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26 weeks to marathon season--is this your year?

Whether you're a novice or an experienced runner, the marathon represents a challenge on a grand scale. Why would anyone want to run it? On some level, each runner's answer to the question is a variation on one theme--to delve into your soul, your psyche, and your body and find your best self, your personal best.

Half a million runners in the U.S. compete in marathons every year and each confronts his core-self, tests his mettle, and feels the exhilaration of accomplishing something truly extraordinary. And, it is not out of reach of anyone.

If you are a regular runner with a weekly base of as little as 20 miles (even 15 according to some authorities), you can pick one of the many fall marathons, register now, and start training. You don't need to be a great athlete, young, or fast, or your perfect weight. But you do need the discipline to follow a logical progression of increasing mileage and the forbearance to do this patiently so that you don't get injured on the way.

Picking a Marathon for Your First Experience

It is not an overstatement to say there is a marathon for every runner's whim. At one Web site ( there were 51 marathons listed in North America in the month of October alone. Don't wait too long to pick an event and register. With the rising popularity of the marathon, many events must close their doors to registrants far in advance of race day. Super-popular races like the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington D.C. run out of numbers the same day registration opens.

Choose an event that's close to home, but large enough to attract lots of other novices and spectators. You will be surprised to find that the crowd of spectators along the course is a major player in your success, helping you to press on despite the difficulty. You will also want plenty of other novice runners at whatever pace you run. Try to find as flat a course as possible and save your killer-hills for training. Meeting one at mile 20 may be more than is reasonable to ask of your body or your will.

How to Train

Training for a marathon is deceptively simple. You must gradually increase your mileage over a long enough period of time to allow both your cardiovascular system and your musculoskeletal system to make the necessary adaptations to complete the marathon distance. You may be surprised to know that you won't need to train at the full 26.2-mile distance. The consensus among most experts is that your longest run before your final taper should be only 20 miles (or even less, see Jack Daniels, "Shorter Run", page 5). You can save the full distance for marathon day.

Beyond the simplicity, though, there are several important principles to incorporate into your training.

* Eat well. Your training can be undermined simply by not furnishing your body with enough fuel--calories, protein, the right fats, and abundant fruits and vegetables. You will be placing extraordinary demands on your body, so to avoid unnecessary stress, keep it running on a high-octane diet.

* Keep well hydrated. You will need to increase your fluid intake as your training demands increase. Drink before, during, and after long training runs. When your workouts exceed an hour, use a sport drink or combine water with salty snacks like pretzels.

* Schedule rest and recovery into every week It is impossible to overstate the importance of adequate rest. While it is training that will increase your strength and endurance, those gains are made during your recovery between workouts. Schedule at least one or two days off each week and alternate hard and easy workouts. This is the single most important thing you can do to avoid an overuse injury.

* Make all increases in training load (either mileage or speed) gradually Although research has not confirmed it, a 10% increase in either intensity or volume (not both) per week is a good rule of thumb that is widely accepted, especially for novice runners.

* Keep a diary. Keeping a diary can help you spot problems, provide motivation, and prevent overtraining.

* Learn to heed your body's warning system. Excessive fatigue, depression, sleep disturbances, and lowered libido can signal overtraining that can cause setbacks and contribute to injury. Ignore pain at your peril. It is the only warning you may have of an injury. Respect it and cut back your training. If you have pain that doesn't respond to rest, see a sports medicine professional right away. As your mileage increases, training errors will worsen any underlying problems. Running through pain is a mistake that can prevent you from accomplishing your goal and ultimately set the stage for chronic injury that can turn you into an ex-runner.

Training Schedules

Most marathon training schedules follow a general structure that includes one long run, followed by a rest day, plus three or four shorter training runs through the week, with another rest or cross-training day included during the week. Planning as far in advance as 20 to 26 weeks gives you plenty of time to make increases in weekly mileage as gradual as 10% a week. There are several tried and true training schedules for you to follow. Try the Chicago Marathon Program by Hal Higdon (, The Galloway Program by American Running Board Member Jeff Galloway (, or the New York Road Runners Club Program by American Running Association Editorial Board Members Bob and Shelly Glover (, click on "training schedules").

