Endurance Running

The Benefits Of Endurance Running

This is a special story on endurance running I'd like to share with you.

One that isn't just plain and simple about running. It is an inspiring story about a lady who started running at the age of 50 and is now, twenty years later, preparing for her first ultramarathon which will be taking place on the Greenbelt trails in New York.

Mary Nathan approached me not long ago asking for specific advice on how to make smoothies while on holiday! Mary has been on a raw, vegan diet for many years and was keen to be able to make her smoothies on the go, i.e. when traveling. I recommended to purchase a handheld mixer and plastic tumbler which has been proven to be the most efficient solution to this matter.

A few days later, she sent another email talking about her training and ultramarathon goals for 2010. Mary is a very experienced and successful endurance athlete so when she asked me to be her ultrarunning coach, I felt a little perplexed, to say the least.

In the meantime, Mary has been following the training principles I've offered her and our connection has developed into a true friendship. I've learnt a lot from Mary, her attitude towards life and her wisdom. That again, is the true gift of sports like (ultra) endurance running. Ultra athletes tend to think outside the box and beyond what's visible on the surface.

Mary is certainly an example of someone who is dedicated and passionate. You'll sense the energy in her wording. Therefore I haven't changed her answers in any way.

Read on now to find out about Mary Nathan.

1) Mary, how did you grow up and when did you first get into running? At what point did you decide to step up to the marathon distance?

Born in 1941, I grew up in Utah, thought baseball, basketball and football were the only sports, had no idea that there were individual sports, races, let alone what enduance running would be all about. In school I was always the last girl chosen for softball or other physical education-class teams. From 1965 until 1972 my husband and I lived abroad, alternately in Japan and Iran. Returning to the US, to New York City, I became interested in swimming and biking for fun.

I first heard of a triathlon after I moved to Far Rockaway in 1992 where I swam, in a pool and in the ocean in summer, and biked on the boardwalk daily. Someone told me, “If you could run you could do a triathlon.” I decided it might be something fun to try.

First, however, I had to learn to run. The beach, beautiful in winter and summer was a perfect place to start, and my first triathlon, in 1994, was nearby. Finally, in my 50’s, having discovered what I really liked to do and was good at doing, I just couldn’t get enough. Running started an adventure that isn’t over yet. My first distance event was Ironman in 2000, qualifying at Lake Placid with a good time, but finishing just under the deadline of 18 hours in Hawaii.Each year my times decreased and I won my age group in 2006. My first marathon, other than the one in Ironman, was the Boston Marathon in 2002. I like to run hills and this is my favorite marathon.

2) You are a very successful triathlete and have won your age-group in the famous Ironman Hawaii, for example. Is running your overall strength and do you feel that cycling and swimming have contributed to develop into a top runner?

Running was my edge in triathlons, and gave me wins. Cross-training: cycling, swimming, core and strength routines, x-c skiing -- any sport that increases endurance and whole body strength helps running, saves your legs from more repetitive pounding, is fun, and adds variety to your routine. Core strengthening is essential for good running form and endurance.

3) Now that you have planned to run your first ultramarathon in June, what do you find particularly fascinating about running a race beyond the marathon distance?

Trails and the scenery!!! Much more fun than road marathons. I have trained on trails since I started running, and have always enjoyed hiking. Racing in nature is something I enjoy tremendously: I can focus on the activity and forget about everything else.

4) Have you ever had severe injuries?

Yes, I have had running, biking, and swimming (rotator cuff tear) injuries and fractures, temporarily interrupting my plans. Since I began triathlons, my running injuries have been infrequent, due, I believe to cross training.

Worse than these injuries, however, was a virus transmitted by a mosquito bite. I was bedridden and malnourished for 6 months in 2007, and struggled for more than 2 years to regain enough strength and fitness to be able to race again. Every setback, somewhat ironically, has reinforced my appreciation of the benefits of a racing lifestyle.

5) How is your training normally structured and how many hours per week do you dedicate to your training during a typical racing season?

My training time, distance and intensity are governed by the specifics of the important races for that year, and training is periodized: a) adaptation phase to get back into training; b)base or foundation phase to build an aerobic base, increase strength, endurance, and technique; c)pre-competitive phase to increase anaerobic threshold; d)competitive phase for high quality, race specific workouts mixed with races: training volume decreases and intensity increases; e)finally, recovery.

During the week, training alternates between a hard day followed by an easier day, with usually one day off, and long races back to back for ultras. Three weeks “on” are followed by an easier week which allows the body to rest, recover and get stronger by adapting to recent training. Cross-training is part of my schedule.

6) Can you name the top 3 do’s and don’ts regarding your training?

My top suggestions for training: Consistency is the key; know the purpose of every workout, even if it is for recovery; have a positive attitude and positive thoughts; stay hydrated and keep refining your diet to get optimal nutrition. Don’t ever give up.

7) What do you eat and drink during a running race or even Ironman races where you spend as much time on your feet as you would in a 100+K ultramarathon?

I wish I had had Anna’s website and blog to consult when I was doing triathlons: I have always been looking for better sports nutrition. As a vegan with an organic raw food diet, commercial sports drinks, gels and bars contained sugar and other ingredients I couldn’t eat. With tips and recipes from Anna, I enjoy making my own sports drinks, gels, energy snacks and bars which are all delicious and healthy, give me more energy, and are compatible with my diet.

8) What led you to the idea of trying the Vegan Diet and how has your level of performance changed since you turned (raw) vegan?

I became a vegetarian over 30 years ago when I lived in Japan. Even so, I had food allergies. Giving up dairy, gluten, and caffeine became essential, and I discovered a raw food vegan diet. The benefits of this diet are: increased energy, sustained positive mood, better memory, quicker recovery and healing, as well as looking and feeling better.

I prefer simple,live, whole, plant-based food. I also take a high quality, vegan supplement powder which is I find superior to all the tablet supplements I used to take.

I want to thank Anna, for her generous, well researched and essential information in on her Ultra Running Insights website. I have learned so much from her. For athletes the body is our vehicle, and healthier nutrition builds a healthier body.

9) You are familiar with mental strategies as a way to stay focused and motivated during training and racing. Which techniques can you recommend?

I think mental strategies for successful racing are very individual. Because I studied meditation in Japan, I find it a very good tool for mental strength. Yoga is also beneficial for both body and mind.

Visualization of the race course and venue with you racing it, positive affirmations and self-talk (internal monologue) are essential, no matter what other technique you use. A negative attitude or thought can undermine any previous physical or mental training, have a negative influence on performance, and drain energy.

I like the quotes: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is an option.” and “Where the mind goes, the body follows.”

Visualization can be jumpstarted with photographs of the race course, you crossing a finish line, scenery, music… anything that gives you enthusiasm for doing the race.

Thank you so much, Mary, for taking the time to share your personal insights. With all my heart and soul, I wish you a successful ultra racing season. I'm delighted to be your guide along this way.

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