Many of my patients are runners eager to challenge themselves, so I’ve compiled a list of tips for first-time marathon runners. The key to avoiding injury and to successfully completing a first marathon is preparation.
Before the marathon
Training. You might think that to prepare for a marathon, you’ll need to simply run greater distances. While increasing your on-the-road endurance should be part of your training, don’t neglect gym exercises. Working with a trainer on a routine designed to strengthen your calves, work on hip extensions and other strength training will help you prepare. Yoga, biking/spinning and pool running are additional ways to become more fit and improve your flexibility.
Also, work on interval workouts at race pace or longer runs that finish at your goal pace the last couple of miles when your legs are tired. And be sure to scope out the marathon course ahead of time, as well.
Suit up. Proper footwear is a must, of course, and not just shoes, but socks as well.
Good socks should protect your feet, not slip or bunch up and should wick away moisture away from your feet. If you know which socks you’ll wear on marathon day, be sure to bring a pair when trying on new shoes.
When purchasing shoes, go at the end of the day when your feet swell the most to ensure you get a proper fit. Wear the shoes for at least one extended run of 10 miles or more to ensure a proper fit before marathon day.
Your clothing should be made of fabric that wicks away sweat and should be a something you’ve worn on a long run before, that you know won’t irritate your skin. Don’t be tempted to wear the give-away marathon T-shirt. Its cotton construction will stifle your skin.
Running analysis. Do you experience pain after or during a run? I often suggest that my patients work with one of our physical therapists to perform a thorough running analysis (also sometimes called a gait analysis). This high-tech assessment can detect what, if any, physical issues might be causing pain. For example, the patient might be overpronating (rolling the foot toward the instep too much). Poor posture or subconscious bad habits could be to blame (leaning the torso forward or back too much, a stride that’s too short or too long, etc.). The running analysis is video recorded and a plan to remedy any problems is put in place. Often, the solution is as simple as pointing out and correcting posture or fitting the patient with orthotics to correct a pronation issue.
During the marathon
Hydrate. Be sure to drink plenty of non-caffeinated liquid prior to the marathon, and ensure you have adequate means to hydrate along the way. Find out ahead of time what organizers have planned to provide to runners. You don’t want to try an energy gel for the first time on marathon day and learn that it doesn’t agree with you.
Cramping? Stop and start stretching. A common problem for first-time marathon runners is lack of adequate hydration which results in cramping. If and when you start to cramp, just stop and take a moment to stretch while you hydrate. If you try to press on and keep going, the cramps are likely to worsen and you might need to stop and drop out completely, so taking a moment to stop and stretch while hydrating is a far better option.
After the marathon
Stretch. Another good tip for first-time marathon runners is to keep moving. You might feel like sitting down or even taking a nap, but your muscles will thank you later if you stretch or take a victory lap to cool down and keep your muscles loose.
Rehydrate and refuel. Sports drinks and gels are a good idea, but as soon as you think you can manage it, try to eat something. If you consume carbohydrates, along with some protein shortly after the race, you’ll be better able to refill your muscles’ primary energy stores of glycogen.
Run. That’s right. If you raced in the morning, take a short evening jog, otherwise, get back to it the next morning. Even a 10- or 20-minute run will help loosen your muscles and keep you from getting too stiff and sore. And don’t forget to stretch beforehand.