Safari Charles of Owings Mills learned a few important lessons after running her first half-marathon last year.
Wear shoes that fit, or your toenails may turn black. Run with a group for motivation (and for those days your husband would rather sleep in). Carry water on your long runs.
This year as Charles prepares to run her first full marathon at the Baltimore Running Festival in October, she hopes to have learned from last year's experience. She has bigger shoes and trains with the group Black Girls Run, which she says gets her on the pavement consistently. She keeps her body hydrated.
"I was kind of lackadaisical about training for the half," she said. "I didn't prepare as best as I could. You can't run a full marathon without training properly."
Thousands of people like Charles are starting to get their bodies ready for fall races, and many are newcomers who will likely make mistakes. Some will end up with injuries that could have been prevented.
But running coaches and doctors say a little planning and proper training will help people run, rather than hobble, across the finish line.
"It's the only sport where you have to plan months in advance what you eat, what you wear, when you're going to run," said Dr. John Senatore, a veteran marathoner and chief of podiatry at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. "It takes a lot of thought and planning. The people who get hurt aren't usually the ones who follow a program. They are the ones who train haphazardly."
The biggest mistake people make when training for a long race is doing too much too quickly, veteran runners and coaches said.
"People get signed up and excited, then get worried about running 13 miles and go out and try to run 13 miles 20 weeks before the race," said Marie Bolton, general manager at Charm City Run and a certified running coach who has finished eight marathons.
Coaches suggest following a training program that includes three to four short runs during the week and a long run on the weekend. The weekend runs increase in duration each week. Going with a group will help keep runners motivated and on pace. People who train alone may run too fast and get bored during the long runs.
The long runs will get those in training accustomed to being on their feet for hours at a time. Long runs during training should be at a slower pace than times on race day, Senatore said. He also suggests running the last long run three weeks before the race so muscles have time to recover.
Senatore recommends the New York Road Runners training programs. Area running groups use plans by nationally known runners, such as Jeff Galloway, a former Olympian who has trained people since the 1970s. He promotes combining running and walking to complete a marathon injury-free.
Karen Levin, co-owner of Fleet Feet running store in Pikesville, leads Galloway's plan in training runs and said people using the walk-run method can finish just as fast as people who run the whole race.
DeNita Morrison a 40-year-old nurse from Owings Mills who also trains with Black Girls Run, follows a program by Hal Higdon, a well-known trainer who has been running for a half-century. His plan gradually gets people into running.
"He starts you off very slowly and builds you up so you don't feel overwhelmed," said Morrison, who started running five years ago and plans to compete in her first half-marathon this year.
Preparing for a race also usually includes at least one day a week of cross training to help prevent wear and tear on the same muscle groups and help with conditioning. Runners should mix biking, swimming, weight training and other activities between their running sessions.
Advanced and intermediate runners looking to improve their time from previous races can also do speed training, or run short intervals at a fast pace. There are also programs that include training on hills.
Coaches have varying opinions on whether newbies should speed-train or include hill work. Some coaches believe beginners should focus on mileage and worry about speed for the next race. Others say speed work is OK as long as you go only as fast as your body can handle. Don't try to keep up with more advanced runners.
Sweat the details
When it comes to training, little things count. Many times, overlooking what might seem small and insignificant can derail a runner's training, experts say.
Runners should pay attention to what they wear. Throwing on any old T-shirt and sneakers is considered a no-no. Shoes that are too short, tight or otherwise ill-fitting can cause blisters and knee pain, and cause toenails to turn black and fall off. Shoes should be replaced every 300 to 500 miles.
Sweat can weigh down cotton clothing, causing chafing if it rubs against the skin. It's better to get performance apparel that absorbs and wicks away sweat. That includes socks, too. Some runners need inserts to help keep the foot stable. They are found in running stores or can be custom-made by a podiatrist.
Eating right can also make the difference between a good run and a bad run. Runners should refuel and dehydrate throughout a run. Don't go through a long run without carrying water (or be sure to use a route with working fountains). Drink every 15 to 20 minutes and eat every 45 minutes to an hour, some coaches suggest.
Dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke in severe cases. It can also cause muscles to cramp.
"Once you're running and you're thirsty, then you're done," Senatore said. "You're going to tank out. When you have nothing left in the tank, that's called hitting the wall. If you prepare and do what you're supposed to, you shouldn't hit the wall."
Fueling the body for a run is more than getting enough liquids in the system. Experiment with different foods, such as nutrient gels or sport jelly beans, to see what your stomach can handle. Every runner's body is different. What works great for one person may have someone else running to the bathroom with an upset stomach.
Many running festivals offer a pasta dinner the day before the big event to help runners load carbohydrates and store energy for race day. Coaches say it doesn't work. Instead, slowly add carbs into your diet for a week or two before the race. Once again, running is about building up.
Know your body
But even if you follow a running plan perfectly, you may still get hurt. When that happens, pay attention to your body. It may be hard to distinguish an injury from sore muscles, but veteran runners say if the pain makes you change your gait and is intolerable, stop running.
"You really have to listen for pain," Levin said. "Don't run through the pain, because it will only get worse."
When race day arrives, make sure you maintain what you've learned in training. Don't be tempted by the cute running top or new foods vendors try to entice you with during the festival before the race. Try something new, and you may regret it. That cute top may rub against your skin, and that new food may give you a bellyache in the middle of the race.
Runners will be pumped up with adrenaline and want to speed off at the start of the race. Try not to pay attention to the people around you. Go at the pace you're accustomed to. You'll probably find yourself passing some of those speed demons on the course later.
Throughout the race, use all the tips you picked up in training. Stay hydrated and fueled, and stop running if you think you're injured.
Charles first started running as a way to lose weight. Now, she said, she is addicted. She's gotten faster as she has gotten lighter. And she is hoping for good results with proper training.
"I know I'll be more prepared for my [full] marathon than my half," she said.
Marathon and Half-Marathon training programs
Select online resources:
Jeff Galloway: jeffgalloway.com/training/marathon.html
Hal Higdon: halhigdon.com
Runner's World: runnersworld.com
ING New York City Marathon: nycmarathon.org/training_index.htmCopyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun