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”

  1. I came across your website from your siggy on I am also attempting a marathon on less than a year of training. Most days I think I’m crazy. My marathon is in less than 2 months, and I’m really scared I won’t be ready.

    Anyway, I’ve enjoyed reading your blog entries. Mind if I link you to my page?

  2. Hi Christi, thanks for stopping by and posting a comment. I appreciate the link.

    What marathon will you be running? Do you have a specific training program you’re following?

  3. Just found your blog via Cool Runnings…and wanted to wish you BEST of luck in your quest. I have also read that book as well (as well as the Women’s version of it, more comedic for sure, but inspirational none the less). I find as a new runner I devour all literature on marathons even though I am not up to that distance yet!

    Just wanted to stop by and wish you BEST of luck on your journey:-) Have fun!

  4. Hi There!! Found you through a post at Cool Running – I am doing the book and the training schedule!! I even call myself Non-runner Nancy after the book eventhough, once you get going, you are a runner!! You might enjoy my posts…I might be slightly ahead of you. My marathon is in 60 days, I am in week 10 or 11 of the sched. Happy to talk through any anxiety, etc about the book, but you can probably find it in my posts 🙂 .

    There were some pretty negative things about the book in the message string, but I think the perspective is, take a normal person who isn’t already a runner, and get them to finish a marathon in a matter of weeks. It probably wouldn’t be my program for a 2nd marathon, but it is certainly the one I chose for my 1st!! The reason you do the minimum amount of prep is to do enough but not get injured. People who have more of a base could most certainly do more, but I am finding as the miles ramp up, it is plenty!!

    Good luck with this !!
    Nancy (I was pretty confident in the book to pick this as my site!) 🙂

  5. Hi Nancy, thanks for your comment. I’ve come to the conclusion that most people who are new to running love the book and most experienced runners scoff at it because they think it’s advocating an easy way to finish a marathon.

    I wish you the best with your training and first marathon!

  6. Found your site while looking to see if there was a class offered in the central texas area. No luck on the class but that really doesn’t matter as I am going to train by way of the book.

    I just started reading and will start prelim. training this Thursday.

    At the age of 16, while living in California, I alway envied those who ran the Los Angeles Maraton. My hair dresser just turned me on to this book after I saw all her ribbons for various marathons she had run.

    So, here it is…by my 40th birthday, I will run the Dallas Marathon. It’s a just over a year out but wow, what a great goal to achieve for not only a non-runner but a person who has never ran more than a block, if even that.

  7. Hi Shelley, thanks for your comment. I wish you all the best with the training and running of the marathon. I hope you’ll stop in periodically and let me know how it’s going.

  8. I got the book yesterday and started the preliminary training this morning (started at step #3).

    I’m not a runner but would love to “become” a runner by the time I’m 40. (Nov 2008). I’m very “goal driven” so I like the concept of the book – – small measured steps to achieve a goal. I’m aiming to the run the Nantucket / Hyannis MA race in March. I would love to do this journey with a cyber buddy –

  9. Hello Paul,
    I purchased this book in 2005 and it changed My entire life, I an now training for My marathon #5 and My running journey has just started.

  10. Dear LI,

    Hi, I became a marathoner in 1990 at age 17, without any coaching, but sheer motivation from watching a man win the Boston Marathon the previous year 1989. Life has been a blessing psychologically since this accomplishment, due to the fact that I sustained a head injury in ’81, and now I hope to spread the word to other patients like myself what such an event can bring to them if they have the determination and good health. Finishing my last, ninth Rock n Roll marathon in San Diego in 2000 at age 27 should illustrate what a man I am. Having slept on a hill the previous night, but completing the course under my own drive to stay alive is something I still have a hard time comprehending how I did just that. Besides this was my 6th marathon off my seizure medication Tegratol Rx. I’ll write you later when I have more time. For marathons entertain my brain like nothing else and I can’t wait to get back in that kicking mode. There is a lot more to learn about me

    Good bye Ashton Bishop

  11. Just got this book also and am working my way through the preliminary stuff.

    As a start, it’s okay. It gives you the basics and encourages you to “trust” the system.

    Lots of important stuff (stretching, resting, food) is not emphasized as in other books, but for this book to have done its job, it just needs to motivate people to start and finish their first race.


