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Help me be a good runner despite my weirdo body type
November 4, 2010 8:54 PM   Subscribe

Are you a tall, female, pear shaped runner? I really want to start running but my body type seems problematic. How can I make it work?

I want to get into some sort of regular exercise routine but I've pretty much had it with paying for a gym membership. I bought a new bike recently, and I love it. But a week or two ago a lot of people I know did a half marathon and well, I was totally jealous! I want to do that too!

I always used to sort of rule out running, due to my body type and fear or ruining my knees, and I tended to stick to lower-impact stuff like the elliptical. But that isn't really what I want. Especially now that I don't want to pay for a gym membership anymore. I want to be a runner and enjoy nature and marathons (someday) and not be a slave to the gym. Can I do it? How? More importantly, should I?

I am about 5'10 and 160 lbs. So, a normal weight for my height, but unevenly distributed- as in, it's practically all between my belly button and my knees. (And no, sadly, it is NOT muscle. I'd like it to be.) Am I setting myself up for knee problems with this pursuit? Before posting this question, I was doing some googling and although I found some stories of tall/big people running they were all men so it didn't take into account my hip-to-knee angle. Anyway, my loosely formed plan was to try to build up my muscles with biking and hiking, and then ease into jogging and running. I know, I know, I should ask a doc and you are not my doctor. I will try to track one down and ask. But in the meantime I'd like your anecdata about being tall/ female/ junk in the trunky runners. Do you feel awesome, or were you entering a world of pain? how can i minimize the possible negative impact on my joints? should i be worried about my hips, too? sorry for what must be the zillionth question about running but i'm having a hard time finding info about running when you're a tall chick and got the child bearin' hips. links to whatever reputable resources you love are much appreciated too. thanks in advance, mefites.
posted by lblair to Health & Fitness (27 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
Start small, and don't compare yourself to marathon runners... a marathon is a fine goal to shoot for, but you will have many smaller goals to deal with first. This is a helpful article that I think shows what a healthy runner's attitude should be: nytimes
posted by Bunge at 9:04 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not sure you'll find much out there about body shape and running. Loads of people with all sorts of body shapes run happily and merrily. And I'm not sure body shape is anything formally defined by medicine.

But (you've seen it recommended a million times before), the Couch to 5K plan is an excellent way to start running slowly and consistently in a way that eases your body into it. You'll know if you can do it, by doing it.

The great thing about this plan is that you can do it by distance or time, and you can download various apps if you want a mechanical voice telling you when to run and when to talk; or you can download (sometimes free) music podcasts that will do the same.

Think of it this way: people who are way heavier than you run, and they are pounding even more weight into the ground. If they can do it, so can you!
posted by bluedaisy at 9:06 PM on November 4, 2010


haha yeah just to clarify, i'm not in any sort of hurry to be in a marathon or anything. i know that will take me a long time, if ever. the point was more just that i think i've been excluding myself from a group of people for reasons that i'm not sure are real or necessary. i don't mind taking a long time in reaching my goals, i just wanted to try and determine whether they were realistic at all (whether next year or in five years, ya know?) and also whether having such a goal at all was advisable, from an anatomical standpoint.
posted by lblair at 9:12 PM on November 4, 2010


Your goals are totally reasonable. All sorts of people run for all sorts of reasons. And starting off slowly means you will not hurt yourself too much, and know if you do hurt yourself, that you should stop. Just go for it!
posted by bluedaisy at 9:13 PM on November 4, 2010


