Staying strong for the marathon

March 6, 2014 

Seth Gamradt

Dr. Seth Gamradt is director of orthopedic athletic medicine at Keck Medicine of USC and team physician for USC athletics. Here’s his quick rundown for surviving Sunday’s race:

Fuel:  It is critical to fuel your body before the race.  Eat high carbohydrate meals (80 percent of intake) for several days prior to the race to build up your store of glycogen, a crucial energy source for your body.  On the morning of the race try to eat a 500-800 calorie breakfast 2-3 hours before the race.  Limit fiber to avoid mid-race gastrointestinal upset. Predictability is key:  eating foods you know and that worked well on your long training runs is critical for a calm stomach and high energy on race day.

Shoes:  It seems obvious, but avoid changes in equipment on race day, especially shoes.  Wearing your tried and true runners will help to prevent the foot pain and blistering that are common in long-distance running.

Hydration:  Before the race, pay attention to urine color, aim for light yellow as a sign of adequate hydration. Although sweat rates vary from runner to runner, a good guideline for hydration is 6-8 ounces of fluid every 20 minutes.  Avoid over-hydrating, which can lead to stomach upset.  Make sure your race-day hydration consists of energy drinks containing carbohydrates and electrolytes and water.  Consuming water alone during the race can lead to hyponatremia, which is caused by dilution of the blood’s sodium level and can be very dangerous.

Energy Gels/Bars:  Commercially available pre-packaged carbohydrate sources are an important fuel source in triathlon and distance running.  Again, familiarity is key to avoid race- day stomach upset, so stick with energy snacks you’ve consumed during your training.  Consume one 45-60 minutes (with water) after the race starts and every 45-60 minutes thereafter.

Lubrication/Skin Protection:  Lubricate sensitive areas with anti-chafing, anti-blister products.  Believe it or not, severe blistering or chafing can end your race prematurely. For sun protection, apply sports sunscreen that protects against UVB and UVA rays at least 30 minutes before running, and consider wearing sun protective clothing made specifically for running.

Pace:  The adrenaline of the race start will lead to the possibility of starting too fast. Begin your pace near or slower than your typical pace from your long training runs to avoid a late race flame out.

Pain:  You may experience pain, soreness, muscle ache and fatigue on race day from training.  If you typically take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs – Advil, etc.) or acetaminophen (Tylenol) before training runs, do not change this on marathon day.  However, if you have not been using these over-the-counter medications, race day is probably not the time to experiment.

Danger Signs:  As mentioned, some soreness is expected on race day.  However, if you begin to experience sharp pain with each step, swelling in a joint, escalating pain anywhere in your body or you begin to limp, it is not advisable to push through these types of symptoms and finish the race.  In addition, confusion, light-headedness, chest pain, and shortness of breath all can be signs of a significant medical issue—seek medical attention immediately.

Completing the L.A. Marathon is an important goal you have set for yourself. Make sure you do the things on race day that support the training you have done up to this point and you will have the best opportunity to hit the finish line feeling like a winner!


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