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Preparing to successfully run a marathon affects many areas of one’s life, including one’s dress, one’s eating habits, one’s schedule and obviously one’s ongoing running regimen.
Early Negative Experiences
Having been overweight as a young child, I never ran unless I was playing a game with other kids, or was forced to run by a physical education teacher. In all cases I was among the slowest runners. It is safe to say that I was a certified “non-runner.” At the age of 16 I suddenly gained a great deal of height and became slim. I’ve remained somewhat slim ever since. However, in spite of becoming slim, my early negative experiences with running kept me from having any interest in running until late in life.
Around my 47th year, I was invited to do a short run with a friend. This run consisted of slowing jogging 1.5 miles, during which time I was continually asked if I was doing okay. We did this same run, as I recall, several times, and then ran a little longer. It was about this time that I was counseled that running longer distances necessitated my being fitted for, and obtaining, the proper running shoe for me.
My First Running Shoes
I found a the location of a running store by checking the phone directory. At the running store the owner looked at my feet, had me stand on a piece of cardboard with my feet a bit damp, and then fitted me with shoes that seemed appropriate for the way my feet were. The pair he put on my feet were larger than a perfect fit since there needed to be room in them. Then he had me run for him in the parking lot to see how well they worked.
The first pair tried on didn’t seem as perfect as the most expensive pair tried on later, but “adequate,” so I brought them home and did a first test run. I immediately felt pain in my knees and quickly realized they were not right. Exchanging them for the better pair (Asics, Gel Kayanos) and trying them out, I immediately knew I had found the right pair. They cost me dearly, but were worth it, and I continue to wear that brand and style of shoes.
Adding Distance and Running Hills
We began running again and very gradually added distance. I remember being asked one day how I felt about running a few hills. Having become confident—perhaps over confident—I agreed. Well, I was able to run the hills, but it WASN’T easy! But, I discovered running hills made running on the flat so much easier. And, we were doing more than just running up hills, we were running up hills, then running back down the same hills, so that there were moments of great difficulty, then moments of comparative ease, thereby making it possible to run a long time on those hills.
Diet and Hydration
I also learned the importance of eating a good breakfast and drinking plenty of water. Breakfast those days consisted of eating rice and baked beans almost every morning. It takes energy to run and one needs considerable fuel to keep going. Everyone is different in this respect, some people being able to eat close to the time they run, and others feeling they cannot. I am one of those that can, and I do! So far as hydration goes, I discovered that drinking plenty of water prior to running, and drinking while running—at least on long runs—was also critically important.
Stretching, Exercising and Warming Up
The person I was running with was into stretching, so I of course began stretching prior to running. I can’t say it helped me very much, but I went through the motions. There are specific stretches that help prepare for running and I won’t pretend to discuss stretching till later in this summary, but suffice it to say, stretching helps SOME people—and probably more people are stretchers than those who are not. I do some stretching, but I mainly exercise. Let me explain. Stretching is the second greatest cause of injury in running. It isn’t that stretching is bad, it is just that people tend to stretch beyond what they should do, or they stretch when they are warmed up and therefore really limber, and therefore stretch too much. In either case it means a stretching injury. I experienced some of those injuries and began studying the Internet for what to do. I’ll return to this subject later.
Serious runners know that marathon preparation consists of shorter runs during the week, and a “long run” once per week, which most people run on the weekend. The long run can be considerably long, but is worked up to in a progressive, incremental, manner, only adding about 10% additional distance each time. The long run allows the body to develop muscle strength, builds lung capacity, strengthens the heart, helps the joints develop the resilience to endure the ongoing pounding, and conditions the body to withstand greater and greater distances. In my case, I didn’t initially realize long runs were only to be done once per week, and I began running longer every day since I often ran on my own. My running companion, and now coach, figured out what was going on and educated me to do a long run only ONCE per week. In the energy-along-the-way department, I discovered that I needed to take power bars with me, and that I needed to take in energy on an ongoing basis, or my muscles would greatly object and struggle to go further. So I quickly learned to anticipate energy needs by eating along the way. I also learned that it was okay to take walking breaks while doing long runs. Accordingly, in doing long runs, we ran for ten minutes, than took a one minute break, then started the cycle again. This greatly helped me in adding distance: by allowing me to get my wind back, resting my muscles, and giving my joints a break from the pounding. I learned over time that walking breaks were strongly recommended for adult runners.
