COLUMN: Road to the marathon – From 20 minutes to 20 miles: the basics of base building

In Columns, Fitness, Sports

After finishing my run yesterday, I realized that I had forgotten just how far 15 miles really is.

In high school, I would run this distance in the middle weeks of our cross cou  ntry training cycle. For the marathon cycle, this is only the beginning.

In two weeks, I’ll have to put in 20 miles. I’m used to running around 10 to 12 miles, but 20 … that will be the farthest that I have ever run. According to my training schedule, I will have to run this distance three times before I finally make it to the starting corrals in May.

These distances cannot be run on a whim. In order to be successful in any athletic endeavor, a progressive training schedule has to be formulated and completed. For basketball and baseball players, these take form during pre-season conditioning and in-season maintenance workouts that are supplemental to practice.

For distance runners, conditioning is everything. And its this conditioning that many have grown to hate.

But the truth is, whether you are running 15 miles or a 5K, it’s easy. Like anything else in life, you just have to start. However, before taking to the road and trails, it’s important to set clear, attainable goals and develop a plan to reach those goals.

Now hold up! If you have not started an exercise regimen before or have not been running in many years, its highly recommended that you get a physical, consult your physician and get fitted for a new pair of running shoes (DO NOT use that old, smelly pair from high school P.E.!). While running is an excellent cardiovascular exercise, it can be very taxing on joints and bones.

When starting, make sure that you ease into a running regimen. Your training schedule should be able to challenge you, but not dangerously.

In my case, I am using a training schedule developed by Hal Higdon, a long-time contributor to Runner’s World magazine and training consultant for the Chicago Marathon and Chicago Area Runners Association. It is titled “Intermediate 2,” and this schedule balances medium weekly mileage (maxing out at around 50 miles per week) and some scheduled rest days.

I chose this training schedule due to my experience running this weekly mileage in high school. When I am not in a training cycle, I generally run around 30 miles a week. When I push above 40, I start to experience knee problems and on one occasion, a stress fracture. 50 miles a week is a lot for me, but the cross-training and rest days allow my body to recuperate.

Before starting my training, I set clear goals. First and foremost, I plan to complete the OC Marathon. This being my first race longer than a 5K, I will be well out of my comfort zone.

While I’m shooting for a target pace of 7 minutes and 30 seconds per mile, I won’t worry too much about running a specific time come race day. My second goal is to avoid injury. I plan to reach this goal through daily stretching, core strength development, replacing shoes when needed and using rest days in order to avoid overtraining. Finally, I plan to eat a balanced diet that relies heavily on lean meats, fresh fruits and vegetables.

For the starting runner, my goals would probably be unattainable. Not only would going from the couch to 50 miles a week be incredibly difficult, it would be dangerous and would probably result in injury. Aside from the safety issues, it would be frustrating to embark on this goal from the get go. Even if you were able to avoid injury, the runs would be more like death marches than enjoyable exercise.

Contrary to popular belief, running should be relaxing and, yes I’m going to say it, fun. It should be a way to enjoy the outdoors, get some fresh air and clear your mind—not an ordeal to be suffered through (although I’m not sure if a 20-mile run will ever be relaxing by mile 18).

When beginning runners ask me how they can get started, I usually tell them to go walk/jog for 20 minutes, three to four times a week. On a walk/jog you can run when you feel up to it and walk while catching your breath. After a couple weeks, you will be able to run for the full 20 minutes without stopping. From this point, you can begin going longer distances and adopting a training schedule that calls for higher mileage.

This early training is sort of like building the base of a pyramid. Before developing speed and endurance, you need to build the foundation of general fitness. As your body becomes accustomed to running, you’ll be surprised how quickly you progress.

While I am by no means an expert, tweet your running questions to @MannWith2Ns. Happy running!

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