MCM Training Week 1: Getting strong

Week one of Marine Corps Marathon training is in the books. There’s something simultaneously thrilling and underwhelming about the very first week – you want to dive into something that hurts, something that counts, something that signals of the weeks to come. But you have a long way to go, a long way to climb, and you don’t want to dive straight into the deep end, or disaster.

But before I get into that, a very quick race recap – it was over a week ago now, and, well, it was a quick race! My friend Ellen found a 3K called the Sweet Sprint, a race that ended in cupcakes and was run on the flat-and-fast Eliza Furnace Trail (aka the Jail Trail). It was a distance NF and I had never tried before, so we decided to give it the college try. It was a tiny, local, low-key setting, and only started like 15 minutes or so late, which is pretty good for a first effort. It was also a pretty warm and muggy morning (some of us were bemoaning a 9:15 scheduled start in the heat of summer. But at least it’s a short race).

We also got to meet our Twitter/DailyMile (and now real life) friend Mark, who we chatted with a bit at the start and in-between warming up. About 15 minutes to the scheduled start, NF and I ran out about a third of a mile or so and did some pick-ups on the way back. When it became clear that the start was going to be late, we did a couple more striders to keep our legs warm and get the “shitty” feeling out of the fast pace. I was hoping to break 7:00 pace the whole time, but wasn’t sure how realistic this was.

We lined up near the start, eyeing the competition. Mark pointed out a girl named Danielle as someone for me to pace off of. Something about her was VERY familiar, but I shook it off and just put a bulls-eye on her ponytail so I could hopefully latch on and hang on for dear life.

The race started, and I sprinted across the line. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever started a race that fast. For the first quarter mile, my watch was reading 5:45, and I actually laughed out loud. I held onto Danielle for a while, trying to slow my pace and ease into something more manageable – something she seemed to be doing, too. I had toyed with the idea of running without music, but wasn’t comfortable enough with my level of fitness and mental capacity for the Pain Place, so I picked three power song to keep me going.

Me leading the pack! Okay, not really. But I’m on the right. Yes, we had ankle chips – that was a first!

After mile 1 ticked off, I felt like I was dying a slow, painful death. I lost satellites briefly under the overpass and my bead on my pace, so I just tried to keep pushing. With 2/3 of a mile to go (a 3K is roughly 1.86 miles, for what it’s worth), I genuinely wanted to quit – to stop and walk, or just put my hands on my knees and heave for a moment. I just tried to lighten up on the gas for a moment. When the finish banner was in sight – maybe with about .25 to go, I tried not to let up anymore, trying to real in an older guy I’d been pacing off of (I managed to drop Danielle, but she had crushed a 5K the day before and had already run 5 miles that same morning, so yeahh). I flew across the line feeling more dead than I ever have after a 5K.

Who knew there was something more painful than a 5K?

Pain Cave

But it was a great experience. Now I know where my speed fitness is, and my mental capacity (and it’ll only improve from here).

Plus, in the end there was this:

And then there was this:

Yep, NF and I both got first in our AG (and Mark did as well!). Always a good feeling, even if it’s only achievable for me at these tiny local races. 😉 This was our last short-distance race for… a while. We’ll be moving onto different pain places now.

Oh! And not to forget this detail – after the race I went up to Danielle and asked her, “didn’t I race with you at the Burg 10K?” (see also: the girl in the Boston jacket). And it absolutely was her! I ended up running into her during my easy run Tuesday morning, as well – I had changed up routes to keep things interesting, and she was running with a friend. We were both beginning to do the friendly runner wave (such a rarity) when suddenly we recognized each other and our quick wave turned into “oh hi I know you!” I love this (running) town.

Making new friends. And pretty sure I’m wiping sweat from my eyes – classy
Surveying the goods. Need to change this blog name to “runs for cupcakes.”

Okay so, week one. I’m going to try to avoid the standard day-by-day breakdown, since that gets stale pretty quickly. Plus, everyone has different goals, different strengths and weaknesses, and copy-pasting someone’s plan from their blog will do almost nothing for you individually as a runner.

What I will emphasize is that I’m trying to take these early low-mileage week (last week totaled 20 miles) to cross-train often and hard. I love cross-training, and I have a membership to a (very expensive) gym, but as soon as mileage kicks up, especially near peak, the first thing to slide is strength training. So here are a few of my goals, broken down into how this week went:

1. Lower body strength.

I got really strong on hills last cycle – I put a lot of emphasis on running hilly routes, doing bridge or hill repeats (some long, tempo-ish efforts; others short sprints), and leg-work, especially squats. I’m hoping to make Monday my leg strength day, though I realize Sunday being long run day may sometimes throw a wrench in that. For the time being, it’s doable, and will probably train my legs to push through fatigue more.  I’ve been doing a squat series from Runner’s World just about weekly, followed up with core work and Pilates side-lying series type stuff to keep my hips strong and my IT bands happy.

