“Rejoice, we’ve won” The messenger said and died.
Legend says that Pheidippides ran from Athens to Sparta (and back) before running from Marathon to Athens. That’s more than 325 miles in distance.
Today, more than 1000 marathons are held in the memory of Pheidippides. And they are growing in popularity, which is evident from the growing numbers of participants. It’s a good thing because running has tremendous benefits.
However, long-distance running can take its toll on your body.
You can face problems like blisters, black toenails, or dehydration. Not to forget the serious injuries like runner’s knee, hamstring, shin splints, sprains, or cramps.
There’s no need to worry though. Most of these problems can be prevented.
This guide is meant to help you avoid injuries as you start to prepare for a marathon or long-distance running.
Long-distance running is more like a habit. You must let it develop slowly and gradually. It demands the kind of physical and mental toughness one cannot achieve in a matter of days. Other than building the stamina, you will gradually discover the things like the right stride, the right pace, shoes, and diet that suits you.
There’s a fine line between training hard and overtraining.
You need to push yourself but don’t push your body too far. Train hard but give your muscles time to adapt and recover. Most injuries happen because runners do not allow their bodies to recover.
Don’t try to add mileage or improve your time rapidly.
You will often hear the 10% rule that suggests 10% increase in distance or mileage on a weekly basis. However, that is not a hard and fast rule. You can add just 2 percent or 5 percent and that is perfectly fine.
Be Realistic in Goal setting:
Unrealistic goals set you up for failure and the frustration often leads to injuries.
Most beginners get carried away and set unrealistic distance or time goals. The body fails to sustain the sudden load and gives way.
I usually recommend 5 – 6 months of training before the marathon. So, you don’t need to run 5 or 10 miles right from the start. Start from reasonable distances like 2k or 3k, and increase with the passage of time.
Even if you are preparing for a marathon i.e. 26.2 miles, you don’t need to cover the same distance very often in your practice sessions.
Inconsistency will not only thwart your progress, it will make you vulnerable to injuries. It’s very important to be consistent. Some runners skip training days because they are busy, tired, or bored. And then, they try to make up by training too hard. You risk injuries by not letting your body adapt.
Other than the consistency in training, it is equally important to adopt an active lifestyle. If you are sitting all day and then going for a long run, it will be very tough for your mind and body.
Rest is important:
By consistency, I don’t mean training every single day of the week and month. You need to have some rest days.
Even more important is a good night’s sleep. Your body needs sleep to recover from the “wear and tear” of workout. Not to forget that adequate sleep is necessary for HGH production. This Growth Hormone helps muscles and bones grow. It also stimulates cell reproduction and regeneration that is important for recovering from injuries.
Long distance running is all about finding the right balance.
First, find the right pace. Trying to run a long distance at your optimum speed will build fatigue and lead to injuries. Running too slow will make it hard to achieve your timing goals.
Track your speed as you run at your fastest for a mile or two. Your long distance pace will need to be a tad slower than that. Long strides will stretch your muscles and make you land hard. Short strides and easy pace will improve the efficiency and reduce the chances of injuries.
Relax and maintain a comfortable posture. Keep your arms close and don’t swing unnecessarily.
“Not over thinking is an expression of genius in sport” – Jay Schulkin
Running is meant to be something that alleviates stress, not build it. No matter how many bad practice days you have the last thing you want is the panic or frustration.
Just like the distance, mental toughness is something you will improve with the passage of time. Be patient and don’t overstrain to compensate for bad days.
Listen to your body:
It is important to know your limitations. Running with a minor injury will usually lead to a major one.
Running is a process that requires a lot of muscles, joints, and bones to work together. Your feet alone have 26 bones and more than 100 muscles. If there’s a problem with any of them, and you are not allowing it to heal, other muscles or joints will have to make up for that, resulting in undue stress, and more injuries.
Take a break when you suspect a problem like pain or inflammation and take precautionary measures.
Warm-up and stretching:
Most of us live a sedentary lifestyle.
It’s good if you are raring to go but sitting all day and going straight for the 5k run is not a wise idea. Prepare yourself before you start. Walk or jog at a leisurely pace to warm-up. Stretch your muscles to increase flexibility and improve posture.
Spending just 10 – 15 minutes on the preparation and warm-up will save you from a lot of injuries.
Don’t expect your running shoes to fix all issues. However, right shoes are important because a wrong fit or type of shoes can lead to injuries.
Choosing the right Shoes:
The best running shoes will differ from one person to another. You will be advised specific types of shoes according to your arch type or pronation pattern. However, you shouldn’t choose the shoes based on a simple wet-test. A pair of shoes might feel comfortable in the store but it’s hard to tell if it will feel equally good after some miles. It’s better to spend some time on reading running shoe reviews before making a decision.
Change your shoes after 450 – 500 miles. However, don’t go into a marathon or long run with a brand new shoe.
As earlier mentioned, injuries are not cured or prevented by changing shoes. If you think your shoes are causing injuries or pain, consult a podiatrist or biomechanics expert to get expert advice.
Next is the apparel.
Choose apparel that will keep you from getting too cold or too warm. For summer, use lightweight, comfortable clothes. Avoid fabrics that absorb moisture. It’s worth investing on a tech-shirt (made with synthetic material). For winters, you will need tights, full sleeve tech shirt, headband, and a running jacket.
More than 50% of our body is water. Naturally, the excess or deficiency of water can cause problems. It is important to stay hydrated, especially in the hot and humid weather.
Drink two glasses of water an hour before you run. You may drink around 8 – 10 ounce after every 15 – 20 minutes during the run. Sports drinks or gels can also be used during long runs or marathons. Look for dehydration symptoms like cramps or dizziness. Your water requirement can increase or decrease depending on the time and weather.
Don’t drink too much water or you will risk injuries due to hyponatremia.
Coming to the food, it’s very important to give your body the right nourishment. Your body needs the energy to run, recover, and prepare for the next run.
The meals should be high in carbohydrates, especially a day or two before the long run. However, don’t fill yourself up right before the run. Eat some healthy snack right after the long run.
Sprains, strains, and cramps are part of the package. Some pain is inevitable. However, following these guidelines will save you from undue pain and suffering.