How to run a marathon without training*

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Okay, I admit, the title is click bait. What we’ll really be talking about is how to run a marathon without “marathon” training. You know, the typical four days of short to moderate runs and the one dreaded long run day. I want to tell you that it’s possible to run a marathon without completing a single run over thirteen miles – and with minimal running otherwise – and still live to talk about it.

A few disclaimers:

  1. I am not a fitness professional. I followed my training from the very best fitness professionals I know over at South Baltimore Strength and Conditioning, and was incredibly happy with the outcome. If you are going to run a marathon without the typical marathon training, you should work with a fitness professional. I’d suggest Sean and Troy because, like I said, they’re the best.
  2. I was/am not training to qualify for Boston. My running philosophy has always been “not fast, not last.” I finished the 2015 Marine Corps Marathon in 4:57:28. It was the fastest I have ever run a marathon (and it was my fourth), and I came out of it uninjured and feeling pretty freakin’ great. So, again, I was not “fast,” but I was fast for me and I was still able to lift like a boss afterwards without the nagging knee injuries that had accompanied my true marathon training from earlier races.

Okay, now that the legalese is out of the way, let’s dive in.

I’m sure your first question is, “but Jen, people have been training for marathons with the long run forever. Why would you change that? Don’t you love distance running and that’s what you run marathons?” And while, yes, I love long distance racing, I really don’t love 20 mile long solo runs in the dead of summer. They’re hot, they’re a little boring, there are no fans cheering me on, and my playlist gets old (Pro tip: GirlTalk is a great way to get through long runs).

But here’s the thing: It’s accepted in the running community that you’re going to get injured training for a marathon. In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine found that anywhere between half and three quarters of first time marathoners never even make it to the start line.

Not only that, but studies show that marathon training, as prescribed in the past, doesn’t just open you up to injuries, it can also have negative implications for your immune system and your digestive system. Why? because prolonged cardiovascular stress requires your body to divert resources from other systems in order to continue to propel you forward.

Here’s what my training looks like:

A focus on strength building. Three times a week, I spend anywhere from an hour to an hour and a half in the gym focused on strength. My strength training primarily includes Olympic lifts like the snatch and clean, front and back squats, dead lifts, and bench press, as well as work with dumbbells, kettlebells, and body weight exercises like pull-ups and push-ups. Why? Strength training is essential to injury prevention. It helps to increase bone density, collagen content of connective tissues, and, of course, increases muscle strength helping to prevent muscular injury.

Adequate mobility work, prehab, and rehab. Before I started at SBSC, I had a nagging knee injury that made it painful to squat. Through working with Sean and Troy, I was able to “cure” my knee problem with some serious foam rolling of my quads and calves. All parts of our bodies are interconnected, meaning that pain in one area could be the result of an issue elsewhere. Mobility work, including stretching, rolling, mashing, etc, helps to increase flexibility and range of motion – allowing us to reach our peak physical capacity. It prevents injury because it allows your body to do what it is supposed to do, rather than lifting or running in a compromised position, thereby increasing our chance of getting injured.

High Intensity Interval Training. Using what’s seen as CrossFit style workouts, Sean’s built in multiple opportunities each week to get my heart rate in. the. zone. This past week, for example, I had a ten minute workout where I alternated 45 seconds of rowing at over 1000 calories an hour with five burpees each time the minute bell chimed. HIIT helps to build endurance, allows your body to efficiently use energy, promotes fat loss while maintaining muscle, and pushes your heart while also allowing for adequate rest.

Running, trail running, and hiking. Finally, a few times a week, I get out on the street. One day a week is an interval running day where I run a few minutes and then walk a minute for a specified number of rounds, and another day a week is a longer hiking or trail running day. Hiking and trail running are awesome because they get you outside (hello fresh air!), build muscle through hill work, and also help strengthen your ankles as your body has to work to stabilize itself on uneven ground. Bonus, longer hikes help get the mileage in in order to prepare for the mental game of 26.2 miles.

Don’t get me wrong: I LOVE long distance racing. Completing a marathon is just as much a spiritual experience for me than a physical one, and there is no feeling in the entire world quite like crossing the finish line after a 26.2 mile long trek. But it is possible to have the church-like experience of completing a marathon without sacrificing your body in the process.


If you love distance running (not just racing), but are still interested in keeping your body injury free, check out Hanson’s Marathon Method, which decreases the length of the long run.

Lessons from Miss Teen USA’s Twitter disaster

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On Saturday night, 18-year-old Karlie Hay was crowned Miss Teen USA. By midnight, the Internet had unearthed three-year-old tweets where Hay throws around the N-word like confetti. To the surprise of no one, the Internet was outraged.

