Yes You Can: Run the NYC Marathon

Going 26.2 miles is a great way to prove your grit—and there's no greater showcase than the world's biggest. Presenting a simple plan to get anyone off the couch and across the finish line.

Justin Nyberg

Justin Nyberg    Photo: Brightroom

I WASN'T GOING TO MAKE IT. I was almost 16 miles into the New York City Marathon, and there were still more than ten to go. It was my first marathon, and I had the distinct sense that I'd run the first half of the race too fast. Now, my punishment was to drown, miserably, in my own lactic acid.

Interactive Training Plan
Now you can participate in Outside's award winning fitness programs, with easy interactive software that let's you track your workouts and reach any fitness goal. Sign up and start training for the New York City marathon with the help of coach Hal Higdon. 
Justin Nyberg NYC Marathon
As I've come to understand, running a marathon is much more than an athletic achievement. I can now approach any daunting task as something to be broken into steps.

I crested the steep Queensboro Bridge with a small pack of runners, and as we descended into Manhattan, the ramp swooped sharply to the left toward First Avenue. A few hundred spectators were standing behind the hay bales and police barricades at the bottom of the turn. For some reason, I lifted my arms above my head. Nothing happened. Then a cheer went up. I pumped my fist. It became a roar.

I have never felt a second wind like the one that hit me at that moment. I surged forward, filled with energy, leaving the group behind me, catching the next one, and the one after that.That's the power of the marathon especially New York, which boasts the largest and most international field, has the biggest (and rowdiest) crowds, and, unlike Boston, is open to everyone, fast or slow. For the 2009 event, there were 2.5 million people in Gotham's streets watching 44,177 strangers parade along through their solitary, elective hells. They cheered with the same zeal for friends, for costumed runners, for anyone with their name on their shirt, for no one in particular. I remember a young girl in Brooklyn waving a handmade sign that said, simply, YOU'RE AWESOME RUNNERS!

As the 43,660 finishers that day can attest, almost anyone can run a mara­thon old people, chubby people, Bob from accounting. "It's ordinary people doing ordinary training so they can then do something extraordinary," says Frank Shorter, American gold medalist at the 1972 Olympics and 1976 NYC runner-up. But there is no easy way to the finish line. No matter how much pasta you eat the night before, the body can only store so much energy in its muscles, and for many runners, it's just about gone by mile 20 where they hit the proverbial wall. Whether you're 2009 New York winner Meb Keflezighi, who finished in 2:09:15, or 88-year-old Peter Harangozo, who completed the race after dark in a little under eight hours, going all the way means digging into your deepest reserves.

And yet, training for a marathon is actually easier than you think. You don't even need to give up your other weekend sports and activities. To become a marathoner, you just have to become a runner. The race is merely the celebration of how healthy you've gotten as a result.In the months leading up to the race, my legs turned into small tree trunks andI dropped every spare calorie of fat. The rest of my life seemed to follow. Because I had to be well fueled, I could no longer skip lunch on a busy day. Because I had to spend an extra hour or three each day running, I became far more efficient at work. I got eight hours of sleep because my body demanded it.

Finishing those last six miles of the NYC Marathon was the hardest thing I've ever done. When I finally made it, it took me an hour before I was strong enough to stagger out of the medical tent, wrapped in that foil cape with a zinc medal around my neck, and shuffle stiffly toward my hotel. But as I've come to understand, running a marathon is much more than an athletic achievement. I can now approach any daunting task as something to be broken into steps. And I'm always ready to reach for what I found at mile 20.

"Almost everyone hunkers down and finds a way to get to that finish line," offers former Olympian and longtime coach Jeff Galloway. "You learn to rely on that ability to gut it out not just for running, but for life."

Sign up for an interactive training plan for the NYC Marathon in the Outside Fitness Center.

How to Train for a Marathon

Ten simple tips to prepare newbie runners for a marathon.

