That first marathon

When you watch a marathon in person or on television, do you have an emotional response and think that you’d like to run one someday? Have you ever seen pictures of people older than yourself running in a marathon, and thought that if they can do it, so can you-then started dreaming about it? The marathon will do that to you and it deserves all the mystique and tradition that surrounds it. It’s a special chance to set a long-term challenging goal, break it down into smaller goals, and proceed all on your own to achieve what I think is a fantastic human accomplishment. The strength and self-knowledge it takes to transport yourself to a finish line 26 miles, 385 yards away can be yours, if you prepare well. It’s a labor-but you can’t beat the pride that comes with crossing that finishing line. You will never forget your marathon for as long as you live.


If you’ve been running for at least a year, done some shorter races, and have been running 20 or more miles a week for the last three months, you may be ready to begin training for the marathon. If you need to build up to 20 miles a week, remember to do so gradually-don’t add more than 10 percent of your current mileage per week. You need to pick a race to work toward. The training program here allows for six months of preparation (or less if you’re a_ more advanced runner), so you may think about entering a spring marathon. There are almost 100 marathons in the United States to choose from and many of them are held in the spring. Try to pick one fairly close to home. This will fit into your routine best and the weather conditions may be closest to those in which you trained. Since there are small local marathons and large festive ones, give some thought to what appeals to you.

Try to run your first marathon on a gentle route. It seems that the United States is the only country that puts its marathon courses down, up, over, and through mountains and heartbreak hills. You may want to read up on and ask around about the marathons that you are considering-running shoe store personnel will have information or will be able to tell you who does. I prefer a marathon with some rolling hills to one that is completely flat. I find the changes in energy and form on small hills to be less fatiguing than the constant repetitive motions of level ground running. But, unless you enjoy training on steep hills, avoid marathons with big downhills. This type of running is the most draining on the legs. Pick a marathon that has been in existence for a few years, and be sure that the course is certified for accurate distance by the governing body for athletics, the Athletics Congress. It is an extremely frustrating experience to run a marathon and then learn that the race was actually short. Send in an entry request for one or more marathons, then complete your entry form and send it in early.


A successful training program follows the principle of adaptation to progressive stress. Research and experience show that all progress is made by stressing the body, allowing it recovery time, then stressing it again. Many helpful changes take place when the body is in a recovery period. For beginning runners, recovery means taking a day off. For those training for a marathon, recov- ery also takes place on easy running days. You will improve by respecting this cycle.

Marathon training must balance endurance and speed stress with recovery. The priority for first-time marathoners is to concentrate on endurance, because you need to increase your overall mileage and also the distance of your weekly long run. So the stress part of your program will be building for the long runs. As you can see on the training schedule (see chart), the stress levels are changed day to day and week to week. Those who run 25 miles a week can join the schedule at week five. Those who run 40 miles a week should adjust their program until they are doing a long run of 12 miles a week for three weeks and then move into marathon training for a minimum of three months. How fast should you go on your everyday runs? Most people try to train at a pace that’s too fast. Don’t. Pushing it will promote injury and fatigue and will work against your completing your first marathon. Instead, put yourself at a cruise pace-don’t push, yet don’t go so slow that you feel like you’re not doing any- thing.

The mileages on the training schedule are guidelines. The emphasis should be on gradually building the length of the longest run and the total mileage per week. You need to build to 40 miles per week and be able to hold that for eight to 10 weeks and then taper down the last two to three weeks leading to race day. Remember, your over all increase in mileage should not average more than 10 percent a week, and I feel it is beneficial if your mileage increases for several weeks and then levels off or even decreases for a week. This allows for recovery time to adapt to the new stresses.

If you have a running background of several years and have more time to prepare for your marathon, you may be able to bring your mileage up to 50 to 55 miles for eight to 12 weeks. This mileage gives you a different marathon experience. Your pace may be the same, but you seem to retain more flexibility in mind and body during the race. At 50 to 55 miles, many weeks can contain a 10- miler in addition to the long run. The training effect from handling more long runs seems to make the difference.


Now check the training schedule against your work and social schedules for the next six months. Check the days in each week to schedule in your runs. You can write your schedule on a calendar or in a small book with blank pages. This will become your running log or diary. Plan time now for your five or six runs a week. Include time for stretching. Do you have a training partner? Coordinate schedules. Do you want to use a weekend morning for the long run, or would you be better off doing it during the week?