By Sunday morning, Hay had issued her formal “apology” on Twitter (although it should be noted that not once did she use the words “sorry” or “apologize”), using multiple tweets from her previous Miss Texas Teen USA account to share, “Several years ago, I had many personal struggles and found myself in a place that is not representative of who I am as a person. I admit that I have used language publicly in the past which I am not proud of and that there is no excuse for. Through hard work, education, and thanks in large part to the sisterhood that I have come to know through pageants, I am proud to say that I am today a better person. I am honored to hold this title and I will use this platform to promote the values of the Miss Universe Organization, and my own, that recognize the confidence, beauty, and perseverance of all women.”

On Sunday, the Miss Universe Organization formally announced that Hay would keep her crown and that they were supportive of her “continued growth.”

Let me be clear: the Miss Universe Organization should have removed Hay from her newly appointed position as Miss Teen USA. Immediately. There shouldn’t have been hesitation. In an era where pageantry is continually fighting to assert its relevance, crowning and then embracing a national level titleholder who is not sensitive to our nation’s charged racial climate is brand suicide. After all, how can an organization claim to be “built on a foundation of inclusion” and “celebrate diversity” if their national level spokesperson has no real understanding of the implication that her repeated and excessive use of the N-word has on the women she is meant to empower?

Hay waited until there was a chance that she would lose her crown before finding it important enough to remove those tweets from her account. If she had truly grown, if she had truly learned, those tweets would have been deleted long before they were used to “out” her in the Twittersphere. She is incredibly privileged.

And, at the same time, she is just like many other kids her age, and their generational misunderstanding of social media and its implications poses major concerns.

As a middle school Technology Education teacher and a college social media education facilitator, I find the latter is true. My middle schoolers see me as “cool” and loop me into their social media lives and concerns while many college aged students keep their accounts public for Insta-popularity, which has allowed me a more in depth look at what pre-adult social media looks like these days.

Today’s kids are both incredibly social media savvy and totally and completely ignorant at the same time. Because they’ve grown up in an era where a large majority of their social lives exist solely on the Internet, it is difficult for them to not share every little detail through the medium while also inflating who they are for popularity. What’s scary is that when they are younger, they lack the ability to understand the long-term implications of their social media presence and the clear judgment to discern how their words can impact others, especially in the larger scheme of things.

The negative impact of kids’ social media use has been studied, of course, and statistics tell part of the story. Over 50% of kids and teens report being bullied online (i-SAFE Foundation), and a third of kids surveyed by FashionPlatyes said that being popular on their social accounts was very important to them. But the full story is found in the personal stories of our kids – in fights that carry from Instagram to the classroom, in the story of Nicole Lovell, a young girl abducted and murdered in Blacksburg, VA following her connecting with college students through KIK, in the current Miss Teen USA’s repeated use of the N-word to appear cooler to her friends.

The Miss Universe Organization missed a major opportunity to do the right thing by aligning themselves with their reported organizational values and not tolerating the use of racial slurs. More importantly, Hay could have been a concrete example to our kids, teaching them that their online presence has consequences – that what they post on a picture or say in 143 characters or less isn’t just the online version of themselves, it is who they are.

So what can we do? Parents, please follow your kids online. Even if they think you’re lame. If they are under eighteen, it should be a prerequisite for them getting the account they want. Have meaningful conversations when they post something that doesn’t align with who they are or what they value. Talk to them about the consequences of what they post. Encourage them to talk to their peers about cyberbullying. Discuss why it’s never appropriate to use the N-word, especially on their public accounts so that they can look cool. Tell them the story of Nicole Lovell.

Although Miss Teen USA is allowed to keep her crown, her tweets will follow her for the rest of her life. They will be read by college admissions counselors, employers, even future friends and suitors, and will be part of her story forever. But perhaps, we can learn something from her, too.

A Gluten Lover’s Guide to Being Gluten Free

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I learned that I was gluten-intolerant last fall, practically the minute I cut it out of my diet as an experiment (learn more about elimination diets here). My chronic sinus problems disappeared overnight, I dropped what seemed like twenty pounds of bloat (this is an exaggeration), and constant pain in my hip, knees, and shoulders began to lessen. I loved how I felt, my skin cleared up, and I kept myself gluten free until I was in Mexico on a vacation.

In order to be “responsible,” I chose beer as my drink of choice instead of calorie- and sugar-laden margaritas.

It was a disaster.

I was sick for nearly a week after, and had to admit to myself that, sadly, my love affair with gluten needed to be put on hold indefinitely.

Let’s be clear, here. I am not just a gluten lover. I am gluten obsessed. I love it in all shapes and sizes: dreamy, soft flour tortillas (best wrapped around a Chipotle burrito), fancy, expensive cupcakes, bread, OREOS. There are no substitutes for those things. Well, there are, but they’re either a) dry and crappy and incomparable to their gluten-filled counterparts or b) really freaking expensive.

