VAN WERT, Ohio — No one can really explain why Van Wert has produced so many good distance runners.
The city is just a blip on the map in northwest Ohio, tucked in between rows of corn fields near the Indiana border. The land is so flat here that the farmers like to joke that once you harvest the corn in autumn, you can roll a bowling ball some 100 miles to Lake Erie.
People work hard here, they play hard and many of them like to run … far and fast.
So, when handed a story assignment to provide tips for people who were interested in running, we sought out some of the best this city has offered.
Justin and Rachel Dickman have been competitive runners for most of their lives. The husband and wife ran through college and compete in many road races ever year. For Justin, 27, it is a good stress relief from his job as chief legal counsel for a Michigan state senator.
He recommends that beginning runners first be evaluated before jumping into a rigid training regimen.
“It’s smart to evaluate a person’s background and history,” Justin said. “If they have been sedentary, they may want to be evaluated by a physician. Once they do that, it’s good to take gradual steps.”
Justin points to two key factors in being successful in running.
“Whether you are training to be an Olympian, local elite, competitive high school or collegiate runner, or a beginning runner, consistency and persistency are the keys,” he said.
Justin said there has to be a commitment made by the novice runner.
“If you make time to sleep, eat, work, go to church, and spend time with the family … then you can also make time to run,” Justin said. “Even when I work 80 hours a week, I find time to exercise. Know your limits and everything should be balanced. Have other people hold you accountable.”
For the person who has been sedentary and wants to begin a training routine, Justin suggests taking baby steps.
“Start out doing something small and don’t run for pace or distance. Set small, medium and long term goals because it will keep you motivated,” he said. “If you are sedentary, try doing some walking every day for 20 to 30 minutes. Then, add in jogging for like 30 seconds to a minute and continue to build up in time. Gradually build up your time of walking and work into being able to run. I’d also follow a hard/easy schedule, so your body will recover and continue to build.”
Justin’s personal-bests include: 14 minutes, 55 seconds for a 5K; 31:04 for a 10K, 1:09.24 for a half marathon; and 2:40.24 for a marathon.
Have a plan
Rachel Dickman, 25, is from Michigan, where she competed in both track and cross country at the University of Michigan during her undergraduate studies. She also competed at Ohio State during her graduate studies. Rachel is presently working on her doctorate at Michigan State and is a research assistant.
Her personal — bests include: 17:03 (5K), 35:25 (10K) and 1:19.01 (half marathon).
She looks at training as an intertwined process that takes some time to cultivate.
“Training to run a race is a lot like having a garden,” she says. “You plant a wide variety of fruits and vegetables – spinach for salads, tomatoes for pasta sauce, cilantro to add into your salsa and watermelon for that fruit bowl.
“While they serve their own purpose, they also feed off each other to grow. Having a garden also requires a great deal of patience. Similarly, training for a race requires a wide variety of training (distance, speed and strength). Each day you work out, you are feeding off other workouts as well as feeding future workouts.”
Rachel recommends that each individual access their personal situation before plunging into a training regimen.
“If this is your first 5K and you have been quite sedentary, then you will want to be relatively cautious for your first few weeks of training, so you don’t overexert yourself and cause an injury,” she said. “If you have already ran a few 5K’s and you’re ready to jump into training for a half marathon, you can probably be a bit more aggressive, since your body may be used to running a good number of miles on a regular basis.
“Regardless of your fitness level at the start (of your training), the most important things to remember is that you need to know: how hard you can push your body and still recover; and know your body’s limits. You should run as fast or as slow as you are comfortable with. If you are doing an easy run with a friend and you can’t hold a conversation with them, then you are running too fast.”
Rachel emphasizes consistency and patience when training for a road race.
“Depending on the distance you are training for, you will want to create a training plan and stick with it,” she said. “Probably one of the most important pieces you will want to incorporate into your training plan is a long run. You will want to increase your weekly long run every few weeks of your training cycle and then start to decrease your long run as you get closer to race day. If someone is starting to train for a half marathon they might start off with a long run of 5 miles in Week 1, build up to a 12-mile run by Week 12 and then taper off with 6-8 mile long runs for a few weeks before the race. Finally, don’t forget to throw in one day for rest. Make sure you let your body recover from all the hard work you’ve put in the previous few days.”
Rachel said the training for a road race is not just about putting in the miles.
“My last piece of advice for anyone training for any distance is to incorporate stretching and strength exercises into your regular routine,” she said. “Stretching before and after running is essential in preventing injuries. When preparing for a race it is important to be consistent, train with a purpose and have fun.”
Set up deadlines
Ohio Northern University track and cross country coach Jason Maus, who is also an established runner from Van Wert, believes in deadlines.
“Pick a race and give yourself a month and a half to two months to prepare,” Maus said. “This way you have a hard deadline to help hold yourself accountable.
“Start conservative and don’t overdue it early. …You would like to reduce the risk of injury. Run two to three times per week, a half mile to a mile, maybe add in some walking. The other non-running days, try to mix in some other cardio activities like biking or swimming for 30 minutes per day. Try to increase the volume of your runs and the number of runs every two weeks. By breaking this down into two-week blocks, it gives your body a chance to adjust and adapt.”
When it comes to running a marathon, Van Wert native Craig Leon knows all about training for this grueling and challenging distance.
Leon, 29, is one of the top marathoners in the United States. His personal-best in the marathon is 2 hours, 13 minutes, 52 seconds (Chicago Marathon in 2013). In 2013, he finished 10th among the 26,000 runners competing in the Boston Marathon and third among all U.S. runners
Leon now lives and trains in Eugene, Ore., where he runs professionally. He emphasizes that being confident in your abilities will go a long way.
“So, you’ve done some shorter races (5K, 10K, half marathon) and you’re thinking about training for and running your first marathon,” Leon said. “But, 26.2 miles seems a bit more daunting and challenging than what you think you can do. Let me start by saying that if you’ve completed a half marathon, I know you have it in you to do a full (marathon).”
Leon said making the commitment is the first big step.
“The first step is to pick out a race and commit to doing it. That means signing up and putting it on the calendar. Once you have the date picked out, most marathon training plans will begin 12 to 16 weeks before the race,” he said.
Leon said training for a marathon substantially differs from training for a 5K or 10K. That is why he suggests a 12- to 16-week training plan.
“Because you are running such a long distance, you will need to give your body time to build up the mileage necessary to be ready for race day,” Leon said. “Marathons require us to use a completely different energy system than say a 5K. So, your long runs become the most important part of your pre-marathon training.”
When Leon is training for a marathon, his mileage will easily exceed 100 miles per week. When Leon was preparing for this year’s Boston Marathon he eclipsed 140-mile weeks a couple times. He finished 12th overall at this year’s Boston Marathon in 2:14.28.
Most experts recommend that relatively new marathon runners stay within a 40- to 60-miles-per-week range with occasional long (slow) runs up to 15-18 miles.
“I’ve ran in marathons with over 50,000 participants and I can tell you that marathon runners come in all shapes and sizes,” Leon said. “Whatever your reason for wanting to attempt your first marathon, I can tell you that when you cross the finish line, you’ll have learned a lot about yourself.”
— Mark Altstaetter is a sportswriter for The Lima News in Ohio and an avid runner. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.