Good Things - (Part 3) - Running Q&A

in , , by sarahmfry, March 14, 2011
I haven't been able to blog much lately, what with life and all.  I was so excited for Sunday afternoon so I could read, take a nap and blog! (Can I get a witness?)

You all are still encouraging me with your messages!  Some of you have been where I am, some are joining the journey,  some are chugging on up the road in front of us, some are cheering from the sidelines.  It means so much.  I want to answer every single blog comment and Facebook comment and message and email. But alas, I cannot.  I fear I would emerge from my computer stupor to sugar-saturated kids and a house that could walk away on its own.  So I thought I would compile some of the questions for this blog.  Some of them I have already answered, some I have not.

When I first started running, I called my Uncle Charles (My mom's brother.)  He is a Chiropractor, a Sports Medicine specialist, a long-time runner, a Boston Marathoner, and a Triathloner (my spell checker doesn't think that's a word.  Too bad. The actual word is Triathlete.)  He has encouraged me, cheered me on, answered a million questions, believed in me and may even honor me by running a marathon with me someday!

He gave me some fantastic advice when I first started out and continues to help me whenever I call with running questions.  He has a unique perspective in that he is a fantastic and gifted athlete himself,  and he understands the physiology of running and injury from a Sports Medicine Doctor's perspective.  So...I have taken his advice and mixed it in with my own thoughts, discoveries and experiences....I am overwhelmed when I think of trying to share everything that wants to pour out of my heart when I tell this story.  I think the Question-and-answer format will help me get started.

WARNING:  The rest is Lots of boring nitty-gritty running talk!

I am looking at the Couch to 5k program. Your thoughts?? Are there better ones out there?

The first running plan I used was Couch to 5K (often referred to as C25K).  It starts out with a very manageable run/walk schedule and works up slowly and steadily.

Here is a snapshot of the first week:

Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. 

Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes. 

Brisk five-minute warmup walk. Then alternate 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

The weeks gradually progress as you increase your running times and decrease the walking times until you are running the whole time.

I love, love love this plan! It should be the Bible for beginning runners. starts out slow, so you don't have to hate it. I think so many people set out to run a half hour and swear they'll never do it again. I also believe in building up mileage gradually to avoid running injury.  I believe this is a wise way to start running even if you enjoy exercise and feel you have a base level of fitness. Running uses different muscles.  It taxes your breathing differently.  It should be taken on gradually.

I love the walk/run beginning, because it helps with the mental challenge...Just a little longer and I can walk!  Just a few more steps...just keep your feet going!  I  remember almost cheering in the middle of the road when I could run for 3 minutes without stopping. And now, about 9 months later, David and I just completed our first half marathon distance (13.1 miles) last night on our marathon training plan.  I know for a fact there is absolutely NO WAY I would have maintained that progress  without following training plans.  It takes the guesswork out of it.  You know exactly what the plan is for the day, so there is a clear goal and an END! ...Otherwise, it is very, very hard to know how hard to push yourself.  A running plan like this self-adjusts.  If you have a higher level of fitness, you will just run it faster! 

After your first 5K, there are lots of plans. But this is the best for starting, in my opinion. We actually did two 5K's with the walk/run method before we ran the whole time in our 3rd race.

How do you time yourself on a run?

I do not recommend trying to do any kind of running plan without a watch with a timer or stopwatch. At first, I tried running without a stopwatch.  I think I even used my cellphone a time or two.  Oh my goodness. Not fun.  This is miserable, because you have to lug the thing and keep looking down instead of just focusing on the pain at hand and waiting for the timer beep.  So....I went to Walmart and invested in a basic Ironman stopwatch for $30. (That's really a lot to spend on a watch for me!)  I use a Garmin GPS watch now, but my old Ironman is still almost a permanent attachment to my arm. (David has to remind me to take it off for church.)  I use the timer for my kid's practice time, laundry, cooking...everything!

What about pain?  How do I tell the difference between normal new-runner pain and a running injury?

