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Health: Things to know before marathon training

Dr. Carrie Jaworski
Dr. Carrie Jaworski

If you’re dreaming about the starting line for the Oct. 9 Chicago marathon, wake up! The race may seem far off but runners interested in reaching this goal should start training now.

As you start logging miles with stiff joints and achy feet, you may be tempted to believe the old adage, “no pain, no gain.” But when it comes to marathon running, the truth is – your body knows best. Here are helpful tips to keep you healthy and motivated until the big day arrives:

Do

Listen to your body. If you wake up one morning and your legs are begging for a break, give them one. Muscle soreness is OK, but limping or wincing during training, or even the next day, is a sign that your body needs to rest – and, if the symptoms persist, you may need to be examined by a doctor.

Don’t

Take on more than you’re ready for. If you’re new to running, it’s best not to start by training for a marathon. Instead, try to ease into it by first training for a 5K or 10K. If you have run a marathon before, make sure you train appropriately for your level.

Do

Cross-train. For many runners, it can be challenging to break the routine of a daily run by trying something new, like yoga or weight training, but varying your activities greatly reduces the risk of injury. Using the same muscles in the same way on a regular basis can, over a period of time, cause both “overuse” injuries and lead to problems with weakness or inflexibility in the muscles that are being used less often. This is why flexibility and strength training are important cross-training methods that every runner should include in their workouts.

Don’t

Try to stick to a regimen that you can’t handle. If a plan says to run 15 miles one day but you’re not ready physically or mentally, it’s okay to take a break or to adjust your training plan. Ignoring your limits may cause an injury that could end your marathon hopes altogether.

Do

Have a recovery plan. After a long race, your body needs rest. It is normal to have some muscle soreness in the days following the event. Consider scheduling a massage, and give your body a week or two to recover before lacing up your running shoes again. After a marathon, runners may feel some disappointment now that the big goal is behind them. Take time to celebrate the major accomplishment of running a marathon, meet up with your running partners in the recovery weeks just to catch up and consider setting a new goal for the future.

As always, be sure to consult with your primary care physician before making significant changes to your exercise regimen, especially if you plan to run a marathon.

Remember that a 26.2 mile trek is no easy feat for novices and experts alike. Keep in mind that your body knows best, and listening to its signals when training or running can help to ensure an enjoyable marathon experience.

Carrie Jaworski, MD, is the director of primary care sports medicine at the NorthShore Orthopaedic Institute.

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