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Marathon dreams attainable by all

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You've dreamed of crossing the finish line at the Manitoba Marathon but you've never really had the guts to run for it.

Perhaps you've been inspired by the four marathoners who have shared their stories with the Free Press in our marathon series.

You, too -- even if you've never run before -- can get in on the action and complete a race, says running coach and University of Manitoba exercise scientist, Dean Kriellaars.

"You can for sure," he says, noting that the half Manitoba Marathon is a reasonable goal for first-time runners as long as they don't have a time goal in mind.

"If (you) just want to complete it, I can almost guarantee for a vast majority of people, that they can."

Whether you're interested in taking up the sport or are just fascinated by how runners get their bodies ready for a marathon, here's some advice from three Winnipeg running coaches:

Who: Alphonse Bernard

Coaching background: This former University of Manitoba track-and-field coach, who specializes in middle to distance running, has been coaxing the best out of runners since the 1970s. The retired physics teacher now works predominantly with high school athletes, with a few exceptions. He currently coaches Corey Gallagher, an elite half-marathoner who is part of the Free Press Manitoba Marathon running series, as well as Gina Tessman, winner of last year's full Manitoba Marathon.

His approach: "I have a fairly strenuous program that gets results," says Bernard.

Bernard on running:

-- Whether a novice or an elite runner, anyone can excel in running "as long as they are ready to put in the time."

-- "The watch will tell you," says Bernard, noting that measuring progress in running training is as simple as seeing an improvement in time.

-- "My philosophy is always slow progression."

-- Some of Bernard's competitive runners (such as Gallagher) like to run road races during training. In those cases, he recommends cutting back on training before a race "so you're not tired for the race."

-- One of his main training techniques is interval training. In running, that means breaking up a training run into several small parts, taking brief rests in between each interval. For example, Gallagher has run six one-mile segments under Bernard's guidance. Breaking up a run in such a way makes the distance easier to conquer. It also builds speed, says Bernard.

-- For clients like Gallagher (who happens to dislike training outdoors in the winter), he offers treadmill workouts that vary the gradient, usually between two and six per cent.

-- Don't run hard every day, says Bernard, whose elite clients usually train strenuously three to four times a week and take one day of rest. On the other days, he recommends "easy" runs during which you could hold a conversation. "I don't even want them to have a watch on those days."

Who: Dean Kriellaars

Coaching background: A U of M associate kinesiology professor and exercise science researcher who has coached runners since 1980. He also runs ultra marathons -- extreme races that start at 50 kilometres and go up from there.

His approach: Uses his extensive knowledge of biochemistry and physiology to get the best out of his runners, whether high-performance athletes or complete beginners.

Kriellaars on running:

-- "Consistency is king and progression is everything. Almost everybody who gets hurt doesn't follow those two rules," says Kriellaars. "They become a weekend warrior or they are inconstant. They jump too quickly."

-- Slowly increase your run speed and distance by no more than 10 per cent every week. "It adds up quickly. That would be my maximum," he says.

-- No one can start training until they have a "good-fitting" pair of runners -- preferably one designed for running rather than walking or cross training. (Barefoot running or minimal footwear, warns Kreillaars, is not for beginners.)

-- Kriellaars tends to schedule running training based on a client's existing schedule. "If you don't schedule, it don't happen."

-- He says runners need to understand how much energy they are exerting without looking at a watch or without measuring heart rate. He teaches runners how they can monitor their exertion by getting to know their breathing rhythms.

-- For new runners, Kriellaars often uses a walk-run approach in which he asks clients to run for eight minutes and walk for one. This prevents new runners who aren't aerobically conditioned from reaching their maximum heart rates too quickly. Advanced, competitive runners, however, would not use this method.

-- "Learn how to fuel correctly," says Kriellaars, who is disappointed when athletes don't take in water during a run that's one hour or longer. He says that loading up on water before a run does not prevent dehydration and can actually be detrimental to health as it can lower electrolyte balance.

-- Plan for Manitoba Marathon day to be hot and humid, says Kriellaars. That means acclimatizing the body to heat so that you're prepared. (He often urges runners he trains for the Manitoba Marathon to go to hot yoga sessions in the weeks leading up to the marathon). Just sitting in a class eight or 10 times over the course of a few weeks -- no exercise required -- will help the body adapt to exercising in high humidex conditions.

-- Favourite training spots include Garbage Hill and a 700-metre loop at the Assiniboine Park.

-- Join a running club or get a running coach rather than tackle training alone.

Who: Erick Oland

Owner of City Park Runners, a specialty running shop in St. James. He's also a well-respected cyclist.

Coaching background: Has shared his love of running with Winnipeggers since he opened his shop in 2006. There, he leads marathon clinics designed to get people ready for half and full marathons. Free Press runner Ramona Turner, who plans to run her first full marathon this June, is one of his clients.

His approach: Encourages runners with varied goals to train together and motivate each other. Says he's learned a lot about training principles from friend and mentor Dean Kriellaars. Teaches people to run "by feel" rather than "by numbers."

Oland on running:

-- Offers a four-day training program. (Speed workout is Tuesdays, tempo run is Thursdays, long run is Saturday and cross training is Sunday).

-- Recommends that anyone who signs up for his marathon clinic should be able to complete a 10-kilometre race comfortably.

-- Speed workout consists of drills in which runners complete 30 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of rest.

-- "If you can learn to run fast, it naturally increases your efficiency. It makes your easy runs easier," says Oland.

-- Believes strongly in interval training. "It teaches you how to run fast," he says. "If people always run the same speed, they will always run the same speed."

-- "Often people that run the same speed, they are more prone to injury. You're conditioned to one element all the time. Real life is just not like that."

-- "The more you vary your speeds, you vary your terrain, the more you vary the people you run with, the more durable you are."

-- Oland focuses on core training once a week. He says runners with strong cores maintain their postures, efficiency and therefore, speed.

-- "Running has to be fun. If you feel like it's getting hard and you're not enjoying it, then you have to back off."

Have an interesting story idea you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 26, 2012 D1

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