On Your Health

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Marathon Training Tips from a Physician Who Runs

In our last marathon training post, we spoke with INTEGRIS dietitian Brent Wilson about his top training tips and advice for fueling your runs. Today we’ll hear from Alan Puls, M.D., an interventional cardiologist at the INTEGRIS Heart Hospital who has completed 35 marathons, about his training philosophies and tips for beginners.

Preventing and treating common running injuries

Shin splints might be the most common complaint among runners, especially those in the beginning stages of training. Shin splints can be painful enough to bring training runs to a halt, but Dr. Puls says there isn’t a miracle solution.

“There’s no magic way to make them go away quickly,” says Dr. Puls. “You can try ibuprofen and things like that, but that’s a short-term fix and doesn’t really address the actual problem. You really just have to rest and take time off long enough for them to heal.”

Dr. Puls’ long-term solution for shin splints? “Never increase your distance by more than 10 percent a week. That’s probably the biggest reason people get shin splints; they try and push too hard, too fast. I also recommend running on soft surfaces like grass as much as possible, and to replace your shoes after a reasonable amount of wear and tear.”

In recent years, special adhesive tape known as “kinesio-tape” has been a staple on the running scene as an aid for ailments like shin splints and other muscle- and joint-related pains. “I know a lot of people use it, and some people swear by it,” says Dr. Puls, “but if you’re doing enough cross training, and you’re adding to your distance in a slow, methodical way, you’re less likely to need it.”

Dr. Puls’ go-to cross-training methods

Whether you’re just running to get in better shape or training for a marathon, the importance of cross training is paramount — for muscle recovery, endurance and overall fitness. “You can’t just run,” Dr. Puls warns. “Cross training strengthens other muscles. The stationary bike is my number one way to cross train, and the elliptical is number two. If you have access to a pool, swimming is another great way. You just want something that’s non-pounding on your joints and you have easy access to use it. Not everyone has access to a pool where they can swim laps, but many people can access a bike.”

Choosing a training plan

While there are many training plans out there for beginners, both paid and free, Dr. Puls doesn’t follow any specific training plan. “There are some services you can buy and plans you can follow, but the biggest thing is just to go out there and gradually increase your mileage to 30-35 miles a week. If you’re running a full marathon, you want to be able to run a few 20-milers before the race,” Dr. Puls advises.

“It’s just important that you give yourself ample time to train. Twelve weeks may be enough time to train for a half marathon, but you probably need four or more good months to adequately train for a full marathon so you can go at a slow enough pace to not injure yourself,” he says.

Hydration and fueling for the big race

“For my longer runs, I use Gu® or Hammer Gel® packets. Really, it’s whatever works best for you. Just don’t eat things you’re not familiar with, especially the night before the race. Don’t overload yourself, and don’t go to a restaurant you’ve never tried before. Stick with what you know,” Dr. Puls says.

Hydration should be an important consideration, too. “I don’t hydrate a whole lot right before the race, the morning of, but staying hydrated during the race is so important. In fact, I try to get two glasses at every water stop. You can overhydrate, but one or two glasses at each water stop won’t hurt and it’ll keep you going,” says Dr. Puls.

Running the Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon on April 30, 2017

Dr. Puls has finished 35 marathons and is no stranger to OKC’s marathon course. “There have been 16 Oklahoma City Memorial Marathons and I’ve run all 16. I like that it’s close; you don’t have to travel to do it. I know a lot of people along the route, different volunteers and water stops, so it’s familiar to me, and of course, the atmosphere is great. The purpose behind the race means a lot,” says Dr. Puls.

Will you be running in this year’s Run to Remember? As Dr. Puls says, slow and steady is the way to train.

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