A battery of runners, or a solitary jogger, the early mornings of most salubrious suburbs wake up to a profusion of footsteps running their way for fitness or fun. Some run for the therapeutic effects, some for meditative benefits and some for prescriptive compulsion, but run one must.
Running has become the new age golf, but without an exclusive club membership! The only initial investment to start your running regime is a pair of dependable running shoes and a steely determination to move. The biggest factor that makes running trendy is the exhilarating feeling when you reach the finish line. This is one sport where everyone who reaches the finish line is a winner. Not confounded by gender, talent, age and past experiences, running has become the sport of a thinking person. So don’t think, just run.
The physics of running
As rudimentary as it may seem, the mechanics of running are far from simple. Part intuitive, part science, the system of running involves more faculties of the brain than just the hand-eye coordination and motor skills.
Proper running form: As long as you’re running comfortably and injury-free, there’s no reason to believe your form needs correction. But if that is not the case, then you may want to check your form and make a few changes in your technique. Keep a few things about form in mind, like not try lengthening your stride; over-striding will set you up for injury. According to a leading podiatrist, taking shorter steps reduces the movement within any joint (in the context of running it is the ankles, knees, and hips), and less movement means a better life for these joints.
Arch-type: While running is not based on foot shape in general, the arch in the foot influences how you run. People with low arches (pronation) or flat feet find their feet and ankle roll too far inwards, negatively affecting their overall body alignment. Hence people with pronated feet need to wear a shoe which provides stability. People with high arches/supinated feet, find their feet rolling outward, distributing more weight along the outside of the foot and pushing the anklebone out. This causes excess strain on the ankles and reduces the foot’s natural ability to absorb shock. For this, arch correction footwear which provides support and deep cushioning is recommended.
Injuries: It is the runner's dream that every mile they run is completely injury free. No spasms and no lingering soreness from previous day's workout. But this state is seldom realised. Most runners end up in between the spectrum of full-blown breakdowns like stress fractures, to mild transient aches that bug you one day and disappear the next day. While most of the injuries can be either alleviated or avoided, the worst are the ones which plague the runners when they are in top form. The not in the best form state, in between the injury gamut is what leads to the runners’ halt, a rather painful full stop.
According to a Mumbai-based sports medicine expert and orthopaedic surgeon, Dr Pradeep Moonot there are some demons that chase the runners and he offers a few tips of caution.
1. Runner’s knee: The incidence of runners suffering from this pain is so high that it has been knighted after them. It is the mild but constant pain around and behind the knee cap which usually happens due to overuse, muscle imbalance and repeated thumping on the pavement. Weak hips can put extra pressure on the kneecap, so refrain from rocky terrain or downhill runs. To treat this, take some time off. Change the surface on which you run, wear proper footwear, and try to shorten your stride. This will help mollify the angry knee.
2. Achilles tendinitis: The Achilles tissue connects the lower back and the heels. An inflammation of this tissue that attaches the calf muscles to the heel bone causes swelling and pain, which can sometimes be sporadic and sometimes incapacitating. A rapid mileage increase, improper footwear, tight calf muscles, or even having a naturally flat foot can give rise to this inflammation. To avoid such pain, make calf stretches a custom both pre and post workout.
3. Plantar-fasciitis: This tongue twister, a heel pain, is the inflammation of the thick band of tissues in the bottom of the foot that extend from the heel to the toes. It starts with a dull intermittent pain which may develop into a sharp persistent one. Runners with tight calf muscles, or high arches (supination) are usually prone to this dull ache (around the foot arch) which usually greets you first thing in the morning. The best way to heal yourself out of this one is to roll your feet over an ice bottle, rest and calf stretches. To prevent the risk of plantar fasciitis, make sure your shoes fit your foot type by getting your feet analysed by a podiatrist or a physiotherapist .
4. IT (Iliotibial ) band syndrome (ITBS) : This pain triggers on the outside of the knee due to the inflammation of the iliotibial band (a ligament that runs along the outside of the thigh, from the top of the hip to the outside of the knee). Sudden increase in mileage, always running downhill and low arch (flat feet) are some of the many causes for this. Good news is that this pain can be treated by a few days of rest, foam rolling exercise and the quadriceps and calf muscles stretches.
5. Stress Fracture: While running can be relaxing and an easy to follow fitness regime, if overdone can lead to breaking of a few bones too. Stress fracture is a small crack in the bone that causes pain or discomfort in the shin and feet. It’s often due to working out harder than what the body can handle. Hence, listen to your body, and if you are training for a marathon or aiming for drastic fitness results, keep the 10% per week rule in mind when increasing mileage.
