Training For the NYC Marathon Means More than Just Running — Here's How I'm Getting Stronger

Stephanie Emma Pfeffer has two young kids and is training for the TCS New York City Marathon. Follow her journey on the road to NYC.

The first thing I did after agreeing to join Michelob ULTRA’s TeamULTRA in running the TCS New York City Marathon — OK, second … because the first was panic — was reach out to one of Boston’s top personal trainers, Parker Cote. He’s not my running coach (more on my training plan next time!) but I’d previously interviewed him about working out in the winter and avoiding weight gain on vacation, and I’ve always appreciated his down-to-earth approach to fitness. Besides training clients one-on-one in his studio, he’s a fitness cover model — he’s been on 39 covers — so he knows how to push himself (and others) to get results in a healthy way. I wanted his tips.

I headed to his studio on Newbury Street to talk about strength training, which is important for runners. (It was a lot easier to carve out the hour to train with him than the three hours needed for a long run!) Before signing up for the marathon I devoted more time to lifting, but now that I have to spend so many hours running, I need to increase my efficiency in the gym. Parker came up with a light circuit that I can complete in about 40 minutes to maximize my efforts without compromising my runs or being too hard on my legs.

Strength training helps runners by making muscles and joints stronger, which can prevent injury. I’ve had knee pain in the past (nothing this time around… so far!) so we reviewed leg exercises like squats, dead lifts and walking lunges to strengthen the muscles around my knees and hips. He also gave me a few other essential moves — battle rope slams, pull-ups, push-up to renegade rows for upper body, and of course core work like Swiss ball pass and back extensions. (See bottom of post for circuit details.) While I was familiar with all of this already, it was nice to have someone check my form and chat about goals. Also, I can’t lie: I was totally appreciative of the break from running!

After our session we covered essentials like hydration, which Parker says cushions joints and improves performance. For electrolyte recovery on hot or extreme training days, he recommends Pedialyte over sugary sports drinks. “If I’m feeling pretty tired or doing two-a-days, it gets electrolytes back in my system quickly,” he says. “The grape flavor over ice is actually pretty good!”

He also made me promise to eat healthy carbs for my activity level (hard, because I’m usually feeding two picky kids), foam roll for 10 minutes a day (hard, because if I ever have an extra 10 minutes, you know it’s not going to be spent foam rolling!! OK but I am trying…), and rest one day a week (easy, but I still feel guilty). “You need one full day to do nothing,” he says. “Stay out of the gym. Recovery is not slacking — it’s essential.”

And he says, as I ease into higher volume training, I should listen my body. “Be gentle with yourself — it’s OK not to do it if your body tells you no.”

That said, I had a great 13-miler two weeks ago. But there were no bells and whistles like when I complete my usual half-marathons! No finish-line party. No C-list musical act. No beer. No excuse to celebrate. Except… that it was done. And while I do usually feel proud and relieved at the end of a long run, these days it’s short-lived before being replaced by slight dread/anxiety knowing I have to do it all over again next week.

Today I looked at my race calendar and thought, I am so glad I have 10 more weeks to train … but also … I have to train for 10 more weeks? There is an exhausting emotional component to this that I was not expecting. It is literally always on my mind: When will I fit in my workouts this week? What will I have for dinner the night before my long run? Who can watch the kids? What should I wear? What will the weather be? Why is this fun again?

Just kidding about that last one.

Parker Cote’s Quick Circuit

  • Battle Rope Slams (3-4 sets of 30 seconds)
  • Push-up to Renegade Row (3 sets of 10-12 total reps, 5 per side)
  • Walking Bodyweight Lunge (3 sets of 15 reps per side)
  • Dumbbell Goblet Squat (3 sets of 20 reps)
    -superset with-
  • Stiff Leg DB Deadlift (3 sets of 12-15 reps)
  • Pull-ups, either bodyweight or assisted with machine or band (30 total reps, no matter how many sets it takes)
  • Swiss Ball Pass (3 sets of 10-12 reps)
    -superset with-
  • Back Extension (3 sets of 20 reps)

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