Running causes micro injuries that are easily recovered from, and in fact are part of the conditioning process that brings the strengthening that allows longer running—something like the strengthening-effect wind has on a tree branch. I learned that resting was just as important as running—and that I was to avoid running more than every other day, particularly after long runs. So, we began running one day and walking the next day.
Eventually we entered a 11 mile race as I recall. I hadn’t worked up to that distance yet, so it wasn’t easy, but I completed the race and enjoyed it a lot. What I do recall was taking grape juice to drink, and discovering how awfully sweet, and undesirable, the juice was during the course of the race.
Watching A Marathon Race
The next milestone was watching the Detroit Marathon. Needless to say, it was an exciting event and I decided right then and there that I was going to be running in the next one even if it killed me. Well, I did run in a Marathon five or six months later, and it didn’t kill me, however it took place in Sacramento California.
My First Marathon
My first marathon was run during December—I prefer running in cooler weather—in Sacramento, CA. By the time I boarded the airplane, I had been running increasingly longer runs until I had completed 23 miles, as I recall, in a Sunday. I hadn’t done 26.2 miles yet, but many runners don’t prior to marathons, and I didn’t think I needed to either. Well, in traveling West I realized that my Achilles was really hurting me and I wasn’t sure why. To be honest, I was discouraged, but I had prepared for a long time, had invested considerable funds in coming and registering for the race, and didn’t want to lose all that effort to an injury. Onsite registration was going to take place Friday, so I drove over the race headquarters and filled out the form and picked up my number and all the other things that go with the race. I also visited the various booths that were selling merchandise—definitely part of the fun of entering races. I came upon one booth that was selling equipment—looked like wands—to prevent injuries. I told the salesmen about my Achilles problem and suggested that I was a good candidate for a demonstration. He was more than willing and began working on my tendon. Being honest, it was very painful, but when he was done, my Achilles, which had felt like a rod of steel, was now supple and feeling more normal. Well, I bought one of those wands and used it considerably in preparing. Race day I claimed the promise of renewing one’s strength, and of running and not being weary! As we were driven in buses to the start of the race at Fulsom Dam, I recall thinking “You’re crazy! This distance is huge. What makes you think you can do this race?” But I was obviously on the bus, was dropped of, and when the starting gun went off, joined many thousands of other racers heading to the capital building in downtown Sacramento. Prior to the starting gun, I had noticed there were people holding banners upon which were race times. I realized these individuals were going run at a particular pace, and realized remaining with them would assure my getting all the way at the time I was hoping to achieve. Realizing that it would be as easy to finish the race early as late—within reason of course—I headed off with this group. But, because I was into taking walk breaks, I found that I needed to run a bit faster than my group, so that they could catch up with me while I was walking. I quickly realized that I was actually going faster than them, so I just took off at my pace, taking breaks when I wanted, and enjoyed myself considerably. I was probably enjoying myself too much for quite a bit of the race, for the miles just flew behind me. I recall talking with one runner who assured me the race only began at about 21 miles. He was right. It became considerably harder at that point. I also knew when I went past the 23 miles that I had trained to, The final two miles were awful and I wasn’t sure I would make it—by that point I was taking walk breaks every five minutes—but I was too far to not finish, and came around the last bend and saw the finish line. Please understand that I had been a certified non-runner in my younger days and never expected to finish any race, let alone a marathon, so it was with considerable emotion that I came past the finish line, received a medal around my neck—everyone gets a medal that finishes a marathon—was draped with a warming cape, and was given food to eat, and thought of how one day God is going to give all of us a medal and cape—so to speak—when we cross the finish line of the great race of life at the second coming of Jesus. God was so GOOD! The time was 3 hours and 54 minutes I think. Wow, for a first race that was great. I called my running partner who initially thought I had given up since the time was so fast, but was happy to hear of my good success. Driving the three hours back to where I was staying wasn’t the easiest at that point—muscles are feeling quite stiff, but endurable, and I was pleased with my success! I was also impressed that my Achilles injury was due to a new pair of dress shoes I had purchased shortly before the race that were wrong for my feet, and upon experimenting by NOT using them, quickly recovered from that injury.
I have since run one other marathon—in Cincinnati Ohio. The time was again under four hours, and it was most enjoyable even though it seemed kept running up hill forever. I had somewhat hoped to start running a marathon every year, and knew I could if I were in one place consistently, but the present travel schedule makes it hard. However I retain my love for running and do so whenever I can. I hope I continue running the rest of my life.
