Stephen Siegel has been a fixture in New York City running circles since he took up the sport 41 years ago.
On Sunday, the 82-year-old White Plains resident will participate in his 118th half marathon — the United Airlines NYC Half. As a runner who has already logged more than 32,000 miles, including 30 full marathons, Siegel can certainly speak to the different challenges runners face as they prepare for 13.1 versus 26.2 miles.
“Now, people use the half as a tuneup for the full marathon,” Siegel said. “I ran my first full marathon eight months after I started running. I didn’t know any better. Trust me, it’s best to work up to the distance.”
Roberto Mandje, manager of runner training, education and products at New York Road Runners, agrees.
“We encourage people to try shorter distances before doing the marathon,” said Mandje, a 2004 Olympian in the 1,500 meters from Equatorial Guinea. “You can learn so much about yourself during a race because the demands on your body and mind are going to be different from your training runs.”
Many, but not all, of the runners will be using the Sunday’s race as a tuneup for the big event in November — and most will be new or fairly new to marathon running, according to Mandje. While most runners will take 20 weeks to train for 26.2-mile race, training time for a 13.1-miler might only be 12 to 16 weeks, depending on the experience of the runner. Runners of both will start with “base” training — essentially, running daily to build the body up to covering longer distances — before incorporating what Mandje calls “workouts” (training techniques designed to increase speed) several weeks before race day. The long runs that follow will be longer (20 miles) for a full versus 10 or 11 miles for a half.
“It’s all about learning what your body needs to be ready for race day,” Mandje said.
Whether they are running a half or a full marathon, Mandje recommends that racers begin to taper off their workouts three to four weeks before their event to save their bodies.
“One thing I’ve learned is: never overtrain,” Siegel said. “You don’t want to arrive at the starting line already hurt. You’ll never finish the race.”
The United Airlines NYC Half starts at 7 a.m. Sunday in Prospect Park. Runners will race across the Manhattan Bridge, up First Avenue and through Times Square before finishing in Central Park. ABC/7 will broadcast, with pre-event coverage beginning at 6 a.m.