Preparing For a Half Marathon While Still Being Paleo
I ran a half marathon.
I ran a half marathon. 13.1 miles on 4-27-14.
Sometimes I catch myself repeating these words in my head, even though its been nearly a week since I crossed the finish line. Still, whenever I walk by a mirror I catch a glimmer of the Nike Tiffany Finisher’s pendant I’ve refused to take off since Sunday.
In high school, when I was a cheerleader (gag), our coach used to make us do a half-mile warm up before practice. It would take me 15 minutes to finish. (I’m not kidding- that’s 7.5 minutes per quarter mile- a 30 min/mile pace. I may as well have been walking my pet turtle.) Never in my life did I think I would run for run, or even attempt a half marathon.
I registered for the Nike Women’s Half Marathon in D.C. last fall (One of the races in the elusive Nike Women’s Marathon Series), right when registration opened. I had had a fantastic fall and summer running season, and I thought, well, why not? A half had been on my bucket list for a while, I was already running 10k races, and this race was literally in my backyard.
However, my fantastic running season soon turned into a winter full of minimal or nonexistent training. Part of it was a lack of motivation, but another part of it was that I had a lot going on: I (finally!) graduated graduate school in winter, started this blog, took on a new job, made the transition from a perma-student into an actual fully-functional adult (this just in: I have no idea what I’m doing), dealt with a cumulative 2 hours worth of traffic to and from work each day, and my 15 mile away boyfriend became a 1,500 mile away boyfriend. To say I was in over my head was an understatement.
As you can imagine, training for this half fell to the wayside. I went on runs here and there, but the everlasting blizzards combined with my skyrocketing stress levels left little desire to lace up my Nike’s and hit the [-10 degree] pavement. (Randomly, running on a treadmill leaves me with shin splints- anyone else have this problem?)
As race day approached, my boyfriend signed us both up for a 5k, a sweet gesture in support of my training efforts, and a way for both of us to support his field. This was in early March, and I was so worn out during the 3.2 miles that I had to walk part of it, and him, the non-runner literally ran circles around me….and then offered to piggy back me to the finish line. To make matters worse, just as I was building up my runs again, less than a month before the April 27th date of the DC half, I had an unexpected, late night ER visit due to a sudden kidney infection and dehydration. I was not ready for this half marathon.
After some incredibly supportive pep talks from friends, inspirational emails and posts from Nike, posting inspirational words around my apartment, fully recovering from my kidney woes, getting the doctor’s approval, and adjusting my work schedule so I could come in late on morning run days, I somehow came from having to take a walk break after 2 miles to finishing a half marathon.
My passion for running came back. The reasons for why I run came back. When I get to turn off my phone, put in my headphones, connect with my breath, and run so fast I feel like I’m flying- those are the moments where I feel invincible, the moments where I feel like I can conquer anything. These moments often fuel my energy for the rest of my day, or sometimes, the rest of the week. If I could conquer those miles, those hills, those loops, then what’s to say I can’t finish that last report? What's my reason for not doing those dishes? Not responding to those emails? Almost everything is easy in comparison to those really tough miles. Its amazing what your mind can do when fueled on willpower and perspective.
So, I did it. I finished a half marathon. (Heat sheets and all.)
Now, I don’t recommend this last minute training. Building up to 13.1 miles so fast is rough and stressful on your body, but I should mention that prior to this past spring, I was regularly going on 5-8 mile runs, and frequently topped 20 miles a week. I had a good foundation that, thankfully, didn’t take me too long to break back into. I also had kept up my cardio endurance by doing classes like zumba at my gym, and had regularly done low impact resistance training through barre and yoga classes.
This half marathon was such an incredible experience. Nike sure does know how to put on a show, and all the little details really, truly made it a spectacular day. Live bands and DJ’s every few miles were so incredibly energizing, all the volunteers along the way that handed out water and snacks had nothing but encouraging words and smiles, and Nike staff members were truly interested in your running journey and why you had decided to take the time to register for their half marathon. Also a plus? They had a chocolate station somewhere around mile 11, just when I’m sure everyone thought they were going to die. Cheers Nike, you’ve built a fabulous brand and a fabulous community. You guys believed in me when I didn’t think I had it in me.
Besides raving about how much I loved this experience, this half marathon, I wanted to take the time to post about how running works into my Paleo lifestyle. Avid Paleo followers do not actually advocate large amounts of cardio. Large amounts of cardio require a lot of readily available energy, which, in those that follow the Standard American Diet (SAD), usually come from glucose stores. These glucose stores come from carbohydrates or sugars. The body can most easily access these from grains or fruit. (Or junk food.) As many of you know, Paleo does not incorporate grains, and limits fruit intake. So what does your body do for energy? It takes energy from stored fat reserves, but during long and intense bouts of energy exertion, it is possible that your body will actually start to cannibalize your own muscles to get energy….and that, my dear readers, is never a good thing. So what’s a Paleo cave girl to do when a passion for running conflicts with primal nutrition? Make adjustments, and listen to your body. It will tell you what to do.
Personally, I upped my carbohydrate intake, however, I rarely consumed grains. I chose to eat most of my carbohydrates from vegetables such as broccoli, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, asparagus, and red cabbage. If I would eat an apple or a banana, I would do so with sunbutter or almond butter, since the fat from the nuts would slow the insulin levels entering my bloodstream. Doing this ensured that my blood sugar wouldn’t spike, and thus, wouldn’t rapidly crash, resulting in more stable energy throughout my runs and the day.
The night before I would go on a morning long run, I would incorporate starches into my meal in either the form of white rice or sweet potato. I am not sure if all Paleo athletes feel this way, but I personally get a big performance boost from starches.
The morning of a long run, I would always start with a cup of bulletproof coffee, and then I would have one of my homemade date-based protein bars post fun. (Post on this coming soon!) The combination of glucose from both the honey and dates would give me a big jump-start. If I felt especially tired or dehydrated after a run, I would have some Nuun (love their stuff)…and I didn’t even realize they were a sponsor of Nike until race day.
I was pretty consistent with my nutrition, although once, as I was dreaming of Mexican food, I had tortilla chips and salsa for dinner before the morning of a run. The result? A terrible, dragging, groggy run, with the worst time. Lesson learned: stick to your diet habits fast and hard when training for an athletic event. Nutrition matters.
And again, thanks Nike for a fabulous time.