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A Word of Advice for Female Runners

 
Female Runners

Female Runners

Clarksville, TN – If your list of resolutions this year includes taking up running—and if you’re a woman—you should know this up front: for every female runner, there are half a dozen naysayers with an arsenal of reasons why she should stop.

This is especially true for the middle-aged runner. I was reminded of this phenomenon last month at a local gym when I had one of those experiences that leaves a person slack-jawed and wondering, “Did that just happen?”

I had just finished a few miles on the treadmill when a woman abruptly approached me and proceeded to detail various horrifying “facts” about the damage that female runners do to their bodies.  Shocked and trapped with my back against a weight machine, I simply stared at the woman during the tirade until she moved on.

According to some well-meaning pessimists, a woman’s bladder will prolapse, all her best assets will sag, and her firstborn child will suffer from warts if she runs. Sherri, 48-year-old mother of five, says, “I think there is a stigma attached to women’s running, e.g. knee problems.”

Jennifer of Clarksville comments, “Non-runners don’t understand and sometimes actually think they’re helping by pointing out potential problems and don’t realize how discouraging they are. When I started running, I mostly only told people who were fellow runners because I knew they would be excited for me and I needed that encouragement.”

Granted, injuries do happen. Even Camie, who’s been running injury-free for more than three decades, admits, “Running isn’t for everyone, and anything done in excess will result in problems.” Moderation, as well as listening to and responding to your body, is crucial. Any athlete must know when to push a little further versus when to take a breather.

A pregnant runner

A pregnant runner

And when problems do arise, don’t jump to conclusions. Pain is often the body’s way of saying, “Strengthen me” rather than “Stop using me.”

When I first experienced “crunchy knees”—my fancy term for a condition that affects both runners and non-runners—I talked to my doctor, who encouraged me to keep running while focusing on strengthening my quads. “It might get worse before it gets better,” he said, “but there’s no need to stop working out.”

Until then, I didn’t know quadriceps from quadrangles, but educating myself taught me that the benefits of an active lifestyle far outweigh the occasional glitches. In fact, Gretchen Reynolds describes “an Australian study of middle-aged long-distance runners” that led researchers to surmise that “continuous exercise may be protective, rather than destructive” to one’s knees due to the growth and regeneration stimulated by activity (Elle, Jn. 2012). Happily, my knees have improved a great deal since taking my doctor’s advice.

Kudos to those of you who have determined to get healthy and get moving this year. With any luck, your friends and family will be encouraging. But if they warn you against your decision, just bite your tongue, take a deep breath . . . and lace up those running shoes.

Runner’s Tips

If you’re a runner who’s approaching (or already well-acquainted with) middle age, Donna Pittman (Road Runners Clubs of America Certified Running Coach and Clarksville Area YMCA Running Coach) offers these tips to help you continue running safely for many years:

  1. Adopt the Jeff Galloway method of run-walk-run as a gentler form of running. Warm up with at least 5 minutes of walking and then alternate running and walking. Run for 9 minutes and walk for 1 minute or use shorter intervals of running for just 2 minutes before walking 1 minute. For more information, check out www.jeffgalloway.com.
  2. Take a day off between runs to allow your body to recover a bit.
  3. Include cross-training in your exercise program on non-running days. Take a Zumba or yoga class, cycle, swim, or just go for a walk. Cross-training utilizes and strengthens your non-running muscles and can help maintain your aerobic base.
  4. Run on soft surfaces when you can. Grass is the softest surface, but the ground is often uneven. An outdoor track, such as the one at Austin Peay State University, has a soft, spongy surface. [Other suitable surfaces include] a dirt trail, treadmill, or indoor track such as at the Clarksville Area YMCA or Hilldale Family Life Center.
  5. Make sure you replace your running shoes regularly, every 300–500 miles.
  6. Add light strength training to your routine at least once a week. After the age of 40, we begin to lose bone and muscle. Bodyweight strength training activities and using free weights can help combat this loss.

About Victoria York

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