Run Forrest… RUN!!
…I love that movie… (Forrest Gump) 🙂
Anyway, when I began my fitness journey in 2010, I started running, well, more like walking with seconds of running mixed in. My goal was to lose weight, eventually complete a 5K distance run and perhaps compete in a race. Over the past few years I have learned a lot and have competed in 5K races, 10K races and have done quite well for someone who initially could not run 30 seconds straight! I am no Olympic runner, or sprinter however I have placed in the top 10 in most of my races and keep improving (record of my stats). I have been on a little hiatus from racing since entering the sport of bodybuilding but I continue to run. Every once in a while I receive questions from others interested in beginning a long distance running program so I thought I’d combine all the advice I have given along with my outcomes from my own trial and error…. and share it here. Before lacing up and hitting the pavement there are some important things to consider for efficient injury free running.
First thing’s first, what is on your feet? When I decided to run I actually did not own any pairs of athletic footwear… lol none at all. Unknowingly I probably did the best thing I could have ever done. I went to a particular chain of sneaker stores who actually have a program designed to fit you with the best sneakers for the activity you plan to partake in. I ran on a treadmill, barefoot while a camera recorded my foot strike. I also stood on a gel pad that would indicate how I carry my weight. When I was finished, based on my results a few different sneakers were recommended to me. It wasn’t until going through this process did I really think about how important the right pair of sneakers are. Shortly after my first 5K race I began researching foot strikes and it relation to footwear. When a sneaker has a thick sole, especially at the heel you will be prone to strike with your heel first when running. If you were however to run barefoot you would find that your mid-foot would likely hit the ground first. So which is right? Proper running form is important in order to reduce/avoid injury. It has been stated (and proven) that the force sent through the body during a heel strike is greater than the force of striking the ground with the mid-foot. The best way to avoid/prevent injury is to minimize the force and stress placed on your system. I recommend you pick up a pair of sneakers with a small heel to toe angle (think flatter sole); these do not need to be of the minimalist variety. (Note: I suggest buying your running sneakers 1/2 size larger than you wear in other shoes. While running your feet swell and if your shoes are too tight, you can get blisters not to mention lose a toenail! ) Personally, I have transitioned into running in minimalist sneakers and I love it. I have both a pair of Merrell’s and New Balance/Vibram’s; they are super light and essentially just protect my feet from the world although I can still feel the rocks, dirt and moisture through them I do not have to worry about cuts and scrapes. If you are new to running I would suggest you be cautious if interested in barefoot/minimalist running and ease into it gradually. It took me about a month to adjust to running in minimalist sneakers. If interested the store I trust with my feet is RoadRunner Sports. The following info-graphic explains the key factors to good running form quite well:
Now that we have the proper footwear, let’s talk about clothing and accessories. It is important to be comfortable while running and in my opinion a good practice to minimize distractions so you can focus on running with good form and breathing (we’ll get into that later). Ladies, it is important to have a good sports bra. If necessary opt for a version with underwire to ensure you have enough support. Too much movement can lead to discomfort and chafing. Next, men and women both need to invest in moisture wicking shirts, shorts, pants, socks, etc. Moisture wicking clothing ensure that your sweat or precipitation does not sit on your skin. It draws the water away from you to the outer layer of the fabric where it can evaporate. This is important in all seasons of running not just warm weather. If running in the winter, you want your base layer to be a moisture wicking fabric. You do not want rain, snow or your sweat to sit on your skin and freeze… this can lead to hypothermia/frostbite.
Additionally it is important to be thoughtful about anything else you decide to bring on your run. As I mentioned before the key is to reduce distractions. If planning to run with an iPod or MP3 player, invest in an arm band or some hands free contraption that not only holds the device but does not interfere with your running. Also ensure your ear buds/headphones are not bulky and stay in place. I recall fighting at times to get my ear buds to stay in place, this was a major distraction! I typically bring with me my armband for my nano and a runners fanny pack to hold keys. There are also bracelets that will hold your key if fanny packs aren’t your style. 🙂 I typically do not bring water with me while running but they do have belts for runners that hold small water bottles if you would prefer to have water on hand. The longer the distance you plan to run the more you might need to bring with you. Once reaching half marathon and marathon distances you will likely need to refuel your body in order to keep running so those runners will have gel packs, chews, bars and/or other supplements on hand. We talk more about distances in a bit.
Safety is always my primary concern. If you plan to run with music, Ensure your music is low enough that you can still hear your surroundings. You should be able to hear cars and people around you. When running on the road make eye contact with drivers when crossing the road. Keep in mind they may not see you. Choose runner friendly roads with sidewalks or large shoulders when possible. If running in a park or track, be aware of who is around you. If you choose to run at night, be extra alert and wear light-colored and reflective clothing. Flashing clippable LED lights or head lamps can’t hurt. Seriously people… be safe! As a woman, I never run at dusk or at night; I also keep modesty in mind when choosing running clothes. I do not want to call any unwanted attention to myself while out. Lastly, I always advise runners and bikers to invest in a Road ID. Many people do not run or bike with their wallets or IDs on hand. A simple bracelet or shoe tag allows EMTs or others to identify you and reach your loved ones in the event you are not able to. Click here to learn more.
