Showing posts with label marathon runner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label marathon runner. Show all posts

Friday, April 26, 2013

How to Go from Couch ‘Tater to Marathon Runner

As we promised in this article and this one, here is a brief guide on how to go from couch potato to distance runner.

Step #1 – kill the excuses

If you really want to take on the challenge of becoming a regular distance runner, and possibly even a marathon runner, there will always be a hundred reasons you can come up with not to do so.  But let's see if we can get you past the three top excuses:
  • "I'm too old."
    Not likely. Read our previous running article and note the age of the oldest marathon runner.  And what could be more inspiring than the story of Bill Iffrig: That Man Who Crumbled to the Ground During the Boston Marathon Bombings.  Just one year shy of 80, he got back up after the bomb blast and walked the remaining 20 feet to finish the marathon in the respectable time of 4:03:47, proving that age is no excuse.
  • "I'm too overweight."
    Again, not likely.  No doubt: someone who is overweight will need to start off more slowly. But if you are overweight, your body is likely to be shedding pounds more quickly when running, just as someone who is carrying a runner’s weight vest would do (Yes, they do make them).  But I have known or met several people that were significantly overweight, and who have either walked or run marathons.
  • "I’m too unhealthy"
    Because you can start easy – perhaps a walk around the block the first time – most people are able to start a running program in spite of health issues.  And given the health benefits of any regular cardio exercise program, the benefits of getting started are worth the challenge. Of course, before starting any exercise program, check with your doctor regarding your overall health and for a consultation on your physical readiness.
Believe in yourself

With excuses out of the way, the next step to a successful distance running goal will ensure your greatest chance of success:

Step # 2 – create a vision

A wise man once said, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18).  Though he was not talking about a running program, the statement certainly applies.  If you've never been a runner, you likely cannot envision yourself running even a mile, much less a marathon.  After your first attempt at running more than a block or two, you may find the effort too difficult without a vision of what you expect to achieve by sticking with it.

So, find out what motivates you.  This will be different for everyone.  Maybe it’s health improvement (nearly inevitable with a sustained, graduated running program), or maybe it's midlife crisis – wanting to prove that age is not a barrier to succeeding at a physical challenge. 

Perhaps your motivation to try a marathon can be a shared one. For San Fernando Valley, California, runner Andrea Giese-Sweat, her vision for running came from witnessing the actions of her father, who had taken up distance running first.  Andrea says that, “I would never have started running if I had not decided to train for the LA Marathon with my dad.”

For Ijaz Afzal of Los Angeles, his motivation came from both the social aspects of such an endeavor and the challenge of taking his body to doing greater things.  “For me,” he says, “Taking up marathon running was about  being together with my running friends as we prepared together for the big event and doing something that I felt was both positive and challenging.”

A common motivator for many who take up running later in life is weight loss or physical appearance.  Marathon runner Heather Connan of Southern River, Australia, agrees that such matters as health and weight are largely what got her started into running during midlife.  "That's me alright," she admits. "I didn't want to be fat and 40!"

With that as her motivation, Heather made the commitment to get serious about running.”Eight months after I started running and losing weight, I ran my first half marathon. And then, 10 months later, I ran my first marathon. Now, I am venturing into triathlon and loving it.”  That's the power of creating a vision for yourself.

Step # 3 – graduate to greatness

You may have heard the incredible story of ultra-distance runner Dean Karnazes who, on his 30th birthday and having not run since high school, took off from the party, ran from the bar and into the night …. and did not stop until he had run 30 miles! You may have also heard of plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendonitis, and heart attacks – which is what you might experience if you attempt to go from a sedentary lifestyle into running 30 miles without preparation!  I.e., don’t try it.   Don’t even bother consulting with your doctor first, because no doctor would ever give you the go-ahead. 

