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How to Start Training for a Marathon

John Cianca, M.D., Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Medical Director, Chevron Houston Marathon

How to Start Training for a MarathonCompleting a marathon is an admirable and challenging process. Training for a marathon is long and arduous; so, it is reasonable to make sure you are up for the task prior to beginning the journey.

Overcoming Obstacles

Many participants who begin training for a marathon have little to no running experience. So you must make sure there are not any health obstacles before you begin. If you are not regularly participating in physical activity, you must see your primary healthcare provider to have a physical exam and any necessary laboratory tests to screen for potential problems that could impact your training.

You should also be seen by a physical medicine & rehabilitation specialist (physiatrist) or orthopedist who specializes in sports medicine and running injuries, preferably one familiar with running injuries. This visit should screen for muscle weakness or imbalance, joint disorders, and assess your running style, or gait analysis.

You should also discuss training plans and common injuries. Armed with the knowledge of how to train according to your physical capabilities, many of these injuries may be preventable.

Additionally, ask about strategies for optimal hydration, which is critically important to your health. No other issue is responsible for as many race day problems as hydration. Finally, ask which running shoe is best suited to your foot and type of training. Make sure you understand what you need.

Best Way to Train

The next point to consider is how you are going to train. If you have never trained for a marathon before it can be a daunting task to devise and carry out a training schedule that is safe and effective. I would recommend joining a reputable running club or training program. If this is not an option for you, then, partner with a friend or group of other runners to train together.

Running with others is a way to stay focused and motivated, and a great way to get feedback and direction about your training. However, whether in a formal program or just running with friends, your training will need to be adjusted for your individual needs. Be careful to stay within your capabilities, realizing the need to push yourself. Lastly, a coach or an online training program can be very helpful. Whether alone or in a group, either of these options can guide your progress.

Lastly, if you are a novice runner, strongly consider running shorter races prior to undertaking a marathon. At a minimum, this should be done during the time you are training for your marathon. However, I would recommend that you give yourself a year or two of running shorter races prior to committing yourself to a marathon. This will give you the experience you need to be safe and successful with your marathon aspirations and it will make your journey all the more enjoyable.

For a referral to a physical medicine & rehabilitation specialist or sports medicine fellowship-trained orthopedist at the Institute, call 713.222.CARE.

John Cianca, M.D., Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation
Medical Director, Chevron Houston Marathon

Dr. Cianca is a board certified specialist in Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation (PM&R). He was born in Rochester, N.Y. Upon graduating in 1988 from Albany Medical College, he completed a transitional internship at Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, N.Y., and then returned to Rochester to do his residency in PM&R at Strong Memorial Hospital at the University of Rochester.

In 1992 he moved to Houston, to do a musculoskeletal fellowship in the Department of PM&R at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Cianca began a private practice in July 2004, but continues as an adjunct associate professor with the Department of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation at Baylor College of Medicine.

Dr. Cianca’s clinical interests are in musculoskeletal injury, acupuncture, viscosupplementation and biomechanics. His practice is based upon the principles of sports medicine, but he sees patients of all ages and levels of activity. His goal is to help people undertake their recreational and vocational pursuits with better understanding of their particular biomechanics. In 2005 he added musculoskeletal ultrasound to his practice. He uses ultrasound for both diagnosis and procedures.

Dr. Cianca teaches fellows, residents and medical students as part of his medical practice. He also is very involved in community-based education as part of the mission of the Human Performance Center, which he founded in January 1994.

Dr. Cianca is a founding member of the American Road Race Medical Society. He has served as medical director for the Houston Marathon since 1998. Finally, Dr. Cianca is active in developing research in the areas of human performance and musculoskeletal medicine.