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Your First Marathon

Taking the next Step – Marathon!

Elaine Gonya, Licensed Athletic Trainer
Aurora Sports Medicine Institute

For many people, the marathon has been the elusive distance in their running career. Perhaps put on the back burner by “maybe someday” or “I’m not THAT kind of distance runner”, the marathon has quickly become one of the most “sold out” races in the country. Incredibly time consuming and physically demanding, the marathon is one of the crown jewels for an athlete in search of a challenge.

I’m not the skinny, marathon type

How many times does an avid runner hear someone say, “Yes, but I’m just not the skinny, marathon type”? Although many have that perspective about this crazy distance, in reality there’s not really a “marathon type”. The professional marathoner that blankets the media with their performances versus the average, everyday marathoner are usually a world apart. If you get a chance to go watch a live marathon, try to identify as many “non-traditional” runners as you can – you’ll be amazed at what you see!

26.2 miles can be covered by anyone who really wants to run that far; the runner who wants to know what kind of drive and persistence he/she actually possesses. In any given marathon, you will see all shapes, sizes and physical abilities, including large and small athletes, challenged athletes (i.e., blind, amputees, wheelchair, etc.), old and young. The lesson you’ll learn from your observation assignment is that anyone in good health who really, truly wants to devote the time, energy, and physical training to complete a marathon can participate in this awesome event. Although the marathon requires months of training (ideally four plus), it can be one of the most rewarding events of your life.

What steps should I take before I sign up for my first marathon?

After your doctor medically clears you for the intense training a marathon requires, a base fitness level is important to attain. Athletes should be able to sustain a continuous aerobic activity (i.e., running, cycling, swimming, elliptical) for 20 to 30 minutes before beginning a formal marathon training program.

A few years ago, the American Council on Exercise released the following ten tips for completing a marathon:

  1. Get in shape: After achieving a base fitness level, a minimum of 12 weeks is required to get your body ready for the demands of marathon training. Many exercise professionals promote at least four months of training to allow the body to adapt to the intense demands a marathon will place on it.
  2. Slowly increase your mileage: When adding longer runs to your program, start with one “long run” per week in the six-to-eight mile range and then slowly increase your distance. Never increase distance by more than 10 to 15% each week.
  3. Vary your training: Not only is cross training important for runners – especially “maturing” runners or those with orthopedic challenges, use of interval training, hills, and varying terrain is also helpful. Be sure to follow these more difficult workouts with a light day to allow muscles and joints to fully recover.
  4. Slow down for distance runs: During running sessions, it’s more important for your body to become accustomed to being on your feet for longer periods of time than being concerned with maintaining a blistering pace. Long runs should be 30 seconds to two minutes slower than your average training pace.
  5. Rest: Allowing your body sufficient time to recover between difficult training runs is as important as training itself. Athletes who over-train tend to notice a decline in their performance. Many sources recommend at least 24 to 48 hours as optimal recovery time from incredibly strenuous activity.
  6. Wear proper running shoes: A runner’s foot hits the ground around 1500 times per mile while absorbing two-and-a-half to three times your body weight with each step. Make certain you are running in a high-quality running shoe that fits your biomechanical running style (i.e., heel striker, pronator, etc.). If you wear orthotics, make sure they’re fitted properly with your new shoes and updated as necessary. It’s advisable to replace running shoes every 300 to 400 miles.
  7. Dress appropriately for the weather: Dress in layers; choose moisture-wicking clothing and socks that help keep you dry.
  8. Practice your diet: Fueling before, during and after your run is important for preventing unwanted gastric distress, maintaining energy reserves during workouts, and muscle repair. Race day is never the time to find out what foods and fluids do or do not agree with your body.
  9. Stay hydrated: Start every training run as hydrated as possible. On longer runs – those over one hour in length, try to consume six to eight ounces of water or electrolyte drink every 15 minutes, if possible. After your run, it’s equally important to re-hydrate.
  10. Stay focused and positive: Always run with a relaxed and positive mind set. Focus on your goal for that day and how fantastic you’ll feel when you complete it. Remember that some days are better than others – don’t be discouraged by a difficult run or one that does not leave you feeling positive about your performance. Look at difficult runs as character building and as a way of getting to know yourself. Realize that over the course of months, you will have these days! Relaxing and smiling about your challenging day will help you in the long run.

As the summer/fall marathon season approaches, consider challenging yourself with a longer distance event – the half-marathon is also an awesome option!

For more information about marathon running, other sports medicine topics, or to schedule a Free Injury Evaluation, call the Aurora Sports Medicine Hotline™ at (414) 219-7776 or (800) 219-7776.