Are you Running the Marathon this Year?
JAKE FENECH – Physiotherapist & Running Enthusiast
The Malta Marathon, one of the major highlights in the running calendar every year. Runners train for months to prepare, but unfortunately this year’s run has been overshadowed by a sense of frustration and ambiguity.
The marathon brings with it a roller coaster of emotions – moments of fear, doubtfulness, excitement and pure euphoria especially when crossing the finish line. But can anyone run a marathon? The shorter 5km and 10km runs are achievable by most (with some training and good fitness), however running a 21k half marathon is a different story.
So what is a typical story that we hear in our clinic? – let’s look at Greg. Greg is a 37 year old office worker who enjoys a bit of running every now and then. In January he decided to take part in the Malta half-marathon after seeing an ad on Facebook, thinking ‘How hard can it be?’.
He starts off with some training with some easy jogs and 5km runs, and then slowly increases the distance every week. Then he does a long run of 17km one Sunday morning, a few weeks before the Marathon.
Greg is feeling confident thinking the last few kilometers will be all on adrenaline and he will make it to the finish. The big day arrives.Greg is buzzing full of energy, warming up in Mdina.
He looks down from the bastions down the length of the island, spotting Sliema in the distance and goes “Wow, I am going to run till there this morning!” Then bang, the gun goes and he fires down the streets of Mtarfa, ta Qali, Attard full of energy, bands playing by the side of the road, people cheering and up till now, all is well.
However, the crucial point in the marathon is actually at around 13km– this is the point that separates the seasoned runners who have taken time and energy to prepare, from the ones who are not well trained. Unfortunately, this is quite a tough part in the race, and Greg is faced with the daunting task of running the undulating Mriehel bypass, completely exposed to the elements only to then contend with the uphill of “Triq Dicembru 13” heading towards Floriana, an absolute leg killer.
When he thought it’s all over though, he was met with a steep downhill which led him to the uncharted territory of the last 4km right up to the finish line at Tigne. Somehow, out of pure will power, he crosses the finish line, gets his well deserved medal and banana and goes home.
That evening, as he scrolls through the race pictures, he thinks, “Next year I will train more!” The following day, Greg is still a bit sore but managing to walk. Greg walks into the office and gloats to Steven who, in the days preceding the race, said, “You are not gonna make it till the end”.
Over the moon Greg announces, “I am running again today”, only to suddenly be met with an excruciating pain coming from his ankle radiating up into the calf. He thinks he must have sprained it at some point and did not notice.
He takes it easy for the day and tries again the day after and the same. He repeats over and over again with the same result up to the point where walking becomes difficult and can’t manage anymore. He asks, “Why, did I not have any pain during the run. I did not fall. So why is this happening??”
Well this is due to a very simple principle – Overload. Long distance running takes a big toll on the body. Unfortunately at the physio clinic we see a lot of office workers who sit all day and then run in the weekend.
Usually they are motivated by the next race they signed up for, and do a couple of extra runs leading up to it. Unfortunately, this is not enough. The muscles that you need whilst running are completely different from the muscles you use whilst sitting (you are actually sitting on them!). This therefore creates quite a toll on the body and the intense overload will result in injuries.
This, coupled with a lack of experience on the start line, predisposes the athlete for injury. More often than not, a lack of preparedness leads to overload injuries,such as knee pain, patellar tendon pain (also knowns as runner’s knee), Achilles tendon pain and plantar fascia.
Tendon issues are tricky and way beyond the scope of this article. However, contrary to what most people think, resting in this situation is actually counterproductive. Active load management is the key. Needless to say, a full assessment needs to be carried to identify possible triggers which may predispose an athlete to injuries.
So how can you avoid this?
- Strengthening – Prepare your body and strengthen the right running muscles before you decide to run the marathon. It is an amazing experience, but quite a strain on your body if you are not well prepared for it.
- Active Rest – A common mistake is that runners rest completely when they have pain. Unfortunately any tendon pain does not improve with rest – it needs a gradual balance between rest and training, and a gradual progression of training is usually the key.
- Train smartly – start training early, build distances slowly and take time to recover. Allow your body to adapt and prepare. The body is amazing and can be trained to do (almost) anything – however respect the time frame.
- Cross train – please do not just run!! This is too intense on your joints and tendon. Make sure you are also cycling / swimming to work on endurance with less loading on your joints and also remember to work on strengthening your running leg muscles and your core.
- Sleep well – this is the way your body recovers – don’t underestimate the importance of sleep.
- Have a balanced diet – your diet needs to change to adapt for the new demands of your training routine.
- Enjoy it – running is beautiful and running the Marathon is an incredible experience. Enjoy every step and every race.
- Physiotherapy: If you have any injuries or queries, seek help from a physiotherapist. The earlier you seek help, the more likely the injury can be sorted with the right treatment / education and advice. Prevention is better than cure!