Who’s the Chick with the Legs?

Posted on July 20, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

That’s the question a group of women asked after our last Girls on the Run 5K.   That chick is certainly not me.  It’s my sister.

Marika has the hardest—but the best—responsibility at our 5K events.  She’s the course monitor.  It is her task to run the course in circles, ensuring that each girl sticks with her running buddy.  When Marika encounters a girl running on her own, she asks where her running buddy is.  If the girl points behind her and says, somewhere back there in the dust, Marika pairs her up with the nearest buddy team keeping the girl’s pace.   If the girl is alone because she’s too tired and discouraged and ready to quit, my sister encourages her along, refusing to let her stop.  For the last half of the race Marika runs the quarter mile before the finish line, back and forth and back again, like a pinball ricocheting between two levers, guiding every girl and her running buddy to the finish line.  I have seen her take a number of girls by the arm or around the waist and virtually carry them just short of the line, where they cross on their own.

I have seen her do this—and more—because I have the second best responsibility at the race. I get to stand on the other side of the finish line and help the coaches put medals around the girls’ necks as they finish the race.  Think you can’t run or that there’s not much rewarding about doing a 5K?  Check out your local Girls on the Run council’s next 5K. I can almost guarantee you’ll walk away completely uplifted and probably in tears.

But I digress. We were talking about my sister’s legs.  My sister is assigned the hardest job—running in a very short time more than double the 5K—because she has the strongest legs.  I wish you could see for yourself, but Marika is modest and refused me permission to post her picture.  What you would see is quads like braided bread.  Something like this:

Well, maybe not quite like this, but you get the picture.  Marika didn’t get those quads from running.  She has been running for almost 3 years.  I have been running for 10.  For years, I tried to get her take up running, but for years she refused.  Each time I brought it up, she pulled out her arsenal of studies demonstrating the damage running does to the body, particularly cartilage and joints.

Marika chose, rather, to strength train, and has been doing so consistently for 5 years, intermittently for maybe 3 years before that.  For years, she tried to get me to take up strength training, but for years I refused.  I wanted to focus on running—what did I need muscles for? My leg muscles would be just fine, thank you very much, from the workout I gave them on each day’s run.

Or so I thought.

When Marika finally took up running in 2009, she did so for much the same reason I did.  She was trying to work out a problem and needed fresh air to help her think, so she went out walking.  Some issues are too big to be confined by four walls and a ceiling, and they need a large expanse of sky and open space to be properly taken out and turned over, mulled through and examined.

It was during one of her walks at dusk in the late fall that she was caught in the rain about two miles from home. It wasn’t a nice Texas mizzling kind of rain, part drizzle, part mist.  It was a cold, pelting, stinging rain that she wanted to escape.  The quickest way to get home was to run.  Somewhere in that two miles, something clicked.

Two weeks after Marika ran, I was set to participate in a half marathon, for which I had been training.  She thought she’d give it a try too.  She had been running for only two weeks, mind you, before she entered this half marathon.

She beat my time by 5 minutes.  I couldn’t decide if I was awed or ticked.

(What’s the difference between friendly non-competitiveness, healthy competitiveness, and the urge to pummel someone to the ground?  I don’t know either, but I’m working on it.  When I figure it out, I’ll write about it.)

Granted, Marika has a strong cardiovascular system.  There is no way she would have been able to complete a half marathon without one.  But I am convinced that her strength drove her along.  She has been running ever since—and running fast.

But that’s not all.  I finally convinced her to enter a sprint tri with me.  We trained together for 8 weeks to compete in the Gator Bait race just last month.  She whined the whole time we trained.  Although she had a bike, she hadn’t actually been on it in a couple of years and couldn’t remember how to shift gears. The first two times out, she wiped out and scraped her knees and, we think, broke a bone in her hand.  Swimming was even worse.  Although we had grown up on water, Marika had never swam laps in a pool.  Half way through a lap, she was sputtering for air.

Don’t worry, I told her, I’ll teach you everything I know about biking and swimming. It might not be much, but it will get you through the race.  Do it for fun.  This is only about fun, not really competing, and not winning, but only to see if you can.

I knew I was in trouble on our fifth or sixth bike ride when she powered past me up a hill.  I could see her quads pumping like a freight train, while I was wheezing my way up.  She barely broke a sweat.

And then she did it again.  Come tri day, she beat me.  By 7 minutes.

(How do I feel about this?  See the above parenthetical.)

I tell you about my sister and her legs and her accomplishments to make a point.  Probably several points, but here’s the one I’m sticking with:  Strength training is imperative to performance.  It doesn’t matter how much cardio you do, how many miles you run or swim or bike, your muscles must be in prime shape in order to serve you to the best of your ability.

Strength training is important for so many other reasons—including preventing bone loss, especially in women, as you age.  But I won’t go into all that now.  I simply wanted to tell you about my sister.

And what she’s done to my training.  Since the sprint tri, my focus has not been on cardio or mileage, but on strength training. I’m in the gym at least three days a week now, and it’s paying off.  Last weekend I went for a long bike ride and found that the monster hill at the end of my route is getting easier.  Maybe one day soon I’ll be able to power up it myself, and pass my sister.

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4 Responses to “Who’s the Chick with the Legs?”

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Wow your sister sounds amazing. Wish I had legs like hers lol…will have to keep up with the strength training. Great post!!!

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Thanks! Wish I had her strength too. Soon….

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Love this post. I am more like your sister. Strength training has been a daily part of my life since I was a teenager and my then boyfriend (now husband) first introduced it. I can’t talk about the benefits of strength training enough! If I could, I would spend hours and hours at the gym every day.

I love all your Girls on the Run posts too!

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It’s great that you started strength training early. I wish I had listened to my sister earlier on (but don’t tell her that). It seems so many women think strength training is for guys only, or they are under the misconception that if they do strength train, they will end up with legs that look like braided bread. They won’t. You get to choose, in large part (minus some genetics, of course), what your muscles will look like. The most important thing is doing it for the health benefits. And the race scores. 😉

I’m glad you like the Girls on the Run posts!

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