Reader Spotlight: Jenny M – Cross Training & Marathons

On June 7th, 2011, I posted the first article on JohnnyFit. It was the first blog or website that I had ever launched and I wasn’t sure what I was doing, or if anyone would even be interested in reading.

Two months in, someone began commenting on more than one article, clicking “Like” on my posts and sharing them with Facebook, and then actively emailing me for additional follow-up and advice on training. Holy cow! I had my first fan who wasn’t already a friend or relative (sorry mom)!

It’s only fitting that this week, on the 1-year anniversary for this website that I’m proud to bring you a Q & A interview with this first fan of JohnnyFit.

Jenny M. first came to me with advice about strengthening her core and developing her athleticism.

I love your site – just found it today. I’m interested in trying your kettlebell workout as cross-training for running, but I’ve never used one. I’m such a beginner that I can’t guess what some of the movements are supposed to be – like “good mornings.” Do you have other instructions on your site, or could recommend a site that contains diagrams or photos?

If these are standards terms that will be explained in the DVD that comes with the kettlebell, I’m going to feel like a complete idiot.


Well, I hope that she didn’t feel like a complete idiot. I was still frantically trying to add content to the site then, and it was very much a work in progress. I was then, and continue to be today, deeply honored and appreciative of her continued interest in my website.

JohnnyFit (JF): When you started following along, you had a huge goal to accomplish. Somewhere, you came upon the idea to use kettlebells to cross train for a marathon and discovered this website. Now that you’ve recently completed your first marathon, tell me about your decision to run that, and how you approached training for it.

Finish Line - Day BeforeJenny M. (JM): I sure didn’t start out with the idea of running a marathon! As I hit my late 40s I was overweight and totally out of shape, and I decided to do something about it. I’d gotten as far as regular walking and jogging on the treadmill when I saw a magazine with the cover story “Train for a Marathon in 3 Days a Week.” I’ve run off and on since I was 18, and I’d always thought that to train for a marathon you have to run a lot of miles a week. I didn’t really understand how this program could work, but out of curiosity I decided to try it.

In a nutshell, the training program calls for 2 runs focused on duration and intensity, 1 run focused on distance, and 2 optional cross-training days. To my great surprise I was able to complete an 8 mile run in just two weeks. As I started to work through the program, I found that I wasn’t getting much out of the cross-training and I wanted to try something else. This is when I found and kettlebells.

Thanks to your sage advice, I tried kettlebells and I was completely blown away by the workout. Within a few weeks of using them I started to notice that I was running further distances more comfortably. My past experience was that my knees tended to conk out when I would get into the longer (10 + miles) distances. When I did my first 11 mile run without any significant joint issues, I thought maybe I CAN do a full marathon.

The Surf City Marathon (Huntington Beach, CA) was scheduled on my 50th birthday, which I took as a cosmic sign to go for it! What better way to pass this milestone, right?

“I tried kettlebells and I was completely blown away by the workout. Within a few weeks of using them I started to notice that I was running further distances, more comfortably.”

JF: Sometimes the stars just seem to align (no, I’m not really into astrology) and our path becomes more clear than before. When I finished college, I had no inclination that I would ever become a fitness professional.

During your training, did you have any kind of setbacks? What kind of physical and mental challenges did you face?

JM: I got sick at the end of November and I wasn’t able to train for almost a week. Then, about 6 weeks before the race a chronic knee injury flared up and forced me into a brace. Finally, halfway through my first 20 mile run I tripped and fell, hitting my other knee and elbow. I didn’t seriously injure myself, but after that I had two achy knees, as well as a huge and unsightly bruise on my elbow.

Mentally, I had many moments when I seriously questioned whether I could complete the marathon. For example, after a 16 mile run I would ask myself “how am I going to go another 10?” This happened a lot, especially as I got closer to the race date.

JF: I remember you emailing me around that time and asking for some advice. Unfortunately, I lost those emails when I moved this site to a new server, but I remember telling you to take a week off, don’t overdo yourself, and try to recover a bit.

Now, people when they’re training hard for an event, don’t like to take a break from their training. Sometimes a few days off, may a week is exactly what’s needed to come back at it stronger than before.

How supportive have your friends and family been through this process of training and becoming a more fit person?

JM: I’ve had wonderful support from family and friends. It turns out there are a number of young people at work who like to run and exercise, and we commiserate on our training and race experiences. You have been terrific – you’ve listened to my concerns, celebrated my accomplishments, and given me great advice and encouragement along the way.

JF: Quit it, you’re going to make me blush!

JM: It’s true, for example, when I was questioning how I would ever be able to do 26 miles, you told me to trust my training program – it wouldn’t be an 18 week program if I didn’t need all 18 weeks to get ready. This kind of encouragement helps in times of doubt.

