Coach Mike Mead

Prepping for a Marathon - December 2006

There is a steady growth across the United States in the number of marathon and half marathons being offered to runners. Right here in Georgia, the Georgia Marathon and Half Marathon, sponsored by ING, will debut on March 25, 2007. There will also be first-year marathons run in Albany and Alpharetta during 2007.

I’ve said before in previous writings that there is a glut of road races -- particularly 5K’s -- that have seen participation at many established races decline over the past few years despite the increase in the number of people who are running. However, it appears that half and full marathons continue to grow in number and size. I do not offer statistical proof, but from what I’ve read over the last couple of years, marathon racing is booming!

When it comes to offering marathon training and racing advise, I am not the most suited expert since I never ran or trained for a marathon myself. I have run a half marathon and as a coach I know the importance of proper volume and pace training. There are plenty of marathon (and ultra folks, too) experts who offer their advise through running magazines and web sites. Reading and studying their training plans and advise will suffice.

The bottom line is following the plan to the tee. Most of the time, it’s the substantial mileage over the weeks and months that break runners down. This is why I do not recommend anyone under 24 years of age, or someone who has not been running for at least 8 years, to do a marathon. It’s all about prepping the body to handle the mileage. Most of the all-time best marathoners were in their late 20’s and early 30’s. The young ones who might have had success most of the time did not survive into the peak marathon racing time of their late 20’s and early 30’s because of injuries.

If you are dead set on not heeding my advice, you can train and race the marathon but be aware you will have struggles. I knew a high school coach that said anyone who could run six miles on a regular basis could FINISH a marathon. If that is your goal, regular (daily) training of about six miles should get you to the finish line. To add to that, I highly recommend one long run (working up to 14-16 miles) per week leading up to your selected event.

If you expect to be competitive in a marathon, you will need to spend several months (6-9) gradually building up your weekly mileage (remember my 10-percent rule from previous columns) to about 70-90 miles. The hard-core marathons are logging in over 100 miles a week at their peak times. But again, keep in mind that they did not get to this training level overnight. It took them many years, not months, to train their bodies to handle the workload.

During your build-up, you’ll want to run a couple of races to prep you for your marathon. You might start with a 10K (a 5K will not cut it) and get up to a half marathon. But these races must be planned in advance and don’t schedule any racing two to three weeks before the big race. You can’t just go jump in a race that comes a week or two before your scheduled marathon and expect to meet your goals and expectations.

If you’re running your first marathon or half, you need to consider a few additional things. First off, consider the time of the year. The optimum time to run a marathon is the fall or spring. In some parts of the country, you can do marathons in the summer and winter, too. If you have trouble handling heat, don’t plan for a marathon in July or August unless you’re going to a cold climate to race. But be aware they could get a heat wave that could spoil your plans.

When considering a marathon, think about the course layout and typography. If you can’t handle hills and don’t like running repetitive loops, be sure to find a course that will suit you better like a point-to-point course that is relatively flat. It doesn’t hurt to run a course that has a couple of hills in it to give you some racing variety.

The size of the race may matter if this is your first one. A race with a large field of entrants is best rather than a small field where you might end up all by yourself with no one around you for miles to help you with the pace.

Also consider the perks. If this is your first, you’ll want some way of remembering it and several marathons award first-timers while others award all finishers.

Just do your homework when picking out a marathon. The web is a great resource, so use it. Again, give yourself plenty of time to properly prepare. If you’re just beginning now, plan for next fall to race. This way you have some wiggle room if you get injured and you can make changes since there will be more racing alternatives.

Good luck!