When I saw the headline, I gasped. Was this really happening? A female runner was accosted just before 6:30 a.m. at the entrance to a park I ran by constantly during marathon training – just two blocks from my house. The suspect came up behind her and touched her inappropriately. Thankfully, she screamed, resisted and escaped. On any given day, that runner could have been me. Chills went down my spine.
Shortly after this incident, a dear friend and one of my closest marathon training partners was physically attacked while out for a long run in broad daylight. Again, chills.
As runners, we focus our attention on many aspects of marathon training – distance, pacing, nutrition, fueling, recovery, strength training, stretching and more. But, we can’t forget to focus on personal safety as well.
- Take a personal self-defense class in your local area, preferably one that caters to runners. You will learn so many important tactics that can help you avoid a dangerous situation.
- Carry a personal alarm to help scare off a potential attacker who isn’t expecting you to make a loud noise.
- Carry runner pepper spray with you just in case, and be sure you are prepared to use it and practice with it to avoid becoming a victim of your own safety tool.
In addition to personal safety, there are many aspects of marathon training that if done incorrectly, can pose a risk to your health and training success. Here are 9 tips to help you increase your physical safety and long-term health during marathon training.
- Avoid doing too much, too fast.
The number one cause of running injuries and setbacks is trying to do too much too fast. While that “go-get-em” attitude is something to admire, upping your mileage too quickly is the fastest way to end up on the sidelines. When building weekly mileage, don’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent week over week. For example, if you run 20 miles this week, you should run no more than 22 miles next week (20 miles x 10 percent = 2 mile increase). Every three to four weeks, drop your mileage back by about 20 percent to help you recover and keep running strong.
- Warm up properly. Every time.
Not properly warming up before running can lead to injury, especially for runners incorporating speed work into their marathon training. You can find a proper running warm-up protocol here.
- Alternate hard training days with easy days.
To help prevent injury, alternate easy days with hard days during your training week to provide recovery before and after hard/intense workouts. For instance, an easy day of running (one to two minutes slower per mile than race pace) might precede and follow a day of intense speed work intervals. If you do have back-to-back intense days, they should focus on different elements of training and muscle groups.
- Don’t forget to run easy.
A common mistake I see runners make – particularly newer runners – is wanting to run every run at a pace they consider to be fast for them … and feeling like a failure if the number on their watch isn’t above a certain pace. Throw that thinking out the window. In addition to speed work and tempo runs, be sure you are incorporating several easy runs into your week where you run one to two minutes slower than goal race pace. This will help you develop your slow twitch muscle fibers to build endurance and aerobic capacity, teach your body to burn fats over carbs, delaying the onset of “hitting the wall” and allow you to more safely increase your weekly mileage while strengthening your heart, capillary development and more efficiently delivering oxygen to your blood.
- Start conservatively.
Try to avoid the temptation to go out too fast in a race (or long training run) so you have the energy to finish strong – and preferably finish the second half of the run or race faster than the first. By starting a bit conservatively for the first 2 to 3 miles, you can prevent hitting the wall later in the run/race and run more consistent mile splits.
- Avoid trying something new on race day.
Race day is not the time to try new things – new clothes, new fuel/hydration, new race strategies. Stick with your plan and with what has worked during training. Race day is not the day you want to explore stomach cramps, serious chafing or depleted energy.
- Hydrate and fuel correctly.
If you’re hitting the wall or finding yourself without energy, you may not be eating or drinking enough… or eating at the right time. Here are all the basics you need to know to master your nutrition and hydration strategy.
- Make time for strength training.
Running injuries often occur due to muscle imbalances where weakness in one area causes an injury in another. Making time to strength train twice a week can help prevent muscle imbalances, particularly in our glutes and hips which many running injuries stem from. Additionally, increasing upper body and core strength can help with running posture and breathing, particularly in the latter stages of races. Committing to just 30 minutes of strength training twice per week can help you become a stronger, healthier runner.
- Don’t run through pain.
If you are experiencing any pain that causes you to change your running form, stop. Go see a sports medicine doctor to determine if you can safely run or if you need to take time off or follow a specific recovery protocol. As runners, our main goal should be to train for life. Don’t jeopardize your long-term health and safety to keep running through injury.
ABOUT JESICA D’AVANZA
Jesica D’Avanza is a runner, triathlete, marathon coach and the writer behind www.runladylike.com. On her website – appropriately named by combining the words “run” and “unladylike” – she shares her uncensored and unladylike adventures of running and triathlon training. Jesica lives in Tampa, Florida, and has completed eight marathons, nine half marathons and numerous triathlons, including two half iron distance races. She coaches runners of all abilities to train smarter, finish stronger and find their extraordinary. In her day job, she serves as vice president of marketing communications for the nation’s largest nonprofit health organization that fights neuromuscular diseases. You can find her on Twitter (@rUnladylike), Instagram (@runladylike) and Facebook.