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Key Components of how Dr. Sarah Developed her Marathon Plan

About a year ago, I was challenged to run a half marathon by a friend. At the time, I swore I’d never do a full marathon. But, here I am – signed up, qualified, registration paid, hotel room booked – about to ease into the first few days of the official mileage plan for the Chicago marathon.

Beyond the logistical details of lodging, parking, and the like (which I personally have a strong dislike for), there is a lot I have done to prepare for the Chicago marathon despite the fact that race day is October 8th. And, yes – you read that correctly. It’s April when I’m writing this, but I’ve already spent a considerable amount of time preparing.

When I reflect on what I’ve done since January (yes, it’s truly been that long), here’s the key components of what I’ve done –

  1. Invested in two pairs of running shoes
  2. Hired a physical therapist (who has done multiple marathons) to write my training program
  3. Consistently ran 2-3x/week since January
  4. Saw a pelvic floor physical therapist to fix an injury that surfaced during my running this past fall

 

Why Prepare So Much for Marathon Training?

It may seem a bit crazy that I’ve done all that (and my husband would strongly agree with that statement). After all, race day is six months off! Here’s the thing though – as a physical therapist who has treated a lot of distance runners – I know a lot can go wrong as you near race day.

The problem is that the issues typically don’t start to surface until your mileage starts to ramp up. Unfortunately, that’s exactly when you don’t want things to go wrong. It’s a lot harder to fix an injury when your weekly mileage is north of 30 miles compared to when it’s 10-15 miles.

And, from my professional education, I also know there’s a lot you can do to prevent things from going wrong. That’s where all the seemingly crazy preparation strategies come in. We’re going to tackle the what, why, and how of each of those strategies. That way, if you decide to become a crazy runner like myself, you can prepare for your race with a solid plan.

 

Invest in Two Pairs of Running Shoes

This seems pretty obvious. However, there are some nuances here. Your two pairs of shoes should be different. They can be different in heel-toe drop, cushioning, or fit. In this situation, having a couple factors that are different is good. I got a pair of Altras, which have a zero drop (no change in distance from the ground between your toes and heel). And, I got a pair of Hokas with a 4mm drop (my heels are 4mm further away from the ground than my toes). The fit of each shoe is also different – the Hokas are more narrow and the Altras have a wider toe box.

 

Why Get Two Pairs of Shoes?

Running is repetitive. You’re essentially doing a single leg mini squat each time your foot hits the ground. On your long runs, you’re doing that up to 3-4 hours. Because running is so repetitive, it lends itself (very easily unfortunately) to overuse injuries.

Intentionally wearing different shoes decreases the repetitive nature of running. My body absorbs the impact in my Hokas differently than it does in my Altras. This means instead of getting 2 million mini squats one way, I’m getting 1 million mini squats one way and 1 million mini squats a different way. (These numbers are made up, but you get the point. You’re doing less of the same thing, which helps prevent overuse injuries).

marathon

How Do You Pick Your Shoes?

You’ll find a theme in this blog post. That theme is that preparing for a marathon isn’t something you can just go out and do on your own. (Well, you can, it just is much less likely to go well). About half of runners who train for a marathon report an injury. But, you can significantly decrease your injury risk – it just often requires getting some help from others.

Anyways, back to shoes! I recommend going to a store that specializes in running shoes, like Performance Running Outfitters. (This is where I go and, no, I don’t get any kickbacks for sending people there. I just believe in their product that much). The individuals who work there probably know a lot more about shoes than you do and can help you find what you need.

Hire a Professional to Tell You What to Run Prior to the Marathon

Similar to the last marathon-prep tip, this seems pretty obvious. Find someone who knows more than you do and pay them to write you a running plan that fits with your schedule. For me, this meant emailing a physical therapist I know (who has also done quite a few marathons) and asking for help.

Why Pay Someone?