I am not tall (5' 4") and weigh a good bit more than you. I can definitely say all of my extra weight is between my belly button and knees, though. I have been running a bit on and off for more than a year now - I've gotten more than half way through couch to 5K twice and have had no problems at all with knees or hips or anything. I do run barefoot on the treadmill or in aquasock type shoes outside. It hurt more when I was wearing shoes. (I have never made it all the way through C25K because my two year old decided she HATED being in the stroller and it started getting hot outside. Then I got a treadmill and started over and fell off and needed at least 2 months to regrow the skin on my ankle and knee. Then I started over and got to week 4 and got a bad cold and went out of town and now three weeks later, I'm starting again. I went from taking 3 weeks to manage to finish week 1 last October to now being able to do whatever week I'm on with no problem. I now do the program thing and then keep alternating running and walking until I get to 4 miles. But my only injury has been the falling off the treadmill stupidity.)
posted by artychoke at 9:14 PM on November 4, 2010


i guess my worry was more about the angle than the weight. as in, what's the difference between the force from hitting the ground being distributed straight down as opposed to at an angle? will it cause a lot of wear, or will i just develop freakishly big muscles on the outside/ inside of the knee? (because the latter i'm ok with, its the former than concerns me)
posted by lblair at 9:23 PM on November 4, 2010


I don't understand where the angle is coming in. Are we talking inner thighs here? I can't quite imagine the size of my butt changing the angle of my knees.
posted by artychoke at 9:40 PM on November 4, 2010


I am about your height, and a little lighter (about 145 pounds, but I have been 155 or so in the past when running). I too am a pear-shape. I have never had any knee problems running, and although I always get sore hips when I run after a long break, I think it's ligaments/muscles rather than joints.

I have always found running really extremely hard, even though I can walk forever (even at the same speed as I run!) I would like to think it's body-shape-related, but it could just be that I suck at running. Or that I'm lazy, or something :)

I used to be unable to run (slow jog) for even 3 minutes at a time, but then I started weight-lifting, and did a lot of squats, hamstring exercises, calf raises, etc. Now I have muscly legs, and I can run for 20 minutes at a time. There was a direct relationship. But I still find it seriously hard work.
posted by lollusc at 9:40 PM on November 4, 2010


I'm 5'8" and very much junk-in-the-trunk-y, and I started a modified slow-building couch-to-5k routine when I was about 155 pounds — and once I scaled up from walking to jogging, my knees started to hurt. Uh oh. So I asked my fitness-minded friends for advice about whether I was doing permanent damage, and they said that some mild-to-moderate knee pain is fairly normal for a beginning runner with a bit of extra weight — my knees needed to adjust. So I slowed down for a couple weeks until they felt better, avoiding hills and concrete, and now I run without any joint pain (and I'm several pounds lighter). Still pretty low-endurance, but I'm ok with that. So I'd say go for it! And if your knees start hurting, definitely get some expert advice other than my nutty friends, but keep in mind it might not mean you need to stop completely. There's also the standard recommendation to make sure you have good-quality well-fitted shoes.
posted by dreamyshade at 10:01 PM on November 4, 2010


@ artychoke- i did some more googling in hopes of finding an image to illustrate what i was getting at, and stumbled across the term "q angle." i've never heard of it before but actually it seems to describe kind of what i was thinking. when i googled 'q angle and running' a few articles popped up, but the opinions seemed to be mixed and of variable quality. so . . . it looks like it's a question that's been asked before but im still not sure of the answer. This article addresses what I asked but I'm not sure if I trust about.com ( http://sportsmedicine.about.com/od/women/a/Q_angle.htm )

This article is probably better but I'm sleepy and it's a bit over my head:
http://www.jospt.org/issues/articleID.436,type.14/article_detail.asp
posted by lblair at 10:19 PM on November 4, 2010


I'm 5'10, pear-shaped, and 250lbs. My knees were not particularly great but I wanted to run.

I went out, bought a nice pair of running shoes, and started the couch to 5k plan. Once I started running for more than 5 minutes at once, my knees started to give me some trouble, but never enough to really stop, just enough to notice. It was especially notable while running slowly; running quicker made it go away.

I heard and read about barefoot running. I bought a pair of cheap water shoes and started using those. I immediately noticed how bad my form had been -- my feet were really pounding on the pavement, and I could feel how it was jarring my knees.

