How To Run Healthily
Is running part of your regular exercise? Many of us have picked up this activity over the past year as it is outdoors and does not require any equipment (apart perhaps from some good quality running shoes).
Running is a great way to maintain or build cardiovascular fitness and some leg strength too. It is the most natural form of human physical activity and can be practised pretty much anywhere. It also comes with mental health benefits, particularly if we run in nature and it can be a great way to manage weight or to support weight-loss.
Yet sometimes we run (no pun intended) into trouble.
For some of us the plan of becoming a regular runner is smashed early on as we realise that our feet, knees, hips or back do not seem happy about the new activity. Only a few days into our new running regime we develop pain somewhere and we decide or even get told that running is perhaps not for us.
For others all is well for years before suddenly and seemingly out of nowhere that chronic “runners knee” or the “shin splints” put a stop to our well established routine.
And for some of us it is not injury that stops us, but wild fluctuations in our energy levels and motivation. Once it gets dark early and we got rained on too many times we simply can not force ourselves outside the house for this tortures activity any longer.
On the flip side many runners also tell me that they feel somewhat compulsive-obsessive about having to complete their 10k every day, having to improve their running time, and yet hating nothing more than running!
So it becomes clear that while running seems such a simple idea, maintaining a healthy and functional relationship with our running is far from easy and many things get in the way from our physiology to our mood, motivation and ambition.
For me, as a steady and injury free runner who runs 5k three times a week there are two key elements that are important in maintaining a healthy and injury free relationship with this activity.
- Support Your Body
- Be Kind To Your Self And Keep Perspective
- Support Your Body
While running is a very natural activity for us, we do not necessarily live the lifestyle that allows us to just jump up and move freely and effortlessly and to smoothly negate the demands and stresses that running also has on our body. Most of us are physically affected by the chronic stress, repetitiveness and physical passiveness that comes with modern life. Here is a common example. Someone in a stressful office job is not only sitting for hours every day, he or she also lives in a tense and permanently contracted body. If they then jump up at the end of the day and run for 5k their body is in no position to compensate for the impact that running is putting on their joints and soft tissues.
So warming up your muscles and joints before running is the bare minimum you should do to support your body. It may not be enough though. I would recommend taking up Yoga, Pilates or Feldenkrais on a regular bases to allow your body to experience a variety of movement that does not cause impact and mobilises and strengthens your body. While a strong gym workout can certainly also help you strengthen your body it is not a substitute for a more subtle and varied movement practice like the ones named above. While strength is important, what is even more important is to allow your body to experience movement freely and without strain or challenge, otherwise you will approach your running also with strain and challenge.
Mobilising your feet, or even massaging them is also very helpful as a running warm up in order to maximise your body’s ability to shock absorb. In a world were many of us are forced to run on hard and unforgiving roads this is very important.
2. Be Kind To Your Self And Keep Perspective
So you find running hard? You struggle to motivate yourself after a while or you get discouraged when you don’t see your performance improve?
Our own attitude and expectation can be a huge factor in what causes us to either become obsessive and push ourselves too hard, or the decision that we failed and give up. Ask yourself what is the reason you want to run for? What is the goal that you want to ultimately achieve through running? Your goal will give you perspective on when you may need to be persistent and when its okay to take it easy.
If your biggest dream is to run a marathon, simply because of the sense of achievement it would give you, that is great and this kind of goal may mean that you need to ask yourself if you can commit to the challenge that is involved. Hey, I have no doubt that you can do it if you put your mind to it, but be prepared to have respect for this considerable challenge and expect it to come with demands on your body and mind. When things are a challenge we may want to ask for help and support ourselves as best we can, right? So if your goal is truly about mastering a challenge, be smart and invest in good running gear, some soft tissue treatments and massages along the way, some tailored supportive exercise programs. A running or movement coach would also be very helpful to make sure your body can handle it. Perhaps join a running club or tackle this challenge with friends for moral support.
If your goal is more health related that is a very different story. It is easy to get caught up in measuring our success in the progress we make with our running, but the key thing here to know is that that is not always relevant or helpful. If you push yourself too hard you may easily get disappointed or give up when you are going through a tougher time. Sometimes our energy is very low and our body is simply saying “Thanks, but no thanks”. That is okay! It doesn’t necessarily mean that you are weak or lazy. When we run we essentially are exercising our innate flight responses and we simply do not always feel like fleeing. On those days take a moment and really check in with yourself about why you feel like quitting today and what might be a compromise. It helps to remember that there are more options than running or not running. Not having a ridged expectation of your performance can be really helpful here. For example you might have two routes that you can use, one is longer and one is shorter. On a day when you do not feel like running you might choose the shorter route, or you might just do intervals or even just walk. You might even stop and sit on a bench in the sun for a moment before strolling home. Did you run that day? Perhaps not, but you still did something that is beneficial towards your health and if you can focus on acknowledging that rather than beating yourself up over not running your fastest, there will be more benefit to your health and motivation in the long run.
Ultimately we want our body to be adaptable enough to go from sitting at a desk for hours to running on roads or rocky paths. We need to support it in this adaptability. We also want our mind and perhaps even our goals to be adaptable in order to enjoy our runs rather than loathe them or loose them.