The annual Avon Walk for Breast Cancer is a two-day, 39-mile walk to raise funds for research and treatment. The walk and others like it support a great cause, and are great ways to coax people off their couches. But it’s important that you prepare yourself for the challenge, just as you would for similar extreme sports, cautions Tracy Ray, MD, a sports medicine specialist at Duke.
Dr. Ray says it’s important that newcomers to these fundraising events be aware of the rigors and risks of training. “People are suddenly doing huge amounts of miles, and they may not be ready. You’d think these folks would slow down or stop when they get hurt, but they’re as committed to the cause as some athletes are to the race.”
“I see a lot of knee injuries,” said Duke orthopaedic surgeon Andre Grant, MD, who points out that different bodies are prone to injury in different areas. “Calf and hamstring problems are more common in men, whereas women experience more hip and pelvis problems.”
Ignoring pain or not giving the body enough recovery time can have long-term consequences. “We see patients who had an injury but keep pushing through the pain, and now they have a chronic problem,” said Dr. Ray. “They got a massage rather than seeing a doctor, when maybe we could have turned things around six months ago.”
“Let pain be your guide,” added Dr. Grant. “If something doesn’t feel right, take time out, have it evaluated, and allow it to heal.”
Thoughtful training is key to preventing injuries. “The preparation has to be done over an extended period of time,” said Dr. Grant. “Don’t get off the couch a month before the race and expect to avoid injury. The main reason people experience injury is that they increase their distances too quickly.”
And the greater the distance, says Dr. Grant, the more mindful you should become. “We’ve discovered that the risk of injury increases significantly once you’re logging over 40 miles a week.”
How to Train and Prepare
If you’re planning to participate in an endurance event, Ray and Grant urge you to keep these tips in mind:
- Check with Your Doctor
Before you start intense training, your doctor should make sure your heart is healthy and that your program won’t worsen existing conditions, like asthma or previous injuries.
- Follow a Training Program
Many cause-affiliated events provide support and instruction to help participants prepare safely. A good rule of thumb for training safely is to increase your mileage no more than 10 percent each week.
Integrate different aerobic activities and a strength- training routine into your weekly workouts to engage different muscle groups. This is also a great way to ward off overuse injuries--and improve overall conditioning, as well.
- Get the Right Gear
Shoes with proper shock absorption and foot support will reduce the risk of damaging your feet and lower extremities.
- Know What You’re Running/Walking On
If you’ve already started to experience bone low, you may be more at risk for stress fracture walking or running on concrete or asphalt.
- Check the Weather Conditions
If you’re prone to heat illness, make sure you are properly hydrated when training and on the big day. If the weather will be cold, plan to wear warm, breathable layers of clothing to prevent hypothermia or frostbite.