Marathons and Beyond: Secrets of the Super Runners

Arnica is well known for sports injuries, so I’ll try to share some less well-known remedy tips, plus some practical advice for running marathons. (Did you know that Arnica can be used preventively? A couple of pellets of Arnica 30c before a marathon or other intense workout can help prevent muscle soreness and fatigue. To use any remedy preventively, you want to take it close to the time when your body needs it.)

Beyond Arnica. Sarcolactic acid–the lactic acid found in muscles that builds up during exercise and causes soreness and stiffness–can be a great example of “like cures like” in action. Homeopathically-prepared Sarcolactic acid seems to drive lactic acid out of the muscles, protecting runners from that stiff and sore feeling that can hobble us toward the end of a marathon. It’s not available in stores (although you can get it online), but an easy way to get the benefits of both Arnica and Sarcolactic acid is in Sportenine® by Boiron. Sportenine® also adds Zincum, the “restless leg” remedy, for leg cramps. The result is a remedy that can be used preventively as well as during and after a marathon to help with energy and endurance, cramps, and muscular fatigue.

We like it when homeopathic remedies are well researched, and Sportenine® was evaluated by a French physician, head of the national “Sport and Biology” association. He tested cyclists in a double-blind, placebo-controlled trial and found that Sportenine® elevated the lactic acid levels in their blood (indicating that it was clearing lactic acid from the muscles). His other research indicated faster recovery times or an increase in VO2 max (maximal oxygen uptake), which indicates lung capacity.

Ruta graveolens heals connective tissue, both in its homeopathic and herbal form. Use Ruta 30c to heal an injury such as a torn achilles tendon or cruciate ligament around the knee. Shin splints–tiny tears in the protective covering of the shin bone–can also be treated with Ruta.

Support the work of Ruta in its potentized homeopathic form with Ruta as an herbal tincture (a dropperful in water or juice twice a day) to strengthen connective tissue. If you have a tendency to weak ligaments–for example if you sprain your ankles easily–you can use Ruta in tincture form on a regular basis to strengthen them. If your health food store has this tincture, it might be labeled “rue” (the common name for Ruta graveolens), but more likely you’ll need to find it online, for example from HerbPharm. [HerbPharm is just one example of an herb company selling Rue tincture so no comma before HerbPharm]

In my early days as a homeopathy student, I thought Rhus toxicodendron was the best and indeed the only remedy for sprains and strains with stiffness, where the person had to limber up the joint by stretching it and moving it, and wanted to put heat rather than cold on the joint. Then one day I compared the symptoms of Ruta and Rhus tox side by side and realized that, in fact, Ruta has almost the same symptoms as Rhus tox! One way you can tell the difference is that the relief from heat is more strongly marked in someone who needs Rhus tox; the person really wants a hot bath or shower or heating pad to feel better. The corresponding symptom “worse from cold” is also more strongly marked for those who need Rhus tox, making it a good remedy for people who get sick from becoming soaked and chilled. Marathoners running in a cold rain tend to need Rhus tox. a lot, both for joint stiffness and for preventing a cold or flu afterwards. Honestly, the indications for these two remedies are so similar that Rhus tox works just fine for sprains and strains with stiffness. I generally prefer Ruta because of its special affinity for connective tissue–that is, its special ability to heal tendons, ligaments, shin splints, and plantar fasciitis. Plus Ruta also has a special affinity for the knee. It works great for that funny sensation when you’re walking downstairs and your knee just pops out from under you–it doesn’t hurt, it just gives way. If this happens to you frequently, try Ruta.

Let’s just mention a couple of other uses for this wonderful remedy: eyestrain from too much reading or computer use, and headaches in kids who just had their braces tightened. (Any shift in location of the teeth, including a tooth extraction, shifts the bones in the skull slightly and creates tension in the connective tissue around them. Craniosacral therapy is also ideal in this situation.)

