Running a marathon safely and successfully

The thrill of a marathon: The recent Mumbai event, in which 17 runners were hospitalised, throws up questions around why we run and how much training it takes to stay safe

On the evening of the Mumbai marathon, the day the unfortunate death of a 64-year-old participant hit the news, Shanu Srivastava, Senior Consultant Psychologist at Indian Spinal Injuries Centre, Delhi, was in her clinic counselling a 42-year-old woman. “She was lonely, with her husband busy at work and children away in boarding school,” says Shanu. Inspired by a friend who had just finished a half marathon, the woman said she planned to run the Mumbai event the following year.

“It was her way of fighting boredom,” says Shanu. As a practitioner of cognitive behaviour therapy, the psychologist’s job was to help the woman change her perception of life. In this positive shift in thought process though, something else may happen. “The problem begins when we leave our real selves behind,” she says, adding that people tend to look to filling time with activities that appear attractive and empowering on social media.

At the 17th edition of the annual Mumbai Marathon, which had a participation of 55,322 runners, 19 runners suffered severe dehydration, of which 17 required hospitalisation, and 1,350 runners required minor medical assistance (dehydration, heat cramps, exhaustion, cuts and bruises). All the runners who needed medical help were discharged within the next 24 hours, barring two participants (one of whom suffered heart attack and the other a brain stroke).

Running is a good form of exercise but it is not the single best exercise for all, says Dr Sridhar V, Chief Cardiac Surgeon, Apollo Speciality Hospitals, Madurai. “A marathon is an endurance sport, and running one means you must understand your body first and train yourself appropriately and adequately,” he says. Here’s what you should keep in mind before planning to do any sport.

Ask yourself

Are you doing this because someone else did? Do you aspire to post updates about it on social media? Or is it more personal? If you are looking for a happy space, know that you don’t have to push your limits. Any form of exercise — even walking — may give you this. Many people in mid-life want a pastime. Pick something you used to do when you were young that could become a passion. It doesn’t have to be fitness-related. This doesn’t mean you don’t exercise — it just means it’s a way of life.

Get a check-up

Many people have pre-existing diseases that get aggravated under pressure, so it is essential to ask your doctor if you’re fit enough to start running, says Dr Sridhar. “The heart is an organ and everything is good in moderation. A pre-event check-up is helpful if you are above 40 years,” he says and adds, “You should know when to say ‘No’ to yourself. In the charged-up atmosphere of running, even if there is slight breathlessness or mild pain then stop immediately and take rest. Do not feel bad or shy about giving up something midway or seeking help.”

Understanding hydration

In training, profuse sweating can create havoc with your body, if you do not hydrate correctly. It is important to keep yourself hydrated not just with water but also with glucose, salt, and lime juice. “When we exercise and feel thirsty, we usually drink water, but it contains no minerals and does not replace the loss of salts due to sweating,” he says. There is also the problem of hyponatremia, an excess of water that can result in disorientation, just as dehydration does. Ask a coach to guide you.

Focus on form

Running techniques, style and stride are all important, says, Dr Vijay D’Silva, Director-Critical Care, Asian Heart Institute & Medical Director, Tata Mumbai Marathon. Those who are flat-footed, for instance, have special needs that a doctor can guide you through. Pre- and post-run stretches are essential and some yoga is beneficial. Yoga helps with balance, important at a crowded event, where it is easy to trip and fall. “It is important to focus on your steps,” he says.

Train appropriately

Dr Aashish Contractor, Head of Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai, says that a medical advisory is sent to every runner, but everybody tends to take it casually. “We never believe it can happen to us till it actually does,” he says. “But whoever you are — a professional, amateur, first-timer, the bottom line is to train appropriately no matter what distance you choose to run.”

Train for the distance. So if you are running a half marathon, train for that event, with a scientific plan from a physiotherapist or sports medicine doctor. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t run if you have a heart problem, it just means you need to constantly be in touch with your doctor and train accordingly. “If you are back at your work station tomorrow after running a marathon today, it explains you trained yourself okay,” says Dr Contractor.

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Printable version | Mar 28, 2020 6:37:05 PM |

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