Route 66 Marathons Returns - The Popularity of Marathons vs. Protecting Knees, Hips and Joints

Rarely do we bestow such recognition for completing a task set before us as we do for those known as “finishers”. In the race world, finishers are those who have dedicated themselves, their time and their discipline to the “task” of running 26.2 miles. Marathon runners used to be thought of as elite, lifelong runners. Today, marathons have never been more popular, welcoming runners from all walks of life, running experience and ages to the start line (even right here at home at Tulsa’s Route 66 marathon). With more Americans setting their sights on donning the shirt with the singular word that encapsulates one of their greatest achievements, finishers look less like the elite runners of earlier years and more like the 50 and older crowd taking up marathons for the first time in their lives. {picture here of shirt for visual}

A recent Wall Street Journal article featured 50 year old Adrienne Lotson, who was preparing to run her first NYC marathon this year. Lotson represented the more than 92,000 marathon finishers in the last 20 years over the age of 50. While participation in the grueling race has doubled in the last 20 years, the fastest growing age group participating has tripled and you guessed it, the age group is 50 and older.

While running can help reduce the risk and onset of cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia among other diseases, running over the age of 50 can also present certain health concerns. The most critical of these is the potential for sudden cardiac death during a race. However, with the risk factor at less than 2 in 100,000 of runners over the age of 40, the risk is too low to be included among general health warnings. More common health concerns for runners 50 or older are those of hydration, nutrition and damage to joints. Runners are advised to consult with their trainer on proper hydration and nutrition before, during and after a race.

When it comes to potential joint damage running can cause, the Tulsa Orthopedic Center offers these suggestions:

Talk with your Doctor – Before starting a marathon training program, it is best to talk with your doctor about your particular physical fitness level and other health considerations. Get a recommendation for a trained and certified physical therapist or trainer to work with throughout your marathon training.

Start by Being Active – Physical activity begets more physical activity and healthier joints. You cannot expect joints that have been sedentary to all of the sudden have the ability or the flexibility to start a running program with little to no warning. If running is new to you, start with walking and other physical activity that is less strenuous on your joints. As you continue to make physical activity a part of your routine, your joints will more easily adapt to taking it that next level one step at a time.

Be Aware of Old Injuries – You may have forgotten about them, but your joints have not. Old injuries can creep back up and cause a lot of pain if you aren’t mindful of them from the onset of your training. Consult with your trainer to determine if you need to use any braces or protective gear while training.

Every Pound Counts – Be conscious of your weight and how your hips, knees and ankles may react to any added weight and the high impact of running. If your doctor or trainer suggests getting to a target weight before beginning a running program, start with low-impact exercise like walking, yoga and swimming.

Strengthen Your Joints – You’ve probably heard of the association between lower back pain and abdominal strength. The same is true of your joints. You can strengthen the muscles that support and surround your joints to help relieve pressure and prevent injury. Here are 7 strength training exercises specifically for your joints.

Stretching the Limits – Stretching can help joints become more flexible and improve range of motion over time. Incorporate the proper stretching techniques into your training program to help maximize your results and prevent injury. Consult with your trainer or doctor for proper stretching exercises.

“Every race is different based on many factors including weather, under or over training and energy level,” says orthopedic surgeon Dr. Gregory Holt of The Orthopedic Center. “There are many options to treat injuries that occur while training. The earlier one is treated the more likely it will prevent serious injury.”

Dr. Greg Holt has been involved treating the running community for many years. He has completed 26 marathons since he took up running 17 years ago.  Dr. Holt cites studies that show runners with proper biomechanics and no previous trauma have healthier cartilage than non-runners. The idea that running wears out your knees, Dr. Holt says is a myth. He recommends starting your training 6 months before a race to allow time for a sensible graduated program.