It’s been a long time since I trained for a marathon, but I can’t tell you how beneficial it is to have done it before. As I’m getting into the swing of things this time (even though just a half marathon) , all those memories flood back of what it was like to train for it, and perhaps more importantly, that it just CAN be done. When I ran it last time, I trained with the Jeff Galloway program through Run On. Here are the keys that stick with me 10 years later:
1. Run a pace you can run forever. Which means run about 2 min per mile SLOWER than what you’re capable of doing for 1-2 miles.
2. If you can’t talk while you’re running, you’re going too fast.
3. For me, if my heart rate climbs too much over 150, I’m going too fast.
4. All it takes is a little luck (to avoid injury), and commitment.
5. Do a long run once a week, and increase the distance 2 miles every week or two until you get to longer distances (10+)
5. And most importantly, the 5-1 rule. Run for 5 minutes, walk for 1.
I’m terribly out of shape, yet I ran 6 miles today. A lot of people who train for marathons aren’t in very good shape, yet they finish. Why? I can only guess how others have done it, but the 5-1 rule is critical for me. The 5-1, or 3-1, or even 2-1, is a ratio of how many minutes running before taking 1 minute and walking. This is huge. If you’re sitting in your chair reading this today, you might think you could never run for 2 hours or 3 hours or 5 hours. But anyone can get to the point where they can run for 2, 3, 4, 5 minutes at a time. You wouldn’t believe the psychology of that. You’re going, you’re hurting, you’re lungs are puffing and shins are hurting. Focusing the mind on it will only be another 2 minutes before you can take a break makes all the difference in the world.
Now any distance is just a bunch of manageable segments. It’s a giant reset button. Sometimes we find ourselves feeling good and starting to run a pace that’s too fast. Hitting that 5 minute mark and taking a break helps you reflect during that 1 minute about whether you’re going too fast and lets you start back at a good pace. Or you’ve just been running up a long hill and thinking you’ll never make it all the way up. Guess what, you don’t. You just have to go for 5 minutes and then you can rest a bit.
Perhaps just as important is the break it gives your muscle groups. Running and walking use different muscle groups. If you find your muscles tightening up, walking for a bit relaxes those muscles and gives them a chance to recover and increases your chances of moving on through it. Take advantage of the 1 minute walks to stretch a bit when it will help. For me that’s usually about 15 minutes in.
So what happens come marathon time (actually I think it happens somewhere around when you can go 10-12 miles) and where are all these people doing 5-1s. Your fitness level will definitely go up on this plan. Sooner or later you find you don’t need the forced discipline of the 5-1 (or at least it was true for me). You may end up doing 10-1s, or you may just find that you take a 1 minute break when you need it, or you take a little break every time you hit a mile marker or water stand. So yes, a lot of people don’t actually do much walking by the time they get to marathon distance. They no longer need it. But a lot of us would never have gotten to that point without the initial training to get the body used to running long distances.
One last thing, I’m not doing it now and it may come back to bite me. Train with others. Guaranteed I wouldn’t have taken off 4 days this week if I’d had someone waiting out in the freezing dark to meet me at 5:30am. My marathon year, I trained with a group of about 6. Best thing I ever did, and best group selection I could have made. One girl was my age, and the rest were her mother and mother’s friends. They were running a pace several minutes slower than I was capable of (for short distance). Training with them where the pace was easy and manageable made it extremely easy to keep increasing the distance.
Bottom line: Do you really care if 20 years from now someone says you ran a slow marathon? Or would you rather say, “I was going to run a marathon, and I could run a 7 minute pace, but I pulled a muscle training. Or, I just couldn’t make it past 8 miles”
Since he made such a big difference for me, I guess I should point you to the source, Run Injury Free with Jeff Galloway.