There is nothing more freeing than running! Cascading up and down hills like a gazelle. Feeling the wind blowing against your skin, the oxygen flowing through your body, the beating of your heart reminding you that you are alive!
Now imagine doing all this in a race, whether it be to raise money for a cause like cancer or diabetes, or to do it simply for yourself. There was a time in almost all of our lives when running was easy and a part of our daily lives. Too bad it doesn’t stay that way. If you’ve tried running after a long hiatus, just to give up due to the pain in your legs, the shin splints, and your inability to relive the speed and grace you once had, then you’re not alone.
Cardiovascular exercising, including running, requires us to prepare our bodies properly and build up our endurance and strength. If we don’t do this properly, we run the risk of injuring ourselves and quickly ending what could be a very enjoyable and rewarding experience. Some key things to remember with preparation is stretching, increasing the distance we run weekly, and wearing the proper footwear.
When you stretch, make sure you stretch your legs (hamstrings, quadriceps, calves) completely, allowing elasticity in the joints, and warm up either on a treadmill or lightly jog. Make sure you’re also wearing proper footwear — sneakers with good soles that are cushioned and provide shock absorption. The last thing you want is to run in bad shoes; that just invites nasty shin splints (throbbing pain in the shins) and undo stress on the legs. Running shoes should also be replaced every 6 months.
Now that we’ve gotten through some of the basic do’s and don’ts of running, is there any point to it outside of the fact that it feels good? Absolutely! The health benefits to running are numerous: weight loss, healthy sleep, risk reduction of diabetes and cancer, increased bone density, depression loss, strength in breathing, and cardiovascular health are just a few of the benefits of a sometimes underappreciated exercise. You burn a significant amount of calories when you run; you also increase strength in your lungs, foster healthy eating and better digestion, and reduce the risk of type II diabetes. Running also makes you feel better about yourself and improves self perception, reducing depression.
With the Summer Olympics in full swing, it’s hard not to envy the runners. The sprinters with lightning speed agility; and the long distance runners who can seemingly run for an eternity and make it look easy. Let’s face it, any of us who have run a race — 5k, 10k, or just high school sports — have imagined ourselves like the Usain Bolts and Steve Prefontaines of the world; the gifted athletes who defy logic, setting new world and Olympic records. It’s a cool feeling to imagine yourself improving to the point of becoming an award winner. Heck, it’s a cool feeling just to imagine finishing a marathon or reliving a part of your life you tucked away in a time capsule or attic somewhere. Running is definitely more than a sport. For some, it’s a way of life, and for the rest of us, allowing even a little of that sport to spruce up our lives, can be more rewarding than you imagine.
Michael Shaw is a certified fitness trainer, sports performance nutrition specialist, owner of Shaw Fitness, a member of the Maryland Advisory Council on Physical Fitness, a BLS CPR instructor, and a fitness model. He can be reached at 442-2550 and firstname.lastname@example.org.