Endurance. Stamina. Focus. The greatest human feats pass these tests of determination. Over 26.2 miles, such an act becomes a testament to nature and a rite of passage not only for die hard runners, but for people everywhere.
Among the runners of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon this Sunday, Oct. 11 will be several Marquette students.
Betsy McKenny, a junior in the College of Nursing, and Maggie Rudersdorf, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences, entered the race together and are training partners. Last year, they both casually trained with their friend who was preparing for the Chicago Marathon and watched her compete.
“We took the train down to go watch her and went right over a street with thousands of people running,” Rudersdorf said. “We thought, ‘This is too cool, we have to do it.’”
The Chicago Marathon will attract more than 45,000 participants this year, according to the Marathon’s Web site.
Each participant registered online on a first-come, first-serve basis and paid a $125 entry fee. Registration usually takes about six weeks starting in February and tends to reach capacity by March or April
Challenge for the course
Igor Borba, a graduate student in the College of Arts & Sciences, began running on a treadmill as a freshman in college. This week, he will be participating in the Chicago Marathon for the second time.
Borba hopes to improve his time from last year, but he mainly wants to return to enjoy the race again.
For Tom Kelly, a senior in the College of Business Administration, the choice to run was based on the personal challenge the marathon presented.
“I wanted to challenge myself both physically and mentally in a historic competition,” Kelly said. “I have wanted to run a marathon for many years and this seemed like a good opportunity to do so.”
For other runners, the marathon is a way to apply their passion for running to an ultimate goal.
“I really like running,” Borba said. “The freedom. You can do it when you want, and it’s good for you. It’s what I do when I’m stressed. Pretty soon, we won’t be able to do it anymore because we will get older, so we might as well enjoy it now.”
Fuel for the road
Among those who run road races, the support from spectators also provides a substantial pull toward becoming involved with marathon running.
“There are so many people supporting the runners,” Borba said. “The signs and the cheering are things that help us. I saw them last year and it made me want to come back and do it again.”
Spectators also dispense free refreshments, such as PowerGel and water, both during and after the race.
“They have water stations and Gatorade for the runners, along with free beer,” Borba said. “After running a marathon, that is a really deserved beer.”
Kelly also appreciates spectator encouragement, and cited it as one of his reasons for running the Chicago Marathon.
“It is in a city that I love with more than 1.5 million spectators cheering along the course,” Kelly said.
Training for the long run
Though training methods vary for each runner, the same principle applies: volume.
“The most important workout for any marathoner are the long runs, which you usually do once a week, usually on the weekend,” said Mike Nelson, head cross-country and assistant track and field coach for Marquette.
Nelson said all marathoners should do some form of strength training based on personal preferences. Some might have a very rigorous weight training routine, while others focus on push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups.
Borba’s weekly training regimen involves a combination of weightlifting three times a week at the Rec Center and running three times a week between Wednesday and Friday. On Saturday, he tackles his longer run, which can total anywhere from 10 to 22 miles.
To adequately prepare, Nelson said most beginners need to train for about four to five months to be able to complete a marathon.
“Most marathon training programs have you build up your long run to around 20 to 22 miles,” Nelson said. “To be sufficiently prepared for the full 26 miles, some would need to do at least five runs of 18 or more miles.”
Last year, Borba trained for the marathon with a friend, but now is tackling the training and the race alone.
“Sometimes, it’s hard to motivate myself … without a training partner,” Borba said.
Since Borba trains solo, he finds encouragement in listening to music on his Apple iPod.
Rudersdorf and McKenny find mutual support in each other.
“It’d be hard to find the motivation to do it alone,” Rudersdorf said of the training. “We trained on our own during the summer when we weren’t on campus together, and it made it a lot harder.”
Both girls still use their iPods during their workouts, but in a different way than Borba.
Rudersdorf and McKenny utilize Nike+iPod technology that allows their iPods to provide them with audio feedback during their runs, telling them time, distance, pace, or calories burned, via a sensor placed in their shoes. It also records their data and syncs it with the Nike+ Web site so they can track their progress.
“So far, we have done 32 workouts, averaging over 140 miles at a pace of 9:02 (per mile),” McKenny said.
McKenny and Rudersdorf’s workouts are structured like Borba’s, except an emphasis is placed on the middle of the week for their highest volume runs.
“It’s very time consuming,” McKenny said. “It can take up to a four hour chunk of your time.”
Because of the level of devotion and commitment it requires, the marathon cannot be considered a casual endeavor.
“The marathon is not for everybody and I don’t recommend everyone do it,” Nelson said. “It’s an extremely rigorous event and it takes a lot of time and dedication.”
In addition to the large volume of running, Rudersdorf and McKenny also do pilates and occasional abdominal workouts.
“We used to do abs after every run, but now we just lie on the floor,” Rudersdorf joked. “We are exhausted, so we relax and drink Gatorade after a really hard run.”
According to Nelson, the most important thing for a marathon runner to do is to maintain a strong core.
“Your core muscles really start breaking down in the latter stages of the race,” Nelson said. “The stronger your core is, the longer you can go without breaking down.”
‘No other feeling’
To finish the actual race, runners require not only physical ability, but also mental resolve.
“It’s painful, but it’s fun,” Borba said. “The first half is easier, when you’re not so tired. During the second half you start to think, ‘Why am I doing this?’ Then you remind yourself, ‘Wow, I am doing the magic 26 miles.’ ”
The “magic” Borba felt in the second half of the race was actually the sensation of glycogen deficiency. This leads to exhaustion, which is especially severe in the final several miles.
Sometimes it is so extreme that runners cannot finish the marathon.
Last year, 31,344 runners finished out of the 45,000 that registered, according to the Marathon’s Web site.
“There is no other feeling like what you will go through the last six miles,” Nelson said.
Support from family and friends is also a factor in helping the runners finish the race. Kelly’s family is coming from Toledo, Ohio to watch him run the marathon.
“This will be a big help to keeping me motivated during the race,” Kelly said. “I’m sure when I see them throughout the course, it will give me a psychological boost and confidence to make it to the finish line.”
McKenny and Rudersdorf plan to start the race together and finish it in the same way.
“We will help each other through it,” McKenny said. “In the half marathon, we crossed the finish line holding our hands in the air. We will probably do that again for the full race.”
McKenny and Rudersdorf aim to complete the 26.2 miles in about 4 hours, which is roughly the standard finishing time for the average marathon runner in the United States, according to Nelson.
The 26.2-mile distance is a well-preserved tradition with origins that span centuries back to Greek folklore.
According to legend, a Greek messenger ran nonstop for about 26 miles from the town of Marathon to the city of Athens to inform the government that the Persians were defeated. Upon his arrival, he used his final breath to convey the message, and died from exhaustion.
Indeed, the race is not for the faint-hearted.
“It has become somewhat cliché in our society to say, ‘I did a marathon,’ ” Nelson said. “Trust me, there is a big difference in ‘doing’ a marathon and ‘racing’ a marathon. The training and racing of the marathon should not be taken lightly … Those who are mentally weak need not apply.”