Marathon man: Preparing for the winter months

Editor’s Note: This is a recurring feature of the Activities section. Tony Pizza began training Sept. 15 for the 2008 Salt Lake City Marathon and will be writing updates on his successes and failures until the April 19, 2008, race date.

The holiday season can be brutal on the bank account. It can be equally detrimental to a marathon training schedule.

The biggest deterrent has got to be the food. Although turkey has plenty of protein and relatively little saturated fat, that’s about all Thanksgiving and Christmas grub has going for it.

Depending on the source, it is estimated that the average American gains between three and 10 pounds during the holidays alone. Colder temperatures and fewer opportunities for outdoor activity are somewhat to blame, but pumpkin pie, eggnog, chocolate-covered pretzels and — my personal favorite — turdilli (sort of like an Italian doughnut hole, but better) are the main reasons for the weight gain.

Unfortunately for someone who likes food, the best way to lose seven pounds is to not gain them in the first place. Easier said than done.

Of all the advice I’ve heard, eating smaller portions and not skipping meals before bigger feasts makes the most sense. Completely foregoing all holiday goodies would be easy if you were Ghandi or had a $1 million modeling contract. Eating in moderation seems like a more attainable goal.

Maintaining a reasonable diet is just half the battle of marathon training during the Christmas season, particularly in Salt Lake City. Utah’s capital city has a lot of weather issues to consider — and it isn’t just the snow and cold that inhibit a conducive training environment. Salt Lake City’s inversion problem is the other factor.

Although the mountains surrounding Utah’s most populated city are one of its biggest attractions, they are also what make up the bowl for the city’s soupy pollution haze during the winter months. Running outdoors is not only uncomfortable during this time — it’s also unhealthy.

The thick layer of pollution takes away from the lungs’ ability to process the decreased amount of oxygen available in the Rocky Mountain air. Treadmill running and its slightly better indoor conditions are the obvious alternative. This contingency plan does not come without its own set of drawbacks, though.

Nothing about running on a treadmill is physically harmful in and of itself. But the transition from a mechanized rubber belt to the blacktop can be. Just as the body needs time to acclimate to the temperature of a hot tub, joints — particularly knees — need to go through an adjustment process as well.

The other option when deciding how to tailor a workout schedule around the winter months is to change gears completely.

One of the biggest problems when it comes to marathon training is that muscle fatigue can leave joints susceptible to injury. When hamstring and quadricep muscles become tired, ligaments in the knees and shins have to overcompensate. This is when runner’s knee and shin splints develop. As anyone experienced with these ailments knows, not only do these maladies require extra — or even complete — time off, they can continue to persist or flare up indefinitely.

For this reason, building leg strength with weights and indoor sprint drills can be the best way to prepare for a marathon when it’s cold outside.

The only other thing I could think of to help better prepare myself for the 2008 Salt Lake Marathon during the heart of winter is to do what Rocky Balboa did. I’m not talking about choking down six raw eggs. I was thinking more of how he prepared to face Ivan Drago in “Rocky IV.” Outrunning Soviet KGB agents up mountain peaks is a start, but I’m talking about that sweet beard Sly sported. Nothing says, “Man training for the ultimate accomplishment” like a brawny, manly beard.

I know my beard looks like I shaved my back hairs and glued them to my face, but when combined with “Hearts on Fire” and “Eye of the Tiger” blaring on my iPod, it does wonders for my psyche.

[email protected]