Healthy Living: Warming Up to Running
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While 30 minutes a day is a good rule of thumb, it’s not an exact science. And remember, if you’re running for heart health or on the recommendation of your doctor, it may be enough to just get your heart rate up, to sweat and to burn calories. The goal is not the distance, but the time spent out there.
David Hall is an engineer and running coach from West Hartford who knows how important it is to work your way up to competitive running. Hall had run in college and while in the military, but his interest was renewed when he started to officiate soccer in 2002. His occasional runs in the off-season became more frequent and in time he developed a passion for the sport, so much so that he started informally coaching family and friends. He’s now certified (by USA Track & Field) to coach athletes in all running, jumping and throwing events. He’s also certified by the Road Runners Club of America as a distance running coach. Hall works with runners with varying degrees of intensity. For some, he simply develops a program based on their fitness level, time commitment and overall goals. Others want a digital analysis and professional opinion of their form and a more rigorous training regimen. Some just want someone to run with. At least 75 percent of his clients are women: “Most guys say they don’t need help,” says Hall. But those who do seek out his expertise usually have an “ulterior” motive.
Jon Chlebowski is a public safety officer at Fairfield University who was struggling to qualify for the police academy when he met Hall. Try as he might, the 40-year-old father of three couldn’t reduce his time from the required 1.5-mile run to make it to the next qualifying level. “I took the test three times,” Chlebowski says. “The first time, I started running on my own a month ahead of time. I thought my lungs were gonna pop out of my mouth. I figured I just needed to get conditioned, but it wasn’t enough.”
The next time he took the test, he aced the other fitness skills, but not the run. Says Chlebowski, “my nerves were crazy and I missed it by a good 40 to 50 seconds.” After that, he says, “I had something like 17 people giving me advice, and I just didn’t know who to listen to,” he says, “until I started training with David. He assessed my condition and came up with a plan.” Chlebowski made swift progress but he wanted to be sure he’d pass, so he delayed taking the test for another month and stepped up his cross-training instead.
“Every week he’d send me new routines and kept me on track. That gave me confidence. When I finally took the test again I shaved 52 seconds off my time,” he says. “It was tough. I was working a late shift at the time, so I had to bring my stuff and run at midnight, at a nearby track with a headlamp on.”
Being accountable to Hall and letting people in on his mission made all the difference to Chlebowski: “I really recommend that you let people know you’re going to do this. Nobody wants to say ‘I’m starting P90X on Monday,’ and on Thursday, say ‘yeah, um … I’m not doing that anymore.’ The most important thing though, is to have a plan.”
These days Julia Wholey has gone from the kick of a community run to the euphoria induced by distance running. But it hasn’t been easy and she’s been met with more than a few injuries along the way. “It’s not all fun and roses,” she says. “I’d pull a muscle in my calf, have to rest and ice it. Then soak and stretch it. Then something else would go wrong.”
Wholey made a habit of toughing things out until she developed a serious injury—a stress fracture in her hip. Her doctor told her there was nothing she could do but take the winter off, so she did. When she got the okay to start walking and working out on the elliptical machine, she promptly did.
And when she got an invitation from relatives to run a half marathon this spring, she cleared it and then said yes.
“There absolutely has to be a strong motivation or desire to want to run because it is an arduous process,” she says. “But stick with it and you will reach that wonderful point where all of your muscles are moving properly. It’s not painful. You’re breathing and all of a sudden it comes together, and you think, ‘this is really, really good.’”
Serious runners have a language all their own, tossing around words like anaerobic capacity (a runner’s maximum ability to run very fast) and fartlek (bursts of speed in the middle of a workout) with abandon. But as a newbie (a beginner who often learns the basics by training for a short race, like a 5K ) here is all you need to know:
• warm up Getting loose for a run by increasing your heart rate and blood flow to the muscles in order to reduce the risk of injury. You can do this by walking or jogging for 10 minutes, or by stretching.
• stretching There are two basic types: Static stretching is when you hold major muscle groups in their most lengthened positions for at least 30 seconds. Dynamic stretching involves controlled movements that increase flexibility, power and range of motion (lunges, squats and leg kicks).
• form This is your running technique. In brief: You should try to keep your upper body relaxed but upright and swing your arms back and forth at low 90-degree angles.
• foot strike This is the way your foot hits the ground (mid-foot, toes or heels). In general, light steps that land directly under the hip help minimize impact and reduce injuries.
• pace Commonly used to describe the time it takes to clock one mile. It’s also used with reference to the length of a run (marathon pace, 5K pace, etc.).
• cadence A runner’s cadence is the number of steps taken per minute while running. This is sometimes also known as stride turnover.
• cool down Just as important as the warm up, this is a way to transition your body to a resting state after a run. You can cool down by slowing your pace or by stretching.