Photo: Dr. Jessica Clark, Physical Therapist at Dignity Health YRMC, crosses the finish line after breaking her personal record at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota in June, 2021.
The 44th Annual Whiskey Row Marathon in Prescott, Arizona is right around the corner! Are you looking for some quick tips from a pro on how to prepare for the race?
Lucky for us, Jessica Clark, Doctor of Physical Therapy, happens to work in the Physical Rehabilitation Services Department at Dignity Health, Yavapai Regional Medical Center (YRMC). She’s not only a talented physical therapist, she’s also an avid runner. In fact, she’s been running in the Whiskey Row Marathon since 2011. She landed first place for women twice in the half marathon, and last year, Clark was awarded first place for women after completing the full marathon.
Dr. Clark says that she was one of those rare kids who, from an early age, knew what she wanted to do for a living.
“When I was 12 years old, I watched my grandpa in physical therapy after a knee replacement. It was fascinating to me,” she recalls. “I love human anatomy, I love helping people, and of course, I love being active. On top of that, I come from a family of nurses. So, it seemed natural to head in this direction.”
Clark, a graduate of Nazareth College in Rochester, New York, has been a physical therapist for 12 years. She moved to Arizona in 2010 and started working at YRMC in May, 2021.
Clark has been a runner for as long as she can remember, having been on the track team in middle school, high school, and college. In 2021, she was inducted into Nazareth College’s sports hall of fame as the only female cross country runner at the school who has advanced to nationals since the program started in 2003.
In addition, she has completed 16 full races, including marathons in Chicago, New York City, and several years in the Boston Marathon.
“Running nourishes my soul. It’s a part of me. It’s a wonderful way to pray, to connect to nature, and to relieve stress,” says Clark. “The great thing is, you can think of nothing at all when you’re running, or you can use your run to sort things through. But it’s entirely your choice. I get to choose to make it easy or hard.”
Preparing the Body for Activity
Clark indicates that warming up is key to good outcomes for runners.
“We want to prepare the body for exercise, whether it’s running, walking, biking, or anything in between. We want to do things to improve our power, speed, agility, and overall strength for better performance,” she explains. “We want to improve circulation, increase our body temperature, get our heart rate up, and lubricate our joints to help us move better. If you don’t warm up, you may not perform at your best. You might end up feeling stiff and achy.”
Clark explains that there are two types of stretching, and a specific use for each.
“Dynamic stretching can be thought of as an active version of stretching. It’s moving through an increasingly larger range of motion, which gradually lengthens your soft tissues and muscles without causing harm to elasticity. It’s important before any physical activity, whether it’s a run or just a walk in the neighborhood and is especially important if you have trouble with mobility or if you have been sitting for most of the day,” she says.
“I always do dynamic stretches before a run. First, I like to warm up using slow jog, just to get my heart rate up. Then comes the dynamic stretching.”
Some examples of dynamic stretches are trunk twists, walking lunges, high knees, and leg swings. Clark says that it’s important to go easy, and only follow the range of motion that is comfortable for you. It’s best to do dynamic stretches that mimic your specific workout or activity. Five to ten minutes is all that’s necessary, even before a marathon. She stresses that you simply want to get your body ready to move and meet the demands that you’re going to place on it.
However, for shorter events like sprinting, where you run faster and might be more prone to injury, Clark suggests spending a little more time warming up.
Make sure that you warm up just prior to your race and avoid allowing more than 10 minutes to go by between your warm up routine and activity or race.
“Static stretching is when you stand, sit, or lie down and hold a position for a period of time without movement, say 30 to 40 seconds,” Clark explains. “It’s most effective after a race when you’re already warmed up and your performance is over. It helps relieve tightness, improves flexibility, and it also helps you achieve a greater range of motion.”
Static stretches include bending over to touch your toes, seated ‘figure 4’ stretches, and a seated butterfly stretch. Again, Clark emphasizes, “Don’t stretch beyond what’s comfortable. You shouldn’t feel any pain while stretching.”
Static stretches can be beneficial when you have limitations with flexibility. However, more often than not, people will have better outcomes with dynamic stretching and strengthening the muscle through the range than with static stretching. A lot of times, a muscle that feels tight can actually be a muscle that is weak. A physical therapist can help you determine if you have deficits with flexibility or strength.
“At YRMC Physical Rehabilitation Services, we provide an individualized approach to patient care and can help people work on their flexibility and strength to help them meet their mobility goals.” Clark says. “A doctor’s order is needed to participate, so definitely talk to your doctor if you think it’s something you can benefit from. We will customize your program to fit your individual needs.”
For any level runner, Clark recommends joining a runners’ group such as Prescott Area Trail Runners. Running groups typically offer runs for various levels, from beginner to advanced. You’ll get to meet like-minded people, it’s a great way to stay motivated, and it’s fun.
Clark says that it’s important to listen to your body, especially if you’re a beginner. She suggests creating a plan to increase your running using intervals. For example, you can start out by running 1 to 2 minutes, then walking 1 to 2 minutes for approximately 30 minutes for a few days, and then when you’re ready, you can gradually increase your running time and change the ratio of running to walking, such as 3 minutes of running and 1 minute of walking.
Remember, it’s important to have a consistent base of walking prior to starting a running program, such as being able to walk for about 30 minutes a day. Having some experience with time on your feet is important.
“Strength training is also important, no matter what level you’re at,” says Clark. “If you feel pain, make sure you go to a physical therapist for an assessment. They can get you on a strength training program. It’s better to catch an injury sooner than later.”
The Bigger Picture
Much has been written about the various life lessons that can be learned while on the trail or on the track. Clark shares her own perspective.
“Marathons are a metaphor for life. There are challenges, both physical and mental when you’re running that far. You have to believe in yourself and work hard. If you do, things pay off. It takes time and patience,” she says. “I have run many marathons where I’ve set big goals for myself, but came short of them on several occasions, but I learned that if you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going at it, things will turn around. Running has helped me to overcome many other challenges in my life.”
Click here for more information on Dignity Health, YRMC Rehabilitation Services, or call (928) 771-5131.
You can learn more about the Whiskey Row Marathon and register at whiskeyrowmarathon.com.