Whether you are treating an acute or long-term tendon/ligament problem, you can also use the cell salt Calcarea fluorica 6x. Calc fluor strengthens elastic tissue anywhere in the body, including the walls of blood vessels as well as connective tissue. Dissolve a couple of tablets in the mouth twice a day (or better yet, three times a day if you can remember) for faster healing. Calc fluor also has the remarkable ability to dissolve bone spurs. While Calc phos seems to “teach” the body where to deposit calcium where it belongs, in the bones, Calc fluor seems to “remind” the body not to deposit calcium outside the bones.

Or if a bone spur has already formed–rendering running impossible if it’s on the heel–Calc fluor can slowly work to dissolve it. Use the same way as for strengthening connective tissue, and enhance its effectiveness with Hekla lava 30c taken at the same time. (Several of my clients or fellow runners have had bone spurs resolve with Calc. fluor. alone, while several others have used Hekla lava as well. I do not have a large enough sample size to compare their effectiveness. The remarkable article on spinal stenosis in the most recent Homeopathy Today described eight serious cases of stenosis resolved with the combination protocol.)

For muscle cramps, Magnesia phosphorica is the most likely remedy to work for marathoners in my experience, although there are many other cramp remedies such as Cuprum metallicum. (I think that Mag. phos. works best for cramps during prolonged exercise, because magnesium lost in sweat adds to the magnesium deficiency in the typical American diet.) Use Mag phos 30c acutely for a cramp, or use the tissue salt Mag phos 6x preventively (two tablets dissolved in the mouth twice a day) if you have a tendency to get cramps easily. For faster results with acute muscle cramps, the body needs an actual magnesium supplement in addition to the homeopathic magnesium in Mag phos. Liquid calcium-magnesium in citrate form absorbs faster than tablets and is easier to swallow during a race. After years of experimentation in the medical tent at our races, we’ve arrived at Bluebonnet Liquid Calcium Magnesium Citrate as the best form. Two tablespoons of it along with Mag phos 30c is “a godsend for cramps,” as our medical director puts it.

As for treating sore muscles after the race, there are several topical applications, beginning with a simple Arnica gel or Hyland’s Muscle Therapy Gel® with Arnica. Traumeel® (a blend of acute trauma remedies) is an old favorite with athletes for muscle pain, while the newer Topricin®, a different blend of acute remedies, is good for both muscle and joint pain. Miranda Castro’s Healing Cream for Joints and Muscles includes the remedies recommended here (Arnica, Rhus tox, Ruta, and Calc fluor) plus Thiosinaminum to break down scar tissue.

Treat your feet well. Take good care of your feet with well-fitting running shoes and blister protection if necessary. You never want to run a marathon in brand new shoes–break them in for several weeks first–but you also shouldn’t use shoes once the soles are worn down. Take your old shoes to a good running shoe store with experienced staff who can look at your gait and the wear pattern on your soles to recommend the best shoes for you. Different running shoes are designed for runners who pronate or supinate (whose feet tend to roll in or out) as well as for different types of foot plant (toe in/toe out, heel first, etc.), and the staff will learn a lot about your running style from noting where your shoes are worn away.

If you have a tendency to blisters, protect the susceptible spots like the heel and ball of the foot with moleskin. Cut it to fit and also cut tiny “darts” in the moleskin (in other words, cut off any little wrinkles that stick out) to make it lie flat on the curved surface of your foot. If a blister has already formed, use Spenco Second Skin, cut to fit and then held in place with paper or silk medical tape from any drugstore. If you tend to get blisters between your toes, wrap lambs-wool around them to prevent chafing. For people who chafe because they sweat between the toes, Silica can help prevent the sweating. Silica 30c will have the strongest effect and can be used preventively right before you exercise, but if you’re using other remedies like Arnica 30c, better to use Silica in a lower potency, the 6x cell salt form, so as not to interfere with the action of the other higher potency remedies.

