Marathon Miles: Body Adaptation
By Alexis Mercer
If you would have told me when I was a high school cross country athlete, back in the 90s, that I would be training for a marathon, I would have laughed at you. Probably loudly. Inappropriately loudly.
Add into the marathon factor that I am in my late 30s, am raising a family, working a full time job, have a few additional part time jobs on the side, I probably would have called you a liar. I mean I would have tried to find a nice way to say it, but I at least would have thought it in my head.
This leads me to what I have been busy considering these last few weeks. Life has gotten so busy I can hardly keep up. I am asking my body to do things it has never done before in such capacity with marathon training while also demanding it keeps clicking for the remainder of life’s tasks.
I’m sorry, body.
But I have to say, it’s holding up quite nicely considering. In fact, my body has been so kind as to actually enjoy almost every part of the training. (Today’s run was the exception, but I’ll explain…)
Recently on Twitter, the runners I follow on social media have been mentioning Serena Williams and the phenomenally quick return from childbirth to a competitive state again. Many of these runners are mothers themselves and can relate to that process of returning to competition.
This has made me think about what my body has accomplished over the years.
In high school I played volleyball, ran cross country and track. At Hope College I was lucky enough to enjoy four years continuing my volleyball career. That is a lot of training, jumping, diving, and sweating.
I endured shoulder surgery to repair a bone that wasn’t naturally fused together so that when I would swing for a hit, the muscle would no longer get pinched between the bones. And my knees still crack every time I squat down. My ankles have rolled so many times that it would be a legitimate question as to whether the ligaments have any spring left in them at all.
Overall, considering what I asked it to do, my body adapted and held up well.
Then after college, I returned to distance running. Nothing longer than a half marathon. 5ks, 10ks (my favorite distance), some half marathons and a few 25ks in Grand Rapids. I would never get enough sleep, didn’t fuel my body all that appropriately (sometimes downright inappropriately) and yet my body performed well enough to enjoy the races and maintain health.
Then came children. Twice my body went through transformation that was simply amazing. It GREW humans. I wasn’t one of those people who look like they aren’t pregnant except for the cute belly. My body decided it needed to gain 60 pounds. Each time.
With my first born, my body endured his hanging out on my sciatic nerve for 4 months. Agony. And then the birth wasn’t anything like one hopes. After 60 hours of labor, I was rushed into an emergency c-section. Once again my body came through and recovered from what was like a natural birth AND a c-section wrapped into one.
With my second born, I was not messing around and chose the c-section. As in for a second time, my stomach was sliced from side to side, cutting me open, pulling a child out, and then getting patched back together.
Now it is 6 years later. After years of little-to-no sleep and the weight of raising human beings to be responsible, kind, smart, productive adults.
When I look at it like that from over the years, it’s impossible not to think about just how adaptive and phenomenal our bodies are. If there were to be a dialogue, I’m sure this is how it would go.
Me to body: “I know you’ve never done this before, especially while being so busy with other things, but I’m going to make you run 19 miles today in the humidity. Ok? Thanks.”
Body: Let’s give this a go.
Granted, it hasn’t been all roses and butterflies. Today was the worst training day I have had yet. It was an extraordinarily difficult week with keeping my schedule straight along with my kids’ and husband’s schedule. We lost our dog, which was an emotional, heart-wrenching experience that still stings. Then on Thursday night I woke up with a sinus infection. Friday I spent the day with my cross country team at MSU and was in complete agony.
I gave myself yesterday off from running, thinking the meds would kick in. And I asked my body to head out this morning just after dawn for a 19 mile run. Seemed reasonable at the time.
The first 12 miles were great. I figured the antibiotics were kicking in and my body was taking the stressful week in stride. Then I asked it to go up a long, somewhat steep hill in mile 13 and it.was.done. Done. Done. Done.
But rather than stopping and calling it a wash, I asked it to keep going. Just another mile. And then another mile more. Finally at 17.5, I called it.
Despite my horrible choice today to keep going, my body stuck with me. Granted, I did have to stop to throw up the apple steel cut oatmeal I had eaten for breakfast on my way home (sorry...gross but true). Perhaps my body was just sending me a nice reminder that it wouldn’t like to do that again under such conditions.
I am not Serena Williams or Kara Goucher or any of the countless women who make a living as professional athletes, but also want to be moms, and ask their bodies to return to levels of fitness I couldn’t even dream about. But I have asked my body to do some incredible things. And it’s always been up for the challenge.
Marathon training has brought me an appreciation for my body like I haven’t had before. Hopefully my body hears me thanking it so I can try again next weekend for 20 miles and it will be in full agreement to get it handled.