Eleven years ago, I completed the Chicago Marathon at my goal time of four hours (well, 4:00.8, to be exact) at the age of 27. For the past two years, I was accepted into the New York City Marathon, but due to mitigating circumstances was unable to train well enough to run it.
I’ve been accepted into NYC for the third time in a row and as we all know, the third time is the charm — but only if you make it so, especially in taking on something as daunting as a marathon.
So to start the year – actually two weeks before the start of 2015 on Dec. 17, 2014 – I began seriously thinking about the marathon and the grand plan to change my mind and my body and my life to finally conquer this thing. When you take on an endurance race of any kind, that challenge has to be on your mind every day – that is, if you want to finish well and without injury. And having something on your mind every day and executing that thought into a plan and then into action means changing your lifestyle, in a big way or small way, depending on how you’re living at the moment.
I’ve always been a runner. That is one of the many ways I’ve always defined myself. But a few years ago, braggart runner me stopped running – not physically, but mentally. I was depressed. For many reasons. Mostly because every job I had as a journalist on Long Island involved one or all of the following: An insidiously micromanaging boss; the expectation that you are to work 24/7; the job just dissolved and you found yourself laid off and lost. No matter what I did or how hard I worked, I couldn’t win.
During this time, each year I was signed up for the NYC Marathon, yes, I’d half-heartedly pound out the miles I thought I should on the weekends and I’d sometimes do interval workouts during the week. I also suffered from what I believe was plantar fasciitis in my feet and could barely walk after a long run. I wasn’t concentrating on my form or how my feet hit the ground.
You can go through the motions of marathon training, but when your heart and your mind is not able to be set on the race goal and the intricate steps you need to go through in order to get there, then there is no getting there.
I’d like to write more about how abusiveness or negativity surrounding you in work or family or romance or life in general can really prevent you from properly training for an endurance race, and how you absolutely have to change that no matter what.
But enough of the actual insanity. I’d like to go back to Dec. 17, 2014 – the day I started over as authentic runner me.
I started with two miles. Actually 2.5. The distance around a neighborhood lake. The route used by high school track team kids “just to warm up.” In my years dealing what I thought was professionally with completely toxic people, I’d gained more weight than I’d ever gained. I was having anxiety attacks frequently and often had trouble breathing just normally. I couldn’t spontaneously go out and run forever like the carefree badass I once was. Oh no, this was not fun at all.
So I knew where I was in life and that it wasn’t fun and good and there wasn’t much I could really control career-wise, but I looked at that two and a half miles as something I could take on –- something I could control — as many days a week as possible before the new year. And I did. In snowstorms, totally rockin’ those Yaktrax ice traction thingys on my shoes –- very uncomfortable on plantar fasciitis-ridden feet, but at least your ass never touches the ground.
Then, on Monday, Jan. 5, 2015, the good Insanity kicked in.
I’d purchased Sean T’s Insanity workout DVDs in the winter of 2012, but again, I’d start it then never be able to finish it for the reasons listed above. This year, with my marathon mindset fully functioning again right around New Year’s resolution time, I dove into the drills full-force. The 61-day program is filled with high-intensity jumping and plank position exercises with only short rests in between each circuit. High knees, switch kicks, football shuffles, power pushups, hop squats, plank punches, ski abs, floor sprints. Insanity is a beautifully choreographed Michael Jackson dance sequence of every warm-up calisthenics you can think of from every sport. Sean T gets you moving your body every which way you don’t while distance running.
And, as I found out, this kind of cross training is a great thing for said distance running. As I went along, I read up on the types of cross training used by some of the greats. The drills used by current American marathon hero Meb Keflezighi in “Meb for Mortals” and those used by the ultra extremists depicted in Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run,” for example, are very similar to those demonstrated by Sean T. My instincts were right. But during my first time half-heartedly trying Insanity and then marathon training, I’d read that the types of drills Insanity offers are not good for marathoners, the jumping will ruin your knees and ankles, and that Sean T himself does not recommend repeating Insanity as written right after you finish the 61 days. So this year, naturally, I repeated the grueling month two in early March right after completing the 61 days. And I slowly incorporated running around that lake again.
I felt like Superwoman. I got my upper body strength back times a thousand. My quad and calf leg muscles and oblique abdominal muscles were coming back into sight and making my mirror much happier with me out of the shower. Soon, 2.5 miles turned into 5 turned into a breezy 7.5. And most importantly, using my same old blown-out year-old Asics from last year’s training attempt, my feet stopped hurting. Not completely yet, but the constant jumping and side-to-side movement Insanity forces upon your feet really builds up those muscles. And your feet seem to want to stay in that jumping mode while you run, thus changing your gait from heel-strike clomping to a more controlled and lighter forward-motion trot.
Right now in June, I am turning my attention more toward tweaking my running form and concentrating on controlled breathing as I amp up the mileage, incorporating full Insanity workouts from month two every other day. Each drill, each mile are easier but not easy, of course, but I am literally miles ahead of my usual marathon training routine, which I would always start the first week of July for NYC in November. If I continue the path that I’m on, I will be up to 12 miles for the long run sooner than I normally am. If anyone has any advice or knows of a good training program, please let me know. I was going to use Dave Kuehls’ “Four Months to a Four Hour Marathon” again, but I don’t want to lose all that I’ve already gained.
If you would like to talk training, please email me at [email protected]. And remember, in running and in life: There is good Insanity and there is bad insanity. Go for the good!
Erin Schultz is a writer, runner and karaoke queen currently taking a break from a long career in journalism in the greater New York City area to be amongst friends and family in her native Michigan. For more information, go to erinschultz.com.