Whether you’re training for a marathon or any long-distance race, it takes careful preparation to ensure you make it to the finish line injury-free.
If you love to run, then the fall and winter are your seasons. This is the time of year when serious runners take advantage of the cooler weather and start preparing their bodies for the spring race season. For many weekend warriors, this might be the time when they consider making the leap from a 5K or 10K race distance to a half marathon or even a marathon.
Added miles = added wear & tear
Focusing your training on a long-distance race like a marathon is certainly a noble goal, but it must be approached with caution, as well. Training your body to run 26.2 miles takes hard work and preparation, and it demands to be taken seriously. The same also holds true for shorter races such as the 13.1-mile half marathon.
“In general, most of the problems I see in my patients are overuse injuries from repetitive motion due to increased volume and distance,” says Dr. Carolyn Marie Kienstra, a pediatric sports medicine specialist with the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute. “This includes things like tendonitis and problems with the hips, knees, ankles and feet.”
The American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine supports Dr. Kienstra’s observations. They note the following as the most common running-related injuries:
- Plantar fasciitis
- Stress fractures
- Shin splints
- Achilles tendinitis
- Knee tendinitis
- Hamstring tendinitis
- Hamstring strains
- Exertional compartment syndrome
- Torn meniscus
- Spinal stenosis
Fortunately, none of the above are an inevitable part of training for a longer distance race. The key to avoiding injury, says Dr. Kienstra, is to progress at a steady, gradual pace and make sure to listen to your body as you go. “There’s not a perfect strategy that works for everyone,” she says. “That’s why I recommend assessing how you feel. If you get aches and pains, you need to reexamine what you’re doing.”
Training to prevent training injuries
As you begin your march toward your goal race, these other tips and tricks will help:
Spend some time on your shoes.
The American Academy of Pediatrics notes that a pair of high-quality running shoes that fit properly are an overlooked step in preventing running injuries. Spend some time with a specialist at a running shoe store to find the right pair for you.
Follow a plan.
Whether you find a personal running coach or follow a reliable plan online, Dr. Kienstra says it’s best to follow the guidance of someone who knows what they’re doing as you begin stepping up your mileage.
The American Academy of Family Physicians says a good rule of thumb is to not increase your mileage by more than 10% each week. But Dr. Kienstra says that even this can be a bit much for some runners. That’s why she recommends listening to your body and responding appropriately.
Don’t run through pain.
If you have pain that’s getting worse or is not improving, it’s time to take a break and see a doctor. “Runners tend to wait until injuries are severe before seeking help because they are afraid the doctor will tell them they can't run,” says Dr. Kienstra. “But the earlier they get a diagnosis and start on treatment, the quicker they are able to get better, and the less disruptive the rehab process will be to their training.”
Strength training, stretching, and other forms of training can help tone your body in other ways and prevent overuse, repetitive motion, or other training injuries, says the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Finally, the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons notes that many cramps and other injuries while long-distance running are due to inadequate hydration. They recommend drinking 10 to 15 ounces of fluid prior to running and every 20 to 30 minutes while running.
The final push for marathon training
Ultimately, running a long-distance race is a noble goal that can have big-time benefits for your health and well-being. The key, says Dr. Kienstra, is to approach the challenge intelligently and gradually. If you notice any issues along the way, make sure you take the right healing approach to prevent the problem from getting worse.
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.