DEAR FFG: I want to be a runner. I never have really enjoyed it, but I’ve always had this image in my head of my thinner, running self and I want to go for it. But when I started running about a month ago (about a mile to start out), I got horrible shin splints and my knees hurt like you-know-what. I don't really have the motivation to run when I'm constantly in pain afterwards. What can I do? Should I switch to power walking? — Molly
DEAR MOLLY:Thanks so much for your note! And I'm excited that you're so motivated. I know how hard it was for me emotionally to just get my running shoes on and out the door–feeling like a total misfit, constantly concerned about how I might look among all those zero-body-fat gazelles racing by me on the track. So the last thing you need is to deal with physical pain on top of all that. So let's help you dispense with that whole issue so you can start running your way to a slimmer you!
First thing: Check your shoes. Anytime I start detecting pain in my feet, knees or hips, I figure out how long it's been since I've replaced my shoes. As a runner, shoes are your most important piece of equipment. Despite the fact that there's a small, dedicated movement supporting barefoot running (yes, it’s true!), I still believe a bit of cushioning–the right kind of cushioning–is important in keeping you injury-free. I suggest that you find the nearest running shoe specialty store and go get a fitting. Small specialty stores are typically staffed by runners themselves, some of whom may have backgrounds in exercise physiology. It's important to be fitted by someone who knows running shoe technology and how to match your needs up with the right shoe. Some stores even allow you to take a potential purchase for a spin before you buy.
Once you're in the right pair of shoes, I do think you should scale back and try a walk/run combination for a while to build up your strength and stamina. Running coach Jeff Galloway (jeffgalloway.com) suggests that you start by walking 30 minutes straight until it becomes easy for you. Then, add three to four jogs of about 100 yards or so, increasing the amount of running time gradually until you're running the entire 30 minutes comfortably (!). Yes–it is possible–but it may take you time. Patience is really the beginning runner's friend: It will help you find your pace and get your breathing into a rhythm so you can build your endurance. If, after you start running, you find yourself getting shin splints again, back off and walk, or even take a few rest days to allow the inflammation subside. I would also consider finding a group in your area of beginners. There are so many nowadays–the running store folks could probably hook you up. That's a great way of getting some coaching from seasoned runners and trading stories and advice with other beginners.
Lisa Delaney is editor of Spry magazine and author of Secrets of a Former Fat Girl. Click here to submit a question.