How to train safely for a marathon

with advice from Heidi Beasley, PT
and Lori Francoeur, PT, MSPT, CSCS

How to train safely for a marathon

As the fall marathon season approaches, with major races scheduled for Chicago on October 13 and New York on November 3, Physiquality will be publishing three consecutive posts on running and marathons. Our previous posts focused on choosing the right running shoe and getting more out of running with gait analysis by a physical therapist.

Running a marathon has become a common goal for even casual runners. Aside from giving runners a goal to work toward (and giving them a reason to continually train), it has become a sign of a Serious Runner, one who can complete the challenge of such a long-distance race. And while some people think training isn’t that important, most trainers agree that it takes months of steady preparation to ready your body for such a rigorous run.

“As soon as you sign up for your first marathon, your running transforms to actual training,” says Heidi Beasley, a physical therapist at Accelerated Rehab (a Physiquality member in Gilbert, Arizona). If you are new to the sport, she suggests, plan at least six months to complete your training; consistent runners should train for at least 10 weeks for a half marathon and 12-24 weeks for a full marathon. And any runner should check with her physician before engaging in training.

Running programs should progress your weekly mileage no more than 10 percent from week to week.According to Lori Francoeur, a physical therapist with Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy Centers (a Physiquality member with 18 locations throughout Arizona), running programs should progress your weekly mileage no more than 10 percent from week to week. However, she notes, “Any program should include a cutback week every four weeks to allow your body to rest and recover for the next increase in mileage. This cutback week allows you to recharge and helps ward off injury.”

When looking for a running plan, keep the following tips from Heidi in mind:

  • 75% of your runs should be at an “easy” conversational pace (e.g., you can talk easily while running), or 65-70% of your maximum heart rate.

  • To build strength, you will need to add several “hard” workouts into your training:

    • Speed work or intervals. This builds both cardiovascular and muscular strength.

    • Hill work. This builds up muscular strength, similar to weight training, and improves efficiency.

    • Long runs. This gets your entire body used to running for several hours at a time. This will also help you figure out your nutrition, hydration and bathroom logistics before race day.

If you have a heart monitor, many companies, like Physiquality partner Polar, have marathon training programs that you can download.Each long or hard run needs to be followed by an easy run to allow for muscle and tissue recovery. If you have a heart monitor, many have marathon training programs that you can download. Physiquality partner Polar has sample programs anyone can download here; you can learn more about Polar on the company’s Physiquality page.

Intense training also increases your chances of injury. Heidi notes that the easiest way to avoid injury is taking the proper steps to avoid it in the first place. She says, “Adhering to a training plan and purchasing the correct shoes for your biomechanics will go a long way in achieving this goal.” If you have an ache or pain that lasts more than two days, Lori adds, have it checked out by a physical therapist to ensure it does not turn into a training season–ending injury.

In the last few days before the race, Heidi encourages runners to be positive to calm anxieties. “Think of all the hard work and training you have logged to get to where you are,” she says. At this point, you should ease off of the training and get plenty of rest. Hydrate for several days before the marathon, and don’t add anything new into your diet. The night before, plan your prerace meal and lay out your clothes. And be sure to warm up the day of the big event!

For after the race, Lori advises getting plenty of sleep, staying hydrated and eating well, including carbs and protein. Muscle soreness and joint stiffness are very normal, she notes, so stay moving and walk a little after you finish. Most importantly, rest is definitely the key — and treating yourself to a massage several days post-race will help soothe those sore leg muscles.

Heidi Beasley, PT, is a physical therapist at Accelerated Rehab, a Physiquality network member in Gilbert, Arizona.
Lori Francoeur, PT, MSPT, CSCS Lori Francoeur, PT, MSPT, CSCS, is a physical therapist at the Ahwatukee location of Foothills Sports Medicine Physical Therapy Centers, a Physiquality member with 18 locations throughout Arizona. A certified strength and conditioning specialist, Lori has worked as a physical therapist for more than 10 years, specializing in orthopedic and sports-related injuries.

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For further information, look through our selection of articles on marathons, in addition to the below links:

Get more out of running with gait analysis by a physical therapist. Physiquality, August 15, 2013.

Choosing a running shoe. Physiquality, August 1, 2013.

Reynolds, Gretchen. Finding your ideal running form. New York Times, August 29, 2012.

Parker-Pope, Tara. Finding a sustainable running stride. New York Times, June 25, 2012.

Fell, James. Not motivated? Sign up for a race. Los Angeles Times, May 2, 2011.

Proper running techniques. Physiquality, April 16, 2012.

Target heart rate and estimated maximum heart rate. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, March 30, 2011.

Training plan bank. Polar.

Stinson, Barney. How to run a marathon. YouTube, November 26, 2009.

The material and information contained on this Web site is for information only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or consultation.

Consult your personal physician before beginning any exercise program or self-treatment.