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Getting a Little Help from Your (Running) Friends

If you think you'll have trouble staying motivated to run the mileage required to race a successful marathon — or if you simply find yourself getting bored on your runs — consider finding a training companion or two, even if you join up with them only 1 or 2 days per week.

Signing up for a marathon-training class

A marathon-training class is a weekly or twice-weekly meeting, led by one or more experienced runners, who help you train for a particular marathon — usually one in your geographic area. A training class usually starts meeting from 4 to 6 months before the targeted marathon, starts off with an assessment of your current fitness level and your marathon goals, and sets you up with a training plan for the marathon. Most classes meet for an hour or two to listen to experts on equipment, nutrition, racing strategy, stretching, injuries, and so on. Prices range from $25 to $100 for the entire 4- or 6-month class.

Before or after the speaker(s), the class will likely head out for a training run, often grouping people according to their per-mile training pace (a 7-minute-mile group, a 9-minute-mile group, and so on).

In order to find a marathon-training class, you first need to find a running store in your area. More specifically, find a running store that sells shoes and apparel for running, and possibly for walking, too — not a general athletic store, which sells basketballs, soccer equipment, football cleats, and so on. If you have this sort of running store in your area, odds are that the store offers a marathon-training class.

Flocking together with birds of the same feather: Running clubs

Many areas of the United States, Europe, and Africa — particularly in larger cities — have running clubs that are made up of runners who want others to train with them. Clubs vary greatly in the number of times per week the group meets, the intensity of the training, the talent of the club's members, and whether this is a training-only club or one that races together as a team.

The benefits of running clubs are twofold:

  • You get people to train with. Motivationally, having a group of people to train with, even just 1 or 2 days per week, can really help you stay on track with your marathon training.
  • You can save money. If your club is one that travels to races, splitting travel expenses among several people can save you money on gas and hotel expenses.

The major disadvantage of running clubs is that they often combine runners of such varying talent and experience that you may end up training alone anyway (which, obviously, diminishes the value of the club) or you may end up training more slowly than you could be, which only serves to make you a slower runner. In addition, the club members may have a variety of goals, some of which may conflict. All members may want to run the same marathon that you're planning to run. On the other hand, quite possibly no one in the club is planning to run that marathon and everyone else is focusing on 5K and 10K races. A final potential disadvantage of running clubs is that running enthusiasts who are looking for running companions, but may or may not have a great deal of knowledge about the sport, often start a running club. So even though the club founder is often looked to as a mentor, coach, or captain, the club founder may know squat about training for a marathon.

Be careful when deciding to join a running club. Before joining one, consider the following:

  • Make sure other club members are training at or near your goal training pace. Don't just assume they are. Ask specific questions about the training pace, mileage, and workouts of the club's members.
  • Find out whether others in the club are training for the same marathon you're training for.
  • If the club is going to be doing certain workouts — say, mile repeats — make sure they're the right workouts for you.
  • Find out what the fee is to join the club. If the club provides you with a racing uniform or brings in speakers from time to time, you have to pay for that in your club fee, of course, but you don't want to be funding anyone's salary unless you're getting expert coaching, with an emphasis on the word expert.
  • Make sure that if you win any sort of award or prize money at a race, you don't have to split that with the club. If that fine day comes your way, the money should be yours to keep!

Drumming up your own band

If you aren't able to find a running club in your area or if you don't find one that's right for you, you can always start your own running group with people from work, family, friends, neighbors, and so on. Like a running club, make sure this group has someone in it who is training at your pace so that you aren't running too slowly or if everyone trains faster than you, doesn't leave you training all by your lonesome self.

Your group can be official — with a name and special racing uniforms — or a low-key group that simply meets periodically and encourages one another.

Hiring a coach or trainer

If you want one-on-one advice for your training, consider hiring a coach or trainer. Doing so is expensive, but you get individual attention that you just can't get anywhere else.

To find out who may be qualified and willing to coach you, ask first at your local running store. You want someone who has coached marathoners or run in marathons and who has been successful in one or the other. If this lead turns up nothing, consider asking a collegiate coach to train you. While the marathon isn't a college running event, the training is close enough to that of 10,000-meter runners that a college coach may be able to help.

The mark of a good coach is that she always discusses and takes into account your background, experience, current fitness level, and goals before issuing a training plan. Steer clear of anyone who asks you to pay for a training plan that isn't individualized.

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