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Marathon Musings: 5 Strength-Training Myths for Runners, Debunked

Written on August 7, 2014 at 3:22 pm , by

When you commit to running a marathon, it’s pretty obvious that you’ll be doing one thing a lot: running. But what about all the other facets of fitness? I knew going into this that I’d be regularly cross-training (spinning, Barry’s Bootcamp and yin-style yoga are my faves), tons of foam rolling and squeezing in strength training. But I wanted to make sure that injury wasn’t waiting for me down the road, so I hit up my coach—Clif Bar pro athlete Stephanie Howe—for advice once more. Turns out there are a lot of myths out there, and she was there to bust ‘em all.

Myth: You gotta give all or nothing.
I used to regularly freak out that I wasn’t using weights enough, and became paranoid that injury was right around the corner when my work schedule only allowed me to hit the weights once or twice a week. Full disclosure: I’m a worry wart. When you’re training for a big race (um, I’d like to say this marathon is big), 1-3 times per week is OK. As a pro athlete who trains for 50-milers and beyond, Howe determines her gym schedule based on where she’s at in the season. “In the off-season, I try to get there 2-3 times per week, but when I’m training, it’s usually only once.” Once you find what fits for you, though, stick to it, she warns. “Consistency is key. I go to a strength training for runners class every week, and meeting a friend keeps me motivated and accountable.” Anyone want to join me? Tweet me @FITNESSsamantha.

Myth: Running does the same thing to muscles that strength training does.
When you’re sore, you’re sore. Doesn’t matter how you got there, right? Wrong. Not only will strength training help balance your body and prevent injury, but it will also give your body a break from the wear and tear it gets from pounding so much pavement. “Running is a catabolic activity, meaning it breaks down the body for energy,” explains Howe. “Strength training is an anabolic activity that stimulates the muscles to build up.” So in order to reach marathon-running perfection, I need to have a balance of both.

Myth: Abs are the only focus during strength training.
Yes, your abs are really important, especially when training for such a long distance (it’s where a lot of your energy comes from). But it’s not the only area that should be ready for action. “If you just focus on the core, you miss many other large muscle groups, like your arms and legs,” says Howe. Fun fact: the leg alone has 13 muscles in it, and well, they’re used quite a lot in running. So giving equal attention to other body parts not only covers your bases, but it helps prevent muscle imbalances. When you do that, you prevent injury.

Myth: It’s OK to lift weights on back-to-back days.
There’s one big thing I’ve noticed in my training schedule week-to-week: I’m rarely doing a “hard” workout two days in a row. So if I hit up bootcamp on Monday, I can count on an easy run being on deck for Tuesday. What gives? “You need to give your body time to recover and build back up between sessions,” explains Howe. “All the changes happen when you are are resting. If you don’t give your body that time, then you are breaking it down even further.” And nobody wants that.

Myth: You should avoid heavy weights.
It may seem counterintuitive—why grab heavy dumbbells when I want to be light and speedy?—but lifting heavier is pretty important, says Howe. ”It sparks neuromuscular changes that will make your body more efficient,” explains Howe. “These changes happen independently, meaning the benefits are found without changes in muscle size.” Translation: lifting heavy weights for a lower amount of reps, paired with running, will not result in Schwarzenegger arms, but rather a stronger bod and faster finish times. Noted.

And just for good measure, I wanted to know: what are the best strengthening exercises for runners? Howe recommends a lot of basics that focus on your foundation muscles (abs, back, glutes, lats, traps), arms and legs. “I grab heavy weights and regularly do bench presses, lat pull downs, squats and lunges,” she says. Make sure to focus on any imbalances, too. “I have weak hips, so I try to include a hip exercise each time I lift. And always take time to stretch.” Girl just won Western States (that’s 100 miles), so her plan must be a solid one.

Photo by James Farrell

More from FITNESS: 

5 Mistakes First-Time Marathoners Make

Get Your 26.2-Mile Training Plan! 

