​Dear Runners: Can You Stop Shooting Yourself In the Foot Already?

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During stressful times, like the ones we are living in now, running can provide immense relief. Especially if you decide to train for marathon distances, running can become a goal to focus on. It’s a great distraction from the troubling news around us, and an ideal workout when you’re following social distancing guidelines. Of course, when you run, especially if you’re new to distance running, training can trigger soreness: from pain in heel of foot, to toe pain or even general foot pain, your new running schedule could find you seeking pain relief. Or even considering quitting. Now, I’m all for the first idea, as long as you seek expert treatment and don’t try to diagnose and treat your own foot pain.

But I also don’t want to see you give up on yourself when the distance running gets difficult. So, today, I’m going to debunk some running myths for you, share some important information on pain relief for runners, and share some important running tips. Ready? Let’s dive in!  

3 Running Myths to Forget Right Now Even if distance running is exhausting, don't let pain or negative energy keep you from your marathon goals

Sometimes, the only thing stopping you from training for a marathon is your own negative self-talk. Are any of these running myths floating around your brain at this moment? It’s time to forget them: ASAP.

Myth #1: Only certain bodies were built for running

Truth: While some physical attributes can help you become a competitive runner—proportionately long legs for distance running and muscular ones for sprinting—anyone can run for fun. And that fact applies to any distance, including the 13.1 or 26.2 miles of a marathon. So, what’s the key to successful distance running? Just go at your own pace, carve out a distance that feels good for you (you can always increase your distance as your comfort with running improves) and don’t worry about anything else—except for heel pain or foot pain, of course. But we’ll get back to that in a moment.

Myth #2: If you’re overweight, you can’t be a runner

Truth: Carrying some extra pounds will put extra pressure on your joints, which can elevate your risk of a running injury. But here’s the thing: you can take baby steps to reach your distance running goals. Instead of doing a couch to 5K, work up to a run from a walking routine (and combine your training with a sensible diet). You’ll likely see the pounds come off and be surprised by your ability to add speed and distance to your running sessions!

Myth #3: Every runner loves the sport immediately

Truth: So what if, on your first run off the couch, you really, really hate it? That doesn’t mean you always will! True, some runners feel an immediate high when they set off—but some don’t, and that’s ok too. Either way, you still get all the cardiovascular benefits, so why not push through the boredom and frustration (but never the pain) to see if you can learn to love, or at least tolerate the sport? Are you still with me? Now let’s focus on some long run day routines that can get you marathon ready (or just up for adding miles to your training routine.)

Top Tips for Long Distance Running Hitting the road for marathon distance running? Don't forget to prepare the right way to avoid pain and running injuries

Even though we don’t know when in-person marathons will return, you can still follow a marathon training program, either to stay in race-ready shape or simply to challenge yourself. Most marathon training programs involve shorter, speed-driven run days during the week, with distance running sessions reserved for the weekends. If that’s your plan, here’s some ideas to make those long runs a little bit easier:

1. Carb load

The night before and morning of your longer runs, get 65-70% of your calories from carbs, but don’t stuff yourself full of pasta and bread. Eat a normal amount of food, but shift the balance towards carbohydrates.

2. Drink up

Drink plenty of water all day so you don’t go into a distance training session dehydrated. You should also skip the alcohol, as it could interfere with your sleep or leave you dealing with a hangover, which could also impact your hydration.

3. Take it easy

Don’t sneak in a crazy hard workout, or heavy weight lifting session, just before your distance running day. This will just overload your body, making you more vulnerable to common running injuries.

4. Trim your toenails

One of the most common running injuries I see is bruised, blackened or falling-off toenails. Even if you consider that a runner’s badge of pride, ugly toenails are the last thing you want this summer—they just won’t look good in your perfect summer sandals. So, before heading out for a long distance run, trim all your toenails so that they are short and straight. Long toenails could bump up against your shoes, get bruised and bloody, and put you at risk for an ingrown toenail.

How to Safely Address Running Pain If toe pain is affecting your distance runs, think twice before popping NSAIDs. See your podiatrist instead

Even if you follow all my best advice for runners, you may end up with soreness after a long run (and sometimes even a short one.) I know it can be tempting to pop an ibuprofen and push through the pain, but there are several dangers involved in that course of action.

First, using non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen can mask the pain of a minor running injury. While this will allow you to keep running, it could also let you further irritate an inflamed foot or ankle muscle, meaning your injury will be more serious by the time you seek professional treatment.

And that’s not all: taking NSAIDs when you’re running long distances can actually be dangerous. According to a study in the International Journal of Pharmacy Practice, taking NSAIDS before a long run increases your risk for stomach pain, kidney problems and hyponatraemia (this is a condition where you overload on water, reducing your body’s sodium levels to potentially fatal lows. Though relatively rare, this is a real risk for distance runners, who chug water while sweating intensely. And NSAIDs can increase the likelihood of developing this condition.)

Now, I don’t want to scare you off distance running. I just beg you to train wisely. And, if you feel pain during or after a run that goes beyond typical muscle soreness, come in and see me. I’m offering in-person visits, as well as telemedicine consultations for runners.

Dr. Andrew Schneider
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A podiatrist and foot surgeon in Houston, TX.
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