Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Training Advice for those Aspiring to Qualify for Boston Marathon

Many have asked me about qualifying for the Boston Marathon with the hope that someday they can do it too. After responding to a recent inquiry about this, I decided it was time to make a new post on this subject. Bottom line for this post is that you’d be surprised what your body can do if you take action and train smart.

As some of you know, my quest to qualify for Boston started in January 2008. Since then I’ve finished 6 marathons and encountered just about everything you can imagine. Has been an excellent journey with much time spent on technique improvement, injury rehab, nutrition, training plans, etc.

In my opinion, it is hard for non-elite, older than college age runners to find a good running coach and although I did pay a few for advice and assessment, I think you really need to be your own coach because nobody knows your body like you do and nobody pays as much attention to your needs as you do. That said, it’s important to run with others at least part of the time so you have some friendly competition to push you along.

The biggest error I see with most people training for a marathon is they don’t use target paces. In most cases the quantity of running is OK, but the quality is wrong. Sort of a garbage in garbage out scenario. Running 5 times a week at the same old pace is boring and unproductive. The key is to use a recent 5K, 10K or Half Marathon race time to gauge your current running fitness level. Then set up your training schedule so your training runs are at a specific target pace. Combine this with a plan that has one day focused on speed, one as a fast tempo run, and one long run and you will be surprised how much faster you run.

There are several books I highly recommend that will help you get started. Below are links to them on Amazon.com. I built my training plan using the “Run Less, Run Faster” book. I really like it because you focus on 3 key runs per week that are complemented by cross training so the total miles per week are significantly less

The “Brain Training for Runners” book has some excellent background on how our brains work and what we can do to run faster plus it gets into technique. Chi Running is a good entry level into proper running form that gets you a good jump start. In my opinion, the drills and queues mentioned in Brain Training are easier to apply after Chi Running. Note that I have put these books in order of preference so if you can only buy one or two, start at top of list.

There are a few great websites I use a lot. Below are links to them with brief explanation.

  • McMillan Running Calculator. Greg is right on with his calculator and training philosophy. He’s very much in line with the Run Less book. I use the calculator all the time to figure out training paces and figure out what I might be able to run a given distance at. Check it out here; http://www.mcmillanrunning.com/mcmillanrunningcalculator.htm
  • Runbayou is calculator based on Jack Daniels. Is interesting to compare to McMillan since Daniels is the running guru credited with much of the science behind modern day running. http://www.runbayou.com/jackd.htm
  • eRaceWalk is a site for walker’s, but the calculators for figuring out times/paces at the race track work just the same for running. Page down to sections D and E. All times given in Run Less Run Faster or by McMillan are for Lane 1 at the track. I find that lane often is busy so I like to run in Lane 4. However, Lane 4 is longer so you need to adjust the times. Section E you enter the Lane 1 target time and it will tell you an equivalent time in Lanes 2 through 8. Then you enter the same Lane 1 speed in Section D and it will tell you the pace/mile in Lane 1. If you are following me, the pace you run in Lane 1 to achieve the desired Lane 1 time…if run in Lane 4 will equal the time shown in Lane 4 in Section E. Anyhow, doing these calculations before I go to the track help me run the right pace when I’m in Lane 4. http://www.eracewalk.com/CalcTrac.htm

For all you thinking about starting the New Year with a goal of running a marathon, the sites and books listed here are highly recommended for you too. Just remember, Rome wasn’t built in a night and you are a participant in the journey of life. Study up, make a plan, and take action. Most importantly, enjoy the process as it is the journey that counts, not the destination.