MarathonFest- A Coach's Perspective, A Training Program and Much, Much More By Susan S. Paul, MS, TSF Training Program Director

Of all the training programs offered by the Track Shack Foundation, MarathonFest is our largest and most popular program. I receive countless phone calls, emails, and questions about all of our programs, but particularly MarathonFest. So here is an explanation of MarathonFest; it’s a running program for sure, but it’s also a lot more than that!

MarathonFest is a training program designed for adult runners interested in the marathon and half-marathon distance. This program is offered in two 6-month training sessions; or for the year ‘round runner, we offer an annual program.

MarathonFest has coached training sessions on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays. Tuesdays are “track” day where speed is the intention and runners work on increasing their aerobic and anaerobic thresholds. Thursdays are tempo or hill runs where the intention varies from setting specific paces to increasing strength. Saturdays and Sundays are for the “long” run. Participants indicate whether their primary weekend run day will be Saturday or Sunday and then they are placed in pace groups with runners of like pace and goals. The weekend runs are intent upon building mileage and simulating the conditions of targeted races. Novice runners will train 3 days a week, more advanced runners can opt for more run days, and some runners will add cross-training to the training schedule.

It sounds simple enough and it is, in many ways, especially from a coach’s perspective. Just give me the date of a race and I can write a training plan. Except that something happens to all of us out there on the road during our training, and at some point, training for the marathon really isn’t about the marathon at all. Somehow, somewhere out there on the road as the miles are being logged, a transformation occurs and we begin to view our marathon training as something totally different. It sounds cliché, but it really is about the process, and it isn’t about the race at all.

Perhaps the transformation process begins when we look at this really big goal of completing 26.2 miles. We have to commit! We have to register for the race and commit to training. Now, how do you fit marathon training into an already busy life? Family, work, friends, and other obligations still must be met. We learn to get up at 4am to train. We learn time management. Then we have to break this very large goal down into do-able training segments that we can accomplish without injuring ourselves. We learn task analysis. First we do 4 miles, then 6 miles, then 8 miles, and on and on. We learn perseverance. Every time we break a new mileage barrier we are ecstatic! The long runs are hard, getting up early is hard, and climbing hills is hard work. We learn we are strong. We experience good runs, where everything goes right and we feel great. We experience bad runs, where nothing goes right. We fall off the pace, we hit the wall, and someone is there for us; the pace group helps us through the run. We learn about friendship at a whole new level. We look forward to the runs; they become adventures rather than training runs. We feel like a kid again. We remember how to play! We run in the rain, we run in the heat, we run in the cold. We learn we are tough. Running becomes empowering. And that’s where the transformation occurs! It doesn’t matter whether you are the slowest runner or the fastest runner; it happens to everyone!

As the mileage builds on the weekend runs, we get to a point in the training where 10 miles is referred to as a “short” run. And when our new runners say for the first time, “Oh, it’s a short run next weekend, we are ONLY going 10 miles” it is, as Oprah would say, an “AHA Moment”. They are initially shocked by what they are saying and then they are so proud of what they have accomplished (and they haven’t even done the race yet!), they can’t wait to say it again, and again; hence, the transformation. They 

have become a marathon runner; mentally, physically, and emotionally without even crossing the finish line yet! They view themselves differently now than they did before training. They are empowered by their running.

Then the transformation is carried over into our lives. Many runners begin applying the lessons learned on the road to their personal lives and they find themselves tackling new career goals, asking for a promotion, going back to school, beginning or ending relationships, you know, dealing with life’s baggage that they just didn’t feel strong enough to handle before…and now they can! Experiencing this transformation on a regular basis, watching the runners change as they go through the training, is the highlight of being a coach. As Mastercard says, it is priceless.

Now, there is one catch….You can’t quit! The transformation occurs; but, only to those who stick it out. The transformation doesn’t mean that you will become a marathon runner for life; not at all, some runners move on and they never run another marathon again but they take with them the lessons learned. They are forever changed. Other runners become “lifers” and they continue training forever. Some will tackle the 50 States challenge, some may become ultra-distance runners, some may dabble in triathlons, and some may choose to run one marathon a year; the options are endless. What you do with your fitness is up to you. What you do with the transformation is up to you. But remember, don’t quit.

I look forward to the beginning of another session of MarathonFest. And if you call me to ask me questions about the program, I will tell you all about the tangible components of MarathonFest; like, the coached training sessions, the pace groups, and the training schedules; but, the intangible components of MarathonFest you will have to experience for yourself, if you think you are ready.……

Don’t Quit
By Jim ‘miJ’ Kirwin

When the running plan goes wrong, as it sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the energy’s low and the miles are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When the mileage is pressing you down a bit—
Walk if you must, but don’t you quit!

Marathon training is tough with its twists and turns,
As every one of us eventually learns,
And too many runners turn about
When they might have won had they stuck it out,
Don’t give up though the pace hurts your pride,
You may succeed with another stride,

Often the goal is within the grasp
As the runner’s breath falters to a gasp;
Often the runner has given up
When he might have captured the finisher’s cup,
And he learned too late when the times were settled,
How close he was to the winner’s medal.

Success is failure turned inside out!
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the run when you are hardest hit,-
It’s when things seem worst that you mustn’t quit!

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