Austin Tri-Cyclist Blog

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Running - Start Slow
even if you are awesome

by Jack Mott

ATCer Marla Briley, who recently suffered a fractured foot
and is now gearing up for Strut Your Mutt    
For any beginner, running is tough. You're uncomfortable. You're tired. And what's more, you're slow. If you've started your new run routine in the middle of an Austin summer, you've learned to multiply the intensity of those complaints by the heat index.

As a self-proclaimed sadist, you at least expect to get back what you put in. A gold-star effort should equal gold-star results, right? So you work hard. And when you get shin splints, knee pain, plantar fasciitis, or some other injury that halts your training or throws it out of whack for months, you're understandably disgruntled.

Fortunately, whether you're completely new to running or have just set your running shoes aside for a few years, you can reduce the unpleasantness and risk of injury with one simple trick: SLOW DOWN. And not only where speed is concerned, but also in terms of total mileage and overall goals. You're not going to become a great runner in a few months. But the good news is, your fresh start means that any running you do will make you better. If you start slow and start gradually, you'll avoid the lost progress that comes with trying to fly into the sun before you have your real wings.

But what if I am super fit and awesome?

Running is deceptively simple—move in a forward direction as quickly as possible while doing your best not to look like a flailing ostrich. You might already be a cat 1 cyclist, crossfit champion, or super-fit rock climber. Maybe you ran in college a decade ago or qualified for Boston a few years back. Don't kid yourself: if it's been many moons since you're done any jogging, your tendons, bones, and muscles simply are not adapted for it the first time out of the gate. Being able to squat 600 pounds or bike at 400 watts for an hour isn't doing anything for the fascia under your foot.

The truth is, the already-fit person is probably most at risk for preventable injury. The cardio is there, and the will is there, but the rest of the body simply isn't ready for the pounding. You may not feel like the athlete you imagine yourself to be, going short and slow, but your patience will pay off in the long run. (See what I did there?)

What if running is just horribly awful?

If you are like me—which is to say, not very talented at running—it can be really awful. When we first start we struggle to run even a single mile without walking, let alone string together three or four in a row. One problem is that many of us remember running as kids, running fast. That kind of pace just isn't sustainable for a long time, even if you are still young. The pace may seem absurdly slow, but if your heart rate is up, you are doing some good. You are getting your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones adapted to the act of running. You are preparing your body to run harder in the future, and to do it with less chance of interruption via injury.

How many miles do I run, and how fast?

Runners get started for all kinds of reasons. Some are just doing it to get in shape. Others are targeting an event like a 5k, marathon, or triathlon. These are all endurance running events, though, so the approach to training will be similar in every case. One popular program is the Couch to 5k program. Take a glance at it for an idea of how gradual the training paces and mileage are for beginners.

For a person brand new to triathlon or running, this schedule is incredibly comforting, manageable without an undue amount of suffering. You will get a chance to enjoy your runs while you build up your body to handle more serious training in the future. For someone who is an accomplished athlete in another sport, the program may seem beneath you. But you would be wise to be humble; consider taking it about that slow as well. It is just nine weeks, so get through them and then slowly add more mileage and intensity.

But don't I need to put in a lot of volume to be good at this? 

Many find that keeping runs more frequent, and less long, is a better way to improve your running early on. Find a way to run every day, even if some of those runs are just one or two miles. Because each run is shorter, running form does not break down as much as it would towards the end of longer runs, keeping you safer. Because you are running every day, your nervous system gets consistent practice at running, which can help to improve running economy, which in turn helps keep your body safer from overuse injury as well. Perhaps most importantly, running frequently gets you psychologically adjusted to the idea of getting outdoors and moving every day. You might be tired and busy, but you can find time to run for ten minutes, and it will make you stronger to do so. You can even consider getting two runs in per day if that works for your schedule.

Well, what about my long run during the week?

Many new runners are like I was, and are very concerned about how long their weekly long run should be, especially when training for a marathon. A big tip to enjoy running more, to make your scheduling more flexible, and to avoid injury is to worry more about your total weekly run mileage and less about how long your long run is. It is the total training load you accumulate over months of training that transforms your body and gets it ready to run a marathon or other endurance event. If running 10 miles twice a week is more pleasant, or easier to schedule than a 20-mile long run once a week, then do it. (Check out this Slowtwitch post for more detailed commentary on this.)

Other Tips for Getting Started from ATCers

  • Write it down - Tracking your mileage or time is the first step to maintaining accountability and meeting your goals. You can easily chart your progress with online tools, Excel, or the old-fashioned method of pencil and paper. When you're starting slow, it can feel like you're doing nothing (which leads to "why do it at all?"), so this is a good way to show that you're putting in the work and that you're not doing too much or too little.  
  • Get the right gear - Equipment-wise, you're in luck. Compared to most sports, running is incredibly cheap. Invest in a good pair of running shoes. Shoes that are old or that don't fit your feet right will cause you more grief than the pennies saved could even begin to offset. 
  • Enjoy it - Keep yourself motivated with varying routes, a new playlist or two, joining a training group, or signing up for a race that you allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to prepare for (just going to keep hammering that nail in). Whatever your goal is, you're not going to reach it if you make running a daily torture session.
  • Run everywhere - Being away from home for vacation or work is no excuse for scrapping a run workout since you can run almost anywhere. In fact, it's one of the best ways to explore an unfamiliar place, and you can usually head out straight from your hotel. If you don't have room to fit a lot of running clothes in your suitcase, consider packing a small container of laundry detergent and washing your clothes out by hand. 
  • Need company? - Get yourself a running pawtner from a local dog-rescue organization like Austin Dog Rescue

The Zilker Relays will be held this Friday, Sept. 11! A team of four runners completes a 10-mile fun run, each person completing a leg of 2.5 miles. 

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