Please help me learn to run.
August 30, 2007 9:13 AM   Subscribe

Please help me learn to run.

For starters, I am built like a sprinter: big, muscular legs. I have never been a particularly good distance runner.

Next, I have a variety of foot related issues, mostly corrected through the use of the proper footwear and foot care. I have wide feet (EEEE). I over pronate. I have a history of blisters and calluses.

As part of my weight loss efforts, I began walking. Now I can walk at 4.4+ miles per hour, at steep inclines, for very long periods of time. I can fast walk at about 5 miles per hour, though I struggle to maintain speed at steeper inclines. Though I continue to train for fast walking, it's particularly stressful on my hip flexors.

Because of my schedule, I primarily workout on a treadmill. It is not clear to me if this is causing any issues.

I've tried adding running into my routine at various times, but within 30 to 60 seconds, no matter how much I warm up or stretch, either my shin splints act up (most common) or my hip flexors act up (less common). Though I have run a mile once since March (at 10'49") and a quarter mile (at 2'15"), I have not been able to repeat either performance.

After nearly six months of struggling to start running, it struck me: I don't know how to run. I am strong cardiovascularly (VO2max of 61) and have an abundance of endurance. How would you suggest I go about learning to run? I have looked into couch-to-5k programs, but none of them specifically address the fact that running is physically painful to me.

I am open to the idea of hiring a running coach, but wouldn't begin to know where to look or what to look for. I have hired a personal trainer to work on, for lack of a better phrase, my "smaller muscles"; think core muscles and secondary muscle groups that aren't part of the mirror or vanity muscles many people work on (hip flexors chief among them). I would love a specific training program that includes resistance training, stretches, warm up, cool down, and a variety of routines to choose from. (By variety, I mean a short work out, a long work out, and some flexibility to do HIIT or other types of work outs.) Most of all, though, I need to learn to the proper form.

For what it's worth, I am medically cleared to run by my physical therapist and my primary care physician.

Thanks for any help you can offer.
posted by sequential to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (18 answers total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
As a notRunner reading your post, it sounds like your body is telling you it doesn't want to run (due to the aforementioned shin splints and hip flexor issues).

You might try biking or swimming for a lower-impact workout that your body may deal with a little better.
posted by at 9:29 AM on August 30, 2007

I joined up with Team in Training a few years back and they really helped with seminars, technique, and well as having LOTS of organized runs to join.

Crosstraining (such as swimming or biking) will really help. There are also a couple of really good books on running technique (I'm sorry that I can't remember the names and don't have time to find/link them).

I did the whole Team in Training bit, and actually completed a marathon (which was impressive being that six months prior I was sitting on the couch smoking cigarettes and drinking beer as more of a career than pasttime). All that said, what I found was that I really dislike running. I gave it my all, and found that it was always painful for the first six miles. I never found my "runner's high". And foot, pronation, and shinsplint problems constantly plagued me.

I wish you the best of luck, but just be aware that you may find running is not for you. But at least push past the pain and find out. You might think it's worth it once you get in a groove. YMMV, natch.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:29 AM on August 30, 2007

Response by poster: I am, in fact, training to be able to compete in sprint and, hopefully, olympic length triathlons next season. Furthermore, I have no problems with completing either length, in terms of stamina. My times aren't back-of-the-pack, even when I walk, but a 40 minute 5k run time does not make me happy. Currently, I bike and swim, in addition to my walking, a total of six days a week. Thus far, crosstraining has not helped with my ability to run.
posted by sequential at 9:38 AM on August 30, 2007

I've had Chi Running recommended to me as a method for avoiding common running-related injuries. Not being a runner myself, however, I can't personally vouch for it.
posted by Hermes32 at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: i suspect running form is an individual kind of thing, but for what it's worth, i found that learning to run on the "balls of my feet" really helped me.

- it's not prancing along like a ballet dancer. it's quite a subtle thing, with the foot landing almost flat, forefoot touching first on outside of foot, rolling in to the ball and then back to the heel.
- short strides. if your foot is landing way in front of you then (i) you're a going to land hard on your heel and (ii) it slows you down. running is about pushing from behind (and "popping" off the ground), not pulling from in front. "reaching forwards" doesn't help. don't straighten your leg as you lift your thigh; keep the knee bent; aim to place you feet on the ground only just in front of your body.
- take it very very *very* slowly. when i first explored this, years ago, and it all "came together" it felt great, and i upped my distances regularly. then i had a stress fracture in the front of my foot and was in pain, with little running, for over a year.
- try running barefoot. the only way to run barefoot is like i describe above (at least for me). landing hard on your heel just hurts too much.
- try alternating running and walking. use lamposts, for example, to keep the distances short.
- i think this helped my split shins (which i used to get when walking, and which seemed to be related to the heel hitting the ground and the shin muscles fighting to stop the foot from "flopping forwards"), but i know nothing about hip pain. maybe you're just built wrong?

