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Introduction to Running

Running is one of the best exercises you can do for your body, your mind and your waistline. While running isn't for everyone, it is one of the most accessible activities there is- all you need is a good pair of running shoes and an iPod nano (ok, you don't really NEED the nano). While running comes very natural to most of us, building up endurance for running takes time, patience, and persistence. If you just take it slow and gradual, you can start calling yourself a 'runner' in no time. (As with any change in your exercise level, you should consult your doctor before starting a new running regimen.)

Benefits

There are plenty of benefits to a regular running routine - running can make you feel good, look good, breathe easier, more coordinated, more energized and it's great for your bones and your heart. Some people run just because they enjoy it, others run to lose weight, clear their mind, or improve their health.

Running is one of the most effective ways to manage your weight because it burns a ton of calories. When you're burning more calories than you're consuming, you lose weight. To lose one pound of body weight, your body must burn 3,500 more calories than it consumes. Since most runners can easily burn 500 calories in less than an hour, running once a day can help you lose about a pound a week (assuming no change in your diet). Of course, the actual amount of calories you burn depends on a number of factors, including your weight and how fast you run.

Running regularly can be great for your heart health as well. Running can lower your blood pressure and help give your arteries a good workout to keep them functioning smoothly. When you run, your arteries expand and contract much faster than they do normally - so you're actually improving the way your body functions with each stride! Running can also help slow down the aging process. People who run regularly experience slower loss in bone and muscle than sedentary people. Running helps strengthen your muscles and bones so they are not as susceptible to weakening as you age.

Ever heard of a runner's high? Running triggers mood-altering hormones called endorphins that help you feel happier and less stressed. These endorphins can create a euphoric feeling, which is what is often referred to as a runner's high. Running can also give you a great sense of accomplishment, and help shift your focus away from negative stressors and into the present, further enhancing your mood and relieving stress.

Notice how graceful a Gazelle looks, even when it's standing still? Running can actually help you improve your coordination, especially trail running. The uneven surface of the trail combined with obstacles such as rocks and tree roots can make trail running pretty challenging. People who regularly run on trails learn to maintain better control over their bodies to prevent tripping and stumbling while running. Running on a paved road can also improve coordination because it forces you to keep your body upright and moving in the right direction.

Running Gear

Shoes

The most important piece of equipment for running is your shoes. Finding the right shoes for you can make a big difference in your comfort, and actually help prevent injury and keep you running longer. Choosing the right shoe is based on a surprising number of factors, including your body type, foot arch, foot shape and how you run. One key issue is whether your foot naturally rolls inward ('pronates') or outward ('supponates') when you run. It's important to get a shoe that supports your foot in the right way to prevent it from rolling too much in either direction. Most running shoe stores will be able to look at your foot arch and watch you walk to tell you which way your foot rolls and what level of support is right for you. There are three distinct types of feet: flat feet, high arched feet and neutral feet. If you have flat feet (not much of an arch in the bottom of your foot), you're likely a pronator, which means your foot rolls inward when you run. You will most likely need a foot with a lot of support, usually called a 'stability' or 'motion-control' shoe. If you have high arches, your likely to supinate, which means your foot rolls outward when you run. You'll need shoes with a lot of flexibility, usually called 'flexible' or 'cushioned'. If you have a neutral foot (most common), you can wear most running shoes, but you don't want to buy a shoe that has too much stability because it could counteract your natural, neutral step. Your foot type is not the only factor that affects how your foot rolls, so you may want to find a knowledgeable running shoe salesperson to take a look at your step and help you pick out the right shoe if you have any doubt. Not all shoes fit the same, and everyone's foot is a bit different, so it's important that you try on a few pairs of shoes to find one that fits you comfortably. You may even want to run around the store a bit to really get a sense of how the shoe feels. If you've been running, it may be a good idea to bring in your current pair of running shoes- the salesperson can tell a lot from how you wear your shoes down and what parts of the sole are most worn.

Here's a Shoe Finder that can help you find a running shoe that's right for you:

http://www.therunnershigh.com/shoes/wizard/

An important thing to remember is to replace your shoes every 300 - 400 miles. Wearing old, worn out shoes can lead to injury while running. If you run about 3 - 5 miles, 4 - 5 times per week, you should be replacing your shoes every 3 - 4 months!

Clothes

One of the great things about running is that you don't need any special gear or equipment, other than a good pair of running shoes. You can wear anything that's comfortable for you to run in. Many runners prefer to wear clothing that is lightweight, loose and breathable. Most running apparel is not made of cotton, because cotton absorbs moisture as you sweat. Most athletic apparel companies make running shirts, shorts and pants out of non-cotton synthetic, or 'technical', fabrics with technical-sounding names like CoolMax, Dri-Fit and Gore- Tex that help to wick away moisture from your body. Some of the most common running apparel brands include Nike, Hind, Brooks, New Balance, Asics, Adidas and Under Armour.

Underwear One of the most underrated and important piece of running apparel is underwear. Wearing a base layer of synthetic fabrics will make the biggest difference in keeping you cool and dry. For women, wearing a jog bra and underwear made of synthetic polypropylene materials can help to reduce chafing and wick away moisture from the body. You may also want to look for a seamless bra so the seams don't dig into you while you run. For men, a pair of synthetic under-shorts or boxer briefs can make a big difference in prevent chafing and keeping you comfortable.

Socks You may want to consider buying yourself some non-cotton, or synthetic, socks, especially if you think you may be running in the rain. Synthetic socks can help prevent blisters, and keep your feet cool and dry while you run. If you are blister-prone, you may also consider special running socks that have added cushioning around blister-prone spots.

