October 24, 2019 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I've started running and every. single. part of my body hurts. What now?

I started a couch to 5k app about two months ago and have been running about every other day. Since I've started running, every single muscle hurts. My muscles in my toes hurt. My hands hurt. My neck hurts. My legs and hips are stiff every morning when I wake up, making it hard to walk. When I run, I'm not gasping for breath and I set a very comfortable pace. I'm not injured in any way, everything just hurts. I'd understand if this happened the first few weeks, but I'm into my third month and it continues.

I have been athletic in the past with almost every type of exercise from yoga to rock climbing to Zumba and bicycling. I'm not particularly susceptible to pain in general, and when I feel muscle fatigue from working out I tend to just ignore it. In addition to running right now, I end up walking as well about 5 miles a day for work, and that is no problem. But I'm coming off of kid two and hitting the other side of 40 as I try for the first time to run, and it sucks like nothing else.

So questions - has this happened to you? What did you do? When will it all stop hurting? I'm hoping advise is not to stop running. I'd like this to work out, despite the pain.
posted by Toddles to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
This is probably too obvious, but do you have new shoes? Everything starts with the feet! I've had a couple friends who thought to get back into running after 3-5 years, and grabbed their old, old shoes when they hit the pavement/treadmill/trails. If shoes could be the culprit, you'd do well to go to a running specific shop. Yes, can be more expensive than Amazon or a big chain, but a good place (often local!) will help you find a pair that works for your feet. Good luck, and welcome back to running!!
posted by tamarack at 9:58 PM on October 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Another obvious question: how much stretching down do you do after you finish? If you're not stretching—or not stretching enough—then you'll definitely get ongoing pain.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:03 PM on October 24, 2019

I agree with both the answers above, and also find that being sure to eat a bit of something before/after running helps me (I use half a Luna bar and a banana, respectively). I have been known to sometimes pre-emptively take an Excedrin before running, but that is probably not the best idea....
posted by LadyOscar at 10:08 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

I'm no expert on running or the body but as someone in their late 30's I can tell you that I used to jog but stopped because it was too harsh on my body. Running is great exercise but it's a high impact sport. You could try running on a softer track or on dirt or grass. I do agree that stretching can help. And actually stretching after your run is key. It may be that running and your body just don't jive. You might also want to ask your doctor and see what they think.
posted by ljs30 at 10:11 PM on October 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Seconding stretching and new shoes! Also, foam roll like your life depends on it.

And have you tried cutting back to running 2-3 times a week instead of every second day? You might need more recovery time (are you getting enough sleep?)

If you have the funds, get a running form assessment done by a physiotherapist. That may pinpoint some dodgy areas (are your knees rolling in? are you scrunching your shoulders forward?)
posted by eloeth-starr at 10:15 PM on October 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

How's your diet? Seconding LadyOscar - get some potassium and protein. Your muscles are being worked hard and you need nutrients to help in the repair. Those with more knowledge than I can give you a better breakdown of what to eat and when.
posted by acidnova at 10:38 PM on October 24, 2019

It’s definitely harder to recover as we age, and running is very high impact. Are you drinking enough water and getting enough protein? I’d say to have something like a protein shake after your runs and see if that helps.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:05 PM on October 24, 2019

Check your shoes, check your posture (from your description, maybe you're tensing up while running - your posture should be somewhat relaxed), check the surface you're running on, warm up beforehand, stretch afterwards and take magnesium for muscle fatigue.

In my experience, running with eg. 20% excess body weight is much harder than running at your ideal weight. If you're trying to lose weight, maybe start with some other exercise until you get closer to your goal?

