to just run, and taking steps to incorporate other forms of exercise into my life. For the next couple of months, I want to focus more on:
- Lifting - my goal is to do this workout twice a week
- Yoga – I need to break the mentality that if my heart rate isn’t up, I’m not really working out. I know Yoga is good for my inflexible-injury prone self
- Classes – my comfort zone is running, not group exercise classes. But I need to break out of that comfort zone, and start trying new things like spinning (do you hear that Becky??)
- (and if I’m feeling particularly ambitious) Other forms of exercise like cycling and swimming - one of these days, I will actually get around to training for a triathlon.
I will still be running and racing (I have another race coming up next weekend), but that’s not going to be my primary focus. I’m going to try really hard to restore some sort of fitness-related balance to my life, so that by the time I start ramping my mileage back up in July, I’ll be in really good shape. And who knows – maybe this time around, I’ll actually stick with it.
Thoughts? Agree/disagree? Does being a marathon runner automatically mean that you’re in great shape? And is it really the best approach to a balanced, healthy lifestyle?