A Distance Runner's Journey Into Strength Training

A Distance Runner's Journey Into Strength Training

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24 January 2024

New to Strength Training? So was Newton Athlete Gretchen Schoenstein last year. She was run over 100 Half Marathons, but stepping foot in a weight room was unchartered territory for her. Here is her firsthand account of being an expert runner and a rookie weight lifter.

This isn’t a how-to on weight training or how to use heavier weights. There are experts out there for that. This is personal story about falling in love with heavier weight training as a runner of more than 100 half marathons, who didn’t think there was necessarily any other way than what they’d always done.


As a runner, I have always been a little bit shy in my weight training. Always seemed to be that people who weight train seriously weren’t runners and runners don’t typically do a lot of weight training, more endurance.

 But now. Now I am a runner who weight trains.

 And it’s a game changer. Allow me to explain:


Runners tend to be really good at working backwards from events. Ok, I have a distance (your choice) race on (fill in the blank) date and how do I get from here to there. And we plan out our training, our tapering and our recovery based on the months, weeks and days leading up to that race. We plan and we grind and we talk a lot about will power, mind, perseverance.

 It’s not just about mind over matter anymore when it comes to running. It’s not just about will power. It’s actually about power. Power in my legs and power in my body to be able to propel me forward in ways it never fully could before.

 Plus I trust my body more, and my body trusts me more. I am far more aware of my body parts and how to use them – when to turn on glutes vs quads, when to shift my hips vs pick up my left knee so as to decrease shuffling. I ‘knew’ those things, but now I feel those things.

 Who knew I’d begin to crave heavier weights and love terms like Romanian deadlift or Bulgarian split squat. But that I do has seeped into areas of my non running life too because the mindset shift of curiosity, doing the hard things and getting curious about what else I am capable of has seeped into every aspect of my life.


I have always considered myself a bit of a cross trainer. Incorporated hiking, occasional yoga, walks, light weights and plyometrics into my running of miles. And I would dial way down on my taper weeks. Like way down. Thinking that I had to preserve and rest my muscles and prevent fatigue, these precious legs needing time to rest before a half, sure as heck not overdoing anything. That’s what all the information told me to do.

 And to be clear, that served me quite well often. And also didn’t serve me. I became almost too cautious. To where sometimes there was nothing left in the well to dig from when I needed it most.

 Now, there’s always something in the well. And I actively seek out ways to push myself on any given week, including some recovery weeks and some tapering weeks, in service to the outcome of building strength for better run training and more powerful, less being-in-survival mode half marathons.

 Even my yoga practice is different. Just the other day my yoga teacher, and friend (so yeah, she’s positive biased) noted “wow, your practice is looking so strong these days!” and it’s true. It’s how it feels – I can hold poses much longer than I could before, go deeper into them and also simply feel stronger and not on the verge of collapse at times.

 It’s also increased my body awareness on a whole other level. I can feel how to move a hip just so much to shift which muscle is getting the weight, or how to go deeper into a move that opens something up to allow for more strength.


Of course it’s changed the races. As noted, there’s a deeper well of resources from which to utilize to run all 13.1 miles. I’m no longer simply hanging on, gritting through. There’s a strength in not just my legs, but my whole body and my mind. A “oh hey, I got this” even on the tough runs. So when I step up to the start line, still in awe, still with some butterflies, still with gratitude – there’s also a different kind of determination. Let’s see what all this training has done and what the pay off is for this race.

 P.S. Bounding up hills with the power of the weight training…that’s a rush.

 How to Get Started (or get back to it)

Now to be clear, I’ve only be doing this much more (for me) hardcore weight training for seven months. So far. But loving how it feels even within the first few sessions, it unlocked a desire for more. What else is possible.

 Which means I believe there’s so much more to come. As someone who was coming off a year of injury, overuse and recovery, and frankly thinking I was kind of already doing some weight training, along with my cross training being decent – running finally with no pain was basically enough. And to be clear, it was. That type of training got me through 115 half marathons. But now what? So stumbling upon heavier weight training on the advice and connection of my ART and PT people…I jumped in initially nervously and then with all I’ve got. To be fair, initially the introduction was in order to fix some not-so-great running mechanics I’d adopted over the years that were part of the grin-and-bear-it routine no longer serving me. Where it lead was unexpectedly brilliant.

Using a Trainer

That’s what I’d recommend as a way to get started. Working with a trainer, who has certification, experience, training to assess where you’re at and also what you could be capable of is key. And you can together create a plan you can continue to carry out on your own. Which I have and keep in touch with him so I can continue to evolve what I do and how I do it. To continue to build on the foundation of what’s been started to see what more there is in me. And doing it in person, together – that’s a high I can’t describe. Being able to trust they see you can pull, push, lift the heavier weight(s) and saying, ok, let’s do this. And then doing it and doing it well. Endorphins like a finish line. And then maybe you might also push yourself if they ask for 10 and you do 12 or 15 reps and they look at you like, oh, ok, I see who you are and where you want to go. Smiles abound. Also known as, someone watching out for your form to make sure you’re not messing with your body and causing injury.

 There’s an excitement of what else is possible, what’s another way to do this running thing, and therefore, what else am I capable of?


It’s opened up a whole new world of curiosity and determination to explore, which is pretty damn cool to discover after nearly 120 half marathons. It can do the same for you too whether you’re starting out or further along than me or somewhere in between.

 One of my favorite benefits is on the days I ‘can’t’ run, feel too mentally tired, my legs carry me, or on the days my general body says nah, do we have to, and within a mile my legs have told my body, we got this, therefore you got this and I get into it. It’s something I’ve recently noticed especially in winter running and as a cumulative effect of consistent training. It’s like the weight training stores the energy for me in my muscles to be there when I need it.

 Taper week is different now too. It’s less precious, less fragile. In fact, less than 36 hours before a 10 mile race just three months into weight training, I took a risk and did 90% of my then-current plan in the hotel gym. Honestly, I was nervous about what it might ‘do’ to me. For it to be my first negative split in I-can’t-remember-when…I’m hooked.

 Ultimately, I know and am fully aware that this will continue to evolve. I’m having a blast in the discovery phase right now. And know it could bite me back at times, already has. But I keep learning and that’s the joy of it. Using the new strength to get healthy and better form and mechanics and in the near future, tweaking so as to get my speed back too.

 I will always be in awe that I can run at all, be full of gratitude at every start that I get to do this – that’s what keeps me going. And now I have a new spark, plus muscles I haven’t seen before.

 Here’s my invitation to you: as a runner, get curious about heavier weight training. Find a local trainer who can walk you through and get you started, or reinvigorate the discarded practice you now want to try again. Use it to unlock deeper interest, motivation and success in your running world. You won’t know until you try it and the invigoration and enthusiasm you get from a consistent practice is a different kind of runners high and joy.

 Take a leap, bond with those weights and trust your training. It’s a whole new way of running.