Last weekend I ran the Detroit Free Press International Half-Marathon. It was a great experience- 65 degrees and sunny, late enough into fall to observe the changing colors, and a once in a lifetime (& legal!) chance to run across the Ambassador Bridge into Canada, followed by an underwater mile through the Detroit/Windsor tunnel back to the USA.
Being that it had been a few years since I last ran a race of significant distance, I started from scratch when it came to training. Over the course of 4 months, I conditioned by body to run 13.1 miles. In addition to a gradually progressive training plan, here are a few other steps I took (no pun intended!) to stay healthy, injury & relatively pain free.
- Fish oil. Despite making a conscious effort to eat salmon at least twice weekly, I maintained fish oil as a staple in my supplement regime while training for 1/2-marathon. Fish oil supplements contain omega-3 fatty acids, specifically EPA and DHA, which have shown benefit for supporting blood vessel health and reducing inflammation. Fish oil works on signaling molecules, called eicosanoids, which are released in response to stress. Since long-distance running is taxing on the body, fish oil can help reduce the amount of stress the body experiences while running and also helps with recovery. Typically a 1 to 3 gram dose of combined EPA + DHA is recommended for general and cardiovascular health, yet according to dietary supplement database, Examine.com, 6 grams daily is suggested for reducing exercise-induced muscle soreness, also known as delayed on-set muscle soreness (DOMS). I personally take 3 grams daily from supplements and eat two servings of salmon per week for my omega-3 fatty acids. There are risks associated with taking too much fish oil, so check with your doctor before supplementing.
- Bone broth. I savored many cups of homemade bone broth prior to early morning training runs over the past couple months. Bone broth is not only soothing to drink, but it also contains multiple health-benefiting compounds. Bone broth is rich in glutamine, an amino acid that becomes essential to consume through food or supplements when the body is under significant physical stress, aka marathon training! Glutamine helps to keep our gastrointestinal and immune systems running well. I believe that my intake of bone broth has helped me stay healthy and avoid having to miss training runs due to illness during the beginning of cold and flu season.
- Creatine Monohydrate. Best known for its benefit in increasing power output and strength, research does not show a direct link between creatine monohydrate supplementation and improved aerobic endurance performance (ie physical activity lasting longer than 3 minutes). This being said, creatine monohydrate has been shown to be beneficial for reducing muscle damage and muscle soreness. While training for the Detroit Free Press 1/2- Marathon, I continued to weight train 2-3 days per week and maintained use of creatine monohydrate to support my strength in the gym. I believe it helped with reducing muscle soreness, thus allowing me to get back to running soon after a leg workout.
- Low-Level Cardio. I used the Garmin Forerunner 220 to track my heart rate during training runs. My goal was to stay under 75% of my max heart rate. Based on my age, this meant keeping my heart rate under 144 beats/minute. The reason behind doing so was to stay within a low-level cardio range and avoid the potential overtraining risks of sustained high-intensity exercise. I trained my body to work just hard enough to deal with increased fuel and oxygen demands, without inducing a full-on, cortisol-driven, stress-response.
- Golden Milk. During 1/2-marathon training, I enjoyed a nightly mug of warm golden milk. And while preparing golden milk from scratch is relatively easily (a bit of tumeric, black pepper, and milk), I chose to use Gaia Herbs’ Golden Milk mixed with coconut or almond milk and honey. The main ingredient in golden milk, which provides the gold color, is tumeric. Tumeric has been used extensively in traditional chinese and ayurvedic medicine and is now making its way into mainstream health practices because of its strong anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties. Such benefits are specifically attributed to a compound within the spice called curcumin. Of note for runners and others engaging in strenuous exercise, is that curcumin supplements have been shown to reduce joint pain and muscle soreness. To get the most benefit from curumin, be sure to combine it with black pepper extact (piperine). Gaia Herbs’ Golden Milk contains black pepper extract as well as vanilla, cardamon, dates and ashwaghanda.