2. Upper body and core strength

Runners can be a little notorious for slacking on the upper body stuff. And I’m one of those weirdos who builds bulk muscle REALLY fast (gotta love genetics). I tend to keep pretty low weight for upper body stuff (15-20 lb free weights) and hit all the major muscle groups. As far as core, and I do this on leg days, too, because really – you can’t have too much core – I’m addicted to the Dirty Dozen from Oiselle’s blog. It takes about 20 minutes and hits every part of your core and just the right amount of upper body. I’m still doing cheater, sissy push-ups, but I’m planning on gradually shifting away from those into real, big-girl push-ups.

3. Nutrition

Mmm… chocolate…

Okay, well, this isn’t the only nutrition I’m concerned with. I have my pre- and mid-run nutrition plan pretty well figured out at this point. But I am trying to clean up my diet again to get lean and mean. Having generous neighbors who just give away the extra organic veggies they grow is awesome.

I’m giving the MyFitnessPal app a try for a few weeks to try to get a better idea of how well I fuel and refuel for workouts, and if I’m getting the nutrients I need in the proper balance. I’ts only been like three-and-a-half days so it’s too early to say anything (other than I eat too much salt, but seem to manage the proper carb-fat-protein balance without even trying?), but I’ll probably report back with more in a few weeks. I still hate counting calories, and I know it can be risky, but I’m more seeing just how much food I can squeeze into a day than seeing if I can come in under calories for the day (I have it set to maintain weight, in fact).

I’m also still going to my Tuesday night Pilates class every week (work allowing – I’ve gotten stuck a couple of times and missed the 5:30 class) and went to spin on Wednesday for the first time in a while (though I still feel a bit sick of it. We’ll see how frequently I decide to go). I know these classes keep my brain interested, and work different muscles in different ways, while upping the mental toughness in different ways.

So how are these things working for me so far?

On Thursday, I got to test my mental capacity again with my first longer tempo run in a while. I let tempos slide quite a bit in the off-season, and we were diving right in with a six-miler, 4 miles at tempo. My stomach had been feeling all kinds of bad for a few days (unrelated to running) and I wasn’t sure I could sustain the paces I wanted in the excruciating humidity from the near-constant thunderstorms we had been getting (like Wednesday’s “derecho”). I decided I wasn’t going to look at my watch, at all. I wasn’t even going to switch it to lap estimate, just leave it on the overall time screen.

It worked. It was still hard, and I quit twice, very briefly, for like 10 seconds apiece, but I hit all of my splits, so I’ll put that solidly in the victory section.

My cat had a really nice nap while I was gone – she has a thing for my yoga mat – so we both had a good Thursday morning.

 The arms and core workout I did on Friday really stayed with me for the Saturday long run (usually done on Sunday but we rescheduled so we could party at a friend’s house Saturday night. MyFitnessPal was pretty confused about my combined workout and eating – not to mention drinking – habits that day). We did a 10 mile loop we hadn’t done in a long, long time that included a loop of the very hilly Schenley Park. I’d done a 15-minute “ab burner” routine as part of my workout on Friday, using the Nike Training Club app (a really nifty tool, and completely FREE; more to come on that as well), and I was finding laughing, coughing, and sneezing to be pretty painful.

You know how everyone always emphasizes how much you use your core as a runner, especially on things like – say – hills? Well, I can attest to this, very strongly. The first three miles in the park are pretty much on-and-off climbing, between my tired shoulders and back, my fatiguing legs, and my trashed core, it was a struggle. But I never quit, something I fully expected to do on my first trip back into Schenley in so long, and so early in the cycle. Success! It helped that it was also a gorgeous day – it was still pretty humid, but was about 10-15 degrees cooler than last weekend’s long run temperatures. I then spent the afternoon at the pool relaxing in the sunshine and trying to erase my runner tan. I was not entirely successful.

And Saturday night? Well…

This week, I have a run with a friend scheduled, as well as a track workout, and the temperatures are sky-high again (heat index hit 102* today) so I may be ignoring my watch quite a bit again. But I guess the hotter the sauna now, the faster I’ll be in the fall.


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I'm a 35-year-old writer and runner. This is my running blog.

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