The following references (available to American Running members at a discount at 800776-2732 or can help you on your way to your first marathon:

* Marathon!, by Jeff Galloway, 2000, Phidippides Publication, Atlanta, GA, 234 pp., $14.95

* The Competitive Runner's Handbook, by Bob Glover and Shelly-lynn Florence Glover, 1999, 672 pp., $17.95

* Daniels' Running Formula, by Jack Daniels, Ph.D., 1998, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 287 pp. $16.95

* Advanced Marathoning, by Pete Pfitzinger and Scott Douglas, 2001, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 237 pp., $18.95

* Marathon Runner's Handbook, by Bruce Fordyce with Marielle Renssen, 2002, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 160 pp. $19.95)

RELATED ARTICLE: Web Runner for Marathon Hopefuls

Of course, the American Running Web site can't be beat for running information overall, but if you'd like to zero in on marathons, try the Marathon Guide. At you will find a complete listing of marathons, training programs, training logs, chats, race results, and other helpful links.


Jack Daniels, Ph.D.

The long run is an essential training tool for marathoners. Your body must learn to spare glycogen (its stored fuel), metabolize fat as fuel, and develop the strength and endurance necessary to complete the 26.2 miles in one piece. The long run also allows you to develop the psychological fortitude needed to hang in there on race day. But every marathoner is a unique combination of a multitude of variables that influence training. The long run can take a different form for each runner. Your goal is to optimize training benefits without suffering injury, since added miles increase risk.

What do elite runners do?

Elite marathoners typically take regular long training runs of 20 to 23 miles; some even cover 30 miles on occasion. A 22-mile training run demands 2 1/2 hours for an elite female and less for an elite male. Consider that a runner takes about 90 steps with each leg per minute of running or 13,000 steps with each leg during a typical long run. Impact and training time contribute to overuse injury, along with a greater chance of dehydration and heat or cold stress. A recreational runner (for example a 4:45 marathoner) must accommodate twice the amount of impact or 26,000 steps with each leg and twice the training time and stress as the elite marathoner.

Don't worry that you won't be able to complete a 4:30 marathon if you have never run beyond two and a half hours in training. In fact, it is not necessary to train at such a high percentage of your race distance no matter what the course. If you run a steady two miles every day for two months, you would be able to complete a 10K. You wouldn't need to take regular 80-mile runs for a 100-miler, nor do you need to run 20 miles to prepare for a marathon. Running too long will set the stage for over-training injuries before race day even arrives. It may be better, over the long haul, to run the same training time for your long run as the elite runner, rather than the same mileage.

Consider the Walk/Run Approach

If your goal is to complete a marathon and to feel reasonably good doing it, consider a walk/run approach and use it from the start of your long training runs and the race itself, not after you're starting to suffer. You may complete a marathon in less time alternately running and walking the whole way than you can by trying to run non-stop. If you try a walk/run method, practice different walk/run ratios during your long training sessions to find the best one for you.

The Psychological Factor

Understand that on the all-important day of the marathon, things will be quite different from typical training days. After planning for months, you will be rested and trained. You will be highly motivated and among hordes of spectators and other runners who will be cheering you on. The first hour of the run will fly by and before you know it you will be half way, not even realizing that you have just surpassed the distance of most of your long training runs. Don't focus on how far you've gone or have yet to go. Just concentrate on the task at hand and all will go well. Run relaxed and confident, take your fluids regularly, and focus on your stride rate and breathing now and then. Go over the things that you have learned and remember why you are out there. The thrill of the day and the groundwork you've done will carry you through your ultimate long run. American Running Association Editorial Board Member, Jack Daniels, Ph.D., is an exercise physiologist, professor and head cross country and track coach at Sta te University of New York at Cortland, and author of Daniels' Running Formula, 1998, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, $16.95, 287 pp. (Available at a discount to members--1-800-776-2732).
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Title Annotation:health
Author:Newman, Carol
Publication:Running & FitNews
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:May 1, 2002
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