But ultimately, I agree with others that running is high impact and that maybe it's not an appropriate exercise for you. I'm sorry. (I turned 40 recently, and I really wanted to get into running again, but my knees vehemently disagree.)
posted by gakiko at 11:28 PM on October 24, 2019

Oh, also, were you pregnant in the last year or so? Pregnancy hormones do all kinds of weird stuff to your ligaments and muscles and joints. I was told not to take on any new and/or strenuous exercise for at least a year after giving birth.
posted by gakiko at 11:38 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've had bad neck and back pain from sports bras. I had gained some weight and was sold on the idea that tighter was better for running but they cut into my traps and also made my torso too stiff as I ran which messed everything else up. Maybe try one of those highly adjustable ones?
posted by fshgrl at 11:39 PM on October 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

A ton of stretching and staying warm after running is definitely very important to lessening post-run pain but honestly, running is so fucking horrible for your body and any injury or stiffness or existing pain you have, have ever had in your entire life, will be exacerbated by the incredible impact of slamming the full length of your spine against the pavement with every step. If you have the opportunity to switch surfaces, like to a clay track or to a sand (not pebbly) beach, that could make a big difference.

But really if it doesn't, if changing shoes doesn't help, if all the suggestions above don't help, you should not continue trying to force your body to cope with the pain. It's all downhill from 40. Shit just stops working, and adding constant pain to the mix isn't going to improve your quality of life. In conclusion the human body is disgusting and frankly I am embarrassed to have one.
posted by poffin boffin at 12:22 AM on October 25, 2019 [13 favorites]

In the meantime, try Aspercreme for your pains. But do find the cause; surely it is in all the good clues you were given upthread.
posted by Cranberry at 12:46 AM on October 25, 2019

I had the same when i started running, now I'm on 10ks.

Stretch before each run and rest longer than a single day, especially starting out. I used to have knee, hip, back, ankle pain as the joints got used to their new roles. Even now I have to take two days between runs sometimes if I'm doing beyond my typical distance. Also don't be afraid to stop a run if you're uncomfortable. I had (still have) shin splints because I didn't do this and they're horrible.

-Get decent shoes
-Stretch again
posted by Chaffinch at 2:12 AM on October 25, 2019 [4 favorites]

I work for an organisation that supports recreational running, has 8000 members, the majority of whom are middle aged and up, many starting running for the first time - and they’re not all in constant pain. I disagree that it’s inevitable that running is impossibly hard as you age. Maybe for a few people, but that’s not normal.

New shoes, as advised by a specialist running store, definitely. Tell them what’s going on, they might get you into some high cushioned shoes like Hokas, which I’ve found greatly reduce pain. Run a little less frequently, progress through your programme more slowly (eg repeat each run twice before progressing to a more difficult one), always have a small snack containing protein and carbs right after your run, stretch after every run. I find taking magnesium before I go to bed after a tough run helps too.
posted by penguin pie at 2:41 AM on October 25, 2019 [7 favorites]


I'm here to give you a pep talk. You are doing just fine. To everyone who says it's high-impact and maybe your body is not made for it, I say, that's just BS. Humans are evolved to do long-distance running and outrun predators -- that's the one thing we are ABSOLUTELY made for. It is an amazing sport -- easy, accessible, as cheap as you like it to be. And the runner's high is a real thing. Running's high-impact, sure, but people say this like a bad thing, when in fact, impact strengthens your joints, bones and muscles *says me, in my third-trimester with second child having just ran a 5K this morning.

Two things I have noticed with runners just starting out:

1) They go way too fast. So you say you're going at a comfortable pace and not gasping. But it's all rather subjective what a comfortable pace is, and I found there's a lot of peer pressure to go faster than what is good for you. Most running groups go wayyy too fast for beginner runners, heck, they even go too fast for me. To give you an example, my personal best for a half marathon is 21km is just under 2 hours which translates to 5:40 per kilometer, or 9:10 per mile. In my normal training though, I was running about 7:20 per kilometer, or 11:40 per mile for my easy runs. Basically, most of my training runs were really, really slow. Any faster than that and I would have struggled with muscle fatigue and recovery time. I definitely would not be running every other day if I had gone much faster.

An objective way to check your level of effort is using a heart rate monitor. You should be between 140 -160 beats per minute. If that means you have to slow down and walk, then that's what you have to do. You will get faster naturally with time at the same heart rate.

