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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, December 7, 2001

Best times still ahead for most

By Mike Tymn
Special to The Advertiser

A little more than half (11,546) of the 21,984 runners and walkers entered so far in Sunday's Honolulu Marathon have indicated on the entry form that it will be their first attempt at the 26.2-mile endurance challenge.

It is unlikely that many of them will be at their best.

"It's an event that requires adaptation and experience," said veteran runner and University of Hawai'i coach Johnny Faerber. "You learn things every time and eventually reach a point where you can put it all together in a peak effort."

The 'seven-year rule'

Even though Faerber ran his first marathon in 1964 at age 28, he didn't run his best marathon until he was 41. "The first one was the Culver City Marathon in California," Faerber recalled. "It was the Olympic trials that year. I had never run the distance and assumed it was just a matter of extending myself a little more than I had done in shorter races. I found it didn't work that way and I dropped out at 15 miles."

Faerber won a number of marathons in Hawai'i, including the first Maui Marathon in 1971, but his best effort came in the 1977 Honolulu Marathon, when he recorded a time of 2 hours, 36 minutes, 47 seconds. "We didn't know much about training for that long of a race back in the 1960s," Faerber added.

"I didn't really get into high mileage training — the 100 miles a week stuff — until I was in my late 30s, and even then I was still experimenting. If there was one thing that made the difference when I did my best it was consistency. My training was more consistent and by that time I had learned from my mistakes."

Connie Comiso-Fanelli, another veteran distance runner, agrees that consistency is the key and believes in the "seven-year rule," which holds that it takes seven years to fully adapt to the marathon distance. "I started running in 1978, ran my first marathon that year, a 3:48, and then ran my best, a 2:53, seven years later," said Comiso-Fanelli, a 46-year-old registered nurse. "It took 14 or 15 marathons before I ran my best. I think it was just harder training and consistency. I also changed my diet and stopped eating red meat entirely."

Adaptation involves molding and reshaping the body to the demands of distance running. The seven-year rule may be explained in part by the scientific fact that cells in the body completely turn over every seven years.

Exceptions to the rule

There are exceptions, however. Larry Taff, a 44-year-old managing partner in a Honolulu real estate investment company, ran his fastest marathon, a 2:37, in 1978, just two months after running his first one in 2:53. Taff said he learned a lot from the first race, but didn't have the time or coaching after that to fully develop his potential. "I'll be running Sunday, but it won't be anything close to 2:37, though," Taff said, adding that he'll be satisfied with something under 3:20.

"Some people start out with a runner's body and they don't require seven years to adapt," said Faerber, "but the marathon is still a race that requires experience and confidence. Some guys have run great marathons on their first try, but they've all had considerable experience at shorter distances."

Learning with every race

At age 37 and after 22 marathons, Jonathan Lyau cracked the 2:30 barrier for the first time in this year's Chicago Marathon when he recorded 2:29:25. "What I learned in past marathons is how I am supposed to feel at certain points of the marathon so that I am able to adjust my pace accordingly and not 'blow up,'" said Lyau. "I also learned what I could and could not eat the morning of the race. Another thing I learned is that you have to do more marathon specific workouts in the month prior to the race, which meant sacrificing speed work that I had been used to doing."

Travel agent Tomoko Magruder has run nine marathons in the past eight years, her first one a 3:38:46 in the 1993 Honolulu Marathon and her best of 3:10:42 coming in the 1998 Honolulu Marathon. "My training for the 1998 race was basically about the same as for the first one, but there was more determination and confidence," she said. "I also found that a glucose gel has helped my running quite a bit."

With a 2:37:13, Clint Sheeley was the top Hawai'i finisher in last year's Honolulu Marathon as well as the second American finisher, quite an improvement over a 4:55 in the 1996 Honolulu Marathon, his first marathon effort. "Most of my improvement came from the decision that if I was ever going to do it again, I had to train so I wouldn't die," said Sheeley, a 35-year-old manager of a plastics company, who painfully remembers a runner dressed as a Christmas tree and another dressed as a reindeer passing him around the 20th mile of his first one. "It's a life changing move in the sense that it will take up a significant portion of your free time, demand that you find time for recovery, and force you into better dieting habits."

Sheeley also feels that proper dehydration and cooling during the race are important. "I took advantages of the sponges last year," he explained.

"I would squeeze them out and carry them to the next station. They are very cooling at the back of the neck and the top of the head."

Mental toughness

It took 11 years and 27 marathons after his first one in 1970 for Michael Georgi to run his best marathon, a 2:25:12 in the 1981 Honolulu Marathon. "The common factor in all of my best marathons was getting in three to four solid months of consistent high-mileage training," said Georgi, a 48-year-old school teacher. "No speed work, no track intervals, nothing fancy — just good long runs on a recurring basis."

Georgi feels that mental toughness is the real key to peak performance.

"Obviously, experience plays a great role, but mental toughness is crucial."