Marathon Training: With a Little Help From Your Friends

By August 4, 2015 Articles
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Woohoo! The Portland Marathon is getting closer and closer! It’s my goal race this year, so as I train for it, my weekly long runs are getting longer. This weekend, the ol’ training schedule says “30K”!
This means three things:
– That’s 18.6 miles. We are going to run A LONG WAY.
– Pretty soon, our Saturday morning run will actually be longer than the 20 miles I drive from my house to Portland’s South Waterfront, where my training group meets for long runs. Crazy!
– That’s right. In marathon training, you will do a 21-mile run. Just during training! There’s no medal at the end of this one, princess.

You might be asking: Wait a minute. How can someone run 18 miles, or 21 miles, without the support that a race provides? When you run that far on event day, you get water, sports drink, energy gels, sometimes even chips or pretzels, at aid stations along the route.  Not to mention PORTA POTTIES. WHERE ARE THE PORTA JOHNS, RUNNER MAMA?!?

Take a deep breath, readers. Pull up a packet of Gu and get comfortable, ‘cause I’m about to reveal to you the magic of getting the support you need, by joining a training group.

Here’s what a training group does for you:

– They provide a training plan. So you know when, and how much, to run. This helps you make progress at the right rate so you’re ready for race day, without increasing your mileage too quickly, which is a big cause of running injuries.
– They provide education. Experts visit and talk with you about hydration, fueling, footwear, clothing, safety, you name it.
– They plan out, and mark, the route for the weekly long run. So you can just relax and run until you see the next chalk arrow on the ground.
– They find and mark the important resources along the way, like water fountains and potty stops. (If you see “PP” written on the ground in chalk, and an arrow, it means porta potty that way!)
– They set up aid stations. So as the runs get longer, along the route you’ll encounter a volunteer with a table where you can refill your water, or get energy drink and snax. And sometimes high fives.

How do you find a training group?

The program I’m participating in this year is called Portland Fit. It’s the local branch of a national program called USA Fit, a company that started training regular people to run marathons and half-marathons, with a mission “to prove that this seemingly insurmountable challenge was within the reach of virtually anyone.” And they’re really good at it.

Portland isn’t the only local chapter. There are more than 50 programs in the U.S. In fact, I got to know the program when Vancouver Fit helped me train for the Vancouver USA Marathon.


How Portland Fit works:

You sign up to join, and pay your membership fee. Then you show up on the first day, listen to some experts talk, and go for a short run. The time it takes you to finish this short run helps you figure out which color group you’ll be in, based on your pace:

Purple: Walkers
Red: 10 min+ pace per mile
Yellow: 9min – 10min pace per mile
Green: 8min – 9min pace per mile
Blue: sub 8min pace per mile

After that first meeting, Portland Fit posts a weekly schedule you can follow, customized for each color group. Every week you’ll do a couple of shorter runs during the week on your own, then gather together every Saturday for the longer run. Gradually, your Saturday runs get longer, until over the course of 32 weeks you’re ready to run a full marathon!

My Favorite Part about training with a group:

On the long runs, there’s something powerful about being able to look ahead and see that fellow runner who’s ahead of you – even if they’re way ahead! You can see that they are tackling the same challenge, covering the same ground, and it gives you strength to see they are still going. Without even thinking about it, that person is showing you that you’re on the right path, it’s possible, and you can do it.
And here’s the kicker: At any moment, you might be that “person up ahead” for someone else to look to.


Are you a solo runner or a social butterfly? Have you ever run with a group? Let us know in the comments!

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