View Full Version : Interesting article on marathon training

July 9th, 2007, 06:11 PM
Running to complete, not to compete
Posted on Mon, Jul. 09, 2007
By John Hanc, New York Times News Service
and Mugumo Munene, The Kansas City Star

So you want to run a marathon?

During the first running boom three decades ago, aspirants embarked upon a six-day regimen of arduous runs hell-bent on crossing the finish line in the fastest time possible. Hollow cheeks, hobbled feet and an overuse injury or two were badges of honor for the mostly middle-class men who tackled the 26.2-mile challenge. Their icon was Frank Shorter, a Yale-educated lawyer whose victory in the 1972 Olympic marathon ignited the mass running movement.

Things have changed. Todayís marathoner is less likely to have been motivated by an Olympian than by Oprah Winfrey. Her slow-but-steady completion of the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., is considered the start of the second marathon boom, one that has dwarfed the first and is far more democratic in nature. Winfrey was one of 277,000 marathon finishers nationwide in 1994; last year 410,000 runners crossed the line, according to Running USA, a nonprofit organization in Ventura, Calif., that keeps track of participatory running.

The marathon has become an "everymanís Everest," said Amby Burfoot, the executive editor of Runnerís World magazine.

Men and women, fledglings and fossils of varying girth are marathoners these days, in part because of the proliferation of training programs that make it, if not easier, at least less time-consuming to prepare.

Paula Labart of Weatherby Lake ran her first marathon in 2001. She had started running shorter distances to keep from gaining weight when she quit smoking in 1996. Nine marathons and more than a dozen half-marathons later, Labart, 58, is still running and gearing up for the Kansas City marathon this fall.

She has never won any, and her best time is four hours and 54 minutes, about twice the time it takes for world champions to complete the 26.2-mile run. Yet finishing a marathon is one of Labartís most satisfying personal accomplishments.

"I might have to shorten the distances. But Iím gonna run forever," Labart said.

Labart is glad she tried it. Running has helped her in many ways since doctors diagnosed her with multiple sclerosis in 2004. Doctors told her running could fend off the debilitating effects of her condition. "Iím doing what I think helps me push out some of the really bad MS symptoms," Labart said.

Eladio Valdez is the coach of the Runnerís Edge, Labartís training club based in Olathe. "These runners have taught me a lot," said Valdez, 39. "They are goal-oriented people. Most of them know that they wonít be competing with anyone else but themselves.

"The science of running is what has been established, but there is the art, figuring out what works for you," Valdez said. "Those who train to finish donít have to work on their lung power, just their leg power. They are just happy they finished."

During his training for the Boston Marathon, which he won in 1968, Burfoot ran twice a day, seven days a week. Emil Zatopek, the great Czech runner who won the 1952 Olympic marathon (along with two other gold medals in the same games), prepared by running mountain trails near his home in Moravia while carrying his wife, Dana, on his back.

Contemporary marathon programs require neither twice-a-day workouts nor spouse-hauling. Indeed the new watchwords of marathon training are moderation and specificity. Gone, for beginners at least, are the six days a week of running routinely recommended in the 1970s. Absent in most programs are even consecutive days of running.

Today some popular schedules involve as little as three days a week of pounding the pavement. "Itís gone from being excessive training for what many would consider to be an excessive event to a very trimmed-down, less-is-more approach," said Toby Tanser, a marathon coach in Manhattan and the author of The Essential Guide to Running the New York City Marathon.

Greg Madden, a business travel sales manager from Kansas City, started running just to finish one marathon. Then he planned to quit.

"That was my goal. When I finished it, I just got hooked. Now I run all over the city three times a week between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.," Madden said. "My goal is now to join the ĎClub of 50,í marathon runners whose goal is to run a marathon in all 50 states."

And maybe improve on his personal record of 3 hours and 29 minutes, his time in the Phoenix marathon.

One of the leading less-is-more programs for running the marathon involves walking. It was developed by Jeff Galloway, a 1972 Olympian who believes that regularly timed walking intervals increase the likelihood of covering the 26.2 miles. In 2006 it worked for 18,000 Gallowalkers -- as his followers are dismissively called by some old-school runners -- who ran-walked their way to a marathon finish.

At least half of last yearís marathoners used a minimal-mileage training plan, said Ryan Lamppa, a spokesman for Running USA.

"The expectation has changed," said Bill Pierce, the chairman of the health and exercise science department at Furman University in Greenville, S.C.,. "Itís OK now to walk. Itís OK to finish over five hours. People have a completely different approach to the marathon."

Those people do not include the Kenyans, Ethiopians and other elite athletes from around the world who will be running in and perhaps winning the ING New York City Marathon Nov. 4. The best will not be following a less-is-more approach.

"This type of program is designed to get you to complete, not compete in, the marathon," said William Roberts, the medical director of the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Roberts endorses minimalist approaches. "They offer a lower risk for injury," he said.

Whether covering as little as 15 miles a week or as many as 100, the primary goal of all marathon programs is the same: to build your endurance to the point where you can cover 26.2 miles. Hence, the common denominator of every program is the weekly or every-other-week "long run" -- a slow-paced run that starts at whatever distance you can now complete and, over months, grows longer.

