Project BQ: Training means more than just running a lot

While writing my last post, about my plans to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon in ten days (omg!), I knew that I wanted to say a lot more than I’d included in the post, but I didn’t because it was already getting hella long as is.  I mean, you all already indulge me plenty with my tendency to blah blah blah on for 1,000+ words at a time, so I don’t really want to abuse that privilege.  So instead, I decided to write another post in which I talk about all of the shit I’m doing to get ready for the Albany Marathon – specifically all the shit that doesn’t involve putting on pair of running shoes and putting one foot after the other for several miles.  (I’ll talk about the running stuff later, when I do my Hansons vs. Run Less, Run Faster post.)

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve gotten quite a bit faster in the past year or so.  Part of it is due to training, and part of it is because I spent the summer running with my team, which has some crazy-fast people on it.  All of those running magazines and blogs were right!  Running with faster people made me faster.  It’s, like, a law of science or something.

So when I realized I was developing the ability to run faster and for longer periods of time, I started making changes elsewhere in my life to keep this going for as long as possible and with as few injuries as possible.  There are a bunch of things I do differently but they can all be sorted into four main categories: prehab/strength work, biomechanics, nutrition and psychology.

Prehab/Strength work

For the past two years I’ve had what Maggie at MagMileRunner calls an “emo knee,” which is where your knee wears cardigans and listens to the Promise Ring while crying softly into a cup of herbal tea. (KIDDING.) Really, it’s when your knee has a bunch of issues that don’t seem to have any real cause or resolution; it’s just being whiny for no reason. My emo knee sometimes felt like my IT band was throbbing, sometimes like I had runner’s knee, and sometimes it felt like the inside of the knee was being wonky.  Plus that knee is super crunchy, like someone stomped on a bag of potato chips every time I bent it. It didn’t hurt all the time, and actually it mostly hurt whenever I just walked around or when I did strength-training that involved bending my left knee.  Luckily it only occasionally bothered me while running, but it was enough that it worried me.

I tried everything I could think of to deal with it.  I coated it with topical NSAIDs and Biofreeze and iced it down.  I tried resting it. I tried strength work to build the quad, but squats and lunges just made it hurt worse than anything.  I did those weird sideways duck walks with resistance bands around my ankles and I foam-rolled the shit out of everything.  I got my triathlon bike re-fitted, this time with a Retul fitting.  And finally, I went to my sports medicine doctor, who set me up with an X-ray that found absolutely no structural problems at all.

But interestingly enough my bike fitter/team coach AND my doctor made the same observation independently of one another, which was that my left leg was about an inch longer than my right one.  At about the same time I was reading about hip strength, and I wondered if there was a connection, so I decided to start doing MYRTLs.  The first time I did it, I felt like a complete dumbass, but then the following day I went for a run, and for the first time in years, I never felt even so much as a solitary twinge in my left knee.  The first time!  So I kept it up and sure enough, the knee pain went away.  And then, because I am the smartest person in the universe, once the pain went away, I stopped doing the one thing that helped it, and wouldn’t you know – the pain came back.  (See?  Smartest person in the universe.)

I kept up my strength training the best I could, even though I no longer could do lunges, squats or step-ups comfortably.  But I’ll tell you what I could still do! DEADLIFTS.  At least once a week, I did deadlifts at the gym, both with the barbell and unilaterally with a kettlebell.  I never really went heavy with these lifts, mainly because I’m an endurance athlete, not a powerlifter, but I tried to go heavy enough to build some strength and endurance.  I also worked my upper body pretty hard, doing lots of push-ups and exercises that simulated pull-ups, like inverted bodyweight rows.  I can do chin-ups but still can’t do pull-ups to save my life.  (Here’s hoping I’m never actually in a situation where a pull-up will be necessary to save my life, because I might actually die.)