Who Can Run
Are you a runner? You might be. I think just about anyone can run if they ease into it gradually and follow the suggestions given below. Even marathons are doable for many people if they will take the time and follow a good discipline in training. Visiting your doctor and getting his thoughts on the subject would be a good idea, however realize that there are two schools of thoughts among doctors on the subject. Doctors who run will encourage you and perhaps talk about long-term benefits of running; doctors who don’t run, will do all they can to discourage you from running and tell you horror stories of knees ruined from running. I prefer doctors who run, but to each his own.
Running Versus Walking
There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that walking is as beneficial as running, and I am sure the research has good support. However, there are benefits to running—distance covered, the bond that develops between runners, and the runner’s “high,” that you don’t get in in the same way walking. That said, there is as much honor in walking as in running, so choose one or the other—BY ALL MEANS choose one or the other—and enjoy which ever one you choose. If in the course of your walking you decide you want to do some running, do so, but limit it to the distance of a couple of mail boxes at first, and progressively add to that distance. Perhaps you will become a runner eventually.
Your main equipment is the RIGHT shoes. There isn’t such a thing as a “good” or adequate shoe for running. You need the shoe that is right for you and because shoes come in various VERY SPECIFIC forms and you need to find the form that is right for YOUR body. You must get that right shoe, regardless of the cost, if you are going to do any serious distance running—my shoes are the most expensive part of my wardrobe but they are still cheap compared to the equipment used for skiing and for other sports. The right shoes are your BEST defense against injuries and are considerably cheaper than doctor visits. Find a running store where your feet and style of running can be evaluated to enable finding and fitting the right shoe for you. After that you can buy them on your own or through mail order stores, but the first time get expert help on the matter—and that expertise won’t necessarily be found in stores that sell shoes for every other sport. You will need a store that specializes in running in most cases.
Modern fabrics quickly remove the moisture close to your body. For guys, for example, wearing a shirt is cooler than not wearing one if you are using one of the modern fabrics. And, if you run year round, it is all about layers. I have run in temperatures well below freezing, sometimes close to zero, and have been warm because of layering. However, as I discuss later, you will want to run where there are plenty of houses around at those temperatures!
Most people work up to every other day “daily runs” of 45 minutes to an hour, even to train for a marathon. Some people obviously do more, but it isn’t absolutely necessary, and when you do more, you are in greater danger of an injury.
A Weekly Routine
A good weekly routine includes running every other day—you will have to run two days close together to get four runs in every week but do the second one of the pair very carefully—and should include one long run on the weekend, and one day dedicated to running hills—and this should not be the first or the second day of the pair. Some people also include one day for speed work—I don’t, at least on a regular basis, you may want to. Just be careful about injuries with speed work; most of my injuries, fortunately minor, have come doing speed work.
Food and Hydration
Eating a GOOD breakfast and drinking plenty of water is critically important to successful running. Food provides the necessary energy; water provides the hydration for good blood circulation and for your joints. Many injuries are prevented to the joints by having plenty of fluids.
Stretching and Exercising
I exercise more than stretch and haven’t had ANY serious injuries up to this point to speak of. The ONLY stretch I do, is the one done while praying on my knees during which I sit on my heals with feet stretched back flat on the ground. I learned about this from a PT friend, and found it truly prevents shin splints. Other than that, I do fifty leg lifts four different ways, while laying flat. First I lift the right leg straight up—or however high I can go, then do the same with the left leg—and remember, leg lifts are to be done incrementally, adding a few over time, until you get to fifty. Then I lay on my side and lift my leg up sideways fifty times. Then I lay on the other side and do the same thing on that side. The front leg lifts are to add strength to my quads. The side leg lifts are to strengthen my IT band. What is my purpose of doing those lifts? To prevent the twisting that comes with fatigue when the muscles are not equally strong. Let me explain. Because the muscles in the front of the leg are not as strong as the muscles behind, when they fatigue they twist and cause the tendons to come through the knee at an angle. By strengthening the muscles equally, no twisting takes place and therefore there are no injuries from the tendons rubbing from twisting. This is a crude explanation but I think is somewhat close to the truth in very simple terms. The same kind of strengthening for the IT band keeps it from breaking down with fatigue—the IT band runs down the outside of your leg from your hip to your ankle. Please don’t feel like I am opposed to all stretching, but there is a better way to stretch that you really must know about and follow if you do stretching. Remember, the second greatest cause of injuries in running is from stretching, as indicated in the following excerpt:
