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How Coach Kristina Centenari Ran Her Fastest Marathon Months After Surgery 

“There’s no reason on paper that I should have done what I did,” she says of her comeback.

Tonal coach Kristina Centenari

Tonal coach Kristina Centenari is still pinching herself after running the fastest marathon of her life.

“There’s no reason on paper that I should have done what I did,” she said just days after the 2023 TCS New York City Marathon. She crossed the finish line in 3 hours, 24 minutes, and 46 seconds, roughly two minutes faster than her previous best. 

In truth, it is baffling. Just seven months ago, 28-year-old Centenari had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in her right knee. She ran her first full mile just three months earlier and had only been training to run the 26.2-mile race for about seven weeks; a typical marathon training plan is between three to four months. As a former collegiate athlete with a long history of injuries, Centenari had every reason to be filled with doubt. And yet she refused to allow those thoughts to discourage her.

“You have no room to be negative today,” the former tennis player told herself while training and again on race day. “There is literally no space to be negative. It does nothing for you. You don’t have the luxury of sulking.”

Tonal coach Kristina Centenari after the NYC Marathon

Getting To The Start Line

After getting injured, Centenari found herself fighting to find her joy again. “I was really depressed,” she admitted.

Centenari needed to find a way to reconnect with herself. She decided that conquering the marathon would help her do that.

Soon after she came out of surgery, Centenari circled Marathon Sunday on the calendar. The seasoned triathlete had crossed the finish line five times previously. But this time would take even more determination, both physically and mentally. She felt like she was planting her flag at the top of an emotional mountain.

“Oh, this is who you held on for,” she realized, “and she’s going to run this marathon.”

Finding Her Pace

Centenari’s belief in herself grew as she progressed through rehab, gaining more and more trust in her abilities each week. She worked twice a week with a physical therapist, embracing the pain that inherently came with rebuilding the strength around her knee. She focused on slowing down, practicing secure movement mechanics, and maintaining movement quality. On Tonal, she tackled exercises such as the lateral lunge and goblet curtsy lunge to ensure she was challenging her recovering knee in different planes of motion. 

“I was strength training on Tonal throughout the process and it was helping me feel more competent and confident in my capacity,” Centenari explained.

Exercising patience, she said, is a critical element when building your way back from any injury. Celebrating every small win—like when she graduated to a standing lift on Tonal from a modified one in the seated position—sustained her motivation. The coach also explained that another element to patience is being careful about loading up on weight. 

“Don’t let your ego get involved,” she said, adding that people returning to training after an injury should try deload workouts and mix lighter resistance with dynamic stretching. Tonal users can also toggle on the Recovery Weight feature that drops your suggested weights to 50 to 60 percent of your one-rep max for all on-Tonal lifts. 

Centenari stressed the importance of mobility work to reinforce her joints to help them withstand increased loads. 

“Mobility is strength training for your joints,” she said. “It’s like the wood pillars to your house. Without the wood pillars, your house wouldn’t be standing.”

Tonal coach Kristina Centenari recovering from knee injury.

Conquering The Long Run  

Then came race day. Instead of dwelling on months of strenuous rehabilitation, being restricted by a stifling leg brace, and the times when she was terrified to even bend her right knee, Centenari went about the business of putting one foot in front of the other at a 7:49 per mile average pace until she completed the race.

“We’ve all had those moments of a setback, that devastating feeling of wondering if you’ll ever get back to where you were before,” says fellow coach Tonal and marathon vet Ash Wilking. “So often, we focus on the physical recovery, when the mental game is equally as important. Watching KC work through both equally and diligently was beyond inspiring.” 

Centenari wanted to prove to herself that she could finish. But there was another motivation as well. She imagined that if someone could see her not just recover, but conquer her comeback, that she could motivate others to push beyond their own obstacles. 

“The whole reason why I do what I do and why I’m in this industry is because I want to nudge people to realize their potential, and I want to lead by example,” she says. “I want people to step into their own belief.”

The information provided in this article is for educational and informational purposes only. Individuals with pre-existing health conditions, injuries, or concerns should consult with their healthcare provider before trying a new exercise or nutrition regimen.