I got an email from a frustrated runner.

Her name is Laura and here is her issue:

Vanessa,

I just logged onto this website for the first time. I’m desperate for help.

I’ve been training for a half marathon for 7-8 weeks now. It’s a 20k or 12.4 miles – Dam to Dam in Des Moines IA on June 5.

I’m getting discouraged because I don’t always have “easy” runs. You’d think, this far into it, that I’d be able to feel great running 5-6 miles. But that isn’t happening.

Last Saturday I did 10 miles. I only ran probably 6 of it (stopping a couple) and walked the other 4.  Monday I did 5.2 miles (of which I ran 4), Wednesday I did 6.2 (of which I ran 5) and then today—I sucked! I ran 2 miles and was so tired and thought I was going to puke, so I continued to walk 3. This is just not acceptable to me at this point.

The race is June 5th.  And although I’m OK with the fact that I probably won’t run all 12.4 miles, I would still like to run the majority of it.

Today, my mind got to me. I live in the country and run a lot of hills. Storms kept me up most the night and the roads were muddy. It was cloudy and cool, so perhaps I could have pushed myself more. I was wondering if you’ve ever heard of this before – having it still be THIS difficult this far into it? I might also add that my knees hurt and that I’m 42 years old and still about 10 lbs overweight.

My only running “plan” is that I run 3 times per week and that I allow myself two days of shorter runs (5-6 miles) with one day of a long run (10 miles) – keeping in mind that I’m ok with stopping to catch my breath, then running again (and keeping in mind that my hope was to build).

The majority of my runs consist of hills. I’m not sure what the grades are but they must be pretty steep because even this far into it, my thighs burn.

I have done the breast cancer 5k’s almost every year for the last 5 years. I really used to love running. When I’m in shape or feeling good, it sort of feels like flying to me. And I’m typically so proud of myself afterwards. But lately I’m just exhausted, and it’s starting to feel more like work than fun.

Nutritionally, I eat fairly healthy 5 out of 7 days.  I’ll have a glass of skim milk in the morning with my Centrum Performance vitamin. Around 8 am I have a Kellogg’s fiber bar. Around noon I have a Zone Perfect bar.

Around 2-3:00 I’ll have a banana or some celery. Then on days I run, that’s all I eat until supper. On the days I don’t, I just eat supper sooner. That meal—because I have a family—is usually the largest and will consist of a protein/meat, steamed veggies and a starch.

I worked with a gal who was on the Biggest Loser and she was in medical school. She said that in her experience you should fool your body. Eat less calories 2 days, moderate for 3 and then bump up for 2—within reason. And that’s pretty much what I do. My husband and co-workers think I haven’t lost more weight (that last 10 lbs) because I’m not getting enough calories?

My knees hurt, so about a week ago I started taking Osteo Bi-Flex and ibuprofen. My knees hurt so bad on the hills that I put ice on them when I got home. Maybe I need cortisone shots? Or, maybe I’m just a 42-year-old overweight woman who is falling apart!

Again, I’m not looking to win this race. I just want to finish and do well. But I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong, and why I’m not getting that feeling to go further.

In the past, at least with those little 5k’s, it just feels so good that I naturally want to increase distance because I still had energy to burn. With this, I feel that way occasionally but not each time. Maybe I wasn’t cut out for this. That being said, I won’t quit. I’ve already signed up and I am past the point of no return!

Can you help me?

– Laura

THE ANSWER

To respond to Laura, I requested the help of a local personal trainer and running coach that I’m currently using to develop my marathon running plan. His name is Michael Andrew.

What I like about Michael is the fact that his plans don’t just include running, but he also incorporates elements of strength training, core work, interval/speed training, fat burning, and even barefoot running, according to the goals of his clients.

Here is his advice to Laura:

Hi Laura,

A few things come to mind when reading your email and I think you can achieve your goals with some small but significant changes.

1. The first thing you need to change is your mentality. It’s a well-known fact that positive results are achieved a lot more often with a positive attitude. You’re feeling disappointed that you “only” ran 6 miles of your recent 10 mile run. The fact is, the VAST majority of the world’s population can’t run 6 miles. Learn to be proud of yourself every time you choose to run rather than sit in front of the TV.

2. I’m not a nutritionist, but I think it’s quite clear that part of the reason you lack energy during your runs is your eating habits. You’re simply not eating enough and your body could well be in “starvation mode,” retaining fat due to a lack of incoming nutrients.

You need to start eating more balanced meals throughout the day. Your body needs the fuel to be able to exercise at the level you are demanding. Protein, fruits and vegetables, whole grains and a little healthy fat should be part of every meal, not just dinner.

I’m sure you’ll be surprised by the fact that if you change your eating habits, you’ll be able to eat more food than you presently do and still lose the weight you’re hoping to lose. You’ll also find you’re more energetic during your workouts.

3. You need a running plan/schedule. Not just to know which days to run what distance, but part of the plan should include walking intervals. From the sound of it, you’re probably pushing yourself until you can’t run anymore then “giving in” and walking. As a result, you probably also end up walking longer than you need to.

Instead, you need to plan walking intervals into your workouts that are just long enough for your body to recover. That way, you can push yourself during the running intervals knowing that you’ll have the opportunity to walk after a given time (generally 9 minutes running and 1 minute walking works well, but find what’s right for you).

You’ll find that you feel rejuvenated after the walking interval and you’ll be able to run further without burning out. You can do this for your training as well as the actual race.

As for the hills, I love them for adding intensity to your workout, but right now your focus needs to be increasing your distance and the hills will sap your energy too quickly. So for the next month, as you’re getting ready for the race, I’d skip the hills altogether.

Finally, I’d strongly suggest having a doctor or physiotherapist look at your knees. Certain issues are ok to work through; others need rest and treatment. You need to have an expert tell you which is the case for you.

Thanks, and good luck!
– Michael Andrew

If you have a question for Michael, you can contact him at mkonlinetraining@gmail.com.

And check back tomorrow for news about my birthmonth!