So... what will running do to one's body?
August 12, 2006 10:14 AM   Subscribe

So... what will running do to one's body?

I'm about to start the Couch to 5k running program, but have spent the last week just powerwalking my proposed route [because um, I couldn't run for 60 seconds... yes I was that unfit].

Anyway, already I've noticed an improvment in posture, concentration and - ahem - a tightening of the buttocks. But now that I'm to start running, what other improvments can I expect? Does running just result in overall weightloss? Or will I wake up one morning with muscular thunder thighs, but with wobbly and out of shape arms and upper body? [-> a secret fear of mine] Yes I do swing my arms for momentum, is that enough?

For example, if I were to do yoga, I woudln't expect weightloss, but a vast improvment in tone and flexability. What can I expect from running?

And let me squeeze in a teeny add on: when I get back from walking, my cheeks are not a healthy rosey colour, but kinda puce and blotchy. It goes away when my heartrate returns to normal. Will I ever get a rosey glow from exercise or am I doomed to pickled cheeks forever? [FYI: 23/f exercising at dawn in 10-15Celcius weather and considering a balaclava]
posted by Chorus to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
You're enjoying the rapid early improvements, which will continue, but not quite so dramatically. You will lose weight, sleep better, and probably enjoy food more.

As for your concerns about a strength imbalance, daily push-ups and crunches are remarkably effective if you don't want to start a full-fledged lifting program. If you run enough, thunder thighs are a possibility. I'm a 5'8", 145-lb male half-marathoner and it's hard to find pants that feel comfortable around my thighs without being skater-punk baggy... but that's a small price to pay.
posted by djb at 10:31 AM on August 12, 2006

I've started running about two miles every other day, and I've noticed a general loss in fat content across my body. My stomach is tighter, I've got a nice ass for the first time in my life, and my legs are very muscular. This is after about two months on this program, including a spate where I was dogsitting for a friend and would take the most hyperactive one out for a good drag... I mean, run ... every night so that he'd sleep for a period of two weeks. I have a *lot* more endurance and it helped clear out some of my breathing allergy problems.

Unfortunately, it's also caused some other leg problems from the shock of running, so be aware of that and spend some time on a stationary bike if you hurt too much. Dont' damage your body forever.

With that in mind, no, it won't help your upper body. You need to do some upper body exercise as well to tone your muscles and remove muscle-bound fat. I'd go to Play It Again Sports or similar and find some five and ten pound weights. Doing some curls, shoulder lifts, etc. will improve tone across your upper body.

One thing I reccomend against are situps and curls. As soon as you stop maintaining your abs with situps, they turn right back to flab. :-P
posted by SpecialK at 10:32 AM on August 12, 2006

Benefits of running, in no particular order:

Increases in aerobic capacity and endurance
Strengthened legs - both muscles and bones
Weight loss
Burn more calories at rest
Decreased stress levels
More of the kick-arse happy endorphins (which can be addictive)
Lowered blood pressure
Lower cholesterol levels
Improvements in your cardiovascular health
You can meet new people
And so on..

As for your cheeks, I run about 50km a week and I still look as though I'm about to collapse after every run! The 'rosy glow' comes later, once you've cooled down, and eventually people will tell you that you look healthier and fitter. Promise.

Running doesn't do much for the upper body so try and combine it with some weights or a sport which works the upper body and core. I like to spend an hour on a climbing wall after each run and then cool off with a swim.

Good luck.
posted by Nugget at 10:35 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

It will make you feel great. And, never give up. The first half mile your body will complain, ache, and try to get you to not run. IGNORE IT. Just get out there and run.

My face remains red hours after I run. Keep the Gatorade handy.

Also, you want to get in the zone, and find a rhythm. If you feel like you're losing control, your legs going everyone, concentrate. Relax. Count your breathing zen like. You will eventually feel like a machine, as you fly by fatasses devouring their third cheeseburger of the day.

Don't expect to run 5K a day easily for a while, but it will eventually happen. Something to remember also is the dropoff rate is steep if you ever stop. For example, it took you 3 months to do a 25 minute 5K, if you don't run for 2 weeks, it may take you 4 weeks just to get back where you were.

I run after work almost every day and it dispenses the stress through my pores. Afterwards my metabolism is hyperized and I feel really great, and the nasty day has been sweated out.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 10:39 AM on August 12, 2006

I agree with all of the benefits and I'll offer some training advice that you may have already heard. For you 5k course, try walking for five minutes, running for one minute, walking for five minutes, running for one minute. Gradually adjust these ratios so that you can run the full distance.
posted by Frank Grimes at 10:44 AM on August 12, 2006

I second all of the benefits outlined above.

But now that you're in the opening stages of the program, it's a good time to gear up your anti-injury regimen, which should focus on two things: stretching and light weight workouts. Don't put these off and get injured! (I did, and regretted it for many years).

Even if you go heavy on the weights, it's unlikely that you'll bulk up heavily. Yes, you may increase thigh girth, but they won't become "thunder thighs" unless you have a freak metabolism -- or go on the juice.

