So you want to run a marathon?
During the first running boom three decades ago, aspirants embarked upon a six-day regimen of arduous runs hellbent on crossing the finish line in the fastest time possible. Hollow cheeks, hobbled feet and an overuse injury or two were badges of honor for the mostly middle-class men who tackled the 42.2km challenge. Their icon was Frank Shorter, a Yale-educated lawyer whose victory in the 1972 Olympic marathon ignited the mass running movement.
Things have changed.
Today's marathoner is less likely to have been motivated by an Olympian than by Oprah Winfrey. Her slow-but-steady completion of the 1994 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington is considered the start of the second marathon boom, one that has dwarfed the first, and is far more democratic in nature. Winfrey was one of 277,000 marathon finishers nationwide in 1994; last year 410,000 runners crossed the line, said Running USA, a nonprofit organization in Ventura, California, that keeps track of participatory running.
The marathon has become an "everyman's Everest," said Amby Burfoot, the executive editor of Runner's World magazine.
Men, women, fledglings and fossils of varying girth are marathoners these days -- in part because of the proliferation of training programs that make it, if not easier, at least less time-consuming to prepare.
During his training for the Boston Marathon, which he won in 1968, Burfoot ran twice a day, seven days a week. Emil Zatopek, the great Czech runner who won the 1952 Olympic marathon (along with two other gold medals in the same Games), prepared by running mountain trails near his home in Moravia while carrying his wife, Dana, on his back.
Contemporary marathon programs require neither twice-a-day workouts nor spouse-hauling. Indeed, the new watchwords of marathon training are moderation and specificity. Gone -- for beginners, at least -- are the six days a week of running routinely recommended in the 1970s. Absent, in most programs, are even consecutive days of running.
Today, some popular schedules involve as little as three days a week of pounding the pavement.
"It's gone from being excessive training for what many would consider to be an excessive event to a very trimmed-down, less-is-more approach," said Toby Tanser, a marathon coach in Manhattan and the author of The Essential Guide to Running the New York City Marathon.
One of the leading less-is-more programs for running the marathon involves walking. It was developed by Jeff Galloway, a 1972 Olympian who believes that regularly timed walking intervals increase the likelihood of covering the marathon's 42.2km. Last year, it worked for 18,000 Gallowalkers (as his followers are dismissively called by some old-school runners) who ran-walked their way to a marathon finish.
At least half of last year's marathoners used a minimal-mileage training plan, said Ryan Lamppa, a spokesman for Running USA.
"The expectation has changed," said Bill Pierce, chairman of the health and exercise science department at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and the creator of a popular three-day-a-week program. "It's OK now to walk. It's OK to finish over five hours. People have a completely different approach to the marathon."
Those people do not include the Kenyans, Ethiopians and other elite athletes from around the world who will be running in and perhaps winning the ING New York City Marathon on Nov. 4. The best will not be following a less-is-more approach.