6. Shin Splints: If you experience a nagging pain in your shin, which occurs when the muscle and tendons covering the shinbone get inflamed, then welcome to the runners’ club.
Shin pain can often be traced back to a sudden spike in training volume and intensity. And the best cure for this is rest, ice and medication. Take a small interval of hanging the boots (not literally) and as you ease back to running, pay attention to your method and volume.
The chemistry of running
Someone said, “You are what you eat; so don’t be fast, easy, cheap or fake”.
While the feet do the job of pounding and picking up pace, it’s the furnace of chemicals, enzymes, minerals and vitamins which fuel your trek. Hence your running preparations should include 'foot' as well as the ‘food’ perspective. The aim of running maybe to just push fresh air into lungs, energise your mind and body, fit the fitness bill or prepare for a marathon, but it’s the chemistry between good nutrition and correct stride that ensures the fun is not out of the run.
Even though training is the king when it comes to being able to run injury free, it is the correct nourishment and diet which form the bedrock of a resilient body. Sports nutritionist Sonal Chowdhary believes that good nutrition gives energy, enhances performance and reduces muscle soreness. To optimise your running goals, when you eat is almost as important as what you eat. Hence a good breakfast at least 2 hours prior to running or a fruit at least half an hour before the run should be a must-do. According to Sonal, hydration is the elixir of a runner. Sipping on energy/electrolyte drinks every 20 mins. during the run is very important to restore glycogen and electrolyte balance. This replenishes the salts dissipated as sweat. A well-fuelled body helps you bring down the minutes. A combination snack or protein plus carbohydrates, example eggs and toast or a protein shake and fruit is a general rule for a post run meal.
Good nutrition, comprising of all food groups, should be part of training and a lifetime of conscious choice. It should not be a practice which you start only a few weeks before your start your training or only on the days that you run. The modern nutritionist and diet experts believe that food should be regional, fresh and no fuss cooking. “I like to give my clients a diet which they can follow when they travel, use the hotel gym and the buffet breakfast. We need to just taper our choices a bit,” says Sonal who has trained many marathoners as well as turkey trotters.
An important disclaimer: everyone’s body is unique and so are its nutritional needs. Hence eat what suits you, define your needs and refine based on your outcomes.
Take care of your body, pump up your energy levels, keep water handy and keep moving.
The therapy of running
For many people, being alone, getting time to reflect, put things in perspective, de-stressing or planning ahead - most of the serious mind matters or mental churning happens when they are alone. And running provides that luxury. Some people believe that when they are running, there is no phone, no text, no emails, no protocol conversations – all you do is thrust forward, tackle the miles ahead instead of worrying about what awaits at the end of the run.
Many devout have given running a name of therapy or balm. Ask any of these runners, who run whether rain or sunshine and they will unwaveringly say that running is their meditation. It allows people to physically step out of their comfort zone, drop self-imposed barriers and improve the way they connect with themselves. The feeling of accomplishment when you are able to run a few miles every day is a great confidence booster.
Running is also considered as the newest entrant on the self-help block. It makes counselling an informal process, where you talk the walk. It has compound benefits of fresh air, fitness and being able to talk your feelings out along with getting an endorphin rush as you go. The concept known as dynamic running therapy (DRT) entails running and talking. It has gained immense popularity in the recent years because when you are running and talking, the focus is taken away from both activities, meaning you talk more freely and run a lot further.
The most incredible thing about running is that you can enjoy it alone as much as with a running buddy. It is one of those special bonds which are developed in silence. Without verbal communication, you have the freedom and consciousness to read each other’s physical cues. It’s those best friendships where you don’t have to know what to say. And when you have to, all you need is a high-five.
The technology of running
If you are the one who requires lots of cajoling and inspiration to get out of bed and off onto the road, then these new age apps, gadgets and technologies are your morning’s best friends. A variety of mobile apps, gadgets and products designed to make exercise and nutrition more efficient and accessible have made exercising far more interesting and results more tangible. From nutritional diaries to nerve-wracking running challenges, there is a sea of innumerable apps which may come to use when you need a techie hand to push through. There are many devices and fitness bands which help you get your running statistics like speed, time, distance, calories burnt, steps taken etc.
Another breed of devices or mobile based apps is the ones which help you monitor every bite you eat. They help you classify your food into broad nutritional categories and help you identify the deficit. These are like food ledger which helps you identify your food composition, hunger pattern and calorific content of food. Many of these apps also give you suggestions to tweak your diet to suit your needs. An additional category of technology is the GPS used by runners to get the route and tracks right. Just make technology your running buddy.
The race is long, so one has to be strong. So make no bones (or muscles; especially the sore ones) and just run!!!!