For the next few runs, I paid very close attention to my stride, how I was landing on my feet, where I landed, how I pushed off, etc. My strides were definitely too long before and it was causing me to land in a way that was really jarring. The knee pain went away over the course of these runs. I bought a pair of vibram fivefingers to upgrade to, although honestly the water shoes were just as good and a fair bit cheaper.

I used to get some mild to moderate knee pain walking up or down stairs sometimes -- this is totally gone now. I can see the development of the supporting muscles around my knees and ankles that has been a result of the barefoot running, and I think they've taken most of the strain off my knees. It's been nice.

I think, essentially, the best thing you can do is pay attention to your body. Go out and try it. If your knees hurt a little, that's probably ok, but if there's a grinding pain, stop running. Barefoot running really made a difference for my knees. Getting a pair of cheap water shoes will only set you back $10 or $15 and will help you get your stride right from the start.
posted by zug at 10:21 PM on November 4, 2010 [2 favorites]


oops, i did the link for the second one wrong, lets try again
posted by lblair at 10:21 PM on November 4, 2010


You are overthinking this. You don't even know if your q-angle is extreme, and the second study suggested they couldn't draw a correlation between angle and injury. Plus this is the kind of injury that happens after lots and lots of running--you'd really have to work up to something this excessive.

Running is hard, pounding exercise, not great for joints and knees, but better than not exercising. Body shape isn't going to change this very much.

Just start slowly and take it easy if you get hurt. Seriously, just run.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:31 PM on November 4, 2010


I've seen plenty of women with your build flying past when I walk half marathons and their running style was no different than anyone else's. You, just like anyone else, just need to make sure you buy the correct shoes then train properly and you'll be fine. Go to one of those sports shoe places that gives you shoes based on how you run (not the ones that scan your foot, total waste of time in my experience) and with a money back guarantee, and be prepared to take the shoes back to try another pair if they're not excellent. A good store will keep your details so the second time you buy shoes you can adjust based on what you've learnt using the first ones, and so on. You should be replacing them every six months to a year, don't keep going once the soles wear out.

You will probably have all kinds of weird muscle pains afterwards as your body remodels, but that's normal when you change activities. Hopefully with your gym work you can recognise the difference between temporary getting-stronger pain and ouchy-doing-it-wrong pain, and either way it shouldn't hurt inside your joint during the exercise. If you do have problems with your knees then see someone more specialised in diagnosing running gaits, a podiatrist or whatever is appropriate, because it's something that can definitely be fixed.
posted by shelleycat at 10:41 PM on November 4, 2010


My mother is quite tall and was always a bit klutzy with her somewhat larger torso and skinny legs. Didn't stop her from running a few 10ks though.

I second the Couch to 5k plan. In a nutshell it says that when you first start jogging you WALK first. Like the first day 75% walking and 25% running. Run slowly for two minutes (or so, until you feel winded), then WALK. You will feel bored at first by these "runs". Weekly, though, you gradually lengthen your running time and decrease your walking time. It's pretty foolproof.
posted by zardoz at 11:14 PM on November 4, 2010


The center of mass of your body is around your belly button. So having extra weight all around just under your belly button doesn't sound like a big problem.
In my experience running involves a slight incline forward. As if your continuously falling forward a bit. Your incline will have to be a bit bigger. But I don't think you will or should register this consciously.
It might be different if all the extra weight is in say a belly that projects in front of your natural centre of weight. One would expect that to affect your 'tilt'.

In my experience with running it is important to gain the strength to use the 'air phase'. It's the thing that differentiates running from walking. And it's what is a bit hard to do when you start running. Often ones muscles and ligaments aren't quite up to it yet. So a very gradual programme like the couche2k one helps one through that phase without getting injured or discouraged.
Once the muscles and ligaments and heart-lung function are up to it is the point where running can be all souplesse instead of working hard and becomes fun that doesn't need a programme any more.
Being heavier makes the air phase a bit more work to realise I imagine.

