The article addresses three main points for beginning runners: running form, training programs, and injuries. The author briefly discusses the fact that there is a lot of information "out there" and some of it reiterates myths that could actually be harmful to runners. For example running form, as a new runner you read in numerous places that there is a perfect way to strike the ground with your midfoot or forefoot. But research shows that there is no evidence for "perfect form". Instead, studies have shown that people run in a way that is best for their body and changing it can cause injury.
As for running programs, there is not a one size fits all. When choosing a program, the runner must take into account the goals they are trying to meet and how fit they are when the begin. One piece of running advice that stays true is that new runners need to begin slowly and increase mileage gradually (often advised, 10% per week). Runners shouldn't feel locked into a program, and he/she should change their running time and miles dependent on how they feel.
And finally, the dreaded injury is discussed. The author brings up the fact that while running, injury is unavoidable and the only thing associated with running injuries is actually running. The more mileage a runner does, the more likely they are to sustain an injury.
The article was interesting. It will, obviously, be criticized for its Que Sera Sera type of attitude towards running. What's your take: Does form matter? Are there certain programs that are better than others? Are injuries avoidable? Are we inundated with too much advice?
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For Beginning Runners, Advice Can Be a HurdleI wrote a column last month discussing whether runners should train with a coach — and not a single reader wrote in to ask how to find a coach. But many asked about something else.
By GINA KOLATA
Published: November 14, 2011
I mentioned that my colleague Henry Fountain had started running with the help of a podcast. Readers wanted to know what podcast it was. “I really need it,” one wrote. (For the record, that podcast, on podrunner.com, is called “First Day to 5K.”)
That response is an indication, exercise researchers say, of two things: how hard it is for someone who is not used to running to suddenly take up the sport; and how unnecessarily complicated advice about running has become as “experts” battle over shoes and running form and training programs.
Researchers who have no financial ties to running programs or shoe manufacturers say that most of those complications are unnecessary and some of the advice is even risky, because it can make running harder and can increase the chance of injury.
Take, for example, the notion that there is a perfect running form, like striking the ground with the midfoot or forefoot. There is no convincing evidence for this convoluted advice, disinterested researchers say. In fact, studies have found that individuals automatically run in a way that is most efficient for their own bodies. Those who change the way they run naturally are less efficient and more prone to injury.
“There is good evidence that your body is exquisitely lazy and will find the easiest way for you to run,” said Carl Foster, professor of exercise and sports medicine at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.
Even elite runners have a variety of styles. Some strike the ground with the heel, others with the midfoot. Some look elegant, while others look awkward and clumsy.
Dr. Steef Bredeweg of the University Medical Center Groningen, in the Netherlands, and his colleague Dr. Ida Buist are principal investigators in a series of rigorous studies of runners, asking how best to train novices and how to prevent injuries.
When it comes to running form, Dr. Bredeweg said, “we don’t know what is the right thing to do.” For example, he noted, forefoot strikers place less stress on their knees but more on their calves and Achilles tendons.
“We tell people we don’t know a thing about the best technique,” he said. He tells runners to use the form they naturally adopt.
Running form is just one example of the confusions buffeting beginning runners. Running, said John Raglin, professor of kinesiology at Indiana University, “is so prone to these sorts of trends.”
People “will latch onto anything,” he added, and an anecdote or two about what is supposed to be an ideal running form often passes for evidence.
Exercise researchers also say there is no perfect program to get people started running. A lot depends on what a person’s goals are and how fit he or she is before starting to run. Experts caution, though, that it is important to start slowly, increase mileage and effort gradually, and not become a slave to a rigorous program.
“You have to be more patient than anything you have heard or read about,” Dr. Raglin said. “People are indoctrinated with what they can achieve in a short time with a little bit of work. But the reality is very different.”
Individuals, even competitive athletes, also vary enormously in their ability to adapt to training. There is very little science to explain why, but Dr. Raglin and others have repeatedly documented the effect.
Two athletes can be training at the same relative intensity, running the same distances. In races, the two are equivalent. But one will break down under a training program and the other will thrive, Dr. Raglin said.
So if a training program does not seem to be working, he said, “don’t stick with it because you think it’s what you have to do.”
He suspects that unreasonable expectations are an important reason about half of all people who start a running program drop out, usually in the first six weeks.
Others give up after an injury. Unfortunately, though, injuries seem to be an unavoidable part of the sport. Dr. Bredeweg and Dr. Buist noted that about a fifth of novices who were training to do a popular four-mile run were injured and stopped running before they ever reached that goal. When the researchers tried to figure out how to prevent the injuries, they learned that the only thing associated with running injuries was, in fact, running. The more people ran, the more likely it was that they would become injured.
Despite these obstacles, many beginners, like my colleague Henry, succeed with programs like podcasts, while others, like Daniel C. Smith, dean of the business school at Indiana University, succeed on their own.
Until last spring, Dr. Smith thought running was not for him. He’d tried it a few times. Inevitably, after about a quarter of a mile, he decided it was not fun. Then his wife took up running, and Dr. Smith thought that perhaps they could run together. He bought running shoes and began. “The trees were starting to blossom, flowers were coming out,” he said. He was motivated, he said, by the opportunity to be outside.
“The next thing I knew, I was up to two or three miles,” he said.
Then he and his wife entered a five-kilometer race. “We survived,” said Dr. Smith, who is 54. “But there is nothing like starting your Saturday morning being beaten by 75-year-old men and passed at the finish line by 8-year-old kids. It is quite humbling.”
He decided to train to run faster and went to various Web sites to find out how.
“They are so complicated,” Dr. Smith said. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, it’s just running.’ ”