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Marathon

HELP! I’M RACING A MARATHON AND MY BODY IS FREAKING OUT.

HELP! I’M RACING A MARATHON AND MY BODY IS FREAKING OUT.

It’s our favorite time of the year! Nope, not the return of PSL — MARATHON SEASON.

The TCS NYC Marathon is less than two weeks away, and with the return of the barricades and bleachers near Tavern on the Green, comes an onslaught of panicked patients to our clinic.

The training’s in the bank and it’s time to taper. But when a runner backs off their mileage and tells their body to rest, sometimes, it revolts.

For the last few months, you’ve been pushing yourself to new limits and your body has responded. In fact, it’s gotten so used to that high volume and level of intensity that it’s addicted to it. So when you take some of it away in taper, essentially, the body goes into withdrawal. Your mind goes off the deep end like an irrational ex and won’t listen to reason — it convinces you that you’re injured and creates phantom pains out of race nerves.

How can you tell if that new pain is real or just in your head?

If you’re experiencing a totally new pain that just showed up in the last week or two, for no apparent reason, it’s highly likely that it’s all in your head. Your mind is messing with you and throwing a “taper tantrum” in response to lower intensity training and the body’s recovery process. Now that you’re hyper aware of your impending race, you’re allowing yourself to be hyper aware of every little thing you feel in your body. The filter that told you the pain was NBD during training and allowed you to keep running has been switched off by a brain that thinks it has nothing better to do than turn butterflies into scorpions, sending shooting pain to various parts of the body.

RELAX. Stretch and foam roll, and take some deep breaths. If you have a regular yoga practice — do it. (But if you don’t, this isn’t the time to start!) Do what you normally do to chill out, occupy your mind with things other than your race and see if the pain fades in a day or two. If it doesn’t, get it checked out.

What if the pain is legit, and you’re thinking the worst?

If you’re truly freaking out — an old injury pops up, or you’re worried that nagging ache in your foot will progress to a stress fracture while descending the Queensboro Bridge — the only way to know for sure is to seek medical help.

So who should you call?

With limited time before race day and needing to prioritize rest above all else, your best bet is to head straight to a physical therapist. Most runners assume they need to see a sports ortho doc first, but that’s not the case. The reality is, if it’s a musculoskeletal issue, that doctor will prescribe physical therapy anyway because they entrust PTs to handle these types of injuries and pain. So cut to the chase and save time, energy and money on co-pays by booking an evaluation with a sports and orthopedic PT first. Try to get in a few times before your race. You’ll get the care you need sooner, and feel a lot less stressed without scrambling to fit in multiple doctor visits.

My legs don’t feel better from taper. They feel heavy and sluggish.

That sensation of heaviness is a totally normal phase of taper as your body focuses on repairing itself. In the very last days leading up to your race, it could also be a result of your body holding on to a bit more water as you increase your carb intake. Execute a few short strides at the end of your shake-out runs. A stride is not a full-on sprint; just pick up the pace and heart rate for 15-20 seconds to feel more confident that your legs will remember how to respond on race day. And believe in the magic of race day! It really will all come together.

OK OK, I’m not actually injured. But how do I quiet that voice in my head?

Focus on what you CAN control. Read and re-read the race website and online race reports from other runners, and plan exactly when you’ll hit the expo to get your bib. Information and specific plans are kryptonite to doubt!

Visualize your perfect race from start to finish. Then visualize a version of the race where everything goes wrong, and solve each problem in your head. Knowing you can solve problems should they arise will give you even more confidence on race day. Before you fall asleep each night from now until the race, picture yourself crossing that finish line, looking strong, and utterly owning that moment.

Remember, race the first 20 miles with your legs and lungs. Leave the last 10K up to your heart and mind! GOOD LUCK.



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Tips for Racing a Marathon, That Start Way Before Race Day

As taper pains inevitably surface in the last days before a marathon, I hear from a lot of panicked patients. Those aches and sluggishness are completely normal, and very common. Most likely, they will magically disappear on race day. While your legs are resting up, give your brain something else to focus on — your race plan.

Running a marathon requires just as much mental strength as it does physical preparedness. Here’s our list of things to keep in mind (literally):

Preparation starts at the beginning of race WEEK, not the night before race day. 

You can’t cram for a marathon. Carb loading, banking sleep and proper hydration including electrolytes should all start at least several days before the race, not the night before. In fact, the most critical night of rest is 2 nights before the race. Chances are, you won’t get much shuteye on race eve.

Picture your perfect race. 

Before you get to the start line, picture yourself crossing the finish, and handling everything in between. Close your eyes and run the race you want to have in your mind. If you think about what could go wrong – and mentally solve it – before you hit the course, you’ll instinctively know what to do should those things actually happen.

Start out slow. Respect the distance. 

On race day, you’ll be high on adrenaline and the crowd energy, and your legs will be ready to GO coming off taper. But the goal is to run a negative split, which means starting out conservatively. Hold back for the first half to ensure a strong finish. It’s all about that last 10K.

If you like it, lube it. 

Enough said.

Run your own race, at a realistic pace.

Don’t get competitive. Let others pass. You’ll pass a lot of them back later on. Every five seconds you run faster than your planned pace in the first half will double to your detriment in the second half of the race. You will not ever suddenly get faster in a marathon.

Don’t get too emotional. 

It’s tempting to high-five spectators, enthusiastic kids and your family. Unless you’re just out there for fun, don’t waste the energy. You’ll need it later on. For NYC marathoners, this rule goes into effect much earlier in the day — don’t feel obligated to chat with other runners for the hours you’re stuck on Staten Island. Save that nervous energy for the run.

Be smart. 

Have a realistic pace plan and stick to it. Run the first 20 miles with your head. Run the last 10K with your heart.

Be tough. 

Do not give in to self-doubt or pain (unless it’s severe injury pain). Remind yourself of all the training you put in, and have faith in it. Your body knows what it’s doing, don’t let your brain ruin it. Name that inner critic of yours before the race – and if he speaks up, tell him (by name) to shut the F up. It works.

Sing. Count. Have a mantra (or ten). 

Distract yourself from the repetitive motion by focusing on simple mantras that reinforce a high cadence. Try repeating “1-2-3-4” or “I can, I will” or the lyrics to your favorite song to match your foot falls. Just don’t be surprised if an annoying song is the one that pops into your head first! Just go with it and thank Taylor Swift later.

Set small milestones. 

Aid station to aid station. Friend to friend. Break it up into manageable chunks of distance and tick them off.

Don’t forget to eat and drink. 

Set your watch to remind you if you need to, or make a plan to eat at specific time intervals (not miles, since some of those miles might stretch out if something goes wrong.) This is not the time to wing it! Nothing will derail your ability to stay in the game, both physically AND mentally, than bonking. You should have your nutrition plan nailed from your long runs, but if not, consider this a wake up call and figure it out.

Nothing new on race day. 

Use the same clothing, gear, shoes and nutrition you’ve used on all your long runs. Do not get crazy ideas and new stuff at the expo! Or, if you can’t resist, save it for the next race – not your A one.

Have fun and SMILE at the FINISH. 

Remember, this is supposed to be fun. So enjoy the moment! Read the spectator signs, feed off the crowd, take it all in. Stay focused, but also allow yourself to feel proud of what you’re doing. Our brains are powerful machines, and that positivity electrifies us and helps fend off the wall and physical pain better than even the most successful training runs.

If we THINK we can, we will.

Good luck out there!
Josh

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