Becoming a marathoner…

Long before someone buys an Adidas “Boston Marathon Qualifier” running jacket and slaps a “26.2” bumper sticker on their car, they run a couple marathons.  What most non-runners don’t know, is that it takes a lot more than running a couple days a week to call yourself a “marathoner” and it takes even more work to call yourself a “Boston Marathon Qualifier.”

On Marathon Monday, there will undoubtedly be a bunch of “non-marathoners” trying to run the 26.2 miles with the goal of simply finishing or possibly even beating Oprah’s time.  However, well over half of the 25,000 Boston Marathon runners will be running with the goal of achieving a very specific time.  This has become especially important for many runners this year as the Boston Marathon registration process has changed and qualifying times for 2012 have essentially decreased by 20 minutes!  To provide an example, if I was hoping to qualify for the 2012 Boston Marathon and ensure myself a spot, I would need to run the marathon in under 3 hours 20 minutes.  That works out to 26.2 consecutive 7.6 minute miles.  If Donny was hoping to qualify (which of course he isn’t as he would rather gouge his eyes out than run for the sake of running), he would need to run each of the 26.2 miles in under 6.4 minutes.  Now for all of you who think that the demands are high because we’re still young, all I have to say is, “au contraire, mon frere!”  A 69 year old man would have to finish each mile in less than 8.9 minutes.  In case you haven’t been following my training progress, I’m not even there yet!

So the question is:

How does someone train for a marathon?  

Needless to say, it all depends on where you’re starting from.  Here’s what the overview looks like for a beginner or non-runner:

  • Exercise 6 days a week: 1 long run, 3 shorter runs, and 2 days of cross-training
  • Slowly increase the distance over time, SLOWLY!  Stress fractures are NOT your friends!   
    • Start out with 3 mile walk runs during the week and 6-7 mile long runs.
    • Max out at 8 mile interval/hill runs during the week and 22 mile long runs.
  • Although you may think that simply running will get you ready for a marathon, you actually want to build interval training and hill work-outs into your 3 shorter runs.
    • Benefits of interval training and hill workouts:
      • More effective utilization of fats and carbs
      • Increased buffering capacity of muscles (their ability to neutralize acids) thus delaying fatigue due to lactic acid accumulation
      • Increased “stride frequency” (the amount of times your leg turns over)
      • Increased “stride length” and better running form because faster running brings the leg higher off the ground
      • Eventually, increased speed during longer runs  
  • Taper your runs pre-marathon.
In contrast, here’s a glimpse into the life of a true marathoner.  In case you’re wondering, they are doing a 31 mile run with intervals and, YES, they’re resting pace is a 6 min/mile pace!

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