Mile After Mile: When You Should Ease Up on Your Marathon Training
The coveted 26.2: Many people, whether seasoned runners or racing newbies, are
allured by the marathon. Some hope to cross it off their bucket list, others do it to come
home with a shiny new PR (personal record), while some people simply want to claim bragging rights.
But hold up! While many people get hooked once they first experience a runner’s high – those
feel-good chemicals released in the brain while pushing your body to its limits – that elation
can lead to too much of a good thing.http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/how-to-achieve-a-runners-high In fact, marathon runners are especially vulnerable to
exercise addiction.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23329605 Think of running like medication: People use it to stay healthy and prevent a
handful to chronic illnesses. But like with a drug, there is a chance of overdosing. Even
without the risk of addiction, marathon training puts a ton of stress on the body, especially
since most running plans are in the 16– to 20–week range. Research suggests the benefit of physical
exercise has its limits, and overdoing it can lead to weakened heart health and even tamper with longevity.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3538475/
If marathon training is approached the wrong way, it can lead to some serious health hazards, not to mention
the risk of not making it to the starting line.
Of course, runners can still enjoy that high (and a shiny new medal).
It’s all about understanding the warning signs of overuse or overtraining. In 2013,
there were 541,000 marathon finishers in the U.S. – an all-time high.http://www.runningusa.org/index.cfm?fuseaction=news.details&ArticleId=332 If done with the right
attitude and precautions, a finish line can definitely be in your future.
So how do runners train hard but not too hard? How do you know when you’re
pushing your body past its limits? We break down the dangers of overdoing it, plus offer smart training tips.
How Much Is Too Much?
To start off, many running problems stem from overtraining,
an almost impossible-to-avoid symptom when on the journey to a 26.2.
It’s a good idea to be able to identify the signs of overtraining as soon as they strike and take some much needed and well-deserved rest.
The tricky part about understanding “how much is too much” is that the optimal
level of exercise for each person is relative and fluctuates over time. The big rule of
thumb is to listen to your body to avoid any of the symptoms described below.http://www.active.com/triathlon/articles/listen-to-your-body-to-avoid-injury-part-i-873696
The facts below are based on scientific research, but every injury or sign of physical
and mental stress from marathon training should be brought up with your clinician.
Muscle strain: Muscle swelling or bruising could be a red flag for a muscle strain.
Also known as a pulled muscle, this pesky pain refers to the tearing of muscle tendons and fibers
attached to a muscle. Sometimes bruising or even local bleeding occurs because a torn muscle can
also damage tiny blood vessels.http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Sprains_and_strains?open The best treatment for a strained, pulled, or torn muscle is rest combined with ice and heat.
Joint pain: Joint pain is discomfort that comes from – you guessed it – a joint,
or the point where two or more bones meet in the body. In runners, joint problems are common
in knees, the spine, ankles, hips, and even the big toe. The jury is still out if distance
running (such as marathon training) actually increases the chances of joint problems. In fact,
one study claims endurance running doesn't up the chances of joint issues in the knees and hips.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16790540
Still, it’s something to be conscious of, so take note of swelling, which is the biggest sign of
joint pain. To ensure joints stay healthy, avoid pounding on hard surfaces (try trail running),
maintain proper running form, and wear the right sneakers.
Runner’s knee: Many people complain that long bouts of running can be really bad for the knees.http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/phys-ed-do-marathons-wreck-your-knees/
There is a good amount of conflicting research on the long-term effects of running on the knees, but it is
safe to say that many runners have experienced “runner’s knee” – a tender pain right at the kneecap.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2556152/
One culprit is repeated pounding on pavement (especially downhill running), and another cause could be weak hips.
The best way to deal with this pain is to ease up on the mileage for a few days, or run on softer surfaces if it’s near peak week in your training cycle.