One of the weird little side-blessings of life with an emo knee is that I ended up changing the way I run a bit to avoid aggravating it.  I found that if I landed really hard on that leg, my knee would bark at me, so as to avoid a barking emo knee (how’s that for some imagery?) I made an effort to land a lot lighter on my feet when I ran.  Basically, I tried to limit how much up-and-down force I was putting on that knee.  But all that energy had to go somewhere, and I found the “somewhere” that energy went was forward propulsion.

So now instead of bouncing up and down a lot when I run, I mostly just lope forward. I am tall with legs that occupy two-thirds of my body’s real estate, and changing my stride so things are more forward-oriented takes advantage of the way my body is built.  I still try to keep my leg turnover high so I don’t heel-strike like crazy, but I feel more like I’m gliding and less like I’m plodding, if that makes sense.

I also try to keep myself more upright instead of slouching when I run, so I can keep my airways flowing and my kinetic chain firing away like a champ, and I try to keep my feet and arms moving in parallel tracks instead of crossing in front of me.  It’s a lot to keep in mind, so when I’m running, I do regular check-ins with my body.  How is my breathing, how is my posture, are my feet turning over, etc.  Not only does it keep my form from falling to shit, but it’s a really nice way to practice mindfulness while out for a run.

I actually got the best compliment late last year when I was out with my team doing a speed session one Monday night.  I started talking to a lady on the team, and when I introduced myself, she said she recognized me by my blonde ponytail and my “beautiful stride.”  I could have kissed her, I was so damn pleased.


This one is such a touchy one.  If you ask anyone who knows me who isn’t an endurance athlete, they’d all be like, “Oh, she’s so thin! She doesn’t need to watch what she eats!  She’s going to run like eighteen miles when she goes home from work! Give her ALL THE CUPCAKES.  No, seriously, JAM THEM DOWN HER THROAT.”  So I don’t talk about this much unless I’m with other endurance athletes, because they tend to get it.

Here it is: I’ve started watching what I eat.  I don’t mean that I’m trying to restrict myself to 1200 calories a day or some such silliness. God no, nothing like that. Rather, I’ve tried to improve the quality of the food I eat. I read Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight (and have been using his Racing Weight Cookbook – both are affiliate links, btw) and while I’m not following the plan exactly, I do follow a lot of the guidelines in both books. Mostly it means that I’ve tried to eat more plant-based food, to eat less food that comes in boxes or bags, and to be aware of how much sugar I’m eating. I’m not super-strict about it, mind you, and I am definitely not cutting out any food groups.  I’m just trying to be more mindful of things.  (Here’s some more reading about Racing Weight from Tracy at Fit is a Feminist Issue.  I know Sam has written about it as well but I can’t seem to find that post.  Sam, if you read this, comment with your post!)

Part of my change in diet is because I would like to try to drop a few pounds of body fat, mainly so I can get a bit faster. Of course, I know it’s easy to fall down a slippery slope of thinking, where you’re just like, “If I could just get down to 17 pounds, I could run a 5K in two minutes!” and then before you know it, you’re eating nothing but Quest bars melted on top of kabocha that’s coated in chia seeds or something equally horrifying.  (Seriously, running/healthy living bloggers, I see what  a lot of y’all are eating, and it is revolting. For the love of god, please stop posting photos of it on the internet.)

So instead of restricting calories and thus setting myself up for a trip to Stress Fracture-ville Pop. me or maybe a voyage to the land of Female Athlete Triad, I just decided to try to improve the quality of my diet and continue eating according to my body’s signals and then just seeing how that all shakes out.  Because this is the thing about caloric restriction – when you are an endurance athlete in training, your problem is likely to be that you aren’t eating enough.  If you don’t eat enough, your body can’t recover well and you are likely to develop injuries.

Plus, if I don’t have something – even if it’s a hard-boiled egg or bread with peanut butter – in my stomach, I can’t put in a good workout.  Fasted cardio, you and I are never, ever, ever, ever getting together.

