As many of my regular readers here know, the practice, study and “evangelizing” of healthy living has been a big part of my trip for many years now. I believe that getting into a rehab program at such a young age (and staying drug and alcohol free through the years) set the stage for me to find my way into many of these lifestyle choices, since traditional rock-and-roller partying has never been an option for me.
Since 1985, weight training has always been a constant in my life… anytime, all the time, everywhere… on the road or off… I have literally never taken a hiatus from it. Beyond that – and in addition to all of the drumming, which can be its own kind of intense physical activity – I’ve integrated other forms of exercise into my routine as I’ve always trained in cycles every year. These other forms have included various martial arts styles, like kickboxing, Kung Fu (Wushu, specifically), Jeet Kune Do, and Muy Thai (Thai-boxing), as well as various stints with Yoga, cycling, an array of cardio equipment at the gym and, of course, running… which brings us to the point here.
I’ve always wanted to run a marathon.
But… I’m afraid I’ve always had somewhat of a rocky relationship with running, so I’ve been very on-again/off-again about it. I would usually never run for more than 3 or 4 miles at a shot, and seldom for more than 3 or 4 months at a time (often with LONG stretches of time between cycles!). Until recently, in fact, I haven’t been running regularly since 2007.
On the one hand, I’ve always loved the meditative aspects of running, the middle-of-the-night jaunts through quiet neighborhoods, and the exhilaration of the infamous “runner’s high” endorphin buzz. On the other hand, I’ve simply never had an affinity for doing any real mileage as a runner. And because it’s never come easy for me, I would usually “plateau” in my training, feel discouraged, then presume that my weight training – and the 40-plus pounds of additional body mass that I’ve accumulated along the way – would always prevent me from running significant distances, let alone the crazy-high miles needed to train for a marathon. Still, in the back of my mind, through the years…
I’ve always wanted to run a marathon.
Really, I have. My mom even ran a few when she was in her 40’s, and I always admired her die-hard dedication to her training. But what would ever compel me to attempt to break through these mental/physical barriers and actually go through with it myself?
The Turning Point
Cut to a year ago. After a heartbreaking evening in a local veterinary emergency room with my BFF Minoo, trying to save a stray cat who had been hit by a car, we were once again reminded of how important rescue organizations are to rescuers. My favorite LA-based group – Kitten Rescue – was able to step up and take care of the $1000-plus tab that our beloved little “Holly” accrued there as she fought through the night to try and survive her extensive injuries. Ultimately, it wasn’t in the cards for her to stick around this plane, and she passed the next morning. But the point is, if it was in the cards for her to recover, Kitten Rescue ensured that she had the best shot possible. And at the very least, instead of dying alone and in agonizing pain on the side of the road, she was able to peacefully slip away in a reasonably comfortable environment with a few folks who cared about her.
This whole incident would influence Minoo to take on the LA Marathon this past March and raise donations for a special fund that Kitten Rescue has for these particular cases. She exceeded her goal of $5000, reaching $5300. Meanwhile, I sat on my ass and insisted that “I’m not cut out for that kind of training.” So when Minoo decided to expand on the idea for the next one, make Kitten Rescue an official charity of the LA Marathon 2012, and get a lot of her friends and colleagues involved with the effort, how could I refuse? Here was a chance to raise some money and quantifiably help so many of my cat and dog friends, while keeping me committed to a process that I know will challenge every part of my being.
Many folks presume that since I’ve always been so athletic, running a marathon should be no problem. Wrong! (That would be like presuming an avid runner should excel at powerlifting.) The most I’ve ever run at one time is nine miles, and that was after a number of months of running regularly, and jogging at the pace of a Florida Box turtle! Heavy barbell squats? No problem. My weightlifting mentor, Lynn Branam, got me started with squats back in the early days and I had quite an aptitude for the fast-twitch fiber nature of this kind of training. (Jogging is more of a slow-twitch fiber thing.) I was squatting more than twice my bodyweight before we knew it, and my legs blew up and got really strong as a result. Cool. But running? A different story altogether.
