Preparing to run a marathon takes months of practice and preparation. Now roughly halfway through training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, runners may start to feel the wear and tear building up. However, where do you draw the line between expected pain and something that indicates a problem?
Meg Sullivan, CARA‘s training program manager, said she has experienced enough injuries and pains to know what is normal during marathon training. Completing a marathon takes more than just a good pair of shoes and some luck. It also takes a good deal of perseverance.
“We are starting to get those comments that people are hurting a little bit,” Sullivan said. “They are worried about if they will be able to do this. This is when the higher mileage really kicks in and they have some big runs coming up.”
That sense of doubt and fatigue are normal, Sullivan said. While it’s smart to keep an eye on symptoms, more times than not these pains should do little to derail any training program. The important thing, Sullivan said, is to know what is a common ache and what can be a real injury. Noticing the difference usually comes down to the type and duration of pain. Dull pain or sore muscles are normal, but a shooting pain can cause real problems.
Denise Smith from Accelerated Rehab added that persistent pain should be monitored. For many new marathon runners, reaching a 13 mile training mark could be the most they have ever run, Smith said, so soreness is expected. However, a nagging injury could get worse with each mile and may need the help of an expert.
Differentiating between the two categories isn’t always easy, but each has certain signs that help distinguish it from the other. Smith said that if a pain begins to affect a runner’s day-to-day life outside of running it may be an injury. Sullivan said she has learned to implement a three-day rule when it comes to pain. Soreness, no matter the tenacity, should subside with three days of rest away from running. This amount of time allows the body to go through a full recovery cycle and repair for more work. If the pain returns after the break from running, there may be a more serious problem.
Running involves a degree of self-sufficiency, but this independence shouldn’t stop a runner from seeking help from a professional if injured. Smith said this is a common misconception. Most runners fear a doctor or therapist will tell them to stop running. However, seeking medical help can not only resolve the pain, but also can fix whatever caused it.
“You want to make sure you’re healthy and not running on an injury,” Smith said. “It’s ok to ask for help and it’s ok to seek counsel on your form or an injury that is getting progressively worse. Don’t be afraid to talk to a professional. I think so many people could do so well if they just listened to their body and change their form instead of running on an injury.”
Accelerated Rehab offers free injury screenings for runners. Smith said finding and fixing a runner’s form can be the key to getting back on track in time for the big race. CARA partners with NovaCare and offers its runners access to an injury hotline.
Fighting pain, even the expected kind, can happen both before and after the first sign of it occurs. Smith said implementing a dynamic stretching program along with proper hydration can prevent more significant injuries. Mixing that with a nutritional plan, a full night’s sleep and a strength program will keep the body stable.
A stick or foam roller can help with dull pains, Sullivan said. Mid-day stretching and light personal massages will also loosen up the muscles and help prevent scar tissue from building up. Even something as simple as applying ice to a sore area for 10 to 15 minutes can make a difference, Sullivan said.
“I get so afraid that people ignore stuff, then they actually run and injure themselves,” Smith said. “It’s ok to ask for help. Not everyone is going to pull you from running. That’s a runner’s biggest fear. You have a team that’s going to help you get through it.”