Loudoun County, Va. — Mile 10…okay, just 16 miles to go. That’s just 4 miles, 4 times. I can do that. Mile 17…single digit miles to go…just 3 miles, 3 times. Easy. Mile 23…just about a 5K left. So close. Mile 25. Just 1.2 miles. That’s barely a lap around my block. We’re almost there!
I’ve never been a fan of numbers. But I have to say, when I was running my first marathon in April, numbers were all I could think about after a certain point. I started negotiating with myself because my body was so tired. I turned the remaining mileage amount into a smaller distance I could wrap my mind around. Hence, 16 miles was a casual 4 miles repeated 4 times.
Running a marathon has been on my fitness bucket list for years now, and I’m so happy I finally crossed it off. It was grueling. It was painful. It was definitely the hardest physical task I’ve ever done. But it was totally worth the sore muscles, the blistered feet and nightmares I now have about my foam roller. I have never felt prouder (or more relieved) crossing a finish line.
Hats off to you lifetime marathoners. I don’t yet have the urge to sign up for another one, but I can understand why some people do these races again and again and again. It was a whole new kind of workout for me and also a new kind of recovery.
Here are my biggest takeaways pre- and post-marathon…
TAKEAWAY #1: YOU HAVE TO STRETCH!
Every patient at Loudoun Sports Therapy Center hears these words many times throughout an appointment. I overhear the clinicians say this but have to admit, I don’t always practice what they preach.
The first time I ran a half marathon during my training, I ran it relatively cold. I did maybe two minutes worth of static stretches for my quads and hamstrings. About three miles in, my right hip flexor started burning. My calves also didn’t feel great. I pushed through the pain but my body didn’t feel like I’d been actively training. It was discouraging but also a good wake-up call that if I was going to run double that amount without injuring myself, I needed a strict stretching regimen.
I started doing dynamic stretching before every run regardless of the distance to properly warm up my whole body. Dynamic stretches stretch through movement and increase your muscles’ core temperature and gets your blood pumping. These stretches incorporate sport-specific movements to prepare your body for particular actions during the run.
My stretching routine went from about two minutes to more like 15 minutes. I stretched head to toe keeping in mind that when you run, you don’t just move your legs. You are pumping your arms so you need to warm up your shoulders and your neck; you are working your core and you are working your entire lower body. Every stretch involved movement. By the time I was running 20-plus miles at once for training, I could get through more than half of it before I started feeling any mild pain.
Stretching is just as important after you run. When I started taking this more seriously, I felt much better the days following my runs. Static stretching is the elongation of muscles during a period of rest. Static stretches help improve overall flexibility of a single muscle or muscle group at one time. These stretches decrease your core temperature and should be performed slowly. Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds and repeat them three times.
TAKEAWAY #2: YOU HAVE TO ADJUST YOUR STRENGTH TRAINING
This might seem like a no-brainer, but as someone who enjoys lifting weights and doing body weight workouts, I learned these don’t always mix well with long runs. The very first time I ran 20 miles, I nearly collapsed. Just ten miles in, I was exhausted. I had to stop and walk several times just to finish and my legs were so fatigued well before I hit the 20-mile mark.
The following Monday, I talked to one of my coworkers about it and they asked what else I had done that week. I gave them my list that included a high intensity interval training workout and two leg workouts. They gave me a look that said ‘no duh you were so exhausted’. They reminded me of how long it can take your body to fully recover from a workout. I had to tweak things and couldn’t do the same kinds of workouts one or even two days before a long run and expect to be galloping like a gazelle.
TAKEAWAY #3: HYDRATION, HYDRATION, HYDRATION!
Just like my stretching and training routines, I adopted a hydration routine too. I got a great ‘formula’ from LSTC’s owner, Mike Bills. The day before your race/workout/game, drink at least 8 ounces of water for every hour you will be doing that activity the following day. I drank five bottles of water the day before my marathon and know that made a huge difference in my performance.
Whether you are planning on running a marathon, a 5K or just hitting the pavement for fun, it’s critical to prepare and recover correctly. I’m thankful my coworkers are physical therapists and athletic trainers. They were all able to give me guidance and tough love during this training process to help me not only finish the marathon, but complete it injury-free and beat my practice marathon time.
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