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HUMAN RESOURCES

How to Run a Marathon

Hey, maybe it's time to run a marathon. Because, really, what self-respecting, athletically ambitious, kick-ass entrepreneur can resist that challenge?
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Because, really, what self-respecting, athletically ambitious, kick-ass entrepreneur can resist?

Maybe it's just time, you know? Time to take on those 26 miles and 385 yards. Time to step right up to that whole history-soaked, messenger-in-ancient-Greece situation. You'll wear better shoes than Pheidippides did, of course. (He ran barefoot.) And as apr?race sensations go, you'll be shooting for something a little less dramatic. (He immediately died.) But you will be a marathoner, is the point. And let's face it: athletically speaking, there is your marathoner, and then there is everyone else.

For 43-year-old entrepreneur Steve Costello it was time last spring. (See "Marathon [Business]man," below.) Why the marathon? He had his reasons. If your time has come, you'll have no trouble supplying your own.

What we can supply is help. Inc looked up two of the best distance-racing coaches in the country -- Patti Finke and Bob Williams -- and asked them the questions any would-be first-time marathon runner might ask: about how to get ready, how to race, and what to expect.

Here's what we learned:


HOW LONG WILL I HAVE TO TRAIN? That depends. Williams dislikes the miracle programs that claim to train couch potatoes for marathoning in 18 weeks. He believes you need to be able to run 6 miles comfortably before you begin a marathon training program. If you can do the 6-miler, you'll need 24 weeks of preparation. If you can't, you'll need up to nine months of running 4 miles, five to six times a week, before the 18-week marathon program. Such programs typically consist of one long run (8 to 12 miles at first but eventually 20 miles), one day off, and five days of short runs (4 to 5 miles), one of which eventually becomes a medium to long run.


HOW MUCH OF A DAILY TIME COMMITMENT ARE WE TALKING? On "short" days, you're looking at 80 minutes, max. Figure 5 minutes for changing, 30 to 60 minutes for actual exercise, and 15 for showering. On "long" days, when the runs are between 8 and 20 miles, the actual running may take from one to 3.5 hours. The good news: as noted, most programs have only one long run a week, not to mention a day off.


WILL IT HURT? Oh, yes. Especially if you're starting from scratch. You'll struggle with breath for the first six weeks, says Finke, who has groomed rookie runners for two decades. And depending on how far gone from "fit" you are, it could take between six months and a year for your bones, muscles, joints, and tendons to get used to the near-daily pounding. Women in particular, Finke observes, may struggle. Whereas even out-of-shape men usually have played enough sports to understand that masochism is part of improvement, female runners are often true rookies -- people with almost no sports experience, she says. So they have to get used to the whole pain thing for the first time.


WILL I GET INJURED? Maybe. Most athletes do over the course of a year. The advice here is simple: Don't run when you're supposed to be taking a day off. And if you get hurt, let yourself heal. Never hurry back for the sake of a race. That would likely lead to reinjury, which would only increase your frustration.


SHOULD I STRETCH BEFORE RUNNING? Nope. "More runners are injured in prerace stretching than in the actual marathon," says Finke. She stresses that stretching should be done only after a run, when muscles are warm and relaxed. Any good athletes you see stretching before a race or game have probably already jogged for 15 or 20 minutes to warm up.


HOW FAST SHOULD I RUN? Forget fast. If anything, the aim of training is to figure out how slowly you ought to run. Williams suggests you run the marathon at a pace that's 90 seconds slower than your usual rate. Translation: if you're easily doing 9-minute miles on your short runs, do your long runs at 10:30 a mile. And prepare to run the marathon at the slower pace. Don't worry about how that will affect your overall time. Believe it or not, by training that way you may be able to run 9-minute miles during the marathon. Williams says, for example, that when Alberto Salazar was prepping for the 1982 Boston Marathon, which he won in a time of 2 hours and 8 minutes (or 4:55 per mile), he was actually doing his long runs at a pace of 6:30 a mile. So what explains his race performance? He did his shorter training runs at a faster pace. "Plus," says Williams, "he's gifted."