Plantar fasciitis: The Plantar fascia is a band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes,
and is very vulnerable to injury – especially when logging many miles every week. If the fascia becomes inflamed,
you’ll feel the annoying pain right on the bottom of the foot. The best way to treat plantar fasciitis is to wear
supportive shoes with extra cushion. Or to help stretch the heel out, roll a tennis ball over the ball of the foot.http://running.competitor.com/2013/03/injury-prevention/five-do-it-yourself-remedies-for-plantar-fasciitis_50264
Some doctors also recommend night splints.
Shin splints: Most runners of any distance and skill level have probably experienced the nagging
and stabbing pain of shin splints. Many marathon trainers experience this pain since running down hills puts
extra force on the shin’s tibialis muscle.http://www.shape.com/fitness/cardio/hill-running-5-reasons-love-incline Technically speaking, shin splints are an inflammation of the
muscles and tendons covering the shinbone. A great way to treat the ache is to ice them for 20 minutes after a run.http://www.active.com/running/articles/shin-splints-here-s-10-tips-for-staying-pain-free
While there is a laundry list of potential running injuries from marathon training, the
above-mentioned are the most common and treatable with rest and rehabilitation. These next
two running woes are not as likely, but are important to recognize especially if you’re a serious endurance athlete:
Oxidative stress: All types of exercise cause a bit of oxidative stress, which is when cells are
damaged from free radicals released in the body. In small doses, oxidative stress is actually good for the
body: The body’s response to oxidative stress is to produce antioxidants to defend itself. But some research
suggests long bouts of intense running can cause too much oxidative stress, which means recovery
is key for extreme runners.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25826051 Warning signs include extreme fatigue, brain fog or memory loss, and a decrease in eyesight.
Blood poisoning: New research shows extreme and intense exercise can cause blood poisoning,
a condition in which bacteria leaks into the bloodstream.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150616093646.htm Signs of blood poisoning include an
increased heart rate, high fever, and chills. The best way to diagnose it is a blood or urine test.http://www.healthline.com/health/blood-poisoning#Overview1
Typically athletes have to run much longer than 26 miles for consecutive days for blood poisoning to occur.
Social woes: The symptom that’s mentioned less at the doctor’s office is how marathon training can
get in the way of everything else in your life. Aside from the physical time it takes to run (especially long runs),
marathon training means you may have to choose training over social activities, cut back on alcohol,
require more sleep, and be fatigued. It may get really hard at times to choose a five-mile run over a
dinner date with friends, or call it quits at the bar before everyone else. But the reality of marathon
training is that it’s riddled with sacrifices to ensure you hit the line healthy and ready to run.
How to Train Smart
Not every person training for a marathon is going to have to deal with the multiple physical
and emotional pains of endurance running. Even something as committed as marathon training can be
balanced. We’ve broken down the best ways to combat and avoid potential health hazards when hitting the pavement.
Make running social: While long distance running can have social drawbacks,
there is a bright side. The running community is known for its warm embrace, and it’s
fairly simple to find local running groups, online forums, and even apps so you don’t
need to go it alone. Consider asking a friend to run the first few miles with you on a
Sunday long run, or do slow recovery runs with pals so you can simultaneously catch up on each
other’s lives. There’s nothing quite like a post-run cold beer or smoothie, so treat yourself
by ending a run at a bar or other favorite stop every now and then.
Cross train: A foolproof way to reduce all of the hard pounding on your muscles and
still get in additional cardio is to cross train. This includes many activities such as biking,
swimming, rowing, or even paddle boarding. Schedule at least one cross-training workout per week
to give your running muscles some rest while still improving cardio and strength.http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/16-cross-training-activities-to-try
Strength train: A runner’s secret ingredient to increased performance
and decreased injury risk is to spend some time in the weight room. The benefits
of strength training for runners are huge and complement a running training plan quite well.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18978605
Weak muscles and joints (especially the hips) are the sneaky culprits of aches in other parts
of the body, so strengthen them to help keep injuries at bay. Start with these strength exercises.
Follow a plan: Consult experts to help create a smart marathon plan for you.
