So You Wanna Be a Runner?

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Sheila and Pack Post Run – Pequeña, Jalisco, Loquita, and (RIP) my faithful companion Luna.

Running is Hard

It is especially hard on supple cyclist muscles. It seems like it should be so easy – throw on a pair of shoes and hit the street. Sure, you could do that, but quite possibly the resulting aches and pains will curtail any future runs. It doesn’t have to be that way!

Way back when, I ran high school cross-country. I loved my teammates but I really hated running. I tried again in college, fancying myself a triathlete, but it was always my slowest leg, by far, and I still hated it. Then I found my true love, cyclocross. I was a strong cyclist and I showed an aptitude for ‘cross, so I decided to try running one more time. But this time was different, I had the perfect running companion ~ my sweet Ophelia. She was so joyful during our Golden Gate Park runs that we would be out on the trails longer each workout. Fast forward a couple years, Ophelia has passed over the rainbow bridge; my crazy Luna was my new trail-mate; and my business was demanding more of my time than ever. Trail running replaced cycling as my go-to workout, it was just quicker and easier and I didn’t have to do double duty (walk the dog and workout the Sheila). It didn’t take long for the Joy of Dog to infect me. These days I feel lost when I can’t run.

Just how do you transition from nothing to a running addiction? Very slowly.

Learn to Walk: You laugh, but I have known cyclists who will jump on their bike to go the coffee shop less than a block away ~ anything but walk! If you don’t already, you will want to begin walking. Keep it brisk and slowly build up your mileage and your pace.

Transition from Walk to Run: Once you feel ready to run, you will still want to take it slowly. After a good walking warm-up (see more below), add small increments of running followed by walking. When I am getting back into running after a hiatus, I will jog 5 minutes followed by 5 minutes of walking, repeating that for 3 miles or so. The distance depends on how comfortable you are feeling. My goal is to do just enough to feel that I have been challenged but not so much that I will be sore the next day and never want to run again.

With each successive run you will increase the run portion by a minute or so. Once you reach the ten minutes of running mark (roughly) you can begin to reduce the walking portion by one minute each work out. These numbers are merely a recommendation – you should listen to the cues your own body is giving you.

This method is great for first-time runners, cyclists who want to incorporate running into their routine, and people returning to running after a hiatus.

Warm Up: I would say it was an age thing, but I have always required a good long warm up. In the past I would do a brisk 15-20 walk before commencing my run. These days I have added a number of active stretching exercises that help warm up my muscles more completely. I do each exercise for approximately one minute. If you are doing an exercise and find a particularly tight muscle you can hold that position for five breaths before continuing. (I apologize for the lack of images, I am sheltering in place alone).

  1. Walk: Always begin your active warm-up with a 5-10 minute walk. To avoid injury it is critical that you get your muscles loosened up before seriously stretching them.
  2. High Knees: With each step, raise your knee to perpendicular while rising up on your toes of the standing foot.
  3. Arm Circles: Circle your straight arms at shoulder level, forward for 30 seconds then back for 30 seconds.
  4. Butt Kicks: Take a deep-ish lunge step and kick your butt with your heel with every step.
  5. Butterfly Stroke Arms: Imagine yourself doing the butterfly on land, opening up your back with each forward motion of your arms then opening up your chest with each backward motion, sweep your arms forward and back, leading with the backs of your hands.
  6. Lunge Steps: Slowly step forward into a full lunge (keep your knee at a 90 degree angle to your calf and thigh) with each step. You can also do a half lunge, keeping your back heel on the ground, to stretch your Achilles tendon and calf muscles.
  7. Tricep Stretch: First, stretch your straightened arm across your body at shoulder level and pull it with your opposite hand, either at your wrist or elbow. Next, stretch your arm straight up over your head, bend your elbow, and drop your hand behind your head, reaching as far down your back as you can. You can use your opposite hand on your elbow the increase the stretch. Repeat with other arm.
  8. Demi-Plié Walk: Turn so you are walking sideways on the trail. With each step, open your feet to 45 degrees (or whatever is comfortable for you), and squat as deep as possible while keeping your knees in a line over your feet. After 30 seconds or 1 minute, turn so you are facing the other direction and continue.
  9. Skipping: This is the final exercise before you begin your run proper. The goal is to slowly increase your heart rate while getting some strengthening. You will want to focus on height not distance ~ pumping your arms and driving your knees upward with every step.
  10. Now you are ready to run!

Cooling Down:It is always a good idea to walk for at least five minutes before folding yourself into your car for the drive home. Sometimes I will do some easy stretches at my car before leaving. If I am really dedicated, or particularly sore, I will complete a session with my foam roller once I get home, rolling out my back, hips, thighs, hamstrings, and IT bands. I also do some spinal twists to alleviate the pain in my back.

LauraSingletrack

Random Notes on Running

  1. Hit the Trails:I never run on the street. I tell myself that trails are much better for my joints, but the truth is I crave the beauty, fresh air, and freedom of the trails. If I’m really being honest, I hate to be leashed and none of my dogs are obedient enough to run leash-less on the streets.
  2. Choose Up Over Down:If given the option to do the run portions on the uphill or the downhill, always choose the uphill. Not only will you get a better cardio workout, running downhill is hard on the joints and can be very painful. Of course, this is for shorter hills, if you live in an area where there are long uphill sections walking the steepest portions might be the better option, especially when you can walk the same speed as you run!
  3. Attack the Hills:When you come to a short hill, always sprint up it. This is a hold over from my ‘cross days ~ we ran because the section was an unrideable hill or a set of barriers. Additionally, it is fun.
  4. Up and Over:Always push yourself over the crest of a hill or rise, you know you can “coast” down the other side.
  5. Run Proud: Be aware of your posture while you are running. Focus on keeping your shoulders back, your chest open, and your upper body stretched up and out of your pelvis.
  6. Exhale:Focus on a good exhalation; the inhalation will follow automatically. With each exhale you are ridding our body of carbon dioxide and creating space for cleansing oxygen.
  7. Baby Steps:When you find yourself climbing a difficult incline, or if you are just getting tired, try running quick baby steps and use the pumping action of your arms to get through it. It is probably all in my imagination, but pumping my arms seems to help lift my feet off the ground.
  8. Finish Strong:I always imagine a finish line at the end of my run and I always sprint to that line. It is good practice for race day, if and when you decide to race.
  9. Increase Your Speed:The walk/run routine can also be used as speed intervals. Run as quickly as you can then use the walking periods to fully recover and bring your breathing back to normal.

“And just what makes you the expert?”

I have been a competitive athlete for most of my life. It began with swim team at age eight and was followed in quick succession by gymnastics, tennis, volleyball, basketball, softball, cross-country running, track and field, ice hockey, triathlon, road/mountain/cyclocross cycling, and endurance trail-running. I raced bicycles for nearly 15 years. I began running seriously in my 40’s, competing my first trail marathon when I was 46 years old. I have been coached by the best and I have traversed thousands of miles by bike and on foot. Most importantly, exercise brings me great joy, a joy that I hope is infectious.

Happy Trails!

*Cover Image Laura Sanchez and Her Faithful Companion Amira

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