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Bitten by the bug

If you thought fitness freaks spend their time holed up in a gym, think again. These marathon chasers live it up running around the world, says Aalap Deboor.Photo by AFP

travel Updated: Jan 15, 2010 09:49 IST

If you've been bitten by the fitness bug, you must have already resolved to run the first marathon that comes your way this year. But if halfway through the training, you find yourself dreaming about slacking off, you've as good as quit.

Because for avid marathoners, slacking off for too long after a run is never an option. They're chasing marathons around the world even as they're running them. And exploring unknown lands on foot is an altogether different experience, they say.

Train all along
Year-round long runs require generic coaching periods that help you stay fit for all kinds of marathons. The coaching is spread out over three to four months until the day of the marathon, and distributed into groups of weeks dedicated to training, peaking and tapering. What differentiates the weeks is the intensity of running and the distance.

It's been 15 years since Daniel Vaz (48) started running marathons. A resident of Mumbai and chief operating officer at Batliboi Ltd, Vaz has run 14 full marathons and 26 half marathons, and attributes his high level of fitness to a steady training schedule. "Training through the year is great from an endurance standpoint," says Vaz, "as running the long distance ceases to be an uphill task."

Regular marathoners mark out well in advance the runs they'll be doing that year. The training ramps up to as much as 60 km a week as the run draws close, and then, a week or two before race day, plummets to around 15 km. Vaz believes that the weeks during which the running tapers are crucial. "Your endurance is at its peak then, and all you need to do is prepare mentally," he adds.

An impulse marathon
In 2004, Gurgaon-based Rahul Verghese decided to do the November Marathon-Athens run a weekend before a work-related meet in Brussels. Now 49, and with 31 full marathons to his name, Verghese runs an infotainment website called Running and Living.

In hindsight, he says that participating at short notice was possible only because he'd trained all along for long distance runs. "I'd also been cross training, doing activities like cycling and swimming, which didn't stress my legs, so by race day I was prepared both mentally and physically," Verghese says.

Running without tiring out soon makes you feel invincible. That's when even expert runners start putting their training sessions on the backburner and binge on food and drink. "Even perseverant runners end up with cramps due to less training, or eat bad food a day before the race and can't run well. You need to be cautious on that front as it goes a long way in shaping your mental health for future runs," Verghese adds.

Acclimatise right away!
Each place comes with its own challenges. Temperature and terrain are potent enough to break racers, and if the runner wishes to get a taste of race day it is imperative to acclimatise to the region where the marathon is being held. Though running in cooler climes isn't as tough as running in hotter ones, it's best to also train in a place with similar temperatures.

51-year-old Bhasker Sharma will run his 25th full marathon in January in Mumbai. The Bengaluru-based IT professional has been in the long-distance runners' circuit for eight years and believes that training through the year not only builds stamina but also keeps his weight from fluctuating.

For his high-altitude Tibet marathon in 2010, Sharma plans to report six days in advance to get a hang of the elements. He says, "I'll couple the tempo running with hill training to get used to the temperature and terrain. But the training isn't too different so long as temperatures aren't subzero."

Couple it with a vacation
On international trips, you could try planning a family vacation around the marathon. The Vaz household visited Germany and Switzerland in 2008 before Vaz ran the Greece marathon.

"The week before the marathon is spent visiting places of interest, so you know you've given the family a treat," Vaz says. Since there's nearly nothing that a session of running can't cure, Verghese runs to beat the jetlag on overseas trips. "I grab a map of the place the morning after I've landed, and go running around with a camera. This way I'm training while exploring," Verghese says.

For the next year, look at the marathon calendar below, decide beforehand which ones you want to run, and start training for them. And consider yourself a winner if you manage to push your limits and beat your own previous time. After all, as experts say, running a marathon is all about constantly challenging yourself.