NYC Marathon
NYC Marathon   Photo: F Chip East/Corbis

RUNNING MATES

Four tools to help you ramp up and enjoy your marathon training.
GARMIN FORERUNNER 310XT: A GPS watch that accurately tracks your pace and distance and wirelesslyuploads your training to Garmin's software, or to the interactive training plan in the Outside Fitness Center ($350; garmin.com). A budget alternative is Nike's SportBand, which isreasonably good at telling distance, a bit less so at gauging pace ($69; nikeplus.com).
iPOD NANO: Yo...

1. GO FOR A RUN
Just put your running shoes on and go. Not too far. Not too fast. Check out the scenery. Walk a little if you feel like it. Or walk a lot. You have one goal: enjoy yourself.

 

2. GO FOR ANOTHER ONE
Congratulations you're now training for a marathon. The key is to run regularly, and the best way to get hooked is to make sure you enjoy every one. You really don't have to push yourself to go long or hard, especially in the early stages. "The thing I talk about is gradual progression," says elite running coach Greg McMillan. "To get to the marathon finish, it's best done with a little bit at a time. A small drip can fill a whole lake."

3. HIT THE BRAKES
If you think running is hard, you're probably just going too fast. This is more likely toresult in injuries, and it's not as effective at developing the muscle tissue, blood vessels, and slow-burning energy systems that you need for a marathon. Run at a speed that lets you easily carry on a conversation. "You don't even need to be out of breath," says Shorter. If you feel winded, slow down, even if that means walking more than you run at first. "Putting the walk breaks in the middle of your runs erases fatigue," says Galloway, guru of the run-walk-run method.

4. GET A PLAN
When you're ready to start building your mileage usually four to five months before the race you need a training plan. Don't wing it. The miles you'll be running put a huge amount of stress on your legs, and a plan designed by an expert ensures that you're slowly building your body, not breaking it. Whether you follow Hal Higdon's plan or any other, many beginner plans look something like this: (1) You run three to five times a week, alternating with rest days. (2) You build your weekly mileage slowly, increasing up to 10 percent each week (so from, say, 20 miles per week to 22). (3) You have one long run on the weekend, usually about 30 50 percent of your weekly total (so seven to ten miles if you're running 21 miles a week), and it's rarely longer than 20 miles.

5. STICK TO IT
"Follow the plan," says Terrence Mahon, coach to elite U.S. marathoners Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor. "The more consistent you are, the easier it will be to conquer the marathon." Remember this rule of thumb: For every day of running you miss, you'll lose two days of fitness. Of course, we all have to skip runs occasionally. When you do, just get back to the plan as if you're still right on schedule.

 

How to Train for a Marathon (cont.)

6. KEEP A RECORD
A running log keeps you honest, which helps you stick to your plan and avoid overtraining. By writing everything down, you'll also start to appreciate your progress. "You've got this huge, long road, and the first step is often the hardest step," says Hall. "But you get your momentum going—it's just step after step—and before you know it, you look back and it's miles and miles." If you're not using software to record your runs, keep a notebook or Excel spreadsheet. And watch the mileage on your shoes. After 300–400 miles, the foam cushioning will be dead. Even if they still feel comfy, visit your local specialty running storeand get a new pair (check the Store Finder at runnersworld.com).

7. CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM
Injuries caused by overtraining stop more marathoners than any other obstacle. The best prevention: Run less. Don't run more than three times a week to start, and don't go longer than your plan calls for. Be just as committed to your recovery days as you are to your workouts. "You need to balance the workload with optimal rest," says Kastor, an Olympic marathon bronze medalist. "Consider your training an excuse to get into bed an hour earlier than normal." If pain shows up, an immediate visit to a sports physical therapist can keep you on track.

8. MAKE FRIENDS
Training partners are the most powerful tool you can have short of a pricey personal coach: You'll learn a lot by talking with other runners, and they'll help keep you on target= through the long months of running ahead. "Running partners keep you accountable," says Keflezighi. "You need someone who can help get you to work out. That's the hardest part." Most cities have a running club; start by asking around at your local running shop.

