Tips For The Long Run

The 26.2 mile marathon is meant to test the limits of human endurance. Training for one means you'll have to pay extra-close attention to your body—and take very good care of it along the way. It's one thing to stay healthy when you're running a few miles a day. It's another thing entirely when your long runs keep you out on the road for upwards of three hours, and your weekly mileage heads beyond 50. Preventive medicine becomes doubly important when you're training for a marathon. Here's a quick rundown of how to adapt the principles of healthy running to intense training:

Refuel During And After A Long Run: "If you're going to be out there for two, three, four hours, it's even more important to drink a sports drink instead of water," says Ed Burke, PhD, director of the exercise physiology department at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. Runs longer than 90 minutes severely deplete the body's supply of glycogen, so you'll want to get carbohydrates and electrolytes while you're running. Wear a fanny pack to carry a bottle of sports drink, or suck down some packets of energy gel with your water at midrun.

Eat A Balanced Diet: Your body will be dipping into fat stores for energy, and you'll be straining muscle, which requires protein to repair. This is not the time to have a salad for lunch and plain pasta for dinner. Eat a diet rich in carbohydrates, but supplement it with healthy fat and protein sources. Toss in a diced chicken breast with that pasta, add chickpeas and pecans to the salad.

Practice Preventive Medicine: Stretch regularly after your runs to counter the tightening effect of training. Treat yourself to massage or acupuncture in the months leading up to the marathon, when your training is most intense. Alternate wearing two pairs of running shoes to balance the stresses on your feet and legs.

Listen To Your Body: Marathon training is taxing, and many runners never make it to the starting line. There's nothing more frustrating than doing all that work only to come down with a cold or pull a muscle right before the big race. Pay attention to your body's signals. If you feel aches or pains, take the day off or replace your planned run with an easy one. If you feel a cold coming on, take herbs to boost your immune system (see "The Herbal Runner"). Get plenty of sleep so your body can restore itself properly. And finally, enjoy your runs. The marathon is a journey whose rewards come along the way, not just at the finish line.

—Dagny Scott Barrios