Running for Beginners

Spring in Maine is a time that every Mainer truly looks forward to. The ice is melting, flowers are beginning to bloom, and it’s only 40 degrees out, but everyone finds a reason to wear shorts. If you are anything like me, staying inside over the winter has led to less movement and eating more food. With summer coming and restrictions being eased, it’s time to burn off the “Pandemic 15”! What better way than to get outside and RUN?

Running is a great option for those individuals looking to get into shape, because of its’ low bar for entry. All you need is a trusty pair of sneakers, a smile on your face, and a little motivation.

The first key to tackling running is finding the motivation for consistency. A couple of secrets that I have used in the past include:

  • find a running partner to keep you accountable
  • sign up for a race/event in the future with the appropriate amount of time to ramp up
  • keep experimenting to find what makes running exciting for you

For myself, road races and running can get old quick, so I prefer trails. Sebago Lake and the Greater Portland area have many great trail systems. Utilizing indoor facilities is also a great way to beat those unpredictable bad weather days we often see during the spring season in Maine.

As you begin your journey to running, the first major question that I often get asked is about footwear. There is so much information out there regarding “the best footwear” for this or that foot posture. In the end, everyone has their own preferences and the research into running related footwear is inconclusive. The best advice I would give is try on a number of different shoes. Make sure to take the insole out and ensure that it fully encapsulates your foot, and that your foot is not getting pinched anywhere. This is a simple task, but often overlooked. It is also important that after you take the insole out, run your hands along the inner lining and ensure that there are no factory defects or “hot spots” in the shoe.

Now that we have all of the technical pieces of information out of the way, it’s time to get running! The key here is BUILD SLOW. Research shows that >25% of recreational runners that are training for a half marathon have some sort of running related injuries. The majority of these are what we call “overload injuries”, caused from increasing too much, too quickly. While running, your body has to be able to accept 5-7x your body weight with each step. This has been shown to be protective against developing osteoarthritis. Keep this in mind as you start out, because it takes your body a bit to build and adapt to the new stimulus of running. As you are building, you have to respect the slowest areas of your body to adapt, which will probably not be your mind.

To allow your body to adapt to these changes, there are a number of different strategies that you can utilize to help to build slowly.

A walk/run combination can be a fantastic way to slowly build up overall distance. For a true couch to 5K development, try 5 minutes of walking, then 1 minute of jogging, repeating as tolerated. The walking to running ratio can slowly decrease as your body can tolerate more and more.

Another sneaky way to improve your body’s ability to run in this first stage is to add some cross training throughout your weekly schedule. The main goal is increasing your aerobic capacity and stress (or use) your body in a different way. Cycling, swimming, hiking, and weight lifting can be good options. Group exercise classes are a great way to incorporate cross training as well. Everyone is different, so do what makes sense for you!

Another major component to success as a new runner is functional strength. Functional strength exercises depend on your background and may look different for everyone. It may be worth being evaluated by a physical therapist or strength and conditioning specialist, especially if you have any questions. As I mentioned above, as your body is beginning to run, it has to accept 5-7 times your body weight with each step. In order to support this increase in demand, your balance, strength, and motor control need to be able to accept the challenge.

Some functional strength exercises can include “the step-up”, lateral toe tap, and calf raises. These are easy baseline clearance tests to perform to ensure no pain or significant difficulty performing. If you have pain during these exercises, please stop and consult your medical or orthopedic care team.

It’s important to challenge your balance as well. Challenges to your balance come in the form of an upright slow controlled march. This is sneakily a very difficult exercise to perform correctly while maintaining your balance. As for stability, a bridge and side plank for at least 30 seconds are the entry point to be able to tolerate running.

The final aspect that I receive a lot of questions regarding is when to seek help. Aches and pains are normal when you are starting a new activity, but when does that become serious enough to seek professional advice? Here are some guiding principles to follow:

  • if the pain is above 3/10
  • if the pain last for 3 days
  • if there has been a recurrence in the same area 3 times
  • if the pain worsens throughout the run, lingers post running and is affecting your normal daily routine
  • if it is requiring you to use pain medications such as ibuprofen to lower pain to a tolerable level.

If you answered yes to any of those, it is important to have a professional evaluate your condition and help develop a plan to return to running. Spectrum Orthopaedics has a large team of certified Physical Therapists who can assist you, click here for more information on the care we provide.

In summary, don’t let aches and pains hold you back from getting into running. Build gradually while listening to the slowest link in the chain. Everyone has specific needs to consider, if you have any questions, please reach out to our physical therapy team or your running resource to see what can be done to get you running pain-free!

Written by Spectrum Orthopaedics – Windham physical therapist, Samuel LaRiviere, DPT


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