And then the other part is that I find I just feel a lot better when I eat like this.  I looooove cheeseburgers and fries, like an insane amount, but that gut bomb feeling is not something I can deal with on a regular basis.  I save those kinds of meals for certain times, like maybe when I know I don’t have a big workout in the morning or conversely, if I had a big workout earlier in the day.  And I still stress-eat sometimes, like those cups of Ramen noodles for thirty-three cents.  I love those things so much, even though I know they’re basically dehydrated cardboard and sodium in a foam cup, but I can’t deny that they make me feel like a big piece of salt-encrusted poo afterwards.  I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m getting older and my body is giving me less leeway on these things, just like it is with regards to alcohol.  I can drink beer and wine just fine but liquor makes my head feel like one of those watermelons Gallagher smashes with a mallet.  (Oh my god, there’s the proof that I’m getting old.  I just used Gallagher as a pop culture reference. Just go ahead and wheel me into my retirement community in the Villages already.)

tl;dr – I’m making a point to eat less crap and I feel more energetic and stronger because of it.


This is the big one.  This is worth a post all of its own.  In fact, because this post is already tipping the 2,000-word mark, I think I will leave it for another post to come in the next couple of days, because holy shit, do I have a lot to say on this subject.  So yeah, stay tuned for another post on the topic.


32 responses to “Project BQ: Training means more than just running a lot

  1. I LOVE your training type posts, and I’m really stoked for the psychology and Hansons vs Run Less Run Faster posts! Good luck at the Albany Marathon – that’s my home state!

    • Awesome! Thank you so much! I was worried about writing about my training but then I was like, “But that’s what I’ve been thinking about these days!” so I’m glad to hear you like reading about it. It makes me feel less self-absorbed/self-indulgent. 🙂

  2. Thanks for posting about Matt Fitzgerald’s book!! I’ve never heard of that and I really want to read it now. I love reading posts about other runners’ training! Keep all your words coming 🙂

    • Thank you! Matt Fitzgerald’s work is definitely worth checking out. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading something about sports nutrition on the internet and thinking, “this makes sense, this is so sensible,” and then checking the byline and seeing that it’s him. He’s really sensible and anti-extremism, and I dig that.

  3. I know you don’t need it, but just a word of support on the “you can eat anything! (NO I CANNOT!)” phenomenon. These days, I work in fitness (coach runners, teach cycling/yoga/Pilates, plus do my own training), and hear this exclamation at least once a week. I used to just smile and roll my eyes quietly, but I’m done with that. Nowadays, I look the person squarely in the eye and say something like, “No, I can’t. I cannot maintain this level of activity and energy if I fuel with crap food. So the more I work, the BETTER I eat.”

    Also, I busted out laughing at the Quest bar comment. Busted. Out. (It’s health food, right??? 🙂 )

    • I have a friend in real life who was telling me the other day that she really likes Quest bars, and all I could think about were all the blogs/Instagram accounts that feature them crumbled on, like, pints of Arctic Zero or jars of oatmeal. The world of fitness blogging is a weird one.

      re: eating – I didn’t get it myself until the last couple of years! Brian is a big salad eater and he always said it was because he liked them and he liked the way eating them made him feel, and I used to tease him about it a lot, but now I’m on board with him entirely. Physical activity isn’t about burning off calories, but about getting my body to perform as well as it can, and quality food is essential to making that happen.

      • Yeah. By the way, what the @;$:)/ is Arctic Zero, anyway? I’m highly suspicious. Just pass me one scoop of the churned cream+sugar, please! 🙂

    • Yes! A couple of times I tried it and I was like, WHAT IS THIS MADNESS. I appreciate that it works for some people, but for me, it just makes me want to lie down and go to sleep.

  4. I think I also have an emo knee… and I also have one leg significantly shorter than the other (3cm) so thank you so much for the MYRTL link – I will start doing them and hopefully that will help my knee problems! I really, really, really enjoy your blog 🙂

    • Thank you! Yes, do give them a try and let me know how they work out for you. I was really shocked by how quickly I noticed a change once I started doing them. Hopefully the same will happen for you! (Because seriously, isn’t an emo knee THE WORST?)