i can't emphasize "take it slowly" too much. i was in bad shape and still increased too quickly. if you are aerobically in good shape then if/once you find a comfortable running style you will probably get better very quickly - that means stress on parts of the body that haven't been stressed before. bones and ligaments take a long time to strengthen up - much slower than muscles.
posted by andrew cooke at 9:39 AM on August 30, 2007 [4 favorites]

If you aren't a runner and run a 10:45 mile, you're not going to find it all that enjoyable. Start by running much slower than you think you need to and taking walk breaks if you feel like it. Hal Higdon and Jeff Galloway have great information for beginning runners, but it boils down to this, start slowly.

(or on preview, what andrew cooke said)
posted by advicepig at 9:43 AM on August 30, 2007

Couch to 5k. Follow the plan and spend as much time stretching beforehand as the full workout, and as much time afterwards (if you can).

It's a terrific program and every time I take up running again I adopt it.
posted by iamabot at 9:50 AM on August 30, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: First, I'm not built like a runner. I suck at it. I get shin splints, knee pain, hip pain, I pronate, and my breathing is terrible. I can swim, I can bike, but I can't run for shit. The bit of extra weight I've got doesn't help at all. I feel your pain. But these are the four things that have helped me get running more than anything else.

1. Shin Strengthening
Basically, you gotta build the muscles of your ankles and shins so they can take the stress of running. Whenever you're sitting down trace the alphabet with your big toe, extending as far out and wide as you can. Or check out this Titanium Ankles tutorial, which has a lot of good exercises on it. It's aimed towards tricking but works for any sport.

2. Walking/Running Barefoot
For real. What strengthening my shins did for my shin splints this did for the knee pain caused by pronation. When I started barefooting it my feet and calves were sore. But they got used to it and my pronation issues have disappeared almost entirely. When I go to a running store I still clearly pronate--but it doesn't cause me pain and the store assistants are always surprised by how strong my feet and arches are. Strong feet = more natural gait = better support for your body. You MUST take this slow, though, as if you've worn shoes all your life engaging all those tiny foot muscles will HURT in the beginning! It helps to get footware that's suited for barefooting--the Nike Free, Asics Tai-Chi, and Puma H. Street (which you'll have to find on EBay) are all suited for barefoot-like experience and recommended on the POSE boards. Which leads to the next point.

3. POSE running
In POSE running, you aim to take the weight of the landing off your heel and onto the ball of your foot. Instead of running heel-ball, you run ball-heel-ball. This is the running pattern you'll find yourself naturally slipping into if you start trying to run barefoot. There is an official website and training sessions devoted to teaching that technique, but this article gives a great and free explanation and if you hang out on the forums you'll find lots of tips and videos of how to do the drills.

4. Couch-to-5K
The Couch-to-5K program is THE best introductory running program I've found. Even before I started trying to POSE run it did wonders for minimizing my shin splints and pain. Basically, it forces you to take things slow. VERY slow.

And that is the most important thing. You must take things VERY slow. Do the strengthening exercises. Don't try to do a full walk barefoot right away. Don't try to start running POSE right away--do the drills a LOT (on the forums they say the transition can take MONTHS to do without injury!). And when you're all strengthened and your feet are strong and your technique is perfect, don't go out and try to run a marathon! Follow the C25K and repeat weeks if you're feeling pain. Listen to your body!
posted by Anonymous at 9:53 AM on August 30, 2007

I didn't read your question carefully enough--you've already checked out Couch-to-5K. Then my only recommendation is to try the other three steps and see how they work for re-shaping your gait and making things a bit easier on yourself.
posted by Anonymous at 10:04 AM on August 30, 2007

I suffered shin splints for a long time and what finally worked for me was seeing a podiatrist along with slowing down. I had tried all different types of running shoes but the podiatrist gave me special inserts (and I had to try different ones of those before I got it right) and that helped. Also, I slowed down to an absolute crawl and was finally able to do a few miles without pain. I still don't run fast (10 minute miles) but my shins never bother me anymore.

So, my advice is to get the right shoes or inserts and slow down.
posted by gfrobe at 10:14 AM on August 30, 2007

Response by poster: Can you walk barefoot on a treadmill?

