Sunday, April 25, 2010

How to Train to Run 6 Miles in 3 Weeks

I’m sharing my story to help answer some of my bewildered family and friends questions since they know how much I used to hate running and for my fellow procrastinators. I’m not saying that anyone else should use this guide and just to make sure no one is dumb enough to hurt themselves – MAKE SURE YOU CONSULT A DOCTOR BEFORE BEGINNING ANY EXERCISE PROGRAM.

Let me start out by saying I had perfectly good notice about this race and had even printed out a good training program. My old college roommate, Kelly, had asked James and I to join her and Ryan in a Marathon Relay back in February. This race would be the GO! St. Louis Marathon held April 11th. Our event would be broken down as followed…

1st Runner (me) – 6 miles
2nd Runner (Kelly) - 7 miles
3rd Runner (Ryan) – 7.25 miles
4th Runner (James) – 6 miles

You might be wondering how James and I were so fortunate to only have to do the 6 mile sections. Well, this was my first race ever (besides being on the “C” track team in middle school) and Kelly and Ryan had just won trophies at a recent race they were in. Make sure that if you are doing a Marathon Relay you have a clause that if anyone wins a trophy/ medal in another race right before yours then they have to run the longest.

So What Went Wrong?
Obama. I’m serious. Ok, not really, but he did play a role. I’ll get to that in a second. By mid-February everything was running smoothly in my training. I, being a very new runner, had started out running a very slow, but non-stop two miles on a treadmill. I was very excited. “My god, I’m almost to 6 miles”, I thought.

Little did I know that a weekend at the end of February in Boston would change that. I got food poisoning our 2nd night there. The kind of food poisoning where I had to lay on the marble in our hotel bathroom for 3 hours throwing up in towels because I was too weak to lift my head. The next morning, although very sick, I was determined to see more of Boston. Everything was going fairly well until I decided to climb the Bunker Hill Monument, which has almost 300 stairs. I made it half way before I had to start tearing off my clothes because I was so nauseous. I was ordered by my husband to “get the hell down.” Needless to say I couldn’t work out for a week.

And wouldn’t you know…food poisoning AGAIN the week after that. This is where Obama comes in. After throwing up at work I got in my car to make the 10 minute drive home. That 10 minute drive turned into an hour nightmare. Obama came to St. Charles that day and unfortunately every street that leads to my house was blocked. I ended up throwing up on myself twice before I could pull over and finish throwing up in someone’s yard. I had to sit in my puke for another 30 minutes before the police started allowing people back on the road. To make matters worse all of my neighbors were outside to watch Obama drive by. James ran out with a towel when I pulled up, but I was too sick to care what anyone thought so I walked up to my front door wiping puke off my clothes. It was unbelievably worse than Boston. I was very sick for 3 days and got a cold on top of it!

The Freak Out
By the time I started feeling well enough to run the calendar said March 23rd. It was literally like starting over. I had less than 3 weeks to pull this off. I started frantically Googling key words like “10K 3 week training program”, “Can you run a 10K in 3 weeks”, “How to go from 1 mile to 6 miles.” I got nothing besides an old Yahoo! Answer saying “if you train hard you can do it.” Really, that’s the best advice you can give?!! What are you just some evil internet troll who likes to just give generic, dumb advice on Yahoo! Answers?

The Plan
If the internet was not going to be helpful I would have to come up with my own inexperienced running program. I would need new running shoes, a hat to hide the pain on my face, 2 runs every day (lunch break and in the evening) totaling 4.5 to 5 miles, no treadmill and as many hills as I could find. I would total 20-30 miles a week with one rest day (Sunday for me).

The Diet
I’ve been a vegetarian for almost a year now (besides the occasional organic grass fed steak) and have also been doing only 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day since January. I increased my calories to 1,500 and added more fruit and carbs to my meals. I also cut out caffeine and most alcohol. Caffeine really wasn’t an issue since I never really drink soda and I have one cup of coffee/tea in the morning.

The Hell
My feet did not know what hit them. I have blood stains in my shoes to prove it. Nothing makes you feel more bad ass then realizing you’ve got your own blood on your shoes. Don’t get me wrong there were a lot of times I had to walk. I just didn’t have it in me to start running 2+ miles non-stop no matter how slow I ran. Especially with all the hills in front of me. By the time the first week was over I started feeling less intimated by certain hills and began to run them. I realized when I started this plan that hills would be my savior. They would mentally get me prepared for the pain of the race and help to build my stamina like no flat course could.

The stomach cramps started the 2nd week. I’m not sure if it was lack of water, food, or pushing myself too hard. These cramps scared the crap out of me. What would I do if this happened at the race? This is where I increased calories to 1,500-1,700 a day and drank water like crazy while also cutting out all coffee and tea. When exhaling I tried landing on my left foot and pursing my lips like I was blowing out a candle to help manage the pain. During that week I asked James to do a 5k with me at a nearby park to really see how out of shape I was. We did one of his old cross country runs where you are hardly on pavement. We started out jogging and I didn’t get too far until the stomach cramp began. At a bit over a mile I just couldn’t stand up straight anymore no matter how I changed my breathing or posture. I started to walk hunched over. James turned around and told me in a nice way that everyone gets them and that I have to just run through it. I flipped him off and said some not so nice things, but I started jogging again. The pain never went away; although it did get slightly better and most importantly I got over my fear of it happening in the race.

