On the walls of his work cubicle, James Padilla has posted pictures of some of the more accomplished distance runners in history, all of which had one thing in common.
“They had an innate, natural talent that made running a long way come easy to them,” said Padilla, an assistant cross country coach at Mesa Community College.
For the average runner, success is more about training, not talent. And for a busy spring race schedule that includes some of the signature events on the Arizona running calendar, the time to start training is now.
The P.F. Chang’s Rock ’n’ Roll Arizona Marathon and Half-Marathon is on Jan. 16 in Phoenix. Other events that month include a 5K/10K at Tempe Town Lake on Jan. 8 and the Arizona Road Racers Marathon and Half-Marathon in Surprise on Jan. 29. The Lost Dutchman Arizona Marathon, Half-Marathon and 10K in Gold Canyon/Apache Junction is Feb. 20.
For novice-level runners, experiencing the thrill and satisfaction of crossing the finish line at a competitive road race can only be preceded by a strict running regimen. Most half-marathon training schedules range from 10 to 18 weeks, depending on skill level.
“It’s different for everyone,” said Karen Seymore, manager of Sole Sports Running Zone, a store in Tempe. “It depends on where you are. Someone who has done some running and has a base can be ready for those races (in January). Someone who is just getting off the couch might want to focus on a 5K, then a longer race later.”
Lisa Ginn of Chandler, who took up running in 2006, has competed in 17 road races, including two marathons, four half-marathons and two 10K runs.
“When you first start running and training, there are so many aches and pains you have to overcome,” Ginn said. “There’s a lot you have to tolerate, but you learn a lot more about your body, what to push and what not to push. You’re not a couch potato any more.”
Having proper footware is the first step. A good-fitting shoe, Seymore said, can aid endurance and help avoid injuries.
She recommends a video gait analysis, a process where one runs on a treadmill, with a camera recording each step. For example, if one “overpronates” — when the feet roll inward when the heel strikes the pavement, which can cause shin splints — the right shoe can correct it.
“The proper shoe is everything,” Seymore said.
Most 10K or half-marathon running plans call for running four days a week, with shorter distances (3 to 4 miles) on weekdays and a long run on Saturday.
“Three times a week is the bare minimum to get any results and a fitness improvement,” Padilla said. “A lot of people fixate on the miles, but the time you spend running is the most important thing. If you want to focus on improving your fitness level, focus on time spent running, not the miles.
“The slower, the better … but not too slow.”
The time commitment of training is substantial, and Ginn said that having a running partner to provide encouragement and accountability has been valuable.
“It’s a challenge to balance everything in the training,” Ginn said. “Family and work still have to come out ahead. But in all those times you dragged yourself out of bed in the morning, you pictured the finish line and the payoff of completing a race.
“Really, the race day is to celebrate all of the training and discipline you put in.”