Spring marathon season is upon us, and the much-anticipated OC Marathon
is Sunday. Many beginning runners are extending their mileage as part
of their training runs in the hopes of earning the right to emblazon their
bumpers with the ubiquitous "26.2" stickers.
But if you haven't been preparing seriously for at least eight weeks
prior to event day, chances are you'll end up seeing someone like
me shortly after your run.
As a physician who specializes in sports medicine, specifically
knee injuries, I know firsthand the pains and problems long-distance runners
face. A first marathon can pose a health risk, especially when athletes
don't take the time to listen to their bodies when they feel pain.
Don't misunderstand: There will be discomfort, as there is in most
endurance activities, but knowing the difference between discomfort and
pain is crucial.
Marathons are grueling races that demand more strength and stamina than
your typical neighborhood jog. I should know; I've run in more than
I can remember, and training was critical preparation for every single
one. Before you begin training, it's a good idea to consult with your
physician, and if possible, a marathon coach, to address any health concerns
and ensure your body can endure the demanding endeavor. I routinely see
a spike in injuries following a major event like a marathon, and most
runners can avoid the pain and inconvenience if they properly prepare
for race day.
Oftentimes, a well-thought-out plan for preparation is essential. However,
do not become overly committed to the plan. Sometimes a minor ailment
starts to brew, and early action can help avoid an ailment from becoming
a race-ending injury. If something like Achilles tendinitis begins, take
an extra day or two off, and cross-train with swimming or cycling, and
then ease back into running. Stretch a little extra. It might even mean
that that long Saturday run, according to plan, gets put on hold.
Preparation for the big day will go smoother if you make physical, mental
and emotional commitments to yourself and have an accountability partner
or other means of keeping yourself on track. Planning goes a long way.
The important thing to remember is your focus: Why you are running in
the first place? When you can identify who or what is driving you to run
a marathon, it will motivate you during difficult times, such as poor
weather or personal issues.
In addition, learning about common ailments, such as shin splints and Achilles
tendinitis, in advance will prepare you to take action in case you experience
symptoms. Here are some other injury prevention tips to help keep you
pain-free for your first marathon:
- Build up your body's strength. Try running shorter races (5Ks, 10Ks)
first to prepare for the much longer 26.2 miles. Novices should start
with 15 to 20 miles per week and work up to a peak week of 35 to 40 miles.
Include a weekly long run to condition your body.
- Drink enough fluids. Hydrate before, during and after your runs. Water
will suffice for the first hour, but for anything longer than that, I
recommend a sports drink to replenish lost sodium.
- Remember to rest and recover during training. Take at least one day per
week to break from running. Cross-training and yoga are good alternative
exercises that will help keep you in top form. Additionally, setting a
regular sleep pattern can do wonders.
- Stretch the backs of your legs. Knee and Achilles issues are common in
runners, so try to increase your range of motion. Incorporate dynamic
stretching, such as standing leg lifts or circles, prior to your run.
Also do side lying leg lifts and planks to stretch your hamstrings and
- Find ways to stay motivated. Try visualization, a technique in which you
picture yourself crossing the finish line or pushing through the last
mile. Also, consider running with a group to help maintain your focus.
Make no mistake: marathons are milestone achievements that should be celebrated
as such. They are extremely rewarding. However, they can also be daunting
for beginners, so make sure you're prepared and properly trained to
enjoy the running adventure and challenge a marathon brings.
ANDREW GERKEN, M.D., is a foot and ankle specialist with Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine.