Indiana University

News Release

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Last modified: Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Marathon runners vying for the Olympics vary greatly in training

  1. Print this page

Indiana University survey probes training characteristics

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A survey of athletes training for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials found little consensus about the best way to train, and as many as 46 percent of the men and 29 percent of the women trained alone and without a coach. The survey was conducted by kinesiologists in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at Indiana University Bloomington.

IU doctoral student Jason Karp and Professor Joel Stager also found that 62 percent of the men and 57 percent of the women who qualified for the trials last spring had full-time jobs while they trained.

This month during the Olympic Games in Athens, three men and three women will compete for the United States in the marathon, a 26.2-mile race created for the first modern Olympic Games in Athens in 1896 as a commemoration of the legendary run by the Greek messenger Phidippides after the Battle of Marathon in 490 B.C.

The marathon has been one of the weaker Olympic sports for U.S. athletes for the past several decades, despite around 300 marathons held in the United States each year and a large population base from which to draw. "We have a large national population and around 300,000 people running marathons each year, but we still don't fare well," Karp said. "If it's not the size of the population or a participation issue, then it's the training."

Thirty-seven men and 56 women answered survey questions about physical characteristics such as age, height and weight, and also about training history, such as use of a coach, years in training and use of altitude. The survey also included questions about high school and college performances, and it asked about detailed training characteristics such as average and peak weekly mileage, weekly distance at specific intensities, and frequency of training. All training-related questions referred to the entire year preceding the U.S. Olympic Trials held last February and April.

Comparisons were made between men and women, and also between elite athletes (times below 2:15 for men and below 2:40 for women) and national-class runners (times between 2:15 and 2:22 for men and between 2:40 and 2:48 for women), based on personal-best marathon times.

Here are the study's major findings:

General characteristics

Training characteristics

Men ran more than women for the year preceding the Olympic Trials. Men ran an average of 90 miles per week with a peak week of 120 miles, and women ran an average of 72 miles per week with a peak week of 95 miles.

Marathon performance

The study was funded by IU's Counsilman Center for the Science of Swimming, which Stager directs. Karp can be reached at 812-332-3653 and Stager can be contacted at 812-855-1637 and

Web Version

IU News Room
530 E. Kirkwood Ave., Suite 201
Bloomington, IN 47408-4003