The New Way to Strength Train

One Year Later: The Boston Marathon

Written on May 6, 2014 at 11:16 am , by

In our April issue, runner Marissa Hill gave readers a first-person account of what it felt like to be in the Boston Marathon at the time of last year’s bombing. Hill, running for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, returned to complete the marathon this year. Here’s her story:

Hill getting ready to head to the start line. (Photo courtesy Marissa Hill)

It would be hard to pick a day in my life in which I had experienced more positive energy, more love and hope and community support, than on that special Monday last week when I ran the Boston Marathon. As I headed into my corral I was surrounded by other charity runners, yet no one was really talking about last year.  Everyone seemed positive­–focused on the race ahead and how he or she was going to do that day. I popped my headphones in my ears without the sound for the start – I wanted to be able to hear the cheering crowd as I crossed the starting line.

It was hard to believe I was there. While training for and running the 2013 Boston Marathon, I had no interest in ever running a marathon again. And then everything changed. With the terror attacks at the finish line, I felt at a loss.  What could I do to help, to make this better? I quickly vowed to run again—to finish the race. Of course, this was easier said than done.

Training after the tragedy was difficult, and I found myself avoiding thinking about it and not running at all. When I did begin running again, I focused solely on mileage and the training plans; I put the bombings to the side. It was only in the last few weeks up until this year’s marathon that I realized I was still grieving. I knew that after months of training hard and pushing myself physically, I needed to focus on the mental aspect. Really, with any exercise, it is less about physically doing it, and more about mentally willing yourself. During my long training runs in the snow I focused on positivity—how else can you run in freezing temperatures for 20-plus miles? You tell yourself you can.

So that is what I did—that last week before the marathon, I told myself, “Yes, you can.” It was my new mantra. I focused on the anniversary of the bombings, and gave myself permission to feel upset, to feel sadness, loss and heartache. And then I reminded myself that my way of coping, my way of doing something about last year’s tragedy, was to run, to show up again and finish this thing.

I have heard people say there is nothing quite like running Boston, and it is true—the Boston Marathon is special. The people cheering you on, the historic course, the memories from last year—they all came together and pushed me forward. I kept looking for the spot where I was stopped last year, near Heartbreak Hill.  I obviously passed it, but didn’t recognize the exact spot. I knew I was close and kept waiting for terrible hills, and then all of a sudden I saw signs saying “You made it past Heartbreak Hill.” Thanks to training and the willpower to keep going this past year, I didn’t even realize I was on the hill!

Read more

Better, Faster, Stronger: 6 Marathon Running Tips from Celeb Trainer Ashley Borden

Written on July 11, 2013 at 10:30 am , by


That’s our editor-in-chief, Betty Wong, partying it up during the 2011 ING NYC Marathon!

Written by Chloe Metzger, editorial intern

Summer is in full swing, and you know what that means—the hottest marathons are nearly here! If this is your first time running a major-distance race, the experience can be a bit overwhelming. From finding proper-fitting shoes to mastering pre-run jitters, there’s a lot to learn while powering through all those warm-weather training runs. Luckily, we talked to celeb trainer and FITNESS advisory board member Ashley Borden (Um, she’s worked with Ry Gos. Lucky gal!) to get the top tips every marathoner should know before lacing up her sneaks.

Don’t go at it alone. Developing training habits and discipline by yourself can be difficult, especially if you’re just starting out. “Really try to recruit a friend to help hold you accountable,” says Borden. “Sit down with your training partner and plan out workouts for the month, so it’s in your phone, on your calendar, and it’s non-negotiable.” No nearby friends and zero motivation? “Find a running club,” suggests Borden; “Look online—you’d be surprised by how many free running clubs are all over cities.” We love Road Runners Club of America for finding fellow pavement pounders nearby.

Make a plan. “If you have no idea what you’re doing, or it’s your first time, I cannot stress enough that you really need to be either online downloading a program that will help you understand how to space out your running, or you need to be working with a trainer,” explains Borden. “If you over-train, you’ll be broken down, and if you’re under-trained, you’ll be unprepared. Get a trainer or get a program.”