Hat or Visor If you're going to be running in the hot sun, or in the rain, you may want to take along a hat or visor to protect your face. Many stores sell synthetic hats or visors which, again, can help wick away moisture and keep your head cool and dry.

Sunglasses If you're running on a sunny day, you may want to take a long a pair of sunglasses. There are many sunglasses designed specifically for sports, which tend to be made of plastic materials and to be tougher than typical sunglasses to withstand potential shocks or falls, and stay snuggly on your face while running. By keeping the sun out of your eyes, a good pair of sunglasses can even save you energy by keeping you from squinting and allowing you to relax your face.

Common Injuries

Shin Splints 'Shin splints' is the common term for pain along the front of the lower leg, in or near your shinbone (tibia). Shin splints are most commonly brought on by running, because of the force put on your shin and the connective tissue that connects the bone to the muscles surrounding it when you run. This force can lead to painful inflammation of the connective tissue around your shinbone. Running on hard surfaces can put added strain on your front leg muscles.

Symptoms of shin splints include:

  • Lower leg pain which subsides when you stop running, but returns when you start running again.
  • Tenderness around the inside of the shin bone.
  • Bumps around the inside of the shin bone.
  • Pain when the toes or foot are bent downwards.
  • Redness on the inside of the shin.

So, what do I do about it? The good news is that shin splints can be usually treated with rest, ice, proper footwear and possibly some minor modifications in your exercise routine.

Here's what you can do about it:

  • Rest to allow the injury to heal.
  • Ice your lower legs for 10 - 15 every 4 to 6 hours to reduce pain and inflammation.
  • Make sure to elevate your foot.
  • To help reduce the inflammation further, you may want to take aspirin or ibuprofen.
  • Wear shock absorbing insoles to help reduce the shock on the lower leg.

Blisters

You've probably gotten a blister at some time in your life. Those small clear-liquid filled bubbles on your foot can be surprisingly painful, and in some cases keep you from running. Blisters are usually caused by friction between your skin and your sock, particularly if your foot is wet or very sweaty.

So, what should I do about it?

To prevent blisters, it's important to minimize the friction between your foot and your sock by making sure you wear shoes that fit you properly. Shoes that are too tight can make blisters more likely, you may even want to buy running shoes a 1/2 size bigger than your normal size because your feet may swell when you run. Another way to help prevent blisters is to buy non-cotton (synthetic) socks that help to wick away moisture and reduce friction. Some special running socks also have extra padding in certain hotspot areas to reduce friction.

One of the least known, and best, ways to prevent or treat blisters is using moleskin. Moleskin is a tough, soft cloth-like material, usually with an adhesive pad on the back. If there's a place on your foot that is being rubbed by your shoe, or you think a blister is coming on, you can cut a small square of moleskin and stick it to your foot to cover that area. The smooth, soft moleskin reduces the irritation and friction to help prevent blisters. If you already have a blister, you can cut out a hole in the moleskin and place it on top of your blister to help prevent continued rubbing. This will reduce the pain and help the blister to heal more quickly.

Blisters typically heal by themselves, so if it's not too painful, you can let it take its course. If the blister is causing a lot of painful, you can pierce it with a sterile needle and drain the fluid. Make sure to put on antiseptic cream (like Neosporin) and cover it with a bandage to allow it to heal properly.

IT (Illiotibial) Band Issues

Many new runners experience pain on the outside of their knee or in their hip that is caused by a tight IT band. The IT band is a tissue that connects the top of your hip to the outside of your knee, and helps stabilize your knee. A tight IT band can rub against the outside of your knee, causing painful inflammation. The most common causes of IT band problems are improper stretching, warm up or cool down, and overtraining.

So, what should I do about it?

To prevent IT band problems, make sure to properly stretch your quads and thighs and warm up before your running, and to take the time to cool down afterwards. You should also increase your running distances and durations gradually, increasing too quickly or trying to do too much can lead to a tight IT band.

If you're experiencing problems with your IT band, you may want to see a physical therapist or sports medicine specialist who can evaluate you and give you certain exercises that can help strengthen your hip and massage to loosen your IT band. You'll likely want to give your legs time to rest and heal. You most likely can continue running, but you should stop if you continue to feel pain. Some physical therapists recommend using a Foam Roller. You lie down on a mat face down, place the Foam Roller under your leg, and move your body slowly up and down along the mat so that the Roller massages your IT band from just below your hip to just above your knee. (Warning: it will hurt, but not as much as your IT band tightening up on your when you're out there on your run). Side Stitches

A side stitch is a sharp pain on your right side just below your ribcage caused by a muscle spasm in your diaphragm. The jarring motion of running while breathing in and out stretches the ligaments that connect your diaphragm to your organs, and can cause your diaphragm to spasm or cramp. Side stitches can be brought on by quick, shallow breathing, and often occur if you've eaten just before running.

So, what should I do about it?

To prevent a side stitch, take deep, steady breaths when you run. Shallow breathing tends to increase the risk of cramping because the diaphragm is always slightly raised and never lowers far enough to allow the ligaments to relax. Having food in your stomach may increase your risk of cramping, so it's best to avoid eating 1 - 2 hours before your run. Stretching your sides may also help to prevent a stitch.

If you do get a side stitch while you're running, stop running, put your hand on the right side of your belly and push up, lifting the liver slightly. Inhale and exhale evenly as you push up. You can also try deep breathing, and stretching your sides by raising either arm straight up and leaning toward the opposite direction for 30 seconds. If the pain persists, see your doctor.