November 2, 2009 / 2:58 PM / 9 years ago

Bitten by the marathon bug? Pro offers tips

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - The ING New York City Marathon of 2009 is history. But if those sleek runners and cheering crowds have inspired you to gear up for 2010, a top runner advises easy paces and soft landings.

The elite men's division runners start ahead of more than 40,000 runners in the 2009 New York City Marathon, November 1, 2009. REUTERS/Chip East

“The biggest mistake new runners make is trying to do too much all at once,” said pro division marathoner Fasil Bizuneh, who is based in Flagstaff, Arizona. “Don’t try to go out and run as hard as you can every day.”

Instead Bizuneh advises people to run at a pace that’s comfortable, that they can maintain conversation at, and to do only small increases from week to week.

“You’ll do more for your fitness if you enjoy what you’re doing, rather than if you force yourself,” he said in an interview a few days before the race.

Bizuneh was one of just 200 elite runners in a marathon field of over 40,000, according to the New York Road Runners Club, which organizes the 26.2-mile race through the city.

American Meb Keflizghi was the fastest man in Sunday’s race with a time of 2:09, while Deratu Tulu, of Ethiopia, was the first woman to cross the finish line with a time of 2:28.

Sunday marked Bizuneh’s fifth marathon. He set his personal marathon best of 2:16:47 with a 13th place finish at the U.S. Olympic Trials in New York in 2007.

The 29-year-old said that while he’s always in training, he’s not always running as fast as he can.

“I run twice a day. Three times a week I try to run the pace I’ll run for the race, or a little faster, but the majority of my runs are at a conversational pace,” he said.

For overall strength he adds body weight and core exercises to his regimen.

“It helps me avoid injuries and makes my running better,” he explained.

Bizuneh said running on hard surfaces is another mistake novice runners make, and one he always notices on his visits to New York.

“In Central Park I see everyone running on asphalt and concrete, even though there’s a dirt bridle path there that’s much more forgiving on knees and joints.”

He also advises finding a running buddy for motivation, and to try to get a workout done early because it provides a psychological boost to the day.

Bizuneh’s diet includes lots of salads, vegetables and whole grains.

“I do avoid junk food. But I don’t have to avoid places because there’s always a healthy option,” he said.

Bizuneh, a U.S. citizen who was raised in the United States, believes he lucked out genetically because his parents are Ethiopian.

“East African body types are taller and more slender, more suitable for long-distance running,” he explained.

“Also, much of Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia is at 5000 to 8000 feet of elevation, which encourages the body to produce more red blood cells, which leads to higher endurance.”

He believes consistency is key to avoiding injuries.

“I started back when I was 15 years old running maybe 30 miles a week, so I now can run 120 miles a week,” he explained.

“But if someone just went out and ran 120 miles, chances are good they’d have some overuse injury.”

Application for entry to the 2010 New York City Marathon opens today.

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