The marathon is among the most respected sporting events and the collective fervour of participating in one is compelling these days. From registrations to fitness preparations, everything gets done quickly, and without much fuss. After all, running the enormous distance of a marathon is as much a lofty fitness challenge for the elite athlete as it is for the lay marathoner.

Checklist: Assess posture, gait and the strength of muscles.

For the amateur runner, things are not half as easy, and timings of 4-5 hours to finish the 21km half-marathon event are common. Nevertheless it’s the spirit of participation and achieving new heights in fitness that seems paramount in these events.

Long-distance running is serious business. A few weeks before a marathon, scores of people of all ages, from fitness groups and running clubs, can be spotted limbering up and training alongside promenades, beaches and gardens every morning in Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore, Chennai or Hyderabad. Twisting, stretching, reaching, learning the correct running techniques, assessing stride length, strike rate, posture, discussing training strategy, causes for charity, and what have you.

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The bulk of marathoners are non-athletes, and because these peo- ple are not as acclimatized to running long distances as elite athletes, and their musculoskeletal system is not adapted to taking the conti- nuous impact of a long run on concrete and uneven roads, the imp- ortance of safe-and-sound preparations becomes critically important.

For a non-athlete, it is rare to find the strong physiological foundation that is needed to run well and stay injury-free.

There are four stages to learning how to run well. Understanding these stages is a good way to gauge your running competency and this becomes a useful tool for self-improvement and awareness.

• Unconscious incompetence: Not knowing what you are doing or how you are running—most first-time runners fall into this stage of uncontrolled action.

• Conscious incompetence: Realize what you are doing incorrectly because a coach points out inconsistencies in form and technique.

• Conscious competence: Knowing what is correct and conducting independent body checks to see if what you are doing is correct.

• Unconscious competence: Not having to think about what is being done correctly. Running, now, is second nature because you have mastered the art over a period of time and don’t have to think about how to run any more. Elite marathoners eventually run this way.

Stay injury-free this marathon with these fitness evaluations:

Check posture, gait, the strength of muscles of the lower body and the core with the help of a physiotherapist (the core must be strong for you to run well and for a long time).

• Evaluate the biomechanics of your ankle and foot and then choose footwear accordingly. A podiatrist can help you with this through an orthotic evaluation of the foot. The podiatrist will check to see if you are flat-footed, whether the ankle joint is well aligned, and how evenly you distribute your body weight. This will then determine the kind of footwear you can use to run and exercise efficiently without injury. One of the common causes for knee-joint pain is biomechanically incorrect footwear.

Check all vital parameters such as blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate. Also, get a routine blood test done to check for deficiencies.

Get a fitness professional to chalk out your fitness programme for the marathon so that your peak performance happens on race day.

• Pay attention to warming up well before exercising to increase body temperature and circulation to warm up muscles. Also never forget to cool down. It is vital that muscles and joint structures return to their original physiological status to prevent injury.

• Nutrition plays a very important role in marathon training. Lack of adequate nutrition could lead to nutrient deficiencies and compromise performance. Get your body composition assessed and choose a diet accordingly. If you need to lose weight, choose a weight-loss plan you can sustain. Otherwise, eat healthy, don’t skip meals, and always eat well before training. Choose from high-fibre carbohydrates such as oats, bajra and wholewheat, have lots of vegetables; adequate protein from skimmed paneer, lean poultry and fish; and healthy nuts like almonds and walnuts. An example of a good breakfast is oats with skimmed milk, egg or egg white with multigrain bread and fruit. Stay well hydrated by drinking a glass of water every hour and at least 1 litre of cool water during exercise.

Madhuri Ruia is a nutritionist and Pilates expert. She runs InteGym in Mumbai, which advocates workouts with healthy diets.

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