Find the perfect fit. When you’re running 26.2 miles (those .2 make a difference!) in the pouring rain and brutal heat, shoes can make or break you. “Go to a running store and have an expert watch you run to see what your feet are doing,” advises Borden. “They’ll be able to tell if you pronate or supinate, meaning your feet collapse in or roll out on impact.” After, they’ll make sure your feet land in the proper sneaks for every upcoming adventure. “The arches of your feet are the basis of your entire body’s performance,” says Borden. “So when you have the right support on the arches of the feet, you will notice a huge difference in comfort.”

If you are stuck dealing with blisters or raw skin from ill-fitting shoes, Borden recommends keeping some bandages in your gym bag. Her go-to? New Skin liquid bandage, which she keeps in a bubble-wrapped container for running emergencies.

Do your loop. Before race day, drive or bike the marathon route so you can visualize it before the big day. “When you see what you’re going to be doing, you’re not as defeated out the door on the first day,” says Borden. “You won’t be like, ‘When is this going to end? How long is another three miles?’ You’ll learn your distances and your mile markets when you’ve ridden through it.”

Get rolling. When you’re strength training and preparing for a marathon, recovery is crucial. “If you don’t have a foam roller, you better run to the store and embrace a foam roller as your new best friend,” says Borden. “The rolling out helps to flush lactic acid, which speeds recovery the next day and helps with both mobility and performance.” To prevent post-run ouch, roll out before and after you run to loosen up muscles.

Start a journal. “After each of your runs, record in a journal how you feel physically and mentally,” suggests Ashley. “Always note what you ate before the run and how you felt after, so you can chart how certain foods impact your performance.” Don’t be afraid to experiment during training runs. After all, you’ll need to follow the long-distance runner’s cardinal rule: Nothing new on race day!

More from FITNESS:

From Non-Runner to Marathon Runner

You Know You’re a Runner When…

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Really Good Read: “Boston Billy” Is Back in Marathon Man

Written on May 30, 2013 at 2:23 pm , by

Read this and you’ll be lacing up those sneaks faster than ever before. (Photo courtesy of St. Martin’s Press)

Long before the time of Gatorade, GU or GPS watches, Bill Rodgers set a 2:09:55 American record at the Boston Marathon. There were no clocks or traffic control for his 1975 victory and medals were awarded only to the top three runners.

“You didn’t see lots of couples or families showing up to races,” the legendary long-distance runner reminisced in his new book-meets-memoir, Marathon Man, which he co-authored with Matthew Shepatin. “I didn’t know any running couples, and to see a woman runner was shocking. Some would think: Oh, good grief, there’s a woman runner. My attitude was: Good going!”

Running as both a sport and culture has made drastic strides over the past few decades—something I rarely considered before reading the 26.2-mile journey of the infamous “Boston Billy.” The book’s chapters alternate between play-by-plays from his first big victory and life prior to the momentous moment in history, as he falls in, out and back in love with running.

The pavement-pounding passion that burns within so many of us used to be quite the enigma “for freaks and fairies,” although seemingly simpler. Perhaps that ease was just the spirit Bill conveyed despite his quick pace. With each turning page, I craved the same sweat and pain that comes with training territory, but it was Bill’s natural, liberating take and mindset—something no gadget could ever provide—that I found truly moving.

“Running wasn’t an escape from life; rather it was an embrace of it,” Bill explained. “As I bounded along the park trail, I wasn’t sailing around in chaos. I was charging forward with purpose.” For Bill, rising to the top of the running world wasn’t about the fame or a collection of tech tees (well, those didn’t even exist yet!). It was a sense of freedom he couldn’t experience anywhere else.

Road races before the late 70s running boom were nuts and bolts affairs, a morale-boosting medicine that wasn’t so much about the time, but a hunt for the win. Bill sported ensembles from dumpster dives (stiff jeans in the colder months—yikes!) and hydrated with an old shampoo bottle. He ran the same way he did as a kid catching butterflies in the fields of Connecticut, even stopping to tie his shoes with six miles to go before winning the Holy Grail of marathons.

