The anticipated arrival of spring brings fair weather runners out of the house. Those training for the Boston Marathon, and working with a common 16-week training plan for beginners, will be in week 13, the hard week with a 20-mile run and 38 total miles. Though Boston and New York Marathons get the most national press, runners training for any big run look forward to the dramatic challenge and to substantial benefits for heart health.
Results of a study of 45 non-elite runners training for a marathon, presented at a scientific session of the American College of Cardiology conference, showed significant improvement in blood chemistry and peak oxygen consumption, both of which are indicators of heart health. Dr. Jodi Zilinski, lead author of the study and a cardiologist at Massachusetts General Hospital, documented drops in the overall level of cholsesterol of 5 percent, drops of LDL or “bad cholesterol” of 5 percent, and drops in triglycerides of 15 percent. The increase by 4 percent of peak oxygen consumption, an indicator of cardio-vascular fitness, was most significant.
Marathon runners look forward to the Boston Marathon and others nationally but must show extreme dedication to achieve that advance towards good heart health. The training program provides for rest days Tuesday and Friday, a long run Saturday and another rest day Sunday. During the week there are two runs of three to five miles, one medium distance session of four to eight miles, and a Saturday run that begins at five miles in week one and increases to 20 miles in week 13. Weeks 14 and 15 taper off quickly until the week of the race when short runs allow the body to rest before the big day.
Marathons challenge individuals to great efforts and in many instances acts of commemoration and health-related philanthropy. A group of Tennessee runners will begin a 1,075-mile relay to Boston, to raise an anticipated $50,000 in donations for two charities. Boston’s One Step Ahead Charity helps children who lost limbs during the 2013 Boston Marathon bomb attack. Dream Big offers funds and equipment to assist low-income girls to participate in athletics. Twenty-five runners will leave Cleveland, Tennessee just northeast of Chattanooga on April 12. Running with support vehicles they will traverse Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York and arrive in time for five of them to run the Boston Marathon.
The horror of last year’s Boston Marathon bombing, with 264 injured and 3 killed, looms large for race director Dave McGillivray who looks forward to good health for all of his runners. “This year it’s all about safety,” he said, and he has introduced a system of 24 portable PA systems at water stops starting at mile two. Occurrences of bad weather have plagued the event before, so keeping runners aware of black ice, high winds or of the need to drink more because of high heat is paramount. By pushing a button on his two-way radio he connects with the new operations center by the finish and within 30 seconds he can be speaking to thousands of runners.
By Lawrence Shapiro