“Many runners and coaches rely on stretching to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury. In the meantime, experts disagree on the benefits and dangers of stretching. While many experts credit stretching with numerous benefits, improper stretching remains the second leading cause of running injuries. In simple terms, stretching increases the length of a muscle by pulling it past its resting state. A muscle can be stretched in four ways: ballistic, passive, static or dynamic. In ballistic stretching, runners jump and bounce, using momentum to stretch their muscles. This jerking action activates the stretch reflex and causes the muscles to contract rapidly. This sequence of events is supposed to lengthen the muscles. However, ballistic stretching may cause muscle and tendon tears, and has little proven benefit in running. In passive stretching, a partner applies external pressure to increase the range of the stretch. We commonly see a runner lying on her back, as a teammate pushes her leg toward her face. Passive stretching can be potentially dangerous, and should be avoided by inexperienced athletes. Static stretching requires a runner to approach the stretching position slowly and gradually to avoid the stretch reflex. Once the stretch position is reached, without causing any discomfort or pain, the runner holds it for several seconds. This stretch-relax sequence is repeated several times. Dynamic stretching relies on loosening the muscles by putting them gradually through the expected range of motion. Easy jogging before a race, followed by a few stride-outs at the anticipated race pace, prepares the muscles for the anticipated effort. Similarly, running on uneven trails and grass stretches the ankles by increasing the lateral movement of the feet. Although stretching is most effective when performed several times each week, a minimum of one stretching session per week is sufficient to maintain flexibility. A predominance of coaches and runners believe in stretching before and after every workout. Thus, a typical workout starts with a 10- to 20-minute warm-up, followed by 10-20 minutes of stretching, the main course, a post-workout stretch and a warm-down jog.”
Though I don’t do much stretching, I absolutely do the warm up and cool down jog! Whether you stretch or not, you SHOULD do the warm up and cool down.
You MUST have rest days between runs. At some point, running is all about injury prevention, and resting allows your body to repair. Running every single day will bring injuries.
Running hills IS recommended at least once per week. It is usually best to find a long gradual hill rather than a really steep one, but in either case run up and down the same hill, gaining strength and lung capacity as you go up and down. You will discover that running hills can be easier than running on the flat. Keep in mind it is harder on your body to go downhill, so you want to be careful to not go too fast and bring on an injury. I was fully trained for a marathon a few years ago but did some fast downhill running just prior to the event. The minor injury incurred prevented my entering the race!
Some people want to improve their personal time. There are various ways to do this. Probably the easiest way is to run faster for a short distance, then slow down, then faster, then slower, etc.. Some people will use mailboxes or lampposts to determine where to make changes. And, as usual, be careful and progressive in doing this. Others will do sets around a ¼ mile track, running faster for ¼ mile, then slowing down for a time, etc.. Some will run a routine where they run slowly the first time around, then faster for a portion of the track, then slow down, then faster for a longer portion of track, then slower, then faster for an even longer portion of track, etc., and then will slow back down in the same progressive way. In doing speed work, remember injuries are a constant danger, which is the reason I don’t do much speed training around tracks.
The Long Run
Long runs should take place once per week. Distance should be slowly added to. Most experts on the subject would say to add ten percent per week. In my case, I usually add two miles since cross roads come every mile out in the country—possible in Michigan where it is completely flat and the roads are laid out in a grid. I tend to run out and back the same route, and follow a road that has some traffic on it, but seeing the cars go by gives me something to think about. I find roads without any traffic a little boring. My route also goes uphill a bit on the way out, but comes down on returning, which makes the trip back a little easier.
Varieties of Runs
I enjoy running through neighborhoods, on roads in the country, on dirt farming roads, and trails in the woods. All of them have a purpose. In winter when there is snow on the ground, running through neighborhoods with houses means being close to warmth if I seriously hurt myself—I wouldn’t want to be miles away from the closest house when I am running in temperatures below freezing. The country roads are almost necessary for long runs and give a variety of scenery that keeps my interest. The dirt farming roads are a little easier on my feet and joints—cement is the hardest, then there is asphalt which is slightly softer, then of course there is dirt which is best—and therefore a welcomed change when I can run on the dirt in the Spring. And trail runs, which go up and down and around, are pure joy and help strengthen my ankles because of the variety of angles being experienced in the course of the run. If I had my choice I would spend all my time running trails because I experience hills, distance and a variety of angles, on softer terrain. But I know that running on asphalt is also necessary if I ever want to race since my joints need to build up to the pounding experienced on asphalt.
