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Starting a Running Program

Tips for Beginning Runners

Matt Rogers, MS, CSCS

Another choice, for off road running such as at the often-used FIT Trails through the woods at FLETC, are trail running shoes. These are made low to the ground and more stable to help prevent ankle sprains, have good traction, and help prevent foot bruises from roots, rocks, etc.

Don't use any type running shoes for other sports, as they are not made for lateral movements, making ankle sprains more likely. They also last longer and maintain cushioning better if only used for running. Use only good quality court shoes or cross-trainers for other conditioning activities. Wrestling shoes are recommended for defensive tactics training on matted floors.

Take stock of your current health and fitness level.
If you have been sedentary, have or suspect health problems such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, joint problems, etc., or are over 40, it is recommended that you have a physical with your doctor before starting a vigorous exercise program. If you know you have no major health problems, starting a light to moderate intensity exercise program such as brisk walking usually does not require a physical, but check with your doctor for his or her opinion in your specific case. Remember that the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle are much greater than the risks of exercise. A renowned Exercise Physiologist, Per Olaf Astrand, quipped that if one plans a sedentary lifestyle, one should have a physical to see if the heart can stand it!

Matt Rogers began running and working out at age 13 in order to overcome childhood obesity, and has maintained a healthy weight for nearly 3 decades. He is an Exercise Physiologist, NSCA Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist and a long distance runner. Rogers competed in cross-country and track and field in high school and at Eastern Kentucky University. He is employed in the Department of Health Promotion and Wellness by Southeast Georgia Health System and is currently assigned to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Academy in Glynco, GA. He can be reached at (912) 267-3076 or MATTHEW.rogers@associates.dhs.gov.

Be safe.
Don't run/walk in "high crime" areas. When running after dark, be sure to wear reflective clothing, carry a small flashlight, and assume drivers don't see you. Well-lighted neighborhoods are a good choice. Women should run with a partner or a dog if possible, and consider carrying pepper spray. Runners and walkers should never use headphones outdoors, as it makes it impossible to hear traffic or an approaching attacker. Always carry ID.

Start slowly and build up gradually.
Most people should start with a brisk walking program and progress to a mix of alternating walking and jogging. Eventually you should be able to run the entire distance you desire at a comfortable pace. At that point you can increase weekly mileage about 10% every 3rd week, depending on your goals. For health and fitness there is generally no need to run more than about 15 miles per week, along with some strength and flexibility training. Those wishing to progress to competitive running should seek out experienced runners or coaches for advice. Check the Road Runners Club of America Web site for a running club in your area.

Using the right type of shoes helps prevent injuries.
Shin splints and runner's knee are preventable with proper conditioning AND the right running shoe type. There are 3 basic types for different running mechanics:

  1. Motion Control - generally best choice for flat feet and "floppy ankles" (over pronation or rolling too far to the inside after foot touches down). Shoes should be straight lasted and often will have a full board last inside plus a harder rubber or plastic area on the inner (arch support) side of heel to control excess movement.
  2. Stability - generally best for normal arches, will have a semi-curved last and a moderate amount of motion control.
  3. Cushioned - generally best for high arches and "clunk foot"; these feet are usually very rigid and 'under pronate," i.e., feet do not roll to the inside far enough after foot touches down and therefore make poor shock absorbers. Shoes should have a curved or semi-curved last, extra cushioning, a full slip last (no board inside), and be very flexible.

Do the "wet test" to see what type of foot you have. 
Wet feet and step onto some paper on a hard surface. (Even better is to run a short distance barefoot on sand.) A "blob" footprint with little arch indicates flat feet. Two 'islands' with a lot of space between the heel and ball indicates high arches. A normal arch will look like the classic cartoon footprint.

Make sure the shoe fits!

The best shoe for you is one that fits your foot type and running mechanics and also is the right length and width. Try on running shoes with the socks you plan to run in, and toward the end of the day when feet are larger. You should have about one thumb's width of room between your longest toe and the end of the shoe. Shoes should be wide enough that foot does not feel pinched on the sides, but not a sloppy fit or one that slips at the heel. Jog a bit in the store to see how the shoes feel and fit. Most running specialty stores such as Fleet Feet in Savannah or 1stPlaceSports in Jacksonville will have the expertise and take the time to fit you properly in several models and watch you run in them before you choose. Don't count on the employees of a general sporting goods or discount footwear store understanding any of the above running shoe information!

Dress for the weather.
In cold weather wear several lightweight layers, hat and gloves to trap body heat. You can unzip or remove layers if you get too warm. In hot weather wear as little as the law allows, and don't forget the sunscreen. Drink plenty of fluids throughout the day to avoid dehydration and plan ahead so you can get fluids during longer runs.

Run with good form.
Shoulders should be relaxed with elbows bent to about 90 degrees as arms swing smoothly forward and back with no twisting of the torso. Arms should not cross the center of body and hands should pass just above the "hip pocket" on each forward and backward motion. The upper body should be nearly upright, with a very slight forward lean. Don't run on the toes or hit hard with the heel, but rather land as softly as possible with foot nearly flat. The foot should be flexed upward slightly just before foot lands. Breathe naturally through both the nose and mouth. If you're gasping for air - slow down!

Most running injuries are avoidable!
Following the tips on proper footwear, form, and starting slowly will greatly reduce your chances of common beginners' complaints such as shin splints and knee pain. Basic strength and flexibility exercises can prevent and correct muscle imbalances responsible for most running injuries. If you do have a running injury, find the cause rather than just treating the symptoms.

Ignore the myths.
The bulk of scientific evidence shows that running, even in ultra-marathon runners, does not cause osteoarthritis in the hips or knees if these joints were healthy to begin with. In fact, weight-bearing exercise such as running probably prevents arthritis, since the incidence in long-time runners is about half that of non-runners, including swimmers.

Further information sources:

  • Runner's World (magazine); a great resource for advice on current running shoes on the market, injury prevention and treatment, training information and other beginning to advanced runner advice.
  • Running Times (magazine); a great resource for intermediate to advanced runners, plus good shoe reviews and advice.
  • Road Runners Club of America; find a running club in your area suitable for beginners to advanced runners, plus loads of other running information.
  • Golden Isles Track Club; running information for the Golden Isles region of Georgia, including group runs, where to run info and local race information.
  • American College of Sports Medicine
  • National Strength and Conditioning Association
  • Lore of Running by Tim Noakes, M.D. The definitive book on running, recently revised.
  • Bill Rodgers Lifetime Running Plan by Bill Rodgers
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