HOW MUCH WEIGHT WILL I LOSE? Bad question. Training for a marathon is not a way to lose weight, Finke says, and most rookie runners will actually have to increase caloric intake -- which she's found is a particularly difficult concept for female runners to swallow. Finke says the women she trains typically hike their daily intake by 500 to 1,300 calories. (For men, the uptick is smaller: usually from zero to 800 calories.) While it's certainly possible that rookie runners will lose weight in training, they should know that weight loss can't be a goal and that it's entirely possible to be a terrific marathoner without being a swimsuit model. Finke says that she's trained many men and women who are bulky or overweight but can run marathons in just over 3 hours.


WHAT WILL SURPRISE ME? Finke says there are three sides to marathon training: the physical side, the mental side, and the "dark side." The dark side is something rookies have to prepare for. It is simply the concept that sometimes training doesn't work; sometimes you can train perfectly and just have a bad day on race day; and sometimes there are marathon conditions that you have no control over and that can undermine you. She mentions one race in which several of her well-trained marathoners struggled to finish against 25-mile-an-hour headwinds. In addition to slowing the runners down, the stiff winds caused muscle cramps by speeding up dehydration. (Wind can evaporate sweat too rapidly, so that the body needs even more water than it normally would.)


IS THERE A SECRET TO SUCCESS? Williams's big maxim: No new is good new. What he means is that you shouldn't debut anything the day of the actual race. If the race has a hill on mile 8, put a hill on mile 8 in your training. If you wear shorts and a T-shirt when you train, wear them during the race. Running shoes should also be well broken in by race time. Try to make the race as un-novel as possible.


WHAT'S THE MOST COMMON MISTAKE BEGINNERS MAKE? Going too fast too soon on race day. "At the start the adrenaline flow is so significant that most people run way too fast for the first 4 to 8 miles and can't maintain the pace," says Williams. He tells racers to run with a watch to make sure they're going slow enough at the beginning. For first-timers, there should be only one goal: simply to finish -- comfortably -- and create a positive memory. Finally, you'll be a marathoner. You and Pheidippides, siblings under the skin.


Ilan Mochari is a staff writer at Inc.


Marathon (Business)man

Steve Costello, a former high school sprinter with a still-svelte frame and the ability to run in annual 10K races without much training, considered himself plenty healthy. But last April, when Costello learned that his cholesterol was holding at 249 after years in the 160s, he began to wake up -- at 5:30 a.m. to train, at the age of 43, for his first marathon. "Sometimes when I reach the trail, I sit in my car for 15 minutes because it's still dark," says the founder and sole employee of Blue Sky Strategies, in Louisville, Colo. "I hate running in heat. I like to hit the trail early and be done by 8."

Why a marathon, of all things? The challenge of training intrigued Costello, whose running life to that point had focused on shorter distances. Also, there was the solitariness of it. Costello describes himself as someone with "a DNA" for solo activities. "I was an only child. I played football and baseball in elementary school, but I gravitated to swimming and track in high school."

Having the flexibility to pursue his sometimes-solitary agenda is part of the reason Costello founded his company of one. At Blue Sky Strategies, Costello works as a branding-and-marketing consultant to large consumer-products companies. Business hops in the first and fourth quarters, when the Goliaths have budget money to burn. But summers are slower, and Costello takes advantage of them. Last year he took most of September off to complete his marathon training. In 2000 he spent June and July working on the primary campaign of a friend who was running for district attorney. "[Campaigning] was just more important to me," he says. "And I'd never done that before."

In training, Costello became a devotee of the RunnersWorld.com site. There he found a list of the 10 best marathon courses for first-timers (supportive crowds, few hills). His 18-week training program came from HalHigdon.com. As the weeks bled by, leading up to the September 30 marathon in Portland, Oreg., Costello noted a few parallels between his race preparation and the way he conducts daylong brainstorming sessions for his clients. Often, for example, Costello follows a straightforward mental exercise (say, strategy work) with a relaxing one (thinking of slogans or stacking Legos). He applied a similar principle to his training, where "you always follow a hard day with an easy day to give the body and mind a chance to recover," he says.

Before the race, Costello feared that he'd go stir-crazy between miles 4 and 26, as he had during practice runs. But that didn't happen, thanks mainly to the peppy Portland crowd. He finished in under 4.5 hours without a hitch. Of course, his main concern had never been exhaustion. It had been boredom.


The Inc Life

How to Run a Marathon
Buy the Boss -- or the Company?
Night Games
Bank City, USA


Please e-mail your comments to editors@inc.com.

Last updated: Mar 1, 2002




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