Akron Marathon experts provide running tips for all8 min read
The FirstEnergy Akron Marathon, Half Marathon and Team Relay is coming to the streets of Akron on Sept. 24. The marathon, celebrating its 20th year, is also a great community event, with thousands of supporters lining the route, too.
This month’s Healthy Actions column, which is a monthly look at a medical topic of interest with a local medical expert, will focus on running. To read previous columns, go to www.tinyurl.com/BettyHealthyActions
More:Previous Healthy Actions columns
I spoke to Dr. Nilesh Shah, a sports medicine physician for Summa Health, who is the medical director for the marathon as well as team doctor for the Akron Rubberducks and Kent Roosevelt High School, and Laura McElrath, vice president of operations and race director for the marathon.
This is an edited version of the interview. There is also a Now You Know Akron podcast and a video available.
Laura, most Akronites are aware of the “blue line” race route, but give us some highlights
The FirstEnergy Akron Marathon is part of the Akron Marathon race series, which is a three-part series that spans the summer. There is a one mile and 8K in June, a 10K and half marathon in August and full marathon, half and five-person relay on Sept. 24 and a kids one-mile fun run on the night before the race.
We’re still kind of coming out of the COVID world. We’re anticipating aout 8,500 runners this year and we’ll have spectators and volunteers out on the course.
Tell me about the spectrum of people who come out and participate
We have an elite category where we choose 40 to 60 athletes. A lot of people don’t realize runners come in all shapes and sizes.
The full marathon course (which is 26.2 miles) is open for 6.5 hours, so that’s about a 15-minute-per-mile pace. The half marathon (which is 13.1 miles) is open for 3.5 ours, or about a 16-minute pace.
Sometimes people can get scared of the idea of a big event and think they need to run sub-5-minute miles or sub-6-minute miles, but we try to open the course for as long as we can to welcome all abilities to the race.
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Dr. Shah, what advice do you have for people who are motivated to start running or walking?
A lot of people read or hear that when they talk about starting a new exercise regimen, you should consult your doctor. Should you really consult your doctor? Undergoing a stress test and seeing your doctor is usually unnecessary for the vast majority of people looking to start a light to moderate exercise program.
As long as they increase slowly and increase appropriately, they don’t need to see their health care provider. But there will be some people who haven’t done a thing in two years, especially with COVID, and if you have some specific concerning symptoms at rest or with exercise or you have a certain medical condition, you might want to see a physician. Things like chest pain or chest pressure with exercise, neck or jaw or left arm pain specifically with exercise, shortness of breath, unusual fatigue, ankle swelling or shortness of breath during the night or a dizzy feeling while exercising. Medical conditions would include previous heart issues, kidney issues, lung issues and diabetes.
If you don’t have any of these issues, but start having any while exercising, see a doctor.
Start with a walk-run program. Start with 15 minutes and break that into five-minute segments. Walk for four minutes and run for one and repeat. Do that three times a week and have a day off every other day to recover.
If that went well, then change that five-minute ratio to walk for three, run for two. Keep adding a little more running until eventually after about four weeks, you’re running 15 minutes straight and then you can kind of play with your numbers. There’s a lot of online tools like Couch to 5K or other things to slowly work your way up.
I work out, but I hate running. I’m grumpy the whole time and can’t figure out whether to breathe through my mouth or nose. Any advice for others like me?
Choose what you like. Don’t force yourself into being a runner. Yes, we have all these great races in the Akron Marathon and they do great job with including everybody. But if running’s not for you, running’s not for you. I’d rather someone do something. If they say, “Oh, I’m just not gonna run and then forget it, I’m just gonna sit on the couch because I don’t wanna go run,” I’d rather you get on the elliptical or the rowing machine or a bike.
When it comes to breathing, I tell people don’t force that either. Don’t think about it. When you get tired, you get tired and you’re going to get air in however you can.
(McElrath also suggests slowing your pace if you have trouble breathing; you might be trying to run too fast.)
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What are some tips for protecting your feet and protecting yourself from shin splints?
The most important thing is a good pair of running shoes. We have a lot of running shoe specialty stores in our area and people there are very knowledgeable.
I tell my patients, try on 10 pairs of shoes or as many as they’ll put out for you. They’ll let you go run outside. Don’t just walk around three steps in the store. Once you narrow them down to one or two, try one on each foot.
You might spend a little extra money at these specialty stores, but I think you’re paying for service and knowledge. Also, have a good pair of running socks. It’s amazing how much socks can make a difference.
You also need a good warm up and to me that is not just a static stretch of putting your leg up on something or stretching your hamstrings. It’s a dynamic warmup with arm swings, leg swings, jumping jacks and side to side motions.
Then afterward, for your cooldown you can do a brisk walk or a little bit of static stretching.
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I’ve heard there can be chest-area chaffing issues. Any advice?
There can be a lot of chaffing issues if you run for too long. It’s not only on the chest, but under arms and between the legs. If you run long enough, that can become a problem. There’s good stuff like skin lube to put in the hot spot areas and even for your feet if you are prone to blisters.
What about diet and water intake?
Hydration wise, if you’re going for an hour or less, you probably don’t need a lot of excessive water or even an electrolyte replacement drink. I tell people drink 8 to 10 ounces of water a couple of hours before you go run and then maybe another 8 ounces about 15 minutes before you go, then usually 8 ounces for every 15 minutes that you’re out there.
If you’re going for longer than an hour, then you probably want to do some type of electrolyte replacement drink. For the salty sweaters, or those who have a higher salt concentration in their sweat and where you can see a salt ring on your hat or clothes after it dries, they need to just replace that salt a little bit more and that won’t be enough just by drinking something like Gatorade. Those people might need to take some salt tablets to replace those electrolytes.
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Laura, any other tips for beginning or moderate runners?
We do have a couple of training plans on the Akron Marathon website, www.akronmarathon.org.
Dr. Shah, for people who have been prepping for the marathon, what tips do you have for them in the final weeks? Should people be carbo-loading the night before?
If you’re really going to do carbo-loading, the way it’s really prescribed is it’s really almost carb restriction initially and then leading up into the early part of the week, actually carbo loading early in the week, which is really kind of cumbersome for most people.
Honestly, it’s probably not necessary. Good hydration and good sleep is the most important thing. Most of us don’t get good sleep and recovery and rest.
For our training and our job and our families, that’s usually the thing we skimp on. Get a good night’s rest, not just leading up to the race, but through your training.
For race day, practice with some type of carbohydrate replacement. For the marathon, we have gels on the course, so make sure you know which we use (GU salted caramel and tri-berry gels) because everybody’s stomachs are different in what they tolerate. Practice with those on your long runs.
Laura, any other tips as people head into race day?
Don’t try to pack in all your training in those last 10 days before race day. It’s best to rest and be recovered and then be ready for race day. Make sure you’re taking care of your body during those days instead of trying to fit in the last long run or hard workout.
Beacon Journal consumer columnist and medical reporter Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or [email protected]. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.tinyurl.com/bettylinfisher