I’m not going to lie – I tried to write my own plan at first. After all, I had written my own half marathon training plan and I’ve taken quite a bit of continuing education in regards to running and preventing injuries. However, when I started getting in the weeds of the longer runs, arranging runs around a two-week vacation, and figuring out when to switch from 3 days of running per week to 4, I quickly realized I was in over my head.

There’s a lot of nuance that goes into a marathon training plan and I didn’t want to get injured because I didn’t know what I was doing. To me, it was worth investing some money to know that I was setting myself up for success as best as I could. If I wrote my own plan, got injured along the way, and couldn’t compete the way I wanted to, I would be incredibly frustrated with myself. So, I didn’t write my own plan.

How Do You Find Someone?

Finding someone who can help you can be tricky. The individual I used was Rachel Selina. I’m not linking her instagram profile because links can change, but if you search for her, you’ll find her. She’s smart, she’s got personal and professional experience, and she knows what she’s doing.

If you prefer to use someone else, that’s completely fine. There’s plenty of qualified individuals out there. The one thing I would recommend against is finding a program using your favorite internet search engine. All the runners I’ve treated for running-related injuries have found their running program on the internet.

Train for the Marathon Training

Training for marathon training looks like regularly running before marathon training starts. By regularly training, I mean running multiple times per week for a couple (2-4) months before your training plan begins.

Why Run Just to Run More?

Similar to how the foundation is arguably the most important part of the house, a solid running foundation is key to a successful running plan where mileage builds. Your body can take multiple months to fully adapt to a stimulus. This means if you don’t run regularly before building mileage, you can quickly end up in a situation where your mileage is increasing faster than your body can tolerate it. And yes, this can happen even if you follow the rule of 10%.

What Does Running Before the Marathon Training Look Like?

If you’re preparing for a marathon, the two months before mileage increases, averaging 3 runs and 12-15 miles per week is a good foundation. And, before those two months, spending another two months running 2x/week with 8-10 miles per week builds an even better foundation.

That’s why I’ve been running since January. And, not going to lie, I feel pretty solid as I’m approaching the time where miles build. I’m holding the pace I want (8:45-9:00 minute miles) for my longer runs (8-12 miles now). While I know the mileage increases will be challenging, I feel confident that the plan is do-able (at least I do now – maybe don’t ask me in four months)!

 

Fix Any Injuries You Have Now

For me (and this still feels a bit embarrassing because I’ve never had kids, but in effort to help decrease the taboo around the subject) this meant getting pelvic floor physical therapy. No, I wasn’t peeing my pants. But, I did have a colossal pain in my ass.

The problem was the outside of my hip wasn’t strong enough to handle the volume of running I did last fall. This caused my pelvic floor to become overactive in an attempt to help stabilize my pelvis. The tightness and overactivity within the pelvic floor muscles caused me a fair bit of pain.

 

Why Fix Things First?

As a physical therapist, I cannot count the amount of times I’ve seen things get worse not better as individuals pick up training volume or intensity. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why individuals end up in our office. What gets left unchecked rarely spontaneously resolves. Instead (myself included sometimes) we just ignore it until we can no longer ignore it. Then, when we get help, it often takes longer to resolve the problem than it would have, if we would have gotten help sooner.

So, if you’re about to increase running distance, prepare for a CrossFit competition, or pick up a new sport, and you have discomfort or pain, I’d highly recommend getting it fixed sooner, not later. The last thing I wanted was to get to my 18 and 20 mile runs and be unable to finish them (or be unable to finish the marathon!) because I chose ignorance on the front end.

 

How Do You Get Help?

Well, you’re reading a blog post written by a pretty dang good physical therapist (that’s my biased opinion at least). In all seriousness though, I will do a shameless plug here – if you’re an athlete who has pain or incontinence and wants to do what makes you happy without your symptoms, you’ve found your people. Schedule a free Discovery Visit to see if we’re a good fit to help you reach your goals.

 

So, is Dr. Sarah Crazy for Doing all this Marathon Prep?

If you ask her husband (even though she’s explained all this to him), he’ll still say yes. But, he’ll say yes because she decided running a marathon is a good idea, not because she’s doing all this preparation.

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