Training for a marthon? Be sure to listen to what your body is telling you

  If you’re training for a fall marathon, chances are you’re in the middle of some of the toughest weeks of running. Successive weekends of back-to-back three-hour runs plus the normal mid-week training miles combine to play havoc with your body. Fatigue sets in and the body starts talking back.Some aches and pains are to be expected. After all, you’re pushing your body to accomplish something extraordinary — running 42 kilometres. But when you start experiencing more than just the normal post-run tenderness and fatigue, it’s time to start paying attention to what your body is trying to tell you.Sometimes the pain is such that you have no choice but to listen, which can strike panic in the hearts of runners who worry they won’t make it to the starting line.But according to Reed Ferber, director of the University of Calgary’s Running Injury Clinic and associate professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology, getting help is the smartest thing you can do. But many runners leave their smarts behind when it comes to respecting what their body is telling them.“Most runners decide they have an injury when they can’t run,” Ferber said. “But in reality most have been injured for weeks.”Anna Fraenkel, physiotherapist at Kinatex Snowdon, says many runners have muscle imbalances that don’t manifest into pain or injury until the training miles start to build. So, while you may have trained pain-free for a half marathon, the extra miles associated with the full marathon can be your undoing.Also to blame is too quick a buildup in training mileage.“Runners following a four-month training program usually start getting injured around Week 11,” Ferber said. “Eighty per cent of those injuries are to the knee and below -50 per cent of which are patella femoral (non-specific knee pain in and around the knee cap) and ITBS (iliotibial band syndrome – a fibrous piece of soft tissue that runs from the hip to just below the knee that when inflamed causes pain on the outside of the knee).”Many four-month training programs have too large a jump in mileage during the tough weeks when runners are trying to build endurance. This doesn’t leave enough time for the body to adapt.“Never increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 per cent,” said Ferber, who points to many popular training programs that increase long runs from 19 to 27 kilometres (an increase of 42 per cent) during a two-week period.As soon as you start feeling more than just muscle fatigue during or after your run, start making changes to your training. Scale back your mileage, take an extra day off between workouts, avoid hills or give up speed work for a week or so.Don’t worry about losing the fitness you’ve gained up until now. Ferber said it takes six weeks of total rest before you lose the fitness you’ve gained. In fact, many runners have been forced to take a couple of weeks off during their marathon training only to return and run as well or better than before their injury.He also suggests following a plan of active rest while your body recovers. “Run, swim, bike, lift weights -it all helps.”Also important in managing the tough training weeks is having a good recovery plan. Reduce inflammation by icing anything that hurts immediately after your run and stay away from warm showers, baths or hot tubs no matter how good they feel (heat stimulates blood flow, which increases swelling). If you’re really brave, jump into a tub filled with ice water after each long run. It will be 10 of the longest minutes of your life, but consider it short term pain for long term gain.Buy a foam roller and use it to massage tight muscles and connective tissue. Roll away tightness in your quads, hamstrings, calves and iliotibial band. Do it after you’ve completed your normal post-run stretching routine which, by the way, should become a part of your daily routine -running or not.If pain persists, see a health care professional who has experience working with runners (try your local sports medicine clinic) -even if just to get a tune-up and a refresher course on post-run stretching and recovery. There’s no downside to getting a little TLC heading into your pre-race taper. And whatever you do, don’t self diagnose and treat through the Internet.“Lots of treatment is very specific,” warned Fraenkel, who has plenty of stories about runners with an accumulation of small problems that can’t be treated through one specific modality.Ferber said that with the right kind of intervention, most runners can finish the marathon, though they may have to modify their goals. Managing an injury may mean taking walk breaks or reducing your speed -even on race day. “If you planned on qualifying for Boston, you may have to give up that goal.”So don’t panic if all of a sudden you have pain where you’ve never had pain before. The marathon is still within reach for smart runners who address the problem sooner rather than later.Ferber’s advice is: “Listen to your body and be reasonable.”

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