“The Boston Marathon is considered the grandfather of all races,” says Olympia based orthopaedic surgeon Dr. Tony Agtarap. For most distance runners it’s considered the pinnacle of racing. Dr. Agtarap has qualified and finished it three times. He also completed the New York Marathon twice. And he the Chicago Marathon once.
With a record like that, it’s safe to say that he knows how to run. And beyond that, he knows proper training techniques for a successful long distance race. However, many are surprised to learn that the knee specialist at Olympia Orthopaedic Associates has only been running competitively for eight years, since his 40th birthday.
Seeing patients for knee related issues for more than 20 years, naturally Dr. Agtarap has a significant number of patients who are active, particularly runners. “Early in my career I spent a few years volunteering in the medical tent at the Capital City Marathon. I thought, ‘Eventually I’ll get back to running and I’d love to run this race,’” he explains. Like many people, he started with a 5K, then a 10K and eventually ran his first half-marathon and marathon. In the last eight years he’s racked up over 20 half marathons and more than 10 full marathons.
“I ran cross-country in high school and had some interest in running. After a 20-year hiatus, I re-engaged with the sport,” says Dr. Agtarap. His wife, Christie, was an endurance athlete and training together was a big part of his decision to begin distance training.
Dr. Agtarap saw his times increase in his first several marathons and after this third, he qualified for the elite Boston Marathon. “Running is interesting in that it’s one of the few things where in your 30s and 40s you can continue to excel and actually be pretty competitive whereas a lot of athletic endeavors stop at age 25 or so,” he says.
Running the Boston was nerve-wracking at first. “It’s a race that’s been around for nearly 115 years,” Dr. Agtarap explains, “and all the best runners are there. You earn the right to be there and you’re running with the best athletes in the world.”
Race day has gotten easier since that first visit to Boston. With three of the “World Marathons” (Berlin and London are the other two) under his belt, Dr. Agtarap is running more for fun these days. “I’ve had the chance to be a pacer in a few marathons. I’ll carry a sign with a specific race time and other runners stay with me, trying to hit that time,” he explains. “That’s kind of fun because you’re a coach on the course, helping runners hit their goals.”
It’s not just his skills on the course that are known in the South Sound, but his skills as a doctor, too. “I get the pleasure of caring for a lot of athletes who come in and want help to keep running,” says Dr. Agtarap. “Trying to help them, as their doctor, but also a bit as a coach, shedding some light on knee related injuries, is a lot of fun.”
We asked Dr. Agtarap to share advice, based on his experience, for novice and experienced local runners training for distance races.
- Sign-up: Plan ahead and sign-up for your race early. Once you’ve made that commitment, you are much more likely to follow through.
- Set your goal: Do you want a good time or just to cross the finish line? Your training will be different for each of these goals.
- Establish comfortable, base-level running: Make sure you are running comfortably at your everyday distances before training for distance races. Complete a 5K or a 10K without physical issues. Establishing comfortable routines and patterns will enable you to handle the training for longer distances.
Create a realistic training schedule: Dr. Agtarap recommends a minimum of 12 weeks to train for a distance event (novice runners train a minimum of 16 weeks). Allowing enough training time ensures better results come race day.
- Build a training program: Whether you use online resources, join a running group, use a training specific book, or hire a coach, build your training program purposefully. “There are many philosophies about training,” shares Dr. Agtarap. “I think the simplest way is to build volume of running, either minutes or miles, over three consecutive weeks. The fourth week should be a recovery week.” This strategy, repeated in a cycle, prevents injury, overuse problems and burnout.
- Mix up your training: “Pounding the pavement every day will result in what we call, ‘tissue issues,’” says Dr. Agtarap. Cross train with flexibility, strength training, cycling and swimming while keeping running your main focus.
- Address obstacles quickly: Whether physical or mental, there will be bumps in the road. Don’t ignore them. See your primary care physician, an orthopaedist or trainers and coaches within your running group to modify training and allow you to still compete.
- Re-evaluate: Check-in with yourself as your event nears. Are you healthy? Is your goal the same? Is your training on point?
- Finish strong: Take good care of yourself leading up to your event. Stay healthy, rest, eat right, hydrate well. You don’t want all your work to be for naught if you aren’t healthy on race day.
- Plan your race: Show up on race day with a plan. Set small goals for sections of the course and track progress. Hold back in the first half and finish strong on the second half. Use only gear and clothing you are familiar with. Stick with what you know works, including your nutrition. A new protein bar or gel on course may spell disaster for your GI tract.
- Enjoy the results: When all is said and done, don’t forget to take it all in after your race. Enjoy the rush of reaching your goal, accomplishing something big. Then, stretch, get some food and water, take a short jog or walk to loosen up and celebrate.
You can visit Dr. Agtarap at the Olympia Orthopeadics Associates Eastside Clinic where he sees patients, runners or not, for knee related issues. Make an appointment by calling 360-709-6230.