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September 24, 2017

Tips to use when training for a marathon

For many long-distance runners, this is the start of the marathon season. The big marathons start in November and run through February. Usually San Antonio is first, followed by Dallas in December, and then Houston in January.

There are other marathon distance races in between these that are not major in the sense of large entry numbers. Austin is closing in on being the final of the “big four” in late February or early March.

For most runners, the marathon distance is the ultimate challenge in running circles. There are large numbers of runners in the listed marathons; but when you add up the percentages of total runners, it is a very small percentage that have run a marathon. Some estimates put it at around 15 percent of runners who have finished a marathon distance.

Running 26.2 miles is an imposing distance for a beginning runner. When you mention how far a marathon is, one of the usual comments is, “Why, my gosh, that is like running from San Marcos to Austin!!” That puts the marathon distance in perspective, and explains why a large majority of runners do not run marathons.

One of the recent popular distances is the half marathon distance of 13.1 miles. This is not quite as intimidating a distance, and for many a little more of a realistic distance to try.

The problem with a first-time runner thinking about running a marathon is the training for that distance. For most programs, the training program consists of 12 weeks of gradually building up the miles for your long run. Depending on the training program, the long run can be somewhere between 18 miles and 30 miles. That is a big difference in miles for a long run.

My first marathon had me wanting to run 22 miles the week before the marathon so I wouldn’t lose any conditioning. Fortunately, a runner who had several marathons under his belt said that the last week is a rest week – do not run at all the last three or four days before the marathon and two weeks before for a last long run.

The programs vary from Galloway’s theory that, if you want to run an easy 26 miles, a training run should be 30 miles. The critics of this program point out that recovery from a 30-mile run is between two and three weeks; and the risk of getting injured goes up from stress fractures or muscle strains.

Some runners say that you need a rest day for every mile you run. They are usually referring to a race pace; but resting after a long run is very important to include in your training program. Running a long distance takes a lot out of the energy of the body, and seems to weaken the immune system. If I was going to get sick, it was always the last week before the marathon after a hard training run; and either a cold or a pulled muscle seemed to catch up with me.

Another program has the runner building up the total miles each week to around 80 to 120 miles per week. This program doesn’t leave much time during the week for anything else but running.

The latest program has runners doing shorter distances in the long runs, but doing more speed work: run fast 10K races or half marathons. Then during the marathon, the runner backs off the pace and will be able to run the longer distances needed for a marathon.

Each runner has his or her favorite program to follow; and for that person it is successful. It may not be the best program for you, though. My best results came from putting in three 20 to 22-mile runs somewhere in the 12 weeks, with a two-week rest from long distances before the marathon.

I did one marathon with a long run of only 18 miles. I had a good background of running at the time, and I think that helped me finish.

I remember reading books on how to run a marathon to get some “expert” advice. I thought if the runner wrote a book, they must know something about the sport. I found out later that is not always the case.

My favorite book was “Target 26” by Brown and Graham. This seemed to give me good advice, and was an easy book for a beginning runner to understand.

The book that I enjoyed the most was one from Consumer Reports about running a marathon; very easy reading, and a chapter of the experience of a novice runner in his first marathon that was fun to read. The problem with this book is that it is no longer published; and my copy never returned to me after lending it to another runner. About the only way to find a copy today is at an antique book store, or maybe on eBay.

If you are planning on running a marathon, allow 12 weeks of training to experience a good run; and seek some advice from a runner who has completed several marathons. Try to be one of the elite 15 percent of runners who have run a marathon. You only have to run one to called a marathon runner.

Moe Johnson
Dr. Maurice Johnson - better known around San Marcos as “Moe” - is a professor in the Department of Health, P.E., Recreation and Dance at Texas State University - San Marcos. Moe has been a fixture in the San Marcos running community - both as a runner and race organizer - since way back when Moby Dick was a minnow. His column on running and fitness appears each Sunday in the Sports section of the San Marcos Daily Record.

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