Should I run?
March 18, 2015 7:12 AM   Subscribe

Should I run? Complications: fat, crackly knees, plantar fasciitis, clumsiness. If I should run, any advice on doing it right?

30s, F. I've been working out regularly for a few months. I'm significantly overweight so have stuck to non impact workouts like swimming or the elliptical and the wave machine. Prior to this I was walking a lot. I'm not exercising to lose weight, but to become fitter in the long run, and because it feels good. (I never thought I would say that; it's changed my life really.)

I like the idea of starting to run, for bone health and because it would be good to be able to exercise without a machine or a pool, and because I think I would like it. Whenever I run for the bus or something, I feel great afterwards even if I'm out of breath. But those are tiny bursts - I've never even jogged for more than 5 minutes. But I don't know if I should actually start running regular for exercise. There is a lot of contradictory information about running and knee health on the internet and I'm confused!

-I have a crackly knee which doesn't hurt but I am worried about injuring it. Doctor has diagnosed it only as regular wear and tear but says it's come on earlier for me than for others because of my weight. :(
-I also have plantar fasciitis which I worry about aggravating with high impact exercise. I am always careful to wear supportive shoes (Nike Lunar Glide 6) and do the stretches, etc.
-I think I might have weak ankles. I trip easily, and whenever I do it's always because my ankle 'gives'.
-I find it difficult to walk on a treadmill. I just end up weirdly shuffling. I can jog in them, but it doesn't feel like a natural movement the way it would if I were jogging on the ground.

I can't help but laugh reading that list, I am incredibly poorly coordinated.

So I feel like I am not the ideal candidate for running but I would like to try to run, all the same. Should I give it a go or should I stick to the elliptical? If the answer is to give it a go, do you have any advice for how to get used to a treadmill, and generally how to avoid injury?
posted by Ziggy500 to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Google Jeff Galloway or Couch to 5k. Both have walk/run beginner plans that take it VERY slowly.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 7:21 AM on March 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Best answer: You don't give yourself enough credit. Human beings, including you, are born runners, and I guarantee you you could be a fine fitness runner if you put your mind to it. Couch to 5k is a great way to get started. Sign up for a race with some friends if you think it'll help keep you honest.
posted by killdevil at 7:25 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would get a consultation with an orthopedist first. Running is very, very hard on the knees and feet, and it is NOT the right exercise for everyone - I found this out the hard way. Individual variations in how your leg muscles and joints are shaped can make you far more vulnerable to serious injury, and there's no way the Internet can predict that from here. Find an old ortho with many years of experience and ask them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:36 AM on March 18, 2015 [9 favorites]

Agreeing with the Couch to 5K recommendations and want to particularly recommend Zombies, Run! 5K Training (as previously discussed on the Blue).
posted by Etrigan at 7:36 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

I can't speak to your other ailments, but Plantar Fasciitis I can!

I had TERRIBLE Plantar Fasciitis for over a year. I still exercised with it, but I would have crippling pain the next day. It got to the point where I couldn't walk without off-the chart pain.
Late last year, my chiropractor suggested shock-wave therapy on my heels.

Well, it was mostly covered by my benefits, so what did I have to lose? I think I had 6 or 7 sessions in total and MY GOD - it revolutionized my life. I haven't had ANY heel pain since my last treatment, if your plantar fasciitis is really impacting your life, I recommend you look into that for sure - can't recommend it highly enough.

Also, like you - I have hated running my entire life and couldn't run more than 3 minutes without needing a break. If you start slowly and surely, just a little bit at a time - you'll be amazed by how quickly you can progress. I agree you should look at some kind of training plan (Couch to 5K) but otherwise, there's really nothing holding you back. Consult with a doctor, get a knee support just to stabilize it during exercise and you will eventually be OK...
posted by JenThePro at 7:36 AM on March 18, 2015

Definitely start by talking to a doctor if you have physical concerns, but I'd like to Nth CT5K. Last April I was at about 250 -- far from my heaviest, but a lot more than I'd like to be -- and could hardly jog more than 90 seconds without getting winded. I started the CT5K program, and over the course of 9 weeks I was surprised at the difference it made, especially in combination with sensible eating.

