Let’s just get it out there – running a marathon and even a half-marathon – isn’t easy. There’s months of training and then race day comes and your body is pushed to its limit. Without proper training, an injury can easily derail your efforts and take all of the enjoyment out of this spectacular event.
While there are many training schedules available to prepare you for the big day, there’s one common theme running through them all – listen to your body. What exactly does that mean? In short, it means that if something hurts – your feet, legs or another part of your body – you need to stop and determine what’s going on. Yes, muscle soreness is to be expected and even good. It tells you the muscles are under stress and will build in strength and endurance. However should a joint such as, your knee begin to ache or have sharp pain during your entire run or your feet ache the rest of the day, something isn’t right.
There are other signs too that you should ease up on your training. For example, if you are consistently tired and easily irritated throughout the day even though you are getting enough sleep at night, that’s a sign your body is tired and needs rest. I know some people think taking a day off from their training may make them weaker, but that’s not true. When your body has time to rest and recover, you’ll actually be stronger since your body is using that time to build up and repair your muscles. Keep in mind you can introduce ‘active rest’ which commonly is another activity such are riding a bicycle or swimming. It allows your fatigued or injured muscles and joints to rest, yet providing the aerobic activity through an alternative exercise.
As for pain, it’s a given there will be some when you’re running. The question is whether that pain should put a halt to your training. My advice is to keep a training log and write down how you feel after each run, if anything hurts, and how much it hurt. Let’s say you run a particularly hilly course and your shins begin to hurt or you’re just on a flat route and the back of your heel begins hurting – write it down to see if a pattern emerges. This kind of tracking is especially important if you need to see a physician because of an injury since you’ll have detailed records of what hurt and when.
If the pain is sharp, intense, or won’t go away after applying ice and a couple days of rest, plan a visit to your doctor and get it checked out. If you develop an injury, don’t try to just push through it with hopes that it will get better. It’s likely that minor injury could develop into a more severe problem that could curtail your training even longer. Remember, this event is one to be one of enjoyment. Part of that enjoyment is to be able to walk, although with some soreness after the race.
Remember, rest is an important part of any training regimen. You need to give your body a break so it can recover. In doing so, you may be surprised that you will grow stronger so you can meet your goals.
By Mark Westfall, MD, Fox Cities Marathon Medical Director
Dr. Mark Westfall is an emergency physician at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah and ThedaCare Medical Center-New London and the EMS Director for Gold Cross Ambulance Service. He is an avid runner and has completed more than 20 half marathons and several marathons including the Chicago Marathon, Disney Marathon and Marine Corps Marathon.