A reader of another forum named Debra wrote in with the following question:
Q: My question is all about running. I’ve just read that if you are fat and overweight that you shouldn’t run because it’s just too much strain on the joints. But I’ve also heard/read people say that anyone can run regardless of size. Also, there seems to be varying advice about how often to run. Daily is OK says some yet others will say never run two days in a row. I’m a newbie, overweight runner and have no idea what to believe. What’s the scoop on running safely?
A: First, let’s start by clearing up something that might help with the first part of your question: there a plenty of fat runners. Anyone that tells you otherwise is either not a runner or has never been to a running race. I say these with a certain amount of glee, because so many people have an image in their heads of the “skinny runner” and today the spectrum of people that run spans every imaginable body type. (The subject of WHY there are fat runners is another topic that we won’t go into today.)
So if there are fat runners, then that leads right into your question: how does one start running when they are overweight in a manner that will lead to successful, weight loss inducing, injury-free running and even a modicum of happiness? I’ll give you five tips on the subject that I hope will answer this question and debunk a few more myths in the process.
Tip 1: start slowly, be patient — I realize the double-entendre when I’m advising you to start slowly, but I’m not so much talking about speed here. What I mean is that when you take on a running program, take it in small bites and let the results happen over time. The worst thing any new runner can do is to go and start running say 4-5 miles a day, every day. Within a week, you’ll sitting with ice-bags on your shins wondering what went wrong. Start out with just one to two minutes of running interspersed with one to two minute walking breaks. Doing five run intervals and five walk breaks would take just 20 minutes and this should be a great place to start. If that’s too much, do even less. The important thing is to start small.
Being patient is the other part of the “start slowly, be patient” equation. Patience means that you may not see results in a week or two, but trust me that you will see them if you hang in there over a period of time. My 64-year old neighbor has been following the advice that I’m giving you here and three months in to his plan, he’s lost 25 pounds and just told me yesterday that he is starting to “really enjoy” his runs. Be patient, don’t rush it, and the results will come.
Tip 2: get some good shoes – It is important for all runners to be in high quality running shoes, but this is even more important for overweight runners. Running shoes are designs to absorb the impact of your body weight. Heavier runners need to make sure that they have shoes designed to support their weight and they will need to replace their shoes more often than most. Most running shoe brands have a model of shoe that is designed to support women over 140 pounds (mean over 165 pounds) to help in protecting your joints and lower-legs. Go to a running store and have yourself fitted for shoes and plan to replace your shoes every 3-4 months.
Tip 3: moderation is a virtue – As you alluded to in your question, there is some debate among runners about how often to run during the week. There is very little debate among coaches about this question. For new runners, especially those that are overweight, running on consecutive days is not a good idea. This is a sure-fire way to injure yourself and burn yourself out. Start with 3-4 runs per week, making sure to place a day off from running between each run. On those days in between your runs, you can do other things that are going to help with your strength and weight loss (see next tip), just avoid running to give your legs and joints a break.
Tip 4: focus on your entire body – Many runners tend to be somewhat one-dimensional in their training. They do a lot of running and not else. For someone just starting out and especially those that are looking to lose weight, a more balanced program that includes strength training, upper-body cross-training, and flexibility exercises will yield results across the whole body. On your “rest” days from running, consider lifting weights, doing yoga or Pilates or swimming. The strength and flexibility will help you become a stronger runner and upper-body and core exercises will help slim and tone the rest of your body.
Tip 5: make friends with the person on the treadmill next to you – It is pretty common for new runners to start out on the comfort of their treadmill, enveloped in their tunes from the iPod, but this will eventually get old. When you’re ready to make a break for it and head outdoors, you’re going to need a buddy. Look to your right and left and I bet you’ll find another iPod clad runner that would love to venture outside too. Having running pals provides a great source of motivation, camaraderie and just plain enjoyment of the sport. I know, I know, schedules are tough to mange, but you’ll be surprised. If that person is on the treadmill at the same time as you, maybe they have a similar schedule even one day a week. Heck, mix up your workout days and you might be able to collect a whole set of friends to keep you company.
The bottom-line is to be realistic, take your time and have fun as you start running. You can and will see the results if you give yourself the time and focus on your entire body. And you can have fun out there at the same time.
Coach Joe English, Portland, Oregon, USA
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