Under Construction, Rough Draft
Then why run? For me, running presents a legitimate challenge. In our society, there are safety nets for everything and we can all get by very comfortably without ever pushing ourselves, without ever facing a challenge. I reject the notion that the purpose of life is to be comfortable. Running is my initial rebuttal.
Below I will outline some things I've learned the hard way and pass along some advice I took that prevented me from learning the hard way.
Get Involved Running is of course great exercise, but what is surprising is how powerful of a community and relationship builder running can be. My first piece of advice to new runners is to get involved with other runners. Sign up for a walker-friendly 5K, bring a friend. A good place to find these is on Active.com. Also, get involved in an online runner's community, they're different than other online communities. The stories shared are all about perseverance and victory, and people are encouraging and warm. My favorite is Runners World.
By getting involved not only will you have some moral support, but you'll also begin to educate yourself through reading and sharing stories and listening to advice.
Have a Plan While I didn't list this first, it's what I would wager is most important. If you are just learning to run and you run based completely on how you feel you're going to get hurt frequently. You will have to learn the difference between pain and injury. Beginning runners always mistake injury for just pain. There is a lot of strengthening of connective tissue and creation of blood flow mechanisms that develop as you begin to run, not to mention that the more obvious things like endurance and musculature need to be developed. A running plan provides structure in which these things happen, without your knowledge or intent.
When learning to run you also need to have a controlled increase. Increase your mileage too quickly and you'll be injured. Basically, you can choose to rest and show restraint on your own, or your body will force you to. One way or another, you're not going to increase from 10 miles of running a week to 40 miles a week in a short time period and it has nothing to do with desire or even cardiovascular ability. Running plans also have this planned growth.
If you've been sedentary and cannot run, or are not sure you can run, I'd suggest a "Couch to 5K" program, often called C25K. A 5K is a "race" of 3.1 miles length, which is 5 kilometers. That may sound like a terribly long distance, but with structure and time, you'll surprise yourself!
If you've been active in other sports or are just naturally athletic, you can try a more aggressive program like Hal Higdon's. But be advised to start small, don't think that just because the first few workouts are easy that you should progress to something more difficult. Overuse injuries are cumulative. They seemingly come from nowhere.
To keep track of your plan you need a training log. Runner's world has one. I just use an excel spreadsheet. I also use Dailymile.com to track all of my activities.
As you follow a plan you will learn that rest is when the growth really occurs. You'll learn how to vary the intensity of your running, as well as learn how running in different intensities targets different physical properties that determine your ability to run well.
Even if you haven't articulated your goals, you have them. They don't happen in your next run, or even in the next week or month. It takes time. Structure will maximize your success.
Mechanics: Mechanics, roughly speaking, is how you run, how your feet hit the ground, if your knees are bent, and how straight your back is, among many other things. This topic is one of conflict and disagreement among runners and the scientific community. Some say this, some say that. They all have valid points and research.
With that said, I look at successful runners and how they run. The vast majority are not heel strikers. There are a lot of methods available now to coach you on running form. Some just describe running form, while others give you drills (I use this myself frequently).
The book, Born to Run, by Christopher McDougall, brought issues of mechanics and equipment (shoes) to the awareness of the general public, like me. In his book he promotes barefoot running. I cannot imagine running barefoot, though I do most of my running with toe shoes.
His call to run barefoot is simple, and while any argument has flaws, his case is strong. A lot of shoes are designed to make running with poor form (as defined as promoting injury by biomechanical misalignment) not painful. But if you run barefooted (or in my case, with toe shoes) and you land wrong, your feet hurt immediately.
This started a huge movement of people running barefooted which, in turn, caused a lot of people to develop foot injuries. That's not to suggest that Mr. McDougall is wrong, but one cannot simply become unshod. Our feet our weak and it takes months and months of training to strengthen them. Before I really started running I had read Born to Run and did some research on the internet. Running barefoot, or in toe shoes for that point, takes a lot of strength training for your foot and lower leg. I figured that since I was going to start out, I'd start there. I'm glad I did.
Regardless of what you take from this, or his book, please take away awareness of mechanics.
