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One runner is overweight. She fights to hold a painful pace most would easily reach with a brisk walk. Her running clothes look awkward and unflattering on her lumbering form.
As she continues her sad struggle, another runner flies by her. This runner is fierce, light and fast. She is barely out of breath despite her 6-minute mile pace. Sweat glistens from her toned body, giving the ethereal illusion that she is from another world, less inhibited by gravity or mortality.
I am both runners.
I’ve learned one thing in my 21-year, love-hate relationship with this sport. Going from couch potato to competitive athlete is the hardest thing in the world. Yet, it’s still worth doing over and over again.
Last year, I discovered that I have the metabolic disorder of insulin resistance. This explains why just looking at bread or pasta made me gain five pounds. My disease means that staying trim takes a lot more work than the average person.
I have run marathons and triathlons as a strong 120-pound athlete. I have also tried to start running again trapped in an almost 200-pound Michelin-man cage.
I can say from personal experience that running while overweight, especially after running as an endurance athlete, is the worst punishment possible. However, since I also remember the freedom found in running faster and farther than I have ever imaged, it is worth every painful step to get it back.
Running when you’re thin is fairly straightforward. All of the running shops carry your size. You can improve quickly. While you still may struggle to build up endurance, you aren’t plagued with the extra hassles of the fat fight.
How to Start Running
Whether you’ve run for years or are starting out, it’s always good to start with the basics. There are many running tips for beginners out there, but here are a few that I wished someone had shared with me years ago.
I also want to talk straight to the overweight runners starting the fitness journey, or those who have started and stopped more times than they want to count.
You can do this! Here’s how to lessen the initial pain.
1) Running gear must help, not hinder.
Have you ever worn shorts that race up your inner thigh faster than a chicken chased by Ronald McDonald? Two words: compression shorts. They have the added benefit of generating better blood flow and aiding in recovery, according to an Australian study published in the Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance.
I like to combine compression shorts with a running skirt for added coverage. You can also find shorts with bands at the base of the legs to help aid this issue, or just wear compressions under your regular shorts. This way, you can focus on running, not managing your miscreant apparel.
Also, avoid wearing heavy materials like cotton. We have come so far in moisture-wicking materials people. Embrace them!
2) Invest in supportive running shoes.
As a heavier runner, you’re going to put more strain on your shoes and lower legs. You may even have some pronation issues. Make sure to get fitted properly at a running store in a shoe with good support. Also, don’t make your shoes too tight. Believe me, losing toenails is not for the faint of heart.
3) Get running-specific socks.
It amazes me how many people think they can use regular, scratchy socks to run. Buy a few high-quality pairs of running socks. Blisters don’t mean that you’re a hard-core maniac; they mean that you’re too cheap to buy proper gear!
4) Lube is your new best friend.
While runners of all sizes use lubricant for long runs, heavier runners just have more things rubbing together. Don’t suffer through painful chaffing when just a dab makes all the difference.
5) Consider run-walk training.
If you are out of shape, you should include walk breaks. The Galloway Training Program is best known for this method. As your endurance returns, you can take less-frequent breaks until you are running the full distance.
6) Embrace hills!
I use to hate hills. I now appreciate them. First, you get better high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, since just getting to the top while fighting gravity is a huge effort.
HIIT is one of the best training methods for weight loss and building speed and fitness. It also helps you pack the most impact into the shortest time. Research shows that HIIT workouts are at least as effective, and in many cases superior to longer cardio workouts.
Hill running can reduce many of the pains of early running, such as shin splints. When you push off the ground on an incline, you naturally use your hips more than your shins. You also land softer, with less pounding on muscles.
Running up hills also alleviates pressure on your joints, since there is less distance between your foot and the ground on an incline. Just remember to walk down hills until you’ve built up endurance and lost weight.
Finally, you burn more calories running uphill. When you’re trying to drop extra weight, this is the best reason to run hills!
7) Pace yourself.
Going out too hard is the main reason for injury. Don’t increase your mileage by more than 10% per week. Take rest days after hard workouts. Remember to hydrate and get extra sleep so that your body can recover.
8) Let little goals grow up to huge victories.
When I first tackled my weight issues, I set a goal to complete a marathon in six months when I hadn’t run for years. I don’t recommend this! Running for beginners can be tricky as you learn your body’s strengths and limits.
However, I will challenge you to give yourself a race goal. Maybe it’s to run in your first 5K. The C25K program is very popular with new runners.
9) Eat clean to train dirty.
You can’t out exercise a bad diet. Avoid prepackaged, processed foods and eat whole, fresh foods. Cut back on your sugar intake and don’t eat trans fats. Drink plenty of water. Eat anti-inflammatory foods to aid in recovery. Research how to best fuel your workouts, and follow a good eating plan.
10) Treat yo self!
What fuels your inner fire? Maybe you enjoy social running. If so, find a running group to kick your lazy behind back on the track when you want to sleep in. Maybe you like going shopping. Set a goal to hit up your favorite store after your first month sticking to a training plan.
While running overweight may feel awkward, remember that it will get easier. For every pound that you drop, you will race 2 seconds per mile faster. It also doesn’t have to be painful, especially if you incorporate these 10 steps.
Finally, stop worrying about what others think. Soon, they won’t recognize you anyway!
Embrace the old adage, “No matter how slow you go, you are still lapping everyone on the couch!”