Stay injury-free while training and running your first marathon

Credit: Scott Barbour/Allsport
The marathon is still considered the ultimate accomplishment in running. Throughout the country, the number of first-time participants increases every year.

Committing to a marathon is a challenge that should be approached with a specific training program.

Many first-time marathon runners fail at some point during the course of their training regimen due to a variety of reasons ranging from lack of motivation to acute or overuse injuries, however.

At 800 to 2,000 foot-strikes per mile, a 150-pound runner exerts approximately 150 tons of force per foot per mile, which adds up to 3,930 tons of force per foot over the course of a marathon. With these factors in mind, it is easy to understand why 35 percent of first-time marathoners are unable to complete the race due to injury.

Knee injuries are the most common reason for withdrawal from the race. Training errors include rapid increase in mileage, too much hill or speed work and overtraining.

The concept of adaptation is all-important. Muscles, tendons, ligaments and bone undergo constant structural and biomechanical changes in adaptation to stress. Should a runner increase their work too quickly, these structures will not have time to adapt and this increased stress oftentimes leads to injuries.

Mileage should be increased gradually, no more than 10 percent from one week to the next. It takes the body 48 hours to recover from a run both in replacing glycogen stores and also remodeling soft tissue and bone. Therefore the importance of light days, or rest days, to recover from hard and/or long workouts, cannot be overemphasized.

Continuous training on hard pavement, slanted or banked surfaces and hills subjects the body to a great deal of stress. It is better to vary running surfaces and try to keep to unpaved roads, if at all possible.

Footwear is of obvious importance. Today, there are numerous brands of excellent running shoes. Inspect your shoes for signs of breakdown. Depending upon your body weight and your foot biomechanics, a shoe should last you anywhere from 300 to 500 miles.

The midsole is the first area to "go" in most cases (it is the compressible portion between the sole of the shoe and the cloth upper). This part of the shoe has the most shock-absorbing properties. Signs of wear are loss of compressibility, thickness differences in the outside sole edges and overall sole wear. Many believe that it is best to have alternate pairs of running shoes to increase the retention of shock-absorbing properties.

Smart training: smart planning

Smart training begins with smart planning. Below are some tips to plan a training schedule for first-time marathoners that can be modified according to the individual and his/her experience.

1. Preparation time. If you are: currently averaging 30 minutes per run; go on occasional long runs of at least one hour and have run in 10K races, you can prepare for your first marathon with a three-month training schedule. If not, allow yourself four to six months.

2. Design your schedule with runs averaging 45 minutes on days 1 to 5. Day 6 is for your long runs the most important part of your training schedule. The runs should increase on a weekly basis by no more than 10 percent of the previous week's long run mileage (or time). The pace should be somewhat slower than your expected marathon pace. The longest run should be two weeks prior to the date of the race.

3. Cross-train or take a day off on the days after your long runs.

4. Starting two weeks before the marathon, gradually decrease your training mileage. The last week's mileage should be minimal.

5. Spice up your training schedule by interspersing short-term goal races, such as a 10K in the first month, a half-marathon in the third month, etc.

6. Running with a partner who runs at the same pace oftentimes increases enjoyment and motivation. (This can be extremely helpful on those cold rainy days.)

7. Pay attention to signals you are receiving from your body. If you feel excessively tired or sore, take it easy. You are more injury-prone when fatigued.

8. After the marathon, take it easy and let yourself recover. A good rule of thumb is to allow yourself one easy, or rest day, for each marathon mile.

Mark D. Wagner, M.D. is the Medical Director of the Seattle Marathon and is with the Sports Medicine Clinic in the Ballard area of Seattle, (206) 782-3383. Karl Watts, M.D. also contributed

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