Marathoning In the Millennium

by Patti Finke

Marathons are showing phenomenal growth locally and nationally. Who are the new marathoners? Women!

In the so-called "running boom" of the 70's, a marathon with over 20% female participants was exceptional. In 1990, the Portland Marathon was in the forefront of women's running with 26% of it's runners women. 1990 was the second year of the Marathon Walk with 85% female participants. 95% of these women were from the local Portland area. The 1999 Portland Marathon had over 43% women runners and 85% women walkers. The total women in the marathon was 65% and 65-79% of these were from out of town.

In the 70's and 80's the marathon was a race, you didn't do it for fun or fitness. It was feared, hated and dreaded. Marathoners came from shorter distance racers. Racing was serious business. The few women who ran raced. We started the Portland Marathon Clinic in the middle 80's to give runners a group to train with and to show women that you didn't need to be fast to run a marathon. We had a vast range of pace groups so that all runners felt comfortable with their abilities and met other with similar goals. We started a walk clinic first for the Mayor's walk, then for the Marathon Walk. In 1988, the Portland Marathon was one of the first marathons to add a Walk.

The 90's saw the national and local advent of marathon walking, the idea of simply completing a marathon for the challenge and charities providing training programs and group running in return for raising money for the charity. Women gravitated to these concepts by the thousands.

Finishing your first marathon makes you feel invincible, like you could do anything. It is empowering. As more and more women felt this empowerment, the word spread.

Why are women coming to the marathon? I have talked to lots of the women I coach and have received some fascinating answers.

The reasons

For fitness: Completing a marathon takes more than basic fitness. If you are starting an exercise program, start with a different goal. I can get many walkers from nothing to a marathon in 6 months, but trying to do that with running is the road to certain injury. The Portland Marathon has an event made for beginners, a 10 kilometer non-competitive walk.

For the challenge: The marathon has been long considered the toughest race, but completing one may be within your grasp. To complete a marathon you need to train. Finding the time and the commitment to train is often the biggest challenge. Walkers and runners need to complete 1-4 20 mile walks or runs at a pace taking about as long as you plan to complete the marathon. You need to gradually increase mileage to get to this distance and to stay healthy. We see lots of injury when the distance is pushed too fast. Both walkers and runners get injured, the injuries are different. Walkers have more problems with their feet while runners have more knee problems.

For group support and camaraderie: Women have long recognized the value of support groups. The 12 pace groups of the Marathon Clinic provide support for runners of all paces from those racing a sub 3 hour marathon to those wishing to complete a marathon in 5 hours. What do women talk about when they are running or walking? Anything and everything! I'm certain the conversation is different in groups with more males. Sometimes men learn more about female health problems and anatomy than they ever wanted to know. Women can ask advice or simply vent their frustrations while in a group situation. I hear conversations about work, relationships, children, travel, sports and the ever popular food as the distances get longer. Relationship talk tends to speed up the pace, but what to eat when you are done is the most common finishing topic.

To do something for themselves: Women tend to define their roles as care takers, They are busy taking care of partners, husbands, children, the office, the finances, the laundry, the dishes and the home. They see the marathon as a way to define themselves as athletes. Athletes need to take the time train, to feed themselves properly and to take care of themselves to be healthy. Women can take care of themselves as athletes without feeling guilty. While marathon training, you need to fuel your body adequately, add distance slowly, obtain the best shoes, stretch regularly, sleep enough and put training as both urgent and important in your priorities. Often I hear weight loss as another goal. If marathoning were a great weight loss program, all marathoners would be skinny. Watch a marathon from 2 hours to 8 hours and note that there are marathoners of all ages, weights and sizes. Some marathoners lose weight, some gain weight as they gain muscle mass and some stay the same. The clothes often fit differently, however. Simultaneous marathon training and dieting is not a good idea. Often it leads to injury rather than weight loss.

To do something for someone else: To add the benefit of doing a marathon for a cause has encouraged thousands to become marathoners across the country. How do you choose which charity program? The main factor is often a connection with the disease associated with the program. The other is the marathon destination. Ask how much of the money is going to the cause. It should be 75-80%. If you are interested, call the association in your local area or go to their web sites.

To enjoy the process: Incorporated into this is the reason they continue to do more than one marathon. They want to get faster, to feel better, to enjoy the marathon and because they like the challenge. It is empowering to all runners and walkers to go farther than they have done each week. It's empowering to improve on your finish time. It's fun to talk to your training group about the changes you are making and that you are feeling as you increase the distance. It's great to have coaches and other runners and walkers to talk to about your training. The experienced volunteer leaders in the marathon running clinic help keep their group on the slow paces needed for training, know the routes and offer all kinds of other support. We have had runners of all abilities join the free training runs year after year. They can help new marathoners keep things in perspective, calm their fears and encourage them to keep participating.

What to do if you want to train to run a marathon?

Pre-requesite: You need to have been running for about 6 month before starting to marathon train and able to run a long run of 4 miles.

The Portland Marathon Training Clinics start in late March or early April every year. They offer five evening seminars plus free training runs every weekend.

Training for the Portland Marathon:

For regular information on the training runs plus training tips, subscribe to the email list on Use the free training schedules for walkers and runners in the training section.

Team Oregon Running Tips are Copyrighted by wY'east Consulting and Team Oregon which reserve all rights to republication.