When Physical Therapists Run Marathons: Exploring the Superpowers Needed to Run 26 Miles!

Written by: santillot Posted on

This past April the staff at Dee PT had the pleasure of cheering on co-worker, DPT Jen Moltz, as she tackled what would be her 5th marathon in two years: the 119th Boston Marathon.  Most of us had to cheer her on in spirit, unable to make the trek to watch the race in person, but it didn’t curb our enthusiasm as we decorated Jen’s desk with streamers and balloons in anticipation.  There are athletes, runners, and active staffers galore at Dee PT, but the fascination with someone who is willing and able to push themselves to the point of running 26 miles was apparent even in our energetic world. Staff members and patients were curious as to how being a medical professional- a Doctor of Physical Therapy who has intensely studied the muscles, tendons, and ligaments of the body, and who has seen and helped many injured athletes- went about preparing both mentally and physically for such an endeavor.  When physical therapists run marathons, do they have some superpower than comes from all their knowledge?  Or does that become their kryptonite?

Super Socks Running
Everyone has that thing that gives them an extra push- what’s yours?

I was especially curious, having just started to run again after a knee and back injury and having my eye on a half marathon at the very least in the next few years.  Jen was kind enough to answer some questions for me about both this past race experience and her training process in general (Jen’s responses are in italics):

Going into the training process, how fit were you, and what had you been doing for exercise?

 Going into training for Boston, I had just run a marathon in October 2014, so I was already in good shape. Because it was my 5th marathon in 2 years, I had a good base. I was running 4-5 times per week, doing strength training 3 times per week, and biking or swimming 1-2 days per week.

At any point in your training did you have aches/pains/injuries?  If yes, how did you address them, and how did being a DPT hurt or help you?

 I often have aches and pain from running, but being a PT helps me distinguish when it is just soreness or an actual injury I need to pay attention to. I can also usually pinpoint exactly what is going on and make a correction to fix it. If something lasts more than a few days and is related to an increase in training, I will cut back my mileage and do more cross training until it resolves. Strengthening, stretching, and running on different terrain can also make a huge difference.

What was the hardest part of your preparation/training (mental or physical or both)?

 Mentally, the hardest part of the training was waking up at 4 am during the middle of the winter to go for a long run before work. It was cold, snowy, and dark. But knowing you were out there working to achieve your dreams and the satisfaction you get upon returning home makes it worth it.

 Physically, the hardest part for me is the long runs. After doing an 18 to 20 mile training run, you are very fatigued the rest of the day and it takes some time to recover.

What kinds of things helped you along the way?

 I had a lot of support from my friends and family, which really helped. They were always there for me and understanding of my training schedule. I am very appreciative of that.

 I also think cross-training was really important for my training. I did a lot of cross-country skiing, strength training, swimming, and cycling. This allowed me to prevent overuse injuries, but continue to work on my cardiovascular endurance. Cross-training also allows you to work different muscle groups, making you a well-rounded athlete.

 Nutrition is another essential component. I prefer to run early in the morning, so I have a snack before heading out. I also make sure I have a water break and fuel along the way for long runs. I usually loop my long runs so I can stop at my house and grab water mid-way, and I carry energy chews with me in my pocket to take every few miles. When I get home, I do a cool down and then eat a big recovery breakfast.

What are a few running injuries you’ve seen in your work and what did you do to avoid them?

 Common running injuries are patellafemoral pain, patella tendonitis, iliotibial band syndrome, and Achilles tendonitis. It’s important for runners to have a strong core and hips in order to prevent injury. Strength exercises for runners should include monster walks, bridges, and planks. I do variations of these several times a week with a focus on the glute medius, hamstrings, and abdominals. It’s also really important to do a dynamic warm up and cool down before and after every run. I always do this in the kitchen or the driveway to reduce the risk of injury and decrease muscle soreness.

 When you are starting running, it is important to build slowly. You should only increase you long run by a mile or two every couple weeks in order to prevent injury. A good rule of thumb is not to increase your total mileage by more than 10% each week.

What’s next for you?

I plan to continue racing, including shorter distances and more marathons. I’m hoping to do a marathon this fall, and I’d like to do Boston again.

119th Boston Marathon
Jen getting upstaged slightly by the gentleman next to her in the tie dye pants at the 119th Boston Marathon

Thanks to Jen for answering some questions, and good luck to her in her future races!  If you have any questions feel free to comment and ask, or share your own stories!  If you need any help along the way, or have an injury get in your way, give us a call at any of our Dee PT locations!