Running pain is normal - especially when you're first starting out.  Be encouraged.  This pain does not last forever!  Your muscles are adjusting.  You will eventually get to where you can push your body much longer with little to no pain.  Later, the pain mostly comes when you do very intense speedwork or very long mileage.  Shin splints are very common.  The fronts of your legs may ache pretty bad.  Other muscles may ache, as well.  My uncle kept telling me, "just rub your muscles down very well before and after a run with muscle rub."  So simple, but it really works!  It helps to loosen up the muscles.  You can pay $4 and up at Walmart for muscle rub, but our dollar tree has it for well... a dollar!  That was one of my happiest running discoveries when I was dealing with new muscle pain.  Icing the sore muscles is also extremely helpful.  It helps to reduce inflammation and decreases the longevity of the muscle pain.  We have some nice, flexible ice packs.  But we also use packages of frozen peas or frozen blueberries.  Put it on the sore areas for about 15 minutes (put a thin cloth on your skin under the cold pack.)  Some die-hard athletes take ice baths to reduce inflammation after hard workouts.  I do not take part in this torturous activity.

When you have normal muscle pain, it goes away.  An actual injury will stick around.  And the pain may feel sharper - less like sore muscles and more like injury, to put it simply.  If you have a question about it, run easy for a few days, ice the area twice a day, rub it down regularly with muscle rub and see if the problem persists or goes away.

"We have a nice treadmill and I am thinking of starting on that until I get comfortable. Do you prefer treadmill or outdoors?"

Running outdoors is an awesome experience, but the treadmill has benefits too. I twisted my ankle running on ice this winter and I love my running enough I'm very thankful for a good place to run inside my house without injury! Running on pavement is a more "raw" kind of effort, stresses your muscles a little differently. I think I even breathe differently when I'm running on pavement.  But we think it is easier to run faster outside. So it is a toss-up.  The treadmill is a tool.  We decided to invest in a good treadmill last fall.  We researched and watched prices and finally found an amazing deal on Craigslist.  It was an older model of this treadmill, so it has the same fantastic features but at a much, much cheaper price.  We had to drive a little ways to pick it up, but it was worth it.  It has been an absolutely necessity for me, because it kept me running through the Indiana winter instead of giving up. Plus it makes it so much easier for scheduling runs around the kids. We were so happy to hit the pavement outside again this month, but it would be much more difficult to be consistent through snow and sleet and babies' schedules without access to a treadmill.  Joining a YMCA may also be a great option if you have one close.  Some of my friends go and take their kids along! You can also apply for a scholarship based on your income.

When running outside, I learned that I prefer running in town.  The scenery changes and I feel safer.  I like the long country corn-field miles only because they are one-mile square.  But boredom sets in pretty quickly. 

"What to wear when I do run outdoors? I feel ridiculous running in a skirt. I can just see the neighbors offering to help or calling the cops thinking I'm in trouble. This is probably more of an issue in my head than it will be in real life."

This is the same thing I asked one of my running friends before I started. 

What works for me is capris or leggings (Walmart, $8) under a knee-length stretchy skirt (Target). I have SO regretted the runs when I skipped the capris.  Bike shorts could also work under a skirt, but I don't like wearing leggings that are above the knee.  My skirt flies up when I run and I waste tons of energy worrying about holding my skirt to my knees.  Not fun.

We are programmed to think that skirts are dorky.  But believe it or not, running skirts are totally in!  Granted, they are usually short skirts, but the stretchy-skirt-over-leggings look is cool right now.  Lucky for us, huh?  At one of the 5Ks I ran this fall, we were watching the marathon start and I saw another girl running in a skirt.  Made me happy.

My friend told me she just decided it didn't matter what people thought.  I remembered that when I was chugging along in my skirt and leggings this summer, probably looking like I needed CPR.  I would tell myself, "I'm doing the right thing.  This is good.  It doesn't matter what they think."

"What is the essential running gear?"

I guess the only really essential thing is good shoes.  Your shoes matter!  Avoid running in street sneakers (Sketchers, for instance).  Get a shoe with good support. (Saucony, Adidas, Nike, etc.) Your whole body will thank you. We buy really good ones at Shoe Carnival during their BOGO sales.
One thing to look at is the diamond cuts in the bottom of a shoe. Some have a lot more cuts, which makes them more flexible. Also, it would be worth going to a really good running store where they can check your pronation (At least check this out to do your own easy test). This tells you how much support you need. A wider shoe base and bulkier shoe provides more support. Most shoe store people have never even heard of pronation! Read up on it here before you spend a hundred bucks on shoes.  You can find an $80 pair of shoes for $40 if you shop the sales. has good articles on gear.

