Keep It Simple Stupid (KISS). Keeping things simple had always worked for me, regardless if it applied to work, raising children or running. So when I decided to make an attempt at qualifying for the Boston Marathon, I followed three simple steps: Fartleks, Hills and Weight.
The difference between running a marathon and qualifying for Boston is the time requirement, so the objective is to increase speed and build endurance. To increase speed, most marathon training programs include interval regiments of varying distance—440s, 880s and so on. That’s too much detail for a spontaneous and disorganized soul like me. Fartleks are random and, therefore, fit my personality. Fartleks are a training method developed by a Swedish cross-country coach that alternates running intensity during a long, continuous workout. I’d rather run through the woods and visually mark a spot in the distance, and then run my ass off until I reach it. If I get distracted while running to the spot, I just pick another and keep on running. It works for me, and I think it achieves the same goal.
Running hills complements the fartleks by building endurance. I would purposely plan training runs on hilly courses, and the more hills the better. Hills will kick your butt at first, but if you persevere, progress will follow in a surprisingly short period of time—usually a few weeks. Many running books, magazines and websites recommend runners to create a personal mantra to repeat during a long run. Mine became, “The hills are my friend.” Goofy, right? But I began to attack hills and now, years later, I am more likely to pass other runners when I am ascending a hill than when I am on level ground or a downward incline.
The third step is a real no-brainer, Drop Weight. When I was training for Boston, I was looking for any edge I could get, so I posted a request for advice in a running forum. One runner wrote back simply, Drop Weight. Dah! But the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. The difference five or ten fewer pounds on your frame makes when running 26.2 miles is significant. Dropping weight also has a reciprocal effect—it boosts performance which increases motivation, and the two feed off one another.
One final note: If you visit the more popular running websites to find a marathon training program, be prepared to go dig out your credit card. Like most things in life, i.e. bottled water and air for your tires at a gas station, training programs that were once offered for free, now cost as much as $29.99. But there are still free training programs on other running websites such as Cool Running and Marathon Pal. Those websites may not be as widely recognizable, but their programs are similar to the one I followed to get to Boston.