It’s that time of year again. The snow is no longer falling, the frigid temperatures are (hopefully) a thing of the past, the grass is growing, the trees are blooming, the birds are singing, and runners are once again hitting the road. Running can be difficult but also very rewarding in many ways. Not only does running come with physical benefits, it also comes with mental rewards. Running has been found to reduce stress, fight depression, and improve mood. Physical benefits are numerous and include (but not limited to) improved cardiovascular health, strength, and endurance.
For some people, running may be very difficult. If you are just starting out, it may seem like an overwhelming task to start running. There are many, many running programs available for those that would like to begin running for the first time. In picking a program, you need to know your body, be realistic about goals and your starting point, and make sure you are prepared to run.
Some advice for those just starting out:
- Obtaining a physical is an important first step. This will ensure that you are healthy enough to begin running. Contact your primary care physician to schedule an appointment.
- Although you do not need much to run, proper socks and shoes are a must. Running shoe stores are the best places to find the footwear specific for your needs and running goals.
- Find a running program that fits your goals and stick to it. Be realistic about your goals. Often, starting a running program will reveal the body’s weaknesses or misalignments. Seek advice from a professional if you are unsure of your starting point. Physical therapists are experts in movement – this is a great place to turn.
- Do not worry about your running style. Typically, you run how you run. As you run, you will become stronger and more efficient.
- Compliment your running program with a good strength and cross training program. Running can lend itself to overuse injuries (we will touch on those in a bit) so make sure you are maintaining your flexibility and keeping your muscles strong as you continue to run. A physical therapist can help you maintain and improve your current levels of flexibility and strength with a dedicated strength training program.
- Stay hydrated and maintain a good diet.
- Listen to your body. It will tell you if something is wrong. Although aches and pains are normal as you begin your running program, don’t ignore them. If they persist or increase, seek guidance from a specialist. It is safe to continue running as long as you follow these four guidelines regarding your progression:
- The pain is NOT sharp (under 3/10).
- After completing a walk/run session, if you do NOT have increased swelling and or pain for >2 hours, it is safe to advance to the next session.
- The presence of pain does NOT alter your normal pattern of gait (no limping or galloping – you are not a horse).
- Pain does NOT continue to increase over time.
If you happen to develop pain or suffer an injury during your running program, it is best to seek advice from a professional. Physical therapists are excellent at treating running-related injuries. These injuries can include runner’s knee, shin splits, plantar fasciitis, ITB syndrome, and Achilles’ tendonitis. Many physical therapists are runners themselves and subscribe to a runner’s philosophy: It’s about hard work, constant improvement, and taking care of your body. If you develop pain that does not subside or progressively worsens, it is recommended that you seek medical expertise. A trained physical therapist can help pain from progressing to a significant injury that could bring a stop to your running progression.
Once you are healthy enough to run, have a good plan, and take into consideration this information, the next step (no pun intended) is to begin running. Just like with life, there are good running days and bad running days. Remember you are doing this for the betterment of your health, physically and mentally. Now get out there and run, run, run!