You can see it now – running victoriously across the finish line of a marathon, a prestigious medal draped around your neck. All your months of hard work and dedication have paid off. Your bucket-list item has been checked.
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
But how do you get to the finish line feeling healthy and happy? When so much can go wrong during 26.2 miles, how do you finish a marathon without injury?
Heed these tips from physical therapist, Monica Betchker, PT.
- Give yourself enough time to train
One of the easiest ways to cause injury is not giving yourself enough time to train and rushing into a race that you aren’t ready for. Your body needs adequate time to train for the distance. Generally speaking, most marathon training plans range from 12 to 20 weeks. How long you should train depends on your fitness level and goal. “Training plans are typically broken out into beginner, intermediate and advanced options,” says Betchker. “Figure out where you are in those categories first.” If you have a particular race you’d like to run, figure out the date and work backwards for how much time you’ll need to train. You’ll thank yourself later!
- Don’t build weekly mileage too quickly (or too slowly)
It’s important to know your base mileage to avoid injury. For someone considering a marathon or looking to “just finish,” about 15 miles per week is typically a good base to begin training. For advanced runners, their base could be upwards of 40 miles per week. The general rule of thumb is to increase weekly mileage by about 10% each week during training. But Betchker says this might be too easy for some. “We find that for most people, the 10% rule might not be challenging enough,” she notes. In fact, that rule is typically observed for advanced runners – like someone training for an ultra-marathon and already running 50+ miles a week. A new runner with a strong base or an intermediate runner could likely increase their weekly mileage by 20 to 25%. It all boils down to how you feel after each week.
- Have your running form evaluated
When you get your running form evaluated, a gait analysis is performed. This analysis is an assessment of a runner’s biomechanical movement and uncovers how efficiently you are moving. Everything from where you land on your foot, to your knee placement, to your posture is examined. The assessment has been proven to increase efficiency and decrease chance of injury by correcting bad form. This type of evaluation can be beneficial for both novice and veteran runners and is appropriate for any distance.
- Ensure proper footwear
The right shoes and socks are critical to injury prevention when training for a marathon. Too small of shoes could cause a blister or rub the wrong way on your ankle. Betchker advises to get a comprehensive fitting when it comes to running shoes. Fittings are offered through physical therapy and are often performed at running specialty stores. “You can predispose yourself to injury if your shoes aren’t right,” says Betchker. “Everything from muscle strains, to stress factors, to blisters.” And when it comes to socks? Seamless, synthetic material is your best bet. Think: cotton is rotten, so look for moisture wicking material. Good running shoes and socks are worth the investment. Your feet need to be happy for 26.2 miles!
- Be sure to cross train
Marathon training in particular can increase your chance of developing an overuse injury. Adding in cross training allows for more recovery time between high-mileage running. It also helps your body adapt to your training and strengthens muscles. Biking and swimming are great options. The elliptical is especially beneficial for those who might already be injured because it mirrors the movement of running, but without the impact. Betchker advises that your effort level of cross training should match your effort level of running. “Try to keep the ratios similar,” she says. “If it takes you an hour to run 5 miles than you should do an hour of cross training.”
- Warm up and cool down correctly
A five-to-10-minute warm up and cool down is usually the sweet spot for most people. When warming up, you’re just trying to get the body used to the movement, says Betchker. Dynamic stretching (movement that mimics running) is great for warm-ups. And when it comes to cool down, it’s important because it lowers your heart rate, allows you to start to relax and starts the elimination process of lactic acid in your muscles. And don’t forget that foam roller! Rollers help increase blood flow after long runs, which means a better range of motion and less chance of injury.