I’m training for my third marathon. People often tell me, “You are so healthy because you run” and my answer is “I can run because I’m so healthy”. If my diet, sleep, stress levels and training regime weren’t dialed in, there is no way I could run a marathon at 52. To optimize my wellness and performance I eat a wide variety of real foods; manage my stress levels via mind-body techniques; make high-quality sleep a priority and finally have an optimized training plan. Let’s break these down individually.
There are few things we have as much control over as what we put in our mouths, but if you look at the standard American diet, as a nation we are doing a horrible job of eating for health. If you’re training for a demanding endurance event, like a marathon, you need to make your calories count. In addition, if you have a few extra pounds, you also need to count your calories as extra pounds on your frame will cause extra stress on your joints.
Standard diet advise for endurance athletes is carbs and more carbs, followed by a side of carbs. I’m not a member of the “carbs are bad” club, but I do believe most endurance athletes can perform better if they become somewhat fat adapted. A body can store roughly 2,000 calories of glycogen, enough for 90 minutes of activity, while it can store 30,000-100,000 calories of fat. If you can pull on your fat reserves, you will be able to run longer, harder and faster without bonking. Here are a few tips for a healthy fat adapted diet.
- The standard American diet is about 400 grams of carbs per day and a low carb diet is around 30 per day with keto below 10. Though it is definitely possible to perform well in endurance activities on a ketogenic diet, I believe for most people this transition is tough and can even cause health issues such as triglyceride level spikes and thyroid hormone level drops. I generally don’t go below 100 grams, unless I’m fasting, and will even go up to 200 the day before an 18+ mile run. I encourage you to track your macros via an app like MyFItnessPal and see what works for you. Remember, if you’re used to eating a lot of carbs, you are more likely to feel a “crash” as you’re not used to calling on fat reserves for energy. It takes work to become fat adapted but for most endurance athletes, the pain is worth the gain.
- Try some runs in a fasted state. It’s one of the best ways to get fat adapted. If you’re not used to this, start off with going out for 20 to 30 minutes. I’ve built myself up to 2 hours. Note: On race day I’ll eat a breakfast with 100 grams of carbs, as studies (and observation) show eating (especially carbs) does help performance. If you’re interested in the nitty gritty details, here’s a study done on race walkers. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1113/JP273230/abstract
- Eat healthy carbs. In addition to copious amounts of vegetables, I eat lots of sweet potatoes, qinuoa, legumes and my delicious homemade einkorn sourdough bread.
- Avoid ALL processed foods. These hyper-palatable, fake sustenance edibles are typically found in cafeteria vending machines, boxes and the frozen food aisle. These items will inflame you and you can’t afford to have inflammation in your body when you’re logging 20 mile runs.
- Make a batch of bone broth every week and use it as a base for soup, chili or stew. Any extra can be frozen. Here’s my basic recipe: Place carrots, celery, onion, garlic, peppercorns, and bay leaves in a slow cooker. Place roasted bones over vegetables; pour in enough cold water to cover Add apple cider vinegar and kosher salt. Cook on Low for 24 hours.
- Make sure you get enough protein from healthy sources, such as wild caught salmon or grass fed beef. Not sure it’s necessary to supplement, but if you’re vegan, you might want to think of doing a vegan protein powder.
- If inflammation is bothering you, rather than taking NSAIDS, supplement with the following:
- Curcumin (found in Tumeric)
- Tart Cherry Juice
- Stay hydrated. I don’t recommend Gatorade, but missing electrolytes are a concern. Make sure you are getting enough Magnesium, Sodium, Potassium and Calcium. On super sweaty days, I make a concoction of filtered water, coconut water, with a pink Himalayan sea salt and Natural Calm Magnesium/Calcium powder.
This is probably the most common issue middle-aged, physically fit people have. The answers are complex, but of one thing I’m certain: Ambien is not the answer. Here are a few tips for helping you get a good night’s sleep:
- Once the sun goes down, put on some blue light blockers to avoid artificial light. Especially useful if you watch TV or on your computer for hours in the evening.
- Get your core temperature down by taking a cool shower. When bathing at night, I use candles vs electric lights to illuminate the bathroom.
- Get your bedroom DARK! You shouldn’t be able to see your hand in front of your face.
- Make sure all blue, green, etc. LED lights are blocked.
- Turn off your WiFI router.
- Try to get to bed and get up at the same time.
- Some natural supplements that can help include:
- 3 to 5 mg of melatonin
- 500 mg reishi mushrooms
- 350 mg magnesium citrate Note: It’s easy to build up a tolerance to these supplements, so don’t just up the doseage if you feel the effects wearing off. You are better off trying another supplement.
- Avoid alcohol, caffeine and stimulants HOURS before bed
Even if your diet and exercise is dialed in, you won’t be successful running an injury free marathon if you can’t manage your stress. Many folks are addicted to endurance sports because they get an endorphin rush from the effort. Ironically, these exercise endorphin junkies are the often the exact same people who shouldn’t be running marathons. They’d be better off with Yin Yoga. Here are some tips to manage stress:
- Meditation: If you’re new to the practice, try some guided meditation programs or relaxing to the sound of binaural beats. Both can be explored for free via YouTube videos.
- Positive social interactions: Nowadays I look forward to running solo as I’m intrinsically motivated and look forward to listening to my favorite podcasts as I’m running. However, for my first marathon I buddied up with two other women and though we were all running different races, we definitely kept each other motivated and accountable. Also, don’t neglect your family and non-running friends during your training. Nothing is better than seeing your loved ones at the end of a race and if they feel slighted they might not show up to celebrate with you at the end.
- Gratitude Journaling: Wake up every day and be thankful you get to run vs being stressed that you have to run. Be thankful for a family and friends that support your efforts and the job that allows you to buy $150 running shoes.
- Massage: I believe in the modality so much that I’m currently getting my massage license. Schedule regular massages, at least once a month, during your training. I also recommend daily five to ten minute myofascial release sessions using tools like a foam roller or lacrosse ball to address your “trouble spots”.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people make is to put on junk miles. Unless running is your job, less is more. My previous training programs all involved cross training with four runs a week, but this time around, I’m only running three times a week. Here are the key runs:
- Long Run (Sunday): I don’t care how fast I go, I just need to cover the distance. My longest run will be 22 miles.
- Tempo Run (Tuesday or Thursday): Generally a third of my long run, and run at a pace that is a minute or more faster than my desired marathon pace.
- Speed Work (Thursday or Thursday) about an hour of 440 or 880’s done at the track at an all-out pace, with full recovery between sprints. This is VERY hard for me, and the most important part of my training program as I’m a natural endurance runner, with little power and speed.
I’ve also schedule in some races, 5k to half- marathons, to help me with race jitters and execution strategy.
I will incorporate one day of biking (probably indoor as I’m a spin instructor), two to three days of strength training and two to three days of Yoga, Pilates or Barre. I will not run and bike on the same day (not training for a triathlon), but will brick the other modalities. For example, the day of my long run I will take a Yoga class.
Note: If Yoga is “not your thing” you still need to do some mobility sessions. Here’s a video link of my clients doing a quick mobility routine you can easily incorporate into your training program any day of the week. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLoppDs4KXE&index=4&list=UUrewpMDL8kqjWM2Q6nBlUbA
The oldest woman to complete a marathon was Harriette Thompson who in 2015, at 92, completed the San Diego Rock N Roll Marathon. Not saying I want to beat her record, but I’d like to be healthy enough to know I could.