Participating in a major athletic event can be a great way to challenge your physical and mental strength. Whether you’re thinking about running a marathon (26.2 miles) or competing in an Ironman Triathlon (swimming, biking and running), however, proper training is key. Both experienced and novice athletes often push themselves too hard, ending up with acute or chronic injuries. Protect your body now and you’ll perform your best on the day of the big race.
Runner’s World (www.runnersworld.com) suggests that athletes ask themselves a series of questions in order to make sure they’re ready for a major event. Here are some of their “are you ready” questions for marathon hopefuls that can also apply to other sporting challenges:
- Have you been running for a year? For runners attempting long distances, it’s important to log at least three miles, minimum, three times a week for about 12 months, allowing the musculoskeletal system to build up strength. "Injury can crop up when you go from not running to training for a marathon," says Jason Karp, Ph.D., an exercise physiologist and running coach in San Diego, "so build fitness and strength first." This question can apply to more than just marathons, however; other athletic competitions, such as those involving heavy lifting, can bring on injuries if your body isn’t well prepped.
- Do you have enough time to devote to training? Consider the time you’ll spend training, including any time spent stretching, doing related strength training and the recovery time you'll need after a big workout. Runner’s World recommends sitting down and assessing whether or not you have the time to commit to training, since last-minute workouts will not adequately prepare you for a major event like a marathon or Ironman competition.
- Are there other stresses in your life? Training when you have a big work project or a new baby can often lead to unnecessary stress. Andrew Kastor, coach of the High Sierra Striders in Mammoth Lakes, California notes that he doesn’t push athletes to compete. "Now I advise runners to wait if life is too busy. As a result, I've had fewer runners finish marathons, but I've seen less injury and more runners having a positive experience."
Ironman.com is a valuable resource, not only for Ironman competitors, but also for any athlete preparing for a big physical challenge. In one of the website’s articles by Shelley Johnson, R.D., the registered dietitian discusses why proper nutrition is such an important part of training. “Consuming nutrients at the right time and in appropriate amounts can take fitness and performance to a new level. The timing of ‘when’ nutrients are consumed can be as important as ‘what’ nutrients are consumed…Complete muscle recovery happens within 48 hours after exercise, but you can jumpstart recovery with the right mix of foods.” Johnson notes that carbohydrate-rich foods help refuel muscle, and protein helps slow insulin release and muscle breakdown while simultaneously promoting tissue regrowth. Timing is also important. Johnson says that the optimal rate at which muscle energy is refueled and tissue repair can occur is within 30 to 45 minutes after exercise with 30 to 40 grams of protein at a time.
Always consult your healthcare provider before training for a major event. Whether you’ve had a previous injury, are currently regulating a medical condition or are in great health, a thorough exam can help you train wisely and safely. Properly preparing your body for a big challenge will ensure that you make it to the finish line with a sense of accomplishment instead of a troublesome injury.