Perseverance and pace: How to survive your first marathon

2013-08-16T00:00:00Z 2013-08-16T12:43:07Z Perseverance and pace: How to survive your first marathonby Lorenzo Patrick
August 16, 2013 12:00 am  • 

The perseverance and toughness that athletes display on the playing field is a testament to pushing the limits of the body. Like many players, Bordeleau, son of the Chicago Blackhawks legend of the same name, discovered his limits with an injury that ended his career. In 2001, an arm fracture took away his first love - the game.

Instead of falling into depression, he laced up his shoes and became a runner. Later that same year, he completed his first of what now totals more than 70 races. The list includes 11 Chicago Marathons and a number of Ironman races, ultra-marathons and cycling events. He is a certified coach, personal trainer and owner of Precision Multisport, in Evanston.

With the Chicago Marathon coming up in October, it's time for those weekend runners who want to participate to start training now. Bordeleau describes what it takes.

Medill Reports: When do you typically start training for a marathon, and where do you start?

JP Bordeleau: The typical training period for starting a marathon will start about four months out. So, for the Chicago Marathon, it starts in June. You should be able to run six miles consistently before you start a marathon training program. For most programs, the long-run portion starts at about six to seven miles. Then, depending on the individual, it will take about four months to build them up to running a full 26.2 miles.

MR: What kinds of things, in terms of running technique, do beginners typically need to fix?

JP: Beginners tend to roll their foot heel to toe. They think it's what you're supposed to do, when you're supposed to land mid-sole and then pick your foot up. Every time you land heel to toe, when that heel strikes, it creates a jarring action through the body. But, it also acts like a brake, so you end up working harder trying to go faster. It's like riding a bike with the brake slightly pressed down. That's how barefoot running came about. If you were running without shoes on, you wouldn't want to land on your heel because it's too painful. You'd want to land about mid-sole.

MR: So which is better for training: Barefoot running or running in soles?

JP: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I've been running in shoes since I started. I wore Nikes for a few years, and before that, it was New Balance. Other than the usual stuff from just running, like shin splints, maybe a toe blister, I haven't had any injuries. If you want to try something new, go for it. But if it's comfortable and it works for you, my philosophy is not to change.

MR: What's the most common mistake you've seen in novice runners?

JP: In competition, beginners normally start too fast. They normally get to the start of the marathon Sunday morning. They're coming off a three week taper, they're feeling great, feeling relaxed. They've trained at a specific time all summer long, and now they think they can go 30 seconds a mile faster. And they end up crashing and burning.

As far as training goes, same thing. I think new people definitely need to have a plan. They need to know what they're doing, and how many miles they want to run that week. Sometimes they feel the need to get in some extra training two or three weeks before the marathon, maybe run another 20 mile session. When, in reality, if it's within 10 days of competition, your body isn't going to see any improvement from that.

MR: For those who have done marathons for a while and may have seen their times plateau, what adjustments to their training can they make?

JP: I would take a look at their training program. You know, what kinds of runs they are doing, what kind of speed work they are doing. A missed aspect of training is the speed work, and how important that is. I typically don't recommend new runners, depending on how new, do much speed work. But training for speed is where you are going to see improvement in your times, not in the longer runs. You can push your body in shorter runs like sprints and work on speed, rather than the long runs, which are for conditioning. You can't just decide to do the long runs faster, or you won't recover properly.

MR: What are the three most important things for a runner to keep in mind during their training?

JP: Proper nutrition throughout your training is first. If you want your body to perform at a high level, you've got to feed it at a high level. Patience, having your plan and following it is second. Whether you download a program online, or speak to a professional, or get one from your friend, you need a plan. Know what you're going to do before you go out and start running.

Third is practice. Practice what you're going to do on the day of the race. Use your training runs as practice. This includes what foods you're going to eat, what fluids you're going to take in, and understanding the way the race is laid out and where stuff is on the course. So, if it's the Chicago Marathon, they're going to have Gatorade. Knowing that, make sure you're drinking Gatorade during your training runs so you know how your stomach will react.

Whatever you do, don't change anything that you do the day of the race! You have your plan, stick with it. Don't go buy a new shirt somewhere and wear that race day. Wear what you wore throughout training so you know what works and you don't end up chaffing all over the place.

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