How to Tackle a Marathon
Americans of all ages have taken up a sport once reserved for Olympic athletes. "Every jogger can't dream of being an Olympic champion, but he can dream of finishing a marathon," says Fred Lebow, co-founder of the New York City Marathon.
If you share that dream, here's what you'll need to know to tackle a 26.2-mile run.
Why do it: Running is a great cardiovascular workout that strengthens and protects your heart. Regular exercise also can speed up your metabolism, which Madelyn H. Fernstrom, Ph.D., director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says slows by 5 percent every decade. Studies have shown that vigorous activity also has a positive effect on blood pressure, body fat and HDL (good) cholesterol.
Why start now: Because it's never to late to get in shape. For inspiration, consider Fauja Singh, the last-place finisher in the 2011 Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon in Canada, who completed the race in eight hours at the age of 100. The Indian native began running marathons at age 89 and became the oldest person to complete a race. "I have said before that I will carry on running, as it is keeping me alive," Singh says.
[Related: 6 Record Holders Who Rule]
Why not: Training for a marathon can be challenging. You'll spend a good portion of a year carving out time for four weekly runs to develop the stamina needed to train and compete. Opt for a 5K, 10K or half-marathon if you're not up for the level of preparation it takes to complete a marathon.
Gear: To prevent injury, you need a good pair of shoes with ample cushioning and support for your particular gait. Replace running shoes after 300 to 500 miles, or earlier if you notice significant wear.
Getting started: "You can pretty much start from scratch," says Blake Miller, head coach and founder of Run San Diego, an organized marathon-training group. Although you'll have a head start with a higher level of initial fitness, Miller says he's seen many runners with little or no fitness experience successfully train and compete. Miller recommends that anyone over 55 or anyone with a medical condition talk to their doctor before embarking on a training program.
[Related: Baby Boomers Catch Marathon Fever]
Daily workout: Miller recommends running four days per week during an 18- to 24-week training schedule. Plan three shorter runs during the week and one long run each weekend, gradually adding time to both each week.
For example, start week one with three short runs of four to five miles each and a weekend long run of six to seven miles. By week 20, your short runs should reach six to seven miles, and your long run 20 to 22 miles. Do a few short runs or rest completely during race week.
Fuel your performance: Experts at Coolrunning.com recommend a well-balanced diet made up of about 25 percent lean protein, 60 percent complex carbohydrates such as veggies and whole grains, and 15 percent healthy, unsaturated fat.
Progress: Focus on small goals like completing your weekly mileage. Miller notes the added support and motivation runners can get from group training. "The biggest benefit by far is running with others," he says, which will also prepare you to run with a pack on race day. Find a running club near your home or work through organizations such as Road Runners Club of America.
More information: Check out these helpful links:
- Questions and answers about all aspects of running: Runner'sworld.com
- Sign up for running and other events: Active.com
- Upcoming marathons: Marathonguide.com