Marathon prep without a whole lot of boring running

Personal trainer Paul Dziewisz : "You can train for a marathon without running and running and running until you never want to run again."

Paul Dziewisz is a personal trainer who believes that completing a marathon is "a badge" every fitness professional should acquire.

In three weeks, he intends to add that feat to his resumé by running the Philadelphia Marathon, his first attempt at the 26.2-mile endurance test. He hopes to finish in 3 hours and 45 minutes or less, to qualify for Boston.

But Dziewisz (pronounced JEVISH) has a substantial handicap: "I've never had a love affair with running," he says. "I'm not a person who gets runner's high."

Moreover, his job - traveling about training his clients in their homes and leading group exercise classes - leaves him little time to train for a marathon by logging 50 to 60 miles a week.

So, Dziewisz, 41, of Doylestown, who calls his business Active Personal Fitness, has devised a marathon training scheme for everyday folk based on the principle that less is more. His regimen minimizes running and reflects his belief in moderation, cross-training, and total body fitness.

"You can train for a marathon without running and running and running until you never want to run again," says Dziewisz, who, at 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, is no threat to Moroccan American marathoner Khalid Khannouchi. "My approach is less time-consuming and boring, and you're less likely to get injured and to break down your muscles and joints."

Traditional marathon training is running-intensive. Runner's World magazine's four-month training plan for beginners calls for covering a total of 347 miles - the equivalent of 13 marathons plus. The magazine's intermediate plan entails five runs a week and a total distance ranging between 562 and 610 miles, including four straight weeks of 45-plus miles.

"That's upwards of 100 hours of running for most people," Dziewisz marvels. "If you love running, have at it."

Runners tend to be narrow specialists. Their bodies are conditioned for one thing: absorbing the pounding necessary to cover long distances.

"Many runners have poor strength overall," Dziewisz says. "They have muscle imbalances and are weak in the core and upper body."

Dziewisz is amazed by how little most runners can deadlift or squat, and the comparative weakness of their hamstrings and glutes, among the most powerful muscles in the body. Against substantial resistance, their form while performing these exercises collapses rapidly, and they are forced to rely on their relatively overdeveloped quads to move the load.

Not to mention how they look. Dziewisz applies the Penn Relays test. Whom would your rather resemble? The brawny, broad-shouldered studs who run the 400 meters, or the sparrow-chested ectomorphs who run the 10,000?

The Dziewisz plan cuts training mileage in half (about 300 miles over five months) and calls for only one long run a week. Total weekly mileage never exceeds 30, and the emphasis is on building leg stamina, through sprints and fast runs, for a long run on the weekend. Dziewisz began his training for this month's marathon with a 10-mile weekend run in June, and has gradually increased his weekend runs to 22 miles.

Supplementing the weekend run are four sessions of high-intensity circuit training, including a rich mix of body-weight and dumbbell exercises and cardio in the form of rowing, jumping rope, and sprinting. Squats and deadlifts are staple exercises for fortifying the legs.

"Squats and deadlifts will keep your hamstrings and glutes as strong as your quads," Dziewisz says. "If you're strong enough to deadlift 150 pounds 20 times, the muscle recruitment required is going to make running feel a lot easier."

A sample workout: 15 pull-ups, 15 push-ups, and two minutes on the rowing machine. Repeat this combination six times. Conclude with two half-mile runs at race pace or several 100-yard sprints. Total time: 25 to 30 minutes.

Dziewisz bases his method on two principles: To get faster in races, you must go faster in training; and cardio capacity is best improved by short bouts of intense exertion, which also improve long, slow efforts. (It doesn't work the other way around, however; long, slow efforts do not improve short bouts of intense exertion.)

Dziewisz concedes that his mode of training is not right for everybody, especially elite marathoners. But for someone who just wants to finish a marathon, who has limited time to train, and who wants to avoid injury, it's sensible and effective.

"You don't have to have a love affair with running to accomplish something as impressive as a marathon," he says, "and it's better for your overall health if you do something more than just running."

Contact columnist Art Carey

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For information about Paul Dziewisz's marathon training program, visit