Congratulations, you’ve decided to take the plunge and run or run/walk a marathon for PPMD. I’ll bet you’re not so sure what you need to do to prepare and you might think there is a lot of time to get ready. It may seem like a lot of time, but you really need to start today!
In my previous blog I described the basics just to begin running and doing this sensibly. Now it’s time to get serious and be sensible about training. Setting your goals is very important. Do you plan to run, walk or combine the two activities to get yourself across the finish line? How much physical activity are you getting now and what free time do you have? I suggest for a first marathon your goal should be to cross the finish line while enjoying the experience. Looking at your present level of fitness will be a good indicator of whether you should consider running or choose a run/walk strategy. Are you very active now whether you already run, regularly bike or take part in some other vigorous activity? You might consider running. Otherwise if you aren’t sure or just aren’t in the shape you think need to be in, a walk/run program is a better idea. Begin with a training plan that makes the most sense to you in terms of schedule and your fitness. Next, put on your running shoes, dust off a training log (You need to record your progress as it will tell you how you are doing and encourage you to continue.) and get yourself out the door!
There are many training plans available online. The two I have used and recommend are Hal Higdon’s Novice Training Plan: http://www.halhigdon.com/marathon/Mar00novice.htm
and Jeff Galloway’s Marathon to Finish Plan: http://www.jeffgalloway.com/training/marathon.html
. With either plan you will build mileage slowly and safely. Jeff Galloway’s plan may be more appropriate for walkers. A third option from the Marathon Walking website is written for walking a marathon: http://www.marathonwalking.com/schedule_marathon.html
The authors of these plans have recommended prerequisites for beginners. Also each plan is based on a certain number of weeks of training. These plans are based on very broad generalizations and depending on your goals you may need to adapt these plans or reconsider your goals. As encouraged in my previous post, I strongly urge participants to speak with their physician before running or walking your first marathon.
Looking at completing a 26-mile activity is daunting, especially the first time. Breaking it up into manageable pieces makes it more reasonable. When I run a marathon I only think about the next five miles. Actually, when I get near the end I just think about the next mile! Training should be approached the same way. Some people focus on miles and others look at time. Either is acceptable as long as you remain consistent and break it down into manageable segments. I suggest dedicating three to four days per week to training. Begin to look at your training in chunks. Start slowly walking or running, adding time as you feel comfortable. Overdoing it can lead to injury, so allow your body time to get used to the activity before pushing yourself. For the first month, begin by getting comfortable with being outside walking or running. Think of the next month as a place to build on your work. Adding time each successive month will help you to continue increasing endurance and fitness.
Another way to build fitness is by cross training. Activities that support marathon training include swimming, riding a bike, spinning, and some strengthening exercises. Add activities slowly to avoid overwhelming yourself. These activities are good to help build endurance and fitness, while avoiding injury from overdoing one activity. If you want to begin adding some running, use telephone poles as landmarks to gauge your progress. Start by walking fifteen minutes then run one pole length and walk two more. If you aren’t too tired run another pole length and walk again. Over time this will get you used to running and you can add distance as you are comfortable.
Nutrition may be something first timers struggle with. Some distance runners brag about being able to eat whatever they want without gaining weight, yet they are still careful what they consume. For the rest of us who don't run eighty miles each week, watching calories is necessary. My recommendation is to eat as simply and healthy as possible. Cutting fat and getting the right balance of carbohydrates and protein are important for endurance and maintaining health muscle. Carbohydrates have gotten bad publicity, but are a necessary part of an active person's diet. Choosing whole foods instead of processed, ready to eat meals, helps curb fat and excess sodium and is healthier for everyone in the family. With increased exercise appetite increases, but making the right choices about what to eat will give you energy without weight gain. I choose apples, bananas, and other fruit for snacks. Fat free yogurt is another option and the protein helps with recovery from training. Put this into regular practice and you may find it helps you manage weight and just feel better.
When you begin running or walking longer distances, you may find the need to have fuel while training. Power Bars are portable, as are Graham Crackers, Fig Newton Bars, and sports drinks like Gatorade. Many runners stash water and sports drinks along their routes for longer runs. Others make loops near home and pick up food there. I don't use Gels or GU, yet many people like these for training and racing. Gels and GU may cause stomach upset in some people, so if you think you will use them during your race be sure to test them while training. What is easiest and works for you will help ensure you have the energy to finish. Making this part of your training will also prepare you for the actual race.
Once you get started, it is easy to stay in the routine of running or walking regularly. If you happen to miss a day or two of running don’t let it bother you. Life happens. The key is to be consistent and stay focused on your goal. Before you know it you’ll be at the starting line and the rest will be history!