Overcoming Pain As a New Runner

In late April I started running consistently again after a ten-year absence.  I had several false starts during those ten years, and always gave up due primarily to knee pain and trying to do too much, too soon.

With this new start, I told myself I’d keep the minutes way down.  I started with only ten minutes, and move up five minutes with each passing month.  If that sounds ridiculously slow, it is.  But, I think it’s been a smart move because I’m still running and the pain has been manageable, even rare, between late April and now.

But I won’t lie – there has been pain.  I’d like to share with  you how I dealt with the pain and offer some solutions I discovered through trial and error.

The first major issue I struggled with were my feet.  They’d fall asleep.  Literally go numb during a run.  Keep in mind I’m probably between twenty and thirty pounds overweight, so that was a lot of pounding on some feet that hadn’t been asked to do that kind of thing in a while.  The numb feet didn’t last too long, maybe a couple of weeks.  I wasn’t too concerned about it because as soon as I would stop running, the numbness would go away.  This told me it was a running issue, not a general health issue.  I think as my lungs, heart, legs, and feet got accustomed to the running, the numbness occurred less and less.  This is where starting off with only ten minute runs proved important.  They’d go numb around the eight minute mark, and then I’d stop within two more minutes.  If I’d gone longer, there’s a good chance I would have injured myself.

Furthermore, I noticed that if I ran in the morning the numbness wasn’t as likely to happen.  I’m a teacher, so running in the morning is a lot easier during the summer months.

Finally, the way I tied my shoes played a role in the numbness.  The tighter my shoe laces, the more likely they were to go numb.  Of course, this sounds like I cut off my circulation, doesn’t it?  Now I keep my laces tight enough to keep my foot from sliding around in the shoe, but loose enough that I have virtually no slack by the time they are tied.  Again, this seems to have contributed to a solution.

The next major issue was knee pain.  It wasn’t one particular knee – they’d take turns causing me trouble.  I guess I should consider myself lucky that it’s never both knees at once.

I knew there were several things contributing to my knee pain.  The first is my weight.  Those extra pounds make the pounding on knees even more substantial.  I knew I had to cut back a little and try to lose weight from fewer calories as well as from running.  This is an ongoing process.

Secondly, I have two children.  One just turned six, the other turned two a few months ago.  I carry my two-year old quite a bit, and she weighs a little over thirty pounds.  So do the math – I’m twenty pounds overweight, she’s thirty pounds, that’s an extra fifty pounds on my knees.  I also tend to carry her on my left side, and guess what, that’s the knee that hurts more often than not.  She’s a walker now, and she’s even getting stairs down well, so I’m carrying her less and less.  I think this has helped alleviate the knee pain.

And unfortunately for my six-year-old,  I refuse to carry her anymore.  I used to carry her down the steps in the morning when she woke and then up the steps at night for bed.  It’s something I’d always done since she was a baby.  Well, she’s not a baby anymore.  I explained to her that my knees were giving me trouble and that if I stopped carrying her it would help them feel better.  She’s a sweet kid, so she understood.  She didn’t like it at first, but she understood.  Again, soon thereafter, the knee pain lessened.

And, because I have two young kids, I’m on the floor a lot.  The constant up and down is hard on the knees, so I’ve tried to be more deliberate with how I get off the floor.  I try to use better form, if that makes sense.  Also, I noticed that when I sit cross-legged, my knees tend to hurt more than when I sit with my legs stretched out in front of me.

All of these changes have contributed to my knee pain virtually going away.  Of course, I’m also getting in generally better shape as I continue running, which also helps.  Don’t underestimate the power of good form!  When I get tired and start flailing around with my arms and legs, I notice pain sets in pretty quickly.  Controlled form is part of being in shape, but is so helpful in keeping the body feeling well.

In the beginning, my calves would also get very tight.  I once more blame this primarily on the extra weight and asking them to do work they weren’t used to doing.  But, I changed a few things that have helped that calf pain virtually disappear.

The first thing I did was change how I stretched my calves before and after running.  I was standing on a step and leaning back and down with my heels to stretch them, but now I do wall stretches for them.  I place one knee and my hands against a wall, then stretch the other leg behind me with that leg’s foot flat on the ground.  You can feel the burn, for sure, and I think it suits my build better and puts less pressure on my knees.

I was also walking for five minutes before a run instead of stretching.  I read that walking before a run does practically nothing to warm you up, so I decided to give those calves a good stretch then just start running.  Once I did this, the calf pain went away.  I still make a point to walk for five minutes after a run in order to cool down, and then do all my stretches over again.  Some say that stretching before a run doesn’t do a whole lot, but it’s proved helpful to me.

I’m sure the feet, calves, and knees are all related, and it’s probably the combination of all the changes that helped all three issues, but I thought I’d share with you in case you were suffering any similar troubles.

My last issue, and by far the scariest, were heart palpitations.  When I started running, sometimes I would notice my heart fluttering a little.  I’m thirty-seven years old, and I take that kind of thing very seriously.  I had no other symptoms to indicate heart problems, so I slowed down and kept careful mental note of how I felt thereafter.  As soon as the run ended, my heart would feel fine.

Part of me attributed this to being an out of shape runner, but I eventually figured something else out that was probably causing the problem – coffee.  If I have more than one cup of coffee even a few hours before a run, I’ll notice the fluttering.  However, if I keep it to one cup of coffee and then have a glass of water instead of that second cup, there’s no fluttering.  If I know I’m running on a certain day, I limit my caffeine and it seems to be working.

Okay, I think that’s it for now.  My kids have been sick the last couple days, so I haven’t gotten in all the runs I wanted, but as I told myself when I started this new lifestyle, I’m not going to obsess about it.  I’ll run when I can run.  Thanks for stopping by, and if you see me out there, say “hi.”

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