They sprint by you in the morning as you bend down gingerly to pick up your newspaper. Usually in groups, chattering as they run by. As quickly as you see them, they’re gone. You shuffle inside to get the coffee going.
You feel an urge to join them. They make it look so easy, after all. They’re not huffing or puffing. They actually look like they’re enjoying themselves. But the few times you’ve tried to jog, you didn’t have the stamina to last two blocks—and you suffered foot blisters for your efforts. Those runners must just be natural athletes.
It’s likely the people you see so casually pounding the pavement started out just like you—with little or no experience or stamina. And a lot of them are middle-aged or older. Recent statistics show that tens of thousands of baby boomers have taken up jogging as a way to outrun the ravages of old age.
“Running isn't for everyone, but it's one of the best exercises you can do for your heart and lungs,” says Dr. William F. Bennett, a Sarasota-based orthopedic surgeon specializing in sports medicine and the author of The Athlete in You. Participating in an anaerobic exercise like running, he says, keeps cholesterol levels in check and reduces weight. Running regularly also helps keep bones, muscles and joints healthy. It reduces the risk of stroke and some cancers, and even keeps diabetes and hypertension at bay.
It’s also a great mood elevator, says Mary Lenari, a personal trainer and program director for the Jeff Galloway Training Program in Sarasota. “We’ve all heard about runner’s high,” she explains. “Research shows that running creates a release of endorphins that inspires a general sense of happiness, sometimes even exhilaration.” Lenari points out that that happy feeling isn’t just chemical: “It also has to do with the camaraderie runners have. We’re a family. We overcome obstacles together and learn how to be more focused and determined.”
Lenari should know about determination. When she was 49 (she’s 61 now), she hadn’t run a block in her life. That changed when she saw an ad for a basic training course at a local gym. On a lark, she signed up. “My husband couldn’t believe it,” she recalls. “But I told him I could do it, and I did.” There were only two women in the class slower than she was—and they both dropped out. “I couldn’t run more than two blocks without stopping to catch my breath.”
Determined to pass the course with flying colors, Lenari took it seven more times. By the seventh session, she was able to keep up with the fastest runners.
It was a turning point in her life.
“I had just turned 50, and I was hooked,” she says. She subscribed to Runner’s World magazine and talked to friends who ran. Through her research, she discovered the Jeff Galloway Training Program and signed up at a local chapter. The Galloway Program is a low-mileage, low-impact regime that alternates running with walking in order to safely and slowly build endurance. Lenari also found a runners’ group and began running three days a week with them. “I was careful to run with others at my level,” she says. “That way, I never felt discouraged.”
At 51, Mary Lenari ran her first 10K race; at 52, her first marathon. In the seven years since, Lenari has completed 38 marathons in 20 different states.
“Running has changed my life,” says Lenari. “It’s enhanced my health, my social life—even my marriage, since my husband and I run together. And he’s in his 70s.”
So, what do we need to know before we pound the pavement?
“To begin with,” says Dr. Bennett, “take time to stretch your muscles before and after you exercise. It’s important to warm up before stretching. Muscles that are warm will be less likely to tear. That might mean you take a vigorous 10-minute walk to get your core body temperature up, followed by 10 to 15 minutes of stretching. Stretching is one of the best preventive measures against injury.”
Next, says Lenari, come up with goals that are realistic. “Don’t set yourself up for failure; accept your level of fitness and go from there.” She says that a realistic goal for a beginner is about 30 minutes of exercise. “That doesn’t mean 30 minutes of running,” she says. “You can alternate running with walking. It’s not about speed—it’s about building endurance.”
Building endurance slowly is, according to Bennett, another key to remaining injury-free.
“Don’t increase distance or endurance levels at too great increments,” says Bennett. “Become comfortable with one level before you progress to another.”
Tony Souza, the director of the Downtown Partnership of Sarasota, agrees with Bennett’s estimation. In his 60s now, he has dabbled in running for more than 20 years. He and his wife, Elsie, became serious about it when their son, an accomplished runner, died 12 years ago. “Elsie and I started seriously running together two years ago,” says Souza. “In honor of our son, we decided to run the Marine Corps marathon.” While Tony and Elsie now comfortably run five miles each morning together (over the Ringling Bridge and around St. Armands Circle), Souza remembers well the awkward period of re-acclimating to the exercise. “If you’re serious about running, you have to make it a habit,” he says. “It takes about three weeks of maintaining a regular running schedule before it starts to stick. Pace yourself, don’t give up, and a few weeks later, you’ll have re-conditioned your mind and your body.”
Another vital component to healthy running is choosing the right footwear. Lisette Riveron, the race coordinator for Sarasota’s annual marathon, The Grouper Run (which takes place March 4), says that shoes can make or break the runner. “Invest in your feet,” she says. “But what works for me might not work for you. It’s worth going to a specialty store and having your foot measured by a professional. I happen to love New Balance, but some people do better with other brands.”
