For the longest time, I was running 5Ks and going to the same circuits classes at the gym. I would work up a sweat but after a few months of training, I plateaued. Training was fun but I reached a point where I no longer felt challenged. It was time to shake things up.
I am a Type A personality. I f***ing thrive on achievement and my favourite person to compete with is myself. In July 2012, my sister introduced me to endurance events when she persuaded me to sign up for the Tough Mudder. For those of you unfamiliar with this event, it is 12 miles of running interspersed with mud pits, lakes, rivers, electric wires, ice water, fire, gravel tunnels and other obstacles designed by the military. It took us over three hours to complete and as we crossed the finish line, I burst into tears out of sheer pride (that I actually finished it) and relief (that I didn’t die). We were fed a protein shot, water, a burger and a beer. That evening, we continued re-feeding ourselves with an indian meal and some cocktails. The next day, I could barely walk. My body felt broken! But I was hooked.
The Tough Mudder was fantastic but I wanted to try something new. In 2013, I signed up for the Belfast Half Marathon. This was new to me. I had never run more than 10-15 Km so I had to educate myself about training and supplementation. Thankfully, I worked with a girl who was an avid, competitive runner and she gave me some great advice. The training was great and I love running so it was really fun trying new routes and incorporating uphill runs to build my strength. I completed it in 1:48 and crossed the finish line with a rush of adrenaline and emotion.
This spring, I completed the Clapham Common Half Marathon in London and it was a very special event. Shortly after signing up for this event I tore a muscle in my lower back and I wasn’t sure that I would be able to participate. I didn’t run for 4-5 weeks and stuck to the cross trainer and some strength training. With the help and advice of a physiotherapist, I managed to recover and rebuild my strength. Things happening in my personal life messed with my emotions and I had gained a bit of weight, which made me even more nervous about running. Nobody wants to feel heavy when they run! You want to feel light and speedy! I focused on strengthening my muscles. This was all I knew how to do. I decided I would strengthen my hamstrings, glutes, hip abductors, core and just run 5-10K a couple of times a week during the weeks prior to the event. It worked. I ran the half marathon in 1:42 and finished 2nd. And I may have collapsed on the grass afterwards and cried (or sobbed) happy tears before phoning my mum to tell her the news.
My preparation for each event was entirely different. Each time, I was armed with more knowledge and experience. I had done my research, spoken to other athletes and tried and tested my own methods. After this most recent event, I felt fantastic. Of course my body was fatigued but I had zero pain, I still went for a long walk afterwards and I didn’t feel ravenously hungry during the hours following. I was tired but not exhausted. This is how I knew I had found a strategy that worked for me. And I want to share it!
One Week Prior:
During the week prior to the Clapham Common Half Marathon, I ran two 10Ks, two 5Ks, did two full-body strength sessions and two days of rest with plenty of walking. My eating was low to medium carb but with lots of protein. I wanted to feed my muscles and make sure they were fighting fit for the run.
One Day Before:
On the day before the Clapham Common Half Marathon, I ran approximately 5-6 kilometres on the treadmill (easy on the knees) and did some core and upper body work. I took BCAAs for recovery and that night, I CARBED UP. I had chicken with tons of colourful veggies and some rice for dinner. I had a lot of pic n’ mix (mostly chocolate) at the movie theatre. Oops! And before I went to bed, I ate 4 rice cakes with some peanut butter and apple sauce. It was A LOT of food! I was stuffed.
The Morning Of:
Prior to the Tough Mudder, I snacked on trail mix slowly and steadily until 30 minutes before the event. Banana, peanut butter, nuts, seeds, m&ms and raisins. It was pure energy food and the mixture of sugars and fats meant it would slow-release. Halfway through the event, they handed out half-bananas to us. This worked really well and I didn’t lack energy during the event at all. During the first half marathon, I took the advice of a nutritionist friend and had a paleo breakfast (avocado, bacon, egg, butter, black coffee). It was the WORST decision ever! Zero carbs meant zero energy. And I had an upset stomach prior to the event, which meant I was extremely dehydrated before even starting the run. As a result, I had a cramp in my side for the first 8km. This time, for the Clapham Common Half Marathon, I knew exactly what to have. Porridge! All you need before a run is carbs. I had already fuelled up the night before so I didn’t need a huge breakfast. Two cups of green tea, lemon water, a swig of BCAAs and 40g of oats with a scoop of Diet Whey protein, and I was ready to go.
30 minutes Post-Event:
Immediately after the event, I swigged some water and grabbed a tall black Americano. I ate some dried mango and headed home to get a hot shower. After my shower, I had another cup of green tea. Caffeine = energy. I also ate a small granola bar. I was feeling peckish at this point.
60-120 minutes Post-Event:
By this time, I was ready for a meal. I had begun to feel tired and knew that I needed a good feed! I went to a lovely restaurant called Brasserie Zedel and had a salmon filet with a small portion of wild rice, two small slices of crusty baguette with real butter and a huge portion of sautéed spinach. Then, a cup of black tea for a perk-me-up. This hit THE spot and filled me with nutrients, starches and omega-3s.
Please know that I am not an expert! I have never done an Iron Man or a Triathlon or a Marathon. But I have done a LOT of running, a lot of strength training and I am a bit of a “fitness freak”. I spend a lot of time doing it, reading about it, researching it and constantly learning so that I can try new things and share my experiences and knowledge with other fitness-lovers. I hope you have enjoyed reading this post and if you have anything you’d like to add, please leave it in the comments! You can see photos from these events on my Facebook and Instagram pages. Happy Exercising!