You either need to slow down if you're running every other day, or you need more recovery time as your runs appear too hard for you. Remember, the harder you run, the more recovery time you need.

2) Running form. Most of us are sedentary creatures and spend long hours at our desk, with sub-optimal amount of time spent exercising. As a result, our bodies are not used to the impact of running. Our hip flexors are shortened. Our back muscles are weak. Our core muscles are a joke. Our glutes do not fire up when running, and instead we use too much of our lower back or quads. However, this is not an excuse to stop running! The cure to this is more running, and awareness of running form.

I see a lot of runners who collapse like an accordian upon each foot strike. Or they sit into their running. It's kinda hard to explain (plus I'm not a running physiotherapist), so watch some Youtube videos, or even better, get a running coach who can watch you run and comment on your running form. I would say that for myself, I found that I have to remember to keep parts of myself like my back, hips and shoulders strong and "in tension" (NOT tense, just maintaining the connection in my muscles), my body stacked in a straight line, i.e. pelvic bowl, back, shoulders, head.

Go easy with yourself. Remember, you had 40+ years of not running, and so it will take a while to get you up to speed.

Things that are not likely to be significant factors: Shoes. People run long distances without shoes or with poor shoes. It can make a difference, but not when you're doing <5Ks and running every other day. Stretching. Eh. It can make a difference and is like a bonus item, but it's not the main reason, not at the mileage you are at.
posted by moiraine at 2:59 AM on October 25, 2019 [25 favorites]

One of the easiest things you can do is drop back a few weeks on your C25K progress. I had to do this a few times a couple years ago, when I was trying to get back to my old running distances but my knee kept protesting. It will probably feel like frustratingly little activity, and you’ll want to do more and go faster, but stay slow. When you can do one of the earlier weeks without pain, you’re in the right place.

Definitely get fitted for shoes at a running store. Some people can run for hours on any old shoe and some people need just the right shoe or everything starts hurting. It could be that your body will run just fine on all sorts of shoes, just not the particular ones you have right now.

Stretching may or may not make a huge difference, but it’s worth a try, either right after a run or later in the day. Be sure to get into the hips; when my hips get tight it can cause all sorts of trouble elsewhere in my body.

And it kind of sucks, but running isn’t always enough by itself. The muscle groups that help you keep good running form (core, glutes, etc) don’t get built up a whole ton from running. Adding some planks, bridges, squats can help.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:51 AM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Running every other day isn't giving your body enough time to rest after stress. Run 3x a week, and I agree with other posters to drop back a little in the Couch to 5K timeline.
posted by missmary6 at 5:48 AM on October 25, 2019

I've taken up running again over the last several months. In the past, I would run for a while and then quit, maybe due to injury or the feeling that I didn't feel all that great.

What I am doing differently this time is that I started out walking with some running. I didn't intend to begin running but once outside it started to seem like the thing to do. I would run for a hundred yards or until winded, then walk again.

As I continued my walks, the running sections became longer until I was running the entire circuit. I'm doing longer runs now more comfortably. I rarely do a run on consecutive days. My body seems to tell me when it's time to run again, perhaps every 3-4 days.

I don't try to outdo myself. I stay within what feels like a normal progression of my skill level. Going for a long run now feels really cool. They are not long by the standards of long term runners but for me, it's definitely an upgrade in my abilities.

I don't stretch and don't feel a need to do so. I do some yoga in the mornings and hopefully, that takes care of it. I try to do some sprints towards the end as a way to build up high-level endurance. I buy thrift store running shoes and they work fine. My body is working out the problems and if I avoid overtaxing the system, it's all good.

