Marathon Veterans, Rookies Team Up For 26Strong Program

Training for a marathon — especially your first one — is always easier and more enjoyable with a group. Photo:

Saucony, Competitor launch 26Strong program to guide new marathon runners.

A first marathon can be an intimidating experience. Not just the 26.2 miles endured on race day, but the long hours of training over 16 weeks it takes to prepare for that day.

Having someone who’s done it before and can show the way — a coach, a mentor, a friend — can make all the difference. For 26 teams of runners across the U.S. this summer, Mike Norman will be that guy.

The longtime Chicago running coach and Boston Marathon finisher is the head coach for the new 26Strong program launched by Saucony and Competitor this spring. Norman will guide 26 teams — each of which will include a veteran and a novice marathoner — in a training program that will culminate in a fall marathon.

Runner profiles, training stories and race results will be shared by Competitor in print, online and via social media.

“There’s nothing more rewarding than helping someone get to the finish line of a marathon,” says Norman, who has been coaching runners and triathletes for 24 years. “I’m excited to be a part of so many people training for their first marathon.”

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The veteran runners were chosen primarily through independent specialty running stores based on their knowledge and ability to guide a novice runner through marathon training.

An accomplished runner and triathlete, Norman co-founded Chicago Endurance Sports to help train athletes for marathons and triathlons. During the last decade, the CES singlets have become a staple of any running race or triathlon in the Windy City.

Norman, who started swimming at the age of 9 and swam competitively at the University of Wisconsin, began running seriously in 1994. “I had to keep up with my wife,” he jokes.

Norman ran his first marathon, the Disney World Half-Marathon through Team in Training, in 1995. The following year he started coaching for TNT and hasn’t looked back. He has a marathon PR of 3:10 from the Twin Cities Marathon and owns a 10:42 in the Hawaii Ironman.

“I’m a firm believer in fitness as a lifestyle, no matter what sport you want to pursue,” Norman says. “In order to truly get the most out of it, we need to enjoy it, so we’ll keep doing it. That comes down to honestly defining your goals, and making your decisions based on those goals and how you can best reach them without compromising your health.”

RELATED: Learning To Trust Your Training

The novice runners were chosen from nominations by the running stores as well as a recruitment campaign by Competitor and Saucony. For newer runners — like many on the 26Strong team — Norman is focused mostly on helping them increase their distance and endurance without getting injured.

“The biggest mistake is making the leap to the marathon distance too soon,” he says. “Their body hasn’t had time to adjust to the stress that long distance running puts on it, and they get injured and discouraged.”

Anyone can run a marathon, but following a structured program is a lot smarter approach than just winging it. For any runner, Norman says consistency is the key to success.

“One, single workout will not make or break your training season as long as you focus on consistent, steady training,” he says.

Follow the teams on Twitter — @Saucony26strong — and via updates on Visit the site to meet the teams and see why the novice runners have made the marathon their goal.

“We handpicked some of the top running specialty store experts in the country for their ability to coach and motivate these individuals to achieve their dreams,” says Chris Lindner, Saucony’s chief marketing officer. “We’re looking forward to hearing the stories of “strong” that unfold over the next few months.”

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