Calendula can help to heal blisters after the race, just as it heals all kinds of cuts, incisions, and breaks in the skin. You can take Calendula 30c internally, and it will heal these skin problems from within. But you’ll probably want to take Arnica and other remedies after the race, and it’s not ideal to take several different potentized remedies on the same day. Each one is giving your body information, sort of like a tiny flash drive that stores a tremendous amount of healing information. Taking a remedy transmits that information to your body, reminding your Vital Force of what it’s like to be healthy; restoring the blueprint, as it were. When you take several remedies, you are asking the Vital Force to pay attention to several tasks at once. Better to save the potentized remedies for bigger problems like sore muscles and joints, while using a local application for the blister. You can dissolve a pellet of Calendula 30c in a little water and keep dabbing it on the blister or on a cut. You probably won’t find Calendula 30c in your health food store, though, so look for a liquid like Hyland’s alcohol-free Calendula spray bottle.

Run sloshed. This tip is from my dad, the veteran marathoner and surgeon specializing in blood vessels. Dad has a unique solution to the problem of “hitting the wall” or totally running out of energy when you’re at about the 20-mile mark of the marathon. This common experience is widely attributed to the depletion of your body’s stored reserves of glucose (blood sugar). Dad says it also happens when dehydration causes a lack of osmotic pressure to move the existing glucose from the blood vessels into the muscles. –He says it’s as if your blood vessels become limp and flabby and lack the “oomph” to push the glucose into your muscle cells. [I don’t think you could say they actually do this on the macro scale, in an objectively observable way, but they function as if they are limp and flabby]

The answer? “Run sloshed,” meaning fully hydrated. You don’t want to hydrate the morning of the marathon, though, or you’ll be stuck in the long lines for the port-a-potties when the starting gun goes off. Instead, drink all day the day before. If you feel like you’re just peeing it out as soon as you drink, try sipping your water slowly. (That’s because if you gulp a lot of water all at once, special receptors in your stomach tell your kidneys, “Lots of water coming in! Time to crank up the output!” Sipping slowly does not trigger this feedback response.)

You can also try using the cell salt Natrum mur 6x to increase your body’s ability to retain water (a couple of tablets dissolved in the mouth once a day if you have an ongoing issue with retaining water and an additional dose preventively before a long run in hot weather) A FEW DAYS BEFORE RACE DAY? OR ONE DAY BEFORE?). Or you can try variations on plain water that may be more absorbable, such as coconut water or San Pelligrino water (this particular brand of sparkling  mineral water works better than others). In my experience, either one seems to absorb better than plain water and can solve the problem of “peeing it all out as soon as you drink it.”

Keep up your electrolytes. Drinking too much water during the race can actually be harmful; in fact marathon runners have died from hyponatremia. (This is a relative lack of sodium in the cells, caused by drinking too much plain water without electrolytes, resulting in swelling in the brain). Symptoms of hyponatremia include nausea/vomiting, weakness, and extreme fatigue, beyond what you would expect from your level of exertion. You might be tempted to give the homeopathic remedy Phosphorus for the well-known keynote of vomiting from drinking cold water, but in my experience as a marathon medic, when a runner has this symptom it’s more likely to be caused by hyponatremia, which may require intravenous electrolyte replacement in an emergency room. Vomiting is the body’s way of rejecting the excess water and it needs to be taken seriously as a sign of possible hyponatremia.

You need electrolytes, especially sodium, to balance the water, and runners are different in how much salt they need. If you can see white traces of salt where your sweat has dried, you are losing a lot of salt and you need to be especially concerned with replacing sodium. Natrum mur 6x (the tissue salt made from sodium chloride) can help keep your sodium in balance. You could dissolve a couple of tablets in your mouth before a long run in hot weather, and another couple of tablets on returning if you see these traces of salt.

Simply taking salt isn’t the answer, according to Paramita Jarvis, RN, medical director for several Sri Chinmoy Marathon races each year. “We’ve been experimenting with salt replacement for years,” Jarvis says. “We tried salt and salt tablets, and many runners would just vomit them up. We’ve ended up with dulse as absolutely the best salt replacement.” Dulse is ideal because it replaces not just salt but all the trace minerals the body needs. Dulse is a sea vegetable, and the taste might remind you of low tide. If the taste is too strong for you, try nori snacks, a delicious crispy sea vegetable available in many health food stores. Dulse and nori are both light and easy to carry in the pocket of your running shorts (in a little plastic bag so they don’t get soaked when you pour water on your head). Definitely experiment ahead of time to see what works best for you. Jarvis has seen marathoners’ endurance and recovery after the race improve markedly since they began nibbling about a tablespoon of sea vegetables every few miles.

