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For marathons, runners need a specific game plan

The Buffalo Marathon is only a week away, and physical therapist Steve Gonser has a valuable tip that applies to every single runner in the field.

“The biggest mistake people can make is not to have a game plan,” he said. “You have to be thinking about this ahead of time. Things like trying something new on race day, forgetting to eat, forgetting to drink – that’s crazy. But people get nervous, they are super-tired, and don’t pay attention to detail.”

Gonser, who is part of the Buffalo Rehab Group in Williamsville and who also is the founder of RunSmartOnline.com, will be one of the speakers who will be part of the pre-race activity on Saturday, the day before the race. He’ll be talking to runners at the Pasta Party in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.

Gonser, who grew up in Eden and now lives in Hamburg, did some running as a young athlete but actually preferred contact sports.

“I played rugby in college, but had some head injuries,” he said. “It was time to transition to a different sport. Running was an outlet for me. I have the personality for it, and found I was into marathons, triathlons, and so on.”

You might say that. Gonser has competed in two Ironman triathlons and two Boston Marathons, with his latest trip to Massachusetts coming in April (he ran 2 hours, 56 minutes and 52 seconds this time.)

With a doctorate in physical therapy from Daemen College in hand, Gonser started the website in 2009.

“I saw an online need for a place to help runners; people didn’t have it,” he said. “It’s something of a Netflix for runners, where people log in and can upload videos for analysis. It’s rooted in Buffalo, but most of the country and the world are represented now.

“We are advocates for momentum. We are passionate for getting people moving. We see some people on our site who have just started running, and others who have been running for years. We see 2:30 marathoners and 5-hour marathoners. We see every type of runner.”

About 1,000 people are members and the numbers have been growing quickly as of late. It started with a 100 percent local membership several years ago, but word of mouth is slowly increasing the geographic reach of the program.

“We had our first people from England about a year and a half ago,” Gonser said. “Since then we’ve had as many as 150 people from England sign up.”

One way to improve the organization’s outreach was to set up a closed Facebook group. That makes direct communication to members quite easy.

“When you have a private Facebook group, you have a community where you can give them information directly that helps them,” Gonser said. “We do live video feeds twice a month. It’s me in front of the camera. I can talk to people and answer their questions.”

Gonser has appeared at the Buffalo Marathon’s expo before. He likes to make the speech fun, bringing some prizes to give away. His advice is rather timeless.

“Our talk is more along the line of ‘This is the course. You’ll have a surge of adrenaline at the start, but you have to give the right amount of effort,’ ” he said. “You can’t use the adrenaline and go out like Braveheart. ... Whether it’s your first or 50th marathon, you go into it without knowing what will happen, and how your body will react to it.”

Gonser gives tips on the course, pointing out areas that can cause problems like running uphill on Delaware Avenue in the first two miles. He also points out that most runners go through something like the seven stages of grief when they take part in the marathon experience.

“You sign up, and the training cycle is filled with highs and lows,” Gonser said. “People say, ‘I’m so over it,’ and there’s still two weeks to go. ... The people who do it for the first time say they’ll never do it again. I usually say to them, ‘See you next year.’

“The commitment the first time around is huge, but you’re not expecting it. A marathon is different each time you run it. But even if you’ve run 20 of them, the training is always the hardest part.”

More information on the race and the expo is available at buffalomarathon.com.

Race calendar on B11. email: bbailey@buffnews.com