About half way through I was doing well enough that I decided to sign up for a local 5K in September to keep me motivated and serve as a check point when I was done. By September not only was I able to run 5 km continually, I'd also managed to lose close to 30 pounds. I completed the race in... not the best time (38 minutes) but it felt damn good to finally be able to do that, and I did it without a single walking break.

It's worth noting that I started with some similar problems. I'm in my 30s, have very bad coordination, weak ankles, a creaky knee, and I gave myself a nasty case of plantar fasciitis the last time I tried the program, but I was about 15 pounds heavier then. If you do do CT5K, do not feel bad at all about taking more than a week to progress from one stage to the next; the first time I did it I was bound and determined to push myself each week to the next, and that's how I ended up hurting myself. Listen to your body, and if it hurts more than a little, stop and try again.

I lost a bit of form over the winter, but I'm doing another 5K this weekend, and I'm planning on training for a 10K at the end of June. The difference it has made in my life between the weight loss -- which, again, is also tied to more healthful eating -- and my increased cardio has been amazing, and I think it's also had notable benefits on my bipolar disorder and anger issues.

Definitely give it a try if your doctor OKs it. I was shocked at what I could do in spite of being in horrible shape, and I bet you would be, too.
posted by jammer at 8:01 AM on March 18, 2015 [3 favorites]

First things first: especially since you're nervous, get an OK from your/a doctor.

But if the doc's fine with it, yes! I just got started last year, and I will probably always be embarrassingly slow, but I'm a week out from my third road race/first 10k, so I can't recommend it enough. I used a Couch to 5K program, and did each workout twice (so, it took me twice as many weeks as the program states to get to a 5k distance). That's the thing to keep in mind - it is fine, ideal even, to go very very slowly both in terms of pace and progress when you are starting out. It keeps you from getting injured and from getting discouraged. It takes time to build up your bone density and your muscles and your cardiovascular endurance.

I feel like it's improved my body awareness, my general feelings of being a competent human being (I did a thing! It was hard and sucky and I am bad at it and persevered anyway!), and definitely my ability to sleep well at night. It's a greatly flexible hobby, in that you need very little in the way of equipment, you can pick your distance/time of day/location, you can run with people or alone, you get to decide how serious you want to be about it, and you can take it with you wherever you go. Going on a run is my new favorite way to decompress and see new cities when I'm out on business trips.

Fair warning: I still think running is hard, even when the weather is beautiful and I'm enjoying myself on a trail. That's just how things are sometimes. And while I always hear the stories about people shedding all kinds of weight, I gained about five pounds. Weight loss is mostly nutrition, and running made me hungry as a bear, so now I'm relearning how to cope with hunger. You don't actually burn that many calories when running, despite all the sweating and effort.

But it's great! Give it a chance and you may surprise yourself!
posted by bowtiesarecool at 8:15 AM on March 18, 2015

Weight loss is mostly nutrition, and running made me hungry as a bear, so now I'm relearning how to cope with hunger.

Yes, this is very true. But when you're on a calorie-limited diet, the extra headroom doing a 500 calorie run gives you can make all the difference between "I'm so hungry, screw the diet" and "I'm so hungry, but hey! I can have a granola bar and be OK!"

Also, everyone's mileage my vary, but I always found myself less hungry in the evening after a run, perhaps because I'd fill myself with fluids instead? Dunno, but it was a nice side effect for me. It probably wouldn't be for everyone.
posted by jammer at 8:19 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Yes! Run!