In the last running attempt, my sprints usually ended up with me pulling a muscle. This time I seem to be a lot more relaxed and some sprints are not a problem. I think gradually building up running while your body learns the tricks involved is really the way to go.
posted by diode at 5:56 AM on October 25, 2019

Agree with dropping back the frequency/intensity just a little for now. But also, what made a surprising amount of difference for me was a longer cool down walk... more like 10-15 minutes instead of the typical 5. That alone, more than stretching or anything else, seemed to help with the soreness for me.
posted by somanyamys at 6:20 AM on October 25, 2019

A man in my town is in his 70s and runs like a gazelle. It can be done. I would consider adding some strength training and a zero impact cardio to your routine.
posted by kerf at 7:59 AM on October 25, 2019

I'm 43 and started running for the first time ever about 5 years ago (with a year-long break thanks to a torn ACL), and I ran a half marathon this spring and will be running a 15k in about a week. Definitely things hurt a bit more as I've aged (for me it's mostly my hips), but you shouldn't be in that much pain all the time. In addition to everything mentioned above--shoes, stretching, more rest days in between--try some bodyweight strength training for runners. I use the exercises I got from my post-ACL surgery PT combined with some from the Nike Training Club app. The app is free and has a Runner Stability 20-minute workout that I really like. Do it on those "extra" rest days.
posted by misskaz at 8:03 AM on October 25, 2019

You could try intervals, eg 3 minute run, 1 minute walk repeat. I am in a group of my mixed ability, older women runners/joggers and intervals are a great way to start without as much physical wear and tear.
posted by typecloud at 8:52 AM on October 25, 2019

When you say you've been physically active in the past, do you mean that you've done those things but weren't physically active besides the walking recently, like in the months before you started this running program? I'm basically your age, hadn't run in a year, and am very prone to muscle soreness. I was able to jog a 5k with 4 prep runs over the course of a month. It's the day after and I'm a bit sore but feeling well enough to lift this morning. But before that I was biking to work and weightlifting a couple times a week each, with a bit of swimming and hiking thrown in. And I have great shoes that are really fitted to me and well broken-in before I started. Walking is great for overall activity but it may not be enough. I would listen to what your body is trying to tell you, reduce the frequency of the running, and try a variety of activities.
posted by wnissen at 9:40 AM on October 25, 2019

Have you had this looked into to rule out arthritis? You have the right hormonal profile - post pregnancy, past your 40th birthday to go with arthritis that manifests when your hormones have dropped. If it were just metabolic stiffness and soreness from running it would have started to get better even while you increase the amount you are running. But arthritis gets worse the more you stress the joints and requires you to build muscle without stressing your joints as a means of protecting them. It's perfectly possible to run when you have arthritis but there are a number of supports you need to prevent out of control join inflammation.
posted by Jane the Brown at 12:48 PM on October 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

I (cis male) started running 5.5 years ago at age 37. I started via a self directed method that's not unlike a c25k plan. My lower legs were quite sore while building up. There were times my calfs were sore enough that I really didn't look forward to walking, and wouldn't jog 5-10 steps in the parking lot, because I was too sore. This was maybe 1-2 months, and strictly lower body/pretty much only my calfs.

Later, as I developed a better gait, some other parts of my legs, or hips could be post-workout sore, but nothing at all like the first few months of running. And never my upper body, excepting the times I pulled a shoulder muscle by being old and looking around in the car.

So no, what you've had hasn't happened to me.

I'm particularly concerned by the fact that even your hands hurt. I think a lot of people have glossed over that, as no one I've ever spoken with about running has ever had their hands hurt, without a specific reason (e.g. they fell, or just started carrying a water bottle for long runs).

You say that you've done zumba/biking/rock climbing in the past - are you doing anything else now, or are you only running with the walking for work?

What I do if something is starting to become sore; I keep running as per normal, but I run slower. If something starts to hurt, I stop running and switch to something lower impact. If suddenly *everything* started hurting, I'd stop running and switch to something lower impact - biking or elliptical, and get myself to my physiotherapist.

If switching to something lower impact makes the pain go away, then I'd suggest maybe start at 1, or 2 days of running per week for a month+ and then maybe try going back to 3.

If keeping the same activity level, but switching off of running to low-impact work doesn't fix things in 1-2 weeks, I'd say see a physiotherapist or your doctor.
posted by nobeagle at 12:58 PM on October 25, 2019

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