The Marathon Runner
Running for sport is nothing new. The ancient Greeks had foot races as early as 776 B.C., the year of the first Olympics. In pre-industrial England, footmen were sent running ahead of horse-drawn carriages to warn their lords of danger. And to this day, the Tarahumara Indians of northwestern Mexico compete in foot races, covering up to 200 miles a day and kicking a ball along the way. Only recently, however, have people taken to the roads for long-distance running en masse in a 26-mile foot race called a marathon.
In increasing numbers, people are seeking to regain the health, fitness and leanness that was once natural to our physically active predecessors. Long-distance running is an “endurance exercise” that will accomplish this, because it invigorates the heart, an “endurance muscle” that, like all muscles, needs regular exercise or it will deteriorate.
Regular endurance exercise will help keep deposits from building up in lazy arteries, promote improved flow of blood, oxygen and nutrients to the heart’s cells, and force the heart to increase its pumping speed. The heart muscle becomes stronger, and sends a greater flow of blood throughout the body with each stroke. With fewer squeezes, the “fit” heart accomplishes more work and the resting pulse rate goes down, according to J. G., author of Galloway’s Book on Running and founder of Phidippides athletic shoe store chain.
Beginners should start slowly to avoid injuries, set realistic expectations, purchase well-cushioned shoes that fit perfectly and are designed for long-distance running, attend training clinics and talk to seasoned marathoners. Give yourself enough lead time to train before the race, preferably 4 – 5 months. And drive the route to get a feel for the distance.
G, who has run over 50 marathons himself and coached hundreds of marathoners, says the key training concept is to increase your total mileage by lengthening your long run gradually (1 – 2 miles every 14 days), not by accumulating daily increases in mileage. Specifically, he advises runners to run 26 continuous miles before the marathon, preferably 2 – 3 weeks ahead of time. Your body is only capable of handling the distance that it has achieved in the recent past, he notes. By running the race distance prior to a marathon, you are giving your body notice that it will be called upon to go that far. He also advises you to run slowly, take walking breaks, and enjoy each run.
On the day of the race:
- When you do have a time goal, run an even-paced race. During the first 15 miles, run no faster than the pace you want to average for the entire race. If things are going well after 15 miles, you can increase your pace by 5 seconds per mile.
- Run your own race. The marathon is a contest between your will and your resources. Don’t get carried away by the competitive spirit.
- Drink fluids with water and electrolytes at each water stop, even if you are not thirsty. It’s common to become dehydrated even before feeling thirsty.
- If you feel your legs cramping in the latter stages of the race, don’t stop for water. Instead, sip your water while you jog very slowly to keep the muscles working in harmony.
- Immediately after the race, walk 1 mile. Later that afternoon, walk 3 – 5 miles.
- Take time to recover. Attempt no more hard runs for 2 – 3 weeks after the marathon, and wait 2 months before racing again
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