As the weather starts to cool down, more and more runners turn their attention to longer races. But this year has been different. Perhaps this was the year you set your new year’s resolution to finally complete a marathon and cross it off your bucket list, only to find those plans seemingly dashed by the onset of COVID-19.

At first glance, it might seem that a global pandemic has foiled those plans for the foreseeable future. For now, we can participate in virtual races and hit the pavement on our own. But there’s no need to give up on your big, in-person race plans, though! One day—hopefully soon—we can get back to running races and marathons alongside our fellow runners.

Optimism aside, training on your own with no race date in sight can be hard. What’s there to work towards? This can be a hard time for runners. You might feel discouraged without races to keep you motivated.

True Sports is offering up some tips to keep you on track to train for a marathon and ensure you feel just as driven as you do in the weeks leading up to a normal race day. This way, you’ll be race-ready when the time is right.

Map Out Your Course from the Beginning

Are you planning to run your own marathon this year? Chart your course when you’re getting started so you can incorporate the same kinds of terrain into your training runs. You don’t want to spend too much time running miles with zero elevation change only to try to run your race where there are lots of hills to overcome.

Even running a flat course has its own challenges. On a flat course, your stride is more repetitive, wearing out the same muscle groups, which causes more wear and tear on the same muscles, tendons, and joints.

It’s also helpful to know that given our current circumstances, you might have to do some training runs on a treadmill. Do you need to alter your incline throughout the run to accommodate for the kinds of elevation changes you’ll encounter on your run?

When your “race day” rolls around, leave supplies for yourself along the way. What might you want to set out?

…Vaseline for chafing and sunscreen

…Energy gels and bars

…Water

And in 2020? It’s a good idea to set out some fresh masks along the way as well.

Don’t Ignore What Your Body is Saying

Whether you’re new to running or have been running for years, our advice remains the same:

Listen to your body.

Sure, some aches and pains are normal, especially if you’re just starting out or have been spending more time than usual on the couch or hunched over your desk. But it’s also important to be aware of what your body is trying to tell you.

The last portion of your training can be tough, which is why it’s so important to taper your runs in the weeks before your race, build up your mileage slowly, and take appropriate rest days. Otherwise, you might be looking at overuse injuries like:

…Runner’s knee (patellofemoral pain syndrome, or PFPS)

…Achilles tendonitis

…Hamstring issues

…Plantar fasciitis

…Shin splints

…Iliotibial band syndrome

…Stress fractures

Take your time, rest when you need to, and consult with your physical therapist for exercises you can do to ease aches and pains before they become larger issues.

Try Cross-Training

Just as important as those long runs is incorporating shorter runs with dynamic warm-ups to keep your muscles fluid. You want to build up your entire body as you strengthen the muscles you use to run. Why is this so important?

…You’ll balance out your muscle groups

…You can improve your cardiovascular health

…You’ll lower your chance of injury

…You’ll give yourself a mental break from running

Popular cross-training activities include things like swimming, water running, cycling, pilates, walking rowing, strength training, cross-country skiing, skating, and yoga.

Work on Mobility and Flexibility

Recovery days are just as important as your long runs. One of the best ways to keep injuries at bay is to fully embrace recovery days. On the days you aren’t running, you can incorporate icing, self-massage, strength training and foam rolling into your routine.

Also, build plenty of time for stretching and mobility into your recovery regimen throughout the week. Stiff muscles won’t hold up against a 26-mile run. And when you’re in actual pain, take full days off to give your body a chance to rest and heal.

Never Skip the Warm-Up or Cool-Down

The warming up and cooling down portions of your runs are essential. It’s another way to prevent injury and get the most out of your race.

A great warm-up gives your heart, lungs, muscles, and tendons time to prepare for exertion. While your warm-up may last anywhere between 5 minutes and an hour, you should incorporate loosening exercises like light jogging or stretching.

After your workout, your cool-down helps your body recover and prepare for your next workout. A good cool-down can include around 10 minutes of jogging or light running so your heart and lungs can slowly return to a normal rate. This should be followed by stretching and massage, while your muscles are still warm and loose. 

Stretching after a run is the key to preparing your body for your next workout. Hold each stretch for 15-20 seconds, and do a few stretches per muscle group.

Do a Dress Rehearsal

You don’t want to get 10 miles into a marathon and realize you’re wearing an uncomfortable running top, or socks that slip down. If you have the time, a “dress rehearsal run” is the perfect opportunity to ensure you’re completely ready for your race. The best time to do this is 4 or 5 days before race day.

What should you think about during your practice run?

…Ensuring your clothes and shoes are a good fit

…Preparing mentally for your upcoming race day

…Locking in your intended pace

…Running at the same time of day as the start of your marathon

The more prepared you are, the more confident, strong, and relaxed you’ll feel on race day.

Focus on Your Mindset

If running a marathon was easy, more people would do it. You aren’t just training your body to run 26.2 miles, you’re also training your brain. Perhaps you’ve heard the old saying about running a marathon:

“Run the first part with your head, the middle part with your personality, and the last part with your heart.” -Mike Fanelli 

Spend time building a positive mindset: Visualize yourself having a great race, and crossing the finish line as you set a new personal record.

And remember: Your marathon isn’t just about one race day; it’s a celebration of all the miles you’ve run and all the hard work you’ve done to get you there!

Get Support from True Sports Physical Therapy

If you start to experience pain, discomfort, or lack of movement during your training and it’s keeping you from reaching your marathon goals, we want to help. At True Sports Physical Therapy, we’re committed to providing exceptional care for all athletes, whether you are running your first marathon or your 100th. Contact our running specialist, Dr Mary Miller for more info!

A pandemic shouldn’t keep you from reaching your running goals. Pain shouldn’t keep you from reaching them either. While we’ll treat you and your injuries with individualized care, we’ll ensure you get the same elite level of care that all of our patients receive. Now more than ever, we want you to feel healthy and strong while you pursue the things you love. Reach out to us today, and let’s talk about your marathon goals!