As one of the more challenging forms of weight-bearing exercise, I owe running a great debt of gratitude. Back in 2000, I decided that I wanted to run a marathon. I hadn’t been running regularly since high school (9 years earlier), and that was simply up and down the soccer pitch. But now I was in training for my first marathon.
Without reviewing any training plans, I started running. I ran everyday, between 5-8 miles per day, primarily on sidewalk. My form was “natural,” which is to say it very likely looked unnatural. I weighed 185, about 20 pounds more than my current weight. And I wore the same pair of Nikes I’d been wearing as my everyday walk-around shoes, which is to say they were likely a bit worn, and I think these shoes were designed for basketball.
Within three weeks, I was a bundle of injuries. Shin splints, knee pain, heel soreness. As a novice runner, I didn’t know my body needed time to adapt. So I attempted to push through my niggling injuries, frustrated that my run times were slowing as opposed to getting faster.
About a week later, I could no longer run. It hurt too much. But knowing that I needed to keep building my engine, I sought other forms of exercise. I began cycling and swimming.
This is the debt I owe to running. Had it not been for my overzealous marathon training plan, I’d likely not have been cycling and swimming and, thus, not have stumbled upon triathlon.
An active lifestyle can certainly include jogging and running, but make sure to learn from my mistakes:
1. Run surface
Sidewalk has very little flex. Instead of absorbing any of the pressure from each foot strike, it will send most of it right back into your foot, ankle, shin, knee, hip. If a hard surface is your only option, opt for black asphalt (in the USA, run on the left side of the road, facing traffic). Asphalt has more flex than concrete, and it is a softer, more forgiving surface. Of course, if you have access to dirt trails, that surface is a dream. When I’m running 40-45 miles per week, at least half of those miles are on horse trails, fire trails, and running trails. If you choose to run on trails, though, stay in the moment — keep your eyes focused on foot placement, as trails often have occasional rocks, divots, and snakes. (I hate snakes).
2. Run form
Are you a heel striker? I must confess that toward the end of a hard effort, especially when I’m fatigued and when I’ve let down my guard a bit, the heel striker in me likes to make an appearance.
Every body is different, but the consensus seems to be that mid-foot striking and forefoot striking are best.
Also, keep an eye on your posture. Are you slumped over?
Not enough can be noted regarding weight. In a very logical sense, you have a certain amount of power, and the more weight you have to push forward, the slower you will likely go (and the more injury-prone you will likely be).
Go to a running store. Look for an employee who “looks” like a runner, preferably someone a bit older who looks like he’s surviving the game (and still running). Ask him/her to examine your gait and to recommend running shoes that might best meet your needs.
Don’t underestimate orthotics. Custom-made orthotics can make a big difference. Consider seeing an Orthotician or a Podiatrist.
5. Dream big, but start small.
Your goal may be to run a half-marathon or marathon. But don’t run 26 miles on the first day. Begin sensibly. If you’re starting with no run volume, then take it easy. Maybe you simply run a few laps around the track, or a couple laps around your neighborhood. Give your body time to recover and to adapt.
The largest muscle in your body is the gluteus maximus (your primary butt muscle). We spend so much time sitting, rendering our glutes inactive, that often they don’t fire completely when we run. Make sure to activate your glutes before you run. (Look for glute stretches and exercises you can do). And when you run, run from your glutes. Visualize your glutes pushing you forward.
Sometimes, you “just feel like running!”