In February, it became official: I was running the TCS NYC Marathon! As a physical therapist working in a running-based clinic I figured I had a pretty good idea of what to expect from the training. The miles, time commitment, nutrition; I was ready for it all, right? I quickly found out that it was much more work than I expected.
Running a marathon is not just about your muscles and your legs. As I reflected back on the process it dawned on me that it took every system on my body to complete the Marathon.
So here it is, a review of all the systems it took to get to the finish line!
1 - Cardiovascular system: I’m a cardio nerd. It was my favorite class in PT school and continues to interest me. So much so that I usually took my resting heart rate while in shavasena during a yoga class. As the miles got longer, I noticed it was harder to get my heart rate up. I knew this was a great sign that the conditioning was working.
2 - Digestive system: Training my stomach for the long runs was easier than I expected. In the beginning, I would be starving after a long run and I knew that meant I wasn’t eating enough. It became important to experiment with fuel that would satisfy me but was easy enough to digest. When finding a fuel to use while running, the goal is to allow the stomach muscles to work without taking too much energy away from the leg muscles.
3 - Muscular system: This was an obvious one. No matter how much time it takes, you have to build the strength to support the muscles on the long runs. You can’t just rely on running to build muscle. Strength training is an essential part of your marathon.
4 - Immune system: Something I had to learn during training! Because your body us using immune cells to repair tissue that is damaged from running, your immune system is running low. Vitamins, sleep, fluids, and avoiding sick people became very important for me.
5 - Nervous system: On the long runs, I found my nerves were in shock while I was running but SOOO sensitive after. I noticed weird sensations in weird places (behind my ear, under my armpit) that weren’t chaffed or cut. It took me awhile to get use to the phantom sensations. Similarly, your mind can start to play tricks on you emotionally as well. When you are running alone for so long, your emotions start to get the best of you. I would start thinking crazy things about the run, then about life in general. I had to constantly remind myself that these weren’t real thoughts and get my brain back on the task.
6 - Integumentary system: You don’t notice it but your skin takes a beating when you are running. In the beginning I wasn’t hydrating enough and when my long runs were done, I was basically a salt stick. Everything was so chapped. Chaffing was unlike anything I had ever experienced during any of my triathlons. I had always used a lot of Body Glide, but for a marathon I was basically showering in the stuff.
7 - Renal system: I am already good at holding my urine for a long time (which is not a good thing) but during marathon training, I learned to be a camel. It was great for long runs but then I would be at work and realize that I hadn’t gone to the bathroom all day! I had to pay more attention to how much water was going in and strategize how often I was going to the bathroom. Hydrating ahead of time (2 or 3 days) made it easier to for me get through long runs without having to stop for a bathroom.
8 - Endocrine system: So for women, everyone talks about how you lose your period during marathon training. For whatever reason, my hormones had the opposite effect. As training went on, my period was longer and longer. By the last month, it was over 20 days long! I thought I was the only woman on earth to experience this but when I spoke to my doctor about it she was not shocked. She said after the marathon was over it would go back to normal, and she was right.
9 - Respiratory system: Breathing should always come naturally, even when you are running. As the miles got longer, I was shocked to notice that my breathing got more labored. Obviously this is not normal. I finally got it checked out and it turned out I had pneumonia. It took a long time for my lung to recover from the damage, so don’t ignore signs like this.
10 - Skeletal system: I ate all the yogurt, took vitamin D, and I love all my green veggies. My bones were good to go. I tried to be very aware of the stress I was putting on my bones and I was very diligent in resting on my days off. About two weeks before the marathon, I could feel a deep bone pain and I was pretty sure I knew what it was. At that point, the best thing to do was to shut it down and rest. I didn’t. After the marathon, I found out that I did in fact have a stress injury. I was shocked considering I took such good care of myself and then realized the cause. My crappy lungs from my weak immune system meant I had to be on corticosteroids. Guess what steroids do to your bones: they break them down.
It takes a village (a whole body) to run a marathon. It was an incredible experience for sure but before I run another, I will be certain to make sure all systems are running in tip top shape.
Kathleen Leninger, DPT