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Marathon Training Lessons - The Importance of Cross Training, Recovery, and Nutrition

Hey Hey readers! Welcome! I am so glad you are here! In this month's blog post, I want to talk the importance of cross training, nutrition, and recovery and rest for marathon training. If you have been following my social media posts and stories, you are probably well aware that I am currently in training for a full marathon in Green Bay, WI on May 19th, 2024. I have run a lot of half marathons and one other full marathon through my many years of running. The other marathon I ran was in my early 20's in Phoenix, AZ. Since then, many things have changed in my life, but the main difference between my life as a runner in my 20's versus in my 40's has to do with the other types of movement, rest/recovery practices, as well as nutrition that I now include into my typical movement/dietary intake routine.

In my early 20's, life was very different. Truth be told, I really was not all that healthy in my early 20's. While I did engage in pretty regular strength training, I did not yet have a yoga or meditation practice, and I did not have any type of recovery practice. I ate very plain and simple meals without a lot of fresh vegetables and other nutrient-dense foods. I was in my "party-phase" of life, so I was also on a super irregular sleep schedule, staying out until the early morning hours, stumbling home after a night of drinking. I was in college, and then graduate school after that, so much of my 20's consisted of party-hard, work-hard, and train-hard. I never allowed myself time to rest, recover, and heal. I rarely slowed down; rather, I went 100 miles per hour through my days, only to get up and do it again the next day. As for my running? Well, I was faster in my 20's, that's for sure, BUT, I was always sore, hurting, and in pain. I got shin splints on-the-regular. My hip flexors always hurt. And my runs themselves were not all that pleasurable to be honest. I felt tight, stiff, and sometimes downright miserable on long runs. I think the reason I kept coming back to running was because of the feeling of accomplishment after a long run or race, not because I enjoyed the act of it.

But, through the years, I eventually adopted a very regular and consistent yoga practice, which eventually widened into including very targeted and systematic recovery work for my nervous system and soft tissues. I began eating much healthier, including much more fresh fruits and veggies into my diet. I stopped drinking alcohol all together, and I do not miss it one bit. I grew out of my party-phase and began to adopt a more regular routine for sleep, work, and rest. As for my running now? Well, I am a little slower than I used to be, BUT, I do not feel any pain, tightness, or soreness. I haven't had shin splints since my 20's, and my hip flexors are usually only a little sore after a super long run (like 18 or 20 miles), and usually only for a day. My runs themselves are sooooo much more enjoyable. Yes, of course, there are some moments during a long run or on a big hill where it might not feel as enjoyable as other times. But all in all, running simply FEELS GOOD to me now, in the moment. I crave running in a way I never had before. It not only feels amazing after the run, the run itself feels delicious to my body. So, what changed? Why is running so much better for me now?

An Expanded Wellness Routine - Essential "Ingredients" for Marathon Training

There are several different components to my "training diet" that are super important for the quality of my runs as well as my recovery from running, including the following:

Nutrition. I have learned, through experience, that the quality and quantity of what I eat has a huge impact on my performance during running as well as my ability to recover from super long runs (e.g. 16+ miles). This is especially true right around a long run, such as the night before and morning of. Of course, many people advocate that "carbo loading" (i.e. eating a high carbohydrate meal before a long run) is a must, and this is true. But, I have learned that the quality of those carbohydrates matters. Personally, I have found that a home-cooked meal of pasta, with vegetable noodles (i.e. noodles made from various veggie powders) and broccoli added in, works wonders for my long runs the next day. I also usually drink a zero sugar vitamin water with my night-before-the-long-run dinner, which not only helps to hydrate me, but to also provide me with additional micronutrients. For the morning of, I have found that I need to eat about 1.5 hours before the run, with usually toast or a bagel, Acai juice, and sometimes yogurt, eggs, or a piece of cheese. And my nutrition on the days between long runs also matters to my body. I take a multivitamin every day, drink plenty of water (plain, Propel, zero sugar Vitamin water), eat plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, and high-quality protein. This nutrition combination works much better for my body than the alcohol and fast food combo I typically did in my early 20s.

Sleep. Obviously, we all hear about how important it is to get 7-8 hours of good quality sleep per night, and this is definitely true for runners as well, especially the night before a long run. Good quality sleep gives your body the opportunity to heal, repair, and rest your hardworking tissues. This quality sleep allows my body to recover much faster from long run days as well as hard/fast run days. It is particularly important to get good quality sleep, the night before a big run. I have learned this the hard way, where I did not get good sleep the night before, and then did a 20 mile run the next day, only to feel so incredibly fatigued and grumpy during the run. A good night's sleep is definitely something I overlooked in my early 20s, as I typically would get only a few hours of sleep a night, and this was usually after a night of partying with friends.

Yoga, Meditation, and Breathwork. I write and post about my yoga practice frequently, so if you've been following my content, you are well aware that yoga is a huge part of my life. My yoga practice is non-negotiable for a variety of reasons, not just for running, although it makes my running so much easier and more enjoyable. The physical asana practice of yoga (click here to read more) strengthens, stabilizes, and stretches your entire soft tissue system, allowing your body to move more optimally. The meditation piece of yoga helps to focus the mind on some focal point, which is really helpful during running, especially during a hard run. And also, meditation and yoga makes me a much more mindful runner, where I am so keenly aware of how my body is moving, what my cadence is like, and how I might need to alter my cadence based on the terrain and how I feel. Breathwork practice allows for better control, awareness, and depth of breathing, so that everything in my body functions better while running. Also, breathwork helps me to stay calmer and more relaxed during a hard or long run. I typically do yoga, meditation, and breathwork several times per week, but usually everyday. And I definitely do yoga/meditation/breathwork the day or night before a long run, and then again after the long run. I did not have a yoga practice at all in my early 20's, so this piece to my training did not exist until about 10 years ago. I cannot stress enough how much my yoga, meditation, and breathwork practice has changed my running, but also my entire world, for the better.

