A MOMENT WITH...

JOHN BREWER

Running fitness columnist John Brewer’s running exploits are not nearly as well known as those in sports science. We’re hoping to change all that: this month John considers whether, with a sensible pacing strategy and realistic goals, it’s possible to complete a marathon without training - although he warns never to under-estimate the challenge!
was contacted recently by the BBC who asked me whether it was possible to run a marathon without doing any training. My immediate response was that anyone contemplating the 26.2-mile distance without training was at risk not only of injury, but extreme fatigue and a high chance of failure. However, as we have all just witnessed, many thousands of runners of all shapes, sizes and levels of fitness have successfully completed the 2012 Virgin London Marathon, and let’s be honest, a fair few of them will not have adhered to the coaching manuals and training guidelines stipulating the volume and intensity of training that is recommended to get around the course. So going back to my enquiry from the BBC, I also said that there is a distinct difference between running a marathon competitively, and completing the distance. It is unlikely that anyone will be able to push themselves to a fast marathon time without weeks of hard training and regular runs in excess of 18 miles. But in today’s world of mass participation events, where for many the focus is on completion and fundraising, rather than competition, it probably is possible to achieve the marathon distance with only a modest amount of training, even if this is not advisable! Consider the facts: a brisk walk at 4mph will cover the 26.2 miles in just over six-and-a-half hours. Intersperse this with a modicum of running – say 400m every mile – and an hour or so can be shaved off that time. Go back just over 30 years, before events such as the Virgin London Marathon existed, and any marathon runner with a time of five or six hours would probably have found that everyone else had gone home by the time they reached the finish-line, including the hardcore runners who were the exclusive competitors over a distance seen as far too extreme for mere mortals. But in today’s world of charity running and fancy dress, a marathon completion in six hours could still mean that a significant number of runners finish behind you! Seasoned runners, conditioned to years of training and competing, can probably cope with the demands of a marathon more easily than novices, and for the latter group, there is no substitute for dedication and training if the course is to be completed safely and enjoyably. The physical and

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JOHN BREWER

John is professor of sport at the University of Bedfordshire. He was previously director of communications for Lucozade Sport and before that director of the Lilleshall Sports Injury and Human Performance Centre

metabolic demands of a marathon must never be under-estimated, and anyone completing a marathon will have expended significant energy and effort, regardless of their finish time. But if a competitive runner over shorter distances - say 10ks or even half marathons - is prepared to reset his or her goals, and accept that covering the distance, rather than competing against the clock, is their main goal, then with a sensible pacing strategy, completing a marathon is just about possible without having to fully dedicate one’s life to pounding the roads during the weeks and months beforehand. I’m not recommending this – just simply suggesting that a running background, combined with an element of common sense and pacing, can contribute to a successful, (but tough!), marathon completion without miles and miles of heavy training. There is though, I am sure, a relationship between the experience of a runner, and the amount of training that is needed to run a marathon – novices need more, old hands (or legs?) need less. Around 40,000 strides, approximately 40,000 heart beats, the use of a day’s worth of calories, litres of sweat lost through evaporation, and around 30,000 litres of air going in and out of the lungs, all make running a marathon a huge challenge. Anyone who has done so this year, or intends to in the future, will have, as the late Sir Chris Brasher said, attained the “suburban man’s Everest”.

114 RUNNING FITNESS | JUNE 2012

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