Marathon Training for the Real World

Pulling an all nighter? Stuck in line at the DMV? Breeze through these and more real-world tests of endurance (and patience)

You may have no problem pounding pavement for 26.2 miles, but what happens when you're faced with real-life endurance challenges: a sleepless night on a red-eye flight, packing and lifting boxes to prepare for a move, or a six-hour road trip?

In general, several global principles apply to most real-life marathons, says Cindy Trowbridge, PhD, ATC, CSCS, associate professor and clinical educator coordinator of the athletic training education program at the University of Texas at Arlington. "All too often during real-life marathons we forget to drink or we drink dehydrating beverages such as coffee or alcohol, for example. Even a two to three percent loss in body weight is significant dehydration."

As in any marathon, in addition to proper hydration, nutrition, preparation, and rest all play major roles to help you cross the finish line in good form.

A Long Road Trip


Sitting for hours on end can be a pain in a number of ways, Trowbridge says. "Neck pain, back and/or hip pain, knee pain and stiffness, and even wrist pain can result from hours spent in a car."

Remaining in one position for too long can cause muscle tightness, pain, and stiffness. One reason, Trowbridge says, is due to less fluid production and exchange within the joints.

Training tips: Get a good night's sleep the night before. Use good driving posture: Adjust your headrest so that it touches the middle part of the back of your head. Use a neck pillow if needed to fill in gaps and make you comfortable. Position your shoulders in a relaxed position. If you have arm rests, rest yours elbows comfortably on them.

Place your hands so you have a proper grip on the steering wheel but are relaxed. Use a lower-back support if needed. Take a 10 to 20 minute break every two hours or so to walk around and stretch.

Pulling an All Nighter


When a potential new client asks for a presentation the next day, you nod and say yes without thinking about it. Now you've already put in a full day's work and still need to get the presentation done.

"Okay, we all do this, so eat a good dinner, prepare some healthy snacks, have water available, and sparingly use caffeine or other stimulants," Trowbridge says.

Training tips: Relieve, rehydrate, and refuel throughout the night, Trowbridge says. Make sure you go to the bathroom regularly (drink often so you can go to the bathroom) and don't forget to eat. Plus, set up your workstation correctly. Read some good guidelines here.

Stop every one to two hours for a quick exercise bout, which can make a world of difference in your mental acuity and overall feelings of health, Trowbridge says. Even if you just stand up and walk around while reading documents, it'll help keep your body awake.

Waiting in Line at the DMV


Beyond seriously testing your patience, waiting in line can make your lower-back ache and your legs tired. Holding onto heavy items can cause uneven strain on the spine, so put them down on the floor if possible, recommends Kendra Garrett, supervisor of group fitness and aquatics programs at the Greenville Hospital System Life Center Health & Conditioning Club, South Carolina. "Standing posture is critical. When we stand in line, we can practice the mountain pose, like in yoga."

Training tips: Keep your neck long and roll your shoulders down toward your back pockets. Take a deep breath so you can feel your chest expand. Try to distribute your body weight equally between your right and left foot, and soften your knees so that the joints aren't locked. "This is the strongest, most supported standing posture," Garrett says.

Try these simple stretches (Bonus: It's something to do!): head tilt (hold each side for five to10 seconds), torso twist (place both hands on your right hip, rotate your upper body to the right, and look over your rightshoulder. hold for five to 10 seconds, then switch sides).

Days of Packing and Moving


Bending, lifting, squatting, and carrying heavy items around, sometimes in awkward positions, can wreak havoc on your body. Prepare for moving days as if you're getting ready for a marathon, beginning with your clothes, Garrett says. "Dress for success. Packing and moving is hard work, so wear supportive shoes just like you would for an exercise session."

Training Tips: Make sure your body is warmed up before beginning the strenuous stuff. Walk or climb stairs for about five minutes and then stretch the key muscles (back, hamstrings, shoulders) to help prevent moving-day injuries. Be mindful of your lifting technique-always bend your knees and keep your head above your heart, as if performing a squat (Click here for tips on proper ways to lift).

Ask for help instead of taking on everything yourself. Take stretch breaks. "These only have to be three to five minutes in length," says Garrett. Stretch, drink water, and go back to work.

A Red-Eye Flight When You Can't Sleep


Whether you're too excited to sleep or have a fear of flying that keeps you awake, time alone on a plane when everyone else is asleep can be put to good use. Or you could simply relax and enjoy.

"Even if you have trouble falling asleep on a plane, you can utilize stress-reduction techniques to attempt a more energized 'you' at the end of the flight," Garrett says.

Training Tips: Deep breathing, commonly practiced in yoga and meditation class, can be used anywhere to bring your body and mind into a more restful state. Close your eyes and inhale slowly and evenly to a count of three. Exhale, slowly and evenly, to a count of three. Repeat several times. As your breath becomes more even and relaxed, increase the count to five.

If you do think you'll snooze, try using a neck pillow, Garrett suggests. "It will keep your spine in alignment and limit the amount of residual neck stiffness/soreness post-flight."

An Impossible Deadline that Ties You to Your Desk for the Next 10 Hours


Much like running a marathon, successfully finishing a desk marathon depends on your preparation leading up to the event, Garrett says.

"Before you begin, if possible, do some enjoyable, stress-reducing exercise like taking a brisk walk outdoors or a yoga class. Exerting some energy in a healthy way will help you sit more comfortably and feel less restless when the desk-a-thon ensues."

Training Tips: Set up your workstation ergonomically. Your feet should rest comfortably on the floor, with a 90-degree angle at your knees and again at your hips. Support for your elbows and your wrists will alleviate shoulder tension, and a computer screen at eye-level decreases neck strain. Set a reminder to get up and walk away from your desk every two hours, Garrett says. "It may seem counter-productive to stop work, but you'll return to work refreshed."

Cooking All Day to Prepare for a Family Celebration


A family reunion, a surprise party for your best friend, or any number of celebrations all involve one common denominator: food and lots of it. If you decide to do it yourself, you could end up with sore muscles in your feet, legs, and back from standing in one place all day.

Training Tips: Pace yourself. Rather than same-day shopping, hit the grocery store a day or two before the even. Be sure to plan your meals during the day, Trowbridge says. "It's not a great idea to eat the scraps or lick the bowl. Eat nutritiously and drink too."

Get help, delegate, and coordinate. Use good posture at the kitchen counter: If standing use a soft surface or very cushioned shoes to relieve stress on your joints. Perform some preparations while sitting.

For cooking or counter work, stand or sit so you're over your work, not slouching or pushing your head forward. Try to move often, but if you have to stand in one place, shift the weight in your feet to reduce pressure. Take a break every 20 to 30 minutes and do some simple stretches such as shoulder shrugs, hands on hips and arching back, and high steps in place, Trowbridge says.

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