My first race, marathon, and DNF occurred all on the same day: Boston Marathon 2006. In late February that year, I was on an email chain, and an organization was seeking a charity runner. It was late in the game, and they had one remaining bib. I read the email, contemplated it, and, having run a maximum of 5 miles, said a resounding YES. Yes, I will try this. Yes, I will show up.
I really didn’t know just how much goes into a successful marathon training schedule. I didn’t know about different types of runs, strength training, ancillary work, nutrition, sleep, rest, hydration, and of course, the importance of a strong core.
I went to the running store, and got fitted for very rigid white sneakers. Armed with new shoes and without a Garmin, I ran my usual 2 mile loop along the ocean, looking out at the planes landing at Logan Airport. Back and forth, back and forth. Everyone said I was crazy, that this was not smart, and I’d never finish.
That Monday morning in April, I showed up, with gels pinned to the hem of my shirt (I’d never tried them before, and didn’t know where you were supposed to put them). But by mile 18, I was done. Mainly, my back hurt a lot, and I asked the med tent to scan me out.
During the next 6 months, I didn’t run, and instead wanted to focus on what was happening with my back. I talked to a few people at the running store (keep in mind, there wasn’t social media back then, and I didn’t know who to ask), and they suggested I start to work on my core. From there, I did some research.
I knew my posture wasn’t great, and my core was really weak. I started with a Pilates DVD, and I was hooked. Within weeks, I started to feel less of a dull ache in my lower back. In fact, I was so hooked on the principles of Pilates that I sought certification in mat and reformer.
I jumped right into the world of Pilates. I was teaching, taking classes, and observing classes. While I love the reformer, I am very enthusiastic about the benefits and accessibility of mat classes. Small props are also fun, but in the end, with proper form and cuing, you can do Pilates anywhere, at any time, without equipment. And you’ll reap so many benefits to support a training plan.
Why do we need a strong core to run? For stability, endurance, and power. If you can’t hold your upper body upright, you are going to have a sore lower back. Pilates focuses on postural imbalances. The body will always compensate, and try to achieve balance, whether that means you’ve got a strong dominate side, or a leg that always seems to be injured. If the rib cage pulls slightly left, the hips are going to pull slightly right. This might not seem like a big deal, but over time, compounded with many miles, it adds up.
Modern living means a few things for a lot of us: forward cervical vertebra (think of what happens to your neck when you’re texting or using a computer), rounded shoulders (tight pectoral muscles, shoulder blades that wrap around the rib cage), and a weak core (from sitting). Pilates serves to bring the body into alignment by not only strengthening the core, but also opening up the chest, bringing the shoulder blades back and down, and improving posture. What does this mean for you? Happier running and a better sense of body awareness!
I went back in 2008, and finished Boston with a charity group, and finished in 4:50. I didn’t think I’d run another marathon again. So, you can imagine my own surprise when I finally said I wanted to try for a BQ (punched my ticket in 3:35). There’s so much that goes into successful training, health, and longevity. And for me, my approach to training, as well as my goals, have changed with time. While I once only wanted be able to #pileonthemiles, I found the combination of high mileage plus Pilates to be incredibly effective. These days, I am drawn to faster, shorter runs, strength training, and cycling. And Pilates is right there with me, keeping me aligned, and happy.
Nicole can be found on instagram @heartnsolerunning if you have any more questions for her on Pilates.