Staying healthy is more than half the battle.
Whether it's avoiding injury or illness, the biggest potential opponent in a runner's way is his or her own body. I remember reacting cynically when trainers or race announcers said things like, "Just being here is a victory!" Really? Because I'm pretty sure I've still got 26 miles to go before anyone hands me a medal.
As I put more miles behind me, however, I realize the magnitude of what they mean. Not only is it a moral victory to have made the choice to run a marathon, it's a near miracle to physically make it to the starting line. The first, and I feel most obvious, reason is that high mileage training takes its toll on your body. You must be very careful to monitor your body and its various warning signs when it comes to physical distress. Especially if it is your first marathon (or even your first race), you want to approach with severe caution. It's much smarter to say, "I could have run faster," than to collapse, look behind yourself and say, "Oh, there were my limits."
The other health danger is much sneakier. When you do any physical activity, especially if you are out of practice, you risk immune suppression. Your body spends so much energy working out and rebuilding muscle that your immune system works at a lower capacity. Should you come into contact with the wrong microbial crowd in this state, you might be in trouble.
So, how do you deal with these issues? Caution. Avoid physical injury by taking your time. Don't try to add too many miles too soon in your training, and if you don't need it, avoid speed work. If you have to have your fast day(s), make sure that you give your body time to recover before another hard workout. In my case, I have a family (and personal) history of knee trouble, so I take echinacea and fish oil every day. Both promote cartilage growth and, therefore, joint health. And finally, nothing replaces stretching, though this too should be done with caution in mind.
For staying away from illness, I've also added a daily vitamin C supplement to my routine, and there are other considerations that will help as well. Dress for the temperature. If the weather is absurd (cold rain, high winds, February in Chicago Cold), find a treadmill or take the day off. When you've completed your workout, get a shower as soon as you can and regulate your body temperature as much as possible. Oh, and one last thing. If possible, stay out of Texas in February.
Why, you ask? Because these temperature mood swings are out of control. Three days ago, the temperature at sunrise was below freezing. Today, we're looking at a high of 75. The human body isn't designed to appreciate these swings, and it often responds by getting sick, so the above recommendations are even more important. The Austin Marathon is this week, and I'm not sure anyone has a clue what the weather is going to be like. Have fun, you guys!
Seriously, though, I'm not a doctor or anything. These are just common sense thoughts that I've acquired throughout my many years of running. There is, of course, the possibility that you will do everything right and something still will go wrong. When this happens, you have only one word to remember: rest. If you're sick, you shouldn't be out on the roads, at least not for long periods of time. It will delay recovery, not speed it. If you've injured yourself, then you definitely should be off your feet. A muscle pain here and there is normal, but if you've got something nagging enough to be an "injury," let it heal.
And maybe still stay out of Texas.
64 Degrees / Foggy, Light Rain