Focus on Fitness: Take a running challenge

When most South Beach revelers will finally head home from the clubs, a select group – or should I say a special breed of dedicated athletes – will hit the pavement. Hard.

Sunday marks the 11th anniversary of the ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. What started as 3,400 runners in 2002 has grown to nearly 25,000 participants who are expected to run in this year’s event.

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While many would pause and question the sanity of those willing and excited to run 13.1-26.2 miles, others see it as an exciting mental and physical challenge.

“Many people are scared at the thought of running a marathon,” said Dr. Tony Musto, associate director of fitness programs at the University of Miami’s  Department of Wellness and Recreation. “The reality is that most people can train to do it. It takes time, discipline and some motivation.”

As the faculty adviser of the University of Miami Running Club, Musto has designed a training program for runners of all abilities.

“For a beginner, the typical training period is 18 to 24 weeks,” he said. “Training basically consists of a slow progression from four to five miles up to 20 to 22 miles. Most training programs require the participant to run three to four times a week, with one run designated as ‘the long run’ … the run you progress to the 20- to 22-mile goal.”

If you’re considering taking the first big step into running, whether it’s a jog around the block or racing 26.2 miles through the heart of Miami, no matter your level, you are not alone.

Even some of the most active and dedicated runners on campus had to start somewhere.

“I started running in the summer between high school and college to stay in shape since I was going to stop playing as much volleyball,” said UM Running Club President Katie Walker, a 21-year-old senior from Sugar Land, Texas. “I wanted to stay fit but I also wanted a new sport and challenge to take on in college.”

Senior Sam Marcus – who is the treasurer of the UM Running Club – from Chicago, Ill., has a similar story to tell.

“I started running junior year of high school,” Marcus said. “It’s a great stress reliever and an easy way to stay in shape. My first race wasn’t until sophomore year of college so [running] was pretty casual before then.”

Oh, and by the way, Walker and Marcus have collected seven and nine race medals, respectively. Sunday will mark Walker’s second and Marcus’s third full marathon. Not too shabby.

Musto stressed three key points for any runner-in-training.

Tip #1: Develop a sound base. Get yourself to three to five miles at a comfortable pace.

“They do not have to run it fast! They just have to be able to complete that distance without struggling.”

Tip #2: Enjoy the training runs, especially the long one.

“Keep a comfortable pace and focus on accomplishing the distance. All too often people training for a marathon ‘overdo it’ every run and eventually get hurt.”

Tip #3: Listen to your body.

“General muscle soreness here and there is normal, but sharp continuous pain is not! If things start to hurt, take a break or cross train (i.e. ride a stationary bike) until things feel better.” 

So here you are, armed with motivation and expert advice. Personally speaking, commitment to training can be the biggest obstacle between you and that shiny medal and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment of finishing your first race.

UM Running Club veterans Walker and Marcus agree that being part of a group has played a huge factor in their enjoyment and commitment to running.

“The best part of run club is always having someone to run with. It motivates me to get my butt there and I enjoy the run more too,” Walker said. “I also love running in groups and could never have run any of the races I have without group support.”

“It’s an easy way to meet new people with similar interests, you’ve got entertainment while running, and a ‘no excuses’ workout time that you can’t skip,” Marcus said.

UM Running Club is represented by at least 14 members running this year’s half and full marathon.

And what better place to kick-start your running habit than beautiful South Florida! Here in Coral Gables, we are blessed with so many great running trails. From the standard Campus Loop to nearby Old Cutler path, you’re sure to find flat quiet streets with just enough shade from that hot southern sun.

Yet you’ve got to acknowledge the tropical climate before you’re frying like an egg on that sidewalk.

“One of the challenges of training for a marathon in South Florida is the weather. Due to the timing of marathon season, South Floridians are forced to start training when it is hot and humid,” Musto said. “It’s critical to discipline yourself to complete your runs early in the morning and try to finish before 10am. Also, hydration becomes a key factor.”

If you’re still not convinced that running is for you, take the chance Sunday to see what the ING is all about. From the 6 a.m. start at the American Airlines Arena to the finish at Bayfront Park, the energy of the event is indescribable. I’m getting chills just thinking about it. Thousands of runners of all ages and abilities, from all walks of life, coming together to accomplish something great and celebrate months of hard work and dedication to a goal.

As a two-time ING finisher, I can say with absolutely sincerity, that the energy you get from your fellow runners as well as the throngs of cheering supporters, most of whom you’ve never met, is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

But don’t take my word for it, go out and see what that runner’s high is all about. Seriously.

Catch up with you soon, Canes!

For more information about the ING Miami, UM Running club, and training schedules visit: or 

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Kristen Spillane is a junior journalism and Spanish double major hailing from Boston, Mass.  She’s out to make the most of all Miami has to offer and can’t resist a good adrenaline rush or the feeling of being completely and utterly spent after a workout. Blogging for her fellow Canes that are always on the go.

Focus on Fitness is a blog about discovering the plethora of physical activities and outdoor opportunities of the South Florida community and beyond.  Can’t sit still and looking for a refreshing way to use that positive energy? Keep up with “Focus on Fitness” … if you can.