September 19, 2012

Get a running start on spring

For more BODY features, check out the Sept./Oct. 2012 issue of Renew.

Looking to run a marathon or half marathon? Starting earlier means big benefits later.

By Hayley Grgurich problem with January first is that it’s New Year’s Day—for everybody. This year, instead of throwing yourself and your fledgling resolve headlong into the clogged gym, do your future a favor and start in September. Fall is the prime season for distance running, and as a cheap, accessible sport with plenty of options for socializing or going solo, it’s a perfect complement to the recovery lifestyle.

To get us started, Renew asked Chicago-based endurance running coach Brendan Cournane for his tips on running through cold weather, handling the holidays and setting goals you can achieve.

Before you start, it helps to know the finish.

“Whenever someone new starts my program, I ask them ‘what motivates you?’” says Cournane. “For a lot of folks in recovery, this is something healthy to fill their time,” and the new routine is a great way to ditch old habits. Once you understand your motivation—be it a personal goal, charity, or anything else—it’s time to get started. But you can’t rely on your long-term goal alone.

“Training for an endurance race is analogous to the ‘one day at a time’ [model of recovery],” says Cournane. “It’s not about focusing on the marathon or half marathon up front; that’s too daunting a task.” Instead, using a combination of short-term and long-term goals, runners progress through their training program in a way that changes the end goal from seemingly impossible, to merely improbable and ultimately inevitable.

Achieving this progression is a matter of sticking to the three R’s: Review, reset and recommit. “Every four to five weeks, review your goals,” says Cournane. “Were your goals too aggressive, or not aggressive enough?” Based on your evaluation, you’ll reset and recommit, this time with a better understanding of what it took to get there.

Timing is everything.

Fall can be the ideal time to begin a running program—especially for people who want to build up by doing a half marathon in January, to a full marathon in October, the peak of the distance running season.

“Any time you’re talking about an endurance race, you’ll need at least 12 weeks to train,” says Cournane. And training through the winter has its benefits.

“The idea of running outside in the winter can be intimidating,” says Cournane, “but physiologically we’re better prepared for it.” Layering clothes helps you better regulate your core temperature than sweltering summer temps allow, and less perspiration means you can go a little further between water breaks—although hydration is still a must.

Beyond physical comfort, there are psychological benefits as well. The holidays can be an emotionally taxing time of year, especially for those new to recovery. But when you’re part of a training program, says Cournane, you’ll find you have support when you need it and time alone when you want it.

“Many people who deal with addiction tend to isolate and rationalize their own behavior,” says Cournane. “Running with a group keeps you accountable.” Even when it’s dark and cold outside, he says his runners know that at 5 p.m. on a Thursday, they’ll have others out on the path waiting to meet up with them.

“Good form will carry you through.”

It’s Cournane’s personal mantra that has guided him through more than 80 marathons since running his first in 1985, and which he repeats to his runners every chance he gets. For those in recovery, Cournane adds something else: Moderation is key. “A common fact of runners generally, and runners in recovery specifically, is that it’s tempting to do too much too soon.” By starting early and focusing on endurance first, then speed later, you’ll be in the prime position to train smarter, stronger and more successfully this fall.

To learn more about Coach Cournane’s Chicago-based and virtual training programs, visit

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