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Sports Feature of The Month: Marathon

Updated 
August 31, 2020
Written by 
May

How Massage Guns Can Help You Run That Extra Mile

Woman running in a marathon

It was 5:30 in the afternoon.

As the sun shone above the Roman sky, 69 runners made their way to Campidoglio, the starting point of the 1960 Olympics marathon. Nobody paid attention to the small but lean Ethiopian wearing bright red shorts, a green shirt, and a vest displaying number 11. If they did, it was only because of one bizarre thing: He was barefoot.

This man was Abebe Bikila.

Two hours, fifteen minutes, and 16.2 seconds later, Bikila astounded the world by becoming the first sub-Saharan African Olympic marathon champion. He silenced the people who mocked him for running without shoes by running with all heart. Only a devoted man could take all the judgmental stares and speed up to victory without his shoes on. Whoa!

After a few years, he went on to become a back-to-back Olympic champion and a global icon of inspiration. And just in case you’re wondering, he already had his shoes on during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics.

Through his historic feat, Bikila showed that marathon is for anyone who has the willpower, skills, and total commitment. Running a marathon may seem tough and intimidating, but there are ways to conquer it.

Are you ready to achieve your personal best on a marathon? Lace up your shoes, and read on.

A brief run into history

White flag with Olympic logo

The marathon as we know it today is over 120 years old. Legend has it that the Modern Olympic marathon was inspired by Pheidippides, a Greek messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens to announce their victory against the invading Persian army. After delivering the news, he dropped dead.

Organizers of the 1896 Olympics, the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens, decided that the marathon race should be over 40 kilometers to commemorate the triumphs of Ancient Greece. It was extended to 26 miles during the 1908 Olympic Games and was further modified to add 385 yards as requested by Queen Alexandra. In 1921, the race distance became standardized at 26 miles and 385 yards or 42.195 kilometers.

Today, the sport has produced several greats including Michael Johnson, Eliud Kipchoge, and Erba Tiki Gelana, among others. Their trials and triumphs give aspiring runners a dash of motivation and a whole lot of courage.

So for runners who want to follow their footsteps—their track records, rather—we have rounded up ways on how you can prepare for (and record your personal best on) your next marathon.

Marathon isn’t just a one-day event; It winds up months of sweat, tears, and miles leading to the finish line.

Man running on a marathon

Completing a full marathon is already a daunting task, but what comes before you run and reach the finish line is also as challenging. It entails months of preparation and a conscious effort to integrate the primary building blocks of marathon training into your program. These are essential elements when preparing to run for any distance.

Let’s go through each of them.

1. Base mileage. Mileage refers to the total volume of a runner’s workload or the number of miles you have already completed. It is considered as one of the metrics for success. But of course, you have to build up your mileage properly to avoid injuries.

How do you do it?

  • Begin with three to four runs a week starting at two miles every session. Increase your long run by about a mile every one to two weeks. Most marathon training plans stretch from twelve to twenty weeks.
  • Run at a relaxed pace. It should be easy for you to talk to another person while running.
  • Add one to three miles to your weekday runs every one to three weeks.

Consistency is the key. When you increase your mileage, you will also improve your endurance, economy, and injury resistance. So, keep running!

2. Long runs. It is important to include long runs in your training schedule. Include a long run every seven to ten days to help your body adjust to long distances. It’s not advisable to do a long run twice a week. Adding this to your program has multiple benefits:

  • Strengthens the heart
  • Flushes waste from exhausted muscles
  • Boosts mental toughness and resilience
  • Builds muscular strength
  • Helps burn fat as fuel
  • Makes you run faster

To ensure that you’ll recover well and your body won’t be overworked, cut back your distance every three weeks. It will also minimize your risk of injury.

3. Speedwork. Speedwork is an optional element to boost your training program. Many athletes include them in their workout to sustain leg speed and neuromuscular fitness (the brain’s ability to communicate effectively with your muscular system). There are several types of speed work that you can incorporate in your training:

  • Progression runs. A progression run lets your body warm-up at a slower pace before it speeds up. It has a structured pace that increases from start to finish.
  • Tempo sessions. Author and running coach Jack Daniels, Ph.D. defines tempo runs as "steady prolonged runs." It doesn’t only build endurance, it is also a great way to improve one’s mental strength. Bob Williams, a distance coach at Concordia University in Portland and a former Pac-10 steeplechase champion, shares, “I really believe in tempo running because it helps the athlete feel that sense of toughness they experience when they compete. I think it’s a process of adaptation, psychological as well as physiological.”
  • Fartlek workouts. Fartlek is a form of speed or interval training that involves a combination of fast and slow running. It aims to improve your endurance and speed without catching a running injury.

