Running was not always a thing for me. I was a pretty chunky child, and absolutely hated running! I would be playing rugby every week, but would get so upset at the coaches during the warm up as I couldn't understand why we had to run before the game started, and then run during it as well! Of course, that was because I was so unfit that even the warm up wiped me out, and eventually when I hit high school and got more serious about rugby, I moved past this (to my coaches' delight!). When I hit university, two shoulder reconstructions forced my early retirement out of rugby and steered me into doing a couple half-Ironman triathlons. Here I found that running actually went from being bearable, to quite enjoyable. So let me start to share some secrets on how I moved from a non-runner, to an avid promoter of recreational running.
Our body has three main energy systems when we think about exercise. The first two are for power, and are short lived due to working without oxygen, while the third is entirely reliant on it. With this in mind, we can actually use our breathing as an indicator of how hard we are working (which I also do in Pilates!). There is a specific scientific scale called Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) where we can match up your ability to talk, against a scale of 6-20. As you can see from the picture below, we are able to contrast our ability to speak, against how hard we want to work. If you want to take it easy, you should always be able to hold a conversation. If you are trying to really challenge yourself, you won't be speaking to anyone until you're finished!
Now often when we start up running, the first few sessions generally sit around the 15/16 mark whether we like it or not. I would suggest this is the main reason most people don't stick with it... Our bodies have a natural inclination to avoid hard work, as do our minds. It takes a particular level of motivation when your alarm goes off at 6am (or earlier!!) to go running in the dark, to a level that challenges your body. The good news is that the more we challenge it, the faster it learns to adapt. And if you can make it past the first three weeks, you will be away laughing! So I always recommend keeping the level of challenge at around a 13/14 level when you are starting out running again - make sure you can speak to your friend, but you are still working for it.
This is all relative right? It gives you a measure to compare against so that the time after when you go running again, you can go at the same level, but check it against either how long it takes, or how far you go, as to whether you are improving.
Strong feet and ankles
I am not going to lie - I'm an advocate for minimal support in terms of footwear, but I am also aware this is not suitable for everyone. From my perspective, we've got a huge number of bones and joints in such a small area, in contrast to our leg bones feeding into our hips. The reason for such a large number of bones and joints is to keep dexterity in our feet, and also predominantly for shock absorption for our lower limbs. The natural action of our feet when they hit the ground is to expand and absorb the ground reaction forces, and also act like a spring to then send us on our way towards the end of our gait cycle. However, in modern day lives where we are constrained to tight footwear, heavily padded and often rigid in nature, we lose the soft supple nature of our feet that spring loads us throughout the gait cycle.
So another key starting point for me, is to make sure we release and strengthen our feet in equal portions. Release builds an awareness of how much flexibility is available through our feet; and strengthening ensures that our new-found flexibility is under control. The joys of having supple and strong foundations means that all of the joints feeding upwards are then more supported. These supported joints in turn allow tight muscles to soften (as long as a joint is safe the muscles wont need to overwork to hold it in place.) Overall, it allows us a softer way to interact with the ground, reducing the amount of force that spills up into the body, which in the long run can potentially be harmful to our joints. A few key things I would recommend would be rolling out your feet on some form of ball; then practice trying to move each toe individually. If you can get your hands on a skipping rope and gradually work up to being able to hop on a single leg repetitively this is also fantastic (the skipping rope motion also strengthens up your arms and shoulder muscles, but isn't essential if coordination is a real problem!).
I took part in a webinar series last year, and one of the presenters, Dr Emily from the Evidence Based Fitness Academy, gave us these statistics: up to 80% of runners experience some form of injury every year. And of those, 90% are an overuse injury, which means the micro trauma occurring on every session isn't getting enough time to actually recover, before being stressed again.
It is recommended, especially during the time recovering from injury, to allow 48 hours between exposures. It gives all the cells that makes up the bones time to rebuild, the ones that feed the muscles to refuel, and the cells that connect the tendons to muscles and ligaments to reconnect. All of these cellular level disturbances are what form together to create the DOMS effect - Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness. Based on this, I always recommend people try two sessions a week, and after a month or so, try and sneak in a third smaller session to help stimulate the body without draining it. At the end of the day, pain is king and if it isn't feeling right, take the time needed for the pain to stop!
Putting it all together
The last piece of advice I usually give someone is to try and go for their normal run, being as quiet as possible. This is in terms of breathing and striking the ground. Run to a park, take off your shoes and try running around in bare-feet (probably not ideal on a winter's day, but see how you go). Then put your shoes back on to run home, but try and mimic how you ran on the grass - your body naturally knows what to do, but big chunky running shoes often hide how hard we impact the ground and block the softness in our feet. I am not at all suggesting you change your footwear, but it's about experiencing the contact with the ground and creating a style that will look after you in the long run - mind the pun!
For more pre-running exercises, check out this video from Dr Emily by the EBFA.
For more running tips, or if you want to an assessment for your running, don't hesitate to contact me on firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 9429 6448
Happy, pain-free running folks!