  5. You are going to nail it!! I BQed 10 years ago after following the same path you did!! I ate better (just real food, and some pizza and beer, sometimes too), lost about 10 pounds, ran with faster people once a week and adapted my stride a bit.

    And thanks for the myrtl link; I’ve developed emo knee over the last year (probably age related!! but there is a tiny bit of athritis in there too, 45 sucks) and will start immediately.

    Now, while I’ve lived all of this and know it in my heart, I’ve fallen off the wagon hard. Some of it is having a preschooler (the sheer volume of goldfish crackers…ugh. And I eat them, a lot.), some of it is getting older, some of it is prioritizing things differently (kid first, then work, then sleep, then workouts…). You’ve inspired me to get this shit back on track!! No BQs, but tri season is coming up and I bought a new bike over the winter that has been sitting, lonely, on the trainer…Just as soon as I finish this coffee…

    • Your first paragraph – YES. Thank you!

      You know, I don’t have kids but I know a lot of people who do, and the amount of time and energy it takes to be a good parent is really staggering. Hats off to anyone who does that work, even if it means other things fall to the wayside. That said, I’m psyched that you’re inspired to get on your bike and get ready for tri season! The trainer isn’t the same as riding outside but the upside is that it’s a lot less hassle to ride it. Plus, you can watch movies (which is what I do 🙂 ).

      • I wanted to add about running plans…Pfitzinger has always led to success for me; run less/faster was a injurious disaster; Higdon made me slower; HR are annoying–I run by pace figured via a recent race and Daniels. That was in my pre-kid days, the glory days of my 30s. Now I run however I feel like on that day because the workouts are partly about training but mostly about finding myself for a few minutes and I promise you, I don’t find her inside a HRM or a quest bar! A bottle of wine maybe, but usually she’s outside somewhere.

  6. I am very much looking forward to the comparison between Hanson’s and Run Less. I’ve been intrigued by both methods!

    I’m also cracking up at the quest bar/arctic zero thing. I follow someone who is a HUGE photographer of that stuff. I guess I didn’t realize it was a widespread thing!

    • Oh man, it is SUCH a thing. I lurk in a lot of online fitness communities and so many people will post the same kinds of things! I find it fascinating from an anthropological perspective, even though I would never post some of these things myself. (The abs selfies with strategic underboob? Or photos of crotch sweat? NOPE NOPE OMG NOPE.)

  7. Ah, the commonsense marathon-training complementary plan! I get hangry enough just living. No fasted cardio for me, either. And it’s common sense to eat less processed and less-processed food. That whole processed-food fitness-blogging thing is so kooky. (Why for the love of gaahhd would someone consume powdered peanut butter?…)

    The prehab and just being aware of biomechanics make a lot of sense as well (although my form has gone to pot since I am now hauling around an extra ~20lbs of baby; let’s just say pregnancy is not a time to aggressively improve on anything).

    • LOL “the common-sense marathon-training complementary plan” is right! Most of this stuff really IS common-sense but it took me a while to really commit to it on an emotional level. (Plus it helped that I stopped reading a lot of nutrition stuff on the internet, because most of the people giving advice just make shit more complicated than it needs to be.)

      Between the baby squishing your organs and your tendons getting all loose with relaxin, yeah, I’d say now’s probably a good time to just take it easy. 🙂 How much longer do you have until the arrival of the wee one?

      • I realise the best thing to do is to ignore the internet and really, truly trust your internal compass on these things. Easier said than done…

        Baby is due in…yikes, 10 weeks!

  8. Yaaaaaay Deadlifts!

    Interesting update… it’s nice to hear what you’re up to. And FWIW, over the past few years as I’ve improved the quality of my diet in similar ways to how you are (without changing quantity, at least not intentionally), I’ve gotten a bit leaner. I am a non-believer that food quality doesn’t matter.

