Before you get startedThursday 3 May 2012
Before you get started
A reality check - make sure you’re healthy enough to run; Basic gear you’ll need - shoes and your feet, and useful clothing.
A reality check. Be realistic - when you start you may hurt a bit. Your body needs some time to adjust to this new thing before it starts to thank you, so be prepared for some cost before the benefit.
Remember the old expression; “learn to walk before you run”? Well, taking that at face value is a really good idea; if you haven’t been active for a bit start off your running by walking. Walking gets your body used to moving and it’ll let you know about any problem areas that you need to deal with before you add speed into the mix - stuff like particularly tight muscles you could target with stretching exercises, or foot or ankle problems that need a shoe insert.
Learn to listen to your body - if you’re really sore after a run it was probably too something - too hard, too long, too fast. If part of you really hurts, ease off a bit to allow recovery or, even better, check with someone who knows about injuries in case you need to do something more. A bit of an ache from the last run is probably ok, but it should fade as you do your warm-up. If not, do a slow or easy run to avoid strain or injury, or get advice. (See the ‘Avoiding Injuries’ section.)
And finally, not everyone is a sprinter. If you run really slowly and it’s almost a walk or a shuffle, who cares? You’re moving and you’re getting all the benefits from that, so just find the pace that works for you. The only issue with a shuffle-style run is your feet don’t tend to lift that high at each step, so be careful about uneven ground and the possibility of tripping on something.
The really important stuff (don’t set yourself up to fail!)
Make sure you’re healthy enough to run
Running is quite demanding on you body, so get your doctor to give you the ‘all clear’ before you start if you:
- haven’t done exercise for more than a year.
- are pregnant.
- are overweight.
- are over 65 years old and aren’t currently exercising.
- get chest pains, especially when you’re doing something active.
- have been diagnosed with heart problems.
- Have a family with a history of heart disease.
- Have high blood pressure.
- smoke (no, not from running so fast) or used to smoke.
- have diabetes.
- feel faint or have severe dizzy spells.
- or have some another medical condition.
If your doctor doesn’t think running is a good move for you, ask about walking or other lower-impact activities that’ll still give you heaps of benefits.
Basic gear you’ll need
Some resent research suggests that the best thing to run in is bare feet, but in a perfect world those bare feet wouldn’t be landing on stones, broken glass, and the little something the neighbour’s dog just left, so in the real world there are running shoes.
You don't have to buy a mega-expensive pair of shoes, but you MUST have shoes that fit you well - fit is critical. Light weight is good, and this isn’t always a good point with cheap shoes. Shoes of a reasonable quality may also last longer, but hold off on the gold-card model until you know that running is for you.
A really good idea is to buy your shoes in person (not online), and preferably at a shop that knows about sports shoes - they’ll also tend to have staff who walk and run. Different types and brands of running shoes will work better or worse for different foot types, so having somewhere with a range of running shoes and the expertise to match your foot to the right shoe will save money, hassle - and pain. At the shop they should assess your foot strike and other features of your feet to get this foot-to-shoe match right. Some experts recommend that you don’t run in new shoes immediately, but spend a bit of time (around a week) walking around in them to allow the forefoot of the shoe to soften up.
Meet the feet
You can tell a lot about how your feet work by the pattern of wear on the soles of your existing shoes. That wear pattern is caused by the apparently simple process called foot strike; how your foot connects with the ground as you walk or run.
In normal foot strike your heel lands first, followed by your midfoot (the bit between your heel and toes). When your midfoot takes the weight, the arch of your foot tends to flatten to absorb impact, and then the weight moves onto the ball or front of your foot before the push-off for the next step.
Why is this info important?
If the inner edge of your shoes wears out first, your foot is probably rolling inwards as you walk - something called Pronation. It’s caused when your arch flattens as your foot lands - if you have flat feet, for example. When you have lots of pronation this sets up forces that lead your ankle and leg to twist, and the stress that puts on your leg can result in inflammation, breaks, and other related injuries.
In contrast is the pattern where your arch doesn't flatten so your foot doesn't roll in at all, meaning you don’t get much shock absorption as your foot lands. This is called supination, and a high level of supination can lead to nasty stuff like ankle sprains, an inflamed Achilles tendon (behind your ankle) and inflammation of the ligament tissue that stretches from the heel through to the front of the foot. If the outer edges of your shoes wear out first this movement pattern may apply to you.
What that means for shoe choice
Pronation and supination are two of the common patterns of foot movement that can cause problems when you start to do regular running, and which the right shoes will be crucial to correct.
- Those who have flat feet (wear on the inner edges of the soles) need to avoid soft shoes and find a type with firm midsoles and features to control pronation. There are also different kinds of arch support inserts which can help get your foot working properly and comfortably - good shoe shops and some chemists will have these if they’re necessary.
- If it looks like you’ve got the opposite pattern you’ll be better off with shoes that are not only well cushioned but that also don’t restrict the movement of your foot. Shoes which work for pronation, for example, will have features that provide a level of stability and movement control that are the opposite of what your foot needs.
- If your foot works about right as it lands, flexes and lifts off, you’ve got what they call a ‘neutral’ foot, so you’re good for any running shoe that feels comfortable and works for your foot shape.
Other useful tips
- If you’ve been wearing your shoes for a long time or they’ve just had heavy use check that they still do their job. Go to a shoe shop that carries that same shoe model (or a new version) and compare yours and the new ones; if you really feel the difference walking around the shop it’s time to dump the old pair because they’ve stopped supporting your feet.
- Feet swell up during the day and as they warm up, so get fitted when your foot is its largest - at the end of the day is often a good time.
- Look for just over one centimeter of room from the end of your longest toe to the inside front of the shoe.
- Don’t cramp your toes; go for a shoe that’s as wide as possible across the toe and the ball area (the wide area just back from the toes). Can you wiggle your toes a bit? The rest of the fit should be reasonably snug so that your heel doesn’t lift out of the back of the shoe as you run.
- Wear the socks you wear when you’re running - don’t rely on your work socks or the ones in the shop.
- Don't buy a shoe if you can feel seams, ridges or stitching against your foot.
- Many people have one foot larger than the other, so make sure you try on both shoes before you buy. If you have one larger foot then the shoes that fit that foot are the ones to buy.
Other useful stuff
A sports bra: A high-impact bra or similar sports top that fits your cup size is a must-have for female runners.
Clothing: In warmer weather or once you start to feel comfortable pushing your pace and effort it’s worth looking at clothing made from some kind of ‘wicking’ material. Most sportswear will use this - it’s specially designed to draw sweat away from your skin and to dry out quickly, so you avoid that ‘wet rag’ feeling of clothing like cotton T-shirts. Clothes made from wicking material also ‘breathe’ better, so you stay cooler as exercise heats you up, and they tend to be more comfortable because they’re lightweight and they generally use flat seams to avoid chafing.
Socks: Socks made of wool like merino, synthetics like polypropylene, or a blend of these will be better than cotton because they’ll dry quickly and wick moisture away from your foot. Sport socks will have padding around the sole which will resist compression, which helps prevent blisters.