Runner

How To Run A Marathon Pain-Free

Lead Photo by sporlab on Unsplash


Completing a marathon is a fantastic achievement for any runner. Whether you’re aiming for a personal best or just looking to soak up the atmosphere, being able to run pain-free for all 26.2 miles will make a big difference to your experience. Get the expert insight from Mike James, The Endurance Physio, a rehabilitation specialist with Masters Degrees in both Physiotherapy and Sports & Exercise Science.

Is it normal to feel pain when running?

For some people, running always causes some sort of pain. The truth is, you should be able to run without feeling pain in your feet, legs, hips, or back. Mike explains, “We certainly shouldn’t be in pain on every run, yet often it can be unrealistic. Particularly in a heavy training plan, it’s normal to feel a little pain or discomfort when we run.” He adds, “Our understanding of pain has changed dramatically in recent years, and we now understand that pain doesn't always equal damage.”

If you do feel pain when you run, the most important factor to consider is whether it’s affecting your stride. If you have imbalances caused by pain, this could lead to a much more severe running injury later down the line. For example, if you feel pain in your left foot, this could cause you to overcompensate and end up putting excess stress and strain on your right side, leading to a real injury in that leg.

Think carefully about the type of pain you’re feeling and whether it could be as harmless as muscle soreness or if it’s a sign of something that needs to be fixed before you continue your training. 

What causes pain when running?

Research published in the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy explains that “training errors” cause a large proportion of running-related injuries. Rapidly changing running volume (doing too much too soon) and rapidly changing running pace (trying to run faster than your body is ready to) are both factors that can lead to you experiencing pain when you run.

Further research published in the journal of Sports Health suggests that up to 70% of runners sustain an overuse injury each year, and that 80% of running-related injuries occur below the knee. What this tells us is that both running form and overtraining come with a high risk of pain and injury when marathon training.

One of the best ways to prevent this is by identifying and fixing imbalances and improving your running technique using metrics like flight time and contact time - which you can do using your INCUS device.

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Getting to a marathon start line injury-free

Some people say that the art of training for a marathon isn’t just being able to run the distance, it’s about being able to complete your training and reach the start line without any injuries. If you manage this, half the work is already done! 

If you do find yourself in the weeks leading up to your race with some niggles, Mike has this advice: “Be very wary of people offering magic potions and quick fixes. Common sense, honesty, and communication between coach, athlete and therapist will create the best possibility of you achieving your goals.”

Mike goes on to advise, “If in pain, working out how to manage symptoms is a more appropriate plan than trying to completely cure the problem in that time scale. If already pain-free, following a sensible and structured taper and not trying anything new or crazy will give you the best possibility of remaining pain-free until race day.”

Can you run a marathon with an injury?

If you find yourself struck down by injury in the weeks leading up to your marathon, you may find yourself panicking and wondering whether you should still race or whether you should defer. Injuries like runner’s knee, plantar fasciitis, and IT band syndrome are all common running injuries that could see a premature end to your marathon journey.

Mike suggests a checklist to decide whether you should go ahead and race or whether you should try again next year:

  • Where is the race in your season? Is it your main race of the year or a warm-up for a bigger race?
  • What is the importance of the race? Is this your first ever marathon and you’ve raised money for charity, or is it simply a training race for you?
  • How significant are your symptoms? Can you still maintain your regular running form?
  • How do you react and respond to running? Is it completely miserable or is it bearable?

Of course, everyone is unique and it’s important to seek advice from a professional before attempting to run a marathon with an injury. 

About the author: Alex Parren is a Freelance Health & Fitness writer as well as a qualified Personal Trainer and Nutritionist.

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