I could never run. We had to run a mile for the physical fitness test in gradeschool, and I could never completely run it. I was a chunky kid, and chunky adult, and started running maybe 18-20 months ago. I was about halfway through a 50+ lb weightloss, but at my short height was still overweight. I have never been an exerciser up until about 2 years ago. I'd walk a fair amount, but it took me a while for my body to adjust. Last year I had: a broken toe, severely sprained my ankle, got the flu for the first time ever in my life, got stung by an angry hornet on a run 2 miles from home - after never having been stung by anything for 30 years. I am also not your ideal running candidate, but I ran a half marathon in January! Well, I ran about 12.9 miles of it, which I'm still very happy with. It's empowering just to even run 5 minutes, which is way more than I could do not that long ago. So I say go for it! You can do far more than you think you can.

Also suggest couch to 5k. Take your time with it, and repeating days is just fine - I had to repeat many. Give your body time to adjust. Go at your own pace. Let your body rest, but keep trying.

Crosstrain. I am very clumsy, have (or had) weak ankles. Weirdly, doing Zumba has helped me tremendously with that, because it made me really pay attention to my feet and body movements. My ankles roll almost never now.

Definitely give it a try. Good luck!
posted by raztaj at 8:28 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another vote for: If you want to do it and you are aware of and willing to accept potential longer term issues regarding your knees and whatnot, then go for it. Only you can determine whether the risk is worth the reward.

I would also like to suggest doing some interval running, if you want to run but don't want to or determine that you shouldn't do endurance-style running.
posted by Urban Winter at 8:38 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I vote no, stick to the elliptical. Or walking or cycling. With evidence of poor biomechanics, high weight, and tendency to tendon problems, your risk of injury is high. I had many of your problems before I started C25K (carefullly, after a lot of research, with good shoes, etc. etc. etc.) and am still paying for it, years later. You can improve your cardiovascular capacity and general health in many other ways.
posted by cotton dress sock at 9:00 AM on March 18, 2015 [5 favorites]

Run. Carefully, slowly, steadily. Re-evaluate in a few weeks time.

Stretch your calves religiously to keep Plantar F at bay. All the time. Pause walking up the stairs to stretch your calves. Do it while you are sitting on the couch. Stretch your calves always and forever.

Hang your 5k finisher's medal somewhere prominent.
posted by dzot at 9:13 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Nthing Couch to 5K. I had so much fun doing it, I couldn't wait for my running days.

Running outdoors is so much more fun than running on a treadmill. You're moving! You can tell that you've gone a particular distance! You can check out your neighbors' yards!

Do you wrap or splint your feet overnight? That really makes a difference for me when I've had plantar fasciitis.
posted by mogget at 10:07 AM on March 18, 2015

I'm a recent convert to running (past 5 years) and was formerly just over the edge of obese by BMI.

I tried running when I was close to my peak weight and that was precisely the moment my knees went bad. Arthritis and also a disturbing tendency for my right knee to just give out. About 2 years after that month of failure I was about 10lbs heavier and saw a photograph of myself from behind (thanks for the backfat photo brother!) and got serious about losing weight.

My previous experience made me shy away from running until I felt my weight was more manageable. I didn't want to exacerbate the problems I had developed - Injury is the kiss of death for exercise and weight loss. I started counting calories to lose weight and upping exercise in the form of walking and cycling. Calorie counting critical even in exercise driven weight loss because you need to stop yourself from compensation hunger (your body will want to compensate for increased energy output by stimulating hunger) and licensing issues (I exercised so I deserve a little more food).

I'd say get your weight down to the mid-point of overweight on the BMI before trying running and then do couch 2 5K. Cycle and walk until then instead.

I still have arthritic knees but almost no problems with my knees giving out and running actually reduces the arthritic pain significantly (though running does cause a fair amount of transient pain). Running is also a fantastic motivator for keeping weight off because running is a rewarding form of torture but more weight is more torture with no reward.

Runner's high and the sense of achievement from disciplining yourself is wonderful for the soul.

