Contributor: Laura Goldberg, MD
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A long-distance running event such as a marathon is grueling, yet rewarding. Distance runners push the body’s limit to increase their exercise capacity. It is draining and often uncomfortable to challenge your body daily. But it should not cause pain, and you should not ignore recurrent pain or discomfort that lasts after adequate rest.
A common mistake is to wait until pain prevents training before seeking care. By then, prolonged time off often is necessary to heal. The American College of Sports Medicine reports that 50 to 70 percent of first-time marathoners drop out before their race.
Start from a base
Marathon training requires a good fitness base so that a gradual mileage increase of 10 percent per week will allow you to run 26 miles. If you currently run 10 miles per week, a gradual increase to 40 miles will take four months. Training errors such as too much too soon are the most common cause of injury. Following a well-recognized program will help you avoid pitfalls. However, injury may still occur. Injury timing and recognition are key factors for race-day readiness.
Begin cross-training as soon as you recognize an injury. If unsure, ask a sports medical professional for advice.
It is important to maintain your strength and endurance as much as you can while recovering. If you temporarily cannot run, low-impact cardio exercise such as biking or pool running can continue to improve exercise tolerance.
Once you can walk for 30 minutes without pain during or after, you can begin a slow, strategic return to pain-free running.
Running following an injury
Factors to consider when restarting training after injury:
- Injury severity (Did you cross-train?)
- Timing from race (Is there time to reach exercise tolerance?)
- Training errors (Scrutinize running form and training log.)
- Experience (New runners are more at-risk for recurrent injury due to form and training errors.)
Cross-training allows a speedier return. Still, you must be cautious. If you miss two weeks or more, consider restarting at 30 to 50 percent of your previous weekly mileage. If you missed more than six weeks, start with run/walk intervals. For example, walk 4 minutes and then jog 1 minute. Increase jogging intervals every other day, until you are able to jog for 30 minutes.
If at any point you feel pain, go back to pain-free walking or cross-training.
Do not push through the pain. As you increase your running, consider a biomechanical evaluation of your form. Form is difficult to properly assess until you can run comfortably. Injuries that prevent cross-training for more than two weeks cause the greatest loss, as it is difficult to recover your energy efficiency. You may still finish, but you likely will need to slow down your pace or walk.
Listen and respond to your body throughout training and recovery. Successful marathon training cannot be rushed. Have patience and your race day will come. Also, take precautions to prevent future injuries.
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