Should I, Could I Run?

By Patti Finke, M.S.


Choosing an activity for fitness, whether it's walking, running cycling, swimming or aerobics, should be based first on enjoyment. Choose by what you want to do, by what you are comfortable doing and what you can see yourself doing for a long time. The good news is that there are lots of choices and you can do more than one.


Reasons to Choose

1. I am having fun walking and want to continue to do so. One of the greatest advantages of walking is that you have a little more opportunity to look at the surroundings, enjoy the sights and commune with nature. I confess that I have run Wildwood Trail for 20 years without seeing the trees for the forest. It wasn't until this spring when I made an effort to walk all the trails in Hoyt Arboretum that I noticed many of the trees are marked with common and scientific names, there are varieties of trees from all over the world and they are somewhat clumped by type. If your reason to choose walking is that you love it, continue to do it and don't ever apologize for your choice.

2. I want to stay injury free. In my 15 years of experience of working with both runners and walkers, especially marathoners; I have seen many injuries in both kinds of athletes. I see similar injury rates, but different kinds. Runners tend to get more knee injuries while walkers' shins and feet seem to have more problems. Any sport has injuries when too much mileage is added too fast, when you work too hard, when you don't have adequate rest days or when you are not wearing the proper shoes. It is difficult to compare the literature on sports injuries when the definitions of injury differ. Running injuries are usually defined as an event leading to a change in normal training and walking literature has defined injury as events needing a doctor visit. You need to train properly, be blessed with good biomechanics or, at least, wear good shoes, have adequate muscle strength and do some stretching to stay healthy with either sport.

3. I want to get faster or I can't get my heart rate up. If you want to be a faster walker, you need to learn some skills. Fast walking, unlike running, is a motor skill that takes practice of some specific techniques. Try taking some skill classes or add some running breaks into your walk training. To get heart rate up, you might try an occasional hill workout. Never add ankle or hand weights to try to get a better workout, they can create biomechanical disaster and injury. I have met lots of marathoners who just don't want to be on their feet 6 -8 hours walking and plan to finish sooner by running some.

4. I want to learn to run. Walkers often come to me asking how to start running or how to incorporate some running into their walking programs. Many have not been successful on their own because they work too hard when running. A combined walking and running routine can be a fun and healthy fitness program. Walking creates a healthy muscle and tendon base, making running easier and safer to attempt.


How to Start

The first thing before starting a running program is be injury free. Check with your doctor if you are over 40 or have any of the risk factors for a heart attack. The next step is to visit your local technical running store to get the best shoes for the task. Tell them you are going to start running and let them help pick the shoes that fit and work for you.

The easiest way to learn to run is to use a heart rate monitor. To estimate a good upper limit for your raining heart rate, use 185 minus your age. For example, if you are 40, 185 - 40 = 145. Pick a hard training day, but cut the distance a little. Start with a walking warm up of 1/2 to one mile. Jog ( an easy energy conserving pace) until your heart rate rises to 5 beats over your training rate. Walk until it is 5 beats under. Finish the workout with a walking cool down of at least 1/2 mile. Do the walk/jog every other day, continuing to walk on the alternate workouts. After 4 - 6 weeks, you should be able to run continuously for 2 -3 workouts a week. The warm up and cool down can then be done at the 5 beats under effort. Use the same technique for the other days if you choose. The goal with heart rate training is to run faster at the same training heart rate.

If you don't want to buy a heart rate monitor, you can use timed running intervals on the track. Go to the track and walk 2 -4 laps as warm up. The first week , on alternate days, walk the curves, jog the straights. Running should not be all out, but at a comfortable easy pace. Remember to maintain the alternate walking days. The next week walk 1/2 a lap, run 1/2 a lap on alternate days. The next week walk a lap, jog a lap. The next week walk 1 lap, jog 2 laps. The real secret to adding in the running is to do it at a comfortable pace. Again, in 4 -6 weeks you should be able to run continuously for 2 -3 workouts per week.


Frequently asked questions

Do I need to run all the time?

You can run as much as your body allows but you should not add more running mileage faster than 5% per week.

You can walk or run as much as you choose. If you are training on hilly terrain, one approach is to walk the up hills and run the downs.


Can I walk/run a marathon?

Race organizers do not care if you run walk /run most marathons. You cannot do this if you entered as a race walker or if you are doing a walk only event such as a relay. Remember to train the way you are going to do the event.

Where can I learn to run?

Join Team Oregon where 4 coaches can help you become a runner using a heart rate monitor. They can give you a training schedule and answer all of your running questions.

Patti Finke, M.S. is and exercise physiologist, fitness consultant and coach with wY'east Consulting, Inc. She is a director of the Portland Marathon Training Clinics for running and walking, the walking and running coach for the Oregon Chapter of the Leukemia Society's Team in Training Program, a coach for Team Oregon, a member of the National Coaching Board for Team in Training. She is a long time runner, hiker and walker who can usually be found somewhere on the local trails.

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