Marathon Training Is not a Sprint

A smart plan can go a long way when it comes to running a long way. Experts at the UConn Institute for Sports Medicine can help with training to both reduce injury risk and improve performance.

A smart plan can go a long way when it comes to running a long way.

“While you might be able to get generalized running tips from a YouTube video or a running magazine, when it comes to something that’s specific to you, we take a comprehensive approach. ” — Laurie Devaney, UConn Institute for Sports Medicine

Experts from the UConn Institute for Sports Medicine remind those who are preparing for a distance running event – for example, the UConn Health Half Marathon taking place Saturday, June 5 – that a well-thought-out training regimen that starts early and builds gradually is the way to go for best results.

Too Much Too Soon

“What’s your weekly plan? When are your recovery or rest days? When are you going on longer runs, shorter runs? Because you have to stretch yourself out, build an aerobic base,” says Dr. Matthew Hall, UConn Health sports medicine physician who specializes in injury prevention and co-director of the Institute for Sports Medicine. “Appropriate recovery days are part of what your plan is so that you’re building up over time. And then usually in that time before the race, taking it down a little bit, kind of build up and then have a little lull right before your race.”

Running-related injuries often are the result of training errors. Part of the plan is to be aware of your current fitness level before trying to do too much too quickly.

“It’s not unusual for people to just sign up for a race because their friends are doing it, and they really don’t have that foundation,” says Laurie Devaney, physical therapist, athletic trainer, and co-director of the Institute for Sports Medicine. “Increase in volume and intensity too soon is probably one of the more common training errors that we see.”

Laurie Devaney portrait
Laurie Devaney is a physical therapist, athletic trainer, and co-director of the UConn Institute for Sports Medicine. (File photo)

Devaney and other experts in the institute’s running clinic recommend a weekly increase in mileage of no more than 10% while training. Following that pattern may mean getting started several months in advance of competitive race day in order to have that gradual buildup and minimize injury risk.

Monotony Can Be Limiting

Mixing up the training routine has its benefits.

“Another common mistake is running the same route, same direction, same surface all the time, so there’s no variability,” Devaney says. “Some variability is good, and some variety in what you do also may prevent overload types of injuries.”

Nutrition and Hydration

These can be easy to overlook.

“A big mistake is, if you start to increase your volume and your mileage over time, your number of calories needs to increase in order to maintain and support that,” Hall says. “So if you continue at that same level over time, your weight will start to drop and you may be more susceptible to stress fracture and other injuries.”

And drinking enough water is something that starts well before you get to the starting line.

“Hydration is hard,” Hall says. “Hydration for the race begins the day before the race. It’s not just during. If you’re not well tanked up and hydrated going into the race, you’re going to be already too far behind.”

Dr. Matthew Hall portrait no white coat
Dr. Matthew Hall is a sports medicine physician and co-director of the UConn Institute for Sports Medicine. (Photo by Sean Flynn)

There’s also the danger of overcompensating on race day.

“You get inexperienced runners, in a longer race, who get hyponatremia, or low blood sodium, because they tend to drink too much at every water stop and they’re not well conditioned,” Hall says. “They take in too much water and they get hyponatremia, and they come across the finish line and they’re confused, and they’re susceptible to other problems that could require medical treatment.”

Respect the Thermometer

Fluctuating temperatures can impact your training, performance, and safety.

“In the days before, you have to know potentially what kind of weather, and are you acclimatized to that particular type of temperature,” Hall says. “Heat illness – heat stroke, heat exhaustion -could be an issue.”

Specific to You

Whether they’re preparing for a competitive race or training for the start of their sports season, athletes can turn to the UConn Institute for Sports Medicine for a customized evaluation and treatment plan that can mitigate injury risk and optimize performance.

“They’re going to get a biomechanical evaluation that tells us about some of the mechanical factors that might contribute to injury risk,” Devaney says. “But then we’re also going to do a full clinical exam so that we can really correlate what we’ve found there, and then use that information to give them an individualized program.

“While you might be able to get generalized running tips from a YouTube video or a running magazine, when it comes to something that’s specific to you, we take a comprehensive approach. We can identify all those pieces of the puzzle and have a good solid program to offer people in a manner that really aligns with both our clinical expertise as well as best practices according to what we know from the research.”

Learn more about the UConn Institute for Sports Medicine.

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