It’s Not A Sprint…

Entering the World of Marathon Running

Photo Brandon Johnston

They will change your mindset, plan your schedule, tell you what to consume, force you to exercise and decide when you should rest. No two are the same and each one is challenging. You can hate them for pushing you past your breaking point and forcing you to fight with yourself, but their tantalizing pull on your character will empower you to prove them wrong and take control. They are marathons.

People tackle marathons for different reasons. For some, it’s a recreational opportunity to confront the limits our bodies and minds impose on us; for others, it’s a new challenge to help measure progress from one marathon to the next. Everyone is running the same course, but they’re all chasing different goals.

“I participate in marathons because I love running, competing and setting goals for myself. If I start something I have to finish it, and finish it well,” said Melisa Farias Gonzalez, a half-marathon runner who trains with Concordia’s track and field team.

Concordia’s track and field team added structure to her exercise routine and gave her tips she wouldn’t have otherwise known, including to stretch only two hours after a workout, as stretching immediately is not good for the muscles. Gonzalez has been running for years, but her main challenge was learning how to train for a marathon.

“You’re not allowed to listen to music when competing. It was hard to adjust but now I prefer running without music because I think about my muscles, I understand how my body feels,” Gonzalez said. “I speed up and slow down and I think about what I’m doing; I’m not as distracted.”

Gonzalez runs outside until mid-November and then starts again at the beginning of March, regardless of the temperature.

“It’s even better to run in -10°C weather because the air is more condensed and the atoms are more compact, which makes the air harder to breathe and in turn will target the muscles around your lungs to grow,” she said.

Training is a process, but anyone can run a marathon. Some adapt quickly to extreme changes, while some are slower when it comes to adding intensity to their workout regimes.

“If I start something I have to finish it, and finish it well.” – Melisa Farias Gonzalez, a half-marathon runner

Kalem Kachur, a physiotherapist from Westmount Square Health Group, and Sarah Marshall, a physiotherapist from McGill’s School of Physical and Occupational Therapy, say that some of the most popular running injuries they treat are tears or ruptures of the Achilles tendon, tendinitis, shin splints, bursitis and hip and knee pain.

To avoid these injuries, Kachur suggests modifying the training program gradually for people slowly increasing their intensity or duration of running. Everyone transitions differently, he adds. Many aspiring runners turn to minimalist shoes which are in high demand as they make a huge difference on the biomechanics of running, but it’s important to adjust to training with them systematically.

“Minimalist shoes have no heel padding; it’s as if you’re running barefoot,” explains Kachur. “If someone runs the way most people run, as a heel-striker, the heels won’t handle it because it hurts too much. Running on the toes when wearing minimalist shoes will put more stress on the calves and the Achilles tendon when working nonstop. However, the shoes will decrease stress on knees and decrease total impact stresses.”

Marshall points out that the best way to recover after a half or full marathon is to keep hydrated, fuel the body with nutrients and actively rest, which means keeping active but not getting the heart rate up. Some of the tips she has for runners: “don’t start a race too fast; anti-chafing stick is a life saver for armpits and upper thighs; and use band aids on nipples for both men and women.”

It can be hard to find the inner strength to run a marathon. Some have fitness goals, some want to lose weight, maybe increase energy or confidence—all of that becomes difficult when these goals are being reached alone. This is where a professional trainer’s input is vital. Many coaches and exercise scientists know that there are minimal training benefits after running longer than three hours and that injury occurs the most around that time.

A marathon takes around three and a half to five hours to complete. So why run?

“The marathon is a sporting achievement and can be a great source of motivation as a long-term goal,” said Pierre Thiffault, a personal trainer and specialist in running and triathlons.

Thiffault has run marathons before and advises to not start too fast, keep energy for the end and remain positive at all times. He notes that some of the reasons people get injured is because they don’t have a good running technique and they don’t follow a program.

“They go too fast too soon and they don’t work on their running drills. Running is not enough to be a good runner,” Thiffault said, adding that he highly recommends hiring a coach who will analyze and correct running techniques. He also suggests buying books about running training, as well as focusing on other activities like cross-training, swimming or cycling. These activities will leave room for rest days and round out an athlete’s overall performance.

Running a marathon doesn’t rely solely on motivation and courage; it’s a 42km run that will physically wear and tear a person’s muscles, bones, ligaments, tendons and the rest of the body. Training carefully, eating clean and respecting the body’s limits are all key components to ensuring a successful trip across the finish line. They are journeys that make one embrace the pursuit of the unknown, they lead to a path of self-discovery, and they’re all about being lost in the moment.