Proper training, caution can prevent running injuries in Austin Marathon

Ellen Airhart

This Sunday, 18,000 runners will participate in the 24th annual Austin Marathon — a 26.2-mile footrace around the city — in which some will experience cramps, vomiting and loss of bladder control. 

The unprepared may even suffer more serious consequences.

An injury caused by one half-marathon can put an athlete out for over a year, but these injuries are often preventable. 

“A lot of people have bad notions when it comes to marathons,” said Kyle Higdon, Texas Running Club coach and aerospace engineering graduate student. “Runners will always talk about their injuries, their knees. But, if you train correctly, running is strengthening your muscles and joints.” The benefits of running far outweigh the injuries.”

About half of all runners injure themselves over the course of a year. The knee is the area most at risk for a running injury in all ages and sexes, and the most common knee injury is patellofemoral pain syndrome — sometimes referred to as runner’s knee. 

While runner’s knee is the most common injury, stress fractures are rare and have more serious consequences. Stress fractures are tiny, painful cracks in the bone that account for nearly 15 percent of all running injuries. If an athlete continues to run through the pain, the crack could widen until it becomes a serious fracture in the bone. If this injury happens in the top of the femur — the large bone to which the thigh muscle is attached — a hip replacement may be necessary. 

Robin Merket, a sports medicine doctor at University Health Services, recommends that athletes start training with a run-and-walk program and not increase mileage by more than 10 percent a week.  

“It’s best — especially if you haven’t been a runner — to start very slowly,” Merket said. “I can’t tell you how many college students come in after the marathon and they’ve [only] trained for maybe two weeks.” 

External factors, such as inappropriate running shoes, often lead to greater injury risk. Each foot falls a different way; runners must find shoes that match their gait. Employees at specialty running stores are trained to find the right shoe for every foot.Depending on the quality of the shoe, athletes should switch out their running shoes every 350–500 miles. 

There are certain precautions athletes can take to prime their bodies for a smooth running experience. Recent research indicates dynamic, movement-oriented warm-ups, such as lunges, high knee kicks or jogging, are more effective than stretching in place. 

From experienced marathoners to running newbies, proper preparation and technique are the best ways to prevent injuries at Sunday’s marathon.