Teach Me

Pick Your Pace – Running for Beginners

Do you scoff at your friend’s Instagram when they post a selfie from their morning run? You may nod your head benignly as your marathoning coworkers brag about their “runner’s high.” Your significant other says they go for a run “to relax.” That can’t be real… can it?

Believe it or not, running can be relaxing and fun. But if your last experience was running the mile during P.E. in middle school, then you may need some education before you lace up and hit the pavement. We spoke with Steen Johnsen, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at TOCA at Banner Health in Arizona.

Am I Ready to Run?

Dr. Johnsen warned, “Running is a wonderful form of exercise and stress relief. It is not for everyone. When a person is running their core and leg muscles are actively pushing the body forward while shock absorbing up to four times the body weight against mostly hard surfaces. This pushes the heart and lungs to keep up with the demand from the muscles. For those who have heart, lung, or weight issues, running may not be the best form of cardiovascular exercise to begin with. If you have these in your medical history, you should seek medical approval before starting a running program.”

Dr Johnsen went on to say that for those who are ready for the challenge, any time is a good time to start. Muscle, joint and tendon stretching is a good warm up.

Picking a Smart Pace

It’s easy to go too hard, too fast. This mistake often leads to injury for first-time runners. Dr. Johnsen offered a few tips for setting healthy expectations:

  • Start with a routine of 3-4 times per week
  • Strive for 20-30 minutes of exercise
  • Start with a “walk/run” routine. This might mean running a block and walking a block to avoid extreme fatigue.

“Many factors contribute to picking your pace.” commented Dr. Johnsen. “If there is a concern or significant health history, a running program as a form of exercise should be approved by a treating physician first. Age is less of a concern if the runner is healthy. More and more, people in their 60’s are training for distance races and challenges.”

What Do I Need?

Running is one of the cheapest and easiest ways to exercise. In its simplest form, all you need is a decent pair of shoes and a destination to get started. But, like every other sport, gadgets and gear abound for enthusiasts. Dr. Johnsen noted that fads and trends exist in the running world. “In recent years, we have seen a stark transition from minimalist running shoes, such as the 5-toe shoes, to the opposite as runners today are moving toward “maximalist” shoes such as Hoka and Altra. Dr. Johnsen warned consumers of shoes that appear to be built for running, but instead are built for style and price. Work with an expert to pick shoes and socks that give you the right amount of support in your stride.

Looking beyond the essentials, there are many other products for runners that are looking to improve quickly and efficiently. Here are few of those nice-to-have products that could make your run more enjoyable.

  • A smartphone or watch with GPS. Download apps like Strava to track your distance and pace.
  • A small hip bag or arm band to hold your electronics, keys, etc.
  • Comfortable, moisture-wicking clothes
  • A Bluetooth-enabled heart rate monitor
  • Wireless headphones and a great playlist/podcast
  • A first-time runner friend to train with you

Risks for Runners

Sure, it’s not BASE jumping, rugby or motorcycle racing but “running has risk,” said Dr. Johnsen. “For a healthy individual who is using running for exercise, musculoskeletal injury can be common when pushing too hard. This can include tendinitis around the hip, knee, ankle or foot. Plantar fasciitis, Achilles tendinitis, as well as patellar and hamstring tendinitis can be recurrent issues.  Less common are stress fractures, back injury and even formation of joint arthritis.”

Preventing Injury

Unfortunately, you may not know about your injury until it’s too late. You may feel some pain in your joints or muscles during the run but, typically, your injury will become apparent after you’ve finished, within about 24 hours of the exercise. Your best bet is to create a progressive program for your exercise and try not to push until you are ready. Listen to your body as you run and make adjustments as needed. Drink lots of water and avoid exercise during the hottest time of day.

Strengthening your body is a big part of maintaining structural balance and avoiding injury. But Dr. Johnsen warned against doing too much in the beginning. “Cross training with weight training, swimming and biking can be very helpful in taking the runner to the next level with time and distance. This is normally recommended after a person has been committed to a weekly running program or is training for a race or running event.”

Are you thinking about incorporating running in your fitness plan? Schedule an appointment with your doctor or find a Banner Health physician near you, to decide how you should get started.

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