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When the truth hurts

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney  April 9, 2010 01:07 PM

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Going the distanceGlobe correspondent Elizabeth Cooney is writing about the Boston Marathon in the series "Going the Distance," which appears in the Globe's G Health section. She's also training for it, and hopes you'll check in with her along the way.

This close to April 19, worried marathon runners are crowding sports medicine clinics with one question: Can I make it to race day?

That depends, says Dr. Brian McKeon, an orthopedic surgeon at New England Baptist Hospital and chief medical officer for the Boston Celtics. More nonprofessional athletes, many of them running the marathon for charities, have come to see him lately, suffering from overuse injuries after months of training.

"They're coming in in droves," he said. "A lot of them are on suicide watch. They put so much effort into training, they feel stressed over telling their teams they can't do it. They don't want to let them down. They're difficult to deal with if I have to tell them to shut it down or cross-train."

Cross-training -- swimming or cycling or strength exercises -- a few months ago might have helped runners sustain the miles they've pounded out since last fall. McKeon said using other muscles can build shock absorbers into a body doing a repetitive motion like running for such an extended period of time.

Proper nutrition and hydration can also forestall injuries. He estimates that 90 percent of amateur runners are dehydrated and malnourished, setting themselves up for trouble.

Right now he's seeing lost of groin injuries. "They try to work through it. They know when they see me, they're gonna get nothing but sad news."

He doesn't say a runner can never run with pain, from knees or ankles or hips, but once he sees it disturbing their gait, he says stop. Judicious use of cortisone as well as taking a break can help.

For someone with a stress fracture that leaves them unable to walk, there's little room for doubt. Pulled groins and abductor tears can also be debilitating.

Patients pull out their logs to show him how long and hard they have trained. If McKeon has to shut them down, he says he's sorry, and urges them to still go to the marathon. "Walk a mile, run a mile. Forget about what you planned. Get out there and enjoy the experience."

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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