Developing a more active lifestyle is a major part of helping to reduce the risk factors for heart disease, and of managing a heart condition. Once your doctor helps you through the basics of incorporating regular exercise into your life, you may find yourself enjoying the change of pace. In fact, over time, you may start to seek new challenges in your everyday workout routine.
One of the ultimate aspirations for anyone seeking a physical challenge is to complete a marathon. The prospect of covering 26.2 miles on foot—whether by walking, jogging, or a combination of the two—may seem daunting. But with a safe, gradually progressive approach to training that takes your risk factors and heart condition into account, you can join the ranks of millions who have reached this worthy accomplishment.
Pursuing marathon training should not be taken lightly—particularly if you have risk factors for heart disease or have been diagnosed with high blood pressure or a pulmonary condition. The Cleveland Clinic emphasizes that, in these cases, it’s especially important to talk to your doctor before beginning any type of new exercise program. Talking with your doctor will help determine specific limitations that you may have.
Building any exercise routine takes time and patience. Before considering marathon training, be sure that you feel comfortable with your current fitness level. Ideally, over the past several months or even a year, you’ll have slowly started incorporating exercise into your weekly routine.
You should have a “base” level of exercise under your belt already before committing to marathon training. The American Heart Association (AHA) Guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise—or a minimum of 30 minutes a day, five days a week—as a good overall fitness goal.
The Mayo Clinic is a frequent sponsor of marathon events that feature Jeff Galloway’s marathon training program. Galloway’s low-mileage, low-impact training method is appropriate for all levels of prospective marathoners, including beginners.
Galloway recommends that beginning marathoners start by walking at a relaxed pace for 30 minutes straight as a daily workout. You should continue to do this until it feels relatively easy. Once you feel comfortable walking at an easy pace for this duration, you can advance to the following steps:
Increase the intensity of your effort from easy to moderate by walking briskly for 30 minutes at a stretch. To build up gradually to walking 30 minutes at a faster pace, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) offers a free 12-week walking schedule on its website. (Click on the link “Move It and Lose It” in the “Get Moving” section of the Table of Contents.) Do not progress to the next level of combined walking and jogging until you can comfortably walk briskly for 30 minutes straight.
If you feel comfortable walking briskly and want to incorporate some jogging into your workout, try this: include three to four jogging efforts, each about 100 yards long (or the approximate length of a city block), within your walking workout. A good progression is to begin your 30-minute walk slowly, gradually building to a brisk walk, and then insert the short jogs after you feel warmed up.
It may take several more weeks, or even months, to adjust to your new walk/jog workouts. But if you reach a level of comfort with them, you can slowly try to increase the amount of time you spend running during your 30-minute workout. Eventually, you may want to try jogging for the full half-hour—but if not, it’s fine to keep the walking breaks. Many people successfully complete marathons using a walk/jog method.
Once you can complete a 30-minute walk/jog workout with relative ease, you can try gradually increasing your workout time. Galloway recommends first increasing your effort to 40 minutes (three times per week), and later expanding one of your sessions to a full 60 minutes. Your goal should be to complete a long walk/jog of at least three miles before advancing to the next step, which is marathon-specific training.
Committing to a Program
After building up and reaching the goal of completing a three-mile workout, you’re ready to start training specifically for a marathon. There are many types of free training programs available online, including a walk/jog marathon training program from Jeff Galloway at http://www.jeffgalloway.com/training/marathon.html. This 32-week program provides day-by-day workouts to help condition beginning walkers and runners to successfully finish a marathon.
Galloway suggests that first-time marathoners avoid setting a time goal for their completion of the event. The goal of your first marathon should be simply to finish safely and comfortably, ideally using a combination of walking and jogging as recommended in the program. Galloway explains that walk breaks help to speed muscle recovery by distributing your body’s workload between walking and jogging muscles; therefore, there is less muscle damage for your body to repair.
No matter which type of marathon training program you decide to follow, be sure to pay attention to your body each time that you increase your effort. The Cleveland Clinic warns that doing too much too fast can cause more harm than good, and could jeopardize your ability to continue with your program. If you notice any cardiovascular symptoms such as increased shortness of breath, chest pain, or dizziness, you should stop exercising and contact a medical professional immediately. Yet with common sense and perseverance, you can build your fitness and achieve your goals—even the goal of a marathon.