Dream On The Run

Marathons, triathlons and beyond

Dream on the Run

What do people who go after their long-distance dreams get in return for all that hard work? To start with, better health.

What does it take to complete a marathon or a triathlon? You’d be surprised, says Canyon Ranch in Lenox Senior Exercise Physiologist Rich Butler, M.S. You don’t need the genes of an Olympic medalist, the resources of a college athletic department or the looks of a fitness magazine model.

What it takes is six months – maximum – of consistent, well-planned training, the right shoes and, in the case of a triathlon, a bike, a swimsuit and some goggles. Oh, and the belief that you can accomplish what you set out to do. If you’ve been pretty sedentary and you plan to train for your first marathon or half-marathon, forget about running the whole thing, says Rich. Run and walk. Or only walk. If you have iffy knees, set your goal as five hours on a bike instead of on foot. Train faithfully for a reasonable period of time and you can do it.

Getting started
How to begin? If you haven’t pushed yourself physically in years, check with a physician, or consider an exercise assessment with a professional before you start training, says Rich. “People tend to underestimate what they can do. And they’re scared off from setting big goals by believing they have to be in great shape to begin training. A professional assessment gives them permission to try as hard as they can.”

Next, try enlisting a training partner – it’s a great way to hold yourself accountable and give mutual support A personal trainer can also help get you on a regimen, and provide expert advice on form and technique. Or check out walking, running or biking groups in your area – many hold regular training runs or rides, for all levels. You’ll also make new friends who’ll be able to point you to other opportunities.

To build up your cardio fitness and speed, try alternating “walk/run” intervals. For just one minute, you may be able to maintain 7 miles per hour. Follow up with walking intervals to allow your body to recover.  

Jog/run intervals help boost your speed, and they’re less boring than a long run at one pace. Jog at your usual pace for 4½ minutes, then speed up a little for half a minute. Each week, increase your running times by 30 seconds and decrease slower intervals by 30 seconds. Soon you’ll be running faster for your whole run.

Reaping the rewards
What do people who go after their long-distance dreams get in return for all that hard work? To start with, better health.

“It’s hard to stick with an exercise program just to lose weight, or to make your doctor happy by lowering your LDL,” says Rich. “On the other hand, hiking up Mount Greylock, or biking to the top of Mount Lemmon – these are goals that get folks moving and keep them going. And, as I always remind people, no one is going to be standing at the top of the mountain with a stopwatch. The whole point is getting there.”

Roberta, a Canyon Ranch guest, talks about her marathon training at Canyon Ranch.

In addition to the physical benefits of a consistent endurance training program, the psychological payoffs of setting and achieving physical goals are numerous, Rich says. Among them:

Improved self-concept. “In today’s world, we’ve lost a piece of who we are: ‘How much can I lift? What can I do in a day?’ Our physical capabilities were once a huge part of our sense of self, and that’s missing for most of us in the industrialized world.”

Positive outlook. “When you’re focused on a goal, you’re turning your mind away from ‘What I don’t want’ and toward ‘What I do want.’ It promotes a different mindset.”

Less concern about winning. “For many people who remain athletic throughout their school years, physical exercise means a team sport. That’s okay, but there tends to be an undue emphasis on winning and losing. No one loses a triathlon.”

A more solid sense of ourselves in the world. “Up until very recently, human beings covered great distances on a regular basis – we’re meant to move. It just feels great to be able to move freely, under your own power, and get to anywhere you want to go.”

Finally, Rich advises, “Don’t sell yourself short. I know a guy who decided to train for an Ironman on a bet. Now he’s completed two, and recently did a 230-mile bike ride through New England. He was reasonably fit to start with, but he’s taken it to whole new level just because he made his mind up to do it.”


ALWAYS WARM UP before and cool down after each training session, even if it’s only for two or three minutes.

STRENGTH TRAIN your entire lower body, and stretch hips, hamstrings and quadriceps muscles, which can tighten from a new activity such as long-distance running.

HYDRATE DURING YOUR WORKOUTS and fuel with healthy carbs – such as bananas, sport bars or gels – for workouts lasting an hour or longer.

TRAIN BY HEART RATE - Knowing how hard you need to work – and how hard is too hard – is essential to training properly. By working between 70-85% of your estimated maximum heart rate, you will effectively and efficiently get to the starting line and to the finish line.

LISTEN TO YOUR BODY - For example, if you’re feeling burned out, check your training log and adjust accordingly. This can be as simple as shortening the duration of your workout.