Yes, we now know a lot more in respect to the athletic do’s and don’ts, something we here at FITNESS love to keep you all up on. But if this invaluable book taught me anything, it’s to lace up my sneaks without much of a thought and simply enjoy the ride. Who knows, maybe I’ll leave my pop playlist behind, turning to the birds and sound of my own breath to pace my stride. This book is more than a good read. It’s my new Bible. Pages are folded, quotes are highlighted and it will be a go-to gift for my fellow running pals. You learn through Bill’s mistakes, defeats and triumphs, cheering him along as if the historical race is live. I won’t be fueling up on ketchup-smeared brownies anytime soon—sorry, Bill, that’s a little much—but I will pour myself full force into what Bill often referred to as his “channel.” His perseverance sparked a fire under my tread that lead to a race-filled summer. Who knows, maybe I’ll even go for the full 26.2 soon, too.

Now you tell us: Where do you find your run-spiration?

DWTS Champ J.R. Martinez Gets Ready for His First Marathon

Written on September 13, 2012 at 12:16 pm , by

From ballrooms to marathons, J.R. Martinez is always up for a challenge! (Photo courtesy of Timex Sports)

If you’ve read the Fit Stop for more than 30 seconds, you know that here at FITNESS, we are quasi-obsessed with all things Dancing with the Stars. So when we heard that Season 13 winner J.R. Martinez would be running the 2012 ING NYC Marathon this year on behalf of Timex, we had to catch up with him. Read on to see how training is going with a newborn, his goal time and how you can train with him in your city!

This is your first marathon, but have you ever done any type of distance race before?

Never! I am definitely outside of my comfort zone here, but I’m so excited. This announcement comes at the perfect time, because 10 years ago I was sworn into the U.S. Army, and now 10 years later, I’m committing to something else. I am especially stoked to be doing this with Timex, because I get to test out the Ironman GPS, which is a big help for me since I’m always traveling for speaking commitments. On the road it’s hard to figure out how far you’re running, but I love that I can track my heart rate, distance and calories no matter where I am. I’m also excited to do this to help raise money for the New York Road Runners Youth Program. I’ll be starting dead last the day of the marathon, and for every person I pass Timex will donate $1 to the organization.

What’s your training been like so far?

I’’m very lucky because I have a running coach who helps me plan out my weeks. Right now I’m running five days a week, with Sundays being my long run days. Every week I up it another mile, so right now I’m at 11 miles. On the other days I mix it up–I’ll do 45-minute slower jogs or 5-10 minutes of jogging followed by five, 60-second sprints with a 1-minute recovery. On top of that I do a lot of planks to strengthen my core as well as strength training for my legs and calves. And I’ve recently discovered the foam roller when stretching, that thing feels so good! Read more

New to Racing? Try Team Challenge for Training Advice and Motivation

Written on March 14, 2012 at 10:43 am , by

Training with a group can help make crossing the finish line easier. (Photo courtesy of Shutterstock)

Ali Feller, the amazing running and fundraising superstar in our April I Did It! section (“I Conquered Crohn’s”), crossed her first endurance event finish line with the help of Team Challenge. In fact, she enjoyed the experience so much, she later became a Team Challenge mentor to help others rock their races too.

If you’re new to participating in triathlons, half or full marathons or cycling races, organizations like Team Challenge can be beneficial not only for the accountability factor (teammates are waiting for you at the track each week), but also for the educational clinics about sports nutrition, injury prevention and hydration. And since you’re raising money for a good cause at the same time, in this case, the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, you’ll be able to chalk up one more reason why you shouldn’t quit—during training or during the race.

Interested in trying out Team Challenge? They are currently “recruiting” participants for the following events:

  • June 2: Virginia Wine Country Half-Marathon, Loudoun, Virginia
  • June 24: Centurion Cycling, Lake George, New York
  • June 24: Kona Half-Marathon, 10K and 5K, Big Island, Hawaii
  • July 15: Wine Country Half-Marathon Napa to Sonoma, Sonoma, California
  • September 9: Trirock San Diego, San Diego, California

To learn more about Team Challenge and these races, click here.

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock

Now tell us: Have you participated in any team training events or charity races? Fill us in about them in the comments.

“What Was I Thinking?!” Tales From my First Marathon… (Plus a Giveaway!)

