The fourth article in the five-part series ahead of The Wipro Chennai Marathon 2013 provides an insight into how participants can train before taking part in a running event

Everyone tells us running is the simplest of exercises. “The Road is Free,” they say. “Just go out and run.” That is perfectly good advice. As the earlier articles in this series elaborated, anyone can run, pretty much anywhere. But, soon enough, you may be looking at participating in a running event. Such events give us a challenge to work towards; to set and achieve measurable goals. The race atmosphere and camaraderie, the joy of crossing the finish line and getting a medal, of sharing your achievement and run pictures with friends on Facebook and outside; all these make it a memorable experience.

To run a strong race, whatever the distance, it is advisable to follow a structured training plan.

If you are just starting out with running, and targeting to complete your first 5k or 10k, a run-walk routine is highly recommended. Check the Chennai Runners’ recommended ‘Couch to 10k’ plan.

Once you have completed some of these events, you may decide to attempt an even longer distance: a half marathon, and then maybe a full marathon. Or, you may want to improve your race time.

There are dozens of plans, formulated by various marathoners / running magazines / institutes. Most plans have these common elements — Eight to 15 weeks of training for a 10k; 12 to 20 weeks for a half-marathon, and 18 to 30 weeks for a full marathon. Two to four shorter (3k to 12k) runs during the week. One long run on a weekend — this is the cornerstone of any training programme. Long run mileage gradually increases till three or four weeks before your race, and then tapers down.

The details vary.

Legendary marathoner Jeff Galloway advocates a run-walk routine, wherein you take a walk-break of 30 seconds to one minute every three to five minutes. A typical beginner’s week features two runs of 30 minutes each, and a weekend long-run.

Others such as Hal Higdon recommend a high-mileage routine with four or five runs a week, at relatively easy paces. Mileage peaks at 65-70 km a week for a full marathon, or 45 km for a half.

Another option is the Furman Institute’s popular (and demanding) ‘Run Less, Run Faster’ programme with three runs a week, all of them at specific, tough paces. Quality over quantity is the theory, and this is recommended for runners specifically looking to achieve challenging race times.

A quick search on the Internet will give you lots of information about, and the pros and cons of these and other programmes. Whichever programme you choose, it’s perfectly understandable if you miss a run or two. Don’t attempt to make up for these. But try not to miss the long run.

Nutrition and hydration play a key part of your training. In Chennai, we tend to run very early in the morning, so a full idli-pongal-vada breakfast is infeasible. Fruits, yoghurt, cereal bars, peanut butter on toast, are some popular, light, pre-run foods. And remember to carry water – Chennai is warm and humid! For runs longer than an hour, electrolyte drinks are advisable — sports drink, coconut water, or your own home-made concoction.

The weekend long run also serves as a mini-rehearsal for race day, so try out your nutrition and hydration plans during this.

Whichever training plan you choose, it is highly recommended that you cross-train (walk / cycle / swim / etc) on days you are not running. Stretch and strength-train throughout the programme. Rest days are a key component of any training plan.

Before you start any programme, set yourself challenging but achievable goals. If this is your first race, don’t set a time target. Just aim to enjoy the run and finish strong. Once you do a few races, you can evaluate your current fitness level and set tighter goals.

While it’s good to follow a structured plan, don’t ignore your body while doing it. Push it a bit, but don’t get carried away with targets. Err on the side of caution, especially if you are a beginner.

Good luck!

(The runner is a beer and food aficionado who loves running, and uses it to justify the aforementioned indulgences. He has been trying to chill out and get by with as little training as possible, but is fast realising this strategy has its limits. And that there is no substitute for structured training and hard work, if you want to succeed in the sporting — or any other — arena)

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