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Tips From Marathon Trainer Tracy Sundlun


From stars to politicians, Tracy Sundlun has trained some of the most well-known people to run marathons. He speaks of his training sessions with country-music star Deana Carter and offers advice for the first-time runner:

Q: Why did Deana Carter come to you for training?

A: The publicist for the Country Music Marathon and Half Marathon is a friend of Jeff Fisher, a client of mine who ran the marathon last year. Deana and Jeff met at some function. She said she wanted to do this running thing; she was fascinated by it and asked him what he did to train. He, of course, told her he trained with me, and that is how that happened.

Q: How long have you been doing this?

A: I was a coach for many years; I wanted to be a coach since the time I was 12. I was a university, club, high school and national track team coach full time through the end of the '70s, then part time through the middle of the '90s. I have had people rank in the top 10 in the world in every event.

Around 1979 I began to coach marathon runners in New York, then eventually I wound up hosting marathons myself. I guess the first celebrity I ever coached was Susan Anton. It was the late '70s, and she was trying to get ready for a movie she was doing, Golden Girl.

I also coached Alan Cranston. He used to come by my place at 7 a.m., unshaven, and we would go up to the track. He'd work out, then go off and be U.S. senator. He set a world age record in the 100 meters at the Penn Relays. He is a wonderful, salt-of-the-earth man.

Q: Do people come to you prepared for training?

A: You would be surprised how many people think they need to train to be trained. No, just show up and we'll start. If you knew that much, you wouldn't need somebody to help you. It's particularly a problem with people who have trained before, got hurt, lost fitness and now are not in the same condition they were before they stopped. They believe they can't go back until they are physically back to their previous condition. That's a big mistake. Wherever you are, that's where you start, and it's cool.

Q: Do you tailor your training to each person, and is it different for men and women?

A: Each person's personality, each person's strengths and weaknesses, the circumstances under which they can train - they are all different. And that applies whether the person is a singer on tour who's being beat up by publicity people all the time, like Deana, or a high-profile politician, like Senate majority leader Bill Frist.

In essence, the rules all apply. You have to ask the same questions of all of people and then create a program that fits their lifestyle and their goals. My greatest strength is that I was a very bad runner. I was not a good marathon runner, so when dealing with clients I don't come in with any preconceived notions about training.

Generally speaking, folks who were great athletes too often try to coach someone the way they were coached. If that method happens to hit the same chord for your trainee, then it will probably work, but for us, every training session is individualized.

Q: How was Deana to work with?

A: She was like a fish to water. First of all, she has natural physical gifts, such as good running coordination. She has a runner's body. I saw nothing initially that was going to limit her ability to run fast. She came and told me she wanted to run three hours for the marathon, and I could see nothing that would prevent her from doing that.

We knew early on that her tour schedule would not allow her to do the most recent Country Music Marathon in April, but she's never had a time goal. When she is ready, she will run one.

Q: What kind of exercise does a marathon runner need to do? What did you have Deana do?

A: Ultimately, you have to fit your training into the rest of your life. The good news is, Deana can handle working on a treadmill; some people just can't. In fact, she can go a long time on one - but she likes to run outside her home in the hills. Some people base their training program on time or pace, or mileage. She likes miles. She's approached it with great interest, curiosity and intelligence. She pushes herself.

She's lost some weight (not that she needed to), but you can see she's running enough that her body is making changes. She likes to do some weight training - just the machines you would find in a gym or in a hotel. She doesn't have a personal trainer following her around telling her to do this or do that.

My advice for new runners? Figure out what you like - What's your mind-set? Can you work on treadmills? Are you a morning person? Do you have to do it in a certain way? Are you flexible? - so that you begin to say, here is a parameter for a training program.

Q: What would you recommend to a woman who is a first-time runner who wants to run a marathon?

A: I would tell her simply to start running. I have had women whose first run was 4 hours, 40 minutes, who ultimately go on to run a marathon in 2 1/2 hours. But too many people think runners - like mathematicians - were created in the womb! They think if they weren't a great sprinter in high school or the star of the track team, they can't run. I have known kids who were thrown off their high-school track team because they weren't good enough who ultimately made the Olympic trials in track.


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