When I first started running, I jumped right into the sport and dreamed of crossing my first finish line, hands in the air, and a smile on my face. It’s easy for someone who’s new to running to envision all the wonderful parts of the sport, but it isn’t all smiles and medals.
Running comes with its own growing pains that often go away the more experienced you get at managing them, and the more your body gets used to the stress you put on it when you’re hitting the pavement for miles on end. If you can handle the growing pains early on, chances are you’ll be able to move on from them, and you may even become a lifelong runner!
During my early days as a runner, I didn’t really know my body and didn’t listen to it very well. Then, the more I realized what it was telling me, the happier I ran and the better I got. But to get to that point, I had to go through the ups and downs.
One of the biggest issues I had as a new runner was trouble breathing, which I initially thought was just because I was out of shape and suddenly pushing my body to this crazy cardio experience. As I was increasing my ability to run miles two, three, four miles, my shortness of breath wasn’t going away. Eventually, during a normal check-up with my doctor, I mentioned this to her in passing and she decided to administer a breathing test. The results showed I had asthma!
After my diagnosis, I started using an inhaler before my runs, and the symptoms improved a bit; I was able to catch my breath, and run a little more comfortably. But after a few months of this, things still weren’t perfect. It was around this time that I randomly started doing yoga for cross-training, and I started learning about deep breathing. When I combined these deep breathing exercises with my pre-run inhaler, my symptoms improved drastically. Suddenly I wasn’t huffing and puffing anymore! My tip to you is to check things out with your doctor when you aren’t quite sure, and also explore other ways to manage your running growing pains! The medical-exercise combo may just be what you need.
New runners often attest to another common and quite annoying growing pain: side stitches. Yes, those uncomfortable pains in the side of your ribs that pop up just at the most inopportune moments, like during your first 5K or during a long training run you just have to get done. What’s a runner to do?!
Side stitches come from a muscle spasm of your diaphragm, and can be a challenge to get rid of in the middle of your run. I remember getting the worst, most incredibly painful side stitch during the first 10K I ever ran––which was in the middle of the winter. I had to pull off to the side of the road and stop because every step hurt. I wanted to cry––I had worked so hard for this race! After I got past my self-pity, I started to use some of the strategies I heard about.
First, I stopped breathing from my chest and started breathing from my belly. Next, I stretched the side that was hurting me, and gently pressed my fingers directly up and into the spot that hurt while deep breathing. This, in addition to rehydrating, helped me get back to my race as I eased my pace back up. I didn’t try to run at my top speed right away, but eased back into my comfortable pace. Runners are known for doing too much, too fast, but my advice to you is fight that urge to do so!
Knowing about these growing pains ahead of time can also help you prepare for them. For example, you can help avoid a side stitch by not eating one or two hours before your run, making sure you’re hydrated, and warm up (walk or run at a slow pace before pushing it). Also, good posture can help with the cramps. Running with a more upright posture and less hunching helps decrease the risk of side stitches, and helps you breathe better which brings more oxygen into your muscles.
Some of the other “growing pains” I’ve dealt with as a new runner include:
- Blisters. Use body glide, moisture-wicking socks, proper-fitting shoes, and/or athletic tape to manage your blisters
- Chafing. Wear moisture-wicking clothes and use (lots of) body glide!
- Nutrition. Learning what to eat before, during, and/or after runs takes time and a lot of trial-and-error. There is not one type of food/nutrition that works for everyone, so keep your head up and keep trying to find what works for you. You’ll figure it out!
- Number Two. There’s no nice way to talk about this, but learning when your body needs to clean itself out is a process in and of itself. Some people like to drink coffee and then use the bathroom before a run, but for people like me coffee makes it worse. It might be that you need to wake up a little earlier before a run and give your body time to get going before hitting the pavement (because running always jostles up your insides!).
- Motivation. Sometimes it can be hard to motivate yourself to get out the door for a run, and this is totally normal. Be sure to incorporate cross-training into your workout, run with a friend, try a new running route, or try a different type of run (fartlek, tempo, etc) to get yourself back to falling in love with the sport.
Running can be your therapy, your freedom, and can be a source of great joy, but it can also be tough as a new runner. Just remember: we’ve all been there, and have gone through all those growing pains. You can get through them, too! It’s not always easy becoming a distance runner, but it’s always worth it!
Bonus Song Playlist!
To help motivate you to stick with it, and fight through your growing pains, I put together this special playlist of songs that help me on my runs! Enjoy!
What are some other growing pains you’ve experienced while running? Let me know in the comments!