Mobility. Mobility work can often be addressed in a yoga practice, but you can also do mobility work on its own, apart from yoga. Mobility work is a generic term that refers to improving the range of motion at particular joints, which typically includes improving the flexibility of the muscles surrounding the joint in question (click here to read a previous blog post about this from me). Mobility work is super important for running, especially the day before and after a long run. It allows your muscles and joints to move so much easier through a pain-free range of motion, and helps the right muscles get activated at the right time, in the right sequence. When muscles are too tight, the brain will sometimes activate a less-tight, but incorrect, muscle to complete the movement (known as muscle compensation). Thus, mobility work helps to ensure your body moves more optimally. In my early 20's, I did not engage in any type of mobility work, and my body would feel so sore, tight, and stiff during and after my run, almost so much to where I could barely move my legs to get in/out of a car.

Rolling and Recovery. I post frequently about my rolling and recovery practices, which I am a huge supporter of (click here to read more about rolling). Rolling (aka myofascial rolling, self-myofascial rolling, therapy ball work, etc.) uses some type of external aid or instrument to self-massage various places in your soft tissue in order to improve mobility, flexibility, sensation, awareness, and movement refinement. Recovery practices can include rolling, but they can also be separate from rolling. Gentle and restorative yoga practices can count as recovery work (click here to read more about restorative yoga), and so can meditation, breathwork, getting a massage or pedicure, or even lying down and watching your favorite movie or tv show. There is no right or wrong on what constitutes a recovery practice. The aim is really to have targeted, planned, rest for the body that is not sleep, and ideally is stress-free. This recovery period allows your body and nervous system to rest, heal, and repair while you are still awake. I definitely did not do any recovery or rolling work back in my early 20s, although I wish I had, as I bet my runs could have been even better with that piece added into my wellness routine.

Strength Training. Strength training (aka weight training, weightlifting, resistance training, etc.) is an absolute must for runners. Strength training can occur with dumbbells, kettlebells, resistance bands, medicine balls, or even your own body weight. Runners really benefit from strength training in order to keep their foot/ankle complex, hips, spine, and shoulders strong and stable. Strength training improves the overall force-generating capacity (i.e. strength) of your various muscles, so that the right muscle for the job is recruited, with the right amount of force needed, and in the correct sequence with the other nearby muscles. Stronger muscles means better joint protection, thereby reducing the risk for an injury. Also, strength training can help shave some time off your PRs and/or help you run hills much faster and more powerfully. I did engage in regular strength training in my early 20s, but I did not reap the benefits as deeply as I could have had I also supplemented my training with yoga, meditation, and recovery work.

Other Endurance Exercises. Training for a marathon can feel like a full time job, and it often makes me feel like the only thing I can do is go for a run when I have free time to exercise. But, that really isn't true, and nor is it the best for my training. In reality, cross-training, aka including other forms of movement practices into one's training routine, can provide the best outcomes for running. Personally, I include hiking, stand-up paddleboarding, walking, and playing on the playground with family, all of which make me a much better runner - more aware, mindful, at ease, and with optimal enjoyment during the run. Cross training gives me a break from running which is good for my mind and body, and it also helps train my tissues in different ways so that I become a much more agile and powerful runner overall. In my early 20s, I dabbled in some hiking, but for the most part, all I did was run and lift weights. The inclusion of these other movement practices has really enhanced my overall experience with distance running.


Thanks so much for reading this post from me! I am super stoked about my marathon in Green Bay, WI on May 19th, 2024. I am such a different runner now than when I was younger, and I feel much stronger now than when I was younger. My "movement diet" was so rigid and restricted in my 20s, and my performance and recovery showed the effects of these tight limits. Now, my movement routine includes resting/recovery, yoga, mobility, breathwork, meditation, cross-training, and a goal-directed nutrition plan- and my running shows the difference. I rarely get the "grumpies" on a long run (although it can happen on the rare occasion for various reasons) and instead find that my runs are more enjoyable and leave me wanting more. I don't get shin splints or hip pain anymore. I recover pretty quickly from long runs, with minimal soreness the day after. I look forward to running (most I attribute this shift to the change in the movement routines and nutrition that I now include into my daily plan. I wanted to share this information to share something personal but also to help anyone out there that might be struggling with their own athletic pursuits. If you find that you are struggling with your training plan, I would recommend that you evaluate your entire daily routine, including dietary intake, sleep patterns, recovery time, and so forth. It's possible that you might need to add some other forms of training to help you get the most out of your current training plan. Thanks for reading!! Can't wait to share about my marathon after May 19th! Eeek!!! Less than two months away!! Thanks again!

As always, the information presented in this blog post is derived from my own study of running, human movement, anatomy, and yoga/fitness. If you have questions about running for your body, please follow up with your physician, physical therapist, yoga teacher, or personal trainer. If you are interested in private yoga, and/or personal training sessions with me, Jackie, email me at for more information about my services. Also, please subscribe to my website so you can receive my monthly newsletters (scroll to the bottom of the page where you can submit your email address). This will help keep you "in-the-know" about my latest blog releases and other helpful yoga and wellness information.  Thanks for reading!

~Namaste, Jackie Allen, M.S., M.Ed., CCC-SLP, RYT-200, RCYT, NASM-CPT, NASM-CES, NASM-SFC, NASM-SFS

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