May 21 2018
How running after losing my leg has helped me find my identity and purpose.
Before Claire Nicodemus ran her first marathon, she didn’t run an easy 3-mile one day, add in hills and alternating sprints the next week and then gradually increase her miles. In fact, she didn’t even run one mile.
Why—and more importantly, how—did she complete a 26.2-mile run in 5 hours without running a single training mile beforehand?
“I wanted to see if I could do it,” says Claire, age 31, from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. “I was told it would be hard. I told myself I could choose differently—so I told myself it would be easy.”
Since running that first marathon in 2013, she’s finished five other marathons, including a Disney “Dopey” Challenge (four races, four days, 48.6 miles).
How did she do it?
Instead of running a typical marathon-training schedule, she performs a 7-day-a-week variety of HIIT moves, such as kettlebell swings, kickboxing and burpees. She teaches Kosama, a cardio-busting workout that uses the principles of muscle confusion to vary her workout and avoid a plateau. On off days, she keeps active by walking her dog.
But how does this training help her complete a marathon? Mayo Sports Cardiology Clinic co-director and 20-time marathon runner, Dr. Todd Miller, evaluated how this unique training method may work for her marathon running.
“Some of the activities she performs do provide the same stimulus of training in a pattern useful for running. Any type of cardiovascular training is good for your heart muscles,” says Miller.
However, Miller says that it depends on the reason for running—whether a person runs for participation or for competition. He gives this comparison.
“If I’m a professional carpenter and can finish building a room in one day, then I’ve perfected that skill,” he says. “But if I pound out only a few nails in a day—I’m not an expert, but I can still complete the task. It’s similar to running.”
Miller says there is no real shortcut to fitness; to get faster or improve endurance, you need to optimize the performance of the muscles you’re using. Some athletes possess a ‘native’ talent, in which genetics determine specific abilities. He points out there is a certain psychological thought that transfers from one sport to the next.
“A person going to the gym puts out a strong effort and learns how to push through fatigue and stay motivated,” says Miller. “Often an endeavor in one sport can lead the same characteristics in another sport.”
A meditation run provides clear life direction.
Claire uses the run as a mental cleansing, soul-nourishing journey into her current life struggles. By using visualization and positive self-talk, the run itself becomes a type of meditation—she draws on it to focus on the joys in her life.
“On one run, I was meditating about my job and whether I should stay or leave. By the end of the marathon, I figured out what I needed to do,” says Claire.
A second run provided insight into a troubled relationship. Shortly after the run, she found the courage to end the relationship.
The first marathon she ran was for a “Girls On The Run” charity and she didn’t want to disappoint donors who backed her cause. “It was a great incentive to finish it,” says Claire. However, at the event, she hit a wall, slowed and questioned if she could make it.
Then, she saw a young girl with the race logo shirt on, yelling, “I’m a girl on a run! Thanks for running for us!” She thought of the girls, struggling to learn confidence. Her struggle just to run another few miles couldn’t compare with what other people deal with on a daily basis.
Claire began sobbing and instantly knew why it was important for her to finish that run—to give hope to others and insert gratitude in her life. She wiped away the tears, readjusted her mindset and finished the race.
Some good advice she received early on from a friend was to use visualization to see herself crossing the finish line. “It’s 26.2 miles any way you look at it,” says Claire. “You can look at it like a burden, or you can view it as something you can do.”
Her next challenge this summer is to complete three marathons in one month. Will the goal be too difficult to attain? In Claire’s mind—no.
“I believe the mind is the most powerful training method,” says Claire. “If we keep our mind trained with powerful affirmations, we can get through anything.”