A guide to reaching the marathon finish line

Erin Sykes

Do you admire Lance Armstrong’s determination or the success of Maddy Crippen and Brian Westbrook? Are you looking for a new way to challenge yourself? Have you ever thought of running a marathon? Well, as long as you have been running for at least a year and are able to cover 15 to 25 miles a week comfortably, you have what it takes to complete an 18-week marathon training program.

There are numerous guides published in books, magazines and on the Internet at sites such as www.runnersworld.com that allow runners to create a personalized plan. Bryn Mawr Running also offers support and advice for runners of all levels through an organized running club.

A typical program combines long runs, tempo runs, cross- training and recovery time. A more experienced runner may incorporate some sprint work to break through a plateau. Although long-distance training runs are clearly the most important element in marathon preparation, rest days are essential to help maintain your health and stamina. The objective of training is to break down your muscles so they can rebuild themselves stronger than before. You cannot achieve this goal, however, without adequate recovery time.

Cross-training is a good way to incorporate rest and exercise into your training program since it allows you to gain aerobic stamina while avoiding the repeated pounding generated from running.

Throughout preparation, you will have to repeatedly change eating habits to compensate for increased mileage. To maintain strength, you should increase caloric intake by 100 calories for each additional mile you run. Also, a diet combining the proper balance of carbohydrates, protein, and fats is imperative. This is not the time to start a crash diet or eliminate essential food groups. On race day, stick to foods low in fat and high in fiber. Runners World magazine recommends that “bagels, raisins, bananas, sports drinks, pasta and rice are great pre-race foods … but a ‘liquid-meal’ is an acceptable alternative.”

It also recommends that runners drink one-half cup of water every 10 to 20 minutes throughout the race or a long-training run.

Mental preparation is also critical to successfully completing a marathon. The last 10K of the race (when you hit the 20-mile “wall”) is the most challenging and rewarding. This is when a runner’s legs start to fail and dehydration may set in. Prepare for this section of the race by completing training runs that are over 20 miles, maintaining proper hydration throughout the race and trying pre-race visualization. Dr. Michael Sachs, an exercise and sports psychologist at Temple University, recommends “visualizing that you are standing on top a hill” when you hit the 20- mile mark.

Your next step is “to jump down and plunge ahead!” In addition to a positive mental focus, adequate training and balanced nutrition, it is critical to have comfortable, supportive shoes and clothing that will not chafe.

One should visit a running store such as Bryn Mawr Running Co. or Haddonfield Running in Haddonfield, N.J., to be properly fitted with shoes that may prevent injury and correct slight imbalances.

There are marathons that are more “beginner-friendly” than others due to an energetic atmosphere and a flatter, faster course.

These marathons include the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida, Motorola Marathon in Texas, Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., La Salle Banks Marathon in Illinois and Atlantic City Marathon in New Jersey.

Each offers a unique opportunity to challenge yourself and experience the energy and excitement that only a marathon can offer.