Written on November 9, 2011 at 4:12 pm , by

And we're off! NYC Marathon 2011 begins on the Verrazano Bridge. (Photo coutesy of NYRR & ING NYC Marathon)

Sunday’s ING New York City Marathon—was it a one-and-done thing or will I do this crazy 26.2 mile race again? Crossing that finish line I told whoever would listen, “Never again! I’m sticking with triathlons!” but, now a few days later, as my sore legs are starting to feel normal again, I find myself thinking, well maybe I’ll do it just one more time. As my editor in chief told me, “If only one percent of the population have done just one marathon, imagine doing two? That means you’re a fraction of the population—how inspiring!” Before the race, I laughed at this thought (being just one person of that one percent is pretty damn good!), but now I’m thinking, is a marathoner a marathoner after doing just one, or do you need to rack up more to give yourself this esteemed title?

This entire marathon experience has been an incredible journey from the start. Since day one four months ago pounding the pavement trying to get mileage up, to the moment I stepped over that finish line, has been a roller coaster of emotions and a lifetime of memories that I’ll always cherish. Having watched my first NYC Marathon just a year ago, I never thought I’d be one of those 47,000-plus runners out there. Only a few years ago, I had never run more than six miles, and my first half-marathon was a spontaneous thing. But marathons were for everybody else, not me, so I always told myself. Maybe NYC is a place that makes you want do extraordinary things, but watching people put their bodies through this mental and physical challenge made me want to feel what they were experiencing. And as I watched the runners in 2010 finish their feat, I knew that 2011 was my year to tackle this goal.

I had a year to mentally prepare and tell myself that I was doing this and I had four months of intense running—not to mention incredible time management to fit in all the training—to get through everything I needed to do to be prepared. I was fortunate enough to run on the Asics team with my friends in the fitness magazine industry (yes, although some of us work for competing magazines, we’re still friends!) and have Andrew Kastor (husband of Olympic marathoner, Deena Kastor) as my coach.

The night before the race, I was all ready to go.

As the days to the marathon quickly approached, I was more than ready to finally do this. As Coach Kastor said, “You’re halfway there.” The day of the marathon would be the rest of the journey. And luckily, Sunday was an unbelievably beautiful day here in New York City and we had perfect 60-degree weather. All 47,000-plus runners left their homes before the sun was even up and we huddled together on Staten Island as we geared up for the start of the race. Although starting the race more than four hours after I’d woken up isn’t ideal, it was definitely nice to have some bonding time with the people I’d be running alongside with.

The race is only beginning! Keep reading to hear about Jenna’s seven favorite things about the marathon. Bonus: One reader will win a prize in honor of her big race!

Read more

Talking Marathons, Movies and Moms with Model Christy Turlington Burns

Written on November 3, 2011 at 11:53 am , by

Christy Turlington Burns attended her short film's premiere last week, and will run the ING NYC Marathon this Sunday! (Photo courtesy of AP/Victoria Will)

The streets of New York City will become a runway for Christy Turlington Burns this Sunday, as she’s preparing to slip on her shoes (sneakers, not stilettos) to tackle a marathon. Turlington Burns and several of her friends and colleagues will be teaming up during the race to raise money to support Every Mother Counts, the group she founded to bring attention to maternal health-related causes. Between her training sessions, she found time to create a short film, Every Mother Counts: Obsetric Fistula, which she recently premiered, about a dangerous complication that can occur to moms after childbirth.

After her film debuted at LUNAFEST film festival, Turlington Burns filled us in about her race training, the cause that’s close to her heart and how we can help.

You’re running the ING New York City Marathon to support maternal health. How did you train for the event?

When the opportunity to run in the New York City Marathon came up, I was a three to five-mile jogger. I started increasing my mileage in early August and have done so steadily through my first 21 mile run a few weeks ago.

Do you have a goal in mind for the race?

To finish! Well, I fully expect to finish, but hope to feel good on the other side too. I am hoping to come in under 4:30. I feel strong and ready. What a perfect way to highlight one of the biggest barriers for women accessing health care in a timely manner, which is distance and the lack of transport when emergencies do arise.

What other fit activities do you enjoy?

I’ve been practicing yoga for more than 20 years and it remains my favorite “exercise” even through it is so much more. In recent years, I have tried a few other fitness trends such as Physique 57 and Tracy Anderson.

