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Running A Marathon
and
A Suggested Training Schedule

 

Background

This page is written to summarize my experience in running three marathons and to pass on what I learned.  Here you will find a training schedule that will get you in shape to run a marathon.  You will also find my tips and suggestions as to how to get ready for, to run, and to recover from a marathon -- 26 miles, 385 yards. 

I have been running since the mid-1970's.  Now that I am almost 55 years old (will be 55 in December 1999), I still run daily.  In the late 1980's, I was assigned to an office in the Pentagon where two of the guys I worked with were recreational marathoners.   They encouraged me to run the U. S. Marine Corps Marathon, held in November (now in October) of each year.  The Marine Corps Marathon is a good one for a first-time marathoner -- it is well-organized, is run over flat terrain, and attracts a lot of first-timers so your fellow runners are not out to run you into the ground.

My Marathon Experience

I took their advice, searched out a training program, trained and ran the 1988 Marine Corps Marathon.  I ran it again in 1989 then ran the Honolulu Marathon in 1990.   I am not about to break any world records.  My results are:

Race My time My per mile pace
USMC Marathon, 1988 3 hrs, 45 mins 8:35
USMC Marathon, 1989 3 hrs, 40 mins 8:25
Honolulu Marathon, 1990 3 hrs, 42 mins 8:29

Remember, a marathon is a 26 mile, 385 yard road race.  That's right,  26 miles, 385 yards, running all the way.

Compare my times and pace to the fact that world-class marathoners run marathons in just over 2 hours -- 2 hours 10 to 15 minutes is world class time -- or a pace of just under 5 minutes per mile.  So, about the time that I am passing the 15-mile mark and still have 11 miles to go, the world-class runners are crossing the finish line.  And this brings me to the most important point:  If you want to run a marathon, understand that the only person you are competing against is yourself and when you finish, you are a winner.

I ran the 1990 Honolulu Marathon without training -- not really smart

The 1990 Honolulu Marathon was an adventure.  I had run the Marine Corps Marathon in November 1989.  Then, a month later, I ran a metric marathon in Columbia, MD.  Metric marathon?  That's right -- 26 kilometers, or, just over 16 miles.  For the next year, I did not run any more than 10 miles a day.  In July 1990, I was reassigned to Japan and in December 1990 I went to Honolulu on business.  When I checked into my hotel on Friday morning, I found that it was the headquarters for the Honolulu Marathon, which was to be run on Sunday. What the heck, I signed up and ran the Honolulu Marathon without having trained for it.

I figured that I could run 20 miles with no real problem then just gut it out for the remaining six miles.  It worked.  I finished the marathon in my usual time but I decided that running a marathon without training for it is not really smart.

Training for A Marathon

The rest of this article assumes that you are a recreational runner and have been wondering about a marathon -- if you can run one, should you try it, what's it like, and, how to train for it.  I will try to answer some of those questions.  These answers are based on my own experience, not on any sort of serious research.  This is just one man's story and I hope it helps someone.  If you find this useful, send me an e-mail.

Start With a Base

If you are contemplating running a marathon, then you must be a runner with some history of running behind you.  This is important because you need a base of running before you start the training.  Most of the advice that I read and heard said that I needed to have been running 25 miles per week for several months before starting to train for a marathon. 

I had that base built up.  Since the mid-1970's, I had gradually built up my running to where I was running five days per week, between 5 and 8 miles per day.  I ran an occasional 10-km (6.3 miles) race but had never tried anything beyond that.

Okay, let's assume that you have been running for several months (years), your weekly total is 25 miles or more, and you have no problem running 5 miles or more.  You now want to build up to the 26 miles required for a marathon.

Setup

Set up a schedule of running.  Use these guidelines:

  • Mark on a calendar the date of the marathon that you want to run.  Most marathons are run on Sunday so I will work with a week that goes Sunday to Sunday.
  • Start your training ninety days before the marathon.  Put the training schedule on your calendar and stick with it.
  • Get yourself a running log.  Does not have to be fancy, a small spiral notebook will do.  Set it up so you can record your distance and time per day.  You will use these numbers to calculate and record your pace.
  • Get a good runner's watch.  I use the Timex Ironman watch.  Do not get all wrapped up in choosing awatch -- there are all sorts of watches out there.  You need one with a chronograph -- stopwatch -- function.  Make certain that it has big, visible digits.   Get the watch early in your training and use it so that it's use is second nature to you.  The middle of the marathon is not the time to learn how to use the watch.   You will NOT be recording lap times during the marathon -- just elapsed time so don't worry about lap timing.
  • Get yourself a mileage-marked course.  An easy way to do this is to get in your car and scout out possible running routes.  You need a route on which you can run 20 miles.  You could find a 5-mile course and run it four times to make 20 miles, or you could find a 20-mile loop.  Whatever. 
    • Drive around and find courses of the following length: 8 miles, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, and 20 or more miles. 
    • Mark these courses in some way.  Memorize landmarks that are one or two miles apart.  Or, if you can get by with it, use a spray can and put a small number every mile on your route.  Do whatever you have to do, just get yourself a course (or courses) with miles marked.

