Monday, October 1, 2012

Confessions of a New Runner

Tips, Advice and What I've Learned

I've been running off and on for years.  Over the past few months, it's become a more serious hobby including training and completing a 5K.  Running more than a mile or two, though, takes more work than one might think.  Here are some tips that I have learned since beginning my new journey.

Warm up, for the love of God!
Everyone knows your body needs oxygen, but it is especially important to get oxygen flowing while running.  I often ran without warming up thoroughly, and not only would I be sore afterward, I would cramp, specifically in my side.  These awful “side-stitches” are one of the worst pains (in my opinion) you can experience while running, and their persistence is maddening.  Walking quickly for a good 5-10 minutes helps get your blood flowing, heart pumping and oxygen distributed.  I never have side cramps if I warm up first.  Other cardio warm ups like jumping jacks are also effective, but I prefer a good quick walk to get me in the zone.

Stretch, stretch, stretch
Everyone knows (or should know) how important stretching is before a work out.  If you’re running, you obviously want to focus on stretching out your legs.  NEVER stretch cold muscles.  NEVER.  Notice the order in which I am writing.  Warm up first, if not by walking, then by knee-lifts, jumping jacks, running in place, butt kicks, etc.  My favorite stretches that get my legs loose include:
  1. Touching my toes to stretch my hamstrings
  2. Lunges to stretch my calves 
  3. Pulling my foot up behind me to stretch my quads
  4. Pushing the ball of my foot up against a wall to stretch my calves and Achilles
  5. Extending one leg while squatting to stretch my groin  
  6. Downward dog
  7. Lizard yoga stretch
  8. Wide leg forward bend
  9. Butterfly stretch
  10. Side stretches

Please forgive my appearance and the poor quality of these photos.  It's been a long day.

Timing is everything
I’ve noticed that I tend to run better in the evening.  If I go too early in the morning it takes longer for me to warm up and my body (and brain) is still half asleep.  I can’t have eaten too recently (an hour or two), but I can’t be too hungry, either.  Annoying, right?  Luckily, there’s usually a good window for me to go.  I try to go a little before dinner.  If I work late, however, I may not have time or my feet may just be killing me from standing all day.  I’m looking to improve my body, not abuse it.  Then there’s the fact that the weather isn’t always cooperative, and the sun is going down earlier this time of year.  All of this to say, find a good time that works for you and take advantage of it.  Get into the routine and don’t make excuses, just do it!

In and out
Breathing.  It’s kind of essential.  It’s a very powerful way to keep your body under control.  Breathing rhythmically and deeply helps keep me energized and strong during a run.  As I inhale, I expand my diaphragm, and then relax it as I exhale.   I usually inhale through my nostrils for three steps, then exhale out my mouth for two or three more steps.  I sometimes adjust this depending on my pace or how much oxygen I feel like I need.    I suggest starting with the three-step rhythm and adjust from there to find what’s right for you.  Make sure it’s controlled and intentional, and you will feel the air working for you.  Breathing properly will also help combat the possibility of cramping.

Hydration station
Staying hydrated is important, but a surprisingly difficult.  You don’t want to drink too much because it can make you nauseated or even sick while running, but if you don’t drink any water, you run the risk of dehydration, especially if it’s hot out.  Try taking little sips of water before the run and during the warm ups and stretches.  I almost never drink anything during my run because I don’t want to carry it with me or lose focus.  I also only run 3 miles at most, so it’s not too much of a concern as long as I hydrate before.  Definitely remember to rehydrate after the run.

Fuel for victory
Avoid sugar, carbonated beverages and alcoholic beverages, at least close to a race.  The sugar and carbonation can cause those terrible side stitches that I hate, and it should be fairly common knowledge that alcohol is dehydrating.  The week of my race, I ate two bananas a day, one or two eggs, grilled or oven roasted chicken, lots of water, whole grains and veggies.  I should eat like this all the time, but let’s be real, I’m not always that dedicated.  It’s tiring.  We don’t go out much and I cook a good deal, so it does help me keep track of what I put in my body, especially for an important event like this.  I drank lots of water and had some carbs the night before the race.  That’s not really as important for a 5K as it may be for a marathon, but I did it anyway.  Go big or go home.

Owies and boo boos
Treating injuries is something you won’t always have to deal with during training.  Unfortunately, I was not so lucky.  I hurt my right ankle during a run one night.  I don’t really know how, it just started hurting and continued whenever I would put weight on it.  No fun.  My treatment included taking ibuprofen (or any other pain reliever/anti-inflammatory), icing it while elevating my foot, using a heating pad, soaking it in hot water with Epsom salts (lavender cause it’s so relaxing), and keeping it wrapped in an ace bandage for a few days.  Oh, and not running.  That’s the worst part of being injured.  I continued working out my legs by stretching and doing any other exercises I could do without putting too much pressure on my ankle, but only time could really heal it.

Mapping it out
I had about eight weeks to train for my 5K starting from the ground up.  I had been running a little bit every now and then when I started training, but when I signed up for the race, I actually made a week by week training schedule. 

This is roughly what I did.  I started off doing really well, and then, I hurt my ankle.  So, I had to scrap an entire week of training, week 5, if I’m not mistaken.  I started off walking every other day just to keep active, and I always walked farther than I was running on the other days.  When I started running 2 miles at a time, I would try to run at least a mile on my “off” days, but if I was too busy or tired, I used it as a rest day.  Rest days are good.  The “off” days are supposed to be either a short, easy run, a walk or a rest.  Some people may even say you should rest two or three days before a race, but this is how I did it and I was happy with the results.

Reward yourself!
A couple of days after the race, I treated myself to a delicious pumpkin spice cupcake from work.  I worked hard, and I deserved a little indulgence.  I also am lucky to have a friend from work who is in massage therapy school and is always looking for willing subjects to practice on.  I am all over that!  After the race, I got a lovely back, buttock and leg massage.  I felt great the next day and would definitely recommend them after a race!  Hot baths, a glass of wine or a little time off from running are all excellent rewards for your hard work.  Just don’t get used to it.  You have more work to do!

**I am not a professional trainer.  I have learned these methods based on my own experiences, former exercise and martial arts classes, and fellow amateur athletes.  You should consult an expert or physician if you have any questions or concerns about your health, fitness or exercise routine.

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