Recently I’ve been asked about my new love affair with running—mostly questions about what I am doing differently, why I’m running and what I’m running away from!
I am a rookie runner, not a running expert at all. As a matter of fact, knowing what I know now, I can see that for three years I put in a lot of junk miles. And with those junk miles I racked up physio, acupuncture and massage bills that made each running season a very expensive endeavour. Each year I tried to crack a 2:00:00 half-marathon. In 2013 I ran five half-marathons, with a personal best of 2:01:01. Last spring I decided to make a significant change to my quest.
I hired a personal trainer, Leah Goldstein , who introduced me to a dramatically different approach to running. She brought to the trails the wisdom of an extremely experienced, seasoned and accomplished ultra-endurance athlete. Equally important, she did not give me any princess treatment (I can put on a huge pout or convincing whine when pushed extremely far outside of my comfort zone); she was understanding yet firm, even though at times I made labouring sounds far worse than when I was actually giving birth to my ten-and-a-half-pound son!
Her training was educational as well. She taught me how to optimize my fitness results by calculating and training within my heart-rate training zone. She tracked all of my stats and strategized my training schedule. Our training together was on a treadmill, trails and pavement; we had hill sessions and “puke” sessions (speed interval training at the local track).
Through it all I learned and accomplished so much in just a matter of months. I can confidentially say that, thanks to her, at 42 I am in the best physical shape of my life!
Here’s a collection of ideas, beliefs and tidbits from what I learned and adopted over five hundred kilometres of training:
What you put into it is what you get out of it. Even if you are having a really bad day or a bad run, keep running. Push through it. Alternatively, if you’re on fire, then let the adrenaline catapult you to a new personal best.
Be consistent. No matter what comes up in life, if you’ve made the commitment to run, then run. That means everything else and everyone else can wait (except, of course, an emergency situation). Running every second day works best for me. It gives my muscles, and likely my heart and lungs, the recovery time they need.
Don’t stop! If you’ve committed to run one kilometre, then run it. Even at a turtle’s pace, keep the running stride. Your brain does awful things if it thinks it is allowed to walk every time the going gets a little tough. Run it out.
Make friends with wind, rain and hills, and run on trails as much as possible. My trainer had me write a mantra that I repeat. It includes all three of those perceived obstacles that make you a better runner. Here’s part of it: “I love running up hills! I always think I’m gonna crush them! Conquer them! They are my greatest ally on the running trails. I was born to run hills!”
I do 75 percent of my training on trails rather than on pavement. This is possibly the reason why I’ve been injury free.
Don’t be afraid to cry. It’s going to be hard and you are going to want to kick a rock or cry. Don’t kick the rock because it causes pain that you will then need to run through (trust me—I did this at the top of a grinding five-minute 160-metre climb). Cry if you need to, but sooner or later you will realize that it’s hard to cry and run at the same time because it messes with your breathing. Save crying for later and you’ll see that your tears are happy ones rather than frustrated—and they taste sweeter!
Run with a Garmin Forerunner 310XT. It talks to your computer wirelessly and has all sorts of groovy data charts, so when you walk in the door, your report card is automatically produced and you can track your progress.
If you have an adversity to caffeine, get over it. On the days you run without at least one cup of it, you’ll regret it. When you start running longer distances—twenty or more kilometres—you’ll totally feel the 40 milligrams of caffeine as you suck back the gel pack and you’ll feel like your rocket boosters just lit up. You’ll be good to go for another seven to ten kilometres.
Epsom-salt baths are your evening’s new sanctuary. In the evening after my run, I pour one cup of Epsom salts into a hot bath. While the bath is running I brush my teeth and get two large glasses of water, one to be enjoyed during my bath and one for my bedside table. I soak for at least twenty minutes. Towards the end of my bath I do my “yoga,” a series of legs stretches. From the bath I go straight to bed.
Hydrate, nourish, compress and sleep. On any run longer than five kilometres, I take a clip-on water bottle; for more than ten kilometres I add electrolytes; for more than fifteen I also take along caffeinated gel packs, one for every seven kilometres.
On run days I have to eat forty-five minutes before my run. Typically it’s a cup of coffee, a banana and a bowl of porridge topped with two heaping teaspoons of brown sugar and drizzled with coconut milk. (I also love having at least one cup of coconut water post-run). Over the past few months, as my output has increased, my appetite and diet variety have increased substantially. I eat when and what my body wants. My diet in a nutshell: no white sugar, no white flour, only gluten-free rice bread and pasta, nothing carbonated or deep fried, minimal dairy, brown basmati rice, fruits and vegetables (as much organic as possible), a balance of 60 percent meat and 40 percent fish, a lot of garlic and at least one green salad a day.
I am prone to ankle, Achilles and knee twerks and quirks. Since I started wearing compression tubes for every single run, I have not had one injury. I swear they have made all the difference.
Your body will dictate your sleep requirements. You will feel crappy running and a lot stiffer after running if you’ve had a late night or lack sufficient sleep. You will need a catnap on days you run more than fifteen kilometres.
Celebrate your victories! Chocolate cake is my reward and I eat as much as I want—guiltlessly.
- I learned this one from my daughter, who is a former national team athlete. Think happy, positive thoughts and make friends with hills, or whatever your obstacle is. Saying you hate hills is self-sabotage; your brain listens and does not filter. You need to filter the funk! I had someone take a picture of me running up a hill on a day that I felt like a rocket, and I made it my screensaver. Simple things like that help you create your own running bliss.
I feel I am now training much more efficiently and I hope to realize my under-two-hour goal. No, I will run a half-marathon in under two hours! I am loving every step of the way.
And to answer the question about what I’m running from, I am actually not running from anything. I am taking the leap and running towards a better me.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article originally appeared on elephantjournal.com.
Leah Podollan is the founder of L Spa and Wellness Centre and is a member of the board of directors of the Spa Industry Association of Canada. She is a wife and a mom, as well as a dietary, allergy, anaphylaxis, wellness and culinary enthusiast. She devotes time to several philanthropic projects and loves to travel and to seek adventure and athletic challenge. In her spare time she blogs about recipes, health and her adventures on Leap Blog, at www.leahpodollan.com.by