As it cools down, there are many opportunities to participate in long-distance races in Las Vegas and the surrounding areas. Whether you’re gearing up to run the Strip or thinking about a night run through the desert, endurance running requires dedicated and intensive training.

“Training to run 26.2 miles requires a real time investment,” said Nayab Zafar, MD, cardiologist at the Heart Center at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center and an avid runner. If you’re an aspiring first-timer or a seasoned marathon runner, follow this guide to help prepare to go the distance.

Create a training schedule

Depending on your activity level and cardiovascular fitness, you’ll need to create a running schedule to build up for the race. There are marathon-training schedules available to download or purchase online, or you can create your own. “Most training schedules take the same basic approach of progressively building endurance by adding miles to weekly runs,” Zafar said.

At the start of your training

“Give yourself at least six months if you’re training for your first endurance run. If you are in the habit of running shorter distances fairly regularly, you should still appreciate that you’ll need time to train for longer distances, too,” Zafar said.

Run 3-4 miles several times a week. Gradually add more distance as you’re able. Use weekday runs to maintain your strength, and use weekend runs as an opportunity to increase your distance.

During the beginning weeks of training, be sure to finish the distances you set for yourself, even if it means walking some.

If you’re following a six-month training schedule, you should aim to run four to five days a week and rest for two to three days throughout that period.

Sample schedule for the first month of training

Week 1

  • Monday: 2 miles
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 2 miles
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 2 miles
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 2

  • Monday: 3 miles
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 3 miles
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 3 miles
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: 3 miles

Week 3

  • Monday: Rest
  • Tuesday: 3 miles
  • Wednesday: Rest
  • Thursday: 3 miles
  • Friday: Rest
  • Saturday: 4 miles
  • Sunday: Rest

Week 4

  • Monday: 3 miles
  • Tuesday: Rest
  • Wednesday: 3 miles
  • Thursday: Rest
  • Friday: 3 miles
  • Saturday: Rest
  • Sunday: 5 miles

*Maintain 3- to 4-mile runs during the week and continue to increase the distance of your weekend runs through week 21, before recovering for the race.

While you should continue to increase your distance over time, it’s not necessary to run the full marathon distance, or even close to it, while training. “Many experienced marathoners caution against running more than 20 miles at a time before the event. Some say the impact on bones, ligaments and other body systems when running for longer than three hours can cause injuries that may derail your training,” Zafar said.

Monitor your heart rate

In order to train more efficiently, determine if your exertion is within a healthy range and properly gauge your cardiovascular fitness level, it’s important to monitor your heart rate. Here are key steps for heart-rate monitoring:

Know your resting heart rate.

“When you wake up, before doing any physical activity, check your pulse. Count how many times your heart beats in 20 seconds and multiple that number by three to get your resting heart rate,” Zafar said.

Know your maximum heart rate (MHR).

This is a measurement you’ll take during physical activity. First, warm up properly to ensure you’re able to exert your maximum output. Then, sprint for two minutes and jog for one minute. Repeat this cycle two more times and make the final sprint an especially fast one. Then check your heart rate; this number is your MHR.

Monitor your heart rate on your regular runs and compare it to your MHR.

For beginners, your heart rate during your runs should stay within a range of 65 to 75 percent of your MHR. Zafar warns that if you cannot get your heart rate to stay below 80 percent of your MHR as you train, you will have a more difficult time getting your heart ready for the race.

Throughout your training, you should see both your resting heart rate lower and your heart rate during your runs lower as compared with your MHR. If you do not see these changes occur within the first few weeks of training, consult your doctor before continuing to train.

Nutrition is key

A key component of a good training regime is maintaining a healthy diet while being sure to get enough calories and nutrients to fuel your runs. The nutrition required for training is different for everyone and depends on the individual’s activity level, age, weight, height, food sensitivities and more.

As a general guideline, Zafar recommends investigating different nutritional products that are crafted for performance athletes (such as protein powders and electrolyte blends) and practicing intuitive eating.

“You have to pay attention to what foods don’t sit well when you are training. For example, dairy products generate a lot of sugar in the body, which can make you feel sluggish, whereas bananas can boost endurance because of their high potassium levels,” Zafar said.

A month before the race

Once you’re three to four weeks away from the marathon, you should begin tapering your runs and taking more rest days. While this may seem counterintuitive, if you’ve been training gradually in the months prior, taking a more restful approach during your last month of training can be very beneficial.

“The point of this is to eliminate all body fatigue because you’re going to need your muscles to totally rebound before the race. You won’t lose the aerobic capacity that you’ve been building,” Zafar said.

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