  12. I was just imagining months ago of how cool it would be to run a marathon. I never seriously considered the fact that I could actually ever do it! A friend gifted me a book (the Non-runners Marathon Trainer) and that was the gentle nudge that I needed to seriously look into the idea that maybe God wants me to try this. Lord knows I do not have the determination to do this! I did not have to come up with a game plan. The plan was given to me. When I wanted to deviate from the running schedule and try to hit a 20mile training run because I thought it would make me feel more confident God even took that opportunity away. I am truly amazed that Amy (I) ran a marathon. I had great runs and terrible runs. I remember thinking during one of my runs that I would rather be in childbirth. There were other runs where cardio was not an issue and I could talk the whole way. I have never reached that point of running in my life. I learned that my fear of pain and failure held me back from discovering how truly amazing and strong God has created the human body. I am amazed that He gave me one of those bodies! I took it one run at a time and believed that I would continue this adventure as far as He would take it. Injury being the only excuse to stop. He never gave me that out:) Yesterday I ran 26.2 miles and it was the most painful experience of my life. My feet felt like they were going to explode for the last 10 miles. I completed it without injury, chafing or even a blister! I can not walk today 🙂 but I am healthy and celebrating the soreness in a sick sort of way. The pain is reminding me that this is not a dream. I actually finished! The banana hit the spot! I ran straight for so many miles. When I turned a corner in the last 2 miles my calves started to knot up but I kept running and it went away. I bet that banana helped. I did not eat the gummy bears that a sweet friend gave me as she ran beside me for a few min. I did not want to discard them because they kept me focused on her encouraging and motivating words. I had friends and family that inspired me to start my adventure, motivated and encouraged me during my adventure and friends/family at the race to see the end of my adventure! I thought I would run about a 12 min mile pace. I found the 5 hour pacer at the start of the race and kept thinking that if he did not pass me I was on track. He passed me at mile 20 and I knew I could not speed up to keep up with him. I finished in 5 hours, 14 min. and 30 sec. which averaged out to be exactly at 12.00 min mile pace! I am thrilled with the time. Honestly, I think running the marathon will be a once in a lifetime experience! I am not a runner but I am a marathoner! What an adventure and time of discovery! I learned so much.

    This is an edited email sent to my dear friend right after my race. She gave me the book, mailed me a running light so I could train at night, and showed up at my race to feed me with a banana, gummy bears and wonderful encouragement. The words I remember her saying ” You are in the 2% of all humanity that can say “I am a marathoner!”

    • Amy, that’s really awesome! Congrats on completing the marathon, and thank you for sharing your story. It’s great to hear that way God was at work in your life through the training and running of the marathon. I do think most of us underestimate what God can do through us; running a marathon can reveal that in a remarkable way. Even if you never run another marathon, I hope this will encourage you to take on other challenges that are bigger than you think you’re capable of.

  13. Hi, I am half way through week 11…the last of the three sixteen mile long runs. I am a sixty year old female. I have been a runner off and on for many years and could never manage to go beyond ten miles, a few times When I found this book I was having trouble running more than five. If you stay positive, this program really works. I note my RPE truthfully. I am very anal about only writing positive stuff in the comments area. I bought the book used and had to erase some negative comments from the previous owner. She only ran three weeks and I could see where the negative comments weren’t helpful. I have not had to walk at all during any of the runs, and although some have been hard, most were pretty easy. I have not missed any training so far but we have out of town company comming this week but I have a plan ;>) I am in Arizona and it is getting hot. Today, I kept thanking God for the heat training me to be stronger. I also thank the wind and the hills. The program works!

  14. Hi Paul-
    You raised the question at at some point “how to adjust the training schedule?”

    I started reading the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer and intermediately began the conditioning portion of the training. I’m a new runner.

    The marathon I want to run is in May 2018. I’m only a few chapters in the book and don’t know if the authors offer suggestions how to adjust the condition and/or the training schedule. Did you have any luck figuring that out? Do the author’s have a blog?

    Any input would be appreciated.

    • Hi Greg, it’s been 10 years since I trained for the marathon I ran, so I don’t recall specifically what I did to adjust the training schedule. But I what I probably did was repeat some of the weeks, like do week 5 for two weeks, then week 6 for two weeks, week 7 for two weeks.


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  3. Google - May 19, 2018


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