Warming Up; Cooling Down
I once read that our joints are like a dry sponge. Now you know as well as I do that sponges are extremely flexible if they are wet, but are totally INFLEXIBLE if they are dry. This is an important clue to injury-free running. To bring flexibility to your joints, you need to drink plenty off water ahead of time, then walk at a brisk speed for five minutes ahead of time to slowly work the hydration into your joints. After that start running, slower at first, than gradually building up speed, until you are at your pace. Also remember this clue when you are stretching—if you happen to stretch—choose to stretch AFTER you have warmed up when there is greater flexibility. So far as cooling down goes, when you have come to the end of your run, you need to continue walking at a brisk pace for some time—five or ten minutes—while your body cools down. Without this cooling down period there is every chance your muscles will tighten up and you will have an injury to contend with. Some people do stretches as part of this routine. I don’t, but I imagine I should. However if you do, be sure to only stretch to the point of feeling some resistance, hold it briefly, then back off, then starting over again, continuing this stretch to the point of some resistance, holding, then backing off. Never force a stretch. Going much beyond the first resistance when you are warmed up easily goes beyond what you should do, and can bring injury.
Most injuries come from things done while running that you realize after the fact should have been avoided—trying to go too fast in speed work, adding too much distance at one time to a long run, trying a latest fad in running—like running backwards, an inattentive moment when one stumbled, not taking rest days, etc.. If you fail to warm up and cool down, and do no exercises, you will also experience injuries. In rare cases it may be things outside of your running, like dress shoes worn at other times, as I experienced. If you experience an injury or are feeling pain, AFTER your run—and NEVER BEFORE—take an anti-inflammatory like Ibuprofen to stop the inflammatory cycle. It really works and usually takes care of the problem. I find myself taking Ibuprofen when I’ve added too much distance to my long run, or if for some reason I am feeling pain more. NEVER take an anti-inflammatory before you run, in anticipation of pain, because it will cause you to not feel pain when running—mask your pain—and therefore cause you to run even though you have injured yourself. If you are overcoming an injury, it is wise to run gently, run more slowly, and run to the point of your feeling the injury, than back off or even walk for a time, and slowly begin running and approach the pain threshold again, then back off. Remember that everything should happen on a progressive basis when running!
There are many running sites on the Internet. Check out Jeff Galloway if you want information on walking breaks. It is also important to learn about stretching from reputable sources if you plan to do much stretching. The last thing you want to do is stretch like the people you will see all around you at the beginning of a race who seem to be completely limber. They got their flexibility in a gradual way, NOT in a moment! If you try to do what they do, you will have an injury even before you begin your race.
In the “not necessary, but really helpful” category, are watches and MP3 players. So far as watches go, I use a Timax Ironman watch that has a chronograph to keep track of total time being run, an interval timer and alarm that lets me know when it is time to take a walking break and when to start running again, and several alarms for waking up in the morning. The watch didn’t cost much and is a wonderful help in running. I don’t like running when I can’t keep somewhat track of what is going on. There are fancier watches that monitor your heart and your speed and distance. You may need the heart monitor—ask your doctor, and the speed distance possibilities are great but cost lots more. If you happen to have the small “Nano” Ipod, you can get something to put on your running shoe that works with the Nano to get speed and distance. I’m not a big fan of the GPS form of speed distance watch, but it would be better than nothing—tall buildings obviously get in the way of getting readings, and they tend to use more batteries from what I’ve read. So far as playing music goes, you can obviously use a walkman with tapes or carry a tiny portable radio. CDs work fine if they skip prevention and you carry them—there is too much bounce if you strap them to your waste. An MP3 player like an Ipod or Nano is the best way to go and the ones I most recommend. I guess I should also mention that some water bottles are easier to use than others.
I close by saying that running is a wonderful addition to life anywhere. When traveling, when I am able, I love running through the streets of new cities early in the morning. At home, there is nothing like the early morning to see the world WHILE running. Remember running is about the joy of living NOT some ego thing. So take care of yourself, prevent injuries and don’t be afraid to skip days when necessary to make sure you don’t get injured or to get over injuries. If you follow the advice given above, you should be able to enjoy running on a long-term basis.