Special workout proves successful for marathon runner

  • Ross Forman used the Insanity workout to prepare for Miami's half marathon in January.

    Ross Forman used the Insanity workout to prepare for Miami's half marathon in January.

By Ross Forman
Updated 6/6/2011 6:50 AM

While eating pasta the night before the Tel Aviv Marathon in April, I started to wonder if I was ready for the 26.2 miles that I was about to run for the 11th time during the past 3 years.

It wasn't the distance that worried me. Nor the course route. Or the sunny conditions in the 70s that were predicted. Not even the bus station attack a few weeks earlier in Jerusalem.


Instead, it was my training, or rather lack of it.

In January, for instance, I ran once -- a 13.1-mile half marathon. In February, I ran once for nine miles. In March, I ran once for five miles.

Was I insane to attempt a marathon with such limited running preparation?

Yes … you can call it, Insanity.

My journey to Tel Aviv actually started on New Year's Day, when I watched a DVD on my laptop computer. I had rearranged my kitchen to give me an 8-by-8-foot area that, according to my new year's resolution, would be my gym, treadmill and workout room for the next 60 days. After all, I don't like running outside in the cold and the health club treadmill gets old quickly.

So, it was Day One of the 60-day Insanity workout program.

For some strange reason, I thought the Insanity would be perfect for me. I've seen the infomercials for Insanity and the 90-day P90X workout on TV countless times. And for years I never thought much about either, nor believed they delivered results.

But I gave Insanity a go, mostly because of the convenience of being able to do it anywhere without any weightlifting equipment. Heck, you don't even need a jump rope. You just need a machine to play the DVD.

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Insanity and P90X training programs are promoted by California-based Beachbody, a billion-dollar health and fitness company that invests millions of dollars annually into marketing its TV infomercials.

I figured I could stay committed to Insanity for 60 days, a mere two months. But I never thought it would have the impact on my marathon running that it did.

Insanity is a cardio-based workout program with plenty of plyometrics, push-ups and fast-action movements. For the first month, the six-day-a-week program runs about 40 minutes per day, then ramps up to 55 minutes the second month.

I grinded out Insanity for the first 29 days of January and was feeling good. I saw some weight loss, perhaps 5 pounds, and noticed more muscle definition in my chest. On Jan. 30, I ran the 13.1-mile half marathon in Miami. I beat my previous best half marathon time by 10 minutes. I was thrilled, and convinced that the daily Insanity sessions were working.


I had similar success at shorter races in February and March. I went into each with rather quick pre-race time goals, and each time I crushed those goals.

That brings me to the Tel Aviv Marathon. I was excited and felt confident that I could set a personal record, but my lack of running training was still a concern.

Ultimately, I finished the 26.2-mile race 31 minutes faster than my previous personal record in a marathon. I crossed the finish line and was shocked, to say the least. I never thought I could run a marathon as fast as I did, especially with an at-home workout program as my training plan.

The day after the race, I felt better than I had after any previous marathon. I felt I could run that next day and had no pain anywhere.

Katie Schmid of Chicago, a veteran marathon runner herself who is the head endurance running coach with the Team To End AIDS, was surprised by the results.

Schmid, who has trained more than 1,500 Chicagoans for endurance events, said she would not normally endorse such a limited running program in preparation for a marathon.

"Although I don't recommend running only three times prior to a (marathon), I do recommend listening to your body and conditioning your body through more means than just running," Schmid said.

"At T2, we don't advocate only doing three runs prior to your race, but we do advocate for training you to be an efficient and effective in getting toward your goal, whether it be to run a marathon, half marathon, completing a triathlon, or completing an endurance bike ride. Our training program at T2 is indicative of the philosophy that less can be more. We are proponents of a training program that is manageable from a time-commitment level. It shouldn't be overwhelming, just like I'm sure running only three times before a race wasn't too overwhelming for Ross."

Michael Grimes, 33, a certified personal trainer in Lincoln Park, is familiar with the Insanity workout and has done the P90X workout himself.

Grimes said he does not recommend Insanity as the only training method for a marathon runner, especially a new runner. "But Insanity is a great supplement to further any fitness goal," he said.

Max interval programs, according to the trainer, help improve oxygen consumption, muscle strength and endurance and could benefit marathon runners.

"(Forman) started the (Tel Aviv) Marathon with a much more efficient body as a whole, which of course yielded a much better personal record," Grimes said.

"The principles behind P90X (and) Insanity are much like typical marathon training. The more you overload your body at shorter intervals, the better you will perform over longer intervals with less resistance. A combination of interval training and progressive overload, as well as ample rest and nutrition are at the heart of most successful marathon runner's program."

I intend to run the marathons in Montreal in September and Honolulu in December. My plan for both races is push play on the Insanity DVDs starting about 10 weeks before each race, stay dedicated and keep digging deeper.

• Ross Forman has written about high school sports for the Daily Herald for several years.