If entrants in this year’s Miami Fitbit Marathon and Half Marathon take a look at their fellow runners mid-race, there’s a good chance they’ll see a first-timer.
About 3,000 of the more than 20,000 people running this year’s Miami Fitbit Marathon and Half Marathon are doing so for the first time. Of those 3,000, three-quarters are running the Half Marathon.
Marathon running has fads, quirks and lore on everything from the right way to tie your shoes to how much and what you should drink after the race. So, if you are new to the race — and even if you’re not — here are tips from two sports medicine experts on the best practices for before, during and after the run, either full or half.
Before the race
The day before the race, experts recommend following the well-known gospel of marathon running: carb load.
Carbohydrate-heavy foods, like bread and pasta, help a runner stockpile energy to burn the next day. They prevent a fall in blood sugar and also decrease how tired you think you are.
“Carbohydrates work,” said Dr. Thomas Best, an orthopedic specialist at the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute.
He offered one precaution. A popular source of carbs is beer, and some runners like to have a few pints the night before a big race.
“Beer is a very good source of carbohydrates,” Best allows. But, “the issue becomes temperature regulation.”
Alcohol not only dehydrates the body, it causes problems with how the body handles heat and how kidneys function. Stick to water, he advises.
The morning of the race, Best suggests a small meal three to four hours before the start — something high carb, low fat and with a bit of protein. If you normally have a cup of coffee in the morning, you can do so before the race too.
“If you’re going to use caffeine before the race, you’re going to want to increase your water intake,” Best said.
Be careful though. Caffeine’s effects on the digestive system are well known, and a bathroom break in the middle of a race is a true inconvenience.
Doctors are split on the benefits of stretching before or after a workout.
“You could ask a hundred experts and get a hundred answers,” Best said. “I think the jury is still out.”
For most people, stretching isn’t likely to cause problems, he said. But it’s not clear if it offers benefits either.
It probably helps older people more, Best said, because tissue stiffens as it ages.
Dr. Thomas San Giovanni, medical director for the 2018 Fitbit Miami Marathon, suggests a warm-up, like jogging in place or gentle stretching, before the race to get the heart rate going.
During the race
The most important thing to focus on during a race is hydration, both doctors said.
For runs longer than an hour though, you also need something else, said San Giovanni, a physician with Miami Orthopedic & Sports Medicine Institute of Baptist Health South Florida.
“You need the body’s salts, the electrolytes, to replenish yourself,” he said. Severe dehydration can change the salt composition in the body and cause cramps.
Athletes probably don’t need a ton of salt while they’re working out. Well, unless they sweat a specific type of way.
“You see them running around Key Biscayne with a big white streak on their shirt,” Best said. “We call them salt sweaters.”
If that’s the case, those runners should load up on sodium — either through salt tablets or sports drinks.
For runners worried about how much water to drink during a race, Best said, “Thirst is a pretty good indicator.”
After the race
“A lot of people, once they cross the finish line they’ll just stop,” San Giovanni said. “That’s just not the right thing to do.”
Keep walking until your heart rate returns to normal and your body slows down, he said. There’s a chance that the sudden change between running and stopping can lead to issues like fainting.
Best recommends eating some more carbs within 30 minutes of finishing the race — something small, like a granola bar.
“The best recovery drink out there is chocolate milk,” Best said. It’s cheap, and it has protein, sodium and fat.
The doctors offered different opinions on one of the common after-race refreshments: beer.
“Afterward you’re fine,” Best said.
San Giovanni, on the other hand, urges runners to rehydrate before they drink alcohol.
“Everybody wants to celebrate,” he said. “I want everybody to be safe.”
The next meal should be a big one with plenty of carbs and protein. Afterward, runners might consider jumping in a bathtub full of ice water to speed up recovery. Both doctors said there’s proof the frosty dip works.
“Even though it can be intolerable to some people, we’ve seen evidence it can reduce some of the muscle injury that we see,” San Giovanni said.