A crucial component of a running plan is a safe increase in mileage so the body isn’t
introduced to too much, too soon. The famous 10 percent rule in running is a great guideline to follow.http://www.runnersworld.com/running-tips/the-10-percent-rule
Simply put, no runner should increase their mileage by more than 10 percent from the week prior.
A smart running plan should also have a healthy dose of cross training, speed workouts, hill repeats,
strength sessions, and, yes, an ample amount of rest. For starters, check out Hal Higdon’s marathon
training guides, Jeff Galloway’s plans, and guides provided by Runner’s World.
Eat well: Bad habits in the kitchen can leave you feeling pretty crummy
when working out. It’s crucial for marathon runners to stick to a diet with a hefty
amount of vitamins, minerals, and calories, including carbohydrates.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14971430 Food is fuel, and
carbs, protein, and fat are necessary for muscle repair and growth.
Rest: Every day of marathon training has its purpose – rest included.
Rest days are essential for the body to rebuild the muscle tissue that breaks down
with every run and strength workout.https://runningscience.com.au/why-is-rest-so-important/ There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the
number of days off a runner should take each week, but one to two days is a good rule of thumb. Listen to your body and take rest when you need it.
Mix it up: A common cause of overtraining is repetitive movements (i.e. running day after day). A nice
rule to follow is to wait two days before hitting the same muscle groups again.http://www.active.com/running/articles/7-ways-runners-can-avoid-overtraining So that means avoiding hill
repeats two days in a row, or skipping back-to-back tempo workouts. If you ran with a similar intensity multiple
days in a row, squeeze in a yoga class or swim session to break things up.
Change your shoes: There’s no way around it, especially when training for a
marathon: Replace running shoes every 300 to 500 miles.http://www.runnersworld.com/running-shoes/running-shoe-questions Those miles can creep up on you,
so keep a training log to ensure you know when it’s time to purchase a new pair. It’s also
essential to run in the right shoe for you, so stop by your local running store and talk to an expert.
A shoe expert will examine your foot and the way you run on a treadmill to figure out what type of shoe
fits your foot best. It’s useful to try on lots of different pairs and feel comfortable knowing you made the right choice.
Get enough sleep: If there’s one thing we can’t emphasize enough,
it’s getting enough slumber to maximize recovery time and reduce fatigue. Sleep is necessary
for the body to heal and be energized enough to meet weekly mileage goals.http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4008810/ Most people need
seven to nine hours a night, but if you’re marathon training, it’s normal to need a few more.http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/sleep-athletic-performance
On some nights, try adding in an hour more than you normally would, or squeeze in an afternoon nap.
To fall asleep with ease, stick to a regular schedule. Strive to go to bed and wake up at the same
time every night and morning. And watch out for runs too late in the evening: Late-night workouts can make it difficult to fall asleep.http://www.cnn.com/2014/04/22/health/upwave-night-exercise/
Don’t forget the taper: No runner can forget when it’s time to taper. Tapering is when runners start to
cut back on mileage so the body can fully recover and prepare for the big race day. Ending those long, 20–mile weekend
runs sounds like a reward, but many runners struggle with tapering after following such a regimented
routine.http://running.competitor.com/2014/03/training/the-art-of-the-marathon-taper_57754 (It may also feel scary to cut back so close to race day.) Still, it’s necessary to stay healthy for the big day.
In general, overtraining requires some serious time to recover (we’re talking weeks) so
make sure you see a sports-medicine specialist if the miles have taken you too far. And after
you’ve crossed the finish line, give your body ample time to recover before lacing up the sneakers again.
Experts say you should give your body at least one week to rest after completing a marathon.http://running.competitor.com/2013/09/training/the-importance-of-recovery-after-a-marathon_59478
At the end of the day, your best tool is your runner’s intuition. Stick to what your body is tells you,
speak with your doctor, and try to enjoy the journey to a happy and healthy marathon day.