Running is probably one of the easiest sports to do. Open your door, step outside and hit it. No pads, no gloves, no special ball or club is needed. But whether you run for exercise or competition, you need to know some basics.
For example, you really don’t want to get shin splints, which make the front of your shins hurt like heck. Jim Walker, Ph.D., the sports science director at athlete’s haven TOSH (The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital) in Murray, says the first thing in preventing them is to have good shoes that are right for your foot type.
“Don’t just buy shoes off the shelf.
Have an expert fit you, because your foot structure determines the kind of shoes that are right for you,” he says.
Dr. Walker explains that uneven or hard surfaces are more likely to cause shin splints as is running on the same side of the road. “The side of the road has a slope, or crown, for runoff, so the same leg is always higher than the other leg. That causes your foot plant to change,” he warns.
Consider the surface on which you run.
Concrete is less resilient than asphalt. If your feet have been pounding away without much of a break, it might be good to do some trail running on dirt for a day or two, where the impact of your foot on the ground won’t be quite as hard. If your feet swell after a run, ice them in a cold-water bath to keep the swelling down, since any kind of inflammation will cause damage to tissues. You never want to run on swollen feet.
Many years ago, this writer was lumbering slowly around a track behind Olympic great Jackie Joyner-Kersee, when her husband—legendary coach Bobby Kersee— looked at me and shouted, “Move your damned hands faster.” I did—and, amazingly, my speed picked up.
The anecdote made Kyle Kepler laugh.
Kepler, who is the head coach of women’s track and field and cross country at the University of Utah, says it’s a biomechanical fact that quick hands equals quick feet.
He adds, “There are a lot of little things that will make you a better runner. Proper arm positioning is more important than most people realize. When your arm goes back, it’s at a 90-degree angle, and when it comes forward, that angle should be shorter, so that your hand is somewhere between your chest and shoulder, higher than the level of your ribs.”
Kepler says the most important thing runners should remember is to understand their abilities, including how their build affects that ability. Running is easy for those who are slight and slim. It’s harder and more physically demanding for those who are bigger.
“Be patient and understand your body and its limitations. You can’t be the world’s best marathoner or anything if you haven’t trained,” he says.
The key thing is proper training. Kepler advises building miles slowly, along with being patient (yes, the hardest thing for an athlete with desire—patience). He says to train by minutes, without worrying about the actual number of miles you run; slowly work your way up to more minutes and the congruent more miles, especially if you’re running for exercise and not competition.
Use “perceived level of effort” as your guide. If it feels hard, if you’re not running sprints, but you still are panting and can’t talk without gasping, back off a little. Slow down so you can go farther.
For the casual jogger, this is quite good advice. And of course, the reverse is true: If it seems to easy and you want more of a workout, just run a little harder—while wearing, of course, well-fitting shoes.