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Updated 14 October 2015

First time marathon runners: don't be afraid!

Running has many benefits, but can be frightening for first-timers. Our experts respond to common fears of running newbies and how to overcome them.

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Running routes are brimming with newbies taking up the challenges of running – but most of them have loads of questions and concerns that often go un-answered. Here we tackle a couple of the most common fears and phobias surrounding running your first race.

1. What are the risks of having a heart attack?

Health24's Yentl Barros recently signed up for her first Two Oceans half marathon; she is fairly new to running and fears that long distance running may place strain on her heart.

"I'm concerned that my heart won't be able to handle a half marathon and that it might 'crash' at some point."

Follow Yentl's story: Running introduction; Running: week 1; Running: week 2; Running: week 3

Yentl is not the only runner with this concern. A Health24 reader, who is overweight and considering running for weight loss writes to CyberDoc, expressing concern that his heart might not survive a long distance race. Read his question.

According to a Sports Psychologist Clinton Gahwiler of the Sports Science Institute of South Africa, the fear of a heart attack is common among people embarking on any kind of fitness activity, regardless of whether they have a history of heart disease.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa recommends exercise as a treatment for people with coronary artery disease as it helps to rehabilitate the heart by restoring normal or near normal function of the heart and lungs.

Exercise is also important for people who do not suffer heart disease as a lack thereof has been shown to be one of the main risk factors for developing heart disease.

Read: Exercise and heart disease

2. Will I get hurt?

Another concern for many new runners is that they might injure themselves while running. This is not an unrealistic fear, especially since even experienced runners experience injury.

Injuries, however, can be avoided by taking the following precautions:

- Don't skip the warm-up or cool-down.
- Add strength training and stretching.
- Stay hydrated throughout the day you are running. It minimises cramps. Just remember, on the other end of the scale, too much water can be just as dangerous
- Consider the running surface, especially if you're trying a new route. Be extra careful when roads are wet.
- Wear the correct gear, especially good shoes. See what Haile Gebrselassie says about the right running shoes 
- Listen to your body, and do not push yourself too hard or you'll have to contend with pain or discomfort.

Take a look: Common running injuries (infographic)

3. Will I be able to do it?

Your general health, in addition to your overall strength and fitness, contributes to your ability to be able to run longer distances. Most healthy people with a sense of self-discipline can participate in half and full marathons.

A long-distance athlete must have extremely strong core muscles for good balance and posture, a good sense of rhythm and good lung capacity.

To be able to cover the distance of a half marathon, your training should include lots of cardiovascular exercise and strength training for the muscles of your stomach, trunk and back.

Good preparation and a positive state of mind will contribute to a successful first long distance race.

Read more:

What long distance running can do for you
Useful tips for first time runners
Training safety tips for women

Image: Shutterstock

 

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