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How to train for a marathon and not get hurt

Dr. Jordan D. Metzl, sports medicine doctor and avid marathoner, shares his tips for proper training and injury prevention.
So you want to run a marathon....Photo: ISTOCK

Dr. Jordan D. Metzl believes every able-bodied person is capable of running a marathon in their lifetime. It all comes down to proper training and injury prevention. 

When we spoke with the sports medicine physician, he said roughly half of his patients at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Lenox Hill were runners coming in with stress fractures, “runner’s knee,” shin splits, and more common injuries they’d developed while hitting the pavement ahead of the New York City Marathon. 

A week out from the race, held on Sunday, November 5, we caught up with the sports doctor and avid marathoner (he has 34 under his belt) to get his tips on training, injury prevention, and last minute prep ahead of the big race. 

Follow a balanced training program 

Metzl says one of the keys to healthy marathon prep is following “a good balanced training program over a period of four to five months.” A common cause of injury, he says, is logging too many miles too soon. Instead, establish a base level of fitness and then gradually build up your distance over several months. 

The general format is to do a couple shorter runs during the week, and then a longer run on the weekend, increasing your mileage bit by bit. A few weeks could look like 5 miles-5 miles- 5 miles -10 miles, 5-5-5-12, etc., or, for more of a novice, 2-2-2-4, 2-2-2-5, etc. You can find plenty of training resources online at Runner’s World or New York City Road Runners.  

Finding a running partner or joining a running club — NYCRR has listings of local running groups — can keep you motivated and accountable. “Exercise compliance and enjoyment increases the more that you’re with somebody else,” Metzl says. 

Incorporate strength training into your routine 

Balancing out your running with cross training is essential, says the author of  “Dr. Jordan Metzl's Running Strong” and “Dr. Jordan Metzl's Workout Prescription.” Strengthening your muscles with plyometrics — bodyweight training exercises such as jump squats and burpees —  reduces your risk of getting hurt.

Metzl recommends adding plyometrics about two to three times a week to your regular running schedule. His program, Iron Strength Workout, available on DVD and online, details 20-30 minute strengthening exercises that you can do at home. He also recommends incorporating ten minutes of foam-rolling four or five times a week to help your muscles recover. 

If you are experiencing pain, Metzel says the biggest mistake is to push through it and ignore the warning signs. A good way to tell if it’s more than just soreness: “If the pain changes the way you move, you gotta get it checked out,” he advises. “If your body is telling you to back off, you gotta back off.” 

Tips for last minute prep 

If you’re running the race next week, the most important thing you can do between now and then is get plenty of rest. You should have already begun tapering your mileage a couple weeks back, so this week, you shouldn’t log more than five or six miles total. Nutrition-wise, stay hydrated and load up on healthy carbs. 

If you’re injured, make an appointment with an orthopedist to assess the severity — running with something like a stress fracture could cause longterm damage, while a calf strain or a minor case of shin splints is likely manageable with R.I.C.E. (rest, ice, compression and elevation), Metzl advises. 

 
 
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