Turlington Burns recently premiered an important short film at LUNAFEST in New York City. Keep reading to learn more about it and why the topic is so important to her.

Read more

LAST CALL: Marathon Monday Playlist!

Written on October 31, 2011 at 2:58 pm , by

This is it! Last week before my very first marathon. I’m a bunch of nerves, butterflies and excitement right now—besides wanting to make it through the 26.2 miles, I’m pumped up to see the crowds, run through the boroughs and be part of this “marathon club.” I’m totally psyched and can’t wait to do this! I’ve got our last marathon playlist here for you (we’re in such a tune-filled mood, we couldn’t help but share two lists today), with favorite songs from the FITNESS editors and many of our friends. We’ve clearly got a crush on Eminem and Kanye!

To anyone running the streets of New York City on Sunday, good luck and look for me out there! (Follow me on Twitter @FITNESSjenna to get updates about my experience.)

These songs will help power you across any finish line! (Photo by John Herr)

More from FITNESS: Click here for 100 more motivating tunes!

Softball Pro Jennie Finch Laces Up for the NYC Marathon

Written on October 28, 2011 at 2:30 pm , by

Jennie Finch gets a jog in with her running coach, Susanne Davis. (Photo courtesy of Timex)

It’s crunch time! Or should we say, taper time? The 2011 ING NYC Marathon is a week away and already the city is bubbling with excitement and preparations. Among the list of notable celebs running this year are U.S. Olympian Apolo Ohno, model Christy Turlington, and on behalf of Timex, U.S. Olympian softball player Jennie Finch. Starting last, for every runner Finch passes Timex will donate $1 to the NYRR Youth Program. Below, we got the chance to chat with Finch on her unusual marathon training, and some tips she’s picked up along the way.

Belated congrats on your second child this past June! What was it like getting in shape for the marathon right after pregnancy?

It’s been very intense! I didn’t know what it would be like to get in shape for a marathon in general; it’s a whole different ball game than softball. It took about 12 weeks to really get myself back into the shape I was before I was pregnant. I did stay fairly active throughout my pregnancy, but your body just goes through a lot of changes. Another hurdle has been making the time to train, especially with a newborn and not getting much sleep!

How have you been training for the 2011 ING NYC Marathon?

I’ve been using the Timex Ironman Run Trainer with GPS and it’s basically been my coach on my wrist. My running coach Susanne Davis is in California, so we’ve been doing everything virtually. She wrote out my running plan for me so all I have to do is complete my workout and upload it from my watch so she can see everything from my heart rate, pace, and distance. It’s great because it makes me accountable for my runs since I know she’ll be able to see what I’m doing. My husband suggested I just ride around in a golf cart to get the mileage in, but that sneaky trick clearly wouldn’t work with her!  Through my workouts we’ve also been able to create mini-goals. First it was just to finish the race, but now that my pace has been improving and my distance has been increasing I’m able to push it to the next level with her help.

What’s the best tip Davis has given you during your time training?

I finally got the chance to train in NYC the past weekend with Davis, and that was really great because she could check out my form to make any adjustments I needed. She’s talked a lot about my rhythm and keeping my strides constant with quick steps. This helps keep my pace up and is also a good distraction on long runs. Another great tip she’s given me is how to deal with hills. She’s always telling me to think about high knees when going uphill, and butt kicks going downhill.

Have you set a goal time to finish the race?

I didn’t until I ran with Davis a few weeks ago. She told me she’d like to see me finish in 4:10. It would be great to break 4:00, but we’ll have to see how everything plays out that day!

P.S. You could win a FREE VIP trip to next year’s ING New York City Marathon by guessing how many people Finch will pass this year after starting last. Click here to enter! Hint: Last year, former New York Giants player Amani Toomer finished in 4:13:45, passing 25,817 people. Think Jennie can beat him?

*Editor’s note: Jennie Finch did indeed beat Amani Toomer, finishing the marathon with an unofficial time of 4:05:26 and passing approximately 30,000 runners! Congrats, Jennie!

More from FITNESS: The 16-Week FITNESS Marathon Training Guide