Tips for Cancer Survivors Who Want to Run A Marathon

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January 28, 2020

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Running has become a very popular sport and fun activity these days. Every weekend there is some 5K, 10K, half-marathon and even a 26.2 mile(!) marathon to be raced. More and more people register, and everybody seems to love it.

But what happens when, in addition to your love for running against the clock, you are also running against cancer? Some of our cancer patients enjoy running, but wonder if it is ok to do so. Will running affect your health? Will you be facing the same challenges as the other runners? What if you are currently getting your chemo treatment? Here you can find a few words to help answer all those questions.

First, like any of your fellow runners, you have to be prepared. Twenty-six miles is not something you conquer in a week of training. For the average runner, it takes between 12 and 20 weeks to get marathon ready.  Thus, my first advice is to be prepared and train before trying such a monumental task. It takes time, but you sure can make it. And in the end, it is all about having a healthier lifestyle.

Second, don’t make big jumps on your distance or speed in a short period of time. That is a great way of injuring yourself and getting out of the race before even starting it. During the period preceding race day, you must have a careful balance of dedicated running, good nutrition and quality sleep.

Third, keep the liquids coming. When you run, your body temperature increases, and as a control mechanism, your body sweats. That being said, you will lose a lot of water and electrolytes during a marathon. Have some water or Gatorade available before, during and after the race. Or take advantage of the cups of water made available by marathon organizers along the running course.

Now, when you are undergoing cancer treatment, you may experience some adverse effects that may also affect your running performance. The most common side effects of chemo are fatigue, weight loss, nausea and vomiting. If you are feeling any of those, just relax, cheer for your friends who are running and register for the next one. You will not enjoy those 26 miles if you are feeling like vomiting the entire way.

Also, some systemic treatments may lower your defenses, so please check with your medical oncologist if it is ok to run a marathon or half-marathon. If your defenses are too low, it doesn’t make sense to be surrounded by hundreds of people. Also, avoid running if you have an infection or fever. 

And finally, my best advice to you is to use your common sense. If during the marathon, you feel like running is making you feel worse, just stop. Next week, there will be another one.

Ana Belzarena Genovese, M.D.,Ana Belzarena Genovese, M.D., is an orthopedic surgical oncologist with Miami Cancer Institute and a pediatric orthopedic surgeon with Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.

Baptist Health South Florida is a sponsor and the official medical provider for the Life Time Miami Marathon and Half, scheduled for Feb. 9, providing assistance at the various first-aid and medical stations along the full route.

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