Another thing is that the movement of the legs needs a counter movement from the arms. This torsion - counter torsion resonance is pretty fundamental to running imo. I don't know how that would be affected by the extra weight on the upper leg. The continuous swinging might be more work and maybe you'd need to create a bit more of a counter torsion with a wider arm swing.

Btw the mechanisms I describe above generally come naturally to our motor skills. Don't overthink it but see what works and feels good.
posted by joost de vries at 11:47 PM on November 4, 2010


Completely anecdotal, but when I was in high school the fastest runner on the track team was a tall pear-shaped girl. How she seemed to make it work was ... well ... she did have proper running shoes, but mostly she was just plain much better at running than the rest of us. I think if you take it slow and train properly you'll be fine.
posted by Xany at 12:25 AM on November 5, 2010


You'll be fine. Just start slow. I know hundreds of runners in all different body types, and they all do fine. Many of them will not win medals any time soon, but that isn't why they run anyway.
posted by OmieWise at 5:29 AM on November 5, 2010


You're totally over-thinking this. There are runners of all shapes and sizes out there. Join a running group in your area - you'll love it!
posted by Neekee at 6:19 AM on November 5, 2010


Nthing that you're overthinking this. But I did it too - I thought I couldn't run because I am a toe-walker. Then one day a random comment from my sister inspired me to start Couch to 5K; it took me a while to find the stride that worked for me, and while I was figuring that out I did experience some pain, but I paid attention to my gait and altered it where necessary and now (not quite a year later) I am happily running 4-5 miles at a stretch a few times a week (way high up on my toes!).

So, as everyone else has said: take it slow, pay attention to your body mechanics, do what feels right.
posted by mskyle at 6:54 AM on November 5, 2010


Nth-ing the "overthinking" problem. I started running as an overweight chick who ACTUALLY has poor biomechanics. It's taken me a bit extra effort than the average runner to stay injury-free (lots of PT exercises to correct for muscular imbalances), but I've actually improved my overall musculoskeletal health by becoming a runner -- although nothing's going to change my crappy skeletal design, running has strengthened my muscles and joints, and it's also helped me lose my excess body fat. In fact, my knees feel way better now than they have since I was a little kid. I don't know if I'll ever be able to run a road marathon (although I'd like to someday), but I've had a lot of fun regardless, and I can run more than 10 miles without hurting myself. Additionally, an acquaintance of mine who is female, over 6 feet tall, definitely pear-shaped, and probably overweight for her height, has recently started running. She's run probably 4 or 5 5K's in the past year, and she's been having a blast.

So just go for it! Listen to your body, don't run when it tells you not to, and stay off concrete when possible. You'll have a great time.
posted by kataclysm at 7:47 AM on November 5, 2010


Just start running. Don't sit around Googling what might happen if you start running - start running, and then take each new development as it arises. I will add another recommendation for the Couch to 5K program, which not only got me started in running but has also helped me come back after a couple hiatuses of injury and/or laziness. Following a gradual program like that will get you in shape while helping to prevent an early injury which would make you want to throw in the towel, and it gives you a good feeling of success and forward progress.

There are all kinds of runners - some driven and goal-oriented and always lengthening, and some slow joggers who just enjoy getting out there and getting the blood pumping a couple times a week, and everything in between. It's not a difficult sport technique-wise, and it clears the head wonderfully. Just do it!

If you do like overthinking, and find that you get into stuff quickly and want to learn more, then check out Runner's World magazine and website. They have lots of good articles, inculding many for beginner runners, slow runners, runners with injuries, etc. But mainly, don't worry about it. Just get started and have fun. Your body's capable of a lot more than you think - give it a chance!
posted by Miko at 8:35 AM on November 5, 2010


For my part, the only reasons why I drag my sad carcass out to run is to prepare for the oncoming zombie apocalypse or someone tells me I have to run, because my one calf keeps on insisting that I was never meant to be a runner so why do I keep on hurting it?