Bennett devotes a hefty section of his book to footwear. “The substance used on the shoe to protect the center of your sole is responsible for determining the amount of pressure felt by the rest of your body,” he writes. Knee injuries, in particular can be caused by wearing improper running shoes. Bennett recommends shoes made of materials that decrease the shock to the lower leg, citing Plastazote as the most effective material to use. He also advises runners to change shoes on a regular basis.
Lenari suggests that new runners train with friends and other runners who have the same goals. “This way you’ll never get discouraged or left behind,” she says. “It becomes another enjoyable thing to do with friends and colleagues. Have fun with it! If it begins to feel like a chore, you’re going to find excuses not to run.”
Running aficionados also suggest adding low-impact activities such as Pilates, yoga, Tai Chi and recumbent cycling to weekly workout programs. “Try to create a workout program that combines stretching, strength training and cardiovascular exercises,” says Lenari.
She also adds a list of other important considerations, including avoiding over-training, eating and hydrating properly, and choosing surfaces that work for your body. “I can’t run on beaches,” she says. “Wish I could, but I’ve never had a good beach run.” She also reminds people to be aware of their environment. “People injure themselves by tripping or falling because they’re not paying attention,” she says. Running publications also caution runners to carry a cell phone or mace if they’re running alone in isolated areas.
Finally, it’s not a bad idea, especially if you’re of baby boomer age, to make sure your body is up for vigorous exercise. “Make sure you don’t have any pre-existing conditions that might become more aggravated with running,” says Dr. Bennett. “That doesn’t mean you can’t run, but it is wise to at least be aware of what body parts are more prone to injury.”
It’s a lot of hard work, but runners enjoy every moment. Why?
For Souza and his wife, it’s more than just about staying in shape—although that is certainly a bonus. Running together has become a special part of their daily routine. “We make sure not to talk about problems,” Souza says. “It’s more like meditation, and it’s a really wonderful way for us to start our day together.”
And for Lisette Riveron, running has taught her how to be more independent and believe in her own strength.
“I took up running in my 40s,” she says. “Before, I was a housewife without a lot of goals. Once I started running, I amazed myself with the sense of power I felt from reaching and surpassing goals. I’m in awe of natural athletes, but I hold a special place in my heart for the recreational runners who finish at the end of a race. My heroes are those people who have family and social obligations and physical restrictions, and who still manage to carve out time to get out there and run three times a week. It’s twice as hard for them to get to that finish line, and when they do, you just can’t help but give a long, loud cheer.”
For more information on Jeff Galloway's "Five Steps to Getting Started" and Rachel Keller's "Ten Tips for Avoiding Running Injuries," see our Web-only story.
RUNNING SMART Most runners replace their running shoes every 300-700 miles.
According to the American Council on Exercise, beginners should run no more than four days per week, giving themselves 48 hours to recover from the stress placed on the weight-bearing joints.
According to the American Running & Fitness Association and the Nicholas Institute of Sports Medicine and Athletic Trauma, runners often suffer from knee pain, or patellofemoral pain syndrome. This pain can be easily alleviated by strengthening and stretching the quadriceps muscles.
BE HEALTHY. BE SELFISH?
A new book promotes meeting your needs first.
Are you too good for your own good?
This is the fundamental question Sarasota husband-and-wife team Rachael and Richard Heller pose in Healthy Selfishness: Getting the Life You Deserve Without the Guilt, their guide to helping people recognize and understand patterns of self-denial.
Let’s clarify something right away: The Hellers are not advocating selfishness. What they are advocating is finding the “appropriate balance between taking care of the needs of others and your own needs,” says Rachael Heller. “When we sacrifice our needs and desires to fulfill those of others, we are practicing self-denial.” And, according to the Hellers, this is not a good thing—for you or anyone around you.
Professors, counselors, and authors of 14 books, including the New York Times’ bestseller, The Carbohydrate Addict’s Diet, the Hellers have devoted their careers to helping people reach personal goals.
According to their theory, self-denial usually stems from guilt and feelings of unworthiness. “We give up our most basic needs not because we want to, but because we find it almost impossible not to,” says Rachael. Self-deniers are often anxious perfectionists who worry obsessively, she says, but they can learn how to give themselves a break. Filled with personal anecdotes of struggle and victory, Healthy Selfishness offers practical techniques and strategies for making positive changes.
“You can’t help others if you’re not getting your basic needs met,” says Rachael. “It’s the airplane oxygen mask scenario; you put your mask on first and then help others around who can’t help themselves.”
Healthy selfishness opens the door to a life of freedom from being ruled by the opinions and demands of others, the Hellers claim. It can also offer freedom from the internal voices that judge and blame you relentlessly—voices some of us have carried with us since childhood.
Sound like you could use a dose of healthy selfishness? Start by reading the book.
That is, if you’ll allow yourself the time.
Healthy Selfishness: Getting the Life You Deserve Without the Guilt, by Rachael F. Heller, PhD, and Richard F. Heller, PhD, is available at area bookstores and online.