Addressing Runners

If you picked up running recently, restarting after a long winter break or have been running all your life- this article is for you.

I love running, all though my teenage self would disagree. I only really started to enjoy running regularly last year in January. I started to love the challenge and the ability to be connected to my breath, body and nature while listening to my favourite party tunes.
When I started running last January, I didn’t give it much thought. I was inexperienced, but I was eager to run everyday. So I did! After two weeks of running every day, my knees started to hurt and then my hips. First it just bothered me when running, so I reduced the frequency and duration of my runs. My knees recovered but my hips started to get worse. It started to affect me in my squats and lunges and sometimes it would last beyond activities at the gym and show up during specific motions throughout my daily activities. I went to two Chiropractors in a span of a half a year. Both of them really helped me understand what had happened. They also helped me manage symptoms such as stiffness and pain and helped me optimize muscle tension.

In the last two years I learned a lot about my body and what I need to do to keep it healthy. I also learned more about what I need to do if I want to keep running. I took a break from running during the winter as I focused on other forms of endurance training, but with the weather getting nicer, the running season has officially started for me again. I noticed that with the gym facilities still closed, more people are thinking of, and have been picking up, running, even those who never thought of running before. And before you make the same mistakes as I did last year, let me share with you the lessons I have learned so far:

Lesson 1: You need good foot wear!
Before you pick up regular running, buy proper footwear. It is essential- I had to learn that the hard way! Poorly fitted and worn down shoes will not support your foot arches properly. And if you are poorly supported and misaligned at the level of your feet, the misalignment will not end there. If your feet are affected, higher structures above such as your knees, hip and spine can be affected too. Running has a high impact on your joints as it is, with structural imbalances already starting at your feet though the potential wear and tear forces could be made worse. You might experience pain or discomfort due to acute irritation at the beginning, but if left unaddressed, it can lead to abnormal wear and tear and even permanent damage. Which is why it is important to have proper running shoes from the very beginning. Asics is a brand I personally can recommend but it is definitely a pricey brand. Check out this link to find the brand that works for you.
And for you viced runners out there: When did you buy your last pair of running shoes? According to Runners World you should change your pairs after running between 300 and 500 miles.
In retrospect it is no surprise that I started to have major issues when starting to run more frequently. I realized that my arches were collapsed, especially on the left side but the damage was already done and the misalignment already took its toll. I had no choice but to optimize every aspect of my running practice.

Lesson 2: You need to properly warm up and cool down.
As a trainer I already knew that it was important to properly warm and cool down your body before any given performance. But I have to admit I never made an effort to structure my warm up properly and adequately. It looked more like the cool down. The cool down it self is these days also more specific. A smart warm up prepares your body for the performance ahead by giving your muscles time to recruit and coordinate. It also gives your joints a chance to properly lubricate, tendons and ligaments to loosen up and your heart rate to increase gently and gradually. Studies such as this study from 2015¹, suggest that dynamic stretches can increase your running performance. The cool down is also important. The goal of performing a cool down is to return the body to its resting state, flush out waste products and maintain healthy muscle function. If you fail to do a proper cool down, your body will have a much harder time to recover and might not be ready for the next run you have planed! Especially if you deal with muscle tightness, you should not skip the cool down. To give you an example of how it could look like, I created a warm up and cool down routine. Try it out the next time you go for a run. Let me know how it goes!

Aside from the immediate cool down routine, make sure you stay hydrated. I’m thinking of writing an other article about what else you can do to speed up recovery in general. Let me know if that would interest you.

Lesson 3: Strengthen the muscles that support the structures which are being impacted the most by running.
Strength training is an essential supplement to a regular running routine. It strengthens muscles and joints, which can improve your running performance and decrease the injury risk. If you want to perform at your full potential, you need to target and address areas of fitness you may normally not pay attention to, like flexibility, balance, mobility, and strength.

Lesson 4: Start slow, build up tolerance.
Doing too much too soon is a classic rookie mistake that can lead to injury and burnout. No one in their right mind would agree to running a marathon without the chance of practising running beforehand. But when you are new to running and enthusiastic as I was it’s really easy to over do it. But the truth is our bodies need time to adapt and adjust in order to endure the stress that frequent running creates. So what is a sensible pace to start with? Here are some recommendations in regards to frequency, duration and intensity when freshly starting or restarting after a long break. I got my information from Runners World.
They suggest to start with 2-3 days a week. Start with 20- 30 minutes and embrace the Run/Walk method at the beginning. With that target in mind, focus on a few minutes of running, followed by a period of walking. Here is what they suggest:

10-Week Run-Walk Plan
Start and finish each workout with five minutes of walking. Then, alternate the following run/walk ratios for 30 minutes.

  • Week 1: 2 minutes running/4 minutes walking
  • Week 2: 3 minutes running/3 minutes walking
  • Week 3: 4 minutes running/2 minutes walking
  • Week 4: 5 minutes running/3 minutes walking
  • Week 5: 7 minutes running/3 minutes walking
  • Week 6: 8 minutes running/2 minutes walking
  • Week 7: 9 minutes running/1 minute walking
  • Week 8: 13 minutes running/2 minutes walking
  • Week 9: 14 minutes running/1 minute walking
  • Week 10: Run for 30 minutes!

When you feel comfortable running 20 to 30 minutes at an easy pace, you can increase the challenge. Your next step is to either extend your total workout time or the number of runs each week. But just choose one option at a time. You could for example aim for 30 minutes instead of 20. Or run four times a week instead of three. A very important rule of thumb according to the website runners world is to increase your total weekly time or distance by no more than 10 percent from week to week. For example: If this week you ran 90 minutes total, you’ll run 99 next week. Or if you ran 10 miles total this week, you’ll run 11 total next week. It’s easy to overdo it on the days you feel good, when just starting out or when you’re running with a faster friend. Remind yourself to slow down and listen to your body.

Lesson 5: Listen to your body.
Challenging and pushing your body and mind to its limits feels amazing, but not at the cost of your body breaking down in agony. There is a difference between your body aching and crying out in agony vs. your mind being lazy and protesting any strenuous performance task. Personally I didn’t pay much attention to any pain at first because it always has been my mind that I needed to fight in this matter. As a teenager I absolutely hated running and in my early twenties I merely tolerated the thought of it as I imagined and convinced myself to go running every blue moon. If you want to make frequent running a habit, you need to listen to your bodies cues and differentiate whether your mind is resisting and protesting the running or if your body is signalling you that it is over strained.

What has your experience been so far with running? Do you have any tips or lessons that you’ve learned along the way? Let me know in comments.

Thanks for tuning in.

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I'm a personal trainer and my life is all about physical, mental and spiritual well-being. Some of my passions are yoga, nutrition and photography.
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