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Q&A: How to Start Running

img_3092Someone I met at a plant-based conference emailed me the other day, looking for advice on getting started with running. Since I started in May, 2016, and have been doing well and enjoying it, I hope my responses will be useful to you, dear reader. The questions are indented and italic, and my replies are not.

The thing I think about most is my form. I can't say I've performed an exhaustive research on it, but what I have heard and read can be conflicting. Or if it doesn't seem to conflict on the surface, when I try to do it all, it just doesn't work out!

Just as I started running I heard someone on the radio say that people with the lightest footfall suffered the least amount of injuries, so try to run like a butterfly and touch the ground lightly. I noticed that when I do that, my feet hit the ground a little ahead of where my body is.

Then a couple weeks later, I heard that in order to avoid injury, make sure your feet aren't getting ahead of you; they should hit the ground right under your body. So my compromise has been hitting the ground a little harder, but still as softly as possibly while keeping my feet under me. What is the best form for avoiding injury?

I like as the final word on form, both for injury prevention and efficiency. The key to light footfalls is short strides. Aim for 180 steps per minute to keep your stride length short.

Stretching is also something I'm not sure I'm doing well. I heard that stretching before working out is no good, so I leave it for after. I probably spend a good 10-15 minutes stretching, 30 seconds on each stretch, and frequently still have some soreness, sometimes feeling like a lightly pulled muscle. This typically results in skipping runs over the next couple days because I'm afraid I'll push myself too hard and end up with an injury, which frequently results in getting out of the habit of running, which can then result in taking weeks off.

Now that I think about it, it's only logical that I should probably just keep running, since there's the chance I might not hurt myself, and either way I'm risking inactivity! But I'd rather not hurt myself! So, what stretches should be done, for how long, and how do you avoid pulling muscles?

There are many ways to stretch, most of them wrong. I don't stretch at all before or after running. I do MELT and Total Motion Release, and use a foam roller occasionally. The only kind of stretching you want to do is active stretching, which contracts one muscle which allows its antagonist counterpart to lengthen. You can find out more about this from Jon Hinds at

One of the things that attracted me to running is the cheap nature of the sport. You don't need a monthly gym membership or a ton of fancy equipment, just a decent pair of shoes. But how important are the shoes?

I'm just not someone who will spend tons of money to figure out which will work the best for me or splurging on a shoe that weighs 1.5 ounces. I'm loathe to even go to a running store to get advice because I assume their running shoes are going to be more expensive than those at a department store, and after I get their advice I'm going to feel like I have to buy their shoes. I know this is an investment in my body and health, but sometimes the money just isn't there.

How can I make the best shoe decision without breaking the bank? Then in treacherous wintry conditions, is a pair of Yaktrax or some other similar product going to be good enough for running safely? I'm almost afraid to try!

I run barefoot if the surface allows, or if not, in running sandals. I get all my gear at I live in North Carolina, so I don't know much about running in wintry conditions.

And finally, the diet part. I've completely bought into the whole-foods plant-based diet (though truthfully, my implementation could be better) and have heard from people I trust that athletes don't need to eat a different diet from non-athletes, just a little more of it. Great!

My question is about the timing. Is there any truth to this eating protein within 30 minutes of working out? How important is this? Unless you're just eating fruit, you're getting good amounts of protein in whatever you eat, so does the protein part really matter? Is it just that food in general should be eaten after working out? What if I get my run in after dinner? Surely I shouldn't be eating just before going to bed, right?

Unless you become a really serious runner, don't worry about eating any differently that you do as a normal human being. There's almost no benefit that you would ever notice. Eat when you're hungry and don't worry about protein. Our ancestors had to run all the time and if they needed a particular macronutrient protocol within 30 minutes of stopping in order to survive, you and I wouldn't be here to have this conversation.

Once you get to 13- mile runs and longer, you'll need to pay attention to keeping your blood sugar stable for longer periods of time. If I'm racing or really focused on a fast time, I'll take a couple of Gu gels in my fanny pack for miles 10 and 15, and perhaps mix my water with a bit of apple juice and an electrolyte tablet. And for marathons and ultras, they have aid stations. Just say no to the M&Ms and cookies and donuts and bagels with cream cheese and stick to bananas and oranges.

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3 comments on “Q&A: How to Start Running

  1. Alice says:

    Great article. As a PT who has seen LOTS of runners with overtraining and poor training injuries over the years, might I add, though, that a decent pair of shoes that fits your particular foot type (supinator versus pronator) is CRUCIAL…and good shoes should really be switched out every 500 miles. Proper PROLONGED stretching all your major muscle groups (like what you do…30 second stretches and after the activity) is spot on. If someone DOES incur a nagging injury, a visit to the PT may be warranted to determine if you have any hidden muscle imbalances (weaknesses and/or flexibility issues). Having said all of that, though, I’m a firm believer in if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

  2. Doug Schmidt says:

    I have been reading Chi Running by Danny Dryer. I think it saved me from injury and the focuses mentioned in the book keep me thinking the whole run.

    1. Howard says:

      Right on! Danny is great – someday maybe I’ll get him on the Podcast.

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