Kim Cowart: So you want to run a marathon? Here's how to do it

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 3 2012 4:00 p.m. MST

Jon Kotter, left, and Fritz Van De Kamp grab some water as they run in the Deseret News Marathon, Monday, July 25, 2011.

Ravell Call, Deseret News

Running a marathon is on many people’s bucket list. With the new year, what better time to cross that item off the list than now?

Tackling the 26.2-mile race can seem overwhelming to someone who has yet to reach that distance, but with the right training and a little planning, crossing that finish line can soon become reality.

First, runners should make sure they have a good base from which to start their training. Huntsman Hometown Heroes coach Elfi Ortenburger suggests having a solid running base built over three to six months. Runners should be able to run three to four miles at a time. Once this solid base is built, the marathon training can begin.

Many first-time marathoners make the mistake of following someone else’s plan. Doing too much too soon is a common mistake. Injuries and burnout are often the result.

“Follow your own comfortable pace,” said Ortenburger. “Two mid-week runs of 45 to 60 minutes each and the weekly long run is perfect and enough to finish a marathon. Long runs should be every other week only.”

Ortenburger warns new marathoners against comparing themselves to other veteran marathoners and trying to copy their training plans. When searching for a training plan, find one geared specifically toward first-timers.

Jeff Galloway, author of “How to Train for a Marathon," recommends that first-timers set a goal of simply finishing a marathon. Since runners are entering unknown territory, time goals can add unnecessary pressure and take the fun out of training.

Galloway designed a run/walk program that many new marathoners find effective in finishing their first race, even at shorter distances. Galloway encourages runners to find a walk/run ratio that works for them according to the pace they run.

Ortenburger also supports the Galloway run/walk method of marathon training since it is much gentler on the body. Muscle and bone need time to adapt to the stresses of running and the Galloway method allows the body to recover more rapidly.

“Speed work and tempo runs are too much for the first-timer,” said Ortenburger. “The focus should be on endurance and building up the distance. No more than one 20-mile long run for first-timers.”

“Many bodies don’t hold up to both the endurance and speed so the focus needs to be the distance,” she added.

Motivation can be an obstacle for many once the training hits high mileage. Local elite master’s runner Walter Brown, who was inspired to run again after watching other runners finish the Top of Utah Marathon, finds motivation while running with others.

“Join a group of running friends locally in your neighborhood, or a running store could help you find one,” said Brown. “I found a great group of runners, the Salt Lake City Track Club, that met up a few times a week to help my motivation."

Going public with the decision to tackle a marathon is also a good way to stay motivated.

“The best advice I can give is to announce to your family and friends your intentions and let them help you keep motivated,” addsedBrown.

If others know the plan, they can help runners stay on track with their training, even coach and cheer them on during long, tough workouts.

While training can be tough, most runners agree that the payoff at the finish line is huge.

“If the whole world could be at the starting line of a marathon and experience the feelings you go through, there would be world peace,” said Brown.

Kim Cowart is a wife, mother, 24-Hour Fitness instructor and 16-time marathon finisher.

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