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Staying in Shape

This is an excerpt from Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training by Hal Higdon.

Stacey Saunders, 38, a stay-at-home mom from Irmo, South Carolina, started running in June 1999 because she faced something new and unwanted: a permanent off-season. "Out of college, I had nothing to train for anymore after more than eight years of team sports," she says. A coworker was training for the Chicago Marathon and Saunders joined him "just to stay in shape." Saunders adds, "I've been running ever since (in between pregnancies). I keep running because (1) it gives me a feeling that no other sport or exercise gives me, (2) I can, (3) races give me structure and focus in training, and (4) running is free."

Bridget Knepp, 38, a stay-at-home mom from Bettendorf, Iowa,says, "I run for myself. I run for my health. I run to get away from my surroundings. I hate to run. I love to run. I hate to run. I love to run. I run to show my kids how to exercise to stay healthy. Running is the cheapest way to exercise. I love to run road races and now that my 10-year-old has started beating me, I love to watch him run. To see him passing grown men and women makes me smile and makes me pick up my own pace. The feel of crossing the finish line is a sense of accomplishment like nothing else. It doesn't matter if I'm first, last, or somewhere in between. It just matters that I did it. Step out the front door and just go! That's my motto."

Sedentary people, those who perhaps unfortunately are referred to as couch potatoes, do not always understand why we run. Unless they have someone in their immediate family who is a runner, and sometimes even then, they do not comprehend why we hit the highways, in bad weather as well as good, and waste an hour or so of our time each day training. They dredge up the memory of Jim Fixx, the author of the best-selling The Complete Book of Running, who died at the end of a 10-mile (16 km) training run. I can't fault them. Runners sometimes arrogantly look at couch potatoes as beneath them. I don't agree with that point of view. I just know that we are going to keep running whether or not other people understand.

What other people might not understand may be that getting in shape does not have the priority in their lives as it has with those of us who run half marathons or hope to run half marathons. But there is more to the half marathon than running 13.1 miles on a single day. It is the training to run that distance that serves as the bulk of the iceberg unseen beneath the ocean's surface. The runners quoted in this chapter know it because they experienced it. Running is wonderful. But the half marathon remains the carrot dangled before our noses as we prepare to run 13.1 and attach the semi-obligatory sticker with that number to the back of our cars.

What does training for the half marathon do for us? It helps us to lose weight if we are overweight. It strengthens our muscles, some more than others, and makes us fitter individuals. It provides a sudden 90-degree turn away from what previously had been an unhealthy lifestyle. From observing my fellow runners over a long lifetime, I can tell others that, in general, runners do not smoke; runners do not drink; runners eat healthy; runners are the first to leave the party (because they have a long run the next morning); runners live longer because of their lifestyle; and finally, runners are generally good people. If runners share a single vice, it is that we know all this and sometimes babble incessantly about our marvelous experiences even though our friends may not want to know our mile splits.

Am I Getting Fitter?

"The whole point of training," write Stephen J. McGregor, PhD, and Matt Fitzgerald in The Runner's Edge: High-Tech Training for Peak Performance, "is to increase your running fitness. More exactly, the point is to gradually increase your race-specific fitness until it reaches a peak level at the time of your most important race. So the one question you want to answer more than any other throughout the training process is this: Am I getting fitter?" (McGregor and Fitzgerald 2010, p. 93)

More Excerpts From Hal Higdon's Half Marathon Training