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Saturday, April 12, 2014
9 Days: Considering your first marathon?

By David Lefort

In the 26 days leading up to the Boston Marathon on April 21, ESPNBoston.com will share inspiring stories, detail important logistics and go inside the planning for what promises to be an event like no other in the wake of last year's bombings. There are 9 days until the race.

Over the next 10 days or so, you’re going to hear a lot of inspiring stories about running. You’ll feel an adrenaline rush as you learn about conquering demons, pushing personal limits, achieving goals and taking back Boylston Street.

It just might be enough to make you want to run a marathon.

If you’re a casual runner who is considering climbing the ultimate personal Everest, Bart Yasso can help get you get on the right path. We spoke with the Runner’s World Chief Running Officer (that’s really his title) about where to start.

“This year, because the Boston Marathon is going to get so much publicity, I think there’s going to be a lot of those people that call themselves casual runners or occasional runners and they may get bitten by the bug after they see all of the attention that the Boston Marathon is going to receive,” said the 58-year-old Yasso, who has run hundreds of marathons. “I think there’s going to be a lot of newbies out there, people stepping up to the plate, putting that challenge out there.”

Boston Marathon
The first step to running a marathon is simply to get out and log some "time on your feet."
The key, Yasso says, is starting small. Goal No. 1 should be building a base, running four to five days a week. Speed doesn’t matter. What’s important is what Yasso calls “time on your feet.”

“Those first couple of months are just building up miles,” he explained. “Slow running, just getting that base. So when you get to the point where you follow a training program, you can continually hold the mileage you need throughout the program. A good base goes a long way. And that base is not fast running. Just getting used to running, getting used to covering distance.”

Before you think about trying to tackle 26.2 miles, Yasso suggests aiming for a half marathon.

“You’ve got to relate to the distance: 26.2 miles is a long way to run. I always have people first train for a half marathon,” said Yasso, who has run marathons on all seven continents. “And when they can comfortably run 13.1 [miles] in a race setting ... that’s when you’re ready to take on the challenge.

“Conquer that distance, then step up to the marathon.”

He suggests a 16-week training program leading up to your first marathon and to pick a race that’s close to home.

“There’s a big benefit to sleeping in your own bed. Especially that first one,” Yasso said.

It’s hard to make Boston your first, both because of the difficulty of the course and the fact that you need to post a marathon qualifying time to get in the race. The only way you can enter without qualifying is to register as a charity runner and raise money.

“It’s not a first-timers type of marathon,” Yasso said. “I suggest not to do Boston as your first; I would pick another one. There are so many marathons in the New England area to choose from.”

As for the training, here are three of Yasso’s keys to staying on track and building up to the big day.

Listen to your body. Yasso suggests running five days a week and giving your body a break on the other two days. Consider cross-training as an alternative to running on your off days. It gives you a good aerobic workout without as much wear and tear.

To avoid injuries, slow yourself down. It’s more about the distance than the speed.

“People that I coach that I keep injury free, they listen to me and do not do their runs too quickly,” Yasso said. “It sounds counterintuitive to slow yourself down on a long run, but it actually produces a faster time. It really does work. The long run is all about endurance, not about speed. A lot of people get injured when they do their long runs too quickly. You have to go easy. You have to run at what I call a comfortable pace, then you avoid injuries.”

Find the time. Training for a marathon takes a big commitment. It’s hard enough to juggle work and family as it is; adding a heavy training regimen isn’t easy. For Yasso, the answer is a simple one: Build it in at the beginning of the day.

“You’ve got to be a morning runner,” he explained. “If you get that workout done in the morning, then you don’t make any excuses, talk yourself out of it later in the day. People who run in the morning tend to stick to their schedule better.”

Yasso offers these tips for the race itself:

Start slowly. The reason why runners feel like they’ve hit the proverbial wall late in the race is most likely because they set too quick a pace over the first few miles.

“They always talk about the 20-mile mark being the wall. But I really don’t think that exists,” Yasso said. “People create the wall by starting out too quickly or just not listening to their body. They just get in over their heads, then it really comes to haunt you later in the race. And then it does feel like you hit a wall, like a bear has jumped on your back.”

He added:

“If you’re running the Boston Marathon, those first two miles it should feel like you could run to Hartford, Conn., at that pace. Then you’re going at the right pace. Eventually it gets hard on everyone. It should feel so easy at the beginning. With all the hype and everything going on, it’s so easy to start out too quickly.”

Hydrate properly. Yasso doesn’t have a formula for how often a runner should drink during a marathon; his only advice is to stay aware of the weather conditions and listen to your body.

“You always want to go into a race well-hydrated. If I’m going to run a marathon, I make sure I am hydrating all week leading up to it,” he said. “Not just the day of the race. All these races have fluids along the course, it’s just a matter of knowing how much you sweat, how much fluid you need, and then it’s adjusted to whether it’s a warm day or a humid day, what’s going on around you. You’ve just got to be smart about it.”

You might start out with the goal of running one marathon, just to cross it off your bucket list and move on with your life. What you might discover, however, is that it will get you hooked.

“My tagline is to never limit where running can take you,” Yasso said. “You may think it’s your first marathon, it’s going to be your one marathon or you think you’ll do one or two. But you never know what the sport’s going to do for you. You could get fired up about it and end up running a marathon in all 50 states like a lot of people do. Or go around the world and run Paris and London and Berlin. You just never know. Let the cards play out. Go out there and run and see how you feel, see where the sport will take you.”