If you are looking at this guide and gluten doesn’t make your stomach churn or your sinuses a hot mess, I need you to back away from the computer and go buy yourself a package of bread. Stat. If your body has blessed you with the ability to process wheat protein like a boss, then do all of us who cannot a favor and enjoy the finer things in life. Like the million different flavors of Oreos.

But, if you are like me, and learning how to cope, I’ve got you covered.

First things, first: what is gluten, and what is it found in?

Gluten is a generic name for different proteins found in wheat, barley, rye, and triticale. It often serves as a binder in foods, and can be fount in different breads, cereals, salad dressings, soups, and other processed foods.

Awesome, so how do I navigate it? Can I not eat anything at all?

You can eat so many things! The easiest way to navigate processed foods is to check. the. ingredients. list. The ingredients list will tell you whether or not the product contains gluten or if it is processed in a plant where it could contain traces of gluten. The words you’re looking for are “gluten” or “wheat.” What you can eat (and tolerate) is totally dependent on the severity of your intolerance or allergy.

Wait, a gluten allergy is different than an intolerance?

Yes! Gluten intolerance is a spectrum, with Celiac Disease being the most serious. Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder that impacts nearly 1 in 100 people all over the world. When a person with Celiac Disease eats gluten, it causes damage to their small intestine and makes it difficult for their body to absorb nutrients. Celiac Disease is hereditary, and can have long-term health implications if left untreated. You can learn more about Celiac Disease symptoms here, and if you think you might have Celiac, be sure to be screened by a doctor. People with Celiac Disease should not eat ANY gluten, including trace amounts used in food preparation.

On the other side of the spectrum is a condition known as Non-Celiac Gluten Sensitivity. When someone is non-Celiac, but still sensitive to gluten, they experience similar symptoms when they consume gluten (like brain fog, bloating, and sinus issues, among others), but do not damage their small intestine. I fall into this category.

It’s important to note that people can also have a wheat allergy, which elicits an immediate autoimmune response when someone eats wheat — this is different from Celiac Disease.

Okay, got it. So what CAN I eat?

Oh my gosh, so many things. It’s a common misconception that all carbs or all grains contain gluten, which is absolutely not true. You can still have corn, rice, and potatoes, which means you can still partake in Taco Tuesday as long as you order your tacos with corn tortillas, and homemade French fries are still on the table. If you have an allergy of any kind, you do have to stay away from many food service made products as they contain trace amounts of gluten from production. Whole foods including fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and dairy (unless you’re also #blessed with a dairy intolerance) are also all naturally gluten free, so being GFree is a lot less dramatic than it might seem.

But, what about cookies? Or cake? What will I do without Oreos?

Look, guys, I agree, it is a tragedy that Oreo doesn’t have a gluten free option (seriously, can we start a petition?), and I am fuming every time I want pizza and Domino’s wants to charge me a million dollars for a crust I can eat (okay, $15. For a small. It’s ridiculous), but no worries – I’ve found some amazing (processed) gluten free treats that taste amazing and are worth the few extra bucks. Here are my favorites:

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Clockwise From Top: So Delicious Dairy Free Cookies and Cream Ice Cream, Trader Joe’s Gluten Free bagels, Betty Crocker Gluten Free brownie mix (seriously, this stuff is amazeballs), Three Bakers Cinnamon Raisin bread, Aldi live Gfree corn pasta, Glutino English Muffins

Not to mention, lots of your favorite gummy candies are likely already gluten free, which is a huge relief if you’re also a gummy addict like me 🙂

Navigating being gluten-sensitive (or full out Celiac) is tough, but not impossible. The important thing to remember is that there are many, many things that are naturally gluten free, making it easy to navigate this new limitation on your diet.

Want more info? Start here: Celiac Disease Foundation || Gluten Intolerance Group || Beyond Celiac

“Should” is the enemy of great

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One of the biggest battles of your 20s, I think, is letting go of all of the things you “should” do and choosing instead to spend your time doing things you want to do. For me, the story of my mid-twenties has been learning to embrace who I am and what I value, rather than doing things just because they fit into my idea of what I should value in my twenties.

Here’s an example: it’s Friday night and I’ve just gotten done with my workout. Literally the only thing I want to do is get home, put on PJs, down my post-workout shake, and eat my post-workout fun carbs while lounging on the couch with Paul and the puppy. The very last thing I want to do is get dressed up, put on make-up, and go out with people. A lot of times, though, I get sucked in to feeling like I should be out — it’s not even FOMO (fear of missing out), it’s FOALIMO: Fear of Appearing Like I’m Missing Out.

