Michael Ramaeker, P.T., L.A.T.
Physical Therapy, Sports Medicine
You’ve thought about it for years, you’ve dreamed of crossing the finish line, it’s on your bucket list or it’s become a tradition. Picking a training plan for a marathon or other long-distance race depends a lot on your experience and fitness level, and it’s time to get real and be honest with yourself. For first-time marathon runners, Mike Ramaeker, board-certified specialist in sports physical therapy at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, says there are a couple of things to keep in mind.
First, can your body manage the stress?
“If you’re just getting off the couch and getting involved in a running program, you’re going to need a system screen from a physician to determine if you have the heart and lung capacity to do the activity,” Ramaeker says. That should be followed up with a visit to a physical therapist to see if your neuromusculoskeletal system can handle the rigors of running.”
Ramaeker recommends taking eight months to a year to go from couch to full marathon, so a shorter event, like a 5K or half-marathon, might be a wiser choice and more realistic goal.
If you have run a full marathon before, congratulations! However, there are a couple of reasons you might want to try a different plan this time around. A little variety can help maintain motivation, and if you encountered issues during your previous training or race, it’s time to shop around and find a plan that works best for you.
Secondly, your training program should include more than just a running schedule.
“Every running program should have a strength training component,” Ramaeker says. This will reduce the imposed loads on your body and prevent overuse injuries, such as tendonitis and stress fractures. Your plan also should include a recovery plan or built in rest days, so your body has time to rebuild before placing additional demands on it.
“That recovery program should also include nutrition and hydration recommendations,” Ramaeker says. “You are literally eating and drinking to drive the changes in your body to support running.”
Finally, as you start and progress with your training program, Ramaeker says don’t forget to listen to your body, as it often will talk to you — loud and clear. If you have swelling or pain that gets worse, don’t just power through and follow your plan. Get the problem checked out, and be prepared to adjust.
“Every plan is modifiable,” Ramaeker says.
Now, let’s lace up and get running.
Mike Ramaeker is a physical therapist and licensed athletic trainer in Physical Therapy and Sports Medicine at Mayo Clinic Health System in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.