Nebraska Medicine: How to Get Ready for Your Next Race

This is a guest blog post written by Michael Weaver, DO of Nebraska Medicine. You can learn more about Nebraska Medicine here.

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If running or simply exercising regularly has not been your forte in recent months, lacing up a pair of running shoes again can be daunting.

But it doesn’t have to be. Running can be an activity that everyone can enjoy and it comes with lots of health benefits. This includes increased exercise tolerance and overall fitness, weight loss, improved weight maintenance, lower blood pressure level, decreased heart disease risk, and a reduction in bad cholesterol and increase in the good cholesterol.

A common mistake is that oftentimes when people start a new exercise program, they don’t allow their bodies enough time to adjust and they try to do too much, too soon. This can lead to burnout, and overuse injuries to muscles and joints that have not yet adapted to your new regimen. The key is to start slow and progress at your own pace.

If you are getting ready to start running or begin a new exercise routine, consider these tips to help you reach your goals and incorporate them into your daily routine.

Check in with your doctor. If your muscles are a little rusty, it’s never a bad idea to seek advice from your primary care doctor or a sports medicine doctor to make sure your body can handle the stress. This becomes more important as you get older and especially if you have any other medical conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease. Your doctor may want to do some basic blood work to check for thinks like your kidney function, and your hemoglobin, electrolytes and vitamin D levels. If you have some cardiac risk factors or past heart problems, he or she may also want to have you do an electrocardiogram (EKG) to monitor your heart while you exercise.

Invest in a quality pair of running shoes. Don’t underestimate the importance of wearing a good pair of running shoes that are comfortable and provide support. They can aid in the prevention of injuries and even help promote improved performance. A good pair of seamless socks that wick away moisture is a must as well.

Start slow. People often ask how much they should run each week and how quickly they should progress. But this is not something that is set in stone and can vary for each person depending on your age, body weight, fitness level and presence of other health issues.

If you are fresh out of the gate, start with a 10- to 20-minute brisk walk two to three times a week. Gradually increase your duration and intensity. You should keep your pace at a level that allows you to carry on a light conversation during your run. If you’re having trouble maintaining a jog, alternate between walking a few minutes and then jogging for a few. A general rule of thumb to help prevent injury is to limit your increase in distance and intensity to 5 to 10 percent a week.

Set a goal or use the buddy system. Setting a goal like committing to complete an upcoming run can help you stay on course with your training. Finding someone to run with you is also a good way to stay on task. Not only can you hold each other accountable, but you can motivate and push each other and support one another through the rough spots.

Vary your training surface. If you are preparing for a race, you don’t want to do all of your training indoors on a treadmill. Get outside occasionally too to allow your body to adjust to hills and uneven surfaces. Getting some fresh air and sunshine may also give you an extra boost of endorphins along with your run.

Don’t forget the warmup and cooldown. Practicing regular warmups and cooldowns will help keep your body loose and limber and reduce injuries. Warming up should consist of dynamic stretching rather than long, static stretches, which means you’ll want to get your heart pumping a bit before you begin your run. Some good warmups might include squats, lunges, kicks, hip extensions and jumping jacks. Just as important is the cooldown. As you near the end of your run, gradually slow down the pace to a walk to allow your heart rate to go down. Finish up with some static stretching to help reduce muscle soreness and risk of injury.

Listen to your body. No matter how closely you follow these tips, you may still end up with an injury. But sometimes it’s hard to know when to seek medical advice. If something starts bothering you, start with RICE therapy – rest, ice, compression and elevation. If the pain persists and starts to affect other normal activities, you may want to get it checked out by a physician before it becomes a chronic problem.

Adding running or another type of conditioning activity to your routine and staying consistent can be a weekly battle. Don’t let a bad week get you discouraged. We all have them. Start where you left off and keep moving forward. Although you may be training for an upcoming run, the long-term goal should be establishing healthy habits for a lifetime.