We can all thank the recent good weather and ample spring sunshine for getting us (back) outdoors. Something about that fresh air and warmth just brings out the inner-exerciser in all of us; doesn’t it? At least that’s the hope. And if you don’t hear your running shoes calling your name, signing up for a spring or summer 5K may be the motivation you need.
“There is no denying that running is great exercise and a race is a great way to measure your improvements,” says Becky Thompson, PT, avid runner and running specialist with GMC’s Sports Medicine program. “But, running a race is a goal, not a starting point. In order to prevent injuries and actually enjoy the race (yes—it is possible), you’ve got to be realistic and set yourself up for success, and that starts with training.”
Preparation, preparation, preparation
Whether you’re an avid runner, a weekend warrior or new to the running scene, it’s important to remember that preparation is key to a healthy and successful race. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to simply cross the finish line, beat last year’s 10K time or qualify for a marathon; a proper training schedule is a must.
Before you start pounding the pavement, Thompson suggests starting with the basics – proper form and footwear.
Every runner has a unique gait and stride length, body type and level of flexibility. A gait analysis and running assessment determines areas of improvement and proper form – both important for getting started and staying on track. Once you’ve got those two areas covered, make sure you’ve got the correct shoes and you’re almost ready to hit the ground running.
There’s just one more step – choosing a distance and training schedule. Whether you’re running a 5K, 10K, half-marathon or a full, 26.2, you’ve got to give yourself time to get ready for race day. “Race preparation is more than just upping your mileage every week,” explains Thompson. “It’s also strength training, cross-training, a well-balanced diet, run recovery and listening to your body. Missing out on any of these things can impact your race.”
Insider tips from GMC’s Go-To Expert
To help determine which distance and training plan works for you, Thompson provides tips and tricks to getting ready for a range of distances from your first 5K to a marathon.
Rehab and rest injuries. Take care of any lingering pain issues prior to training. Otherwise, those issues will only worsen with increased intensity and mileage. If you experience any atypical pain, take 3 days off at the onset. This could be your body’s way of telling you something isn’t quite right. A little rest can go a long way.
Tools of the trade. As with any sport, proper technique and tools are paramount to staying healthy and running successfully. An ideal stride is 180 steps per minute. Don’t neglect your core, glutes, quads, hamstrings and hips when training – these muscles are an integral part of proper running form.
Does the shoe fit? Be sure to get properly fitting shoes and replace them every 350 – 500 miles. Shoes wear differently for everyone, be sure to keep an eye on this. Ill-fitting or worn-out shoes can lead to poor form, over/under compensation and injury.
Build up a base. Whether you’re a novice or a regular, building up your mileage and your body’s tolerance to the pounding is important. According to Becky, this will change depending on your unique starting point, but realistic expectations should be set when determining distance. Before considering a marathon, you should be an established runner, meaning you should be able to run up to an hour at a time without struggle and 25-45 miles per week.
Slow and steady. Pacing yourself means more than just staying steady during a race. A gradual build-up of intensity, strength and mileage greatly reduces the risk for running injury. It doesn’t matter what level runner you are, a slow and steady pace is the best way to go. Follow the 10% rule – increase mileage by no more than 10% each week.
Food is fuel. Keep in mind that food is fuel for your body. Keep your fuel at a premium level with whole foods – fruits, veggies, lean protein – and less processed foods. As race day draws near, add a few more carbs to your diet the week of or a couple weeks out; the night before isn’t the time to carb-load or eat anything out of the ordinary.
Refuel and recover. Always refuel and let your body recover after a moderate/hard run. Don’t sit on the couch, even though you may feel like you need to. Low intensity workouts like yoga, spin and swimming are great recovery activities because they don’t pound your body like running. They help stretch muscles and workout any kinks in between runs.
Remember, injury prevention and successful racing is all about preparation. “If you decided to take up swimming, you would probably take some swim lessons to gain proper form and get the right suit before beginning,” says Thompson. “Why should running be any different?”
Find your stride
Running is far more than just lacing up your running shoes and heading outside. To help you successfully and safely achieve your running goals, GMC’s experts are prepared to help. Whether you’re an avid runner or just starting out, there is a service just for you. Learn more about our running program at gwinnettmedicalcenter.org/run.