running facts dr. aaron mares

Whether you are an inexperienced runner attempting your first 5K or a seasoned marathoner trying to improve your time, you know that running involves more than just hitting the pavement.

To help answer your running questions, we recently sat down with Aaron V. Mares, MD, of UPMC Sports Medicine during a Facebook Open Wall chat.

Q: What does “taper” mean? How do I do it?

A: Tapering means to reduce the amount of running that you do in the weeks leading up to a race.

Q: I’m doing a half marathon for the first time. I’ve found differing opinions on whether tapering is necessary for a half. How much tapering do you recommend for a first-time half marathoner? Any thoughts on weekday run tapering in the last two weeks?

A: I usually recommend that you do your last long run two weekends before the race.

Q: Any tips on healing a rolled ankle quickly?

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A: Try the R.I.C.E. method: Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation, and you may consider taking anti-inflammatories. If pain, swelling or other symptoms continue after 48 hours, you should contact your doctor to make sure it is not a more serious injury.

Q: I’m about to run my first marathon! I’m worried about hitting the dreaded “wall” toward the end of the race. Do you have any tips to consider in my diet or warm up to help prevent that type of feeling?

A: Congrats on running your first marathon! Try not to focus on your pace or finish time. As you are entering the later miles of the race, resist the temptation to speed up, particularly if you are feeling tired or fatigued. Remember to drink when you are thirsty and to take in electrolytes in addition to water, especially if it’s hot that day.

Q: I signed up to run a marathon relay leg, my first race post-baby. Admittedly, I didn’t train and I’m about to do everything I know runners shouldn’t do. I think my best chance of surviving this race is a run/walk approach. Luckily, I’m doing the shortest leg. Any tips?

A: Although it’s always encouraged to train for these events, a walk/run approach is reasonable. Take it slow though — not training does increase your chance of injury. Best of luck!

Q: Any advice on plantar fasciitis? I have been icing, taking NSAIDs, and doing a friction massage. Would you recommend taping, and if so what method?

A: All those things are good. However, you really need to work on stretching out your heel cord (Achilles/calf) and consider using a night splint to keep the foot in a neutral position while you sleep. This will help keep your plantar fascia stretched out.

Q: I have heard that stretching before a run increases the risk of injury. Do you agree with this? Would you recommend a dynamic warm up in place of stretching?

A: I support a combination of both static stretching and dynamic warm up. As far as increased risk of injury, I don’t think there is evidence to support an increase or decrease.

Q: What suggestions do you have for what I should do immediately after finishing a race? What about the day/week after?

A: Immediately following a race, try to keep moving for a bit so that you don’t get stiff. Replenish your carbs and electrolytes and eat a salty snack. In the days following, rest and let your body recover! Wait about a week before you run again, and progress your intensity and frequency over the next few weeks as if you had restarted training from the beginning.

Q: I am about to run my first marathon relay leg. I lost a significant amount of weight this past year, which has led to a huge amount of loose skin. How do I keep my already annoying skin from further chafing and developing a rash during my race?

A: Congratulations! Products such as body glide or petroleum jelly on areas that tend to rub can help with chafing. Sometimes, compression clothing can help, but don’t try that if you haven’t run in it before.

Q: I have only been able to get my long run up to 18 miles. Will I still be able to complete a marathon?

A: I’d say it depends on your experience level. If you’ve done a marathon before, you could probably get through it. Running a marathon is quite a feat and even if you have to walk the last mile or two, it’s still a big accomplishment! Listen to your body and if you have to walk, that’s OK. Good luck!

Q: Is it a good idea to focus on flexibility and stretching over the last two weeks leading up to a race?

A: Yes — at that point, your conditioning is what it is, and it’s not a bad idea to focus on flexibility in those next couple of weeks.

Q: I depend on energy drinks for my daily energy. When I run races, I usually become out of breath very quickly. What is a good way to get into shape for these races and give me daily energy without depending on energy drinks?

A: If you are active and exercising, try doing an activity that you really enjoy, and your performance may improve more rapidly. If there is any concern for an underlying medical cause, you should be evaluated by your primary care physician or a sports medicine physician. You may want to take a look at your diet and your sleep patterns — make sure you are getting enough sleep!

Q: What advice do you have to not let rising temperatures hinder your performance on race day?

A: Dress in layers so that you can remove some if needed as the temperature rises. Stay hydrated and drink when you’re thirsty. Try to run in the shade whenever possible. Make sure to use sunscreen too. Don’t focus on your pace — run by effort instead.

Q: I am running a half marathon this weekend and missed my long run last weekend. Any recommendations for pushing through on race day?

A: If you’ve already hit 8-10 miles on your long run prior to last weekend, you should be fine. If not, you could try an 8-10 mile run over the next two days, but any later than that is probably too close to race day, so I would not try to squeeze it in after that. Listen to your body and take walk breaks as needed during the race.

Q: Any specific diet do’s or don’ts during the week leading up to a race day?

A: I recommend sticking to a regular healthy diet – I’m a big fan of fresh fruits and vegetables. Also, don’t try anything new. Stick to stuff that has worked for you in training, and make sure that you drink plenty of water.

Q: Any suggestions for a tight IT band if it starts acting up during a race?

A: I would focus on stretching and foam rolling over the weeks leading up to your race. If it starts to act up during the race, you could try shortening your stride length, but this is not guaranteed to loosen it up. Keeping it loose in the days leading up to the race is your best bet. Good luck!

Q: What is your opinion on compression socks/calf sleeves? Useful or useless?

A: Great question! In my opinion, these are more useful post-injury as opposed to preventative.

Q: What is your opinion on elastic sports tape?

A: Elastic sports tape helps to provide support and increased blood flow to the affected area. If it’s something that gives you comfort or improves your spatial awareness, I think it can be very helpful. However, from a scientific standpoint, there is not really evidence that shows that it helps you to heal faster. It’s not going to hurt you, so if it helps you feel more comfortable, it’s worth doing!

For more information on running tips, injury prevention and treatments, visit our running training section.

To learn more about UPMC Sports Medicine experts and services, or to schedule an appointment, call 1-855-93-SPORT (77678) or visit

About Sports Medicine

An athletic lifestyle carries the potential for injury. Whether you’re an elite athlete or a weekend warrior, UPMC Sports Medicine can help. If you are looking to prevent, treat, or rehabilitate a sports injury, our multidisciplinary team of experts can help you get back into the game. If you are seeking to improve your athletic performance, we can work with you to meet your goals. We serve athletes and active people of all ages and experience levels. Our goal is to help you keep doing what you love. Visit our website to find a specialist near you.