Mailbag Monday: Sisters Get Their Running Questions Answered | The Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans LLC


Every other Monday here on the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans we’re joined by our friend running coach Joe English. He’ll be answering reader questions from people right here in our neighborhood. So get your questions ready and get set to here some answers to what other people have on their minds. Links within the text take you to other videos and articles on the topic.

We’ve got three short running questions this week in the mailbag from readers on the Sisterhood of the Shrinking Jeans. So let’s jump right in and see what they have to say.

Question 1: How long do you need to train for a marathon?

Like everything else in life, the answer to this seemingly easy question is “it depends”. But to give you some general answers, here’s what I would say. If you’re not a complete couch jockey and will take to an exercise routine without a revolt by your body, then the typical time to train for a marathon is about 4-5 months. Four months is on the short side to go from starting running about 3-4 miles and work your way up to the 20 miles that we like to see in training before a full marathon. Five months gives you a little cushion in case something goes wrong along the way like an injury or even a case of the flu that requires you to miss a couple of weeks of training.

Now if you are really starting from zero and even the thought of running three miles is daunting, here’s are two options. Option 1 is to spend 8-12 weeks focusing just on getting your fitness to a level to start your training. In taking this route, you don’t have the pressure of a schedule weighing on you as you deal with false starts and hiccups, but in this time you can start running, focus on weight loss and build strength to be ready. Once you’re ready to go then you start a more typical four month training plan and you’ll have a leg-up once you start it. Option 2, which I often suggest to those starting from scratch, is to go through a half-marathon training program first (12-16 weeks) and then after you’ve done that do your full marathon training program. These two options take more time, but you’ll have a much greater chance of success and less pressure if something goes wrong along the way.

Question 2: If you roll your ankle on your first training run for a 1/2 marathon, how long should you rest before you hit the road again? Is there anything you can or should do in the meantime?

First, on the subject of rolling ankles, nearly all runners will eventually roll one or both ankles. And often the injuries they suffer, even if not serious, hang around with them for a long, long time. Many runners that I deal with will tell me that they protect an ankle when running around corners and this is a result from some past roll of an ankle in a race or training. Personally, I rolled my ankle badly a few weeks before the Boston Marathon in 2004 and had to sit out that race. All this to say that a rolled ankle can be a pretty serious thing and they are also extremely common among runners.

The length of time for recovery is going to depend on how badly you rolled the ankle and how much damage occurred. Many times a light roll of the ankle will recover in 1-2 weeks. A more serious roll might take 4-6 weeks and require some physical therapy or sports medicine. Obviously a broken ankle or torn tendon is going to take much longer. How do you know how serious the problem is? This is a case to go to a sports medicine doctor and have it checked out. Sports medicine clinics can not only make a diagnosis, but they can also help speed you on the road to recovery through therapies such as ultra-sound, massage and stretching techniques.

What can you do on your own? Remember this acronym — RICE — for Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. This means taking it easy on the ankle, icing to reduce swelling, wrapping to providing compression and keeping the injury raised when possible to reduce swelling.

Question 3: I have ran two 5Ks, on the slower side, but I did it. I keep wondering what comes next for me as a runner. . . I know I’m no where near running a half-marathon. I can easly run for 30 minutes at a time. Do I just maintain this? How many times a week? Should I start working on my pace, my distance? And, if so, how?

This is a great question. Let me start with what not to do. The big mistake is to get into a routine where you end up doing the same thing, every day, at the same pace for months on end. This leads to all kinds of problems, not the least of which is boredom and eventually mental fatigue from the whole thing. So, your instincts are right on. You want to look for ways to mix things up and keep them changing as you develop as a runner. I would advise runners to change up their running programs frequently and take a yearly “off-season break” of 4-6 weeks at some point to completely recharge the body.

Now to answer the main part of your question. Start by adding in some faster running into your workouts. These could be simple workouts like running hard for 1 minute and then jogging for 2 minutes and repeating for 3-4 times. Or you could go to your local track and run repeats of distances as short as 50 yards. If you do some faster running once or even twice a week, you’ll see vast improvements in just a few months. If you want some more alternatives, we did a video that talks about things like “speed play” and speed games that will help give you some ideas.

The next thing is to get yourself a goal and begin working on a plan. I wrote a training plan for SELF Magazine a few months back that might help you out. If you follow this plan, you’ll get a good mix of running, cross-training and rest and you can work your way up starting with a 5K, then a 10K and then a half-marathon. You can also repeat stages within the plan if you’re not ready to move up.

Good luck runners and keep those questions coming!

Coach Joe English is a top women’s marathon running specialist from Portland, Oregon. He has been quoted in Runner’s World and SELF Magazines and appears on the radio in Portland at KINK 101.9 FM. His blog is read by fat and skinny runners alike and is located at

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