After my first 500 miles, I switched from Saucony to Nike Free XT Everyday Fit.  (BOGO special at Shoe Carnival.) They are much more narrow and felt tight in the toe box at first.  It has taken quite a few miles to break them in but it was worth it.  They have an extensive diamond cut in the bottom which gives them a lot of flexibility.

 Socks matter.  Blisters hurt.  I still get blisters when I wear the wrong socks! I like moisture-wicking socks from Target.

Wicking shirts are really worth it in the summer! They move moisture away from your body instead of holding it against you like a regular shirt.  In the winter,  a wicking shirt will hold in the warmth but breathe out the moisture.  Under-armor is awesome stuff, but I still haven't shucked out the bucks to invest in any Under Armor.  I found David's (off-brand) at Aldis for like $6.99!  He has run in 30 degree weather in Atlanta, run in the cold rain, run in the snow. And it really keeps him warm.  I like to layer with a jacket over my shirt.

 "CHUB RUB! Ick! That awful feeling of thighs rubbed raw. 
How to prevent? How to treat?"

I loved reading this question.  That term cracks me up.  Of course, never run without shorts/leggins/capris...and you can get BodyGlide online or at sports stores for the chafing areas. Or - a lot of runners use vaseline. Treat existing chub rub with Desitin. 

"What do you wish someone had told you?"
(From an answer I sent someone already...may be some repeat information.)

Actually I'd like to share the things I'm glad someone did tell me! My uncle is a sports medicine chiropractor, Boston marathoner and triathlete and has owned a fitness center and trained people. He is my go-to guy and encourager. Good advice (some his, some mine):
Uncle Charles and Grandma Parsons Christmas 2009.  Pretty sure she's making fun of him.

1. Be consistent. (i have run for just a mile at night when pooped before or done my whole run around the church at midnight)

2. Don't worry about speed. long, slow runs burn the most fat. if you can't talk you're running too fast (until you get into speed work.)

3. good shoes (gear matters)

4. Rub and rub your muscles before and after (muscle rub cheapest at dollar store)

5. Read books & mags about running. Runners world really helped me.Read online for free.

6. You won't always be sore. Keep rubbing and running and your muscles will adapt.

7. The hardest part of a run (even for long-time runners) is the first mile or two. So in the beginning, you're ALWAYS doing the hardest part. Pres On! The best is yet to come.  I want to add to my original answer here... Even on a 10 or 13-mile run, I think the first 30 minutes while my body warms up is the hardest (except for the very end of a long run).  Seriously!  Even my Uncle, a running Master, says that he takes the first mile or two easier and picks it up from there.  (Read online about lactic acid build-up to understand more...)

Remember this when your start:  At the beginning, every run is the hardest part of the run!  When you are starting out at the beginning, with a 20 to 30-minute run, the whole thing is the hardest part!  You aren't getting to experience yet that awesome feeling when you body gets in a zone and cruises without pain.  This doesn't mean you should run longer at first!  Just hang in there.  I remember being terrified in week 5 of C25K when you are supposed to jog 2 miles or 20 minutes with no walking.  I wanted David to go with me because I was so scared of the challenge of moving from a walk/run to only running.  I kept waiting for my watch to beep at half time, but it was taking forever to beep.  I didn't want to look down at our time and get discouraged.  Turns out it either never beeped or I didn't hear it.  We ran way over the 20 minute mark and I was elated.  Ecstatic.  I did it and I survived!  I felt good!  I was hooked. 

8. Your battle is as much mental as it is physical. Fighting negative self talk is rougher than shin splints. I remember the 5K where I made my best time.  David and I decided to run separately. There were some major hills that I wasn't expecting.  I was pushing hard, not running at a fun pace (thus the better time, I suppose).  The hardest part of that race wasn't the hills or the lactic acid build-up.  It was my own mind.  Negative self-talk.  "You're not a real runner. What made you think you could possibly EVER work up to a marathon?  You're weak and slow."  It is a battle, I tell ya.  More sometimes than others.  But many runners will tell you that the mental challenge is tougher than the physical challenge.  David has a really neat story about this that I've asked him to write down so you all can read it.  Renewing your mind works in running!

9.  Stretch before and after.  Don't skip it. Way too much to get into here.  Google "running stretches" to find more information than you can even process.

