I’m a relatively novice runner. While I’ve had the chance to run a few 5K races in the region throughout the years, the half-marathon of the Clarence DeMar will be my first. Honestly, the top goal of mine is getting across that finish line in one piece.
It was the perfect opportunity to learn from a local expert on how to run your first marathon — safely.
Earlier this week I chatted with Dave Olson, the Human Movement Specialist at the Keene YMCA. He works with a range of athletes in personal training by analyzing movement patterns to help them toward their fitness goals.
Olson’s physical therapy and fitness work is geared toward those just starting out, especially those aiming to run their first marathon.
While I’ve been able to make my own training plan, a quick Google search will present you hundreds of results. The question that I was most eager to ask: for those who are looking to train for their first marathon, what should people be looking for when deciding on a training plan?
“I find the ones that work the best are ones’ that are well-rounded, not just running,” said Olson. “Some sort of strength training built-in with those runs work best.”
By having a balance of strength training and cardio, it reduces the risk for injury and allows your body to adjust. An important thing to keep in mind is that if you’re first starting out, it’s okay to deviate from your plan here and there.
“Life happens. You’re better off recovering another day, cutting a run short or switching to another cross-training activity,” said Olson. “It’s better than risking an injury. Training plans are basic guidelines, not the law.”
Now that you’ve got a training plan in place, why is it so important to have that balance of runs and cross-training?
Olson gave a great analogy: “If you have a car and you keep on driving over dirt roads over and over again, it’s gonna fall apart eventually.”
Cross training, Olson said, is like a tune-up for your body. The variation between running and activities that supplement your runs help keep your body held together by improving cardiovascular and muscular endurance. And, if there’s a day where you can’t do a run, they can provide a much needed mental and physical break.
Each runner is different, so choosing something that supports how you move is important. Some runners choose to hike, do additional strength training, yoga or some other form of low-impact workout.
Now that you’ve started your plan, Olson said it’s important to consider what you’re doing before and after your runs.
After you’ve laced up your sneakers but before you hit the road (or trail, or beach), Olson said an active dynamic warm up is best.
“Jumping jacks, skips, mountain climbers. Anything that helps get your body ready to move,” said Olson. “I like lateral movements, like doing some side steps or shuffles.”
Runners in particular don’t have a lot of side to side movement, according to Olson, so that lateral stability can fall aside and become problems such as runners knee. “That’s why doing something that helps engage that strength on the sides of your body is really important,” said Olson.
Fast forward, you’ve made it through your run. Hopefully you’re feeling great! So, now what?
“Walking is the best thing, not just sitting,” said Olson. “Mobility is a big thing … I’m not a big fan of stretching [after], it makes the muscles flexible but that muscle might not be strong.”
Some examples he gave included a hip pry squat, a hip mobility exercise that helps activate your hip and back. He also enjoys what’s known as ‘the world’s greatest stretch — I personally enjoy this one, and I’ve put a step-to-step guide on how to perform this stretch below:
Start on your hands and knees. Step your right foot forward and bend forward so that the right knee is over the right ankle and you feel a stretch in your left hip.
Tuck the left toes under and extend the left leg straight back so that the leg is off of the ground.
Place your left hand on the ground inside of the right foot and then twist toward the right, reaching the right hand up toward the sky.
Pull the naval in toward the spine and look up at the right hand. Hold for 10 seconds.
Bring the hand down and shift your butt back toward the left leg so that the right leg straightens and you feel a stretch behind the right leg. Hold for 10 seconds.
Repeat on the opposite side.
As you go through your training, Olson gave two pieces of advice to keep in mind.
First: “When training for running, finding fun interval workouts are gonna be amazing,” said Olson. “Not just for overall running ability, but to help keep someone strong.”
For example, instead of running 5 miles straight, do intervals of running one mile, then walking one mile. Something that I often do during my longer runs that Olson recommended: If you listen to music, run one song then walk one song.
“It becomes a random interval. Set a playlist on shuffle, go out for like half an hour, and see what happens.”
Second: “It has to be fun. You have to enjoy it, or it’s just gonna feel like a chore.“