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Published on November 14, 2013

A Survival Guide for Running the Philadelphia Marathon

SPRINGFIELD, Pa. – If you’re entered to run this coming Sunday’s Philadelphia Marathon, you’re probably thinking about pretty much nothing else this week – either you’re filled with excitement and ready to pop, or it’s your first marathon and you’re nervous as can be.

To help the tens of thousands of athletes who’ll be participating in Sunday’s grueling endurance test, here are some tips from Crozer-Keystone Health System’s director of running medicine and sports medicine physician David Webner, M.D., that can help you emerge from the race in good health:

  • Stretch after, not just before the race. Of course, you know to stretch before the race. But Dr. Webner, who is also a member of the American Medical Society for Sports Medicine, says it’s important to cool down post-race. “Make sure that when you finish the race you continue walking for at least 5 minutes,” he says. “Don’t sit or lie down once you finish. That causes our bodies to tighten quickly, and at times can lead to exercise-associated collapse. Once you have finished the post-race walk, then do a gentle and gradual lower extremity stretching regimen.” This will help combat the most common race-day injuries – muscle strains and tightness.
  • Eat a balanced healthy diet pre-race. While conventional wisdom focuses on carb-loading, Dr. Webner says that each runner should do what works best for them. If you’re unsure, eat a balanced healthy dinner the night before of 20-30 percent fruits and vegetables, 20-30 percent protein, and the rest in grains and healthy carbohydrates. “On the morning of the race, a small and balanced breakfast is also in order – with a serving of protein (e.g.1-2 eggs), a serving of grains, such as toast or a bagel, and a serving of fruit.”
  • Don’t overhydrate. Too much water can be dangerous because it can create a condition known as hyponatremia – low levels of sodium.  “Runners should drink as their thirst guides them – not necessarily at every water station,” Dr. Webner says. “[Before the race,] they should not try and drink as much as possible. Their urine should be the color of lemonade and not water prior to the race.”
  • Refuel during the race. “During the race it’s important to refuel with an energy item (e.g. gel or bar) every 30-45 minutes of exercise,” Dr. Webner says. “This becomes more difficult in the latter half of a marathon as many people do not want to eat much; at this point I recommend [taking a] smaller serving of the glucose and carbohydrate refueling items.”
  • Use sunblock. The weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 50s and some cloud cover. But it’s never a bad idea to wear sunblock, regardless of the temperature.
  • Stop if you’re in pain or have a fever. This is difficult because marathon runners are not people who give up at the first sign of discomfort. Do not start any running event if you have a fever. This can be potentially life threatening; fevers can lead to exertional heat injury (heat stroke). Most runners can tell the difference between discomfort and real pain. “During the race if runners have bone or muscle pain that does not improve with stretching or resting briefly, they should consider stopping their race,” Dr. Webner says. “In general, if it’s too painful to continue running, you should heed the body’s warning, and take a break.” Runners who have chest pain, heart palpitations, or shortness of breath more than their normal exercise level should stop the race right away and call for help. While sudden cardiac arrest and death is relatively uncommon in marathons, it can happen – as it did last year, when two runners passed away. Runners (especially those over 50) need to identify these cues and listen seriously to them.
  • “Run within yourself.” Dr. Webner recommends “patience with pace,” especially for first-time runners. “Oftentimes, inexperienced marathoners will go out so quickly that they will not have much energy in the second half of the race. My advice to novice and experienced marathoners alike is to ‘run within yourself.’ It’s tempting to try and ‘chase’ everyone around you, but runners need to remember how they trained and what pace they are most comfortable with.”

So be safe, run well… and congratulations!

Crozer-Keystone Health System offers comprehensive musculoskeletal care. From conservative approaches to managing pain to spine and hand services, sports medicine, and joint replacement surgery, the physicians of the Premier/Crozer-Keystone Orthopedics Partnership will determine what plan works best for you. Appointments within 48 hours; call 1-877-CK-MOTION (1-877-256-6846) or visit here.

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