Learn to Run

Tania MacWilliam
Health & Wellness

Sept. 15, 2011

*Link to original article here

It was after his mother died that Carmine Naccarato decided it was time for a life change. He took up the clarinet, got a dog and started running.

“I decided there was more to life than working, coming home, sitting on the couch and watching TV,” said the Oakville resident.

So he made his way down to a local Running Room store and signed up for a learn-to-run clinic. Ten weeks later he was able to run five kilometres non-stop.

While running has been a popular activity for decades, it has become trendy in recent years, with pedestrians competing with runners for sidewalk space.

“The numbers of people who are running now is staggering,” said Eric Darcy, a certified triathlon coach at Absolute Endurance Training and Therapy in Toronto.

Weight loss is a common reason why running is on the rise, but some runners’ beginnings come from tragedy.

Like Naccarato, Matthew Okell lost a family member. Founder of Live Life Outdoors, Okell, lost his grandfather to Parkinson’s and now runs in his honour.

“Live Life Outdoors is a concept that I hatched about two years ago. My grandfather had Parkinson’s and what I wanted to do was make a bit of a difference,” said Okell.

Last year he completed a cross-country cycle run as part of Team Fox for Parkinson’s research. His latest challenge is running 12 marathons in 12 months to help raise money for the cause.

Stories like Naccarato’s and Okell’s are abundant in the world of running. Illness and death makes us examine our own mortality and often inspires us to make the most of our short lives.

But sometimes there’s a less tragic story behind the drive to run.

Darcy was looking to snap out of a fitness rut.

“I was tired of just going to the gym,” he said. “So one day I just decided, ‘I’m going to train myself to do a 5K throughout the winter,’ Did my 5K and that didn’t become enough, so it became 10K and it just started going up.”

But before you lace up your running shoes there are a few things to consider.

“If you’re used to being on the couch for the past 15, 20 years and all of a sudden you wake up and go ‘I feel like running a marathon next month,’ you’re definitely going to be in for a rude awakening,” said Darcy. “That’s where a lot of injuries come in to play.”

If you are a running neophyte the best thing you can do is get informed, said Darcy. Seek counsel from a variety of experienced sources, including coaches, books and even Google.

“Google is a great one,” he says. “It’s amazing what you can find there.”

Run clinics are another way to help prepare you. They usually start beginners at a one-to-one ratio: Running for one minute then walking for one minute, eventually working up to longer intervals.

“Anybody can run. All you really need is a good pair of shoes.”

This introduction to running will provide a solid foundation to ensure a runner succeeds, says Dick Wilks, a running coach at Health Quarters, a therapy and fitness centre in Burlington.

“Nine times out of 10 I find people that try and go out without any guidance fail because they get discouraged,” he said. “They say to themselves, ‘I can’t do this.’ The problem is not that they can’t do it, they don’t know how to do it.”

Wilks’ coaching credo is, “I want everyone to succeed.” So his walk-run programs are individualized to the ability and comfort of each runner.

“That flexibility ensures success because the runner isn’t discouraged. That’s key to any coach who’s working with athletes.”

He starts runners off with a walk interval that is longer than the run segment. For example, a three-minute walk followed by running for one minute. From there he observes the ability of the runners and adjusts the program to accommodate their needs.

“If somebody’s got the courage to say, ‘I’m getting off the couch today and I’m gonna start to be a runner,’ if they’ve got that kind of courage, then they have to be really listened to and watched and make sure they’re succeeding.”

The idea of running for the first time can be intimidating. No one wants to be the straggler, huffing and puffing at the back of the pack. That kind of embarrassment is enough to make anyone hightail it back to their couch.

So a novice runner needs to find a program that fits.

“There’s no point in putting them in a general program. A lot of them will not be able to do it and they’ll stop.”

Prevent injuries
It’s not just injured pride that runners risk by not getting professional guidance. Running can cause physical injuries. Hamstring and calf strains are the most common.

A good way to prevent injuries is to begin strengthening and stretching activities, says Mihira Lakshman, editor-in-chief ofCanadian Running magazine and a longtime runner.

“Core strength workouts, yoga, going to the gym, all those things really help your body posture and improves your running form,” he said.

And an improved running form can prevent injuries, Lakshman says.

While muscle strains are the most common injury beginners risk, it’s not only beginners who risk getting injured.

“As you get more advanced there are more kinds of injuries you can run into,” he said.

“Lead runners get hurt probably more often than beginner runners because there’s a wider range of risks that they have. They get into stress fractures and broken bones because of the amount of running that they are doing and the type of speed and pounding that they have.”

Another way to avoid injury is to make sure you have proper footwear.

“Knees [injuries] are common. Shin splints are common,” said Darcy. “A lot of it is overuse. And a lot of it can be avoided by making sure you have the proper footwear.”

Each runner has different stability requirements so head down to a speciality shoe store and get properly fitted.

It’s your best investment and you don’t go through as many pairs as you would think.

“It varies from shoe company to shoe company, and on the runner,” he said. “But if somebody is running three times a week for half an hour, [they] can probably get, comfortably, seven or eight months out of a pair of shoes.”

Stay safe
His last bit of advice is to plan a safe route. Especially in the winter months when it gets darker much earlier.

And if you are gearing up for a charity race, pay less attention to your goal time and focus more on finishing.

“It’s no fun running if you’re uncomfortable,” said Wilks. “So go with your friends, go slow and enjoy yourself.”

Running can be a social activity and the group dynamic of a run clinic can be motivating.

It can also hold you accountable.

“If you don’t show up everybody asks you, ‘Where were you? Why weren’t you here? Is everything OK?’” said Naccarato. “When you’re running with other people you don’t want to let them down, so you want to show up.”

There will be days you feel like throwing in the towel, but just remember that coveted runner’s high.

“Keep with it no matter how hard it gets, ‘cause no matter how lousy you feel, how bad of a day, after you go for a run you always feel better,” said Naccarato

It’s clear that running isn’t going to fade in popularity any time soon.

“It’s a great form of exercise and once you find that runner’s high it’s a blast,” said Darcy.

Running is an accessible activity and can be relatively inexpensive. It doesn’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere.

“Anybody can run,” said Naccarato. “All you really need is a good pair of shoes.”



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