    Looking forward to your race update!

    • I love deadlifts! I love all the variations of them and find them so fun. I haven’t tried squatting since I started dealing with this knee bullshit, but I hope that once I recover from my marathon I can give it a try again.

      Glad to hear that changing your diet worked out for you. Even if it doesn’t change my body comp at all, I’m still happy with the changes because I FEEL so much better. It’s remarkable how much of a difference it makes.

  9. Wait, so you’re saying I can’t just eat whatever I want because “I ran today”? Hmm…maybe that’s why I gained weight during my last marathon training cycle. 😉
    Best of luck in Albany!

    • Well, I still eat pretty much whatever I want, it’s just that “whatever I want” tends to be a bit more on the healthy side these days. Although on the days when I have long runs that last more than two hours, forget it. IT IS ON.

  10. I also found out as an adult that my legs are not the same length! I’ve had C-shaped scoliosis since forever and no doctor ever bothered to find out why it isn’t the “normal” S-shape, but when I was told the legs are uneven it made a lot of sense! My body had to get upright somehow! So, thanks for the myrtl link. And thanks for the very entertaining post. 🙂

  11. I love these posts! And it is so interesting to me – because even though my training is a lot different from yours, (I’m doing a lot of boxing right now) we have a lot of the same things going on! I too have an emo knee. Great name, by the way, perfectly describes it. (And yep, I’ve been doing the duck walk with the band around my ankles too.) But a Pilates instructor I know really recommended what she called “Old School Jane Fonda stuff” – Clams, Leg Raises, and the whole Dog at the Fire Hydrant thing, to improve hip strength. I had my doubts, but after clicking over to your MYRTL link – there it was!!

    Also, I am with you on a more plant based diet. I’m not eliminating anything either, but I’ve recently made some changes to more plants and locally sources meats after discovering what a huge impact it was making on my mood. I deal with depression and anxiety and some of the “comfort foods” I love, were just not treating me well anymore. Maybe like you said, it’s age. My 40 year old self just can’t do it anymore, maybe its a chemical reaction, who knows? I honestly don’t care much about the “why” as I do the effect. When I eat more like what you are describing, I feel better. That’s enough for me.

    I really can’t wait to hear the rest of your training! I get excited every time you post. (And long post are great!!)

  12. I’m not sure I’ve ever commented before, but I’ve been reading your blog for a long time now and finally had to de-lurk to say how much I appreciate your training posts. While I’m still trying to figure everything out (I enjoy running but hate my emo knee ((great term!)) and weight lifting is fun but I feel so awkwardly out of place) and I’m not sure what my long term goals are (other than trying to avoid all the health problems that run in my family), your posts make a more active lifestyle seem just a bit more attainable. I always look forward to your long posts!

  13. AHHH Emo Knee is such a great term! I’m going to stop diagnosing people at work — I’m just going to tell them they have Emo knees. I work with artsy college athletes (oxy moron?) so they’ll appreciate that. Also, your Quest bar food concoction comment made me laugh out loud — I have seen some of the grossest things on Instagram, I don’t know how people stomach some of that nonsense. Anyway, great post, good luck on qualifying!!

  14. I have a really sensitive stomach so I tend to shy away from eating anything before a run. I can barely choke down gels during a race, but I am trying to train my stomach to handle them otherwise I don’t think I’ll make it through my next marathon!

    As for the Quest bars… I know that was just used as an example, but damn, am I glad that I am not the only one shaking my head at that stuff. Chia “pudding” is also high up on my revolting list. I don’t care how much you jazz up your photos and try to talk it up – there is no way you can convince me to eat a cup of white gelatinous goo studded with tiny balls as my “protein snack” or “healthy dessert”.

    I can’t wait until you post your psychology topic! That has been a huge barrier for me in racing better, and I would never have even known it was something to work on until my husband brought it to my attention. I still suffer from a lot of confidence and “toughness” during those last few miles of a race but I’ve gotten better.

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