The Expert: What I Know About … Marathon Running



Who: Sandy Jacobson

Age: 44

Experience: Sandy Jacobson decided to train for her first triathlon at the age of 21, having just quit smoking and looking to improve her fitness. She accomplished her goal and more — completely changing her lifestyle from that point on. After finishing her first triathlon in 1989, Jacobson got a taste for competition and participated in Ironman Canada in 1992. While two months pregnant, she represented Canada at the International Triathlon Union’s World Triathlon Championships in Manchester, England. After her son, Jesse, was born in 1994, Jacobson switched her focus to running. She ranked No. 1 in Canada after the 2003 Women’s Marathon Event. At the IAAF World Championships in Athletics in Paris, she set a personal best, placing 28th overall, being just a few minutes shy (according to Canadian standards) of making it to the Olympics in Athens. She’s competed in more than 30 marathons and trained in Switzerland, Italy and the U.S.

— “A marathon is kind of like the common man’s Mount Everest. Most people don’t really know where to start. Usually two-thirds the distance of a marathon is what you want to train for. Once you can do some consistent running without injury, you can dedicate 18 weeks or 12 weeks towards a program.”

— “If you train at a higher altitude, you build more red blood cells, which basically allow the body to be able to transport oxygen to the working muscles. So, if you train at a high altitude, you are working harder and, when you go back to your normal elevations, your body has the ability to perform better ­— so now you have a faster horsepower.”

— “They say a pair of running shoes lasts for about 500 miles. So, training at the elite level, we were probably doing about 120 to 140 miles per week. That’s a lot of shoes. You could go through at least one pair of shoes a month.”

— “There’s not one running style that you can sort of mimic because the body is very natural and, if you try to adopt someone’s style, you can throw your gait out. If you look at the world record holder in women’s marathon [Paula Radcliffe], she has a brutal style, with swinging arms, but it works for her. The key is to have a loose, efficient, gait with minimal jarring.”

— “Your last long training run should usually be about three weeks before your race. Your body does a lot of breaking down, experiencing micro trauma, so you need to be able to recover. My last run might be 21 miles three weeks out and then you start to drastically back off, where my next run might be 18 miles, then the next would be 13 miles, then it’s marathon day.”

— “Your body has about two hours during a run before it basically uses up all the glycogen, which is the fuel in the muscles. That’s why in a marathon, for the first 10 miles, you’ll usually just see people drinking water. But then you’ll start seeing Gatorade and power gels being ingested — when runners start hitting ‘the wall.’ Once you take a power gel, you’ll need to replenish every half an hour thereafter because it’s going to create a spike in sugars and, if you don’t continue, it’s going to drop and you’ll start to crash. You also need enough water to break them down.”

— “Don’t stretch a lot after a marathon. People say they’ll go to a yoga class, but you need to back off. So I find water sports are the best recovery. They usually say to have a week totally off from training. If you get back too fast, a month later is when you’ll start to feel the effects and your body might start breaking down.”

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