Running a marathon like OC’s requires preparation


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 ankle and 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 calf muscles.

• 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.