To summarize I offer the following. Practice the drills in this video regularly. Buy shoes with as little padding and as small of a heel as you can stand. Be aware of how your foot hits the ground, especially as your tire. And as with all things, be a critical thinker, monitor and adjust.
People that stretch in this fashion before running are more likely to be injured than people that do not stretch at all. Not only have I read this in many books, but I've heard it from track coaches that I personally trust.
There's also research showing that stretching afterwards doesn't promote running ability. However, it doesn't suggest that it is counter-productive. I personally feel that stretching has its place (after running) and is beneficial to overall health, though it may not make you a faster runner.
I subscribe to the idea that dynamic stretching following a warm up is the best way to prepare for a run. The picture shows my absolute favorite. The way I do it is standing in place, legs stretched apart as seen in the picture. I dip down as far as I can pain free (at first it wasn't far) and then back up. I do twenty reps per leg.
To warm up, before loosening up, I do either jumping jacks or jump rope (at least a minute), then pushups and situps. I follow that with the running in place drill in the video "Running with Eric." Then I do some dynamic stretches. If it's a race I'll jog about a quarter mile very slow, focusing on form, then run for about two minutes at a quicker pace.
Again, as with everything, decide what works best for yourself. Decide what makes sense to you and research, experiment, monitor and adjust.
Injury Eventually you're going to be injured. That means you won't be able to run and because of that, you're going to want to run more than ever. It's demoralizing, frustrating ... it really sucks. Not to mention, it hurts.
My favorite internet source for injury education and information is sportsinjuryclinic.net. They have excellent information to help with diagnosis, treatment plans and timelines, as well as exercise to promote recovery and prevention. In no way do they replace a good doctor, but even when seeing a doctor, you need some idea of what is going on, in my opinion.
Here are some truths I've discovered about injury: The number one thing required to recover: Time. The second thing: Ice. The third thing, Compression.
I've come to love neoprene compression wraps. I have one for ankle, another for the thigh/hamstring, another for calves and one for the knee. You can buy them on amazon or just about any sporting good store. My freezer has multiple ice packs that I now use as a preventative measure.
The idea with ice and compression is this: Both ice and compression force blood away from the surface of the skin and into the tissue. With increased blood flow damaged cells are repaired and free radicals cleaned out. Swelling is the body's way of immobilizing an injury so further damage is not caused by use. However, swelling itself lengthens the time required for recovery by restricting blood flow. Heat promotes swelling! Cold helps remove swelling. And if you twist your ankle or something like that, the sooner you ice, the better.
And if the injury seems at all bad, submerge the injured area in an ice bath!
A few things that can also help prevent swelling are ginger root and fish oil. They're the two supplements I take regularly. Ginger root has been shown to be as an effective of an anti-inflammatory as any non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug you can buy. In addition it's good for your immune system and digestive health. Fish oil contains fatty acids that we don't get enough of. The fatty acids apparently do some magical things with the elasticity of our blood cells among other things. End result, they both reduce swelling which in turn allows your body to repair damaged tissue.
Weight I do not wish to inaccurately quote the percentage of increased effort that running with ten extra pounds exerts on the runner, but it's incredible. Regardless, most people want to run to lose weight, not lose weight to run.
The truth of the matter is, you're not going to lose weight running. Regardless of health and speed, humans burn about 100 calories per mile. There are 3,500 calories in one pound of fat. You will never out run a bad diet.
In the documentary, Spirit of the Marathon, six runners from different walks of life run a marathon. Of the six, one of them lost weight. The only reason that person lost weight is because she did other training and had a program focused on weight loss.
If you are motivated to run only by seeing a smaller number on a scale you're going to be disappointed.
What I've learned about weight loss I'll share on another page in the future. Exercise is an important component, but between diet and exercise, diet is definitely the trump card!
Your Long Term Goal I am borrowing this from a cycling training book, but do not let your short term goals surpass your long term goal, that's when you get injured. Remember why you run each time you lace up. Remember that each run has a purpose. As you develop as a runner, read and educate yourself. Get involved with other runners and running groups. But most importantly, get outside and run!