Healthy Living: Warming Up to Running
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If you can walk 30 minutes a day, four to five days per week, for at least two weeks, then the pundits at Runner’s World magazine say you’re ready to run.
But running—one of the most natural and fundamental of human movements—has become a bit more complicated than that. It is still a very good, convenient and cost-effective way to stay fit, yet it’s also one of the most overanalyzed forms of exercise. And, according to Running USA, a trade association for the industry, it can be pricey. Americans are participating in running events at record levels, and in so doing spend billions on shoes, apparel, gear and entry fees every year.
Runners run for all sorts of reasons (now that we no longer need to chase down dinner): They do it to get fit, lose weight, build confidence, compete and sometimes, just to get away from it all.
“The interesting thing about running is that people, when they get the bug to run, usually take it to an extreme,” says Dr. Matthew Hall, a sports medicine specialist at the UConn Health Center in Farmington. “We don’t know why exactly, but they tend to run not just for fitness. There’s a culture of training for a race, whether it’s a 10K or a marathon. It may be something that’s on their bucket list, or as they get older, just something they feel a need to prove.”
That determination often translates into a much larger goal than just getting one’s heart rate up. “From a financial standpoint, it can get very involved, with people buying high-level sneakers, clothes, watches—doing all of that stuff. No question, running generates a lot of income,” says Dr. Hall.
But at the end of the day, running is basic, and all you need to get started, he adds, “is a fairly new pair of comfortable shoes.”
Fits and starts
Running, jogging (running at a slower pace) and even walking require a minimum level of fitness: Don’t expect to roll off the recliner and run a marathon, even if you consider yourself to be reasonably fit. “If someone has not done a lot of activity, then it’s really important to have general heart-health screenings to determine if they’re fit enough, and that no other testing is recommended,” says Dr. Hall. “This is especially true of men in their 40s and 50s, to determine the risk of a cardiovascular event.” Those with known heart conditions, a prior heart attack, with diabetes or uncontrolled hypertension or high cholesterol don’t need to stay on the couch. “It just means they need to take it easy,” says Dr. Hall.
In fact, pacing yourself is one of the most important things every runner, new or seasoned, should do.
Julia Wholey of Canton participated in sports and ran, although not competitively, from 9th grade into adulthood—until she had a child. “Then I took a 15-year break,” she says, laughing. When Wholey, now in her mid-50s, retired from her job as a counselor for the state of Connecticut, she got back on track. Literally. “The Monday after I retired I decided to start running again,” she says. “It was hard. I went a quarter of a mile and I could barely catch my breath. I had to take it very slowly. After a while, I could go a half mile, then a mile. It took a good three months before I really started to feel comfortable and could run three miles straight—without pain.”
Ready to take the next step, Wholey signed up for the Canton Lobster Loop, a 5K fun run. She was quick to let people know. “Telling people you’re running is very affirming,” she says. “You can’t back down. That was my first little goal, and I set the bar pretty low. I told myself I just didn’t want to be the last person crossing the finish line. And I wasn’t. In fact I did okay for my age and group, I came in smack dab in the middle of the pack.”
For Wholey, running is a personal undertaking, as it should be for most people—even if it seems that everyone around you is always talking about his or her new shoes, latest race, best time.
In the beginning it can be both counter-productive and dangerous to compare yourself to others. Dr. Hall advises newbies to “know yourself. Know who you are.” Be honest in determining your current activity level and if you’re truly sedentary, take baby steps.
Choose a flat, safe surface, like a high school track, because it’s best to take traffic and rocky, rutted roads out of the equation at the start.
Walk briskly for 30 minutes every other day. When you feel comfortable with that pace, move up to a jog. Alternate walking and jogging until you’re able to run at a slow pace for the entire time.
How will you know if you’re moving at an appropriate pace? Recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Can you get to the end without huffing, puffing or gasping for breath? Good. This common “talk test” is a convenient and widely used methods of determining if you’re exercising too hard. The idea is that you should be able to carry on a conversation while running. If you can’t then you’re taxing your cardiovascular system and you need to slow it down.
Dr. Hall further advises that you “listen” to your body. If after a run, you’re very sore, then take a day or two to recover.
You want to avoid injury at all costs. “It’s really great to see people getting out. It’s the best thing we can think of,” says Dr. Hall, “but it’s not so good to see them coming in with so many overuse injuries.” Being overzealous can get you in trouble.