The best part of running is the endorphine high. At 5K, you'll feel relaxed and wholesome. Higher, and you'll enjoy an intense sense of spiritual wellness and euphoria.

Diddy (then P. Diddy) on training for the marathon: "At 17 miles, you talk with the angels."
posted by Gordion Knott at 11:08 AM on August 12, 2006

..if you don't run for 2 weeks, it may take you 4 weeks just to get back where you were.

From experience, this is an excellent piece of advice! Wish we could say it'll never happen but it does.

Gordion Knott's advice on injury is also a good reason to consider another form of exercise to supplement your running. Say you decide to give your knees a rest for a week or two - swimming (for example), or riding a bike would help you retain your running fitness and will probaly make you a better runner.

Actually, there's another benefit: running can get you interested in, and participating in, other sports..
posted by Nugget at 11:16 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Running will not build huge muscles, it will burn fat, and that will reveal already exisiting muscle. Your muscles may tone up, but don't expect anything to bulge without weight-training.
posted by blue_beetle at 11:45 AM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

blue_beetle: All depends on the type of running. Eventually, speed running and hills will build quad & calf strength. Granted, that's probably a bit down the road;

I'll definitely nth that running relaxes the hell out of you. Stick with it, & focus on increasing milage gradually. You probably shouldn't be running more than 20 miles a week for a few months.. overtraining, especially early on, is very, very easy to do. I think Lore of Running recommends that at the end of a workout you feel able to do the same workout again, to prevent injuries.

Watch out for shin splits & foot problems, especially if you're a bit overweight to begin with. Make SURE you have well fitted/padded shoes.

If you're running in the cold, watch out for pulling anything. Stretch a little, do a light jog for a minute or two, then stretch some more. Cold weather is brutal to train in.
posted by devilsbrigade at 12:24 PM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

The first half mile your body will complain, ache, and try to get you to not run. IGNORE IT.

Note that if you're older this can even be the first mile. But it's temporary; goes away if you don't interrupt a regular running program.
posted by Rash at 12:45 PM on August 12, 2006

You've gotten excellent advice already, so I'll just throw in that I was just like you a few months ago; walking up a few flights of stairs would have winded me. I just ran my first 5k on Thursday. It feels great. Keep it up.
posted by Terminal Verbosity at 12:59 PM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Piggybacking on this one. I have flat feet. I am overweight. I am an endomorph who is big-boned and well-built.

I've always sucked at running. Will my flat feet prevent me from taking up a running programme?
posted by madman at 1:02 PM on August 12, 2006

For madman - go to a real running store (this list is decent if you're in the US, not sure about the UK) and talk to a dedicated shoe salesperson. They'll watch you walk (and/or run on a treadmill) and fit you accordingly.
posted by djb at 1:18 PM on August 12, 2006

oops, didn't read your profile and got presumptive.
posted by djb at 1:20 PM on August 12, 2006

I was never a runner, but I just finished the San Francisco Marathon a few weeks ago; here's some of what I noticed during my 14 week training following the Non-Runner's Marathon Trainer:

I got the same splotchy cheeks after my long runs, 13-18 miles. It seemed more that my light freckles came into high contrast. It usually faded after about 45 minutes.

Occasionally, after my long runs, I had ketone breath; this was fixed by eating more carbohydrates. Once you start running more, drink more energy drinks (Cytomax) and pick up some gels. Powerbar Vanilla tastes like cake frosting, it's awesome.

I didn't experience any significant weight loss. Any fluctuation in my weight was usually just water weight. Don't let this disappoint you.

On the upside, it's about 100 calories a mile. There's a lot of novelty in having a justifiably voracious appetite after an 18 mile run.

My leg muscles are insanely stronger; hiking up stairs is a breeze.

I feel like my resting heart rate is lower. Daily activities, stairs, carrying groceries, etc., that once might have left me a bit winded a trivial.

Aches and pains are going to become common place. Taking two ibuprofen before a run can help with some of the pain and inflammation.

If you have chronic knee or ankle pain that shows up a couple of miles into your run, check your shoes and your foot landings; I had blindingly painful knee pains, but once I learned I was overpronating I made a conscious effort to correct it and the pain vanished.

Psychologically, I'm way more patient. Running for +3 hours gives you a lot of time to think. And you can't rush it.

On "rushing it," running is a lot more relaxing if you don't run to race. The Non-Runner's guide starts with running for a fixed time (30 minutes) and then shifts to distance (3 miles) but never emphasizes beating a time. Find your own pace.

Getting serious about your equipment can give you a huge psychological edge. Go to a running store and spend a lot on good running shoes. Buy runner's shirt and shorts. Get a heart rate monitor (I love my Polar) with a decent timer.

Track your progress and effort. Sticking with it and seeing your progress has a compounding effect,"Holy crap, I've run from San Francisco to Tahoe and back. A couple of times."

