The Impact of Marathon Training: An N=1 Experiment

I ran my first (and only!) marathon this past November at the age of 35. I spent five months training and, much to my surprise, even longer recovering.

Prior to the training, I was running around 20-25 miles a week, sprinting once a week, doing 2 hours of yoga a week and lifting (heavy) weights 3-4 times a week. I logged an average of 8-9 hours a week on fitness. My cardiovascular endurance was good, my strength was always improving and my bodyfat and weight were consistent (around 18% and 120 lbs, respectively). Once I started training for the race, I had to cut back on the weight training (1-2 times a week; upper body only) and I logged more like 50 miles on the trails.

The changes to my body started about halfway through the program. My weight dropped, hovering around 115. I had to add more calories and carbs (in the form of sweet potatoes) to my diet in order to maintain the energy needed for longer runs. Even though my weight was lower, my bodyfat increased (estimated at 20%) and my pants size went up. I was constantly feeling the effects of inflammation, both visually and in my respiratory and digestive systems. My strength decreased by around 30% and I struggled to do anything that was not a long, slow workout. I could not keep muscle on my frame. Even worse, I was plagued with injuries and illnesses due to overuse and the constant stress on the body.

I was dedicating over 20 hours a week to fitness and I was in worse shape than ever before.

4 months before the marathon

4 months before the marathon

Post marathon

Post marathon

8 months after the marathon

8 months after the marathon

During the race, I suffered an extremely painful IT band injury. As a result, I was unable to run for almost two months after the marathon. Instead, I happily hit the gym again, building back the muscle I had lost and rehabbing the injured leg. As I was able, I slowly added back my shorter runs and sprints, keeping my total mileage to under 25 a week.

It’s been a slow path back to where I was. Age certainly makes it harder to recover and build muscle, but I believe that my body was suffering from too much of the same thing for too long. Now that my routine is more balanced and my total time working out has decreased, I’m finally back. I feel strong again. I fit into my skinny jeans again (even though my weight is back up). I have time to relax again.

My body has definitely sent me the message that it likes to run but it doesn’t like to run distances more suitable to an Atlanta commute. This isn’t the case for every body; I have friends who can run marathons and feel no effects. I, apparently, am not one of them. I’m going to stick to half marathons and shorter from now on:)

I do not regret the marathon. It was an amazing, emotional and transformative experience. But one is enough for me. According to my n=1 experiment, I do better with more weight and fewer miles.

How about you? Any n=1 experiments you want to share?

Related: A Marathon Recap: I Won!



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