How To

Marathon Preparation Advice from Runners and Medical Experts

Jessica Schein enjoys a beer after she finished a half marathon. Image by Teresa Christiansen.

Jessica Schein enjoys a beer after she finished a half marathon. Image by Teresa Christiansen.

Marathoner Jessica Schein said she first became a serious runner while she was living in New York City and used the exercise as a way to avoid paying for a gym membership.

“I also lived close to Central Park, first, and then Prospect Park,” said the Seattle, Washington resident. “A number of my friends started running longer distances, too, so it was a great way to hang out with them and do something fun and healthy.”

Since then, her passion has grown and she is in line to run her fifth half marathon this weekend.

For training, Schein follows Marathoning for Mortals by Jenny Hadfield and John Bingham. The 14-week plan incorporates five days of exercise per week, three for running and two set aside for cross-training workouts, which is where she said she incorporates yoga.

“The program starts off pretty easy, with 30 minutes of running (plus speed drills one time a week) three times a week,” Schein said. “At most, in the heat of training, I run two times a week for 50-60 minutes and then do longer runs on the weekend, the longest of which is 10 miles. In the final two weeks before the race I taper off.”

According to the Cleveland Clinic, those preparing for a marathon should abide by the following instructions:

The last long run should take place three weeks prior to the marathon. It takes that long for the training-induced muscle damage to resolve. Trying to add in one more long run might be a recipe for disaster. There will be minimal gain, if anything, and may cause the athlete to suffer from “dead legs” during the event. The mileage two weeks before the race should be reduced by 25 percent to 50 percent versus the previous week. You should further cut this mileage in half the week before the race.

Michigan resident Doug Handler has competed 13 times in marathons and triathlons.

“My first marathon was at age 45, and I didn’t run Boston [until] age 55,” he said. “I had been a collegiate cross-country and track runner [but] discontinued running when my children were born, 1990-1994.”

He said while completing a 16-mile run with a friend who was training for the Columbus, Ohio Marathon, she said, “Doug, you should run a marathon.” Apparently he listened.

Handler said he runs about 40-50 miles per week. He completes his last long run, about 18-30 miles, about six weeks prior to the marathon, spending the remaining time training through shorter runs of four to eight miles.

“When I can do 13 repeat hills without stopping up and down, I know I am close to marathon shape,” he said.

Doug Handler after he finished the Boston Marathon in April 2010.

Doug Handler after he finished the Boston Marathon in April 2010. Image courtesy Doug Handler.

One important factor to remember while training is that someone will most likely always be faster.

“Banish guilt over your presumed lack of dedication by acknowledging that your training reflects your life, not someone else’s,” offered a Runner’s World article. “What’s more, training needs are different depending on one’s goals. If you’re truly not satisfied with your results, you’ll have to change your training.

“Instead, prepare. Use online street-view maps to review a course’s geography. If hills are the issue, make them part of your weekly training. Practice mantras to keep your inner dialogue positive.”

Schein advocated that people should have the build up of running shorter distances for about four to six months before participating in their first half marathon. She said don’t feel the need to push yourself too hard when you’re first starting out, because you may attain an injury.

“Definitely follow a training plan. I’ve seen people crumble around mile 11,” she said.

Handler’s advice for first-time marathoners is, “Have fun, find a group to train with, [and] start at least 26 weeks prior to the marathon, minimum,” he said. “Stay off pavement–run dirt, gravel trails whenever possible. Buy good shoes that fit your frame and feet. Cross train–bike, swim, or yoga on your off days from running.”

As far as nutritional recommendations go, the Cleveland Clinic advised,

Make sure you are well-hydrated prior to the start of the race. Drink a lot of water during the week preceding the race. Eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates prior to the race. This will help maximize your glycogen (energy) stores. Don’t experiment with new foods this week. Carbohydrate loading can be complicated. Try it some other time, perhaps before other long runs. Individuals who have diabetes should never carb load and should seek counseling with a dietician for appropriate dietary guidelines. Make sure you have tried out the electrolyte drink that will be used during the race.

Schein said she notices cravings for protein during her training and she ensures she’s consuming at least three full meals per day.

“I also tend to eat more carbs the nights before runs (six or more) miles, which is helpful in sustaining me the next day,” she said. “When I’m running a lot I want to eat better (lots of veggies and lean protein) so that I can recover more easily and in general, have better runs. That’s not to say I won’t make a tray of brownies and eat more than I should from time to time.”

Handler said at minimum he consumes 2,500-3,000 calories per day and eats a diet high in protein, carbs, fruits, and veggies. Although he stays away from desserts, he said he’s not opposed to his one glass of wine per day.

“Additionally, hydrate before and during the race, train with GUs or other enhancers so you know how your stomach will react on race day, and have fun!” Schein said. “It’s awesome to see hundreds or thousands of strangers cheering you on for simply doing something you enjoy.”

Featured image copyright iStockPhoto/blyjak

Any views or opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect those of ActionHub. Comments on this article reflect the sole opinions of their writers.

One thought on “Marathon Preparation Advice from Runners and Medical Experts

  1. cgonzalez

    Funny, I guess I have unknowingly followed some of these tips. For example, I hit the 10-mile milestone about 2-3 weeks before running a half…mostly because I was over training at the point, though. ha.


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