“Your legs are too weak.”
“Your legs are too weak.” That’s what my doctor told me when I went to see him about my knee pain. In the fall of 2015 I ran my first half-marathon and I was hooked on running. My first thought as I finished the race was “I wish it was longer,” and I knew that I wanted to run the Ottawa Marathon that coming May. Over the winter I kept running until I started feeling extreme pain in my knees in early January. I tried to self diagnose. I thought my shoes didn’t have enough cushion, I thought if I rested more everything would be fine, but nothing was working and the pain was getting worse. I swallowed my pride and went to see my doctor. He explained that if you only run without cross training–your legs get weaker. He told me that when you’re running longer distances you need to focus on strength and weight training so that your legs are strong enough to withstand the constant impact of long runs.
My mindset shifted and I knew that I needed to start weight training if I ever wanted to run 42k but I hadn’t spent much time in a gym and I was scared that I would get injured if I wasn’t working out properly. I did some research and I stumbled upon Free Form Fitness. The introductory offer of 8 personal training sessions for $96 was exactly what I needed.
Throughout the 8 sessions I could feel my body growing and my legs getting stronger and I thought I would be able to apply what I learnt by myself once the sessions were over. But, over the summer and into the fall I stopped working out and I stopped eating properly. It was taking its toll on me physically and mentally. I was underweight and exhausted–everything felt like a chore.
By late November I found myself at a crossroads. I knew that I wanted to run the 2017 Ottawa Marathon and that I wanted to run it in under 4 hours. But, I also knew that if I didn’t make a significant lifestyle change I would have a hard time running a 10k let alone a marathon. So I returned to Free Form Fitness and committed to 2 sessions a week for 6 months.
My first session back I picked up where I had left off with my trainer, Mike Farant. I told him my goal and we went to work. By mid-January I was running 4 times a week on top of my 2 personal training sessions. I gained over 10 pounds of muscle and I was running pain free. I was eating a high protein and high carb diet—protein to build muscle and carbs to fuel my runs.
Every two weeks I would add kilometers to my distance runs and I was surprised with how strong my legs felt after running 16k, 19k, 21k, 26k and 34k. Mike and Jules gave me targeted workouts to make sure that my whole body was strong. At the end of my distance runs I could feel all of the lunges, deadlifts and squats paying off.
Then on Sunday, May 28 came race day. 6 months of training for one event. I laid out my gear before I went to bed and tried to sleep with nervous anticipation.
We were off at 7am and I felt great. I was having my strongest run of the year and as I passed the major kilometer markers I couldn’t believe how well I was doing. At the 25k checkpoint I was still maintaining my pace and I was feeling confident.
But then, at 36k I hit the wall. I’d heard about the wall. I was warned about the wall. I had some idea of what to expect when I hit the wall from my longer training runs but it’s something that you can only understand once you hit it and I hit it hard. For 2 kilometers I thought my race was over and I didn’t think I would be able to finish. I couldn’t physically run properly, my body felt heavy and I had all but given up on the race. I thought I was going to have to walk to finish the race, which is still an accomplishment, but it wasn’t what I trained for.
Then something changed. At the second last water station I had 3 cups of electrolytes and 4 cups of water while walking slowly through the station. I thought about the last 6 months. The hours on the treadmill in January, the deadlifts in February, the Bulgarian split squats in March. I took a deep breath and started running again–after a couple minutes I started to feel invincible, “Only 4 kilometers left, I know I’m strong enough to do this.”
I ran across the finish line. 3:57:41.
I was the most amazing and difficult thing I’ve ever done.
And on the surface my training was about running one race at a certain time but the truth is that it was about a lot more than that. It was about creating and entrenching lifelong habits to make sure that I take care of myself. In my early twenties I always thought I would be able to do everything I set my mind to on my own but as I’ve gotten older I’ve realized that the only way to get stronger is by asking for help.