Slightly off topic, the marathon itself was a surreal experience. One thing I noticed was that almost all of the Team in Training teams followed a strict run/walk regimen. Very effective and I can see how it would be less intimidating for non-runners.
posted by Loser at 1:23 PM on August 12, 2006

I also did a walk to run a 5K program a couple years ago. It was one of the best things I have ever done for myself. I actually completed the 12-week program, which was a feat in itself. I could barely run a minute either when I began. At the end of the program I could run 5 miles without stopping. I have competed in several 5k's since then. What running did/does for me:

1. Almost completely eliminated cellulite from my thighs. Never had it on my bum, fortunately.

2. More energy

3. Improved mood

4. Lost weight, and much more leaner in general (my thighs are smaller than they have ever been when I am running regularly).

6. Decreased resting heart rate

I did mix in some weights with my running. Mostly 3-5-10-15 pound hand weights with total body toning. I used a couple DVD's by Cathe, mainly High-Step Challenge and Muscle Max.

Here is the program I used from Prevention magazine.

I have been a little lazy these past couple months because of the heat, and staying up too late. I need to start running regularly again. Running can be very difficult at first, and some days are better than others. Even when I was "seasoned", I could either run forever, or barely a mile. Your performance and stamina can vary greatly if you don't get enough rest and eat nutritiously. Keep with it. Running can transform your body like nothing else. Good luck!
posted by LoriFLA at 2:02 PM on August 12, 2006 [4 favorites]

If you have a lot of leg/knee/joint pain, consider trail running. I hate to run on pavement or concrete but can go for a long time on softer trails (grass, dirt, mulch, etc.). I also find I have to keep my ankles looser on the somewhat uneven surface, and I think that's a good thing. I also have to pay attention and pick my feet up a little higher. Where I live, trails tend to be in prettier and hillier terrain, too, and there's no traffic to deal with.

I also run with a radio and headphones. When I started running, I couldn't stand listening to my own labored breathing. It made me think I was more tired than I really was. Plus, if I was listening to an interesting NPR talk show, I had something to think about besides how tired I was. Of course, use good judgment here: you want to be able to hear traffic and other potential hazards.

It took me forever to be able to run two miles without stopping, but after that it was easier to go three, four, or more miles.

Good luck!
posted by chippie at 2:26 PM on August 12, 2006

I can't add much except for encouragement. I started with the couch-to-5k program, and my sole motivation was getting exercise. I hated running when I started.

But, lo and behold, by the time I finished, I loved it. I'm still running, and I'm signed up for my first race (a 5k) for September 10th, and a 10k on October 29th. I'm not stopping there-- I'm planning to run the Belfast Marathon with my dad (he's from Belfast) in 2008. It is a long way off, but it gives me something to work toward. :)

Anyway, running is great, and it can be rough at the start, but it is very addictive. The Couch-to-5K program is a great way to get started.

Once you finish that, just remember the golden rules-- don't increase your distance more than 10% per week, and don't eat anything new the day before or the day of your races. :) Also, try to enjoy the social aspects. A lot of towns have small groups of runners who meet up once a week and go for a run and then have coffee or something afterward. That's a great way to meet new people and enjoy your run that much more.
posted by synecdoche at 2:32 PM on August 12, 2006 [1 favorite]

Taking two ibuprofen before a run can help with some of the pain and inflammation.

This is terrible advice. Never take anything that will thin the blood, especially aspirin, before a run. Blood is your oxygen transport, and medication will hinder this function.

Take the pain pills after you run.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 3:47 PM on August 12, 2006

This is terrible advice. Never take anything that will thin the blood, especially aspirin...

Yes, you're absolutely right; my mistake. Ibuprofen is out. Acetaminophen is what I was thinking of...
posted by Loser at 4:06 PM on August 12, 2006

Ditto Madman. I like Chirunning for that reason.
posted by Phred182 at 5:13 PM on August 12, 2006

I just want to echo the advice to go to a real shoe store to get running shoes. When I started a running program long ago, I started having pain, etc, after running. I never believed there was actually any difference between shoes. I thought it was a con to get you to pay more! But there IS a difference. Proper shoes make all the difference.
posted by theantikitty at 6:15 PM on August 12, 2006

Just a small tip (that I learned from a Navy SEAL training manual, heh): after running, walk briskly for 5-10 minutes before you commence stretching. I find that this minimizes soreness and also makes stretching a bit easier.

Anyone's comments on running in hot weather? I run in the evenings, but the temperature's still up around 30 degrees Celsius. I drink a lot afterwards, of course, but if I do it before it feels like I'm running with a bucket full of water.
posted by theemptinessinside at 4:28 AM on August 13, 2006

Talk about some overblown praise of running. Don't get me wrong, I like running, and do it twice a week. But running will not necessarily cause you to lose weight. It will not cause you to burn significantly more calories at rest. It will not necessarily make you feel great, if you take it too fast and injure yourself, which is not exactly hard to do.
It will improve your cardiovascular health and endurance. It might be a really fun activity. It might cause you to lose weight, if you don't eat back the calories you burn doing it. If you do a lot of hills and sprints you might gain some lower body muscle, but yes, that fear of a strong lower body and flabby arms is not at all unreasonable. You should also lift weights. And the blotchy face is probably here to stay.
It is absolutely worth doing, though. Just don't expect it to be this magic bullet of an exercise.
posted by ch1x0r at 6:59 PM on August 13, 2006

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