My Training Schedule

My schedule calls for me to run five days per week.  I run a short, medium, and long distance each week.  My schedule was to rest on Saturday and Monday and alternate short, medium, and long distances.  My weekly schedule was:

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
Run long distance Rest Run short distance Medium distance Short distance Medium distance Rest

Set up your weekly schedule to fit your own time demands.  Rest the day before and the day after the long distance.

You will run the short-medium-long distance for 2 - 3 weeks then you will drop the short distance and the medium distance becomes your short distance; the long distance becomes the medium distance; and increase the long distance.  See the charts below for the details.

Weekly schedule

Week(s) Short distance Medium distance Long distance
1, 2, 3 8 miles 10 miles 12 miles
4,5,6 10 12 14
7,8 12 14 16
9, 10 14 16 18
11 16 18 22
12 16 18 20
13 Marathon week, see below 26

Now, if this is a bit confusing, here is how to read it. 

  • For the first three weeks of training -- weeks 1, 2, 3 -- I ran 8 miles on Tuesday and Thursday (short day), 10 miles on Wednesday and Friday (medium day), then ran 12 miles on Sunday (long day), and I rested on Saturday and Monday. 
  • Then, for the next three weeks -- weeks 4, 5, and 6 -- I ran 10 miles on on Tuesday and Thursday (short day), 12 miles on Wednesday and Friday (medium day), then ran 14 miles on Sunday (long day), and I rested on Saturday and Monday.  Note that my previous medium distance became my short distance, previous long became medium, and I stretched out the long distance.
  • For the two weeks before the marathon your long distances are 22 and 20 miles. 
    • Marathons are usually on Sunday so the Sunday of week 11 -- two weeks before the event -- run 22 miles as your long distance.
    • One week before the marathon-- week 12 -- run 20 miles as your long distance.

Daily schedule

Here is the my training schedule shown on a day-by-day basis:

Week Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat Sun

1

Rest 8 miles 10 miles 8 miles 10 miles Rest 12 miles
2   8 10 8 10   12
3   8 10 8 10   12
4   10 12 10 12   14
5   10 12 10 12   14
6   10 12 10 12   14
7   12 14 12 14   16
8   12 14 12 14   16
9   14 16 14 16   18
10   14 16 14 16   18
11   16 18 16 18   22
12   16 18 16 18   20
13   6 4 3 0 0 Marathon

Odds and Ends From My Experience

Can you miss a day or two of training?

Yes.  I found that I could miss a day or two of training and it did not hurt me.   If you are just too tired to run, don't run.  Or, if you start running and get tired, stop and walk back.  But, do not miss more than two days in a row and stick with the schedule.

Pace

Keep records of how long it takes you to run each distance and compute your pace -- minutes and seconds per mile.  You will soon develop a feel for a comfortable pace.   Note that pace.  This is your race pace, it's the pace at which you will run the marathon.  You should be able to automatically get into the groove of your pace.   Remember your pace -- 7:30 (7 minutes, 30 seconds per mile); 8:15; 6:50 -- whatever it is, remember it and feel it.

You will read a lot of articles about interval training in which you run fast for an interval, slow for an interval, fast, slow.  This is supposed to build up your speed.   I have never done inerval training -- of course, my goal is to finish.  If your goal is different, you may want to train differently

What about eating?

I ate pretty much anything that I wanted to, however, several years ago I all but stopped eating red meat.  My diet has been and remains mainly vegetables, fruit, grains, chicken, and occasionally, pork. 

Weight loss while training

Do not be surprised when your weight starts dropping.  I keep my weight between 172 and 175.  When my training reached the point of running 12-14-16 milers, my weight started dropping and I ended up at 165 on race day.  By the time that I was on the 12-14-16 mile schedule, I was eating all the time and still losing weight.  I started running daily at 5 a.m.  I ate a big breakfast afterwards, then snacked on cookies, fruit and granola bars all morning, ate lunch, snacked all afternoon, ate supper, snacked until bedtime -- and still lost weight.

Water?

Drink lots of it.  I found in the advertisements in Runner's World magazine a running belt that fastened around my waist and that held water bottles so I could drink while running.  After running, drink water; get into the habit of carrying a water bottle with you.  I drank one to two gallons a day as my training progressed.

What is carbohydrate loading and why do I need it?

Although I ate as I pleased during training, all the advice I read and heard said:  Beginning the week before the marathon, you need to load up on carbohydrates.  The reason for this is that your body converts carbohydrates into simple nutrients that are converted into energy.  The claims that I have read say that the body normally stores up about 2,000 calories of simple nutrients and that we burn approximately 100 calories per mile.   Thus, at the end of 20 miles, you will have used up your 2,000 stored calories.   This is supposed to be why marathoners "hit the wall" around 20-plus miles.  The idea, then, is to load yourself with carbohydrates. 

This is what I did.  Beginning one week before the marathon:

  • Drink only fruit juice and water.  No caffeine -- coffee, tea, or soft drinks.
  • No alcohol.
  • No greasy or fatty foods.
  • Only breads, grains, pasta, and fruit; chicken, fish, or pork.

How about equipment for running?

Running equipment is simple: 

  • Shoes, socks, shorts, shirt and underwear of some kind. 
  • Women need sports bra(s), men need a supporter of some kind; I use the Speedo supporter that swimmers wear.
  • Watch.  I use the Timex Ironman -- it is a commonly used runner's watch.
  • Cold weather gear.  If you will be training in the cold, you need to follow the layered principle.
    • Avoid cotton -- it absorbs moisture, gets heavy, and wicks away heat. 
    • Use polypropylene long underwear; nylon or Gore-Tex outerwear, cotton, poly, or wool gloves; and, a wool stocking cap.

One rule about equipment:  Never attempt a marathon with a new piece of equipment.   For the marathon, you want well-broken in shoes, socks, shorts, shirt, and underwear.  New stuff will rub and chafe, new shoes will screw up our feet and ankles.

Use Vaseline petroleum jelly

Get yourself a jumbo sized jar of Vaseline petroleum jelly.  When you start running 12 miles or more, apply it to yourself in these places:

  • Between your inner thighs, where your inner thighs rub together and rub on the hem of your shorts.
  • On the underside of your upper arms, where the inner part of the arm rubs against your shirt and the side of your upper rib cage.
  • Men should apply a dab of Vaseline to each nipple.

Why?  In the case of your inner thighs and upper arms, these rub against each other, the hem of your shorts, and your shirt.  The constant rubbing motion will rub them raw after 12 - 15 miles.  You are sweating, even if the weather is cool, and the salty sweat will be constantly rubbed into the ever-worsening wounds and it hurts.   Folks have dropped out of races because of this.  Ladies wear sports bras so their breasts move up and down with the clothing.  But, men's nipples do not move.   Instead, your shirt rubs up and down over the nipples and they become raw and start to bleed.

Slap on a little Vaseline, carry some in a plastic bag tucked into your waistband and rub it on after 10 or so miles to replenish your initial load.  Any well-organized race course will have folks with Vaseline available at water stops -- take it.

Cut your toe nails and rub Vaseline between your toes

Keep your toenails trimmed throughout your running.  When you are going for more than 15 miles, rub a little Vaseline between your toes -- they will feel funny at first but after they have rubbed against themselves thousands of times, the Vaseline will keep them from rubbing raw.

Marathon week

My running schedule indicates that you take only short runs during the week before the marathon.  Assuming that the marathon is on Sunday, you will run 20 miles the preceding Sunday, rest Monday, then run very short distances Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday then do no run on Friday or Saturday.  In fact, stay off your feet as much as possible on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday -- lie around the house and read or watch the tube but stay off your feet.

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday you should get as much sleep as you can, even if it means lying in the bed without sleeping.

Don't forget packet pickup

When you sign up for the marathon, you will receive instructions about where to pick up your packet.  Do it.  The packet will contain your number that you must wear during the race and will usually have safety pins to attach it to your shirt.  The packet will also have all sorts of other information that you need -- such as where to park, start and finish line, etc. Memorize your race number.

Marathon day

Before the race

Eat breakfast two hours before the race.  I eat hot cereal (being a Southerner, that means grits), bagels (toasted, dry), and water. 

Take with you to the race a gym bag containing:  dry socks; two bath towels; assorted sizes of Band-aids; small bottle of hydrogen peroxide; Q-tips; change of shoes; sweat suit; stocking cap (wool); damp washcloth in a plastic bag; Vaseline; four small safety pins to attach your number in case the race folks did not furnish them.

Locate the start line and locate the toilets.  You will want to visit the toilets a few minutes before the race -- as will 10,000 other people.

Locate your time section.  Most marathons will be organized so that the faster runners are in the front.  At the marathons that I have run, they have big signs with times posted on them.  If you plan to run a 3-hour 30-minute marathon, look for the sign that says 3:30 and get in the pack there.  The ones that I have seen have the times posted in half-hour increments.

