Running Long Distances Safely

Gone are the times where there really was a scarcity of finely organized marathon events. We have come to times of abundance of events very often leaving a runner in confusion which one to participate. It is a definite encouraging sign that the numbers of events coming in new are proportionate to the swelling numbers of new runners. As madness kicks in along with the high of the sport it is definitely an individual’s responsibility to make the sport safe. Let me throw in light on the safety parameters one need to follow to make the sport more sustainable and enjoyable.

Lets look into various practical parameters where one needs to look deep into to ensure safety. These are my one listing of safety measures as a runner. Adhering to these would make a runner seasoned over time without doubt.

 TRAINING: This one word is the bible rule in safety. When I say training I mean the amount of time spend in preparing oneself for a marathon. There is no short cut. One needs to spend time in training. Running is an endurance sport. Hence it is not just enough that one includes only running as part of his training, but needs to add a good strength training program and a flexibility program so that the bearing capacity of the body to endure running increases.

Secondly, while one enters to start running at a 10K level my suggestion here would be to stay in one category for atleast one whole year and then graduate to 21K in the second year and then 42K in the third year. Only then there is sufficient time for all the internal systems like cardiac system, metabolic system, neurological system, endocrinal system and musculo skeletal system to adapt to the tremendous stress placed on it in the form of running. When we expect too much too fast …then we are already preparing ourselves for our own disaster which might take us by surprise. Never see it.

Heart Rate Zone: This is the next important factor one needs to look into while training and while performing for an event. Monitoring devices comes handy these days that one may use for training towards a run. Monitoring ones heart rate enables a person to train himself in various heart rate zones. Hence it is very important to train your heart at different zones so that your heart eventually adapts to bear higher levels of stress for extended periods of time.

Also during any event where one generally tends to become competitive and try to push his or her ownself beyond the heart rate zone in which one has trained may prove fatal sometimes. Hence my suggestion here would be stay in zones of heart rate for which you have trained for always. A 10% of push during an event is acceptable but not beyond that.

Recovery time: Understand one truth. The body is one masterpiece by our creator. But sometimes it does not behave it self only when we don’t ALLOW it to. What I mean here is in our urbanized lifestyles there is always more time spend in DOING and very less time spend in UN-DOING. Running is not just an endurance sport it is a full impact sport too on all our systems. Hence without adequate recovery time between running days one is always at the risk of accumulating additional physical stress which might always by “standing on a bomb” situation.

Remember all the systems in our body perform the best only when recharged(recovered). Hence we need to allow that to happen. Recovery does not necessarily mean do nothing. In my opinion I would not suggest running on consecutive days. Rather run on alternate days not more than 3 days per week and spend another 3 days in building strength and flexibility hence the body actively recovers.

In total 5-6 days of training in any form is adequate and 1-2 days one may take off thoroughly from physical activities. As an beginner one might need more time to recover. Hence running 2 days per week and strength and flexibility training for another 2 days would be a good start.

Sleep: The most underestimated part is all what we do is “Sleep” . Sleep is a gift from GOD and one of the most efficient ways to recover faster. It is only about the number of hours but also the quality of sleep which really matters. Sleep restores balance into our systems. Tissue repair and healing is promoted faster through good sleep. I have come across seasoned runners who suffer “Chronic Fatigue Syndrome” a condition where despite of good training over a period of time performance keeps coming down progressively. This is a very dangerous condition not for a non-runner but definitely for a runner, because when a seasoned runner sees that his or her performance is dropping down they tend to push themselves harder to achieve, not realizing that the body is underperforming because of lack of recovery and many a times in running history have proved it “FATAL”.

Absolute abstinence from high intensity training should be done if the above condition is identified. Massage would help to enable relaxation and induce some amount of sleep too. A dietician advice would be mandatory in order to add nutritious intake for faster recovery. If sleep still suffers a sleep therapist needs to be contacted for assistance.

Basic medical tests: There are two levels to this and both are mandatory and ensure your safety. I call it the “Macro level tests” and the “Micro level tests”. Macro level testing involves

  1.  Echo cardiogram and an ECG for the heart.
  2.  Lipid Profile to test your cholesterol levels.
  3.  Blood sugar levels.
  4.  Liver function test.
  5.  Renal function test for your kidney functioning.
  6.  Pulmonary function test for the lungs.
  7.  Blood Pressure.
  8.  Thyroid hormone levels.

All the above test needs to be discussed and interpreted by an Physician and intake of drugs not to be ignored if prescribed by the Physician. These are vital regulatory functioning of the body and hence any imbalance in them might hamper exercising and hence your physician should be well informed about all your activities in terms of exercises. If one is on drug for any of the above mentioned you MUST regularly meet your physician once in a quarter or as per how he advices.

Micro level testing involves the following. These parameters if altered may not prove fatal but might disturb your exercising cycle for sure and may not keep your running enjoyable

  1. Vitamin D3.
  2. Vitamin B12
  3. Serum ferritin
  4. Hb count.
  5. Vitamin E
  6. Calcium
  7. Sodium & Potassium levels.

If any of the above said micro level are found deficient then you need to again meet your Physician and need to be supplemented thoroughly till you overcome the deficiency.

Red Flag: Since there are so many marathons happening in various parts of the world and most of the runners would just land there the previous day and not be acclimatized to the condition it is very likely that the race day might me unpredictable on a lighter note in terms of altitude levels, humidity, terrain stress like incline/decline etc.
Hence need to watch out for any of the red flags before it is too late. Idea is not to see the red flags at all.

  • Level of perspiration: The amount one would normally sweat will be known to ones ownself. Hence if you find yourself sweating more it is definitely a heat stress in the form of temperature or humidity. Hence electrolyte and glucose has to be adequately replaced by consumption.
  • Water loss: Loss of water can be detected by thirst or sweat becoming very salty that when it flows on your eyes it may burn. Replace water before your systems may dehydrate.
  • Electrolyte loss: This can be easily detected by the taste of sweat becoming sweet like water and not salty. Hence replace electrolytes.
  • Dizziness: This could say that the body is going to shut down due to any existing weakness like fever(my own experience in Mumbai this year), extreme levels of dehydration or drop in sugar levels or blood pressure. Do not push beyond. Take assistance immediately.

We all have grown up as runners at different calibers. Now is the time to evolve as RESPONSIBLE runners. Because the honest truth is running seldom kills but shows you who you really have MADE yourself to be.


Last modified on Monday, 02 March 2015 07:07

Dr.Gladson Johnson

Dr.Gladson Johnson is a practicing Sports Physiotherapist by profession for the past 12 years and a passionate bare foot runner for the past 5 years. He is the founder of Attitude Prime an organization which caters to Sports Injuries and Pain management through “Exercises” . Dr.Gladson Johnson believes that “Exercise Is Medicine

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