Do any of the footwear suited for barefoot training run in wide widths? I absolutely cannot wear Nike shoes because of their width. Not only do I experience pain wearing Nike shoes, but they tend to last thirty to sixty days before the sidewall fails.

schroedinger, your advice was spot on. I'll need to modify any training program to fit with the rest of my strength, flexibility, bike, and swim training. If I accomplish the first three parts of your advice, maybe then I'll be able to do a C25k.
So, my advice is to get the right shoes or inserts and slow down.
I actually have seen a podiatrist, have purchased the right shoes and inserts, and still experience shin splints when I run. That said, I no longer experience shin splints when I walk, which was originally one of my problems.
posted by sequential at 10:21 AM on August 30, 2007

I've just started (this week!) too: I'm doing the LearnToRun10k program from SportMedBC. It looks pretty similar to the Couch-to-5k stuff linked earlier, but has a 13 week duration (and the timings etc are different).
posted by lowlife at 10:22 AM on August 30, 2007

Hmm, sequential, I'm afraid I'm not sure. Go on the main board on the POSE forums and ask there. People on there have tried at least every shoe on the planet and someone should be able to help you.

You can walk barefoot on the treadmill, that shouldn't be a problem. I wouldn't try running barefoot on a treadmill--I found running ball-heel-ball awkward but maybe that's because I haven't perfected it yet. I like walking barefoot outdoors, but that's because I have a perverse desire to see the bottoms of my feet turn to leather. :D
posted by Anonymous at 10:37 AM on August 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks again, schroedinger.

I just did a little walking experiment. I discovered that my walking shoe works by forcing a heal-toe walk. This allows the New Balance Roll Bar to correct the over pronation.

I also noticed that my regular walking stride (w/ shoes) is quite long and powerful while my fast walk stride (w/ shoes) is quite short and fast. Then I tried walking without shoes and found I naturally walk with a more ball-heal-ball, shorter stride, that it's much more comfortable, and that I maintain a lot of the strength of my walking stride at the speed of my fast walk stride. Very neat. I really think you're on to something. Now to work up the nerve to try a walk in the gym without shoes.
posted by sequential at 10:51 AM on August 30, 2007

I actually have seen a podiatrist, have purchased the right shoes and inserts, and still experience shin splints when I run. That said, I no longer experience shin splints when I walk, which was originally one of my problems.

My podiatrist had to make a number of adjustments to my inserts until the pain stopped. If your podiatrist has only tried one insert, it might be a good idea to go back and ask him to keep trying.
posted by gfrobe at 11:46 AM on August 30, 2007

You probably already thought of this, but make sure you get the right shoes from the right store. Here in Seattle, all the runners know about a couple stores here that do a great job; there should be one where you are too.

I don't know if those fancy pressure sensors, or filming people running are more than just gimmicks. I used to have terrible knee and ankle problems with running and finally I went to a "runners only" store. The person there listened to my past problems suggested a few shoes and then we went down the street to a park and he watched me run in various shoes. I picked the one that he thought I ran best in and felt best to me. Now 5 years later, I run 15-20 miles a week, I am on my 5th pair of Brooks Addiction (the pair we settled on) and I haven't had anymore trouble.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 1:45 PM on August 30, 2007

It's not a big deal, but regarding the blisters and callouses, one little piece of running equipment that I have grown to love is the Injinji toe sock. I know, I know, people don't like things between their toes, but seriously, the coolmax fabric rubbing against itself (instead of the skin doing the same) has basically eliminated all of my former hotspots. I got mine at REI--they're expensive, but buy two pairs and handwash/rotate. Also, as an added bonus, I find more shoes "fit" me and my running style now, and I'm reluctant to use any other sock.
posted by zachxman at 6:58 PM on August 30, 2007

Response by poster: Some of you might not call it running, but I am ecstatic to report that I ran intervals for an hour tonight without shoes. That's a 4 mph walk and a 4.5 mph jog. No shin pain, no hip flexor pain, not even a dent in my HR (maxed out at 134). The realization that, "I can run" was pretty incredible. I'll repeat this drill every other day for at least a week to see how my body adjusts and then begin to increase my speed very slowly (less than ten percent a week, as my body allows).

I was astonished at how pronounced the difference was. During my initial walk phase I could hear the thud of my heal when I accidentally slipped into a heal-toe foot strike. When I first started to run, it was effortless. There was so much power with so little exertion that it was tempting to crank the speed up. Thanks to all of the "take it slow" comments, I didn't take a single stride above 4.5 mph.

Now that it's been a few hours since the workout ended, I notice a significant difference in where I am sore. My feet, ankles, and lower calves have the comfortable sensation of having just been worked out well.

Once again, thank you so much for pointing me in the right direction.
posted by sequential at 11:15 PM on August 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

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