Long distance running and bodybuilding are two sports that are often viewed as being polar opposites. What springs to mind when you think of the typical marathon runner? A lithe female in a flouro cropped top and pair of Asics, venturing out on a four hour run on a Sunday morning perhaps. Meanwhile, when we think of bodybuilders we tend to think of Arnold Schwarzenegger, or at least some greased up, pumped up dude with muscle bursting out of his muscles.
These are extreme stereotypes, I accept, however even amongst the running and bodybuilding populations the two disciplines tend to have something of a disregard for the other. Running is the ultimate, purest form of cardiovascular exercise, something which the average bodybuilder avoids like the plague through fear of losing his or her hard earned ‘gains’. Heavy weight training, in the form of squats, deadlifts, presses and rows, are meanwhile deemed to be something to ‘approach with caution’ by runners. In this case there is a general appreciation that these compound movements may assist the average runner in terms of strength and subsequent speed, but the fear of injury and/or gaining too much muscle, particularly on the upper body, may make the average runner reluctant to step into the weights room.
I am all for specificity. If you are planning to run a marathon, you need to run. If you are planning to step on stage in a bodybuilding competition, you need to lift. However, as a marathon runner turned bikini competitor I believe that it would be advantageous for us to take a leaf or two from the books of our sporty brothers and sisters. By incorporating a lower body and core strength regime into a marathon training plan, perhaps the day before a rest day or ‘easy run’, runners are really improving their chances of hitting that desired PB. Meanwhile, if someone has been bodybuilding for years and only touching cardio for some pre-contest LISS (low intensity steady state), I would argue that it might be worth putting on a pair of trainers every so often and testing the strength of those other important muscles, namely the heart and lungs.
Three years ago I was training for the Brighton Marathon, a beautiful 26.2 mile race in my birth city. Fast forward three years and on the anniversary of this marathon I will be competing in the ‘Ms Bikini’ and ‘Fitness Model’ categories at Miami Pro. My body has changed significantly in this time, as anyone who knows me or follows me on Instagram can attest to. Running left me thin and lifeless, compounded by the fact that I was not fuelling my body sufficiently, but I finished the race in a respectable three hours and forty five minutes. I now have more curves and muscle definition, and my aim for Miami Pro is to enjoy stepping out on stage with confidence and the knowledge of how hard I have worked to get there. Different body, different goals, different mindset.
So, aside from these differences, is anything still the same? Well, yes! The one thing that has struck me in the past sixteen weeks of contest prep is just how similar it feels to marathon training.
The Duration – If you have a solid foundation of running, you can train for a marathon in sixteen weeks. If you have a solid foundation of muscle, you can diet for a show in sixteen weeks. In both cases, having that solid foundation is really important. I always remember someone saying to me “respect the distance” with regards to a marathon, and I ensured that I’d hung several half marathon medals around my neck before even contemplating the full distance. Likewise, in bodybuilding, having a long off season where you train hard, eat hard and rest hard will put you in the best position to be stepping on stage looking your best. But let’s not underestimate what we can achieve in sixteen weeks. Gradually clocking up those miles, gradually chipping away at the body fat to reveal what is lying beneath – both require discipline and consistency, and once results appear it will spur you on all the way to the finish line or stage.
The Hunger – Both metaphorical and physical. You’ve got to really want it, otherwise when it comes to seriously dig deep, on the road or under the squat rack, you will struggle. In terms of physical hunger, this will depend entirely on the individual, their training intensity and metabolism. I am no authority on how to fuel yourself for a marathon – it would be hypocritical of me to pretend to be when I myself restricted calories during marathon training. However, over the past three years I have learnt so much about how my body works and how it responds to carbs, protein, fats, water, sodium, cardio and rest. Despite being just a week away from stepping on stage, I currently feel so in tune with my body, and suggest that this should be the case whatever your discipline. Whether you are training for a marathon or a show, there are times when you are likely to be HUNGRY. Like, seriously hungry. To best satisfy this hunger, I recommend eating nutritious, single ingredient foods and to stay hydrated. Meanwhile, black coffee will take the edge off when you are fifteen weeks into prep and not due to eat for another hour… Yep, the struggle is real!
The Dreams – Or should I say, the nightmares! For runners, it’s arriving at the start line of the marathon only to realise that you’ve forgotten your trainers, or that you trip over a water bottle on Mile 1 and twist your ankle. For bodybuilders, it’s standing on stage in your Sunday best, looking down and realising that your previously shredded abs are now covered in a distinct layer of body fat, whilst being laughed off stage by the judges. This anxiety is normal, and something to embrace. I always believe that if we dream about something it’s because we care, or have some unfinished business, about the subject. On the topic of sleep, I’m a firm believer that you can never get too much, whether you’re in training or not!
The Moods – Running, weight training and dieting – all of these put a great deal of stress on the body, and subsequently your relationships. I sailed through the first twelve weeks of my prep, generally feeling like my usual chirpy self. But the past three weeks have been more of a grind. If you live with someone who is serious about an impending race or fitness competition it is likely that they are doing everything by the letter. Every training session and every meal counts. It is likely that one of the reasons that you love that person is because of their determination and commitment. Accept that “evil bitch/bastard mode” is a temporary phase, and think of the smile on both of your faces when they cross the finish line or step off stage with a trophy. All we can ever do is support the ones we hold dear.
The Taper – The worst part of any marathon training plan! You’ve smashed twelve weeks of training, clocked up some serious mileage, and then four weeks before race day you are expected to run less. What is this madness?! Likewise with contest prep, when calories and carbohydrates are reduced it would be foolish to try and train with the same intensity as you did when you were in a calorie surplus. I must admit that I have really struggled with this, and have to literally force myself to take rest days or to cut my training sessions shorter. I find rest days a lot easier if I take them at the weekend and have something else planned that is completely away from the gym environment. Meanwhile, I have found that the most effective way of shortening my training sessions is by taking my plastic stripper heels (yes, really!) into the gym and practising some posing at the end of my session. Whether running or in prep, the important thing is to trust yourself. Trust in the fact that you have already put in the hard work, and trust in your body to carry you through.
And finally one for the girls, whether marathon training or dieting… You Will Lose Your Boobs!