It seems that every marathon training season I find myself playing catch-up and this season is no different. First, I despise running in cold, wintery conditions. If it is below 40 degrees, I dread running. I can’t stand being cold and I get cold easily. Second, I dislike missing out on the kids’ stuff, so I end up missing long runs and hard training runs because I am attending one of their functions. And third, I suck at long-distance running by myself, so if I can’t make the group runs, I don’t end up running at all. So, this means that until the weather warms up, I play catch-up with my miles. Oh, and let’s not forget that in the winter, I almost always fall prey to some kind of sickness. Like this winter, I started the year off with a horrible cold, then developed bronchitis, and then developed a nasty sinus infection. All of this–missed runs and bouts of sickness–leave me struggling with one thing: heavy legs.
If you have never experienced this, be thankful, but essentially, it feels like I am trying to run with blocks of cement tied to my legs. My mind is ready. My body feels good, but those legs, especially my quads, are just so dang “thick-feeling.” And running with heavy legs makes the entire workout so very hard!
Tuesday we had a very hilly training run at or faster than race pace. Since I am just getting back into the swing of things, the 10:30 pace group is a stretch for me (my goal is to get back into the 10 minute pace group), but I managed to stick with that group for the entire run. And I felt great for the entire 6 miles.
But then Thursday came. More hills. And this time I STRUGGLED. By the time we ended those 6 miles, I was running at an 11:00 minute or slower pace with extremely heavy legs. Not good.
I thought that maybe it was a fluke or that I wasn’t all the way recovered from Tuesday, but yesterday we had a 15 mile long run and every.single.step was like lugging heavy logs. My quads were so tight and felt like they were “burning” the whole time. And my heavy legs were not the only problem; I was wiped out the rest of the day. I had negative energy–if that is even possible.
I really want to be a strong runner again, and I not-so-secretly want to get faster, so I did some research today to figure out why my legs are struggling and what I can do to fix these heavy legs.
Why am I struggling with heavy legs?
I found out that heavy legs can stem from a variety of factors like not taking in enough fuel on a daily basis, not regularly drinking enough water, the weather, doing too much too soon, and a variety of other reasons (You can head on over to Healthy Tipping Point to read the full article if you like). I have definitely not been eating enough nor drinking enough water. At my last endocrinologist appointment, my doctor suggested that I eat under 1200 calories to try to lose the 10 pounds I have gained from dealing with my thyroid…while marathon training. I initially scoffed at his suggestion, but I think subliminally, I tried that out because I know I did not meet my nutritional goals this week. And I certainly did not drink enough water. By the end of the work day, I would realize that I had not used the restroom one time during the day…that is certainly problematic!
So, what to do about these heavy legs?
Besides knowing I need to drink more water, I researched what foods I should have in my diet to combat having heavy legs. Here is what I found (keeping it Paleo friendly):
- Eat a small handful of almonds 3-5 times a week. Almonds are an excellent source of Vitamin C and helps with magnesium replacement which is imperative for long-distance runners. A lack of magnesium is one culprit of cramping during a run.
- Eat eggs. Runners require 50-75% more protein than non runners to help rebuild muscles and promote recovery after tough workouts. 1 egg alone provides 10% of daily protein needs and contains all of the crucial amino acids our muscles need for recovery. Eggs also provide 30% Daily Value of Vitamin K which is essential for healthy bones. If we buy the Omega-3 enhanced eggs, we also get a nice dose of healthy fats too.
- Eat more chicken. Another good protein source for runners. A 4-ounce serving can supply half a runner’s daily protein needs. Chicken also contains niacin which helps regulates fat burning during a run.
- Eat some salmon. Yet another great protein source for runners is salmon–preferably wild-caught. A 4-ounce serving of salmon contains 30 grams of protein and is an excellent source of Omega-3’s which help fight inflammation.
- Eat lean, grass-fed beef. Beef is an excellent source of iron. Without enough iron our diets, we can experience fatigue. Plus, beef is another protein source.
- Eat the taters. Sweet potatoes are an excellent source for Vitamin A, Vitamin C, potassium, iron, manganese, & copper. Manganese and copper especially have an impact on performance in that they help the muscles function properly. We should also be eating a variety of potatoes including the purple skin variety. They contain anthocyanins which are antioxidants found in berries.
- Eat oranges. They decrease muscle soreness and contain 100% the Daily Value of Vitamin C.
- Eat mixed salad greens. These salad greens contain phytonutrients that act as antioxidants warding off muscle damage brought on by tough workouts.
- Eat frozen stir-fry veggies and frozen mixed berries. Sources of antioxidants such as beta-carotene and Vitamin C and anthocyanins which can lessen muscle soreness after hard workouts by reducing inflammation caused by free-radical damage. The berries especially can aid in post-run recovery and muscle repair.
- Eat dark chocolate. Dark chocolate contains potent antioxidants called flavonols that boost heart health and ease inflammation (which is what muscle soreness is!).
My plan to combat these heavy legs
This week I intend to incorporate all of the above foods…and I mean ALL of them. I am also going to keep a food journal and report back next weekend with my meal plan and my results. We have training runs Tuesday and Thursday and another long run on Saturday, so we shall see what difference these changes make with my heavy legs!