Education

Keeping A Healthy Pace: Experts Advise Marathoners, Would-Be Runners

If you’ve been training for months for your first marathon, as many have done for the upcoming 2022 Life Time Miami Marathon & Half on Feb. 6, you know the challenges ahead, including figuring out proper nutrition and the right amount and type of fluids for hydration; avoiding muscle or stomach cramps; and staying mentally sharp.

During an Instagram Live session, a panel of Baptist Health experts, hosted by veteran marathoner Frankie Ruiz, Miami Marathon founder and chief running office at Life Time, covered many key topics for the experienced runners, or anyone wanting to start a serious running program. The full marathon covers 26.2 miles, with frequent stations set up along the route offering water or sports drinks that replace electrolytes (including potassium, calcium, sodium) that are lost when you sweat.

Baptist Health South Florida is a sponsor and the official medical provider for the Life Time Miami Marathon & Half, providing assistance at the various first-aid and medical stations along the full route.

“Runners have made it to the final stretch, and proper nutrition and preparation are crucial at this point,” said Mr. Ruiz. “So, when it comes to preparing for this or any marathon, even if you’re just picking up running this year, learning and understanding what your body’s going through can help ensure you do so properly and safely.”

Joining Mr. Ruiz were Carla Duenas, registered dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and Care Specialist (CDCES) with Community Health at Baptist Health; Eli Friedman, M.D., medical director of sports cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute; and Michael Swartzon, M.D., primary care sports medicine physician with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.

Hydration and Nutrition Tips

Proper hydration and nutrition are especially important as the big event approaches.

Can incorporating certain foods into your diet potentially help prevent cramping, asks Mr. Ruiz? Are there some foods that you need to stay away from or opt for — to make this a less frequent issue during the race?

“Many people initially go through muscle cramping,” explains Ms. Duenas. “How can I use nutrition to prevent that? Believe it or not, there isn’t conclusive research to just say, this specific food will prevent that muscle cramping. It’s got to do a little bit of everything. Hydration, No. 1, making sure that you start running hydrated.

“And if you’re a salt sweater — meaning that when you’re running and as you sweat, you notice a white kind of layer on your skin, like a crusty layer. That’s a lot of salt. That’s how you know if you’re salt sweater. If you’re losing a lot of salt, you got to replace that. So, increase your salt intake the day before, maybe the day of. Sports drinks have those electrolytes that we lose in the sweat. Some people swear by it and that it can prevent cramping. It helps.”

However, when it comes to hydrating, some runners over-do it — and that could spell trouble. Hyponatremia — when the body holds onto too much water causing sodium levels to become too low — is not uncommon during endurance events, explains Dr. Friedman.

“I really counsel people just to drink to thirst during a race, not to try to be too scientific about it because it can get us into trouble,” said Dr. Friedman. “And we see it in the medical tent fairly often, where people are really hydrating and hydrating and all of a sudden, by the end of the race, they’re confused and disoriented, and not focusing so well.”

Warming Up and Cooling Down

When it comes to conditioning, how important is it to properly warm up and cool down?

“Warming up and cooling down is very, very specific to the person,” explains Dr. Swartzon. “The first thing I would say is: What injuries have you had and what has kept you from running in the past? Because that should probably be part of your warmup — and your off days on strengthening and conditioning — because old injuries tend to come up. For example, if your IT (iliotibial) band (ligament that extends from the pelvic bone to the shinbone) gets tight with running, then part of your warmup should be stretching out your IT band.”

Here’s more from the panel of experts (click here for the full IG Live session):

Mr. Ruiz: “As simple as running may be, it certainly isn’t easy,” Mr. Ruiz tells the panel. “I can vouch for that. I’m a long-time runner. For those wanting to incorporate running into their lives. How can one start running safely?”

Dr. Swartzon:
 “For me, listening to your body and coming up with a good plan of progression is very important. Because in your mind, you may think you can go and do that 5K and 10K coming off the couch. But in reality, I see patients all day who didn’t do so well with that plan. And a good stretching program — working on your core muscles, your leg strength, and then finding the right shoes. And then, obviously, slowly progressing. And going to running clubs and doing it socially is an even better way to do it.”

Mr. Ruiz: “How important is cardio when it comes to exercise in general and when it comes to running, what does the heart go through and how can running basically impact your heart health?”

Dr. Friedman:
“First and foremost, the heart is a muscle … and the more you use it, it can sort of change, especially at the higher volumes and higher intensity. Frankie, someone like you who’s been running his entire life, your heart might look different than somebody who doesn’t.

“Aerobic exercise forms the basis of a really healthy, heart habit — moving forward through life. And we want people doing that from the youngest age possible, and getting them to move. And that forms that foundation to continue to engage. The more one exercises, the more the heart and the cardiovascular system can adapt to it.”

Mr. Ruiz: Dehydration can lead to feeling lightheaded while running. But can you have too much water?

Ms. Duenas:
“Only drinking water has this effect of dehydration because it dilutes the electrolytes, especially if you’re sweating a lot of salt (because) you’re only drinking water and not replenishing it. That can give you that headache sensation and feeling weak. So, my No. 1 tip is to just alternate. Do one station water, then the next mile or two, or two stations, drink a sports drink … whatever they have. Basically, the guideline is every 15 to 20 minutes, drink four to six ounces of a liquid that they’ll have at the race. That is equivalent to four to six gulps.”

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