“Before we discovered dulse, we thought Bioplasma was the answer,” Jarvis says, referring to the blend of all twelve tissue salts. “But the effect of Bioplasma only lasted 10 or 15 minutes. Now we use it to help absorb the minerals in the sea vegetables.” Tissue salts (cell salts) are great for “teaching” the body how to absorb and utilize minerals. But Bioplasma only contains ten different minerals, {you’re right, sorry!] whereas sea vegetables contain dozens of minerals essential for health. (Scientists say our blood is like sea water because our ancestors climbed out of the ocean many millennia ago.) So Bioplasma should be considered an adjunct to sea vegetables or other source of trace minerals, not a replacement for them.

Keep up your energy. Ferrum phosphoricum 6x, the cell salt, can help maintain your energy while you are training and may even help during the race if you are feeling depleted. (You should experiment with all these suggestions before the marathon during your long 20-mile training runs. People’s bodies are different and some of these substances may work for you better than others.) Ferrum phos helps the body absorb and use iron, so it can help overcome anemia. It can even help with energy when anemia is not an issue.

Carbo vegetabilis helps promote oxygenation (it moves oxygen across the cell membranes in the lungs and into the bloodstream). So it would be especially helpful if you suffer from shortness of breath while running–although honestly, you probably wouldn’t be running a marathon if you have shortness of breath. You might need it, though, if you decide to run a high-altitude or uphill marathon when you’re not accustomed to those conditions. (Here’s a tip from my dad for running uphill: point your feet outwards a bit so that you are running with the muscles on the inside of your thighs. That way you’re doing the heavy lifting of running uphill using fresh muscles, while allowing your quads — the major muscles on the top of your thighs — to rest and recover. This tip worked like a charm for me. It helped me get up the Boston Marathon’s endless Heartbreak Hill more than a dozen times!)

Ferrum phos and Carbo veg are two of the main remedies most often used in our medical tent for marathons and ultramarathons, based on our experience with thousands of runners. Carbo veg was known to the grand old masters of nineteenth century homeopathy as the “corpse reviver” based on its ability to bring back drowning victims. It has lived up to its reputation in our medical tents. Well, fortunately, we don’t have people dying in our marathons but sometimes they look like they are on the brink of collapse! We use a tonic made from Carbo veg 30c dissolved in an herbal tincture of Crataegus (hawthorn). One squirt into a runner’s mouth, and their energy returns dramatically.

Chia seeds are the energy secret of the Tarahumara Indians, the famous Mexican Indians who run long distances barefoot. Soak them overnight to make them more digestible and you will enjoy all the nutrients packed into these tiny seeds: omega-3 fatty acids, antioxidants, protein, and fiber. When you soak them, they swell up and act like a tiny version of the tapioca “bubbles” in bubble tea. To make a real treat, soak them in coconut milk instead of water, add a little vanilla or cardamom, and you’ll think you’re eating a wonderful tapioca pudding for a dessert after the race. Long distance runners also enjoy soaking them in coconut water, which they feel helps with dehydration.

See you at the finish line. Whether you are a two-mile jogger, marathon runner or ultramarathon superathlete, I hope these suggestions help you to reach your own personal best, and then to recover quickly afterwards! And if you’re a runner but you’ve never done a marathon, I recommend that you try. You’ll feel differently about yourself, with a new sense of confidence, purpose and focus that you can apply to your other dreams and goals in life. Just keep that Arnica handy!

This was adaped from Burke Lennihan’s Your Natural Medicine Cabinet: A Practical Guide to Drug-Free Remedies for Common Ailments and may be reproduced for non-commercial purposes with attribution and a backlink to this site.

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