Marathon Training & Quick Tips

Marathon Training in Grand Rapids

Is running a marathon on your bucket list? Right up there with writing a book, climbing a mountain, and jumping out of an airplane – it takes a lot to get there. If you’re one of the lucky ones to accomplish this incredible feat, you’ll join the mere 0.5 percent of the US population that actually completes a full marathon.

Northern’s co-owner and physical therapist, Gina Otterbein, recently completed the Boston Marathon for the second time! While running is now a core part of her lifestyle, it wasn’t always that way. Gina didn’t start running until she was in her 30’s, and even then, it was just a quick jog with the dog. Over time she came to really appreciate the sport and began training for her first marathon four years ago.

Marathon Training in Grand RapidsThe journey to Gina’s first 26.2 miles was never easy, but always worth it. Here is Gina’s list of everything you need to know to complete your first marathon.

Marathon Quick Tips

  • Many marathons have a cut-off time. Runners in the Boston Marathon have six hours to complete the course, after the last starter begins.
  • Get to the starting line early. If you need to take a quick pit stop get in line at least a half hour before the official start time because lines may be very long.
  • If you like  to run with music, find out in advance whether headphones are allowed on the course because not all marathons allow them.
  • Start out slowly and pace yourself. It’s easy to let adrenaline get the best of you, but starting out too fast is a rookie mistake.
  • If you have a friend or family member there to cheer you on, find out in advance where they’ll be. Spotting that support system along the way can be a huge boost when you really need it.

Marathon Training

Training for a marathon typically takes anywhere from 12-20 weeks, depending how experienced you are with running. The four primary elements of marathon training are:

  1. Base Mileage – Running 3-5 times per week to build your weekly mileage
  2. Long Run – Every 7-10 days get your body used to going longer distances, eventually working your way up to 20 miles
  3. Speed / Cross Training – Practice intervals, speed, and hills to increase your cardio capacity. Gina likes to include biking and swimming to enhance her cross training.
  4. Rest and Recovery – You have to let your body recover to prevent burnout and reduce your chances for injury

Runners who are just starting out will need more time to recover from intense marathon training so it’s going to take longer to build up to the longer runs. Starting from the couch? No worries, you’ll get there, but you can’t rush things. Here are a few tips for starting a simple walking or running routine. It’s not unheard of to train for almost a year before taking the marathon leap. The key is to build up to it so you don’t get hurt – an injury will keep you out of the race far longer, and may sideline you for good if you lose all momentum. In an effort to avoid injury, Gina saw a physical therapist for an entire year before the Boston Marathon.  She also had a gait analysis conducted to review her form, strength, motion, and stride. Maintaining proper form can increase your speed, make running more comfortable, and reduce your chances for injury.

Another thing that Gina loved having done before and after the marathon was dry needling. Because of its ability to loosen stiff muscles, ease joint pain, and improve blood flow and oxygen circulation, dry needling provided positive results when Gina was feeling tight muscles, aches, and pains. She felt immediate relief after a treatment, making it one of her favorite techniques.

Marathon Training in Grand RapidsChoosing a marathon
Keep in mind that you have to pre-qualify for some of the bigger races, Boston included. Choosing a marathon that’s close to home will give you an advantage because you can train on the actual course and get comfortable with it. If you qualify for a “bucket-list” course like Boston or New York City, you may find yourself motivated by the excitement of the situation. Also keep the course terrain in mind. A new course may be hilly, busy, or just different than anything you’ve run before.

Pace yourself
While marathon training, estimate how long it will take you to finish so you know how to properly pace yourself. This is also helpful when you have friends and family members waiting at the finish line to cheer you on – this way they’ll have an idea as to when you may be approaching. A handy formula to give you a general idea is to double your recent half marathon time,  then add 10 to 20 minutes, depending on the difficulty of the course. You can also use a pace calculator like this one.

What to wear
Possibly the most important item for race day is a comfortable long distance running shoe. Find one that provides the right amount of cushion and stability for longer distances, and then train in it to make sure it feels good when you go long distances.

Wear clothing that’s appropriate for temps that are 15 to 20 degrees warmer than it actually is, no matter how chilly it might seem. Once you start running your body will heat up pretty quickly.

Finally, never wear anything new on race day. You don’t need an obnoxious sock rubbing on your toe for four hours. Wear clothing and shoes that you know you’ll be comfortable in for a few hours. Consider training in fabrics that wick to help keep you cool and dry as you run.

What to eat & drink
Before your run: To sustain energy levels, eat a high-carb, low-fiber meal three to four hours before your run begins. That way your body a chance to digest the food and it reduces the risk of having stomach issues during your run. When you run long distances your body relies on glycogen for fuel, which is why people often eat carb-heavy meals the night before a big race. Pasta, bread or potatoes can help fill your glycogen stores so you can start the race feeling good.

During your run: If you don’t fuel up during your run, your glycogen will typically run out within a couple hours so you’ll have to consider a mid-run snack to replenish your energy stores, keep fatigue at bay, and help activate your fat burning for fuel. A high carb snack like sports drinks, energy gels, nuts, raisins or two tablespoons of honey will help.

After your run: Eating a combination of carbohydrates and protein 30 to 60 minutes after your run is essential in helping speed up your body’s recovery time. The carbs help to restore the energy that was burnt and the protein helps heal and repair your muscle tissue. Even a 200-300 calorie snack will help, then a few hours later you can have a larger meal that’s filled with carbs and proteins.

While training, and on race day, it’s essential to get enough to drink. Even the slightest amount of dehydration can slow you down. Before you run we recommend eight ounces of water or sports drink. During your run try to drink three to six ounces of a sports drink that contains carbohydrates and electrolytes to replenish sodium.

Marathon recovery
Drink several cups of water or a sports drink to feed your tired muscles right after the race. Take a little time to walk and stretch so you can let your muscles cool down. In the days after the race you should hold off on running for at least a week, then take your time easing back into it. Take good care of your body post-race because your immune system may be more vulnerable right after a marathon.

What if you get injured while marathon training?
Injuries can affect beginner and seasoned runners. If you’re feeling a slight ache or pain every time you run, don’t ignore it – it will only get worse. The sooner you get these pains taken care of, the less chance you have of experiencing a more serious injury. If you’re currently training for a race of any kind it’s a good idea to have your form and body mechanics checked out. A functional movement screen will find potential weaknesses and reduce your chances for injury. We also offer free consultations so if you’ve got a 5k or marathon training question, or issues when you run, schedule an appointment with a specialist before it gets worse.


If you have any questions on running, training, dry needling, or a gait analysis, contact one of our sports rehab specialists – Gina Otterbein, Terri Jeurink, or Diana Painter.

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