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Your Most Common Marathon Training Questions

I want to let you in on a little secret…

One of our favorite running coaches, Elisabeth from @runningexplained, and I have been working hard together serving runners just like you in her coaching programs.

The zoom calls have been a par-tay!

(if you've been a part of them, then you know ;) )


And there have been no shortage of amazing, insightful, very real and authentic questions.

And that's where this week's blog post has come from.

I've hand-selected some of those most common half and full marathon training questions (and obviously provided answers,...duh).

I wanted to share these because I want you to know something.

  • You're not alone

  • And you're not stupid for wondering these same questions or asking these.

  • You're not expected to know everything.

  • And you're not crazy for being confused.

You're a runner.

And because you're here, you're *actually* ahead of the game.

Because you Dare to Train Differently.

Let's dive into these questions, running fit fam.




Old Injury Creeping Up?

"I was wondering what to do when an old injury starts to talk to you again... I've had achilles tendonitis before and recently my achilles has started to feel a little bit aggravated after running. Not really painful, just a little twinge of something, but I'm worried it'll get worse and interrupt my running. But also I know aches and pains during marathon training are very normal. Any general advice for what to do at this early phase of a potential injury?"

I know, you're tempted to skim past this one because you DON'T have any achilles issues.
Well, hold on a hot second…

Because this checklist I'm giving you applies to ANY nagging ache or pain that pops up during any training cycle.

Who doesn't want a firm action plan in place, just in case?

THE CHECKLIST: What to do When Old Injuries Begin to Pop Up

  • PART 1: Ask Yourself QUESTIONS

    • WHEN

      • Write in your training log the date when these symptoms start to happen

      • Note EVERY DAY/DATE when you feel those same symptoms again

    • WHAT DOES IT FEEL LIKE?

      • Write down in your own words what these symptoms feel like.

      • Hint: there is no wrong way to describe them!

      • (ok, I lied. There is one. Only writing "my knee hurts" is not descriptive enough. Think: achy, deep, dull, stinging, shooting, stabbing, sore, lingering, or gone quickly.)

    • START LOOKING FOR A PATTERN

      • note if symptoms only occur after certain workouts, or a day or 2 after a workout, etc.

      • Ask yourself: has changed recently? New shoes? New terrain you're running on? Enough recovery time? What happens if you run on a different surface? Does that help?

    • BE A DETECTIVE

      • Write down all your observations in your training log from the questions/scenarios above, including if NOTHING changes. Yup, because those clues too. (we don't want any 'ruh roh raggy' moments…that was poor scooby-doo impersonation in case you were wondering)

  • PART 2: ACTION STEPS

    • LET IT BE EASY

      • Have you gone to PT before for this same issue? Have you found exercises in the past that helped before?

      • Make those exercises a part of your daily routine for 1 week! (assuming they're not crazy intense, max lifting exercises. Be smart.)

      • Check back in after 1 week and complete this checklist again, looking for changes and/or improvements

    • COMMUNICATE

      • If you have a trainer/running coach, tell them what's going on

      • By keeping them in the loop, they can adapt your training plan to what you need! (I know, crazy right?! Adapt your training to your body? That's the beauty of running. A lot of times, we can keep you running through general aches and pains as long we have the right data to work with.)

    • IT'S TIME TO CALL IN THE PROS

      • If you've been trying to rehab yourself for 2 weeks without success or notable positive change/improvement...

      • this nagging ache is starting to intensify (it's an average of 4/10 -0 being no pain/ 10 "I need to go to the ER now" pain)...

      • It's starting to affect your normal life activities...

      • You're limping when you run…

      • You know what to do. It's time to get yourself to PT.

When to do Mobility + Strength Work

Our running plan has strength and core work, but how often and when do you recommend mobility and stability to be mixed in?

The quick and dirty answer: Do it when it works best for you

I design my mobility and strength workouts in a very specific way.

(read: technical, but lazy ;) )

The method behind my madness:

Running already takes a lot of time, work, energy, and commitment.
And strength and mobility work are meant to supplement and complement your primary sport (running).

So why not make those fast and furious and effective as possible?

(read: this does NOT mean it has to be hard to be effective or difficult and complicated for it to "work". In the clinic, I specifically prescribe only a handful of exercises to my patients because I want these exercises to fit into their life, not their life to fit into these exercise. Catch my drift?)

  • MOBILITY

    • WHEN: Before and after your run

    • HOW: Because my mobility routines take 5mins or less, it makes it super easy to take 3 mins before and after your run and get it done.

    • Note: this does NOT make longer mobility routines "wrong" or a "waste of time" because…

    • THE SECRET: The "ideal mobility routine" is what works for you and your body! ;)

  • STABILITY/STRENGTH WORK

    • WHEN: 2-3X a week

    • Run first. Lift second

    • Wait 4-6 hours (preference on the 6 hour mark)

    • Why so specific?

      • It comes from a research article written by a physical therapist. Her findings after reviewing the literature and from coaching her own runners was by waiting 4-6 hours between running first and strength second, you expand the rest and recovery period between sessions for best performance for both of them.

      • And by running first, you may be allow for greater positive adaptations to running energy expenditure

Are Strong Ankles Important?

