Sports medicine, I don’t know you

Running has taught me something important about myself:  I don’t know a damned thing about exercise physiology.  I’m sure that I learned something about it at some point, but really, I’m in the dark.

I started running about a month and a half ago, and I was terribly apprehensive.  I never liked running, and I thought that starting now, in my 40s and out of shape, I was on a fool’s errand.  But…not so much.  What I tell patients about exercise—it gets easier, etc.—turns out to be mostly true.  My first few runs were about a mile and not a lot of fun.  But it gets easier, sort of.

I usually run very early or very late.  It’s dark, cold, quiet and peaceful.  My house is at the top of a hill, so the beginning of the run is relatively easy. But then the fun starts.  The loops I do are usually sinusoidal.  In one direction, the run starts steep, the other follows an easier grade.  When I run the steep downhill first, the whole run is miserable.  When I run the easier grade, the uphill battles at the end seem relatively easy.  Why the hell is that?

Then there’s my knee.  My left knee has taken a little abuse over the years.  When I used to portage canoes, it’s the leg I would use to kick the canoe back onto my neck.  And then there was the bike commuting in San Francisco.  I figured my knee might limit my running, and I was partially right.  When I first start out, it’s a bit sore, but then doesn’t bother me a bit.  Except a run the other day.  I went a little too far and had to stop to walk the rest of the way home.  It was bitter cold, but I didn’t notice until I’d been walking for a bit.  The wind was cutting straight to my skin.  So I picked up the pace and tried to run home.  No dice.  My knee wouldn’t let me take more than a couple of strides.  In general, the running has improved my knee.  Go figure.

What I don’t know about running could fill a textbook.  I’m determined to take it slow so that I can keep going.  My only fear at this point is injury, and I have no desire  to overdo it.

For anyone scared of starting, I gotta tell you, this has been awesome.  Yeah, it sucks starting out, but if you give yourself a break physically and emotionally, it feels better by the day.



  1. Lisa

     /  December 28, 2011

    My experience is generally like yours. I had trouble with my knees when I ran in my 20’s, but now that I’ve picked it up again and am nearing 40, they’re fine. I read from time to time about how it would be better to run barefoot or in barefootlike shoes, on grass or blacktop instead of sidewalk, and don’t know how much if any of it is right but I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing until my body tells me to do something else. It took a LONG time (way more than a month and a half) to get to where I could actually say I enjoyed going for a run.

    • Yeah, I don’t know what to make of all this barefoot and “run on the ball of the foot” crap. Seems to me like the explanations are a bit strained “evolution blah blah blah, ancient hunters blah blah blah.” Seems to me if you have to think about every footfall, something is wrong.

      • Simon

         /  December 30, 2011

        I’m a competitive athlete (in Rowing) but do a little running (like once per week) to supplement my other training. As a relatively big guy I’ve suffered a little from pain in the heels and Achilles tendon. I haven’t tried barefoot running or forefoot strike yet but I am swayed by the evolutionary arguments.

        I think its missing the point a bit to say it seems wrong if you have to think about every foot strike – the claim (I think reasonable) is that we only have to think about every foot strike because we run in shoes which encourage heel strike. If we learnt to run barefoot (as evolved of course) then we’d naturally run forefoot strike (as barefoot runners do) and wouldn’t have to think about it.

        As I say, I haven’t tried it yet to any great extent but I am planning to.

        This website appears to be a good resource:

  2. Bottom line – listen to your body. If you ever do start experiencing pain – shin splints, knee issues, whatever – check out the book Chi Running. Really helped improve my form (I used to get shin splints very quickly), and I believe made it possible for me to keep running well into my third trimester with Monkey. I highly recommend it, even as just an interesting and fairly easy read.

  3. DLC

     /  December 29, 2011

    Dr Pal. run, me? um, no. close to 3 decades of cigarette smoke and a good size chunk of overweight, mostly put on in the 3 years since I quit smoking all say “hey, walking, that’s your speed… try walking!” but yeah, more exercise is always good. I manage about 10 -12 blocks in a round trip right now. I’ll let you know when I get up to a couple miles.

  4. The best thing about a run first thing in the morning is that nothing worse will happen to you all day. But really, I need to do more of it because it’s the only reliable way I’ve been able to lose weight.

  5. longsmith

     /  December 29, 2011

    @DLC – 30 year smoker and quit 3 years ago also. I did the “Couch to 5K” program and can now run (slowly) 3 miles at a pop. Try it! Still trying to lose the weight though…..

    • I also did the couch to 5K, a program that literally got me from the couch to running sub 29 minute 5Ks in less than a year. Then I met my goal time, started gaining weight back, and stopped running.

      I just recently started from scratch again, and I’m hoping to get back to my goal 5K time and stick to it!

      • longsmith

         /  January 4, 2012

        I am still at 40 minutes but I am trying! I think the program is too short really. I had bad shin splints for a while. You should try again!

  6. I don’t know about exercise physiology either, but yes, the having to think about every movement is a consequence of something being new. I’ve been working with a trainer, in part about balance stuff (I was walking oddly and straining my knees). A year and a half ago, I was literally looking down at my feet while I stood or walked, much of the time, to make sure they were aligned properly. Now, it’s automatic. Some of the other positioning stuff we still have to work on (though yesterday she kept saying that I was getting bits right without thinking about them at all—as in, she’d tell me to push on something, and when we were done with those exercises she’d observe that my pelvis, ankles, or what-have-you were just where they should have been.

    I’m touch-typing this (with some errors, because the fingerless gloves are getting in my way): that’s automatic now, but back in high school I had to learn it.

  7. During a survival class, we were taught how to walk and run silently. It involved coming down on the ball of the foot. The instructor called it the Fox Walk, and the same technique was taught to us elsewhere by a military instructor who called it the Ghost Walk.

    Many years later I modified this technique for running once my knees began complaining about the heel-first method. It looks like I’m sort of shuffling along and I don’t run like that where I can be seen (feel a bit silly doing an “old man shuffle”), but I can run like that for well over an hour–when I run like that I don’t have any trouble with shin splints or sore knees or toenails becoming bruised and falling off (from impact as the front of the foot slaps down).

    It is especially good for running on our rocky trails as you’re not as likely to sprain an ankle or misstep, and you can use the ball of your foot to bounce along rocks…and it is quiet. It is also possible to move fairly fast using that technique if you keep your knees a bit bent (strengthens the thigh muscles too).

    By the way, don’t picture someone running on the balls of the feet like they’re tip-toeing. It is not that dramatic. You wouldn’t even notice the ball coming down first, you’d think the whole foot was coming down at once. The ball of my foot probably hasn’t even absorbed the full weight before the side of my foot and the heel roll down. It can again be modified for faster running by rolling along the side of the heel and up the foot. Takes some practice to get it right and to do it smoothly, but at my age, my knees are quite thankful (my pride, not so much).

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