Marathoning while Nursing… Patients not Babies

            Yay! I’m training for a marathon! Wait, what? Well, there’s nothing like a project to take your mind off things. With a wedding and a move coming up this summer, I was getting pretty antsy just waiting around. Also, despite the pain and exhaustion and all the other reasons I vowed “never again” after the last one, it’s an addictive sort of pain. Like childbirth. Maybe.
            At any rate, my job as an RN necessitates some key accommodations. It’s a difficult commitment no matter how you shake it, and I would love to share what I’ve learned about making it work.  I want more than anything to believe that there are other marathoning nurses out there, and we should stick together, yo. When you google “marathon and nursing,” 99% of the hits are about breastfeeding. Important, but not relevant. Here’s what I’ve learned about marathoning and the other kind of nursing.
            Let’s assume you work 10-12 hrs a day, 3-4 days a week (otherwise you can just follow a ‘regular’ training plan). You may only get 30 minutes for lunch, with none of this “Oh I just keep extra snacks in my desk, and foam-roll between meetings” business. Let’s get something straight: work days are not rest days, and neither are they effective workout days. Work days are junk miles. Speed-walking between call lights, slowly dehydrating like a raisin in the sun isn’t doing much toward recovery, and isn’t specific enough to running for cardiovascular significance. Work days are just chronic exposure to low-grade stress, interspersed with the occasional jagged shot of adrenaline. If you are lucky you will get to eat a balanced meal at some point.
            So what to do? First of all, get out of the 7-day box. In my experience, 12hr shifts are tough enough without having a workout to do. The best thing for your body after a long day at work is to stretch out and do some simple inversions (downward dog, handstands, supported forearm stand) when you get home. If you work 3 days a week, that leaves 4 days off to train effectively, or 8 days over 2 weeks. Much better.
            In each set of 4 days, include a long run and a tempo run, alternating which one receives your pinnacle effort. For example, do a “long” long run one week, paired with a shorter tempo run. Next week increase the mileage of your tempo, and make your long run more about recovery. This way it’s easier to recover and avoid injury over the long-term, rather than cramming an intense tempo as well as an ambitious long run into one week, sometimes back-to-back. It’s on your days off when you can consider running twice a day, or running in the morning and thoroughly lifting/stretching/rolling in the afternoon or evening.
            This is obviously a “low” mileage method. Its purpose is to compensate for the junk miles you cover at work. You do not need to 3-6 throwaway miles on days when you’re a busy bee from 7a-7p. I for one log at least 13,000 steps on the average working day. As an OR nurse, I also chronically under-eat while on the clock. You just can’t bank on having more than your 30 minute break on any given day.
            On a side note, does that seem like stupid unsafe staffing when we’re doing motherf****** surgery? Yeah. It does.
            I’ve tried pounding down clif bars and coffee in anticipation of a good post-work workout, but that was usually a bust that left me tired and messed with my sleep. Between work and training, I find I need at least 10hrs of sleep, and working out on work days just makes it worse. So impractical. You may be the kind of person who can swing that sort of schedule, but I am not. This is about making it to the starting line — and also the finish line — strong and ready, not totally ground-down exhausted, or worse, injured.
            So if you’re running fewer miles to accommodate junky work miles, you also have to do something to offset the lower mileage base: weights.
           Without muscles and ligaments, your skeleton is a pile of sticks. It’s that precious connective tissue that informs your gait, sets a cadence, absorbs impact, and protects your joints. In my first marathon I focused so much on meeting the ‘recommended’ mileage (while only effectively running 4 days a week — there were some real crummy 5th day runs after work, all of which sucked) that I neglected strength, speed, and agility training. In the end, I felt somewhat flabby and weirdly out of shape, despite adequate cardiovascular reserves.
            Instead, try to lift at least twice a week, and by all means dedicate time to dynamic/explosive drills. It will lend a bit of spring to your step on race day, prep your muscles for the inevitable fatigue, and generally keep your skeleton upright and in its correct place. I know it sounds counter-intuitive when so much of the hype of marathoning revolves around the long run, and not the lifting sessions. The premise here is to train smarter — not harder. Assuming you’re dedicating  75-90 minutes to training on your days off (and sometimes more), if you’re too tired or don’t have enough time (between work and training) to stretch and lift at least twice a week, you’re running too much.
            P.S.: Lift weights heavy enough to instigate DOMS (delayed-onset-muscle-soreness), so that you get to practice running through muscular fatigue, without having to run as long to get there. It’s like a shortcut.
Them’s my thoughts! Here’s to a nice PR. My race is in June. When’s yours?
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