October 30th on NOVA, on PBS
Original PBS Broadcast Date: October 30, 2007TV Program Description
How do you run 26.2 miles if you have trouble making it around the block? With good coaching, discipline, and lots of group support, as NOVA shows when it follows 13 generally sedentary people through a training regimen designed to prepare them for an ultimate test of stamina and endurance. Created in cooperation with the Boston Athletic Association®, which granted NOVA unprecedented access to the 111th Boston Marathon®, and Tufts University, "Marathon Challenge" takes viewers on a unique adventure inside the human body, tracking the physiological changes that exercise can bring about.
Former Olympian and three-time Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig offers advice and inspiration to NOVA's runners throughout their training. And veteran Tufts University coach Donald Megerle guides them week-by-week through an onslaught of physical and psychological challenges. NOVA's runners range in age from 22 to 60, and they come to the endeavor with a wide range of medical histories and backgrounds. They share one thing in common: none has ever run a marathon before.
Team NOVA includes Betsey, a hospital administrator who became substantially overweight while recovering from surgery; Jonathan, a hard-charging CEO and father of five whose marriage is breaking apart; Sama, a reformed smoker mourning the recent death of her mother to a hit-and-run driver; Larry, a social worker and 14-year survivor of a serious heart attack; Xenia, a woman turning 40 and struggling with being an "aging sedentary physician"; and Steve, a Harley-riding former NFL linebacker who sees the marathon as a novel challenge for someone used to running only a few yards before tackling an opponent. (To meet the whole group, see Team NOVA.)
Together with their teammates, they undergo a battery of physiological tests conducted by Tufts scientists to gauge baseline levels for weight, maximal oxygen uptake, and other health and fitness factors. These same tests are performed again at the completion of the training to chart each runner's response to increased activity (see Fit to Go the Distance).
And increase it does, albeit slowly and under the watchful eyes of Megerle, Pippig, and other exercise specialists, who shepherd the novices from relaxed workouts to demanding long-distance runs (see The Training Calendar). Injuries take a toll, but the group meets faithfully every Sunday for nine months to prepare for the big race. Physical conditioning is only part of the process; equally important is the psychological support that team members get from their coaches and from one another. "We have a lot of fun. It's almost like a love fest," says Pippig.As marathon day approaches, the forecast calls for pelting rain, gale-force winds, and the possibility of snow—conditions that daunt even experienced marathon runners. On the day itself, April 16, 2007, those who have made it through training arrive at the race's starting point in Hopkinton, Massachusetts sheathed in ponchos, with dry shoes in plastic bags. Then, at 10:30 a.m., the starting gun fires, and they join 20,000 other runners for the epic race to Boston—a journey that few on Team NOVA ever dreamed possible (see Marathon Diaries).
In the summer of 2006, a dozen very different individuals came together to form a quirky sports team. Not one of them was a hard-core runner; some couldn't even make it through a mile, yet all were determined to train for the Boston Marathon. Fortunately, they had the guidance of veteran coach Don Megerle of Tufts University and superstar marathoner Uta Pippig. Click on the images at right to find out what motivated each person to take on the challenge.—Susan K. Lewis
Note: Following the premiere of "Marathon Challenge" on October 30, 2007, come back to get details on how each runner did in the race and read personal accounts of how, in hindsight, the experience has changed them.
For Team NOVA, training for the Boston Marathon was an odyssey full of pitfalls, small triumphs, and transformations. Along the way, the runners recorded their innermost thoughts in e-mails to one another, Coach Don Megerle, and NOVA's producers. Here, delve into four intensely personal stories, told through interviews, e-mails, and other notes. You can also watch short videos of the runners sharing their sagas firsthand.—Susan K. Lewis
The Training Calendar
How do you prepare novice runners for the Boston Marathon? Three-time Boston Marathon winner Uta Pippig, Coach Don Megerle, and the rest of our training team at Tufts University had less than 10 months. But rather than "whip them into shape," Uta and Coach Don knew it would be best to use a mix of discipline, inspiration, and gentle cajoling. Each runner had different challenges to overcome—years of smoking and inactivity, and histories of heart disease and diabetes among them. But all the members of Team NOVA had the desire and potential to make great strides. Explore, month by month, the detailed Training Calendar they followed. And if you're inspired to take on such an endeavor yourself, see these Ten Tips.—Mary Kennedy, Tufts University
Ask The Expert
Are you curious about whether or not marathon training is right for you? Do you have a question about potential risks or benefits? From now through Wednesday, October 31 (the day after the broadcast), e-mail it to us. Miriam Nelson, who helped advise Team NOVA throughout their marathon challenge, will answer selected questions. The first batch of Q&A is posted below. Additional Q&A will be posted on November 6. Please note that questions may be edited for clarity.
Fit to go the Distance
When you watch an Olympic weightlifter hoist a 500-pound barbell over his head, or see a gymnast gracefully slide into a split, the physical attributes that allow these athletes to excel in their sports may seem obvious. But what is it—both physically and psychologically—that makes an elite marathoner able to run over 26 miles in little more than two hours? And can almost anyone—even someone who has been sedentary for years—become fit enough to run a marathon?
NOVA wanted to investigate these questions through the "Marathon Challenge," and with the help of a dozen enthusiastic recruits, we set out to see if "ordinary people" could transform themselves into marathoners in just a matter of months. The results were extraordinary.
Ten Tips from the NOVA Marathon Challenge Training Team
Say you've never been a runner, but you get a sudden urge to take on a marathon or even just a 5K race. How do you begin? You can start with these tips.
Mind of a Marathoner
As a marathoner, I realize that running 26.2 miles is not limited by physical capabilities but rather by the mind. Experience has shown that everyone can complete the event with the right goals, attitude, and preparation. You must have a strong spirit and a willingness to overcome fear and treat the marathon, and many of life's challenges, as an adventure.
Explore what it takes—physically and mentally—for novice runners to make it through a classic test of endurance. Running time 2 minutes 1 second