This spring, runners across the DMV area were delighted to see $140 missing from their bank accounts. Why? Because it meant they had secured a bib for the 2016 Marine Corps Marathon. The thing is that golden ticket in to MCM happened a while ago before the miles started to accumulate and the heat truly settled in.
If you are like most runners, you have a detailed plan on how you will grow that long run, power through those tempo sessions, and fine tune your mid-race refueling. Clearly, you are destined to crush it on October 30th.
That is, of course, if you make it to the start line. And, given the injury statistics, that’s actually a pretty big “if.” In any given year, 79% of runners suffer some sort of injury, and increased mileage is a major risk factor.
Not being able to train the way you wanted to (or perhaps even race at all) is a runner’s worst nightmare. How do you avoid that heartache? From day 1 (that’s today!), make sure your training plan includes the following non-running elements to minimize your injury risk.
- Be Proactive: Do Physical Therapy Exercises Before You Get Injured
If you have ever seen a physical therapist after getting injured, you know they will put you on a strict strength training regimen. Well guess what, those same exercises works just as well for injury prevention as they do for rehabilitation.
Therefore, make remedial PT exercises staples of your strength training routine. Since you will need to build endurance, aim for at least 15 reps per set. In addition, make sure you use a full range of motion.
Long distance runners should focus particularly on:
- Hips: Your hips are the real driving force behind your stride, and need a lot of attention. Make sure you hit all four directions (forward, back, out to the side and toward your midline).
- Hamstrings: Runners often have underactive and/or shortened hamstrings, which harms the kick-back of their strides. Adding hamstring curls to the mix will help remedy this.
- Glutes: Surprising to many, a lot of runners actually have weak glutes, putting them at risk for all sorts of trouble, including hip, back, and knee pain. Squats, deadlifts, and hip thrusts are trusted favorites when it comes to strengthening the glutes. These exercises come with the added benefit of also teaching your body to have your legs do work while at the same time keeping the core engaged (which is exactly what happens when you run).
- Core: The stability of your core can make or break your training. Exercises like scissor kicks and leg lifts will teach your body to keep your chest up while engaging the lower abs. And of course planks, with or without a partner.
Now, if you are worried about bulking up and having those big, chunky muscles slow you don’t – don’t be. Long-distance running (and other endurance sports) actually inhibits muscle growth, so your mass will be kept in check.
- Think Big Picture: Your Training Program is About More Than Exercise
Rest and recovery is the most overlooked component of training programs. That is a shame, because it is during your rest periods that you body adapts to the stress of exercise and grows stronger.
In addition to quality sleep (aim for at least 7 hours per night), there are two additional tools you should incorporate into your recovery routine.
First, befriend the foam roller. Make sure to roll out all angles of your thighs, legs, and glutes. If it hurts, it simply means you need to be doing more of it.
Second, consider investing in monthly or even bi-weekly sports massages in the months before the race. Not only will the massage therapist loosen you up and soothe muscle soreness, he or she can also help identify imbalances, tightness, and other issues before they become major problems.
- Pay Attention: Mindfulness is Not Just for Hippies
You are putting your body through a lot of new stresses, and injury can happen quickly when you don’t pay attention to how your body responds to that stress. Be mindful of what your body is telling you, both on your runs and after.
What does “being mindful” mean? Here are some suggestions:
Do a head-to-toe form check every mile. Are certain areas tensing up? Are you still landing as lightly as you did 5 miles ago? Are you activating your glutes?
- Turn the music off and listen to your breathing. Is it calm and controlled? How many steps are you taking per out-breath?
- Tune in to your feelings. Practice observing and regulating your emotions. This mental training will become extremely important on race day, especially at the start line. When that howitzer goes off, the last thing you want is for your pace to be subject to your emotions – they will certainly be running high!.
- If all else fails: outsource your mindfulness. Hire a running coach or personal trainer for an extra set of eyes. Good trainers will pay close attention to those all-important details and give you prompt notice when something is off.
Training for – and racing – the Marine Corps Marathon is not an everyday occurrence. And a special event deserves special attention and investment. Therefore, remember the non-running components of your training. A well-balanced program including strength training, disciplined recovery, and mindfulness will get you to the start line injury-free and ready to rock.
As a child, Elizabeth belonged to the what’s-the-least-I-can-get-away-with crowd in PE class. When she got older, she dabbled with cardio and overly-restrictive dieting. It wasn’t until later that she found her real passion: weightlifting. Today, she boasts some seriously strong and healthy curves, and infects her clients with her passion for getting stronger, standing taller, and developing lean, healthy muscle in a safe way. Elizabeth works one-on-one with personal training clients and leads small group training sessions at ADR Fitness.