As 45,000 runners face the final stretch of training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 8, they’re wondering how many miles to put in each week and how to avoid getting injured before the big race.
Benjamin Hasan, M.D., board certified in both family medicine and sports medicine, is a regular Chicago Marathon volunteer at the 12.5-mile mark where he assesses injuries during the race. He has run seven marathons, and he has seen runners make a lot of common mistakes when preparing for the marathon.
At the 12.5-mile mark, he says, “we have over 100 runners dropping out at that spot every year.” Those who drop out may be injured, undertrained, dehydrated or ill.
“If you feel pain or you’re not feeling right, you should drop out,” he suggests. It’s OK, he adds, because you can always run another race.
Dr. Hasan says a common mistake runners make when training is running too many miles, which increases their risk of injury. Anything over 35 miles per week increases risk. Avoiding stress fractures is another big issue with runners.
“In sports medicine, we talk about two types of broken bones,” Dr. Hasan says. “We can have traumatic fracture by falling or we could have a stress fracture, which occurs over time from gradual, multiple pieces of trauma like running. So if we’re training for the marathon and we end up with pain in a bone in the lower extremities, that may actually be a stress fracture.”
Dr. Hasan says you should not run with a broken bone, and a stress fracture is a broken bone. He recommends stop training and let it heal.
Symptoms of a stress fracture include pain with running, getting worse and worse over time. It differs, he says, from a muscle strain or sprain, which gets better over time.
“A muscle strain occurs when the stress of the activity is greater than the strength of the muscle,” he says. “A tendon or ligament sprain occurs when the stress is greater than the strength of the tendon or ligament.”
Differentiating between the two requires a physical exam by a physician trained in sports medicine.