"The long run teaches the body how to deliver and utilize oxygen more efficiently," said Carwyn Sharp, an exercise scientist with Wyle Laboratories, which conducts research on behalf of NASA.

As the runs lengthen, the body adapts by creating more blood vessels to transport oxygen-rich blood to working muscles; by manufacturing more energy-producing mitochondria; and by more efficiently repairing the microscopic tears to muscle fibers that result from the extended effort.

The long run is the one element, experts agree, that cannot be red-penciled out of a marathon program. But how long is long?

Experts disagree. Many say 20 miles is sufficient. Others, like Galloway, recommend conquering at least the full marathon distance in training. Still whatever the distance of the longest long run, novices canít go from zero to 26 miles overnight, which is why most plans are at least 12 weeks long, and some last up to 30 weeks. Whatís more, most coaches and exercise physiologists recommend against even starting a marathon program until you have regularly run shorter distances for a couple of years.

Most programs also include at least one day of shorter- but faster-paced running to improve efficiency; hill work not only to build leg strength, but also to prepare for steep elevation; and plenty of rest to allow the body to recover and rebuild.

For many people, finding the time to train may be harder than actually training. Gordon Bakoulis, who competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials marathon four times and now works for the New York Road Runners, the New York marathonís organizers, says she has noticed a pattern among those who drop out before the race.

"Itís not that they failed in the training," Bakoulis said. "Itís just that they couldnít manage the logistics. There were too many early-morning meetings at work, too many Saturday-morning soccer games. You canít fake marathon training, especially the long runs."

Just finishing the New York marathon in 2002 was a thrill for Kathy Burke-Thomas, 46, of Leawood.

"It was one of the best days in my life, aside from getting married and having kids," said Burke-Thomas, who trains two or three times a week.

"If you keep training to finish, you train half as much," she said. "Improving my time is probably at the back of my mind with the family and a full-time job."

But you can be reasonably certain that if you reach the starting line in one piece, youíll finish: In last yearís New York City Marathon, 38,368 runners started and 37,869 finished, a 99 percent completion rate. Other major marathons, including the Marine Corpsí and Chicagoís, have similarly high finisher percentages, and it has been that way for most of the last decade.

What does that say about the various marathon training programs?

"It says that they all work," Bakoulis said.

Bill Pierce subscribes to alternating running and cross-training.

Most pared-down marathon programs promise only to get you to the finish line in one piece. The so-called FIRST program says you will get there faster, too.

The catch? "Itís a Ďrun less,í not a Ďtrain lessí program," said Furman Universityís Pierce, one of its creators. FIRST stands for the Furman Institute of Running and Scientific Training.

The FIRST regimen is the subject of a new book, Run Less, Run Faster, by Pierce and two of his colleagues.

The streamlined regimen requires three workouts that many coaches say are essential to marathon success: a long run; a medium-distance run at a faster pace and a speed session on the track. But two or three days of cross-training -- be it in the pool doing laps or on a bike -- is also key, proponents say. The thinking is that minimizing mileage reduces injuries while participants receive the maximum physiological benefits of the planís strenuous, speed-oriented running.

Some coaches argue that for serious marathoners, riding a bike for an hour, for instance, is no substitute for time on your feet.

"The key to running the marathon is feeling comfortable on your legs for four or five hours," said Toby Tanser, a running coach in Manhattan. "It takes the body a long time to get used to that. I donít think that cross-training prepares you for it."

Still the idea that minimal running might be rewarded with a personal best attracts followers. One wrote a letter to Pierce that reads as if he had told the student he can do half the reading and still earn an A in the course: "Thank you for showing me that 100 to 120 miles a week is not required to reach my running goals!"

Mugumo Munene is on an Alfred Friendly fellowship at The Star. He can be reached at mmunene@kcstar.com or 816-234-4426.

July 9th, 2007, 08:41 PM
I ran three marathons back in 97,98, and 99 using most of what is written above. Basically there was the long run on the weekend that increased weekly and then every two weeks such as 10-12-14-16 miles, and there was one slighly long run in the middle of the week, about 10 miles and the other days were filled with short runs and/or rest. I also walked one minute every mile. I miss my running days, but I also enjoy my swimming. Best of worlds would be to do both. Today I walked-ran for about 45 minutes and then went swimming for about an hour. By the way, I have a cousin who lives in Overland Park. billy fanstone
P.S. Her name is Anne

July 9th, 2007, 10:45 PM
By the way, I have a cousin who lives in Overland Park.

Small world! Does she swim?

Anna Lea

July 10th, 2007, 08:40 AM
Interesting article!

I've done several marathons, and I think I go somewhere in between. I don't do the minimalist 3x/wk, but I wouldn't call mine a high mileage program either--probably peaks at about 50 mpw.

I go through cycles, sometimes focusing more on running, sometimes more on swimming, but both are part of my program no matter where I am in my training. Right now, swimming is my focus, b/c of the long swim I'm training for. I'm aware that my swim program reminds me a lot of my marathon training programs, in that there's a long swim, coupled with shorter ones during the week. I'm planning to swim the full race distance this coming weekend, which will be three weeks out. But one thing I've heard about swimming is that the taper tends to be shorter than for running (I'm no expert here--learning one step at a time!). What I have noticed is that I recover a lot faster from my long swims than from my long runs.