Marathoning: Back to Basics

This summer, I injured my iliotibial band. From June to August, I walked and swam to maintain my cardiovascular fitness while I went through withdrawal. Running is an addiction like any other; it requires regular feeding. After adopting an extensive stretching and strengthening routine, I finally began to build my mileage. Although I had been injured previously and taken time off from running, I had never been forced to curtail my activity so dramatically. Back at square one, I had my moments of weakness: I insisted that I was done with running, that I would never run again, that I was finished as a runner, that I needed to move on with my life and forget the joy of running. But once a runner, always a runner. My spirit could not be so easily defeated. And I fought on and remained grateful for everything I did have in my life. Injuries teach patience, but they also teach gratitude. They reveal in sharp relief the world without running. For me, a world without running was a little less bright and beautiful, but nevertheless, a world worthy of thanksgiving.

Saturday morning, I ran along the Hudson River. It was forty degrees, 25 mile per hour headwind from the northeast, sleet slamming into my face with every step forward. Despite the obvious physical discomfort, I watched the foggy horizon, the river turned pewter and angry, the cherry trees bent under the coming storm, and felt lucky just to have the privilege to run a single mile, let alone nine.

As I look forward to a spring marathon, I need to get back to basics: more speed work, more miles, more stretching, more carbohydrates. I hope to shave nine minutes off my personal best and run a 3:10 marathon sometime around May. Between November and January, however, I’m focusing on building base fitness and weekly mileage. During my journey from injury to a new PR, I’ll intermittently provide some training tips and recipes.

Recently, one of my friends asked me, “is it possible to train for a marathon running only every other day?” I am of the firm belief that finishing a marathon is a matter of the long run. If you can finish a 20 mile training run, you will be able to finish a marathon. (As anecdotal evidence, my dad just set a new marathon PR following this philosophy.) The question is, of course, how to work towards the 20 miler. Starting at a half-marathon distance long run, progressively increase the long run distance. Simple as that. Incorporate intervals and fast tempo runs during the week, along with a strong dose of hills. The following sample plan assumes that you regularly complete six mile runs and that you can do a half-marathon without too much trouble.

Week 1: 6, 6, 6, 12
Week 2: 6, 7, 13
Week 3: 6, 7, 7, 14
Week 4: 7, 7, 7
Week 5: 7, 7, 7, 15
Week 6: 7, 8, 16
Week 7: 7, 8, 7, 17
Week 8: 8, 8, 8
Week 9: 7, 8, 7, 19
Week 10: 7, 8, 20
Week 11: 6, 7, 6, 13
Week 12: 6, 6, 10
Week 13: 4, 3, marathon

Following my freezing nine miler, I wanted a hot lunch. Unfortunately, the rain turned into snow while I showered, and the thought of trudging out into the slush sent shivers down my aching quads. I made a pepper jack grilled cheese: six slices deli cheese, two pieces wheat bread, one tablespoon olive oil for the pan—cook until browned on both sides and the cheese starts slipping over the crust in gooey strands. I also ate a mealy winter peach. For dinner, some serious protein was in order. I headed to RUB BBQ. My friends and I took on a pound of burnt ends, half a pound of brisket, half a pound of pastrami, and a rack and a half of ribs, along with beans, greens, and potato salad. Just enough food for two runners and a lapsed tennis player.

In high school, my physics teacher ran marathons and downed doughnuts like Flintstones vitamins. We took turns bringing in LaMar’s: long johns, glazed yeast, blueberry cake, and the occasional apple fritter. Today, LaMar’s has turned into Rays Donuts and Coffee, but I hear that the doughnut tradition continues. Back then, I preferred bike riding to running. But now, I understand the doughnut impulse. After barbecue, we wanted dessert. There’s a Doughnut Plant right next to RUB. We ordered three doughnuts and ended up with six: apple cinnamon yeast, apple cinnamon cake, peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and banana, pumpkin, and chocolate glazed. I adored the peanut butter and banana, a fluffy yeast dough piped through with rich, sweet banana custard, all dipped in peanut buttery icing. Sufficient nutrition to power a brief shakeout run Sunday morning; right now, I’m taking it one run at a time.

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