Ok so let’s talk more about actually running! Just to ensure we are all on the same page, a 5K is 3.1 miles, 10K is 6.2 miles, Half Marathon is 13.1 miles and a Marathon is 26.2 miles. If you are new to running I say start out with the goal to complete a 5K and gradually increase your distance. However if for instance you are set on running a half marathon by a certain date you might want to find a program tailored to the amount of time you have to prepare. Hands down the single most effective plan for me was the simple Couch 2 5K or C25K program. The plan breaks down your running schedule week by week gradually increasing the amount of time you spend running vs the amount of time you spend walking. See example on the right. There are mobile apps and printable plans. You can also find a plan geared towards longer distances or get a custom one made by Run Coach. Get a plan and stick with it. In no time you will be improving your distance and speed. In addition to structure, having a device to log your mileage is helpful. I personally love the Nike+ app and I also have a GPS watch that I use in races (Personally, I do not listen to music or bring my iPod during races). There are other apps like Map My Run which are similar to Nike+. You can see your path, create a path, track mileage and calories burned over period of time and more. In my opinion, the more you know the more you can improve. Once you’ve gotten some training miles under your belt, I encourage you to choose a race and compete. The feeling of setting a goal, and crossing the finish line is amazing!
WAITING TO EXHALE:
I wanted to include a brief section on breathing. This is something I struggled with when I began running and is something I often hear others struggling with during races. Efficient deep breathing minimizes side stitches, allows you to focus on running form and allows you to relax some and keep your heart from racing. Excerpt from an article on runnersworld.com : “The key to preventing lung-and leg-fatigue is breathing more fully. When you take deeper breaths, you use more air sacs in your lungs, which allows you to take in more oxygen to feed your muscles,” says David Ross, M.D., a pulmonologist at UCLA Medical Center. In addition to breathing deeply, you want to breathe in a pattern or rhythm. For instance I exhale every time my right foot hits the ground. During long runs or races I can easily get into a rhythm and stay there; this prevents fatigue and allows me focus on the path in front of me. I am not distracted by being out of breath or any aches or side pains that typically occur from shallow breathing. Try it out, next time you run if you have a stitch in your side, try breathing slow and deep; this may help alleviate the pain.
EPSOM SALT and ICY HOT:
A few minor aches and pains are to be expected when taking on a new physical challenge. Here are some remedies for a few common running aches and pains.
Chafing/Blisters: Sometimes your skin, shoes or your clothing will rub you the wrong way during a run. Sometimes you can prevent chafing/blisters by choosing clothing or footwear that does not move about too much. Or, you can use Vaseline or an anti chafing cream/gel on the area before running. Common areas where chafing occurs, armpits, thighs and nips (for men). I had an interesting case of chafing on my collarbone due to wearing a high collar shirt during a 10K race (it was winter). Blisters on your feet can be due to improper fitting shoes. General rule: there should be a thumbs width of space between the toes and end of the toe box.
Tight/Sore Muscles: Many remedies exist to help lessen the soreness. I recommend soaking in Epsom salt before and after long runs or if you have any muscle soreness. I also recommend massages. You can splurge for a session with a professional masseuse, or you can perform self myofascial release with a foam roller. Additionally, you can’t go wrong with your trusty tube or patch of icy hot. However, most importantly, give your body time to rest and recover. A common muscle ache runners face is Tensor Fascia Latae (TFL) pain. This muscle sits on the outside of the hip and works to stabilize the hip and pelvis. Another common muscle pain are Shin Splints. This pain typically occurs because of muscle imbalances between the calf and the anterior (front) muscles. This generally occurs with new runners who are still adjusting and/or those who have not stretched enough.
Joint/Ligament Pain: Joint and ligament pain is different from muscle pain. This can indicate a more serious problem. It’s best to speak with your healthcare provider to ensure you have not sustained a more serious injury. A common ligament pain runners may face due to overuse is Iliotibial Band (IT) Syndrome. The IT band sits on the outside of the thigh running from the hip to the shin and attaches to the knee to help stabilize and move the joint. When the IT band is irritated, tight or inflamed it does not operate properly and movement of the knee becomes painful. Listen to your body, rest when it calls for it and don’t over exert yourself when already in pain.
To Carb Load or Not Carb Load:
I wanted to end on my favorite topic. Food. 🙂 How much do you really need to eat before running? Does a 5K require a night of carb loading before? What should I eat after running? All valid questions. Generally speaking for shorter distances (5K, 10K or shorter) carb loading is not required. You should however eat a balanced diet including complex carbs, protein, healthy fats and veggies; do not forget to DRINK WATER. Carb loading would typically come into play when planning a long run that would last longer than 90 minutes. Choose complex carbs. Food is fuel. 30 to 60 minutes prior to running for an hour or less you should have complex carbs like fruit (banana, apple) with peanut butter or whole grain bread with jelly. For longer runs, take in a little more complex carbs like a sweet potato or oatmeal. Be sure to hydrate yourself (12-16 oz of water before running) and I would avoid coffee, drinks with caffeine or other energy drinks prior to running. Do not eat until you are stuffed and wait at least 30 minutes before running. After a run you need to replenish glycogen stores (carbohydrates), protein and fluid. So an ideal post run snack is water and/or sports drink (like Gatorade) along with a combination of a carb and protein like a turkey sandwich, omelette with toast, protein shake, fruit with peanut butter etc.
I hope this has been helpful. Get out there and have fun. Enjoy the run, take in your scenery (even if on a treadmill… in a gym lol) take pride that you actively working on accomplishing a goal! That’s awesome! Please do not hesitate to reach me if you have any additional questions!
“Running is cheaper than therapy!”