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Optimizing Your Marathon Training

Posted 3/23/2016 by UHBlog

Are you healthy enough to train for the big race? Schedule a physical today.

Optimizing Your Marathon Training

Whether you’re training for the Cleveland Marathon – taking place on May 15 – or another race, it’s time to lace up your shoes and head to your favorite park or trail.

“If you’re trying to beef up your fitness level to run a marathon, I recommend 18 weeks of training,” says certified running coach Jordan Smith, ACSM, RRCA, who has completed two marathons and at least 13 half marathons. “You’re never too old to start running.”

Smith, who works at the Fitness Center at University Hospitals Avon Health Center, writes long-distance training programs for clients preparing for marathons and other organized runs. She says completing 26.2 miles requires commitment and focused workouts.

Here are Smith’s 14 tips for optimizing your marathon training:

  1. Get real – “If you’ve never been a runner, start with (entering) a 5K, then a 10K, then a half marathon,” she says. “Don’t run a marathon right away.”
    Set a goal of finishing your first race – even if that means walking a bit. At subsequent races, strive to beat your initial time or perhaps eliminate walking parts of it.
  2. Warm up – Sprinting from the get-go increases the chance of injury. Spend a few minutes doing dynamic movements (like twists, lunges or squats) or walking. Begin running slowly, then gradually increase your speed.
  3. Pace yourself – If you already run, begin upping your mileage to build endurance. Just starting? Alternate walking with running. As you become more fit, decrease the walking and increase the running. Eventually, you won’t need to walk as much – or at all.
  4. Cool it – Steadily bringing down your heart rate after running is as important as gradually increasing it at the beginning of your workout. Breathing should return to normal following five to 10 minutes of slow walking.
  5. Stretch – “Stretching after running is important, but you want to do a cool down, then stretch,” Smith says. “Stretching should be at least 10 minutes. If you are in a time crunch, focus on stretching large muscle groups.”
  6. Don’t overdo it – Overtraining – which can include running too many miles, too intensely or too frequently – can lead to burnout or injury.
    “I’ve overtrained myself and was in a walking boot last summer,” Smith says. “Listen to your body. It will tell you warning signs before it’s too late.”
    These may include sore or pulled muscles, heel pain or fatigue. Overtraining may lead to irritability, insomnia, loss of appetite and waning motivation.
  7. Ditch the music – Fast tunes can keep you revved, but can also endanger your well-being.
    “It’s a safety issue if you’re running outside because you can’t hear what’s going on in your surroundings,” Smith says. “You also can’t listen to your body if you’re listening to music. Music drowns out what your body is telling you, so you may not feel aches and pains.”
  8. Heed those twinges – They’re a sure sign of overtraining. Rest for a day or two, apply ice or cross train (see below).
    “If it lingers, see your doctor to make you don’t have a stress fracture or tore something,” she says.
  9. Cross train – Alternate running with other exercises, such as swimming, bicycling, yoga or working out on an elliptical machine. Include strength training, which helps prevent muscular injuries in your quadriceps, hamstrings and stomach.
  10. Shoe up – Buy new shoes every 300 to 500 miles. Smith advises patronizing a store that specializes in fitting running shoes.
  11. Buddy up – Running with like-minded people keeps you motivated and accountable.
  12. Refuel and rehydrate – Smith refers clients to a registered dietitian for specific recommendations, but advises clients to eat a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and some carbohydrates and to drink plenty of water.
    “Don’t wait until you’re thirsty because, by then, you’re already dehydrated,” she says.
  13. Sleep – Your body and mind need the recovery time.
  14. Taper down – Don’t run the length of a marathon as “practice” for the big day.
    “You want to slowly decrease your mileage, so you’re nice and recovered before the race,” Smith says, adding a training run shouldn’t exceed 20 miles. “If you train for 18 weeks and decrease your mileage three weeks before the race, your body will recover and you’ll have the stamina to finish the marathon.”

Jordan Smith, ACSM, RRCA is a certified running coach and certified personal trainer at the Fitness Center at University Hospitals Avon Health Center. You can request an appointment with Smith or any health care provider online.

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