That being said, if you don't start, you'll never find out your limits and weaknesses. I wouldn't worry excessively about the hip-to-knee angle - if yours really is very extreme, there are stretches and strengthening exercises you can do to improve your posture and help correct that ratio. If you do feel (bad grindy) pain when running, I highly suggest you see a good physiotherapist and keep up with any exercises they prescribe. Running is tough, but it's extremely excellent exercise.

if you can, run on soft things, like a track or grass. Get good shoes - the debate over over-padded shoes/barefoot running is still going strong, so YMMV. Personally, I wear Saucony Kinvaras, which seem to be a bizarre child birthed from a union of a cushy runner and a lightweight running flat, so I get some cushioning for longish runs but I can also get up on my toes for pose-style running (oversimplified: running on your forefoot). The important thing here is that you've got to listen to your body - if something hurts or pinches or feels off, don't buy the shoes. What's right for someone may not be right for you.

Last thing: what I find helpful in staving off running injury is strength training. There's an old article here giving some suggestions for weight training exercises to help strengthen small stabiliser muscles. You don't need a gym - bodyweight squats and the like work just as well.

Good luck and enjoy your run!
posted by zennish at 10:23 AM on November 5, 2010 [1 favorite]


thanks guys. part of what got me to ask this question in the first place was a conversation i had with one of my abovementioned friends-who-runs-in-marathons. we were biking together and i made some offhand comment about how i always wanted to get into running but was a little worried about my knees. rather than a "you'll be fine/ don't overthink it" response (like you've all given me) he was kind of like, "yeah you're probably right, you ought to stick to biking. maybe try swimming too." (he's shorter than me and probably a good 40 lbs lighter.) i was irritated by that but also had that nagging feeling of "is he right?" so i wanted to come on here and get opinions from those of you who actually have a body type in common with me, unlike him and our other running friends, who are all small. but it sounds like i'm in the clear . . . so next step for me is to buy shoes :-)
posted by lblair at 10:56 AM on November 6, 2010


i was irritated by that but also had that nagging feeling of "is he right?"

One thing about the running community is the variety of people in it. I can't speak about your friend, but there is a contingent that is pretty competitive - to the point of being kind of arrogant about their own achievements and kind of dismissive of others who want to take part. I don't know if that's what happened here, but even if your friend is well-intentioned it sounds like he just doesn't have that much experience with the diversity of people and body types who run successfully.

This goes beyond running, but for a story of someone who went from the couch to a really active athletic lifestyle while still retaining a larger body size, I really recommend the book Slow Fat Triathlete by Jayne Williams. She's witty and reassuring, and (in her own words) "living proof that you don't have to be young, lean, super-fit or otherwise exceptionally talented to have fun in triathlon and other endurance sports."
posted by Miko at 1:20 PM on November 6, 2010


Just a bit more anecdotal info. I'm a 5'9" pear-shaped runner as well. C25K got me started, but when I started getting pain in my lower legs I had my gait analyzed by a running coach at my local Y. He helped me switch to pose method. It really helped with the joint pain and calf pain.

Also, get a Stick. They're great for warming up and stretching post-run.
posted by tigerjade at 3:14 PM on November 6, 2010


I'm 5'10 and weigh a little more than you but with the same shape. I weighed 30lbs more when I started running, though! As many others have recommended, the Couch to 5K program is great. After several attempts at finishing it over the last couple of years, I ran my first 5km race in October (!). Unfortunately, my legs are still not very muscular, especially my thighs and butt. I've decided to try to build it up with weight training, but in the meantime, I try to focus on not bouncing so much when I run. I think about moving my feet forward instead of up in each stride.

Really, my advice to you is to start running, keep your pace slow, and run often. Don't worry about your shape too much. Oh, and definitely talk to a doctor before you get too far in it as well.
posted by jacquilinala at 8:53 AM on November 7, 2010


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