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Marathon 101: Training, Tips, Technique

BU FitRec course for distance runners


Students in the Marathon Training II class start a run from the FitRec Center. (Below) Jennifer Dutcher (SPH’12) (left) and Erin Stephens (SHA’11) stretch at FitRec before starting a morning run. Photos by Cydney Scott

Preparing for a marathon is a solitary pursuit for most runners. Others, however, say they benefit from training in a group, which offers motivation (especially on cold, dark winter mornings) and an opportunity to share tips ranging from conditioning to nutrition.

That’s the idea behind the Marathon Training II (PDP GS220) class that meets at the Fitness and Recreation Center. “As a runner, you’re used to running all alone and being very insular about it,” says marathon veteran Erin Stephens (SHA’11), who has been distance running since she was 14. “When you’re running with a group, you realize you aren’t the only one, and you build a camaraderie. You push each other, like in team sports.”

“Training together is a great way to get up in the morning,” Aleksander Jonca (ENG’10,’12) says. “It’s a way of being social through training—something you usually don’t do when running a marathon.”

The idea behind the class when it launched last year was twofold: building a distance running community at BU and creating better runners. The class instructors are two veteran marathoners: Shelton Hall residence director Jennifer Battaglino (SED’03), who when she wasn’t running herself had been informally training her family, friends, and BU students for years to run long distances, and Aaron Blum (SAR’02, GSM’13), department administrator in Sargent College’s Athletic Training Program.

Battaglino and Blum get high marks from students who credit the two with helping them decrease their times.

“I came into the class looking to get my times down,” Stephens says, “and I was able to knock 15 minutes off my personal best to requalify for the Boston Marathon this year.”

Photo by Cydney Scott  for Boston University Photography.

Photo by Cydney Scott for Boston University Photography.

“Jenn is a great resource for workouts,” says Jonca. “She gives us some of the best track workouts to prepare ourselves for whatever race we are running, and for whatever point in our preparation we are in.”

“I always worry about poor enrollment, even now. I’m always encouraging students to tell their friends before registration every semester,” Battaglino says on a recent morning after class. “But they came out that first semester and just keep coming back.”

The one-credit elective course currently has six students enrolled, four of whom have taken the class before.

Students meet Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 9 a.m. (During the fall semester, the class meets just once a week). On Tuesdays, the runners take to city streets, alternating routes through Boston, Cambridge, and Brookline, with Battaglino and Blum pacing the pack. Few allowances are made for the ever-fluctuating New England weather, although Battaglino concedes that this past winter did require some concessions. “I couldn’t send them out when the windchills were below zero,” she says, “but as long as the sidewalks are clear, we usually go out.”

“We learned to layer,” says Louis Huapaya (CAS’12), who is preparing for his first Boston Marathon, on Monday.

On Thursdays the class focuses on track running, which is easier on runners’ legs and feet than pavement and reduces the risk of stress fractures. Using the recently renovated track at Nickerson Field or the one at the Track and Tennis Center, group members go through a series of training exercises, timed runs, and race simulations.

The class also helps runners devise strategies that allow them to continue training after they’re injured.

Last spring, Stephens found herself with a serious leg injury just weeks before she was scheduled to run Boston.

“Jenn found a way for me to train, since I knew I would be healthy for the marathon itself,” Stephens recalls. “She had me running two hours in the FitRec pool every day. I aqua-jogged to keep up my fitness and endurance, while avoiding placing any weight on that leg.” She was able to run the marathon as scheduled.

While two of the students in the class plan to run in this year’s Boston Marathon, it is not a requirement for enrollment. In fact, the more experienced runners in the class advise rookies not to take on Heartbreak Hill for their maiden marathon.

“That’s a hard first marathon,” says Stephens, shaking her head. “You want to start with something fun, like the Disney Marathon.”

Stretching in the background after a run, Blum concurs: “You want a course that’s flat.”

Students agree that training together is a powerful incentive.

“Being in this class motivates you,” says Huapaya. “Sometimes you don’t feel like running—maybe the weather isn’t nice, maybe you have a lot of work. But I feel accountable to my classmates and instructors, so I come out and train.”

“We have each other to kick us out the door in the morning and train together,” says Stephens, “which is not the norm in marathon running.”

Battaglino points to the camaraderie of the class. “Last spring, we decided that the Tuesday after the Boston Marathon—less than 24 hours after the race—we’d take them out for breakfast to celebrate. But honestly, we didn’t expect any of the Boston runners to show up. They all did. I was shocked. I think it speaks to their dedication and how much they find a sense of team with each other.”

And the students say that once you’ve run one marathon, you’re hooked. “I never thought of myself as a runner at all,” says Jonca. “But after going through the marathon experience, I became addicted. I had to keep at it.

“It’ll become an addiction and an obsession. The minute you finish your first, you’ll be heading straight over to register for your next.”

Marathon Training I (PDP GS120) is being offered for fall 2011, meeting on Wednesdays from 8 to 9 a.m. More information is available on the Fitness and Recreation Center website.

Kat Hasenauer Cornetta can be reached at katcorn@bu.edu.


2 Comments on Marathon 101: Training, Tips, Technique

  • Nathalie Graham on 04.18.2011 at 1:04 pm


    Running a marathon has got to be one of the hardest things to do, athletic-wise, in the world. I commend anyone who can do them and I hope that more cities will get involved and hold one!

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  • Eric Barber on 12.12.2016 at 8:01 am

    Half marathons are distance within reach with proper training, and lot of runners, including myself, run half marathons before running marathons. This is a good training run before the marathon.

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