This past fall, my husband and I ran in our 2nd annual Reebok Ragnar Relay, which consists of 12 people, 2 vans and 200-ish miles of running non stop through the day and night (and into the next day). Ragnar Michigan starts in Muskegon, and we run along Lake Michigan up to Traverse City. We run, sleep (if we are lucky), run and repeat for about 30 hours.
I have run half marathons as well as this relay before, but this race was different. I had been taking 3 classes or more a week at Alkalign and participating in Nourish, and I discovered how important nutrition and functional training are in endurance runs.
I was runner No. 11 out of our team of 12, so it felt like I waited forever to run my first leg. I finally got out of the van to stretch my legs and hit my running stride at around 3 p.m. I hadn’t run hard training for this race as I was intending to take it slow and just put one foot in front of the other. I got through my first leg, which was 3.1 miles, at a pace that was about a minute and a half faster than my team (or I) expected. I felt amazing! But I was worried I was going to feel it later.
I thought my second leg was going to be a bit more challenging. Our van was running the graveyard shift, and I didn’t start running again until 2 a.m. The conditions were perfect: The sky was clear, the moon was bright, and I was starting in my hometown, right behind my old high school. It was 6 miles of brisk night air and chasing the moon to my next checkpoint. I flew through those miles. I felt strong and had plenty of energy to see me through to the end. The last 0.8 of a mile was all uphill, and I thought I would struggle more than I did. It was hard, but I engaged my core, climbed that hill and met my teammate at 3 a.m. with a smile on my face!
As I recovered, I ate some of the Nourish-friendly foods I had packed for energy. Instead of sugary fuel packets/drinks, I relied on protein-packed, high-energy foods I had learned about from the Nourish group. I had homemade protein balls (which were very popular with the people in our van!), Elemental Bars and all my favorite fruits and vegetables that I knew would give me the energy I needed. Two key things that I learned from Nourish helped me feel my best during this race: 1) Sugar is a quick fix but not a sustainable fuel and 2) higher quality foods make you feel great inside, which results in a more satisfying performance! I felt nutritionally sound from the inside out.
While waiting for my next run, I became aware that I didn’t have any of the usual aches or pains in my left knee or hips. Due to 3 pregnancies, my hips are always out of place. Due to running, my hip flexors always seem tight and sore. My left knee has a slight injury that always spoke to me after longer runs, but it wasn’t bothering me at all. In fact, I realized that I hadn’t “felt” my knee in months. This was my first a-ha moment. The Alkalign workouts had strengthened my body so effectively that my running aches and pains were gone!
My biggest challenge was ahead with my last run. I had 7.2 miles of hills on little to no sleep after already running 9 miles over the past 24 hours. I honestly didn’t think I’d be able to do it. I was feeling good, but I was having flashbacks of running this relay last year and barely making it through my last leg. This time I had over 7 miles and elevations that looked like a panicked gazelle’s EKG in a lion’s den. One of my teammates said, “Don’t worry about it. The weather is perfect, and it’s just one more opportunity you get to run. Not everyone can do this, so go have fun.” He was right on. I turned up my music, tapped into my core strength and enjoyed the run.
Running this relay after spending 6 months at Alkalign made me a stronger person and a stronger runner. Running this relay after doing a full 3 weeks of Nourish fueled my body for optimal nutrition. I’m not the fastest runner, but I am stronger than I have been in a long time. Not only am I stronger, I’m physically more comfortable! I love that I can do the activities that I love without feeling any discomfort. During this relay, I realized that running is about more than just pulling my body forward. It’s about having a strong balanced body, both from strength training and nutrition training!
At Alkalign, we spend time strengthening hamstrings and spinal extensor muscles, and we work the back body equal to the front body. This focus on building the back body is one of the big reasons I ran so comfortably for every leg of the relay. I realized I was no longer going into my runs focused only on my quads to get me through. When those big hills got hard, I engaged my core, keyed into my neutral spine and let my back body push me over the hill. We all know pushing is easier than pulling, so it only makes sense that strengthening the back body is key to an overall strong body.
I am not downplaying the importance of strong quads. My quads are also definitely stronger because thigh work at Alkalign is so intense (I’m talking to you, Neutral Spine Chair). The strength in my quads helped my running, but it was most important to squatting for this race. The porta potties are plentiful when spending 30 hours living in a van!