Whether you’re an experienced runner making a comeback, or a newbie getting into this glorious sport for the first time, minor aches and pains can put a cramp in your running style. The trick is to know how to deal with them.
The most common cause of getting-in-shape injury is doing too much too quickly. Running does put new stress on joints and muscles unaccustomed to activity, so make sure you are easing into your mileage.
I have extensive experience getting into (and out of) shape, so here are a few tips as you make the transition from couch-potato to runner:
1. Start your runs slow. There’s no need to run out the door at tempo pace, so give yourself time to warm up. Run slowly for at least 5 minutes before speeding up to your normal pace.
2. Cool down. After you're done running, walk around the block, or for however long it takes your core temperature to cool down and your muscles to relax. This is most important when it’s hot outside! (Anyone who has jumped straight into the shower after a hot run knows that you come out almost as sweaty as you got in!).
4. Ice any sore spots after you cool down and stretch. Ice helps with recovery and inflammation, so that you’ll be ready to go for your next run. For more on icing, check out this article.
5. Keep a training log. This can be as complicated or as simple as you want. I just note down how long I run every day (time and distance), and any outstanding notes (for example: 6/8 - run 30", 4 miles, hamstring pain). Total your mileage every week to track patterns in your training. If your knees/hamstring/shin/whatever hurts more one week, you can look at your log and see what you did to cause that extra strain (maybe you doubled your mileage that week, or you ran much faster than normal).
6. If something really hurts, stop running. It's better to take a few days off when something hurts a little than to take MONTHS off once it gets bad enough to hurt a lot (case in point: me). If you’re in pain take 3 days off, then go for a test run. If it feels better, run every other day for a week and then re-evaluate. If it still hurts, continue to take time off.
In the happy news department - I ran an extremely necessary 7 miles last night! (Necessary because of crankiness, and a cookie-licious fatstorm.) It didn't feel exactly physically good (I am totally out of shape) but mentally, it was AMAZING.