Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Marathon training not much fun

But crossing finish line on big day sure is

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The Manitoba Marathon goes through Garbage Hill and the Formal Gardens loop in Assiniboine Park.

Well, if you look at a route map of the June 19 race, that's not technically true. But if you talk to Chantal Denholm, it certainly is. A running coach at The Running Room, she helps would-be marathoners train for the big day -- a sweaty, excruciating day that they'll remember for the rest of their lives.

But this isn't any last-minute, run-to-the-point-where-you-can-stumble-across-the-finish-line, program. It's 18 weeks of training your body to handle the rigours of a 42-kilometre course over several hours, while enduring whatever Mother Nature happens to throw our way, and not only finishing, but breaking the tape in your desired time.

"The consistency of this training takes the guesswork out of it. Sometimes there's a fine line between getting tired and getting injured. We train the runners when to push hard and recover and when to back off," she said.

The Running Room program, which has more than 50 runners in it across its three locations, calls for several weeks of running up and down Garbage Hill -- the one-time dump located north of Polo Park Shopping Centre -- and around the 800-metre loop near the zoo. It also includes long, slow runs and some "tempo" outings, which are mid-range -- say 10 kilometres -- but at a faster pace than you'd run in the marathon.

But considering the Manitoba Marathon could be the flattest race of its kind in the world and sprinting isn't really an option over such a distance, aren't these training methods inappropriate?

Denholm said running up a hill builds up your heart, leg muscles and endurance while speed work helps you boost your aerobic threshold.

"You have to run fast to get faster," she said, noting the training eases up during the last two weeks before the race, so the runners are as fresh as possible.

Paul Brault is a believer in the Running Room's program. The 52-year-old has run six half-marathons but is about to embark on his first full marathon. And he doesn't just want to finish, he wants to qualify for the granddaddy of them all, the Boston Marathon. For him, that means a time under three hours and 36 minutes.

Based on his training and a 10 km race he ran a few weeks ago, marathon computer programs predict he'll cross the finish line in three hours and thirty-two minutes, all other things being equal -- which, of course, they often aren't.

"I have the ability to do it," he said.

Heather Gowler believes she can do it, too. The 28-year-old wants to cross a full marathon off her personal bucket list and hopes to finish in "anything under four hours."

That's impressive enough in itself, but even more so when you consider she only started training in the last week of February, the same time she quit smoking.

"I needed the structure and guidance (of a running training program). When you miss a run, you feel guilty and wonder if it might affect your performance," she said. "The speed work kicked my butt. It forces me to think about pacing myself and saving energy."

Gowler admits that no matter how much training you've done, taking her mark at the starting line will be daunting.

"I'm totally intimidated," she said with a laugh. "But the excitement is helping me to deal with the fear."

Denholm said training in a group can help erase the doubts that invariably creep into runners' minds. She said it can also be very motivating, especially compared to doing it on your own.

"If you're doing a three-hour run, I don't care how much you like music (on your iPod), it's tough to do. Doing it in a group is an incredibly social experience. You get to know people very well when you're doing three-hour runs with them," she said.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 28, 2011 C20

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