The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports Medicine

Preparation For Marathon Running: Research Shows Clocking Long Distances is Not Enough

Posted by on Wednesday, November 1st, 2017


You’ve been logging a lot of miles to prepare your body for the rigors of a marathon. You’ve worried about dehydration and the appropriate fueling techniques. You’ve researched the best running shoes and apparel. But you may still be wondering, “What else is there to know about proper preparation for marathon running?” In a new study published in the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitness, researchers in Spain looked at the measurable differences between half-marathon runners and full-marathon runners. Their findings shed light on one often overlooked piece of advice for long-distance racers.

marathon training
NYC podiatrists discuss training for a full or half-marathon based on the latest research. Image Source: Wikimedia user Omarcheeseboro.

The Research on Preparation for Marathon Running

It should stand to reason that running 26.2 miles is considerably harder on the body than running 13.1 miles. The main purpose of the study was to look at how factors such as dehydration and muscle soreness influenced the runners’ finishing times. Twenty-two study participants had blood drawn before and after running to check for baseline indications of dehydration and biochemical markers of muscle injury. They were also asked to perform standing vertical leaps to test the amount of force the leg muscles were able to generate. Patches worn during the race measured perspiration rates, and racers were weighed and asked questions about how they felt.

Not surprisingly, Madrid researchers found that the half-marathon runners:

  • Lost some body weight due to sweating, but were not seriously dehydrated.
  • Had some markers related to minor muscle damage compared to the previous day, but they showed far fewer markers than full-marathon runners.
  • Were able to jump higher after the race than the full-marathon runners.
  • Maintained a steady pace throughout the race, with slight increases in pacing toward the end.

The full-marathon runners tended to slow down considerably toward the end of the race. Those with the most muscle damage had the greatest decline in pace and reported the most muscle soreness in their legs following the race. While it may seem obvious that marathon runners would become tired, injured, and slower than half-marathon runners, researchers say their findings have an important message.

The Results of the Study

Lead Author Juan del Corso from Camilo José Cela University said he was frankly surprised that none of the volunteers became clinically dehydrated in the race. They had gone into the study presuming that hydration levels would cause an increase in muscle fatigue and injury, but that link was not established.

Another surprise was that logging more miles during training did not prepare the marathon runners for the road ahead. Despite the lengthy runs, their leg muscles were simply not up for the challenge. “Just running long distances is not enough to prepare the leg muscles for the great demands of an endurance event like the marathon,” he said. Instead, he advises targeted strength training of the lower body to make your muscles more resistant to slight tearing from all the pavement pounding. Gym training with machines and free weights is the ideal way to “prepare muscles for the stress imposed by these long runs,” Dr. del Corso said.

How to Prevent “Marathon Feet”

The day after running a marathon—particularly if it’s your first race—your feet may be screaming bloody murder. The very touch of a blanket might hurt, they may be too swollen for shoes, and your walk could be more of a hobble. To prevent this condition we call “marathon feet,” we suggest that you practice running long distances on the street rather than a softer surface like a treadmill or cushy racing track, which will not prepare you for the rigors ahead. Train in well-cushioned, relatively new shoes, and make sure to replace your running shoes every 400-500 miles. Following the race, we recommend taking a 15-minute ice bath. It may not be the coziest bath you’ve ever had, but it’s a proven way to prevent marathon feet. You can repeat the bath up to 2-3 times per day. Afterward, kick your feet up to reduce swelling. Once urination levels are back to normal, taking an over-the-counter NSAID for a couple of days can take the edge off sore, achy feet.

If your feet are still hurting after running a marathon or if you need expert advice on preparation for marathon running, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our foot and ankle specialists, contact us today.


If you have any foot problems or pain, contact The Center for Podiatric Care and Sports MedicineDr. Josef J. GeldwertDr. Katherine Lai, Dr. Ryan Minara and Dr. Mariola Rivera have helped thousands of people get back on their feet. Unfortunately, we cannot give diagnoses or treatment advice online. Please make an appointment to see us if you live in the NY metropolitan area or seek out a podiatrist in your area.