The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer Book

The Non-Runner's Training Guide bookA couple of days ago I started reading The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by David Witsett, Forrest Dolgener, and Tanjalo Kole.  I’m about 50 pages into it.  Normally, I wouldn’t write about a book until I finished reading it, but since the reading is part of the training process and I want to blog about the process I thought I’d post some preliminary thoughts.  Plus, I find the whole premise of the book fascinating.

So, here are some of thoughts on the book and an update on today’s training.

In 1985 two college professors decided to co-teach a class about fitness and mental health.  Forrest Dolgener taught the fitness aspects of the class and Dave Witsett taught the psychology aspects of the class.  In addition to the classwork, students exercised on their own or in small groups during the week and the entire class ran together on Saturdays.  At the end of the class they all ran a marathon together.

The class was taught several more times and by the early 90’s it was in such demand that they had 4 times as many people sign up as they had spots in the class and had to draw names.  One of the students in the 1995 class, Tanjalo Kole, was so moved by the experience that she suggested two professors write a book so more people could learn the training methods, and she joined them to author the book.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about the book, though, is that of the 200 students who took the class 199 of them completed the marathon.  Now that’s an impressive success rate!  I still haven’t gotten to the story of the guy who didn’t finish, but they’ve said several times already it was not due to a failure of the plan but because he didn’t follow some of the guidelines. 

Some important points I’ve already gleaned from the book:

  • The mental part of training for a marathon is at least as important as the physical part.
  • Don’t set a time goal.  The goal of your first marathon should be simply to finish.  If you try to run under certain time you could ruin the great achievement of completing a marathon with the disappointment of failing to meet a time goal.  Or worse you could try to run too fast and no be able to complete it at all.
  • Don’t set the goal of not walking.  The goal is to finish and walking is OK.
  • Don’t ramp up your training too fast.  It could lead to injury.

Each chapter of the book includes personal stories and quotes from the people who participated in the class.  Those stories are just as interesting as the training philosophy and really help to convey the idea that these people are average people just like you and me of all ages, body types, and physical conditions.  Many of them were not college age but had jobs and families and so forth.  In fact author Tanjalo Kole says she when she started her training she was 80 pounds over weight, had a bad back, and was a single mother of 3 adolescent children.  It’d be hard to read that and not say to yourself, “Wow, if she could do it, then I can do it too.”

Forum Discussion (Added 8/22)
I asked about The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer in several marathon forums.  The responses were mixed and interesting.  Most novice runners liked the book and found it to be very helpful.  Most experienced runners mocked the book assuming it advocates a kind of  a “shortcut to doing marathon without doing any work,” though almost none had even heard of it.  You can check them out for yourself if you like:

Training Schedule Adjustment?
The training schedule recommended in the book is actually very similar to what I’ve already been doing (with the notable exception of playing soccer for 90 minutes each week instead of a run).  It lays out 2 short runs, a medium run, and a long run each week.  The distances I’m running this week are in line with week 5 in the 16-week training program.  That means if I were to follow it I would be ready to run a marathon in 10 ½ weeks even though my marathon isn’t for another 21 ½ weeks.  I’m not sure what I would do with the extra 11 weeks yet.

Today’s Marathon Training Update
This morning I did another “short run” of 4.5 miles. (Sounds funny, doesn’t it?)  After Tuesday’s difficult run, I went into it with 3 goals.  The first goal was to get more sleep the night before.  The second was to start at a slower, more manageable pace.  The third was to try running with my arms lower.  I had been running with my hands up near my shoulders, which seemed comfortable, but since The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer recommended a lower, more relaxed arm position I figured I’d give it a try.

I went to bed around 11 and set the alarm for 5.  Unfortunately I woke up at 3:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep.  Strike 1.  I was facing 4.5 miles on 4.5 hours sleep again.  I did start at a slower pace and focused on keeping my arms lower and relaxed.  Those two things seemed to make a huge difference.  The run did not seem difficult at all.  At the end I was not really even breathing hard and felt I could have kept running for quite a while longer.  To top it off I ran the 4.5 miles in 40 minutes, which is the same time it took Tuesday when I started out fast and felt like I was dying the last mile and a half.  That’s pretty exciting!

19 Responses to “The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer Book”