What do you watch or listen to while running?
Watching something with episodes (Any Lucy fans out there!?) can take the dread out of a treadmill run. Episodes are often about 45 minutes, the plot moves forward and I watch several on long runs. It is less mentally painful than a regular video for some reason.  What to watch on?  Well, I've tried it all.  I've propped a laptop up on the paint-shelf of a ladder.  I've stacked up Rubbermaid tubs to get the right height.  Some crazy stuff.  Then David got me a wall-mounted flat screen with free credit card points for Valentines Day.  Pretty awesome dude, huh?

In my running playlist:  Toby Mac (Made to Love, Burn for You) Kutless (Strong Tower),  DC Talk (Lean on Me). This song totally pumps me up.  One of my talking points when I talk to teens about music is "Appropriateness."  Music that has the energy appropriate for a run will most likely not be what is appropriate for the awesomenes and solemnity of Sunday Morning Worship (as my Dad would say.)  This is personal, obviously,  listen to what is right for you! But I will say that music makes a huge difference in my running energy. I like to take my earbuds out sometimes and listen to the birds and the wind.  But when the run is tough, the music pushes me through!

When I was grieving the death of my Grandma Parsons this summer, I would listen to "Strong Tower" and bawl while I ran.  There's something about running that releases your insides.  And good words really soak in and build me up. Some awesome times of worship for me.  Sometimes it's like running is a gift from me back to God for all his goodness.  I've had to resist the urge to raise my hands in worship while I run.  (Shar, then they really WOULD call the cops to come help me!)

I know that eventually I will have to add variety or I will get bored! I also like to bike and jump rope. So if you know of any programs that include those, that would be fantastic.

 This is where cross-training comes in.  Cross-training is very valuable because it gives your muscles a break from the pounding, but you still get cardio benefits.  Cross-training should use different muscles than running.  I use my elliptical in the winter.  I like to ride my bike in the summer.  Swimming is an awesome cross-training option, but who has a pool available where you can swim modestly? Bummer.  Many training plans have 3-4 days of running, 2 days of cross-training, and a day or two of rest.  Jump-roping may not be a great cross-training option because of the leg and foot impact.  But if you feel okay, it's probably okay.

How do you track your miles run?

Some of the best advice I got was to keep a running journal.  I have this one, and it is a treasure to me.  It has my journey of a thousand miles recorded in it!  Knowing how many miles you've run or cross-trained, now that can be a challenge. Treadmill miles are easy to track.  But outside, we've done several things.  At first we would drive a route, record the distance, then run those routes over and over.  But then I started wanting to branch out a little.  So I would run a new route, then go back and drive it to see how far it was.  This got tough, because I would forget to drive the route later and it was just harder to keep track of.  So...I got a Garmin with my Christmas money from family.  Yes.  It's a little extreme.  And yes.  It's awesome and it was worth it.  It tracks route, pace, elevation, repeats, even heart rate.  Plug it into the computer and it uploads it all into a graph that I can keep.  Pretty amazing, really.  But the old drive-the-route plan works just fine.  Some local high schools will let the public run on their track on certain days of the week.  This makes keeping track of mileage easy as well.  And the padded track is much better on the legs.  But personally, I absolutely despise lap running.  Despise it.
"I am looking ahead and I know myself well enough to know that I need to have a plan after c25k or I will crash back to couch status again!
What training plan do you suggest I transition to? There is a 5k in June I was considering."

  David and I both think that scheduling races is one of the big motivators that keeps us going.  The energy at a race is awesome, it makes you feel like a real runner, it gives you a chance to really test yourself, it's a chance to reap the benefits of your consistent work, it gives a natural, timeable goal to work towards.  It's like a recital for runners.  After C25K, I transitioned to a couple of free training plans from Fitness Magazine.  The first was called "Your fastest 5K" and gently worked on improving speed and distance. Then I moved to their "Your Fastest 10K" training plan.  After that, I sorta combined different online training plans and wrote my own plan to fit my transition time. Then we started training from this book.  I have some other books that have good training plans, as well.  Runner's world charges for most of those (although if you look hard enough I'm pretty sure I've run across some free ones online)  There are lots of free training plans online.  I have spent quite a lot of time browsing plans and learning from the different methods. 

To find races that are close to you, go to and click "races" on the left to search the races in your state.  Or click here.

