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THE GREAT OUTDOORS / PERSONAL PERSPECTIVES

Running From the Sublime . . .

June 26, 1996|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

I passed the 23-mile mark and faced yet another steep hill. It was just 3.2 miles to the finish line of the March 3 Los Angeles Marathon, but the streets were lined with wounded runners who would never make it that far.

Several sat dejectedly on the curbside, watching us back-of-the-packers. One woman winced as a volunteer tended to her bleeding blisters. Another man cried as he urged his friend to go on without him.

I felt a pang of guilt. I said a silent prayer for my fellow runners in pain, but I was focused on the medal that all runners get at the end. "I can't believe I feel so great," I marveled to myself. "I can't wait to do it again next year!"

No, I'm not a hard-core athlete or a veteran runner.

Typically, I'd run a slow three miles two times a week. The turning point for me came when I entered a local race with a friend and finished last. (Yeah, you always wonder about the poor slob who finishes last. That's me. They even gave me a wooden turtle as a consolation prize.)

I resolved to work on my running. I went to A Snail's Pace Running Shop in Fountain Valley and told them I wanted to join a training program. "Why don't you train for the Los Angeles Marathon?" suggested employee Rich Scott, who runs the program.

I turned around to make sure he was talking to me, the woman who wins turtles at races. But Rich assured me that the program takes beginning runners and turns them into marathoners. I signed up.

*

Our first training session was held in mid-August at Edison Community Park in Huntington Beach. The place was crawling with runners, none of whom looked like beginners. I considered slinking back home to bed.

Then Rich asked for a show of hands. How many ran a marathon before? A few hands went up. How many run less than 20 miles a week? I raised my hand with about half the crowd. How many people plan to walk the marathon? About 10 people raised their hands.

Yes! Even I could beat a walker!

The program was designed by Jeff Galloway, a former U.S. Olympic distance runner. Program basics: Run twice a week on your own for up to 45 minutes. Sundays are reserved for a beach-front group run that slowly increases in distance.

The goal isn't speed, but an injury-free finish to a marathon. (Recall that the first marathoner, Pheidippides, promptly dropped dead.)

The key is brief walk breaks during the longer runs. Without getting too technical, walking helps break up the lactic acid buildup in your legs and keeps your heart rate steady. That helps speed muscle recovery, reduces fatigue and burns lots of fat calories.

On Sundays, the group is broken down by individual pace. My group--the second slowest-included a real estate agent, a 57-year-old grandmother, a young woman with a nose ring, a harpist and a Long Beach cop.

*

We spent virtually the entire Sunday run chattering nonstop. It was the only way to keep from thinking about our tired quads.

I won't tell you the longer runs were easy. No matter how early we started, it was hard to escape the mid-day heat. The group almost always ran the last few miles in silence. There wasn't much to say as we all struggled with the pain of pushing our bodies farther than we had ever run before.

My worst training run was the day we did 22 miles. I had barely hit Mile 12--a distance I had easily run several times before--when my foot started cramping and I was queasy and dizzy. And I still had 11 miles to go. I found a shady spot and drank lots of water. I started running again after I felt better. When I finished long after the rest of my group, I was in tears. I thought my body was telling me I wasn't a marathoner.

I was gulping Gatorade when it came to me: Hey, I just ran 22 miles even though I was sick as a dog. I never considered calling a friend for a ride, or even walking to my car. I chalked it up to a bad training day.

I wasn't nervous the morning of the marathon. I was filled with energy watching the throngs of runners and cheering on-lookers. When the race got underway, the miles seemed to fly by, each one bringing me closer to the yellow medal that rests on my computer. I was exhausted when I crossed the finish line more than 6 1/2 hours later. But I never had a doubt I would.

After all, I had trained for it.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Program Information

Here's a look at A Snail's Pace Running Shop/Jeff Galloway Marathon Training Program.

Phone: (714) 842-2337

Key date: Training begins Sept. 8 for the March 2, 1997, Los Angeles Marathon.

Cost: The $110 fee includes a T-shirt, racing singlet, Galloway's book, Powerbars and training clinics.

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