As you complete your runs, you can record them into the log. You can write in insights and feelings as you go. Document energy levels experienced on your long runs; write down when you start breaking in new shoes. Record menstrual cycles and anything else that may affect your training.

The primary goal of first-time marathon- ers is simple: to reach the finish line. But you may already have a range of finishing times that you have accepted as achievable and desirable. Write this down also. You are embarking on a long-term goal. Any perks that keep you motivated are healthy. The diary is one of them and helps you build confidence when you look at it and see how far you have already come.


In The New Competitive Runner’s Handbook, author Bob Glover states that the long run of the week is “the single most important ingredient to marathon success.” It is also the biggest challenge.

Before the marathon race itself, taper down your training for two to three weeks so you’ll be rested. After the marathon, you have a recovery period without limits. But your long runs happen right in the middle of your training-with only a day or two of recovery. Respect the distance, as it will make you a marathon runner. You don’t need to run longer than 20 miles in training. Running too many miles at one time not only increases the chances of injury, but produces a state of fatigue that lingers and interferes with training.

The long runs, done at a relaxed and even pace-for most people, a little slower than the everyday training pace make you energy efficient. They teach your body to utilize fat as well as glycogen as fuel to produce muscular energy. As exercise continues into hours, glycogen levels drop and a physiological fatigue will set in. This is known as “hitting the wall.” But, by doing these regular long runs, our bodies become efficient at utilizing more fat energy and less glycogen energy. This helps keep sufficient energy reserves for the later stages of the run. Usually you’ll find your stride will shorten on longer runs. This is energy efficient and will help you relax. Even if you take more steps per mile, each step is taking less energy. Monitor yourself as you tire. Try to keep up a regular rhythm. Arms should not work harder. Your shoulders may begin to tighten and that may give you a headache. Try dropping your jaw, arms, and shoulders at the same time. This will relax the shoulder and neck muscles.


Speedwork is any running done faster than your everyday training pace. It helps improve your running form and leg strength. Through this work, you’ll learn how to pace yourself while in the discomfort of oxygen debt, how to recover from it, and then how to go back into it. From speed training, you gain the ability and confidence to push yourself a little harder in workouts and in races.

If you haven’t done much speedwork in the past, you may need to wait until you’ve gotten used to the stress of higher mileage. if you try speedwork and it tires you so badly that your mileage suffers-hold it off longer. Even without speedwork, if you follow the training schedule, with its built-in stress/rest cycle, you may find your pace picking up.

After you’ve adapted to the higher mileage, though-as tolerated-you can give speedwork a try. increase the pace of some of your runs. You can run over hillier courses or pick up the pace near the end of a run, even on your longer runs.

Speedwork for first-time marathon training does not need to be run faster than 10K pace-and even work at this pace should be limited to once a week and should not total more than seven to 10 percent of your total weekly mileage.

Some sample speed workouts you can do on a racing track are eight to 12 440s (a 440-or 440 yards-is once around the track), with slow jogs-lasting 220 to 440 yards-in between each fast run for recovery; and four one-mile runs (a mile is four times around the track) with 440- to 660-yard recoveries. The warmup, the cool downs, the fast runs, and the recovery jogs are added together to make the day’s mileage total.

Races are part of the larger training picture and can be goals in themselves. They can be fun and can help you mark your progress. Even if you’ve not done speedwork, you are likely to see improvement at a race because of your added mileage.

Shorter races can be handled as a speedwork day; longer races-10 miles to 25K-can double as long runs, but limit them to one a month. In the long races, you’ll learn the importance of starting slow enough, you can practice drinking on the run, and you get great feedback on your pace because the elapsed time is usually called out or displayed at each mile-marker.


You are unique and your training program should reflect your individuality. Your age, weight, athletic background, biomechanical, physiological, and psychological processes are special to you and coordinate best when your training plan is designed to meet your needs. The following tips may help.

Compare sensibly. When you admire the performance of another runner, don’t think that if you follow her training program you can run like her. Consider her age, build, lifestyle, and running experience. Then learn how she trained when she was at your level and adapt that information into your training program.

Don’t over look running with others. This can add variety and fun to your training. It’s good to agree on pace and distance in advance. However, sometimes you still end up running harder or longer than you planned. If so, run easier than planned the next day or so. Doing speed work with others is a powerful way to train and is very different from doing it alone. Be sure that you don’t get caught up into racing each repetition.