9. ALWAYS GO LONG
Every marathon training plan involves a weekly long run. Don't miss it. "It's the most important workout that you do," says Kara Goucher, who finished third in New York in 2008, her first marathon. This long run prepares you—both physically and psychologically—to handle three to four hours of pounding. "The long run is important so you don't get intimidated by the marathon distance," says Keflezighi. The key is not to go too far, too soon—and to start each long run slowly. Run off pavement to go easier on your legs. And since NYC has a hilly course, get used to the feeling of running gentle grades toward the end.

10. DO TWENTY
How to know you're ready? When you can do a 20-mile training run with confidence. You'll reach this distance about three weeks before the race, when your mileage volume is peaking (usually no less than 40 miles per week). But remember—peaking is the hardest stage of training, so don't put too much stock in how you feel on any particular run as you approach the race. "Running has ups and downs," says McMillan. "You can't give up. Just like in the marathon, things can turn around. They usually do."

Marathon Training Plan

A week-by-week routine to prepare you for the 2010 New York City Marathon.

NYC Marathon Training Plan
For a larger view of this plan, see the pdf.

Hal Higdon, a former elite runner and 111-time marathoner, has helped tens of thousands of people get ready for their first marathon. Here he offers a customized plan specifically for active (but not running-obsessed) readers. It's designed to fit into your already busy life and allow for cross-training (hiking, cycling, or swimming). The first 12 weeks condition you for training and culminate with a 10K race to test your fitness. The next 18 put more emphasis on running as you build toward the big day. For the NYC Marathon, start this plan on April 13.

TRAIN WITH US ONLINE
Want to get started on this training plan? Outside now lets you track your daily workouts at outsideonline.com/fitnesscenter--plus upload training data from your watch or GPS, save routes, and chart your progress. You can also have each of Higdon's marathon workouts (or others, like our award-winning Shape of Your Life full-body fitness series) delivered to your inbox every morning to help keep you on target=.

New York City Marathon Tips

Sound advice on how to navigate the race course.

NYC Marathon race course tips
For a larger view of this chart, see the pdf.

Getting In

The application deadline for the New York City Marathon is March 15, and the odds of drawing an entry in the generallottery are brutal: about one in six (ingnycmarathon.org).But you can gain automatic entry (and often coaching help, training plans, partners, and VIP transport to the start)by raising $2,500 and up for one of 80-plus charities, including Team in Training, the Lance ArmstrongFoundation, and Team for Kids. Or redirect to one of these other top marathons: Chicago (October 10; chicagomarathon.com), Twin Cities (October 3; mtcmarathon.org), Philadelphia (November 21;

Spaghetti
Eat well, healthy, and often: You're burning 400 to 2,200 extra calories a day—about 110 per mile.

More than any other sport, running demands that you're careful about when and what you eat. San Diego–based exercise physiologist and running coach Jason Karp presents a basic strategy.

BEFORE
Sixty minutes prior to a run, eat a light, high-carb snack with a little proteinto top off your tank: a bagel and 8 to 12 ounces of fruit juice, or toast with peanut butter and a sports drink. Avoid fat, and go light on fiber—unless your run is populated with public restrooms.

DURING
On your long runs (over 90 minutes), you need three things: sugar, electro­lytes, and water. Eat: half an energy gel every 15–20 minutes. Drink: 4–6 ounces of a high-sodium sports drink (like Gatorade Endurance) every 20 minutes. Practice so your stomach gets used to it. Remember: Eat and drink before you feel the need. "If you wait until you're fatigued, it's too late," says Karp.

AFTER
As soon as possible, drink a mix of sugar and protein to restock the glycogen in your muscles and help repair any tissue damaged in training. The tastiest way? Chocolate milk. Its mix of fluid, carbs, and protein is nearly perfect. Eat well, healthy, and often: You're burning 400 to 2,200 extra calories a day—about 110 per mile—and you'll need to replace them.

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