Thursday, July 28, 2011

Basic Running FAQ

I've found that I get a lot of questions about running now, so I took an old post of mine and expanded on it for today's Thursday's tips. Hopefully it's helpful!

Perhaps you're like me, and you took up running because it's one of the easiest and best ways to burn calories when you are trying to lose weight.

Now running has become something more to you, it's become something you truly enjoy.

Maybe you completed your first 5K and want to train for another event.

Whatever your goal, there are a few things you want to consider as you progress as a runner.

1. Shoes

Get fitted for shoes by someone who is knowledgeable when you first start running. Many running stores will actually have a treadmill to perform gait analysis on you to help recommend shoes. You will also want to try running a bit in a pair of shoes before you buy them to help identify any possible problems. Lastly, If you have lost a significant amount of weight, you should also consider getting refitted. Your foot type may change as you lose weight. I went from needing a heavy duty motion control and stability to shoe to needing a neutral as I lost weight.

2. Increasing mileage safely
Slower is safer! This picture really has nothing to do
with the bullet, but it's really cute and I own this shirt.
The 10% "rule" is a general guideline, not a hard and fast rule.  This essentially means that you should only increase your mileage by 10% each week. However running is ultimately a personal experiment, and if you find that you can increase your mileage by more than that each week, go for it. Just be extremely cautious about running on possible injuries, because it may only worsen them.

3. Posture
Brain Training For Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, and Results

Posture is extremely important as a runner, because it helps your running efficiency.  If you are keeping particular bits of your body tense, you are expending extra energy that you could be using to achieve a faster pace. I first learned the importance of posture in one of my favorite training books, Brain Training For Runners: A Revolutionary New Training System to Improve Endurance, Speed, Health, and Results. Now I spend a great deal of time thinking about these things when I run, making microcorrections constantly to keep myself as close to the ideal posture as is possible. I think that this has been one of the biggest factors in my pace improvement over the last year.  Ideal posture is as follows: (source):

  • Head Tilt: Look forward and ahead, not at your feet. Don't let your chin jut out. Keep your head and neck aligned. 
  • Shoulders: Keep them low, loose and level, not high and tight. Keep this in mind towards the end of your runs, because as you tire your shoulders have a tendency to creep toward your ears. If you notice your shoulders creeping towards your ears, shake 'em out. 
  • Arms:  Running is primarily a lower-body sport, but that doesn't mean you can just ignore your upper body.  Your hands control the tension of your entire upper body, so don't clench your fists. Keep them loose and let your fingers lightly touch your palm.  Keep your elbows at a roughly 90-degree angle and allow your hands to lightly brush your illiac crest on the downswing.  
  • Torso: This may seem counterintuitive to some, but when you inhale you should expand your diaphragm and allow it to relax when you exhale.  Upon exhalation, pull your navel to your spine to keep everything in alignment.
  • Hips: Your hips are key to your alignment as a runner.  You want to keep them straight, don't tilt too far forward.  If it helps, pretend like your pelvis is a bowl full of water and you don't want to spill any out of it.  Too far forward and the water's gone!
  • Legs: Slight knee lift, short quick steps for a rapid turnover.  The ideal cadence is considered to be 180 steps per minute (90 steps per leg)
  • Ankles: You should have a quiet and springy step, your foot should not slap loudly as they strike the ground.
Cross-training is advantageous for several reasons, the first and foremost being that it gives your body a rest from the constant ground pounding.  Cross-training with strength training is also good because it can help you achieve a stronger upper body, which will help you maintain correct upper body posture during your runs. Running is a total body sport.

5. Reasonable goals
Goals should be S.M.A.R.T.E.R., that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-bound, evaluate, re-evaluate.  Don't set a goal that will cause you to burn out on something you currently enjoy. Simple as that.

6. Breathing
I know it seems ridiculous that I'm making this a bullet but it's actually pretty important. Many runners experience side stitches when they start out and don't know why. I've found that most of the time (through personal experience and through others) that this is a combination of a postural problem and a breathing problem. Many of us walk around sucking in our guts all day, never really taking a full deep breath. When you inhale while running your chest should expand, think about maximizing the amount of air that you intake. When you exhale, your chest should contract, think about using your core muscles to pull your navel towards your spine when you do.  And lastly, if you experience a side stitch while you are running, my favorite little trick is to inhale deeply as I said before, and expel your breath forcefully when you land a step on the side that your stitch is on.

Are you a runner? Do you have any tips or tricks that would help out a new runner? Let us know in a comment down below! :)