Its summer in Wisconsin, and that means marathon season is right around the corner. There’s no shortage of local events for runners to participate in, and after more than a year of cancellations, runners are itching to get back in the race.
Completing a marathon can be a great experience and provides a significant sense of accomplishment to runners. But whether you’re a veteran marathoner or just getting started, there are basic guidelines every runner should follow before hitting the starting line.
Make Sure You’re Ready
Generally speaking, even first-time marathoners have a fair amount of running experience. Although not a hard and fast rule, it’s recommended that you not attempt to run a marathon unless you’ve been running for at least a year, are able to run 15 to 25 miles per week, and have previously run in one or two 5K races.
Training should begin approximately 16-24 weeks before the marathon, include ample rest days, and alternate between vigorous and light training days.
Get Professional Advice
The best first step you can take when preparing for a marathon is to consult your trusted primary care physician. He or she can perform the physical evaluation necessary to help you build a marathon training plan appropriate for your fitness and skill level.
“Ask for tips from a trainer, physical therapist, or doctor on the best way to train,” said Dr. Diana Young, Orthopedic Surgeon at ThedaCare. “Any time you’re going to do a marathon, especially if you’re new to it, you should have a training plan that incorporates gradual increases in distance. If you push yourself too hard, too quickly, there is a strong likelihood of injury.”
Hydrate and Nourish Your Body
The best complement to any fitness regimen is an equally well thought out nutrition plan. Test out different foods and drinks while training to see what works best for you; then replicate the day of the race. Energy bars and drinks, fruit, and other sugary-type snacks are great sources of energy. It’s also important to incorporate a good amount of protein and iron, and focus on foods rich in carbohydrates and low in fat.
Equally important is the need to stay hydrated.
“There is such a thing as too much water when running,” warned Dr. Young. “You have to replace the electrolytes you’re losing as well as the water. There are a variety of sports drinks and other electrolyte-rich foods that can be incorporated to make sure both are adequately replenished.”
Stretch It Out
Proper stretching before and after each training session and race is critical. Stretching can vary from one runner to the next, but generally speaking, they should focus on major muscle groups, like quads, hamstrings, as well as the Achilles’ tendon.
“Stretches for cooling down are equally as important,” said Dr. Young. “Properly warming up and cooling down is a key component to any training plan and vital to preventing injury.”
Wear the Right Shoes
A good pair of running shoes won’t just boost your performance, they’ll help you avoid the risk of injury. Running shoes are actually designed to accommodate your specific foot type and gait, cushioning the foot and lessening the impact of each step.
“Your running shoes should provide flexibility, balance and support,” said Dr. Young. “I recommend being fitted by a professional who can ensure you’re getting the right amount of cushioning and arch support to reduce your risk of injury.”
Need help finding the right shoe? Consult the experts at a specialty running store near you to ensure you find the right fit.
Add Some Variety
Getting bored with your go-to running trail? Switch it up. Running on different terrains and surfaces can help you build strength and stamina, especially those that require running up and down hills.
One word of caution – stay away from sand. The soft surface doesn’t offer the appropriate support for your ankles.
Find out which type of surface you’ll be running on come race day, and make sure your practice runs include similar terrain.
Remember to Rest
Participating in any kind of long-distance running requires thoughtful preparation and should include the appropriate level of caution to avoid serious injury. This means alternating heavy training days with ample rest.
“Rest days are very important,” said Dr. Young. “No one should be doing full training every day.”
Dr. Young advised that someone who’s healthy without any past injuries may be able to get by with one rest day a week. Less seasoned runners may require additional rest days, especially in the beginning of their training plan.
“Rest days can include more active recovery like doing Yoga or taking a walk, or might mean taking the day off from activity completely,” she said. “It will vary from person to person.”
Seek Appropriate Care for Injuries
In the instance you do encounter an injury while training for a race, it’s important to be evaluated by a medical professional.
“New pain or symptoms that develop in the middle of training shouldn’t be ignored,” said Dr. Young. “Seek immediate care for debilitating pain that prevents you from walking or completing basic tasks, or requires you to alter your approach to training. If your pain level starts out relatively light but increasingly worsens, don’t wait more than two to three days to see someone.”
Runners should pay particular attention to heel pain that doesn’t go away and makes it difficult to bear weight.
“If someone hasn’t been doing much in the way of physical activity and suddenly jumps into an intensive training program, serious injuries, such as stress fractures, can result,” said Dr. Young.
Give Yourself Enough Time to Recover
If you’ve had an injury but are anxious to get back to your training schedule, it’s smart to start back up gradually. According to Dr. Young, it can be helpful to listen to your body and let your level of pain and swelling dictate if you’re ready to resume training, but the best course of action is consulting a professional.
“You may want to see a physical therapist before getting back into your training,” she said. “They can guide you through the best stretches and strengthening exercises to speed recovery. It doesn’t have to require a time consuming commitment – just one or two visits can be enough to ensure someone is on the right track to making a full recovery.”
Thinking about running a marathon? Consult your primary care provider for help developing a comprehensive training plan.