Clubbing. Cliff diving. Paper routes. There are some things that you can be too old for.
Running is not one of them.
Whether you’re 16 or 60, running is a sport that anyone can enjoy and even excel at, as long as they’re willing to put in the work. Getting started might be intimidating, but with the proper gear, nutrition and training, anyone can enjoy the health benefits of a good run.
Zac Palmer is a trainer for Fitness Gear and Training in Bellingham. He’s worked as a fitness instructor for 10 years and has trained people of all skill levels. His advice to beginning runners is to not overdo it.
“Be progressive,” he said. “It’s better to not be sore after those first few runs. Less is more in the beginning.”
For beginners, a loose-fitting set of clothes and a high-quality pair of running shoes are all the gear you’ll need. Having the proper pair of shoes can prevent injuries that tend to discourage a lot of beginning runners.
“Shoes are not just shoes,” Palmer said. “Especially when it comes to running.”
Chris Lantz of Fairhaven Runners agrees. Lantz tries to suit the shoe to the person, and takes the time to really get a feel for how they move before suggesting a pair.
“When people come in, we watch them walk without shoes on, look at their arches and the angle of their feet, then suggest shoes based either on their gait or the type of running they want to do, whether it’s trail running, races or anything in between.”
A runner’s gait is determined by the shape of their feet and the angle at which they hit the ground. Runners have one of three types of gaits: neutral, pronating or supinating.
Neutral gaits are ideal, since the foot hits flatly and evenly on the ground. Pronation occurs when the foot angles inward as the person walks and they land on the inside of their foot. Supinators angle outwards. Pronators are much more common than supinators, but both can lead to knee or ankle injuries if not corrected with the proper shoe.
Sometimes, you can tell which category you fall into just by how the soles of your shoe are worn down.
Pronated gaits can be corrected with stability shoes, which balance out your gait and help you run comfortably. Supinators should seek out a cushioned shoe to deter injury.
To make sure the fit is right, Fairhaven Runners gives folks the opportunity to take a jog around the block and get a feel for how their body is responding to the shoe.
“You can tell from a person’s body language when the shoe is right,” Lantz said. “They’ll get real excited, because it feels natural and fun.”
Once you have your gear in place, it’s important to set goals for yourself and adhere to them. Whether you’re trying to run a marathon, half-marathon, 5K or just want to get in better shape, defining your goals early on is crucial to your success.
Lantz recommends bringing a partner along for those early runs.
“A big thing is accountability,” he said. “Set a distance or a time for yourself, and have a buddy along to help motivate you to
reach it. Take breaks to walk if you have to, but don’t stop until you hit that goal.”
It’s important early on to set reasonable goals so you don’t burn out. Each person is different and has a different fitness level, so one person’s easy three-mile run is another person’s grueling three-mile run. Figure out where you stand and what you wish to achieve before setting out.
There are a number of injuries, both mild and severe, that can afflict a beginning runner, but most of these can be avoided by using the correct shoe, exercising and staying hydrated.
Shin splints are the most common injury newcomers can face. Shin splints are caused by micro-tearing of the muscles around the shinbones. They produce a sharp aching sensation in the legs and can even be sore to the touch. Usually, shin splints fade over time as your legs get stronger, but when these appear, take a break for a few days until the pain goes away. Try running slower and on softer surfaces, and invest in a new pair of shoes if you haven’t already. If the pain gets worse, consult with your doctor; it could be a stress fracture, which is a more serious injury.
Patellofemoral pain syndrome (better known by its less scary name, runner’s knee) is a dull, throbbing pain below the kneecap that can strike on runs. This is much more likely to happen if you are pronating or supinating in your gait, so the proper shoe can go a long way toward preventing this.
Otherwise, strengthen your quadriceps, the muscles on your outer thigh, to alleviate this problem over time. A simple knee brace can prevent some of the pain.
One common mistake that a lot of beginning runners make is to stretch too much before a run. Stretching cold muscles can be counter-productive and can even lead to injury.
“Think of it like putting a rubber band in a freezer,” Palmer said. “Leave it in for a few hours, then try to stretch it, and what happens? It snaps.”
Palmer advises warming up by easing into your run from a walk, and saving your stretching until after the run is over. During your run, focus on keeping your breathing steady, and stay loose and relaxed so you don’t get tired too quickly.
Drinking plenty of water is a big component of a healthy run as well. Palmer recommends drinking at least one ounce of water for every pound of your body weight every day. When preparing for a run, drinking plenty of water (up to 20 oz.) about two hours before the run. This will keep you hydrated and prevent cramps or stitches during the run. After the run, a sports drink will restore some of the nutrients lost through sweating.
Early runs are a good time to determine what kind of runner you are. Do you prefer running through urban areas or scenic wilderness? Do you like being with friends, or would you prefer to go it alone? Would you rather listen to music or be alone with your thoughts? It may seem trivial, but making the run comfortable and fun for yourself ensures that you’ll keep at it.
You may even prefer using a treadmill. Palmer says treadmills can offer significant benefits but should be looked at as an enhancement to outdoor running rather than an alternative.
“There are significant benefits to a treadmill, if it’s the right treadmill,” he said. “Some will make adjustments while you run to replicate outdoor running.”
Palmer says aspiring racers shouldn’t rely exclusively on treadmills, since they can’t perfectly recreate the experience of running outside, but for those many rainy days, it’s always better to do something than nothing.
Those looking for a challenging and rewarding new hobby can use this advice to lace up and hit the road. Don’t be intimidated; just stick with it and you’ll go far.