photograph of 39 year old marathon runner with forest in the back ground

39 Year Old, Non-Runner Takes on the New York City Marathon

Sarah HodginsHealth


Running a marathon is a huge undertaking, even for experienced runners. After all, we’re talking about 42 km (26 miles) of running; that will take the average experienced runner 5 to 6 hours to complete. It’s not something that you can just roll out of bed and do; it usually takes months and months of preparation of increasingly long runs multiple times a week. The physical toll it takes on your body and the time commitment can be reason enough to decide not to do it, and in fact up to 18% of people who register for a big-city marathon will not end up completing it due to injury during training, or lack of time. So, what happened when Heather Shantora, 39 year old busy single mom of 2, decided to register for the New York City marathon? In this three-part blog series, we’ll delve into the ups and downs that she experienced when implementing a new, intense training schedule, and find out how she fares during the marathon after her months of training.

Although a generally fit person, Heather was never a runner, but at the end of May decided she wanted to challenge herself by partaking in the New York City marathon on November 4, 2018. She started training immediately with run/walk intervals, and cross training with swimming and cycling to improve her endurance. Also core work…tons of core work. It was all going well, with increasingly longer runs multiple times a week. The time commitment was a lot with two young kids at home and a demanding job, but her body was responding well to the training.

After 3 months of training, she was up to one long run (minimum 15 km) and 3 “short” (at least 7 km) runs a week. But once those long runs came into the picture, the physical pain started. Anyone who has ever starting a new exercise routine will be able to relate to the pain, and the psychological questions it can bring about like “Am I good enough to do this?” and “Should I just give up?”

Heather’s main symptoms were:

  • Tight hamstrings
  • Intense hip flexor pain after running, especially on the left side
  • Sore knees when running
  • Calf and shin pain when running
  • Swelling in the feet and legs

With the pain mounting and the marathon nearing, Heather was worried that she would end up sustaining an injury from all the running that she was doing and wouldn’t be able to complete the marathon, so she pro-actively booked an appointment with a physiotherapist at the beginning of September.

The physiotherapist measured the range of motion of Heather’s legs and tailored an exercise and stretching routine specifically for her to do, which immediately removed the calf, shin and knee pain when running. The physiotherapist also assessed her hips and discovered that although the pain was worse in the left side, it was because her right side was so tight and immobile that it wasn’t working properly, so her left hip flexor was over-working. Through traction and stretches, especially on the right side, the physiotherapist was able to relieve the pain in Heather’s hip flexors.

Heather also started to see a massage therapist who was able to help move the fluid around the legs and get rid of the lactic acid build up (something your body produces during intense exercise when it doesn’t have enough oxygen to break down glucose for energy). This, in correlation with compression socks for running that the physiotherapist fit for her, made her running feel “lighter and easier”.

Together her rehab team identified that she had a small hip misalignment, something that Heather knew about from when she had her second child 6 years earlier. Heather had the hip misalignment treated after being pregnant, but the new intense schedule of running brought back the old injury. So in October, Heather added in chiropractic treatment to her rehabilitation schedule. The chiropractor did some traction on her hips and then adjusted her hip and her low back. She immediately felt more balanced when running!

Many people think that there is no reason to see a physiotherapist before an injury occurs, but physiotherapists and other rehabilitation providers can actually help you train better and prepare your body to prevent injury, rather than just treating the injury. Take it from Heather’s story – although she hadn’t sustained an injury, her rehabilitation team was able to treat her joint and muscle pain and get her back to running pain-free so she could focus on her kids, her work, and her training, rather than on the constant pain she felt after her training sessions and the nagging, self-doubting questions that came with the pain. So with only 9 days left until the NYC marathon, Heather is in her final stretch of training, running approximately 50 km each week and seeing her rehabilitation team regularly to keep her ready!

Stay tuned for our next blog to find out how Heather’s training is coming along, and learn more about how physiotherapy can help you when starting a new workout routine or deciding to tackle your own marathon, whatever it may be.


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