These days, I’m training a lot, but running very little more than an occasional fun run of a few blocks. This might seem counter-intuitive considering I plan on running a half marathon in about a year and a half, but there is some method to my madness and let me share it with you if you are hoping to make a similar transition from 0 miles to runner.
- I don’t feel I’m at the right weight yet to begin running.
The last time I became a runner, I began running at a higher weight than I currently am. I did make it past that and lost a lot of weight in the process, nearly 50lbs. However, I also suffered through some very painful shin splints and plantar fasciitis, both common injuries for newer runners. I spent a lot of time with ice packs on my shins and feet between runs and the whole process was a lot more painful than necessary. If you are heavy enough that moderate to intense exercise makes your joints or feet hurt, you may also want to drop some weight before you hit the pavement hard to spare your knees, hips, and feet having to carry that extra weight and bear that extra impact. A solid nutrition plan can really help here along with non-impact exercise.
This being said, you definitely don’t need to be at your goal weight before you begin running and you can definitely lose weight while you run. You’ll want to talk with your physician and listen to your body to know if you might want or need to lose a few pounds before starting or if you’re ready to go.
- Cross Training is VERY important to avoid injuries and great to begin BEFORE I run.
Another lesson I learned the first time I became a runner! The first time around, I just ran. As I got better at it, I loved running so much I really didn’t want to “waste” time doing any other physical activity. I just wanted to log more miles and watch my speed and endurance improve over time. Unfortunately, this led to some serious muscle imbalances that in turn impacted my gait and eventually gave me another common running injury, ITBS, which is a tightening of a band of tissue that runs from your hip to your knee on the outside of your leg. It was this injury that eventually sidelined me from running for 10 years.
A few physical therapists later and I finally fully embrace cross training. Doing activities like weight lifting, swimming, or pilates, yoga, or barre can really help build muscles that I don’t use while running and help balance the muscles that I do. The human body is all about balance and if you do any one activity too much, you eventually risk an injury by bringing the body out of balance. Right now, I’m doing a combination of weight lifting and barre and really working on conditioning muscles that will help keep me in balance and avoid injury.
If you already feel like you’re in pretty good shape from your other activities, you may be able to start running right away while working in cross training days.
- Sometimes, Running Isn’t the BEST Way to Build Up Cardio Endurance and the Body’s Tolerance for Impact, if you’re not already doing it.
Physical exercise is often divided into different groups. Of these, running is considered cardiovascular exercise and high impact. It works the heart and lungs hard, which is great for the health of these organs, but it also causes a lot of impact when the foot hits the ground. This impact is actually good for your bones and joints, contrary to popular belief. Studies have shown that runners actually have a lower incidence of age related knee issues than the general population because running builds up lubrication and cushioning tissue in the joints much like using a muscle causes that muscle to grow denser and stronger. Similarly, impact helps build greater bone density to withstand that impact. It is actually being recommended for people in their 40’s, particularly women to seek out high impact physical activity now, which goes completely against what we used to hear. (Don’t even get me started about how eggs are good for you, then bad for you, and now good for you again. I don’t even pretend to understand how that works!)
However, what IS harmful to bones and joints is too much impact all of a sudden and that is one of the biggest mistakes that new runners often make, besides not having the right shoes (but that’s a whole other story). Most bodies that haven’t been doing high impact cardio just aren’t ready to pound the pavement much. I’m working up to more and more impact with fewer, shorter runs and adding in some high impact HIIT cardio. (High Intensity Interval Training) This allows me to more slowly build up tolerance and cardiovascular endurance before I begin seriously running.
- If you’re not already in the correct shape for it, starting out with running rather than working up to it can be disappointing and lead to giving it up entirely.
I can’t count how many times I heard from people when I was a runner the similar story…
“I tried to run once, but I just couldn’t run much more than a block. I’m just not a runner.”
It always makes me sad because the odds are very good that this person could have been a runner. It’s likely they just didn’t quite know how to begin in a way that would set them up for success. Most often, they didn’t have the correct shoes, which might not make that big of a difference the first few times, but soon will lead to issues and they likely didn’t have realistic expectations of what their body would be capable of at that point. Like anything else, your body gets better at running slowly over time as you regularly run. When I start out running, I do intervals of running spaced out with walking in between. I run just a little bit further than seems easy and then walk and begin running just before I feel fully recovered. I slowly work up to running straight through by making those walk intervals shorter and shorter and the running intervals longer and longer, similar to beginner runner programs like Couch to 5k, but more at my own body’s pace.
So, for now, I’m not running much at all, but I definitely am training. I’m lifting a lot of weight for my upper body to help keep that strong as well as strengthening my legs and core and slowly building up impact as my weight decreases. All of this should serve me well as I begin to run more and more and the hope is that my patience will be rewarded by skipping the worst of those beginner runner injuries that can steal the joy from running and slow down my progress.