How important is it to have strong ankles for running? Would you recommend adding strength/mobility exercises for ankles to the weekly routine, if yes, what are some examples?

Of course we were going to answer this question here, running fit fam!

I bet the OG's already know the answer, too ;) (comment down below if you do!.)

SHORT ANSWER: strong ankles (and feet) are a must for running.

The harder answer: the how.

Typical ankle + feet exercises you'll see on Dr. Google or IG:

  • Towel scrunches

  • Calf raises

  • Single leg jumping

  • A variety of resistance banded exercises

  • Heel walks

  • Toe walks

These are exercises a good start…and I use variations of some of them in the clinic.


But let me ask you a question:

Which of those exercises look like running?

Hmmhmm, you read that right.

The ones that look like running to me: calf raises, single leg jumping, and toe walks.

Next question.

Which of these 3 exercises above translate into running?

(meaning, they actually put you into a position that looks like running, strengthen the muscles needed for running. On other words: functional)

Ok, trick question...they all do, actually.

And that's key.

Why?

We need strong ankles and feet because THAT'S what running looks like:

  • the endurance to spend hours on our feet

  • in a single leg position

  • With strong feet and ankles able and ready to absorb falling into your next stride and while also being prepared to generate power to overcome gravity, and leap into your next stride.

So yes, adding in some foot/ankle strengthening exercises into your weekly routine can benefit ALL runners!


If you're looking for examples and what these can look like, check these out:

  • AtoZ's instagram reel where Andi demonstrates some of my exercises from the Stronger Feet workshop

  • Obviously, the Stronger Feet Workshop

  • But also, this peroneals blog I did a while back. I share some different, functional resistance band + weight exercises that can help strengthen runner's ankles.

Why do My Calves Ache while Running?

If my calves are aching during most runs, could that be an indication that strength/mobility work needs to be done?

SHORT ANSWER: Maybe.

(I know, sooooo definitive. But I'm being honest!)

Possible reasons for aching calves during *most* runs:

  • Your training has become more intense over the past 1-2 weeks; so your body could be trying to catch up and adjust to new demands

  • Your calves *may* be trying to do too much of the work (aka your teammates, glutes + feet, are just sitting this one out. Not cool.)

  • There really could be some mobility deficits, specifically decreased hip extension and maybe some missing ankle dorisflexion.

Can you start to see the "maybe" now?

So as frustrating as it is to NOT be able to give you a clear black-and-white answer over the interwebs, I do it with the purpose of protecting and serving you, while also attempting to pull back the curtain so you can see what is rolling around in my brain (mostly song lyrics, cat videos, and wondering how soon is too soon to go back for another post-run-snack)

LONG ANSWER:

The trick, like we touched on before, to happy calves is training the foundation to your calf and the teammate to your calf.

Foundation: Foot

Teammate: Glute

What am I talking about?

Part of how running happens is through this ankle complex/foot and glute connection.

We've touched on this before in earlier foot blog posts, so I'll link those:

But for a quick recap, we know from research studies that post-lateral ankle sprain, your glute medius can potentially down regulate.

Huh?

  • Trauma happened to the outside of your ankle. Boo.

  • It directly affects a star player up the kinetic chain: one of your butt muscles. Ugh.

  • How it's affected: that butt muscle doesn't have the same feedback or the same information coming to it from your ankle (because your ankle is hurt).

  • Because of this, the "volume gets turned down" for that muscle and it can act weak, when it's really not.

  • I know, crazy right? Our bodies are amazing movement marvels.

How this relates to running:

  • When you run, your ankle and glutes travel through a sequence a of paired motions.

  • Your front leg: your hip is forward because it is in hip flexion and your foot is relatively flat because your ankle is in dorsiflexion.

  • Your back leg: your hip is training behind because it's in hip extension and your toes are pointed because your ankle is in plantarflexion.

  • So the pairing:

    • Hip flexion is accompanied by ankle dorsiflexion.

    • Hip extension is accompanied by ankle plantarflexion.

What I'm trying to illustrate here:

Your glutes and ankles rely on one another for information, strength, and support. And what one teammate is down, somebody in the middle (aka your calf) can bear the brunt of that broken relationship.

So if you want strong calves, you still need to train that calf muscle, but you also need to take care of the foot and glute too.

(if you want to learn more about this, you might want to check out the Stronger Feet Workshop).

And there you have it, running fit fam!


There are many, many more questions I've gotten from other half and full marathon runners, so know, you're not alone and you're not struggling or tackling these distances by yourself either.

In fact, if you have questions about your own race journey and some new, odd or maybe old and familiar aches and pains that are creeping up, drop them in the comments below! Or if you'd like, feel free to email or DM me on IG.


I'm always here to help.

So until next time, running fit fam…

Dare to Train Differently,

Marie Whitt, PT, DPT //@dr.whitt.fit

 

References:


Barrie, B. (2020). Concurrent Resistance Training Enhances Performance in Competitive Distance Runners: A Review and Programming Implementation. Strength &Amp; Conditioning Journal, 42(1), 97-106. doi: 10.1519/ssc.0000000000000528

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