Thirty-four years. Such a long time! Sometimes it has been fun, sometimes it's been a struggle and a lot of work. It has come with much joy but has had some heartaches too. It has taken my unwavering dedication and commitment and a desire to work through the tough times to achieve the best outcome. It has been a journey for sure. No, I am not talking about marriage (although 19 years in, a lot of the above applies). I am talking about long-distance running.
When I reflect on my years of running and why I chose such a grueling sport, I can say it's because it is a sport that has grown with me. When I was young and pain-free, I pushed myself to my physical and mental limits in everything from 5K, 10K and half-marathon races to daily 11-mile runs to a 16-mile race in the corn fields of Wisconsin. Every run had to be harder and faster.
In my 30's, I started suffering from more injuries, including three ankle sprains and plantar fasciitis. As a result, I started incorporating more strength training into my workouts. By doing so, I was introduced to Spartan Races and competed in a 9-mile Super Spartan race at the Cliffs Insane Terrain Park in Ottawa, IL (the name of the park should say it all). The first thing I saw when I entered the park was an ambulance. The race included over 20 treacherous obstacles, some in neck deep water, on a 46-degree morning in October. The inability to warm up for over two hours after the race (my training partner swears I had hypothermia) put an end to that type of competition.
When I reached my 40's, I still had one more unachieved running goal…a marathon. My training started out great until I ran a 13-mile run one morning in early June. I had pain in my right heel which I decided to ignore. The next time I tried to run, though, the pain was intense! An x-ray revealed a stress fracture in my calcaneus (i.e., heel). I had to wear a boot for a month and was unable to run until the beginning of October, which left only five weeks to finish training for the marathon. My only goal was to get to the starting line pain free. I was thankfully able to complete the race and the moment I crossed the finish line, my running mindset completely changed. I decided that day to hand over the reins of competitive running to my older daughter. I told her, "I give this all to you. Take it and run with it…literally!"
I had achieved all my running goals. I no longer had the desire to push myself to my limits. I changed my mindset from competitive running to running for health and fun. I incorporated stints of walking into my runs. I also incorporated more non-impact training days and yoga to spare my joints, decreasing my running from six days a week to three days a week.
Thirty-four years in, running is still the sport I enjoy the most. Nothing beats fresh air, being out in nature, the four different seasons and the endorphin high at the end of the run. It is a sport that requires extraordinarily little as far as equipment and investment and is one that can be done almost anywhere.
If you are contemplating running but do not know where to start, read on.
Top Ten Running Tips
- In the words of my daughter's cross-country coach…"Invest in a good pair of shoes or invest in a doctor." I could not agree more. Everyone's feet are different and so are our foot mechanics when we run. I would advise going to a local running shoe store and having an employee perform a running analysis on a treadmill. Try on as many pairs of shoes as you need to find a pair that feels supportive and comfortable. For running, make sure your toes have a finger-width of space between the end of your toes and the front of your shoe. Also note that people typically buy a running shoe that is ½ to 1 size larger than their typical shoe size because one's foot tends to swell when running. Find out the store's return policy (Naperville Running Company took my daughter's shoes and orthotics back for a full refund, no questions asked, after she had worn them running outside for a month).
- Consider whether you need orthotics. A physical therapist or running shoe store specialist may be able to help. There are so many kinds of orthotics that it is best to be analyzed for the right kind versus just buying a pair at your local pharmacy. Determine whether you can buy a pair from a running shoe store or need something more custom. Click the link below to view the FootMaxx system that we have been utilizing successfully for over five years and contact us if you would like to do a FREE screen to see if orthotics may be right for you. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLIN6BWcByE
- Break in your shoes (and orthotics if needed) slowly. Wear them around the house. Pay attention to any areas of rubbing/pain. Do your toes have enough room? Assess your feet after 30 minutes or so. Are there any red areas?
- Make sure to do a good active warm up prior to running. Stretch your quads, hamstrings, calves after a run. You can view my post-run routine by clicking on this link: https://www.napervillept.com/files/pdf/Running-blog.pdf
- Dress for the weather but do not overdress. Running gets your blood pumping and you will quickly warm up. Make sure to keep your fingers and toes warm and dry in the winter though!
- Know your numbers. What is your resting heart rate? What is your aerobic training heart rate range? Know how to monitor your heart rate while you are running (either via your pulse or use a running watch). I use the target heart rate formula for aerobic conditioning which is 50% to 85% of your maximum heart rate. The max heart rate is 220 minus your age. For example, if you are 40 years old your max heart rate would be 220-40=180 beats per minute. Your target heart rate would be 95-153 bpm (95 bpm is 50% and 153 bpm is 85%). Make sense?
- Start slow. Walk until you feel warmed up. Start with a slow jog. Monitor how you feel as you go. Walk as needed. Stop jogging when you feel tired or your heart rate goes above your desired range. Walk and stretch when you are done with your run.
- Keep a log. How long did you run? How far did you go? What was your heart rate? What was your speed (if you care to track this one!) How did you feel? Did you have pain? Over time, you will hopefully be able to track progress in the length of each run, the speed (if desired), your heart health and your tolerance (each run is easier and/or less painful).
- Set goals for yourself. Whether it is to run for 10 minutes without walking, to run 3 days per week, to train for a race, it is good to have goals. It will help to keep you motivated.
- Find a running partner. I started running with a friend over 12 years ago. Having someone to run with makes it more enjoyable, keeps me accountable, strengthens our friendship and gives us emotional support. If one of us is having a bad/off day, the other is there to provide encouragement. We have NEVER finished a run and said, "I wish I DIDN'T go running today!" We have ALWAYS said, "I'm so glad I went!"
I asked my daughter who is a junior in high school and running on the cross-country team if she had any more tips for success and I loved her idea.
Week One: Run for one song, walk for one song, repeat as able.
Week Two: Run for two songs, walk for a song, repeat as able.
Week Three: Run for three songs, walk for a song, repeat as able.
As the title tells you, running is truly a marathon, not a sprint. It is something you can start slow and build upon, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. You can start at any age and run to any age, as long as your body allows. Modifying as you go will prolong your ability to continue to run. Finally, remember one run can change your day, many runs can change your life.
Visit Naperville Running Company at www.RunningCompany.com and use code FYZICAL for 10% off your purchase. Visit our website at www.NapervillePT.com for information on our services and please follow us on our social media platforms for more helpful information.