Run For Your Life

Many people who are new to running tend to take it far too seriously. It’s a big thing to start running but you must do it in order to enjoy it and in a lot of cases that means changing how you feel about it.

Sit down for 10 minutes, alone, and really think about why you want to run. Running is precious me time. Should you manage to persist with it, you’ll become increasingly protective of that time.

When you’re body has adapted to regular running it tends to work more efficiently. It can help you to become more energetic and cope better with the stresses of daily life. It can also act as a catalyst that releases natural, feel-good endorphins into the body. Endorphins are produced in the pituitary gland and can enhance mood and help promote a positive and confident attitude.

For the running itself the most important thing is to see it as a learning curve like everything else. It’s a skill that comes to fruition when your leg joints learn to adapt to the impact of running; when your heart and lungs adapt to being used under pressure for sustained periods of time and, most importantly, when your mind adapts to running and you learn to recognise and confront its subconscious attempts to prevent you from doing so.

Therein does lie a fundamental truth about running. No matter if you attend fun runs, 6km or 10km runs, half or full marathons, you’re not just running alongside other participants. You’re likely to be competing against the fears, strengths and weaknesses present in your own head. It took me a very long time to understand that. When I did, running suddenly became a very personal, even selfish, pursuit, but an enjoyable and challenging one.

For the novice I would recommend running at a pace that you find effortless and for a period of 2 months’ stick with that pace and never deviate from it. Increase your speed only at the end of this period of time and even then only do so gradually.

I find short sprinting exercises at the end of each run helps the natural transition needed to achieve a progressive increase in pace without injuring your body in the process. Again though, gently does it.

Such measures can help prevent injuries to a body inexperienced to running and keep you motivated and hungry for more. You’ll also find that you’ll develop your own running style during this period of familiarisation with running. This is much better than one being forced brutally upon you by over doing it; leading to injury.

There is little to be said that is good or complimentary when face to face on the road with a newcomer to running who is significantly overweight. This is particularly true when that someone is accompanied by a personal trainer who should really know better than to have them out at all.

Lose the significant part of the weight before you embark on this pastime. In doing so you will reduce your exposure to a cabal of potential injuries that I guarantee will ensure your flirtation with running is a brief one – a never again to be considered exercise in improving your personal fitness.

The most common and debilitating of these injuries include ankle sprains, knee injuries, lower back pain, sciatica and, my own penance…. the curse of shin splints. Shin splints, incidentally, refers to a plethora of lower limb injuries one or more of which you may come to suffer from. It does not relate to one type of injury in a specific area. This is commonly misunderstood, even amongst more experienced runners.

The ability to run on grass, sand or other kind surface is not always possible, particularly for city dwellers. So at all costs avoid injuries caused by the ferocious impact of an overweight body on hard, unforgiving road surfaces. It is generally acknowledged today that the impact of running exerts the equivalent of 3 times your normal body weight on leg joints.

The right running shoes are the main priority when it comes to making an investment in your new found interest. There are many shoes on the market and, if you are new to running, you will discover quite a number of these will be adequate to meet your needs.

The more informed running shops have someone who understands different running gaits. These shops may also have a treadmill on the premises and a camera that can record your stride. Knowledgeable staff can then interpret what they see and offer advice on which shoes to buy.

When the foot hits the ground it can over-pronate. That is to say that the foot rolls inwards, excessively so in this instance, causing stress and potential injury; mainly to the lower leg. Some shoes are designed to minimise this.

But the thinking that specifically designed shoes is an effective counter measure to over-pronation is challenged by a core minority who believe that over-pronation is an evolutionary design system of the body that acts like a shock absorber, dispersing the forces of impact through the legs.

Consider the case of respected Ethiopian runner, Haile Gebrselassie, a recently retired world-champion marathon runner. He exhibits a severe form of over-pronation, as demonstrated by this video. Interestingly, the commentator does not reflect on his over-pronation as something necessitating a course of treatment.

In any case, your average runner is more interested in the practical implications of the argument rather than the science behind it. In my experience a combination of a body inexperienced to running, as well as one that was overweight, was directly responsible for the injuries that I received. When I resolved those 2 issues I found I could run injury-free in just about any type of running shoe. But that is just my own experience.

We obsess about diet more than at any time that I can remember. Every type of diet fad imaginable has been concocted, argued over, re-written or eventually abandoned. Sadly, many diets are the products of fashion. The architects of these diets want us to love their new, innovative recipes; heap gushing praise and sentiment on their creative ingenuity; marvel at their latest fat-burning pills and, of course, spend our money on it all.

How anyone who is serious about changing their eating habits can make sense of this explosion of information and advice, let alone afford it all, or even believe in a lot of it, remains out of the sphere of my current knowledge on the subject.

When I embark on a period of physical activity I stick to a few basic principles that have served me well. I never diet. I eat properly. There is a difference. I find some of the best nutritional advice available on this topic is available in men’s weight training magazines, some of which provide outstanding advice.

I eat lots and lots of fruit and vegetables. I tend to cut out certain goodies, at least initially. Alcohol is off limits. Well, almost. So too are cakes, sweets, crisps and chocolate. Bye, bye for now. I can catch up with them later on when I’m fitter and leaner.

We have a tendency to eat far too many carbohydrates today. Mashed, roasted or chipped potatoes are amongst the favourites. I have often wondered if this is an unintended legacy from the hard, manual labour of the industrial revolution, and of wars and rationing. Carbohydrates offer a bounty of energy and are readily available and inexpensive; the need for them in great quantities was a necessity in times past.

However, the fact is that we don’t need anything like the quantities that we all too readily consume today. The tendency is to fill the plate with them. I reduce mine significantly but would never, ever cut them out completely. We need a certain amount to maintain good health. I tend to stick with whole wheat pasta, brown rice and whole wheat couscous. I don’t exclude potatoes or white rice, but have them less often.

I consume mainly fresh fish and low fat meat that will include lean chicken, turkey and, more recently, rabbit; for protein.

About 15% or so of my diet consists of foods that contain essential fats. Brazil nuts, almonds, olive oil, peanut butter are a few examples. Oily fish like salmon and mackerel are also good sources. I have read that things like Brazil nuts help to burn body fat, not increase it as many people I know tend to believe. These fatty acids also help to maintain healthy hair, skin and play a part in healthy brain and sexual function.

Combined with running and weight-resistance training 3 times a week, using the above rules allowed me to lose significant, unwanted weight and I felt great.

We are all different, what works for me might not work for you. Running does not suit everyone. However, if it is for you and you stick at it, the benefits and enjoyment can be hugely rewarding.

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