Marathon StartFinish Line

My husband is both my “troll” and my biggest supporter. He asks tough questions and makes comments I don’t necessarily want to hear: Can you do this? If your knee hurts, why are you exercising? I want you to get a stress test before you do this. Those kettlebells look dangerous. Why do you need a heavier kettlebell? You are going to drop that weight on your foot. Over exercising is not healthy and I think you are over exercising. When is this going to stop?

JF: Wow, you know he’s probably going to read this…

JM: But he is also incredibly supportive. He brings me water on my long runs, picks me up if I need a ride, checks on me when I’m out on those lonely canyon roads, and comes with me on race weekends. Most importantly, he accepted the time commitment and respected my need to stick to a rigid training program.

JF: Your husband sounds like a really supportive and great guy. I’m glad that he recognized how important this was to you. I’m sure it made a tremendous difference in your ability to focus on the training.

What’s next for Jenny M. as far as your health and fitness is concerned?

JM: My big goal is to improve my overall fitness level this year. I don’t have a plan for that, but I did attend Mike Mahler’s beginner kettlebell workshop at the end of April, and I ran a half marathon in May, with another coming up in June.

OC Half May 6

Also, I recently took up golf, which I do with my husband. Otherwise, these days, I am running and doing kettlebells.

JF: I had an interest in going to the Mahler workshop that he held in Tacoma, but I wasn’t able to fit in into my schedule. I really respect what he’s doing with his fitness business, and think that I have a lot to learn from him. What did you think of that workshop?

JM: Although advertised as a beginner class, people of all ages and fitness levels attended. There were about 20-25 participants (4 women) with the youngest two in high school, and the oldest probably in the mid-late 50s (or well-preserved 60s) range. Mike ran the workshop with help from his friends Scott and Tom, who clearly had tons of experience with kettlebells. With three people walking around, everyone got individual attention for each exercise. There were actually quite a few people in the class who had considerable expertise in fitness and health (including 2 certified kettlebell instructors), and they were willing to help out if they saw someone (me) having difficulty.

Mike’s teaching style was to break down each movement into component parts and have everybody practice each part before moving on. He, along with Scott and Tom, would watch us practice the exercise and provide advice and corrections, and when he felt everyone was ready he’d put everything together. I feel that the hands-on guidance has really improved my techniques.

JF: Wow, I’m a little envious. I wish I could have gone! I would be really interested in just observing his instructional style to see what I could be incorporating into my own personal trainings and bootcamps.

Congratulations on completing the half marathon as well!

I remember a few months ago, you told me about doing my Kettlebell Core Cardio workout with some of your co-workers. Any more luck in spreading the fitness bug?

I’m trying – by example – to encourage and promote health and fitness among my co-workers. The June half-marathon takes place near my workplace, and so far we have 7 people who signed up. The race also has shorter distances, so I’m hoping to encourage many more coworkers to participate.

JF: Definitely let us know how that goes! We love pics!  

What would you tell someone who is thinking about running a marathon?

JM: Go for it, and have fun!

JF: Fun? Seriously? Sometimes I think you runners are a little sadistic…na, I’m just kidding… a little.

JM: I do have some advice for a strictly recreational runner, who just wants to finish:

  1. Make sure you are healthy enough to undertake the training. My husband insisted I have a stress test before I got very far. You may not need something that radical, but by all means listen to your body and make sure that you have a doctor check any persistent pain or other complaint.
  2. Be flexible with your approach to training programs. Something that works for your friend may not work for you. If a training program doesn’t work, try another one. There are many ways to approach marathon training, and your personal goals and fitness level will guide you. In my case, I wanted to finish without injury and I was kind of out of shape. A low-mileage program was perfect for me.
  3. Take a little time to analyze (or have someone else analyze) your running form. Essentially, you want your foot to strike the ground mid sole, and in a neutral position. Over reaching and striking the ground with the inner or outer part of your foot may cause injuries from your ankles to your hips. I sometimes under pronate, and I have to practice not to do it.
  4. Use cross training days to strengthen your core! I found that as I strengthened my back and abdominal muscles, I was able to hold my form on those long runs. A good form – for me – meant no knee pain.
  5. Take as long as you need to get to the finish line, and I don’t just mean on race day! I tried and failed to complete marathon training in my 20s and 30s – it took me all this time to find the right mix of training and fitness to actually get to the race.

JF: That’s great advice, and you know what you’re talking about! After all, you’ve just completed your first marathon at 50! I think that’s a fantastic accomplishment. I really am truly proud and happy for you, that you stuck it out and accomplished this.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with us! I know that there are other people out there who will find inspiration from this to get started in living a healthier life, and have fun while doing it!

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