How do you find the time to run with little ones? Do you mainly use the treadmill? Go early in the morning?? Trying to figure out how I could do this with 6 kids.....
 Hmm...Great question.  (Congrats on the twins, by the way!) I think it was just sheer determination (or desperation) for awhile, then it just became part of what we do.  During last summer when I started, sometimes David could stay at home with the kids in the morning long enough for me to run.    Sometimes I've run at midnight around our church parking lot (we live next door). I am a chicken about running on the street in the dark.  I have run laps around our large yard.  I know someone with babies who started out running loops down the halls through her house!  Sometimes I've had to get up at 5:30 or so to run before he left.  The early morning runs are awesome, but it is obviously dark.  I have to run very carefully to avoid falling and putting myself out of commission with an injury.  Don't like that part.  And I have learned that sleep is one of the most important factors in my ability to be a good mom, wife and Christian.  I value my sleep very much.

Then we got the treadmill and that made it a cinch compared to finding time to run outside without kids.  I prefer to run when the baby is sleeping so I don't have to think about him, but I have an extra long baby gate (Goodwill) that blocks the treadmill area.  I have found that it is much easier if I get the run done before the girls get home from school.  Evenings are full, then evenings are full, then it gets night and I'm tired and it's so much harder to drag myself to do the run.   We love to run together, especially on our Saturday long runs.  We are blessed with two things: we live near David's mother and she keeps the kids for a few hours while we run.  And we have used a girl from church who lives close and is willing to watch the kids for $5.00 per hour - even if it's only a couple of hours.  I know.  Those are blessings I don't take for granted and not everyone has them.  But this has been something that we have had to make room for in our budget to make it work best for us.

As for "fitting it in,"  I guess it's like the whole rocks, pebbles and sand in a jar demonstration.  Running became one of the big rocks for me.  I just get it in.  Five days, every week.  And amazingly, I think the pebbles and sand are fitting in much better.   Not that I've never left dishes or laundry or messes sitting to fit in a run. But overall, I feel so much better.  I have more energy.  I'm not dragging myself around every day. So it balances out.

I have a baby jogger, but haven't used it for running much.  I have the boys (4 and 1) at home during the day, so I have been shopping Craigslist and Once Upon a Child for a double baby jogger so I could run outside while the girls are at school.  

I will say that I think timing has a lot to do with success.  The timing just seemed to come together for me this summer.  I wasn't having a baby or moving (which is typically normal summer activity for us for the past 10 years.) My husband is in a different stage of his PhD and is home more now.  Things like that.

Sarah, I would love to hear more about your wall of inspiration. We have a guest room--an oxymoron considering you can barely figure out where the bed is! But that's where the treadmill is. I want to rearrange it a little to make it a fun place to run.
Oh, yes, my running wall makes me happy.  I lay in bed sometimes looking over my wall and relive the races and read the scriptures and look at the posters and it fuels me.  I hang all of our race bibs, my favorite running scriptures, quotes, posters, even my expired weight watchers monthly passes.  I know.  I'm a nerd.  But I'm a happy nerd.  I'll try to add a picture on here later.
What is the difference between running and jogging?  Can I call myself a runner even though I still run slow? 

If you run, Baby, you're a runner! Speed is all relative, anyway.  All good runners do different kinds of runs...maintenance runs, easy jogs, speed workouts, long runs.  It's all running.  I found this article when I was still new to running.  I loved it, printed it, and it is in my master notebook.   I am Not a Jogger.  It still inspires me. I think you are a runner the first day you start a running plan (and stick to it.)

Is it worth it?
Oh my goodness.  No doubt. Yes. Even if you discover that tennis or biking or Zumba is your favorite thing, getting this start is worth gold and silver and precious jewels.

It's not like it makes me suddenly and magically immune to all melancholy insecurity or hormone spills.  But it helps.  I have another post I want to write about the lessons I've learned from running.  It strengthens your body, your mind and your spirit.  I have more energy for my kids and my days.  It just feels better.  It feels so good to be strong again.  Our kids are more aware of health now and we are better equipped to help them lead healthy lives.  I remember this summer after I started running we went to the park with the kids.  I was playing around with them, climbing and running and swinging like a kid.  They were surprised!  They were elated!  It was a little sad for me to realize how different I had felt before. And that my kids had a new Mamma.  It was who I knew I was -  all full of kid-ishness inside - but didn't realize they didn't know me that way. Yes.  It's so worth every mile.


I do not pretend to think that I am an expert on these matters.  This is just a review of my own learning experience and of the tips I've picked up from all over along this journey.

Please give grace for any typos and inconsistent formatting.  This got quite long and I need to give it a rest. : )

Click here for more of my disclaimer ramblings about this subject.

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