I actually had this conversation recently with my coach, Sean, and my life coach, Kali. Sean encouraged me to let go of the shoulds by identifying my values and letting go of feeling like I should do things that don’t align with those values. Here’s my four biggest takeaways:

Think about the other actions you use the word “should” for. I should do my taxes. I should pay my parking tickets. I should clean my house. All of these things that we use “should” for are things that we really don’t want to do but need to do to be responsible adult human beings. They’re things that have consequences if we don’t do them. So, if you’re using the word “should” for actions that are fun for others – going out, working out intensely, or even writing, then you run the risk of attaching guilt to how you choose to spend your time.

Question the governing authority/ask why. The next time you find yourself saying that you should do something, identify the why behind it. “I should be going out” should be met with: “Oh really? Says who?” Chances are, you’re trying to force yourself to do something you really don’t care to do, which, hello! You are now a grown adult, and part of that means getting to spend your time and money how you want to spend it. I would rather spend my time (and money!) working out than going out — it’s not wrong, it’s just that my values are a little bit different than some of my peers.

Identify your values. Your real values, not what you want them to be. Take a values inventory (there are a ton out there!), hire a life or goal coach, or just spend some silent time writing about what you enjoy doing vs. what you currently spend your time doing. And then…

Actually do something about it. Start saying no to things that don’t fulfill you. Seek out opportunities that make you smile. Stop spending your time and money only to please other people. Embrace that you get one shot to develop and live a dynamic and awesome life that you love, and go out and freakin’ do the thing.

CO2 cars, sanding, and long-term goals

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“Ms. Gilbert, is this good enough?” She asks me, hand outstretched gripping her semester-long class project. The piece of wood – shaped into a car body – is mostly smooth, but there’s still a few band saw cut lines visible, and I smile before responding.

“You’re getting there, keep sanding.”

“But I’ve done all I can! I’ve been sanding forever! It’s really smooth!” The piece of sandpaper in her hand has clearly been used, and I can tell she’s getting frustrated. I swivel around in my chair and pick up another student’s project from a different class. “Here, I want you to feel this.”

She runs her hand over the surface, eyes getting wider and mouth opening involuntarily as she feels the difference between the two. She asks if I made the car, and I tell her that, no, the car is not mine, but one of her peers. It is immaculately shaped and feels almost like velvet. The sanding job is impeccable, and she says nothing as she happily trots back to her desk to continue working on her own car.

I guess at this point, I should tell you that I’m a tech ed teacher (…and a former pageant queen. The two are not mutually exclusive.). In teaching tech ed, I get to teach kids how to solve problems (in my opinion, one of the most important skills to learn), develop their tenacity through challenging projects and occasional failures, and empower them to do more than they think they’re capable of by – you guessed it! – using big, bad power tools.

Our big semester-long project has been building these little Carbon Dioxide powered dragsters. The students are responsible for researching, rough sketching, final sketching, production, etc. They’re at the point in the year where summer is in sight and they’ve been working on this one project for… well, forever. They’re ready to be done, and for some of them, they’ve lost sight of the end goal.

In goal setting, we are a lot like my students. With long-term goals, it’s hard to stay focused until the very end, especially when we lose sight of why we started or what exactly it is we’re trying to accomplish.

When a goal is first set, it is easy to attack it with gazelle-like intensity. We’re motivated, excited, and able to tackle any and all obstacles that get in the way. Just like those first few bandsaw cuts, results come almost instantaneously (like dropping water weight or paying off some debt), which only adds to motivation. We get addicted to the result, and so it is easy to continue to put in the work.

Unfortunately, that last 10-20% of work before accomplishing a goal is not unlike the sanding part of the CO2 car project. It’s tedious, it takes a chunk of time, and results stop coming as quickly, causing motivation to wane. Just like my student, we begin to question if where we are at is “good enough.”

Good enough is the enemy of great. It’s the limiter to extraordinary. It is sabotaging our ability to live up to our full potential. To be the most amazing, inspiring, and powerful version of ourselves and to accomplish all that we are capable of and more, we have to get past the sanding phase.

The best way to do this is to find ways to remind ourselves that our goal is possible, and that we are capable of crushing it. When I had my student feel the other car, she realized that she, too, could have a car that felt more like velvet than wood, and she was happily back to work.

A few of my favorite ways? You can create a vision board (or Pinterest board), watch YouTube videos of other people who have done what you want to do, or find a few audiobooks or podcasts that inspire you to get. after. it. I’m a big believer in writing out your goals (daily!), and making game plans to tackle them. If you want help, shoot me an email – I’d love to help.

Just because something seems like it will take forever doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. On the contrary, it’s those goals that we put in so much work for that are the most satisfying.

Believe me: All of my kids can’t wait to race their cars… they’re just going to have to get past the sanding part first.