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The long run: Training for marathon takes time, preparation

Aaron Werth of Moorhead started running when he was in college. At first, a 2-mile race was painful. "I used to look at the guys running the 10K and think, 'How can they run six miles?'" Werth says. "I think back to that now and can't believe I t...


Aaron Werth of Moorhead started running when he was in college. At first, a 2-mile race was painful.

"I used to look at the guys running the 10K and think, 'How can they run six miles?'" Werth says. "I think back to that now and can't believe I thought that."

Now Werth runs 26 miles -- 26.2 to be precise.

Saturday was the 27th annual Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn., and Werth's 10th and final marathon.

This April's Boston Marathon was his ninth. To participate, he needed a qualifying time of 3 hours and 10 minutes.


With young children and their activities to attend, it's become too difficult to find time to train, he says.

"I'm not as important as I used to be," Werth jokes.

Steve Sanders, an exercise physiologist with Innovis Health and Dakota Clinic's Cardiac Rehabilitation Department, says that training for a marathon is almost like a full-time job.

Sanders ran a marathon in Hawaii a year ago as a fund-raiser for the American Diabetes Association. He followed an 18-week training program, running four to five days a week, progressively increasing his miles, and taking long runs on the weekend.

"Usually the goal for the first marathon is just to finish without injury," Sanders says.

Most training schedules extend for several weeks and involve simply running, lots of it.

"If you have a certain time goal you're shooting for and are further along, you can add strength training," Sanders says. And while training, runners also need to up their caloric intake, eating a diet high in carbohydrates.

"You have to refuel the muscles," Sanders says.


But the basic way to train for a marathon is to slowly build up the miles, peaking a few weeks before a race.

"That's just so your body has some training so it's ready to take the pounding a marathon will give," Sanders says.

Werth suggests adding 10 percent of the distance to the run each week.

"It takes a lot of time, a lot of commitment," Werth says.

For his first marathon, Grandma's in 1997, Werth never ran a distance greater than 20 miles, which many training programs suggest for the longest run. Werth says that although these programs claim the crowd and adrenaline will carry you through the last six miles, those final miles are brutal if you're not prepared for them.

"You've got to respect that 26 miles," he says.

Now he'll do 28-mile runs in preparation for a marathon. Werth says training up to or beyond the marathon length is the difference between enjoying and surviving the event.

Sanders says his marathon was a wonderful experience, even though he wasn't prepared for the Hawaiian heat.


"It wasn't great, but I finished," he says. "That was the goal."

Sanders says the health benefits of training for a marathon are the same as any exercise program -- weight loss or maintenance, lower blood pressure and decreased risk of heart disease.

The drawbacks include joint problems, knee and muscle pain and pulled muscles.

"If people increase too quickly, that's when you get the injuries," Sanders says. "You just have to pay close attention to your body."

Jerry Bents, West Fargo, was training for Grandma's Marathon, but was injured halfway through his 16-week training program. Shin splints and a stress fracture kept him out of this event, but he hopes to run a marathon in the future.

"It'll just be a matter of getting back in condition to do it," Bents says.

Bents decided to run a marathon for the sense of self-accomplishment.

"I kind of set a goal to do it before I was 30," he says. At 28, he still has a couple years left.


But Bents' co-worker at Houston Engineering, Gregg Thielman of Fargo, made his second appearance at Grandma's this weekend. Thielman also followed an 18-week training program with a longest run of 20 miles, peaking at 40 miles that week. The week of the marathon, he ran 11 miles.

"It's a light week this week, except for the marathon," he says.

Thielman says running through the winter made preparing for the big event easier.

"Last year it seems I had more aches and pains than this year," he says.

But that doesn't mean the marathon will be easy.

"You definitely feel it the next day. Your legs are pretty sore. It's hard to go up and down stairs," he says. "You feel good though."

Sanders says if a person is interested in running a marathon, he or she should start by getting involved in local 5K or 10K races or half-marathons. A person should run regularly for at least a year before tackling a marathon, he says.

While average exercisers don't need to run 40 miles a week, they can take a valuable lesson from the life of a marathoner.


"You get into the habit of good exercise, healthy diet," Sanders says. "The marathon forces you into that."

Werth says that he'll likely still run half-marathons and smaller races. Once his children are older, he might get back into marathons.

His 4-year-old daughter has already caught the running bug. When children's races are held in town, she'll run circles around the yard, training.

Werth encourages people to just get out and run.

"Don't worry about how fast you run or how you look," he says, "just log the miles."

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sherri Richards at (701) 241-5525

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