Finishing A Marathon Begins By Starting It


I know. It sounds like one of those home-spun metaphors you see overlaid on some karmic image – the kind of thing you can’t move for when all you really want to do is check out your Twitter feed.

It has the ring of a philosophical, euphemistic call to action when contemplating one of life’s big challenges, the sort of thing one might chant like a mantra before tackling the rats’ nest of wires behind the television or tidying up a teenager’s bedroom.

But actually, I mean it literally. I really am talking about running for 26.219 miles in running shoes.

People who are new to running often have a simplistic approach: the basic idea, the conclude, is to run as often as possible and on each run, try to go a little bit further than they did the last time. In this way, the sorry heap of human flesh that started its training by getting 200 yards before vomiting into a bush can be transformed into a finely-tuned running machine after a few months.

This, though, is a fantasy that only happens in Rocky III, and only then if you have Eye of The Tiger on your running playlist.

The biggest challenges when it comes to running a marathon

As any veteran runner will tell you, the toughest part of any marathon is managing to arrive on the starting line – because running is brutal on your joints and so your training is one long minefield of potential injuries.

Despite what you might think, your success is not in going through the wall at mile 13 (though total respect to those who do), it’s in being fit enough to start mile 1.

So how do you avoid injury if you want to train for a long-distance run?

The most common physical injuries in running are those sustained to the knees and feet and, in speed runners, hamstrings. Think about it for a moment – there’s the near-total bodyweight of a single human being repeatedly crushing cartilage, tendon and muscle, over and over and over and over again. Mile after endless mile.

It’s no wonder many former athletes spend their retirement dealing with chronic physical damage.

But the condition that sidelines the majority of runners is actually sensitivity or irritation. What we might call ‘niggling’ injuries. The sort that hurt when we train but don’t necessarily bother us when we’re living life normally.

How you run – the actual physical process of putting one foot in front of the other quickly, will affect the odds of you suffering some sort of physical break down that could end your chances of making that throng at the starting line.

Many physiotherapists – ourselves included – now offer gait analysis to identify how your gait might compromise your physical resilience and then offer guidance on how to rectify any issues in an attempt to reduce the risk of injury.

It’s also important to have the right footwear and support, of course.

Beyond that (and as with all things) the secret is in finding a balance.

Strength training can help. Working sensibly with weights and doing basic exercises like sit-ups and press-ups can improve your core strength and help you to keep your posture right while running.

Similarly, making sure you don’t overdo things along the way is a vital lesson to take on board. Adding lots of miles to make up for the sessions you miss over Christmas or when it snows will make very little difference to your ability to complete the race, but could be the straw that breaks the camel’s back with regard to your physical fitness.

And that also goes for how you build up stamina. If you want to train for longer or run more miles, then reduce speed and intensity to allow your body to adapt to those changes. As a general rule, changing one variable at a time is a sensible approach to your training, since it gives you the time to incorporate it properly into an established routine.

So how to build up those extra miles? A good rule of thumb is to add 5-10% mileage each week. So if you’re running 10 miles one day, don’t suddenly decide you’re going to do 12 the next (a 20% increase for those struggling with the maths). Instead, aim to be doing 11 at the end of the week. The extra 5 miles over the course of the week will add to your stamina, but it won’t be a sudden shock to your body.

And if you want to be really safe, run the same distance every day one week in four.

Beyond that, eat and sleep well, as both can affect your performance and health.

It’s impossible to guarantee you won’t suffer an injury, even if you take really good care of yourself. But taking a sensible approach will give you the best chance of being able to take the tape and the glory at the end of that long run.

If you’d like to speak to us about gait analysis or the steps you can take to protect yourself whilst exercising – or if you have an injury and you’d like to find out more about how we can help with your recovery, please get in touch.

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