From Couch Potato to Marathon Runner

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star-sponsored-native The following article is sponsored by University of Utah Health Care.

Natalie did not always enjoy running. Growing up she was sedentary and overweight, and it wasn’t until about eight years ago when she was in college that she decided she wanted to become a runner.

“I always thought running was a sweaty, uncomfortable thing, but once I started doing it, it just got kind of addictive,” Natalie said.

With a father and sister who both run marathons, she decided running could help her stay healthy and lose weight. In 2010 she ran her first marathon on an injury, and it was a slow and painful event. She didn’t want to give up running but when a second injury slowed her down again in 2013, Natalie knew she needed to find help. That’s when a doctor referred her to the Runner’s Clinic at the University of Utah.

The Runner’s Clinic is a specialty area in the physical therapy department at the University of Utah Orthopaedic Center that initially offered movement analysis for runners. It has expanded to include running history analysis, training reviews, injury diagnosis, video and gait training for proper mechanics, customized programming and physical therapy. The clinic even offers a force plate report, which provides computerized imaging of how a runner’s foot hits the ground with each step.

For Natalie, getting back into running shape meant going beyond just physical therapy for the inflammation and pain in her hip.

“They did an in-depth analysis of my stride, and that was part of what was causing the injury problems for me,” she said. “I had not expected that, but it was really helpful.”

The clinic is primarily a resource for runners who experience acute or chronic injury. Since running is an exercise with few barriers to entry (all you really need is a good pair of shoes and a place to run), many who begin doing it for exercise don’t know how to train properly to avoid getting hurt. Running is often painful at first, according to Runner’s Clinic Director Laura LaMarche, D.P.T., but if you strengthen your body and learn how to run with good form, it can become a pain-free and fun activity.

If running a marathon or other distance event is on your bucket list, LaMarche has some recommendations for training to help you get there.

First, make sure that you’re healthy enough to begin running.

“Many people start running to get fit, but you also need to be fit to run,” LaMarche said.

Add core strengthening, stretching and cross training to help prepare your body for the demands of running.

Second, get a good training schedule that includes recovery days and don’t try to do too much too soon. For many runners the most successful programs are progressions based on time, not distance, allowing you to train at your own pace. Both LaMarche and Horton also recommend that beginners start with walking or run/walk intervals.

“Just get off your couch and start walking, that’s what I did,” Natalie said. “I started walking, then ran a 5K, a 10K, eventually a half marathon, and now I have completed two marathons.”

Finally, take good care of your body by eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of sleep, and using yoga or stretching to prevent injury. These things also provide balance so you don’t get stressed out while preparing for a race.

There is no set time frame for someone to go from a “couch potato” to a marathon runner, but LaMarche recommends that you complete a half marathon first. Don’t set an unrealistic target for your finish time on this first event — the goal should just be to finish the race.

During race training, be aware of your body and on the lookout for potential signs of injury. The most common running injuries that LaMarche sees are knee pain, Achilles injuries and plantar fasciitis. These often come when runners add volume to a training regimen.

She also cautions runners to build a proper base before they start with half marathon or marathon training programs.

“Most training plans you can find online assume that you already run about 10 to 20 miles per week,” said LaMarche, who recommends running three days a week for at least two months, then increasing to four or five days.

The Runner’s Clinic helped Natalie achieve a dream of completing a second marathon after having such a bad experience on her first one. She started working with the clinic in November of 2013 and one year later was able to run the New York City Marathon, this time injury-free. While she doesn’t plan to run any more full marathons, she is looking forward to completing a half later this year, and maybe an Olympic distance triathlon.

“After my injury and worrying about whether it would be the end of my running, I am glad that I can continue to enjoy it,” Natalie said.

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