Stretch.  I get in the starting pack 15 minutes before start and stretch right there. 

Pay attention so you start with everyone else.  Don't forget to zero your watch before you start and then punch the start button when you cross the start line.  The official timing starts when the gun sounds but, if you are back in the pack, it may take 30 seconds or more for you to get to the start line and start running.

During the race

Watch your pace carefully the first 7 to 9 miles.  The race course should have markers each mile.  Start your watch from 00:00:00 and let it run to the end of the race; do not worry about punching laps into the watch.  Check your time at the end of each mile.  You will find that you are running the first mile faster than your normal pace.  Slow down and check at the end of mile 2.  Do the math in your head to see what your pace is.  By mile 6, 7, or 8 you should be on pace.

Drink.  There will be water stops all along the race course.   Most courses will have water and some sort of carbo and electrolyte replacement drink (Gatorade, PowerAde, Exceed, and the like).  Do not pass a water stop without drinking.  I always grab a cup of water and a cup of carbo drink, walk at a rapid pace and drink them both.  Occasionally, I will grab two cups of water at the first table in the water point, pour them over my head, then get water and drink at the end of the water stop and drink.  Keep moving while you drink.

Toilet stops.  With all that drinking, you are likely to need a toilet stop during the race.  Race courses will have portable toilets set up.   Use them.

Socialize.  Have one or more friends take you to the race and figure out how they can go to various places on the course and see you go by.  Be certain that they can get to the finish line before you.  It helps to have someone cheering for you.

Get in line at the finish and go through the finish lanes.  This is the only way to get an official finish time.  And, if you are in a race that awards a T-shirt only to finishers (as the Honolulu Marathon), you must do this to get the shirt.

After the race

Have someone meet you at the finish line with your gym bag. 
-- Get out of the way, pull off your socks and shoes, use the damp washcloth to wipe off your face, hands, etc. 
-- Use the towels to dry off and to wipe off the accumulated Vaseline, sweat, spit, and crud. Put on the sweats and the dry socks and shoes IMMEDIATELY. 
-- Do not be surprised if, when you take off your race shoes and socks, you find blood under your toenails or even find that a toenail comes off.  That's what the hydrogen peroxide, Q-tips, and Band-aids are for.  Your feet have taken a beating.  Your entire body weight has been pushed against your toes thousands of times and the toenails finally give up.

Keep moving -- do not lie down, sit down, or get cold.  Keep moving as soon as you have cleaned up.  Stretch, walk quickly, cool down.

Eat.  As soon as your stomach feels comfortable, eat normally.

Relax your quads.  Assuming that the marathon is in the morning, with a 9:00 a.m. start, and you have run a 3:30 race, you will be finished at 12:30.   By bedtime that night, your quadriceps muscles -- the big muscle in the front of your upper leg -- will be screaming.  Work on your quads throughout the day -- massage them, apply heat, sit in a hot tub.  Keep moving -- sitting still is the worst thing you can do.

The day after the marathon

Do not be surprised to find that your quads are so tight and sore that you cannot walk up stairs or do anything else that requires you to use the quads.  The day after a marathon, I find myself going up stairs backwards,or not at all.  By the second day, the quads are only sore.

Resist the urge to tell everyone how you did.  If you must mention it, tell folks that you finished, then wait for them to continue the conversation.  Couch potatoes do not like to be reminded of the fact.  If anyone shows interest, tell them the facts and keep it short.  Do not brag.

When to start running again?

I waited a few days before starting to run again, and then only short distances. Wait until Thursday after a Sunday marathon, then run 3 to 5 miles.  Keep it easy for the next month, then get back to whatever you are comfortable with.

Links to marathon and running sites

Check out these links.

  • Here is the homepage of the Marine Corps Marathon.  You can register on line.  The 1999 race is filled up -- no more registrations.  they will start taking registrations for the 2000 marathon on January 1, 2000.
  • This site has a schedule of marathons for several months in the future, along with contact information on each race.
  • Go to the home page for Runner's World magazine, at http://www.runnersworld.com.  They have a calendar of races and  marathons.  They also have a searchable database of races -- but the last time I tried it, it did not work.  Their calendar, however, does work.
  • You may want to subscribe to this newsgroup:  rec.running

Why?

I ran my last marathon almost nine years ago -- the Honolulu Marathon in December 1990.   I am not in marathon shape now (September 1999) but I plan to get with it and run the Marine Corps Marathon in 2000, when I will be two months shy of my 56th birthday.   Then, I want to run one marathon a year until I turn 60 -- then decide if I want to keep marathoning to age 65.

The question remains:  "Why would an otherwise intelligent person punish his/her body by running 26 miles 385 yards?"  It's just something that you have to do and then you will know why.

 

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