I'm 48 and probably more fit than I have been since I was 15. You can do this and you have lots of time so go slow and steady.
posted by srboisvert at 10:23 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

You might want to work with a professional, like a running coach or perhaps a physical therapist. I'm in fairly good shape but also have plantar fasciitis, weak ankles, and lack of coordination. I had to work with a physical therapist to strengthen my muscles after getting shin splints and foot pain from running. I wouldn't have put myself through all that if I didn't enjoy running that much.

With that said, though running can be challenging on the body (especially if you sprint or run longer distances), it's certainly doable if you take it slowly and train for it, and definitely work with a professional if you have pre-existing conditions (e.g., plantar fasciitis, weak knees, etc.).
posted by wye naught at 10:39 AM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

I agree with a lot of the advice given here regarding seeking professional opinions and going slow, but also wanted to specifically suggest running on trails/dirt instead of pavement. If you have the opportunity to run through forests/up mountains, great - if not, even a dirt trail around a park is going to be better on your body than pavement, and trail running allows you a little more freedom in terms of setting your own pace.
posted by DuckGirl at 1:22 PM on March 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Please be careful with the Couch to 5K. I tried that, followed the plan to the letter and was really enjoying it but started having significant knee pain (that muscle behind my knee that I can never remember the name of) at week five. I ended up having to take about six weeks off work because of it. YMMV of course but you sound like you are in somewhat similar shape to me. I'm mid-40s, overweight (~29%BMI), not very graceful, history of plantar fasciitis, 5 year old broken tibia (healed obviously) with a rod in my tibia and screws in my knee and ankle. And I wrecked both my knees. So just a data point. Plenty of people seem to have very good experience with the program.
posted by Beti at 2:43 PM on March 18, 2015

Best answer: I probably wouldn't, honestly. If you already have arthritis in your knees I would try to avoid weight-bearing exercise altogether, and running is particularly hard on your knees (if you didn't have arthritis I would say go for it! But you don't want a knee replacement).

I know you are already swimming and walking. How about cycling? You don't need a gym or any equipment aside from the bike, and you can find some great off-road trails to cycle along, so you get the outdoorsiness you associate with running. Plus you'll go loads faster and cover more ground than runners!
posted by tinkletown at 3:11 PM on March 18, 2015

I have plantar f too, have had it for last 4 months and would reccomend not to get straight into road running. It makes it a lot worse. If you're trail running that's a different thing tho. There's a brilliant website Which goes a lot into problems with plantar, how to work that into a running programme etc. I'd go for the low impact sports first though, of which walking can be one.
posted by stevedawg at 5:14 PM on March 18, 2015

I too have flat feet and a bad knee. Bonus: asthma!

I did Couch to 5K and it worked a treat - I went from not being able to run for a minute, to being able to run 5K easily. It took me three months to get there, instead of two, but it worked. I used an app called Ease into 5K.

So, yes. Get running. But it's a good idea to check with your doctor on the knee thing first.

Running on dirt or grass may be easier for you in the beginning than on the road.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:32 PM on March 18, 2015

Response by poster: Hey guys, thanks for the answers, the words of support, and for sharing your experiences, both positive and not so positive. You're right and I guess a doctor is the most sensible first point of call. It's good to know I have not been beanplating or worrying unnecessarily, something that I am sadly only too prone towards doing.
posted by Ziggy500 at 5:18 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

Best answer: one more thing. Don't consult with a trainer or or chiro for this. Not even a general practitioner. Find an orthopedist (some also call their practice "sports medicine.") You want the doctor who has seen and treated the injuries people get from running and has years of experience observing what works and what doesn't. These folks also know the dangers of being overweight, so it's not like they won't be on your side in figuring out ways to get in shape. But they'll also be able to recommend a regimen that you can succeed at (and if you're lucky maybe it will be as simple as lots of stretching, recommended shoes, and using a track instead of sidewalks.)
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:24 AM on March 19, 2015 [1 favorite]

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