Be consistent, but flexible. Having a long-term schedule really helps here. If you miss a few days or a week because of illness, injury, vacation, or unexpected events, there is time to get back on schedule. But, gradually ease back into it-it may take several weeks to catch up.

Flexibility pays off, but use caution. You can miss sleep occasionally and get away with it, for instance, but if cutting sleep to get in planned mileage becomes a habit and the result is a lower energy level, you may need to re-examine your goals.

Beware of overtraining. This problem-and it’s a concrete physical and mental problem-comes from too much mileage, too much intensity, or just too much too soon. The results: chronic fatigue, working harder to stay on your usual training pace, a loss of interest, restless sleep, possible cold symptoms, possible injury.

What to do? Cut back mileage by at least a third and cut down the intensity. Sleep late, enjoy a dinner out or a movie-it’s truly the only solution. When you’re feeling more yourself, resume training gradually-and train easier!

Stretch. And do it on your rest days as well as your running days. After a long or hard run, stretch, then gently stretch again about an hour later.

Watch your running shoes. You may be thrilled by how comfortable your shoes are midway through your training program. But will they still be in good condition 12 weeks later? Unless the shoes were brand-new when you started the program, the midway point may be a good time to buy and break in a new pair. Do buy good shoes.

Respect the weather. in winter weather, stay off icy surfaces-running on them increases your chances of injury by slipping or by altering your running style. Also, head into the wind on those cold days so you’ll have it at your back on the way home. This is especially important on your long runs, because in the latter stages you produce less heat and can get chilled too easily. Always bring a hat and gloves on the long runs. Tuck them away if you find you don’t need them. Hot weather slows the pace and dehydrates the body. Drink lots of liquids during the day and during your runs. Try to run early in the morning or in the evening when it’s usually cooler and you’re out of the sun’s most intense rays. Training classes for the Honolulu Marathon teach you that you must drink enough so that your urine is clear of noticeable color at least once a day. Don’t change your habits the days before the race. Don’t eat strange foods or stuff yourself. You can carbohydrate load just by changing the proportions of your diet; eat less protein and more complex carbohydrate [for more specific information on carbo-loading, see the June Women’s Sports & Fitness, Page 16]. Stay off your feet as much as possible. Standing is the worst thing you can do. Don’t go shopping or to exhibits. Don’t get a pedicure. Eat a simple early dinner the night before.


Eat a light breakfast at least three hours before the race. Don’t wear anything new to run in; not the racet-shirt or a new bra. You need proven comfort more than appearance. Pin your number on your race shirt before you leave home. Drink liquids and put Vaseline on your friction areas. Warm up just a little and stretch gently before the race. If you have heavy menstrual bleeding, use a diaphragm and a tampon.

During the race itself, you want to run as effortlessly .as possible for the first 10K (6.2 miles) at least. It should feel as if you’re holding back some-if you’re pushing the pace to reach a projected mile time, you’re going too fast too early. Slowdown. Burn your fat, not your glycogen. If it’s an unusually warm or cold day, readjust your time to a slower pace.

in terms of psychological and energy reserves, the first half of the race is 16 miles and the last half 10. Remember form and rhythm. Keep your stride economical. Don’t push hard up or down the hills. Just run.

If you have to run an uneven stride because of any pain that develops and persists, seriously think about dropping out; otherwise you risk greater injury.

Slow down or walk if you have cramps or a stitch or just have to. Every step counts. Drink liquids often. If you’ve learned to drink a diluted carbohydrate drink or eat orange slices in practice races or on training runs, this will help you, especially in the last half. Try to drink some every 20 minutes. I feel the carbohydrate really helps keep you alert and research shows that it helps performance when running over one and a half hours. You are well-prepared for this event. That makes it possible, if not easy, to finish. Sometimes it’s not so easy: in the last 10K you may be going along okay, then suddenly be uncertain if you can run two more steps. This is where you begin to dig deep and find reasons for going on. Spectators help with words of encouragement. Watch how little children will look at you in wonder.

You are a wonder. Just keep up your form and rhythm. The choice in every step is yours and becomes a big decision. You can go faster, slower, shuffle, walk, or stop. And you trained for six months-for this? Yes. It really is a glorious journey. Congratulations.

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