People looking for a challenge or who want to take their workouts to the next level might consider running a marathon. If runners start training now, even novices have a shot at completing a marathon next spring, like the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon on March 4.
"I recommend starting training now (for the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon)," says Rebecca King, a health fitness instructor at East Jefferson General Hospital who has completed more than 15 marathons, two Ironman races and four ultra-marathons ranging in length from 32 to 52 miles. "If you're a newbie, I'd consider the half-marathon, because marathon training is pretty challenging. But there's still time for the full marathon — it's just a matter of how much time you put into training. If anybody comes up to me and asks, 'Do you think I could do a marathon?' I say, 'Yes. Are you ready to train for one?'"
King follows online running programs designed to help people prepare for marathons. She says the program is simple — "There's nothing rocket science about it" — but sticking with it takes time and discipline. "Training for a marathon is like a second job," she says. Here are a few guidelines.
JOIN A RUNNING GROUP
There are benefits to making the commitment to run a marathon. Elena Perez finds training for races provides structure, a goal and a way to turn exercise into an experience.
"I started (with) a running group so I had goals," says Perez, who ran competitively in high school. "I enjoyed (running) when I was younger, and I kind of let it go by the wayside."
Perez joined a running group that meets Monday and Wednesday evenings at Louisiana Running Company, and there are other groups that meet at Southern Runner and Phidippedes. Louisiana Running Company co-owner, personal trainer and experienced marathoner Jennifer Radecker helps Perez train, and Perez also benefits from the support and expertise of a diverse group of runners. King recommends running groups for everybody from beginners to experienced athletes.
"I used to train on my own, and now I run with groups, and my running has gone to a different level," says King, who points out that running groups can offer advice on training programs, nutrition, hydration and avoiding injuries. "Just hearing the trials and errors of other people really helps. They offer motivation to keep going, and it's social. Those long runs get boring. Sometimes being with other runners helps out."
GET THE RIGHT GEAR
After runners have a solid support system and training schedule in place, it's time to think about gear. Proper shoes are the most important equipment, but a quick jaunt through a running store reveals products ranging from anti-chafing products to superhero-esque hydration belts. The array can prove overwhelming. However, Patrick Gavin, who co-owns Louisiana Running Company, says these items are not essential for beginners. Until runners regularly log eight miles, they can hold off on loading up on gear.
"The bare essentials are the right shoes," Gavin says. "If you're just starting with running, I think that's the most important thing."
King echoes these sentiments and recommends anyone embarking on marathon training visit a running store to get specially fitted for shoes. Running style, arch height and the way a runner's feet flare out or point inward all must be considered when buying shoes. "Shoes can make you or break you," King says. "I was running with the wrong shoes, and I got shin splints. I pound a lot of weight on my feet, so I need a thicker cushion. I would go someplace that has devices that can measure your running. There are places that study your feet and your mechanics — they'll do a little run test with you and fit you for a shoe. There's a shoe for everybody."
LEARN PROPER FORM AND INJURY PREVENTION TACTICS
Even a motion as natural as running has a form and structure that best prevents injury. Most professionals discuss running in terms of striking, or where the foot lands on the ground: toe striking, mid-foot striking or heel striking. "Some people are more pronators or supinators; some hit the heels, some hit the toes," King says. Radecker recommends striking from the middle of the feet to best distribute weight and keep injuries to a minimum. Other tips include keeping the upper body loose and ensuring you have a strong core. "You're always going to run better just from that," Radecker says.
King stresses the importance of proper warm-ups and cooldowns to prevent injuries like pulled muscles. "Use the start of your run as a warm-up, and at the end, make sure you cool down with five minutes of slower running." She also recommends cross-training with low-impact exercises like biking, swimming or exercising on an elliptical machine. Radecker leads runners in a series of warm-up exercises: running in place while keeping knees high and abdominal muscles tight, running backward and stepping side to side.
Chad Rice, a veteran of six marathons and numerous half-marathons, advises new runners to choose varied running paths. "Too much road running, people pounding the pavement, just causes a lot of repetitive motion injuries," Rice says. Avoid running exclusively on the road, and get out in uneven ground that isn't covered in asphalt. More experienced running group members often impart advice on running paths, and websites like USA Track and Fields Route Database (www.usatf.org/routes) help determine mileage. Many area parks offer pathways for running and biking.
STICK TO THE SCHEDULE
A running schedule provides structure and support. Radecker says the time necessary to train for a marathon can vary based on a runner's experience. Generally, marathon training consists of alternating between shorter and longer distances and gradually building up to 26-mile treks.
"I recommend four to five days of running a week, with at least one day set aside for long-distance running, and a day of rest after that," King says. "You'll probably work up to 12 to 15 hours a week of training. It's pretty challenging, but it's doable."
During the time leading up to a marathon, shorter races are a way for runners to get experience and enjoy the energy boost of running with a group and seeing a cheering crowd. Perez plans to tackle a 3K and 5K prior to a marathon. "I'm doing baby steps," she says.
BE MENTALLY TOUGH
King currently is training for an ultra-marathon with her brother: Over the course of three days, they'll log 126.2 miles, running day and night and stopping only for 15-minute naps. "You get a little delusional from all the impact and lack of sleep, but I've heard good things about it, as long as you're training properly," King says.
King stresses that mental toughness is essential to long-distance running, whether you're completing an ultra event or your first half-marathon. "The body goes out first, and the mind tells the body, 'You can't quit,'" she says. "The mind and the heart keep the muscle part of the body going."
ENJOY THE PROCESS
Somewhere along the journey to complete a marathon, training becomes about more than a race; it's about belonging to a community of positive thinkers who love running and don't think a large goal is impossible.
"I've heard, 'You're crazy, you're insane,' but (my brother and I) purely love ultra sports. For us, it's just about the satisfaction of what we love to do," King says. "You can train the human body to do whatever you want it to do, to an extent, and I feel like I'm made to do these events and show it can be done with motivation, perseverance and support."
Rebecca King and her brother Gabriel King have run more than 15 marathons and are training for a 126.2-mile ultra-marathon.
proper warm-ups, cooldowns and footwear help runners prevent injury.