Just a friendly advice: Avoid doing extended speed work (about 5K pace or faster) because it may damage your aerobic enzymes. Save your intense exercises for the final phase of the training.

4. Rest and recovery. And when we say rest, we mean rest. Do yourself a favor and give your body ample time to recover. Resting helps repair your body tissues and replenishes your muscle’s energy stores. Overtraining can lead to injury and burnout. Here are some ways to fight physical and mental fatigue:

  • Do the basics: sleep, hydrate, and eat well. That’s it.
  • Space out your routines. Muscles that undergo intensive training need at least 24 to 48 hours to recover. Overworking your muscles may cause a negative impact on your performance.
  • Get a massage. Briana Averill, a licensed massage therapist who works with triathletes, runners, and cyclists explains, “Massage increases blood flow to the muscles to help speed healing by flushing out the metabolic waste.” By getting a massage, you alleviate tense muscles that affect your flexibility and movement. A 2012 study showed that a 10-minute massage can already reduce muscle inflammation. For treating major muscle groups such as the lower back and neck, having a deep tissue massage is highly recommended.

But there’s more to deep tissue massage than just helping you recover.


Deep tissue massages prepare your muscles for training.


Deep tissue massage

There’s a reason why champion runners such as Paula Radcliffe and Wilson Kipsang have a resident therapist in their team, and it’s not just to spoil them with relaxing massages. More often than not, sports therapists empower their athletes by giving them quality deep tissue massage.

Ideally, having a deep tissue massage before competition should be part of your weekly workout since running involves repetitive and sustained muscle contractions. These muscular contractions are converted into speed and power which propels you to run faster and further.

However, they can also cause decreased circulation, muscle tightness, and reduced flexibility.

The acupressure and trigger-point works applied by the therapist during a deep tissue massage break down your scar tissue and stretch your muscle fibers. These methods lead to better flexibility and agility that you need for training. It’s the reason why many athletes treat themselves to a massage before a triathlon or other sports competition.

What’s more, deep tissue massages improve circulation. It paves the way for an inpouring of oxygen-rich blood that carries fresh nutrients to the body. It helps athletes breathe deeper and easier. And when you’re set to run 26 miles, improved breathing comes in handy. Better breathing is also beneficial to your psychological health because it relieves your anxiety and makes you calmer.

Remember, running a marathon isn’t just a test of physique but of mental and emotional toughness as well.

Yup, we know. For beginners and non-professional runners, having a personal sports therapist or getting a deep tissue massage regularly can be a bit costly. Thankfully, there are sports recovery devices that aim to give the same benefits as deep tissue massages, and one of those is the percussive therapy massage gun.

Massage Guns Can Treat Your Muscles like a Deep Tissue Massage, Only Cheaper and More Convenient

Man getting Hydragun from a black bag

On using percussion therapy in place of deep tissue massage, Michael Fredericson, a sports medicine physician at Stanford Health Care, says, “I think what you could say is that it’s similar to a deep tissue massage, and in that way, it has the same benefits. Like deep tissue massage, it can get into the nooks and crannies.”

Percussion therapy works by sending accelerated bursts of pressure into your targeted area through its thumping motions. It also applies the vibration therapy mechanism, making it reach deeper layers of muscles than human hands or foam roller. Studies reveal that vibration therapy increases blood flow which is one of the main benefits of a deep tissue massage.

Percussion therapy can aid you in your marathon race from beginning to end:


During warm-up:

Use the massage gun to limber up before your training. It’s important to relieve muscle tightness to reduce your risk of injury. For example, tight calf muscles may contribute to Achilles tendinitis. Massage guns loosen your muscles before the tightness gets worse.

To use it, just let it float along the muscle area that you want to loosen up and let the pulses do their work. The oscillation stimulates your sympathetic nervous system which gets your body ready for a run. Matthew N. Berenc, director of the Equinox Fitness Training Institute, explains, “When the muscles work to control the vibrations, they recruit a high number of muscle fibers. This way, when you start running, your muscles are already prepared and your stride could be more efficient.”

During workout:

As a sports recovery device, a massage gun is great for exhausted muscles. It alleviates muscle knots and reduces pain which can help you push through.

During the recovery period:

A 2014 study featured in the Journal of Clinical & Diagnostic Research revealed that vibration therapy, which employs the same mechanism as percussion therapy, “effectively improves muscle performance which may prevent DOMS.” DOMS refers to Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness which usually happens after you do strenuous physical activity, and running at a marathon is no exemption.

By using a massage gun, you’re saving yourself from all the hassle that muscle pain brings.

So, can massage guns help you push through the run?

With proper usage of the device and consistent observance of the basics (yes, we should not forget them), massage guns can definitely help you go the extra mile. It’s economical, effective, and convenient. Question is, are you willing to give it a try?

Share your thoughts and let us know in the comments section below.

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