Additionally, there are other interesting challenges here. Conventional wisdom in the weightlifting/bodybuilding community says that it’s “nearly impossible” to maintain much of your hard-earned strength and muscle mass while engaging in marathon training, and “all but impossible” to do so on a strict vegan diet. I want to challenge this assertion. As many of you know, I’ve been veggie since ’91 and vegan since ’93, and I’m betting that I will not only maintain my strength and musculature (less the expected 10 or so pounds of weight loss inherent to any rigorous cardio regimen), but that I will actually thrive through the training on a superior plant-based diet.
This is one of the reasons I wanted to document the process here at the blog. Because when I Googled this whole “can a weightlifter run a marathon and stay buffed?” kind of thing, there was a surprisingly small amount of reliable data floating around out there in a basic search. I found plenty of conjecture, though – mostly from folks who had either never actually done it, or who seemed to attempt it with some questionable training techniques. So, for what it’s worth, I would like to create a real-time, start-to-finish documentation of the process and see what happens.
Conventional wisdom also presumes that heavy-duty cardio work – most especially running – will have a catabolic effect on your muscles… that something like marathon training will actually “break down” your hard-earned muscle fiber. Don’t know if I buy that as an across-the-board truth. Your body will usually look for glycogen (carbohydrate) as an energy source first, and burn fat as a secondary choice. The exception here is if you take more of the slow-and-steady approach (like I plan to take!), then your body would likely settle into burning more fat as it relies a bit less on carbs. In any case, breaking down muscle (protein) as an energy source is a last resort, so if your body is doing that, I would guess there needs to be some dietary adjustments made in a hurry. I see no reason why your body should be forced into using muscle as an energy source. (I understand there could be some other catabolic aspects with extreme endurance training, perhaps even hormonally, so I guess we’ll just have to see what happens.)
At the same time, the hypertrophy process (muscles getting or staying big and strong) is what it is: lift hard and heavy and get plenty of quality calories. So if you can maintain a good weight-training regimen simultaneous to the marathon training, and compensate for all the extra calories marathon training will demand, you should be able to maintain most of your strength and size.
Of course, we all know that anytime you crank up the cardio, you’re gonna lose some weight. And, we all know that anytime you lose some weight – even as a pre-contest bodybuilder who is doing so as gradually and as scientifically as possible – you will lose some muscle. It’s impossible not to (even when someone jumps on a strong cycle of Winstrol!). That’s just how the body works. Just like if you gain “10 pounds of muscle” from a lifting regimen, that 10 pounds will include at least a little fat and water. So again, I fully expect to drop somewhere between 10 to 15 pounds during this process, even as I jack up the calories and continue my normal lifting routine. But this is just my expectation. What actually happens will be revealed over time, I suppose.
The Deeper Reason
While all of this “becoming a living scientific experiment” stuff is of interest to me, I’m not sure I’m quite interested enough in it to engage in the hellish 24-weeks of training without some extra incentive! Hence… the cause. The “Team Kitten Rescue” backstory here, and the idea that I will be running for donations, will definitely keep my ass committed to the cause for the duration. (Team Kitten Rescue: not the most masculine sounding charity to run for, I admit!) Besides, I really respect this organization who, by the way, actually helps all kinds of cats and dogs. They are the real deal, people. I’ve seen them in action a number of times over these past four or five years and they operate with the highest degree of efficacy and integrity. All the money goes directly to help the animals. So if you want to rest assured that your donations are actually going to affect the lives of cats and dogs, look no further.
Additionally, I feel like I’m training in honor of my beloved feral cat family: Momma, Katherine, P.J. and Juju. These four are the core part of a feral colony I’ve been taking care of since Spring of 2008. They live in the industrial complex where I have my practice room and loft, and they are like family to me. I love them madly and feel, in a sense, like I’m running for them. These are exactly the kind of critters that Kitten Rescue helps, and I have a real soft spot for ferals.
So that’s the overview. Since this entry is getting long as hell, I’ll close it down for now. But my intention is to do a marathon-specific entry at least once a week so I can document my progress and report specifically on what I’m doing in my training and diet. These recap entries should come in every weekend, since that will represent the close of another week of training.
And don’t worry… I’ll be posting a link very soon on where you guys can contribute to the cause along the way, should you feel so inclined…