Training for a marathon Part 2: Running through the pain DOES NOT WORK

February 1st, 2019 by Phil Brown

In Part 1 of this series, aimed at the would-be marathon entrant or novice runner, I described the experience I believe many people have in their initial attempts at training. They run, literally, into pain. Aches and niggles soon become a part of the training experience and this obviously decreases pleasure and motivation, but more importantly, are signs that training attempts are having a seriously detrimental effect on your body!

In Part 1, I suggested, fairly strongly, that the strategy at this point should be to STOP training and take stock of what is happening.

Pain in the body is a clear sign that something is not how it should be. But what then? Well, you could give up and not fulfil your dream of completing a marathon. Find something else to do that isn’t so hard on your body. There are plenty of activities that will get you crazy fit and don’t make you feel like your joints are full of steel marbles.


You could learn from what is happening and how to put it right. Because there is a right way to go about this running thing and by right I mean without the gradually worsening pain.

So, let’s look at how you got to the pain zone in the first place. Well that’s pretty simple. Running is really really hard on the body. Running long distance even harder! But, you protest, what about Bob and Mags down the road? They are fit as butcher’s dogs and go running all the time! You never see them with a face like a bulldog sniffing piss off a thistle because their achilles feels like a goblin is strumming it with his teeth! How can running be so hard on the bod??

The simple answer is that Bob and Mags are stronger and fitter than you. They have put their time in and built up a fitness for purpose that allows them to put the miles in smoothly and efficiently. Make no mistake – we have two legs on a body that is able to run miles and miles very well indeed…….it’s just that most of us stopped doing anything like that around the age of 10……..and we adapted to a certain type of lifestyle that is mainly sedentary. Basically, from school onwards we have spend about a billion hours sitting on our bums and getting short and tight in all the muscles that we were given for running about with.

It’s right here that – once you’ve stopped training because of the pain – you need to start. This is where reality can be allowed to step in and inform.

You’re in pain because you are in no shape to be running lots. YET.


You’re in pain because the repetitive impact of pounding the pavement has made your muscles tight and sore and your connective tissue feels bruised by the constant battering.

You’re in pain because your muscles are not yet ready to take the volume of impact you have been subjecting them to and your ligaments are having a hard time keeping your ankles and knees together because they are still in shock from the first time you unpacked your brand new trainers and then went out and smashed them again and again and again into the ground.

You’re in pain because your normal range of movement means that after about ten minutes of jogging you resemble a rusty farm gate out for a jaunt.

You’re in pain because you didn’t realise you need to get your body READY TO RUN and you cannot do that by running!  Sounds weird eh? Well if I said that you can’t get your body ready for eating glass by eating glass……….never mind, let’s just look at how these aches and pains built up in the first place:

Repetitive impact is traumatic on the body. Muscles can dissipate the shock of the impact of foot strike through the skeleton, but they need time to adapt and become efficient at this. If you are just starting out, you are UNFIT FOR PURPOSE and this will become clear pretty quickly in the form of calf and ankle pain, sore thigh muscles and cruel and unusual pains in your knees.

A lack of flexibility in the average body used to a relatively if not extremely sedentary lifestyle, means that the range of movement that allows for graceful and relaxed running is not there. Flexibility – or mobility really – is also a profound buffer zone against injury as there is less chance of muscles becoming tight and thus stressed and overused by the movements involved in running.

Basically, in order to not become disabled by the very training you are trying to get fit by doing, you need to IMPROVE TWO THINGS:

Mobility and strength.

Mobility to improve fluidity and range in your movement, strength to cope with the impact of running by improving muscle tone and function.


Longer term, running involves the development of FOUR THINGS:




Cardiovascular capacity


In my own opinion,  that list of four things is a loose priority that can change as training progresses.

And progress is the aim with training. The ONLY aim.

There are endless ways to go about a training programme that addresses these FOUR THINGS and it really depends where you are at the time you start training. However, I am here addressing that poor unfortunate, who started out with the best will in the world and then, within a few weeks or even less, found that they were no longer able to do what they called “running” and that the activity they were now doing felt more like trying to get down the street as gracefully as possible while in a full body cast…..

In Part 3, we shall look at how to progress from the discouraging  stage of inhibiting aches and pains (basically starting again properly) brought on by initial attempts at running training, by addressing these FOUR THINGS with an effective training approach for the novice or beginner.



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