Client Uses Menstrual Cycle, Marathon Training Plan to Improve Time

Several months ago, the daughter of a friend agreed to try out the ideas in Dr. Stacy Sims‘ book Roar, which argues that with nutrition and training, women are not small men, for her marathon training.

One major part of Sims’ work is how women can use their menstrual cycles to guide and boost their training. So I asked Brenda, who was planning on doing the Milwaukee Marathon, if she would be willing to try out these ideas as well as the main ideas of training for Simple Endurance Coaching.

She agreed, and we came up with a training plan that followed her menstrual cycle, had lots of slow running in the beginning, lots of running-specific strength training at the WAC, and adding in increasingly challenging intervals throughout the summer.

Brenda finished the marathon Oct. 6 several minutes faster than her previous time. She says she would have gone much faster, but her asthma was threatening to flare up, so she kept a reasonable pace.

Needless to say, I was proud of her effort; she put the work in all summer and fall. We talked about everything from nutrition, weights, mood during her cycle, and running styles.

I created her training plan, then we’d meet weekly and talk about how it was going. We created a google doc that she used to document how she felt throughout her training.

After the race, I asked her a bunch of questions that she answered and agreed to post here.

Brenda used the principles of Dr. Stacy Sims' book Roar for her marathon training.
Brenda used the principles of Dr. Stacy Sims’ book Roar for her marathon training.

1. Slow Distance + Intervals

We focused the training on doing mostly slow distance work with some short intervals for your marathon training. Do you feel this helped your speed during the race? 

I feel that the slower work benefited me because I started off the race going slower the first 10 miles which made me feel super comfortable & helped me conserve my energy. The intervals definitely benefited me especially towards racing wise the last third of my race as I picked it up a lot to 9 minute pace & 8:30 pace the last 10 miles- and it felt so maintainable, almost pretty easy without the asthma breathing issues, which was different from last year’s race (in 2018 when I picked it up, I felt like I was going so fast and it was more painful).

2. Value of Strength Training

We added a lot of strength training. Do you feel this helped your endurance and strength? 

I think the strength training benefited me most in the sense that during my race I truly did have minimal pain- a lot less than I anticipated. The strength helped those muscles that I hardly ever worked on be able to maintain during my race without burning out and made me overall feel like a stronger racer.

3. Using the Menstrual Cycle

We tried to use your menstrual cycle to guide our workout plan. We tried to give you a rest week during PMS, some harder work during your period, and then mix it up during the different hormonal stages. Do you feel this made a difference in your training? 

Learning about the menstrual cycle was a very high benefit area for me because I never knew about it before, and once I attained the information, my higher and lower energy levels throughout the month started to make so much more sense. I liked that during my low energy cycle I could take it easier and push my limits the post on my high energy periods. It made me feel like I was getting the most out of my body.

4. Having a Plan to Guide Training

How did having a plan change your thinking about marathon training? 

 I enjoyed having a training plan in a sense that it was something I could stick to rather than having to do think of things to do on my own, and it helped me become more knowledgeable about the amount of different workouts I should be doing each week in terms of a mix of distance, speed, and strength (in my 2018 training I rarely did speed or strength- it was more focused on miles).

5. Key Takeaways Include Protein, Strength, and Balance

What would be three main takeaways of things that worked for you? 

Some main takeaways I learned were how much the little muscles and areas you don’t train on typical every day runs are part of a crucial focus in marathon training. Another thing I benefited from was learning about nutrition and how it affects my performance, as I started to incorporate more protein into my diet. I felt stronger especially before a workout. Lastly, a big takeaway I learned from the training is that finding a balance between various workouts will benefit my training the most and help optimize my body when it comes to the important events. It’s not always about the specific distance you go or how fast you go, but more so about the effort you put into the runs and the strength you build.

6. Following the Training Plan

In general, what percentage of the marathon training plan were you able to follow? 100 percent means you followed everything, every day. 

I’d say I followed about 80% of the training. Occasionally, I’d find myself too tired to do a harder workout on a given day so I’d shorten it or make it a little bit easier. And then of course as noted in my comments on certain days I would try to do my intervals but not be able to hit the times or just find a run to be really hard one day (probably mostly due to iron deficiency on various days). I tried to follow the schedule as accurately as I could.

7. Total Body Strength Training was Valuable Tool

What else did we do differently for your marathon training that you feel helped or didn’t help? 

I can’t name anything we did that didn’t help me. Things we did that did help me were the lifting days together so I could learn those different exercises to work those rarely-worked on muscles and you could physically push me and guide me. Additionally the fact that we work different things for each lift on a given week so I didn’t feel like some areas were being overworked and some underworked- it was a good mix of total body.

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