Marathon Madness

Training to win or training to finish?

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— It is taper time for participants in the upcoming Steamboat Springs Marathon.

Race director Paul Sachs said prospective marathoners have either completed or will complete their final training runs this weekend before scaling back on long-distance runs as the June 2 race approaches.

"Basically by now you should be in shape to run a marathon," he said.

The 26.2-mile course will take the average entrant roughly four hours to complete, but Sachs said the training likely began around four to six months earlier, depending on the level of fitness.

"Long-distance running isn't something to take lightly," Sachs said. "Go drive the course, and you'll get an idea of how long it truly is."

Run a marathon and you'll get an idea of how grueling and rewarding it can be for a finisher.

Sachs developed a love to run years ago for conditioning purposes and has been running marathons for nearly a decade. He isn't competing in this year's marathon due to his director role, but he is knowledgeable in the appropriate ways to train for long-distance events. Obviously, it is not recommended and is foolish to expect to complete a marathon with several weeks of training, but every individual responds to different techniques in a variety of ways.

In addition to interval runs, Sachs recommends cross training for variety and speed work for results.

"There is a huge difference if you're training to win or finish a marathon," he said. "The biggest difference if you're training to win would be more mileage and more speed work. When training to finish, the biggest thing is being confident you can run that far."

People may wonder how speed work benefits a distance runner, but Sachs said there are clear advantages to inserting sprints into a training schedule two times a week.

"First, it will help overall strength and cardiovascular conditioning," he said. "Second, it gives you a better sense of pace."

It is also imperative to remember the differences between training at altitude or at sea level. At altitude times will be slower, it will be harder to breathe and runners must remember to drink more fluids because it's harder to remain hydrated.

A majority of the Steamboat Springs Marathon entrants are from elsewhere and some come early to acclimate to the altitude change.

The top marathoners in the world maintain a 4 1/2-minute-per-mile pace. The winner of the 21st annual Steamboat Springs Marathon will run around a six-minute pace. Everyone else will have five and a half hours to complete the course Sachs said.

For many, the "home stretch" will be the toughest.

"For most, you reach a state where there are no resources left in the body. It's called hitting a wall, and the final six miles are just surviving," Sachs said. "After you finish, you achieve the runner's high."

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