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The Trail From Beginner to Boston

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Several beginning runners on this Beginners Forum have set an objective of qualifying for the 1999 or 2000 Boston marathon and have organized a Boston Training Group on this forum. Your enthusiasm is very commendable, although the objective is probably quite ambitious for most. It will take a lot of hard work and luck to go from a very beginning runner to the Boston Marathon within two years. I would like to offer a few thoughts on getting from here to there, if I may.

In order to qualify for Boston, it is necessary to be able to do two things.....run long and run fast.....and both in the same race. The qualifying time for females under 35 years of age is 3:40, or 8:24 per mile. For men under 35, it is 3:10, or 7:15 per mile. Neither is easily done. But, with the right combination of desire and my three P's.....Patience, Perseverance and a Plan.....many runners can get there. Those who have formed the Boston Training Group have certainly demonstrated the strong desire. Your Patience and Perseverance will be tested over the next year or more. What is needed now is a long range Plan.

The plan should extend at least a full year to allow a buildup to a fall '98 marathon. It should be designed to develop yourself in progressive stages to the point where you can take on a marathon program. Most of the work and physical stress involved in a marathon program occurs in the 3-4 month training regimen that precedes the race. The race itself is hard. But, by then your training has prepared you for it. It is necessary to develop yourself to handle the very stressful marathon training regimen. Particularly one that will prepare you to run a Boston qualifying time.

There are three body systems that need to be developed.....cardio-respiratory, muscular, and skeletal. All must be strengthened before embarking on a marathon program. The cardio- respiratory system develops fastest, followed by the muscular system. And, the skeleton takes the longest to strengthen. Because the three systems don't develop at the same rate, it is very possible for the rapidly developing cardio-respiratory system to push developing muscles beyond their limit. Or, for those two systems to allow a runner's bones to be over stressed. In either case, the result is often injury.....tendonitis, pulled or torn muscles, stress fractures, etc. For these reasons, beginning runners are usually advised to not attempt a marathon until after running regularly for a year or more. Not that a marathon in the first year is impossible. Many do it. But, the risk of injury is much higher in the first year. The old "too much, too soon" problem. Like trying to increase more than 10% per week, but on a broader scale.

A good plan should develop the body....and your running ability.....in progressive stages. Each stage should be a little more challenging and stressful than the preceding ones. For instance, a plan might include a 5k training and racing "season" for the rest of this year. Then a 10k training and racing "season" starting during the winter and through the spring. Finally, a marathon "season" starting mid to late summer for a fall '98 marathon. Half marathons can be run as part of both the 10k and marathon programs. But, it isn't necessary to do a half marathon "season" per se. Also, a 3-4 week "R&R break" should planned between seasons. R&R doesn't mean no running. It means reduced mileage and easy running only to allow your body to get some rest. You will be pushing it hard for over a year. Without some breaks, it has an increased risk of breaking down. I call the combination of a spring 10k season, a fall marathon season and two R&R periods a "macro-cycle". I think the two seasons compliment each other. The 10k programs make you faster and the marathon programs make you stronger. Each helps the other. I repeated this macro-cycle for seven consecutive years with increasingly better results.

At the same time you are developing running strength, you will also need to develop speed.....the ability to run longer, faster. The training regimen of each season must include the right blend of long runs, speedwork, strengthening runs, and racing. And, each is different for 10k and marathon seasons.

I strongly suggest following the training programs of one of the running experts......Higdon, Galloway or Glover. Personally, I am partial to Bob Glover's programs in his book titled "The New Competitive Runner's Handbook". I used it for most of my running in the 80's. In it, he has training programs for 5k, 10k and marathon and for runners of all levels....Novice Competitor, Basic Competitor, Advanced Competitor, and Champion Competitor. It isn't necessary to go through each level for each distance. For instance, for maximum progress to Boston from a beginner's level, one might try the Novice 5k program, Basic 10k program and either Basic or Advanced marathon program, if one is capable of advancing at that rate.

By next spring, 10k race times should give a pretty good indication of whether running a Boston qualifying time in a fall marathon next year is practical. If they don't, then I would still proceed with a fall marathon, but start to plan on another "macro-cycle" consisting of a spring '99 10k season and a fall '99 marathon season, each elevated to a higher level than the first time, to try to qualify for the 2000 Boston.

If you are close to a qualifying time in a marathon next fall, you might want to try again over the winter to qualify for Boston '99. Otherwise, be prepared to simply repeat the two-season "macro-cycle", maybe several times, at ever increasing levels. In other words, allow your plan to have some flexibility.

It took me 5 years and 12 marathons to finally qualify for Boston. Of course, I'm "old lead foot". Hopefully each of you can get there in a year or two. Remember the rule of thumb that says that beginning runners can expect to improve for at least 7-10 years. And, I think that is a low estimate for very young runners....like early 20's. Most runners reach their marathon peak somewhere in their mid-30's. So there's plenty of time. That's when one of the other two P's, Patience, really comes into play.

In summary, I think that anyone will get to Boston quickest and with minimal risk of injury with a well thought out plan that builds in stages. How fast that is for each person will really depend on his or her ability.....and Perseverance.