Crossing the Finish Line

Ready to take your walking or running routine to the next level? Enter a marathon!
Running a Marathon

If you've already run a 5K or two, been walking/running for more than a few months and are capable of going for more than an hour you may be ready to undertake the ultimate athletic challenge: a marathon.

To be sure, there is no easy way to traverse 26.2 miles. But for those willing to put in the effort, what was once the realm of elite athletes is now open to runners and walkers of all levels and abilities.

“I decided to start training for a marathon after only about nine months of consistent running,” says Shauna Staveley of Hartford, CT who ran the ING Hartford marathon. “I watched the Boston Marathon, and said to myself ‘I'm tired of being mystified by marathon runners. What if the former heavy girl who couldn't run 1/3 of a mile, ran a 26.2 mile race?’”

The process can be life changing.

“It was the event that showed me that I could do anything,” says Jennifer Hardaway of Los Angeles who ran the Honolulu marathon. “Since then I have started my own business. The marathon gave me a notch of self-esteem and courage to reach for my dreams.”

Training Tips for Marathon Women

Ken Earley, a 12-time marathoner and an RRCA-certified running coach as well as a member of Weight Watchers, offers these tips:
  • Start slow. Then go slower.
  • Go to a real running store and get fitted for good shoes. This expense will pay for itself in better health and fewer co-pays. The staff can tell you if you over-pronate, supinate, etc.
  • Start with the Couch to 5K plan, walking and incorporating running.
  • Never increase your distance more than 10 percent at a time.
  • Up distance first, then speed.
  • As your running progresses (and your distance), look for training plans for 10Ks, ten-milers, and half-marathons. Two popular online programs for beginner runners are Jeff Galloway’s Run/Walk Programs and this one from Cool Running.
  • Check out your local running club for marathon training programs. Charity groups have training programs as well. “There are people running marathons at every pace, and runners come in all shapes and sizes, so don’t be shy. Twenty miles is a long way to run alone, so running with a group is a very fun, social, and safe way to train.”

Training Days
The first step (of many) is doctor consultation, says Bill McArdle, an exercise physiologist for Weight Watchers International. There is a reason sports cars that go from 0-60 in short bursts are also major gas-guzzlers — it’s hard on the tank. “Use caution,” McArdle urges.

For those who have not been regularly walking or exercising, McArdle suggests taking six months to walk/jog, trying a half marathon and then pushing it up to a full after that. “If you can do brisk walking for 90 minutes, then you may be ready for a training program,” says McArdle.

“A marathon is a terrific goal, but work your way up,” says Dave Camire, a 25-year cross country coach and lifelong runner who is also the senior editor of Cool Running, a Web site dedicated to all things running, who co-authored the Couch to 5K running program with Josh Clark. Run some 5Ks, 10Ks, progress to a half marathon. We want running to become a lifestyle.” You can find a number of training programs online. (See sidebar.)

New runners — especially those trying to lose weight — need to be careful that they don’t lose too much weight too quickly. “It is important to monitor that you are continuing to lose weight at a healthy rate of no more than an average of two pounds per week and have the energy you need for undertaking this type of activity,” says Stephanie Rost, MD, RD who is the director of corporate program development for Weight Watchers International.

“If you find that, as your activity is steadily increasing, you are losing weight too rapidly, and/or feeling hungry, monitor and swap your activity PointsPlus values that you are earning during your training sessions for food PointsPlus values and make sure to use your weekly PointsPlus Allowance,” says Rost.

Fuel Your Fire
“I had to slightly alter the program to accommodate my training,” says Jennifer Hereth of Columbus, OH, who completed her first marathon in 2005. “Typically we were advised not to consume more than six of our activity PointsPlus values in a given day, but on the days of long runs my body needed more to refuel. I tried to always track my PointsPlus values so I knew where I stood, but I gave myself a little more flexibility on the weekends when I would do my long runs and if I went over or used all my weekly PointsPlus values and then some, I knew it was what my body needed to replenish what I had burned.”

Rost also encourages closely monitoring the Weight Watchers Good Health Guidelines. “When in the earlier stages of training with runs that last an hour or less, eating a well-balanced diet and staying well hydrated is adequate,” she says. “However, when your training extends beyond the hour mark, it becomes more important to choose foods before and during your run to maintain enough energy to last during 2-4 hours of running.” Three to four hours before your run, continues Rost, “eat a carbohydrate-rich meal with a small amount of protein that is also lower in fat and fiber to help ensure optimal digestion.” These might include:

  • Fruit + yogurt smoothie + low-fat granola
  • Low-fat cottage cheese + whole grain crackers + grapes
  • Tuna sandwich with low-fat mayo + fruit cup + fat-free yogurt

In addition, a marathoner needs:

  • Adequate hydration
  • Easily digested foods rich in carbohydrates

Done right, the experience can be powerful, says Hereth. Until I went to cheer on a friend, I thought you had to be six-feet-tall and shaped like a string bean to run a marathon. But you don't. It took me a long time to accept that I was a runner. But now no matter how much I lose, gain, or maintain, I will always be a marathoner. Completing that epic race will always be a part of me.”

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