With the October 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon approaching, now is the right time to make sure you are taking the steps you need to be prepared for the big race. Whether you are an experienced runner with several races under your belt or a novice embarking on your first marathon, conquering 26.2 miles is a challenge. Crossing the finish line requires a smart training program, preparation, and dedication. To help us understand how to prepare for the upcoming race, we turn to SHIFT’s very own Care Coordinator and race veteran, Dan Kremske, to provide his insights. Dan ran cross country and track for the University of Illinois and has completed 11 total marathons, finishing with a top 25 placement at the 2019 Chicago Marathon and a top 28 placement at the 2020 US Olympic Trials. In this month’s Movement Memo, we asked Dan about best practices in training for marathons.
How do you recommend programming running volume and intensity throughout the training process?
I recommend starting your training with a volume and intensity that your current experience and personal fitness level can support—everyone starts in a different spot. Once you feel your body has adapted to the initial training volume and intensity, you should incrementally increase either one or both variables. However, it is important to avoid increasing the training load too quickly. Drastic increases in training load place you at higher risk for injury. Phone apps, such as Nike Run Club, RunKeeper, and Strava can help provide programming guidance for novice runners. Of note, most marathon training runs should be conducted at a slightly slower pace than your target marathon pace to limit the amount of stress on your body during high-volume training.
Regardless of which program you follow, consistency is key. Without consistency, your body cannot make the necessary physiologic adaptations needed to meet the demands of running a marathon.
What do you recommend as a warm-up and cool-down routine?
Before stepping out the door to run, it’s imperative to activate the major muscle groups required for running, including the glutes, core, hamstrings, quads, and calves. Activation of major muscle groups with light resistance bands and at a high-repetition improves muscle function during your run, increases performance, and mitigates injury risk. In addition to muscle activation, a proper warm-up should include a dynamic stretching routine. A proper cool-down routine should also involve dynamic or passive stretching or both. This will reduce post-run soreness and maintain range of motion needed in your lower body joints.
What are the benefits of cross-training when training for the marathon?
Cross-training primarily helps to alleviate the stress placed on muscles and joints during marathon training. The high-impact nature of running commonly results in overuse injuries, so cross-training can provide a biomechanical reprieve while still obtaining a cardiovascular training benefit. If you feel the onset of aches or pains that make running difficult, it can be helpful to cross-train one or multiple days to alleviate the underlying cause of discomfort. Examples of cross training include cycling, swimming, and rowing.
Do you supplement your training with strength training?
Strength training is extremely important in improving running economy (i.e., metabolic and biomechanical efficiency). An adequate muscular strength base can delay the onset of fatigue during intense training and racing. Delaying fatigue and staving off biomechanical breakdown is key to maximizing performance in endurance sports. Strength training also minimizes injury risk by improving stability and soft tissue resilience.
What are your recommended methods for recovery?
The two pillars of recovery are proper rest and nutrition. It’s paramount to stay disciplined with your sleep schedule and prioritize at least 8 hours of sleep per night to allow your body to adapt from the stress of training. Similarly, it’s crucial to follow a well-rounded nutrition plan and meet the body’s demands for carbohydrates, protein, and fat. (If you are unsure what this means for you individually, reach out to one of our registered dietitians at email@example.com.)
Beyond sleep and nutrition, it is important to be intentional with recovery runs. The goal of a recovery run is to promote physiological adaptations while allowing the body to heal from the stress of harder workouts. Recovery runs should be performed at a substantially slower pace than harder training efforts. An indication of proper recovery run pace is the ability to hold a conversation during the run. Lastly, as mentioned previously, having a consistent warm-up and cool-down routine helps aid in overall recovery.
How do you choose your footwear? When is it time to get new shoes?
The selection of proper running footwear should be based on both comfort with functionality. Many running shoe stores have a treadmill on-site to accommodate product trials before purchase. It is highly recommended to try running in a shoe to ensure that it feels comfortable with your natural running stride before buying.
The guidelines for purchasing new running shoes are based on the total running mileage on that shoe. Highly-cushioned, everyday training shoes have a lifetime of ~500 miles, speed or tempo shoes typically have a ~300-400-mile lifespan, and racing shoes have a diminishing return in terms of performance life but are viable for ~100-200 miles typically. It might be helpful to track your total running mileage of each of your shoes so you can alternate between shoes when appropriate.
Should you be concerned about the running surface you train on?
It is important to consider the effects of your running surface on your body. Harder surfaces, such as concrete and asphalt, put greater stress on the joints of the lower body. It is a good practice to seek softer surfaces occasionally, such as crushed limestone or dirt trails, as an opportunity to minimize overall load on the joints. This is especially beneficial for long training runs and workouts. Training in high cushioned shoes also can greatly mitigate the stress that results from running on harder surfaces.
What do you do if you miss a scheduled run?
Training needs to be rescheduled or skipped from time to time – life happens. However, avoid overcompensating for any missed training. Adding additional mileage onto future runs is an easy way to cause injury. It is best to view a missed run as an extra day of recovery and simply continue with your regular training schedule. A single session won’t make or break your marathon performance: it is a journey determined by consistency. Stay calm, stay rational, and don’t get down on yourself for missing a run because life got in the way—it happens to runners at all levels!
Are there any special considerations when preparing for the Chicago Marathon in particular?
The toughest thing about the Chicago Marathon in October is (of course) variability in weather conditions. Training for the marathon in Chicago involves adapting to heat and humidity while training during the summer months. Historically, weather conditions for this event are anything but dependable, swinging between hot and humid to downright chilly and sometimes hitting “just right.” Don’t be caught off guard— give yourself a psychological and competitive advantage by knowing your plan for fueling, hydrating, and dressing for different race day conditions.
Do you have any additional questions about preparing for marathons or the Chicago Marathon specifically? Reach out to your SHIFT team for guidance – we are here to help!
In Real Health,