This article appears in Fall Healthy Living 2018.

Marathon runners are endurance athletes pushing their bodies to the limit. Whether you’re a first-timer or an experienced marathoner, all runners need to build up for the big day.

“The No. 1 piece of advice is to create a game plan,” said Dr. Joshua Blomgren, a sports medicine physician at Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and aid station medical lead for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Game plan

A plan of attack will help keep athletes on track as they gradually build up mileage. One of the most common mistakes is to build up mileage too quickly, which is a “recipe for overuse injuries,” Blomgren said.

Plenty of opportunities exist for creating a personal training plan either online, with a team or through personal coaching, he said.

Get checked out

Going from being a regular exerciser to a marathoner is a big jump. If you’re not a regular runner, Blomgren advises an evaluation by a sports medicine specialist to see if your body is capable of tolerating the strain it will need to endure. A physician can also offer guidance for training and injury avoidance.

Stretch it out

Create a routine stretching program that also includes days off to help avoid injuries, Blomgren said. When warming up, use dynamic stretching, which actively takes your body through a range of motions and increases blood flow and muscle temperature to get your body ready to move. After a workout, use static stretching, such as the classic hamstring stretch, where you hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds.

Cross-train

Focusing on running alone can create muscular imbalances, especially in the hips, Blomgren said. Cross-training helps build core and hip strength and adds variety, Blomgren said.

Gear up

Getting fitted by a professional at a running store will ensure that your shoes fit properly. How long a shoe lasts depends on an individual, but in general shoes should be replaced after 350 miles, a number that can be reached while training for a marathon, Blomgren said. After that, shoes will still be wearable, but the foam cushioning may wear down and affect its form and function, Blomgren said.

Shave time

If you’re interested in setting a personal record or simply shaving off some time, you’ll need to enter marathon training in good shape. Get ahead of the competition by training in the cold.

“At the end of October or early November, put in the time to increase speed and strength,” Blomgren said. Most rivals are taking time off in cold conditions.

Avoid the expo

“Have a well-thought out plan for race day. Think about pace, meal situation, parking situation and other variables. Remove as much stress as you can and focus on your run,” Blomgren said.

Pre-marathon, don’t get sucked into the vendor expo. If someone hands you a free energy gel, now is not the time to try something new, Blomgren said.

“Use what you know, because you know how your body will tolerate it,” he said.