Go from a couch potato to a marathon contender — with the right plan.
By Mary Mciver Puthawala, RN, BSN
Ever dreamed of completing a 26.2- mile marathon but felt like it was impossible to achieve? Well, marathon runner and running teacher Douglas Tumen, DPM, FACFAS, a podiatrist at HealthAlliance Hospitals, a member of the Westchester Medical Center Health Network, (WMCHealth), has some news for you: “If you have good health, a good training plan, and you can stick to it, you can run a marathon, too!” Here, Dr. Tumen, along with Amy Gutman, MD, Medical Director of the Emergency Department, at HealthAlliance Hospital: Broadway Campus, share their tips on training safely for your first marathon or half-marathon.
Build a Good Foundation
First, carefully consider how you would start. “You can’t just buy a new pair of shoes and train,” advises Dr. Tumen. “You have to ‘build a base,’ and that takes awhile.” He recommends beginning to run three to four times a week, for a minimum of four weeks, before even thinking about training for an event.
Respect Your Body
Proper nutrition, hydration, and rest all can play an important part in helping our bodies adapt to running. Cross-training in another sport, such as swimming, is important, too. Dr. Gutman advises runners to be cautious of heat-related illnesses, even on the coolest days. “You can get heat stroke on a very mild day,” she says. Also, she advises being very careful to remain well hydrated, as dehydration can bring on dangerous heart arrhythmias.
Increase Distance Gradually
Once you’re comfortable running three to four miles, increase the distance of your longest weekly run by no more than 10 percent per week, allowing yourself at least 12 to 16 weeks to train for a half-marathon. When Dr. Tumen taught marathon-training classes, he also recommended a training partner, to help runners commit to a schedule. Keeping a mileage log is critical.
Go Slow to Go Fast
Marathon trainees should have at least a year’s worth of running under their belts. So, if you’ve been training since last fall, you can shoot for a race this fall. “Your long runs shouldn’t be more than 40 percent of your weekly mileage,” says Dr. Tumen. In other words, if you run 40 miles a week, don’t run more than 16 miles in one day. Also, he notes, “avoid doing speed workouts in the beginning of your training.”
Pay Attention to Pain
Stress fractures are another potential hazard for marathon trainers, says Dr. Tumen. This hairline crack in one of the bones that run along the top of the foot can occur, especially if the beginner runner is training too aggressively. The warning signs of a stress fracture are pain and swelling on the top of the foot. Seek professional consultation to avoid further injury. According to Dr. Gutman, another hazard to marathoners is a condition called rhabdomyolysis, a kidney condition that results when muscles break down after a demanding workout. “It can be hard to distinguish if you feel bad and it’s normal, or you feel bad because something’s wrong,” says Dr. Gutman. “If you feel bad and notice that either you’re not urinating or the urine has a brown color, head directly to the ER. With rhabdomyolysis, early treatment is critical to avoid kidney failure.”
But why run a marathon at all? There are other ways to pursue fitness. “It’s a dream, and it’s fun!” says Dr. Tumen, who has been a runner all his adult life. “Running has given me so much joy and pleasure. It changes your state of mind, keeps the mind and body healthy and keeps stress levels down. People will cheer and maybe join you. It’s a great thing to do!”