Thursday, 3 May 2012

8 Little Things About Running

I've been talking an awful lot about running lately. Why? Because I've been doing a lot of running lately. Sometimes it’s the only thing that keeps me sane.

But, that being said, anyone who's tried to run for the first time has found that it’s not nearly as easy as runners make it look, is it?  It’s blood sweat and tears at first, isn’t it?  And coughing up a lung or two.

So, a few things I've learned about running that you may not already know...  These are things that work for me.  They may not work the same for you.  But if you’re thinking about starting, do give these things some thought.

1. Its going to hurt a little. At least, at first. Natural movement it is NOT. Most of us stopped running around at some point between childhood and adulthood, and now our bodies are out of shape for that kind of motion. My body plays head games.  It makes things hurt that shouldn’t actually hurt.  That first kilometer of running is the absolute hardest for me.  Stupid screwy body, trying to make me drop back down to a walk.  Shins burn, calves burn, lungs burn.  Ignore it.  The human body is stronger than we give it credit for.  It’s ok to push it a little bit.  

2. If it still hurts after XXX; IT'S YOUR STRIDE. Seriously.  Who'da thought running would be something you could do wrong or right? If your shins or calves are burning, you're pushing too much with your toes. If your thighs are burning, you're lifting your knees too much. If your heels are hurting, you might be flopping down too hard on your heels and need to roll the foot a bit more.  If you tend to run on your tippy-toes, well, I can’t help you.  You have a problem.

3. Keep your chin up. I have this awful habit of putting my chin down and just plodding along, and my nose drips like a tap and my lungs burn. Keep your chin up and your eyes focused up ahead of you. If your nose is dripping down your face, your head is too low. Putting your head down narrows the airway. Keeping your chin up not only allows your nose to drip down the back of your throat (eww, but better at keeping one's throat wet), but it prevents you from crashing into parked cars.

4. Relax. Everyone wants to pull their shoulders up and tighten their hands into fists. Don't. Every now and then shrug. Heck, shrug with each step if you want to. It will remind you to loosen up a little. Because tight neck and shoulder muscles also tighten the airways, which makes running a whole lot harder than it needs to be. For your hands, either shake them at the wrists with each step, or hold your middle finger to your thumb, just to stop yourself from making a fist, and to stop that silly "Fonzie" thumbs up habit that you may develop instead.

5. Always start a run slowly. Walk a couple of blocks at a medium pace to warm up, then start running very slowly. You can pick up the speed, if you want to, after about a half kilometer. Remember, slower = longer. If you're burning out, go slower. But try not to drop to a walking pace until you absolutely have to. Remember rule #1--your body will try to trick you. Run as far as you possibly can before walking, then walk and run in intervals. I like to use street lights--run for 3, walk for 2...  If you see stars, your body is not screwing with you.  Either you’re running at right, or it’s time to slow down.

6. Whatever your fitness level, make yourself do a whole 5 km loop. Even if you have to walk half the route, make a point of staying out there for the whole length. If you go out and run a 2 km loop because all you can run is 2 km, and then you just go back home, you will never run 5 km. Let your body know how far 5 km is. But do make sure you've given yourself enough time to finish.  Don’t leave your kids stranded somewhere wondering where you are.  Do not put the roast in the oven for 45 minutes and then decide to go out for your very first run.

7. Plan! I LOVE I measure out my route before I go. I know a half dozen variations on routes in my area so I don't have to keep running the same lap. On those days when the run just feels really hard, I can remind myself of when I'm halfway there, almost home, etc.  Now it’s my mind playing tricks with my body, and not the other way around.

8.  I always think of my fitness level as “getting there” as opposed to “there.”  There is no “been there, done that.”  There is only “getting better”.  If it doesn’t feel like work anymore, it isn’t.  It’s time to make it harder somehow, be it faster or longer or more uphill or a circuit with muscle-work at set pit-stops.  Whatever works, as long as you’re working.  There will never come a day when I think that running is easy.  Though I do look forwards to the days when it is less hard.

Now, a word on chronic cardio. "Chronic" cardio is any cardio done to such an extreme that your body is burning muscle instead of just fat. It means pushing the body to extreme lengths and causing bodily harm. Extreme, for our bodies, is running 20 km every day. Extreme is going for 2 hour runs. Extreme is forcing yourself to run when you're sick or tired and ignoring the cues your body is giving you and it’s causing injury. And injury is any pain that persists for days after you stop running. 

A 5 km run is not extreme.  It is not chronic.  There is no need to drink a gallon of water before heading out (because all you’ll do is need to make a pit-stop mid-run, and in my neighborhood, there are no johnny-on-the-spots and no one wants me peeing on their front lawn), and whatever you do, do not eat within an hour of going for a run, either.  There is no need to carry water or snacks for a 5 km run.  There is no need to replenish with sports drinks or snack bars.  The first few times you go out, you may feel ravenous afterwards, but a couple of weeks later, that feeling will be gone.  Some people actually even fast after exercise.  It allows the body to continue to burn fat because you haven’t replenished with more easily accessed carb fuel.

And its ok to take a day off now and then.  You don’t have to run every day.  In fact, do not run every day.  Don’t forget to do muscle work sometimes.

Use your best judgement.

Don’t go out there and give yourself a heart attack.

But do get outside and do something, already!

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