Recently a friend here on Bloom asked me for any advice to a beginner runner who is overweight. This is a question I get asked fairly often so I had a response prepared and, since so many people seem to have the same concern, Bloom has asked me to share my answer.
I have a three-pronged approach to running that applies to all runners (beginners, marathoners, overweight runners, previously injured runners, anyone).
1. Go slow.
Running should feel good. If it doesn’t, you may need to work on conditioning more first (walk more!) or you may just need to slow down.
By this I mean both to run slower (especially as a beginner runner, you don’t need to be pushing for speed) and train slower. The majority of running injuries are caused by over-training, that is, doing too much too quickly. Just because the C25k (or other training program) suggests you run a certain distance or time today doesn’t mean that is what is right for you, which brings me to my next point.
2. Listen to your body.
Especially as a beginner, you need to give your muscles time to build up to what your mind wants you to do. So if running doesn’t feel good to you, it is your body telling you that something is wrong. You could be over-training (slow down!), out of alignment (listen to your body and learn about correct alignment), or wearing the wrong shoes (less is more). Whatever the problem is your body is giving you signals to help you work it out.
Try to silence your inner talk when you are walking and running. Give yourself a chance to hear what your body has to say. Consider starting a yoga practice, preferably one that focuses on proper alignment and quieting the mind. This will help you start hearing your body and gives you a good feel for correct alignment. At very least, start a meditation practice so you can start hearing your body’s signals.
Remember you are working with your body, not against it!
(For more information about alignment, check out ChiRunning or Katy Says. Remember, correct alignment for your body may be slightly different than for others, so even if you learn more about biomechanics, please keep listening to your body too.
For more on starting yoga and meditation, try YogaGlo or Kundalini Yoga Lessons. I have more information about meditation here and here.
3. Run light.
When you are running, practice making your footfalls as quiet as possible. If you can hear yourself pounding the pavement (so to speak), you are definitely putting a lot of pressure on your knees and hips. Days and weeks and months and years of that abuse is very bad for your body.
Every runner can run light. Weight is not a factor. Relax, loosen up, and let your body gently absorb the shock. Practice walking quietly first, if you need to. If you do this right (listening to your body will tell you if you are doing it right or not), you will have mastered correct alignment.
I like to make a game out of it. I pretend I’m in the Hunger Games and my life depends on staying quiet. This means no huffing and puffing (slow down! walk if you need to) and no landing heavily on my heels (what I call “slamming on the breaks”).
That is my three-pronged approach to running: slow down, listen to your body, and run light. One last piece of bonus advice: smile! Remember, running should feel good! Studies have shown that even a forced smile reduces stress and produces feelings of happiness. I always try to smile when I run and, when I look back, I remember the smiles, not the struggles.
Jesslyn Littlepage Ostrokol has written running advice for the New York Times Co., worked as the Running Guide for About.com, coached elite triathletes, and trained new runners to become marathoners. Her favorite race is the 3M Half Marathon in Austin, TX, although she is also partial to Turkey Trots. Now she is exploring sustainable, self-reliant living in an off-the-grid yurt on an organic vegetable farm near Dallas, where she is pursuing her dream of being a full-time life design diva. For more from Jesslyn, visit her website: www.jesslynlittlepage.com