When I started training for my first marathon last October, long distance running was fairly new to me but I was excited by the challenge. Wanting to do things properly, I planned my training and new exactly when, how far and how fast I’d be running all the way up to race day (7 months ahead)! Training got underway and I stuck to everything I had planned. My training regime mixed up tempo and endurance running, EVO-CT, cyclone and netball so I had all the necessary areas covered. I was training 6 days a week and I loved it. Over the first few weeks I could feel myself getting stronger and fitter and my performance improving as my average pace improved each week. I was on a roll, it was all going to plan and I couldn’t get enough.
Unfortunately and inevitably this didn’t last longer than 6 weeks. Things soon started to plateau as the miles clocked up and the intensity increased. The enjoyment started to fade, I was tired all the time, both mentally and physically, and training wasn’t giving me the same buzz it always had.
As the weeks went on, I noticed how my body was changing; I’d lost over half a stone in weight, my muscle definition was disappearing and when I looked in the mirror I no longer saw the athletic physique I’d been so happy with before. My body fat was next to nothing, which alone was having other impacts on my health. It was taking me longer to recover after each training session, and having noticed the changes in my physique I started to dread running as I didn’t want to lose anymore weight. I was unhappy at training and I was unhappy at home. I’m very good at putting on a brave face, so I’d bottle it up until I got home when I could open up to my boyfriend – who may I add deserves a medal for putting up with all my tears.
(You can read Neil’s blog about the positive effects of Natalie’s nutrition coaching with Dom on their relationship here.)
I tried to counteract the weight loss by eating more, but I just couldn’t get my head around the fact that eating more was ok. I’ve never dieted and always had a really healthy love of food. I love to cook and I love fruit & vegetables, so I was packing more ‘healthy snacks’ in my lunchbox each day in an attempt to stop myself feeling so hungry all the time, but it didn’t really cut the mustard.
One Tuesday lunchtime after struggling through a DS class “Cyclone” Dom approached me to ask how my training was going, and I’m not sure what made me let down my defences but I was completely honest and admitted that I was really struggling.
We chatted and when I mentioned how I’d been feeling and that the physical changes were really getting me down, she confessed that she’d noticed those changes too and that her concerns had sparked our conversation in the first place. Having someone else, someone who I saw as role model when it came to training, confront you about something you’d been trying so hard to cover-up really brought home to me that I needed to do something about it if I was going to cross that finish line in May.
Dom offered to help me with some nutrition coaching and I know it’s sounds clichéd but accepting her help was about to change my life forever. It was the best decision I could ever have made.
Prior to my initial consultation Dom asked me to keep an honest food diary for a week, an eye opening exercise in itself and was nervous about revealing my secret love of late night pick’n’mix! I consider myself to be quite a closed book and so was really nervous about opening up to Dom and the thought of talking about my eating habits, something I find quite a personal thing, made me really anxious.
The first session was at my house, and Dom did everything she could to make me feel at ease. Over a cup of Camomile tea we did some quizzes, raided the kitchen cupboards and before I knew it I was starting to feel really comfortable talking about food. We identified a significant lack of protein in my diet and an absence of any pre/post-work out food plan. I often went from DS training to netball with no food in between and it was common for several hours to pass after I’d been training before I’d even think about eating.
It was clear I needed to eat more, but more of the right things – music to a lot of peoples ears, but for me it came with apprehension and concern. Eating more than my boyfriend was a difficult concept to get my head around, but Dom re-assured me and explained the reasoning behind everything she suggested. Dom made me feel so at ease, I could be honest without feeling like I was being judged and by the end of the first session I felt so positive. I’d learnt a lot about myself and I felt like a massive weight had been lifted off my shoulders by opening up to someone who genuinely cared and wanted to help.
Dom didn’t try to fix everything all at once. The best thing about Dom’s approach to the nutritional coaching was that she was extremely conscious about making me learn. I was never given the answers on a plate and I had to work for it. It would’ve been easy for Dom to hand me a generic nutritional plan after the initial consultation and send me on my way but each session came with homework and a new goal for the week. This didn’t come without it’s hiccups…I made some very questionable post-workout shakes which when you need a spoon to eat them is never a good sign. From the off-set Dom made it very clear that in order for me to get the most out of this I needed to understand ‘why’, and at no point did she ever ‘tell me’ what to do. Each session was tailored to fit around my training and my lifestyle and the best thing was that I was still fully in control.
I was very apprehensive about filling the gaps in my diet with supplements, which would’ve been a very easy option. But Dom didn’t touch the option of supplementation until we’d tried everything else. I love natural foods and Dom had plenty of suggestions as to how I could tick all the boxes with home cooking, suggesting new foods to try to give my body the nutrients it needed. However, being on the go all the time and travelling between training sessions made having a good pre/post-workout nutritional plan extremely difficult. It soon became apparent that there was some element of convenience that I could benefit from by incorporating protein shakes into my training plan – a decision I haven’t regretted since.
Initially I had to make a conscious effort to make sure I was doing as I should. But almost immediately my performance went through the roof. I was powering the road and hitting significantly new PB’s for my half marathon distances. I had so much more energy, even after 13 miles, I felt stronger, my weight had improved and I was back giving each and every training session my absolute all. I was happy again, something Neil was very grateful of, and I had absolutely fallen in love with running (having promise d Dom only a few weeks prior this would be the first and last marathon I did) and a sub 3 ½ hour marathon time looking achievable. I was amazed at what a change in nutrition alone had had on my performance, and all these new and exciting foods and habits soon became part of my daily routine.
Dom stuck by me and continued with the nutritional (and emotional) support as the training continued. We soon established a pre/post-work out routine that worked for me and with day-to-day nutrition under control we focused on the race itself. Dom taught me about the best foods to prevent cramp, hitting the wall and ensure I stayed fuelled and hydrated for the full 26.2 miles. The stuff that girl knows is beyond incredible! When you’re running 13+ mile runs every week you start to forget what an achievement that is, but Dom helped me appreciate what I was putting my body through week-in week-out. I realised that I couldn’t expect it to keep on performing without being fuelled properly and I appreciated the importance of rest (a struggle for many).
I cannot begin to thank Dom enough for the difference she made to my life, my health and my training right from that initial consultation. I have a lot to thank her for. Nutrition ended up being one of the most important features of the latter parts of my marathon training and I don’t even want to begin to imagine where I would be both mentally and physically had she not recognised that I needed to do something about it. Dom really rescued me from withering away, from injury and from psychologically not being able to stick it out
My only regret is not asking for help sooner. I’ve learnt things I won’t ever forget and I’m now SO passionate about making sure others don’t end up in the position I was in. Although the marathon didn’t quite go as planned (for reasons beyond control), the work Dom had done with me gave me the mental and physical strength to be able to cross that finish line. Also next time I know I will be doing things right from the start!
I won’t ever think twice about having poached eggs on toast for breakfast in the week and can’t imagine ever starting an endurance run without my cottage cheese and grapes on toast or finishing without a protein shake and peanut butter bagel waiting for me at the finish line. If I could offer one piece of advice to any fellow runners (aside from training smart and investing in a foam roller!) it would be to treat your nutrition as important as your training; good food + good training = top performance.