Just as you would likely fail in college if you had not first done your time in grades K through 12, you are
Ric Moxley LA Marathon
Author running 2013 Los Angeles
likely to fail at distance running if you do not “graduate” into it by putting in the initial walks, then short runs, then longer runs, and so forth, until your body (heart, bones, muscles, and connective tissues) are race-ready.  If a walk around the block is more than you have attempted in years, then feel proud if that is where you start.  Walking is precisely where I started. The walks grew longer and further, eventually mixing in short segments of running. The short segments eventually became longer than the walking segments until, over the period of about five years, I was running marathons.

I talked with distance runners across the globe to learn about their journey from the couch to marathon running.  The graduated progression story is nearly always the same. For example, Sandy Erb of Merced, California (another person who started running in her mid-30s) started as a walker.  "I decided to walk the LA Marathon two months after receiving the gift of an MP3 player, which made my regular walks so much more fun." Sandy reports that, after a while, walking felt too slow, "So I started running, just a block or two at first." Now, as so many others who started gradually, Sandy runs regularly. Those who have stayed with it for years and come to find running to be an addiction, a passion, are those who gradually, sensibly progressed over months or even years.

Step #4 – don’t do it alone

Even though running is generally considered a solo sport,  many runners find the greatest success when they share their running commitment with others. This can be as simple as finding a running partner – perhaps a neighborhood friend who shares your interest in getting in shape. Also, check community listings for running groups in your area that meet weekly. Check with your local running shoe store or sporting goods store, which are often where running groups meet. Other sources for finding running camaraderie include marathon training groups or online running support groups (such as, or do a search for Facebook running groups).

Even when you run alone, you feel part of a brotherhood/sisterhood whenever you pass another runner. In the words of runner Gene Baur, the Cofounder and President of Farm Sanctuary, “When you run by someone and there's a thumbs up or encouragement … it's a brotherhood: a support and an appreciation for the effort we're all making."

Running group
Run with a group to increase your motivation

Step #5 – Make your first race commitment

Signing up for a race makes it real.  Having that date on the calendar helps you stay motivated to continue increasing your mileage capacity – you want to be ready!

Your first race should be something much shorter than a marathon; maybe a 5k (kilometer) or 10k race.  A shorter race will allow you to experience the thrill of the race and the joy of the shared experience without the pressure of an overwhelming distance to conquer at the same time. 

A shorter race also makes a great introduction into the fellowship of running, which can be tremendously motivating.  Frances Rucks of Mountain View, California is a marathoner who only ran her first race a couple years ago.  Though it was a 5k (kilometer) race – about three miles – it proved to be the trigger.  “That's where they get you,” she explains. “Meeting other runners and hearing their stories inspired me to try trail running and then a half marathon. Each time, I always thought that was the furthest I would ever run and ‘why would anyone want to put themselves through the pain of running a full marathon!’”

But she did.  Frances ran her first full marathon in 2012, just two years after her first 5k race.  “I’ve already run two more marathons this year and even a 50k race, and will be capping the year off with a 50 miler.”  She adds, “Running has changed my life in so many ways and I am so grateful that I found it!”

Ijaz Afzal agrees.  “Much of what motives you to consider a marathon is the other runners you meet at your initial shorter distance races who talk about their 26.2-mile achievements. Many of us find that these discussions trigger the desire to try it.”

Step #6 – Make the marathon commitment

After you've completed the five steps to marathon prep, the only thing that remains is the marathon itself.  As with the shorter races, making the commitment by registering for a marathon will solidify your resolve and help you keep your training on target.

Important: the longer the race, the sooner you need to sign up. Preparing your body for the challenge of a marathon is something every runner builds up to. The number of miles you will be running needs to increase gradually and steadily as the marathon date approaches. Most marathon training programs – a good investment, especially for your first marathon – start at least 12 weeks out from the event. So give yourself at least three months to make sure you are physically and mentally prepared.

To find a marathon or other race to sign up for, check out the Runners World Race Finder or Race Place Online.

Ric Moxley 
Contributing Writer