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The Road To Iwo Jima

Marathon Training Next On The Agenda

Published Sept. 2, 1997, in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

On my occasional business and family trips, I try to find and run local races. This gives me a chance to meet new runners, enjoy new courses, and race in anonymity. When I learned of my cousin's wedding in Washington, DC, next October, I searched the calendar for a local race. To my surprise, the Marine Corps Marathon was the only race in town on the morning after the wedding.

I convinced my wife to train with me for the Marine Corps. Neither of us has run a marathon. So, besides training for the 26.2-mile run, we had to learn about running marathons. We followed a proven approach. First, we watched a videotape of Joan Benoit winning the Olympic Marathon to see how she ran. Second, we talked to runners who had run marathons to learn why they ran. Third, we reviewed the running literature to find out how we should run. Finally, we watched Marathon Man, to prepare for the pain.

After reading several books on marathon training, we realized that there are many ways to skin a cat, or to train for a marathon. In our plan, we adopted the points on which the experts agreed, and adapted those points on which they disagreed.

The weekly long run is the main staple of every marathon training program. The pace is leisurely, two minutes per mile slower than race pace. Runners increase the distance of the long run by 1 mile each week. When the long run exceeds 10 miles, experts recommend a long run every other week, increasing the distance by two miles each time. Taking a day off before a long run allows the body to replenish glycogen supplies. The last long run should be 2 to 3 weeks before the marathon, reaching 18 to 24 miles.

While the experts agree on the importance of the long run, they differ on the rest of the training schedule. Hill repeats, track workouts, tempo runs and time trials may prepare the competitive marathoner for a fast performance. Their value is questionable when the goal is to finish, dignity optional. Therefore, we will skip the fancy footwork this time, and concentrate on covering the distance.

Studies show a direct correlation between total training mileage in the final weeks before a marathon and the finishing time. However, these studies fail to establish a convincing causality. Do fast runners run a lot before a marathon, or does running a lot result in a fast time? Either way, we will gradually increase our weekly mileage, by no more than 10 percent each week, to keep it in line with the distance of the long run.

The requirement for improved nutrition and increased sleep are welcome news. I can finally justify my "see-food" diet (I see food, I eat it), and my afternoon naps. We have also started experimenting with energy foods and sports drinks on our long runs. Apple fritters and chocolate cake are out; bagels and bananas are in.

Marathon training provides an opportunity to sample new races. The fast and flat 5K races that highlighted our calendar have given way to hilly trail runs and long-distance races. Our new training calendar lists the Cazenovia 10-mile, the Finger Lakes 25K, the Forest Frolic 15K, the Phelps Sauerkraut 20K, and the Tromptown and ARC half-marathons as training runs. So many P.R.s are waiting to happen.

While I have not run a marathon, I have trained for Pittsburgh, Buffalo, Vermont, Montreal and Ottawa. Each year, illness concluded my training. After every 20-miler, one of the little darlings came home from school with a cough, a runny nose, a sore throat, an ear ache, and a high fever for good measure. Weakened by the intense training, my immune system broke down, transforming a hopeful marathoner into a sick man on drugs.

This year, we are training for a Fall marathon, to avoid the winter sniffles. However, four weeks into the schedule, the children have already totaled five visits to the pediatrician, for a sinus infection, strep throat, bronchitis, and intestinal fever. It must be the cats.

Kamal Jabbour prepares for next week-end's long run wearing a surgical mask and gloves. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains The Syracuse Running Page and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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