By the end of the 2nd week I had one or two amazing 2.5 mile runs where I felt like I was just gliding. I became Rocky on hills (well….not all of them) and I had begun to get away from what James calls my swimmers breathing: a gasp-in-quick, blow-out-slow breathing pattern. I guess I would start out holding my breath and then it would increase to short, shallow, very frequent breaths that made me sound ridiculous. It was so different to be able to breathe whenever I wanted to that I had to really pay attention to how I was breathing. On top of that I had to deal with the constant pounding of running. The high-impact environment was entirely opposite of what I was used to with swimming.

Looking back on this it still amazes me how I advanced so quickly. I feel like runners always give walking a bad rap, but switching from running to speed walking really helped me push myself and caused me not to get burned out or have any injures. I also would recommend doing some trail running. I went out to Castlewood State Park that 2nd week and did a trail run/hike. You need to be very careful that you don’t twist your ankle, but this outing really reminded me that running can be a lot of fun. It also built up my confidence since I was the only one attempting to run that hike when I was there. I actually had so much fun that when I reached the bottom I turned right around and did it again. The 3rd week I took it slow and did a final 3 runs on Thursday totaling 7 miles. Friday and Saturday were rest days since the race was on a Sunday morning.

What to Wear
After realizing how my old running shoes were merely purchased for their looks and less on how they felt I went to Fleet Feet that first week and got fitted into a pair of Brooks. They were amazing from day one! At the race I wore knee length black tight polyester pants and a polyester GO! Marathon T-shirt. Who knew polyester would be the advance fabric of choice for its moisture wicking abilities? I did take a gamble with the shirt since I got it the night before and didn’t have time to wash it. I was afraid that when I started sweating my skin could get irritated, but I never had an issue before with new clothes, so I just went with it.

The Night Before
I’m such a foodie that cooking the night before the race was probably one of the highlights to doing this race. I’m a vegetarian who will eat select organic beef and being that this was a night of feasting I made a steak salad AND a meat sauce for the pasta! I’m also a big dork and sent the menu out to Kelly and Ryan before hand.

Race Day!
My morning began at 4:45am. We had a 30 minute drive to downtown St. Louis to catch the MetroLink and we needed to get to the race 45 minutes before the start. For breakfast I ate two bites of a key lime energy bar and ½ a banana while also drinking a ton of water. I made sure I did most of my eating and drinking an hour and a ½ before the race.

I don’t think I was totally prepared for the mass of 17,500 runners at the starting line. I also wasn’t prepared for the line of people waiting for the bathrooms. From the time the gun went off at 7am to when I was able to make it to the starting line took 15 minutes or so. This meant that the pace clocks at the mile markers wouldn’t be very helpful to me. I started in the 10 minute pace group, but probably should have begun in a faster group since after ½ a mile people were already beginning to walk. Maybe if I had to do 13.1 or 26.2 miles I would have been the same way. The issue with the walkers was that with 17,500 people on the road everyone is fighting for space and when someone just stops right in front of you and begins to swing their arms in a fast walk stride you are in a danger zone. I didn’t make any stops for water, which I’m glad I didn’t get thirsty because the elite runners had nearly wiped out the tables. My hill training paid off at miles 3-4. The moment some runners saw hills they just gave up and started walking. With careful maneuvering I was able to squeeze past them. It sounds terrible, but all these walkers gave me more confidence and helped me feel stronger. By mile 5 I was almost laughing with giddy success. I couldn’t believe I had made it and had actually found it FUN!

“Right side for relay station” I hear towards the end. “WHAT! I’m on the left side!” I scream in my head. I manage to run to the other side of the street to see a big relay station sign and to my amazement a line of people all who look like they are wearing what Kelly had on that day. I go into panic mode. I frantically scream out Kelly’s name while scanning the crowded street. “Meghan!” I hear back finally. I whip my head around to see Kelly right behind me. I throw her the D-tag while rapidly telling her in a 5 second period how I ran the whole time, how easy it was and how she will have so much fun. Kelly gets a big “I live for pain” grin on her face and off she goes.

A special thank you to all the amazing supporters lined up on the street cheering everyone on.

I love the girl checking me out.

Just a LITTLE overwhelmed with the people.

Right before the race began.

Yes folks, she is just a bit too excited to finish.

HAHAHA...I love her!

Almost there...

Yay, finished!!!

The champs! We finished 69th out of over 360 relay teams.


  1. Meghan, this is amazing! I was already proud of you, but you neglected to mention earlier that you did it all in 3 weeks! And also the level of your food poisoning. I wanted to go back in time and get you a proper bucket to puke in and some IV fluids. Poor Megs! I've been sick, but not so sick I could make it to the toilet. Also, why do you all get to be runners, but James has to be a "rubber"?

  2. Haha, good catch!

    I wish you could have nursed me back to health! Love you Austyn!