So you’re interested in starting to run for exercise, or in taking your running to the next level: Good for you!
Running is one of the most efficient forms of exercise. Not only can it help prevent obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and other conditions, but it can improve your emotional and mental life, while helping you live longer.
Here’s some guidance from two people who are experts in the value of running: World-class sprinter Carol Rodriguez, who represented Puerto Rico in the 200- and 400-meter runs at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics; and Dr. David Gibbons, orthopedic surgeon with Kadlec Clinic Northwest Orthopedic and Sports Medicine.
First, a Q&A with Carol.
Question: How did you get started in track and field?
Carol: I used to street race on foot with other kids in my neighborhood. I started running the 50-yard dash in elementary and became the fastest kid beating both boys and girls. So after that, you kind of get into it!
Q: Your sister was a runner, did that influence your decision and did you learn from her?
Carol: Yes, my older sister Tameka was a runner. I used to go to her track meets as a kid. She went to college on a track and field scholarship and I remember being in elementary school and deciding that’s what I would do. I’d get a scholarship for track and field to attend college.
Q: What does your fitness routine look like when you’re in training for Worlds/Olympics vs. when you’re not training?
Carol: When I’m training for a major championship such as Worlds or the Olympics, I usually train four to five times a week for about three hours each day on the track and two more hours a day in the weight room. Training for track and field is basically a year around regiment. Typically, I give myself 3½ months off with very little training, but I’m still really active during that time and do low-impact workouts.
Q: What does your eating routine look like when you’re training vs. not training?
Carol: My diet has been pretty consistent for a while now. I try not to change it too much when I'm in training vs. not in training. My overall diet usually consists of high protein that I get from grilled or baked chicken. I eat a lot of dark-colored veggies and drink a lot of water. I also have a sweet tooth, so for those cravings I usually eat fruit and let the natural sugars do the trick.
Q: What are some of your favorite running spots around L.A.?
Carol: I live near Runyon Canyon, it’s close to my house and has three different trails to run, so that’s a regular for me. Another place I like to run is on the beach, so living here in LA is perfect. I like to start near Venice beach and run to The Santa Monica Pier and back. I also really love running at the Rose Garden at USC of course!
Q: What types of injuries have you had resulting from running and what was the recovery like?
Carol: As a sprinter I’ve had my fair share of injuries. I've fractured my right foot, fractured my right tibia bone and fractured my spine—and all three were stress fractures. I’ve pulled both hamstrings, three years apart from each other. While recovering from all of those different injuries, I learned the most important factor for my rehabilitation was consistency. Staying consistent with the treatment and the therapy, being consistent with strengthening the injury and staying in shape while maintaining the proper amount of rest were all important things that helped me heal. One thing you have to remember is to keep a positive outlook on things—it really helps with being able to bounce back.
Q: How do you make running fun?
Carol: I’ve found a lot of people don’t like to run. But for me, running can be fun if you use it as an outlet. If you’re having a stressful day a good run will clear your mind. Listening to your favorite music can also release a lot of stress. The thought of feeling totally free and being in your own zone can be used as an outlet and I think makes running become fun for a lot of people.
Q: What are some of the best tips you can give people just getting started in running?
Carol: I always give beginning runners the same piece of advice – make sure you’re wearing a shoe that has good support around the heels and arches. Trust me on this, it will help avoid nagging injuries and annoying blisters. Also, I tell people to start with slow speed and distances and build your way up to a higher level of running. Another thing to consider is that running with friends is always good for moral support and being able to encourage one another to continue the run. And don’t forget to drink a plenty of water to stay properly hydrated.
Q: You have a radio show called Sports Run, what do you tell people on that show about running and fitness?
Carol: On my radio show I try to give different tips on how to maintain a healthy diet. I also include some weight loss tricks. Lately, we’ve been sharing different workouts that people can do at home that don’t require a gym membership. It airs every Thursday and Sunday at 6 p.m. Pacific time and 9 p.m. Eastern time on dashradio.com. I always like to hear from people on what topics they want me to cover.
Q: What would be your ideal playlist for a long run?
Carol: Since I‘m a recording artist myself, music is a big passion of mine. I think right now it will include my new song “On the Rise,” but I also love a lot of different artists. I like to mix things up, so right now you’d hear a little Beyonce, Rihanna and Drake as I’m running. Listening to songs that are upbeat with good tempo always does the job for me.
Thank you, Carol.
Next, a Q&A with Dr. Gibbons.
Question: What are the health benefits of running?
Dr. Gibbons: Running has many health benefits and you don’t have to be an avid runner to gain them.
Running is great for cardiovascular health. Running is an aerobic exercise, which will strengthen the heart and lungs, helping them be more efficient and healthier, not only while running but with all other activities.
Running is good for the musculoskeletal system. As a weight bearing exercise, running places stresses on the muscles and bones which will build and strengthen them over time. Many studies have shown that people who engage in regular weight-bearing exercises such as running in their younger years, then maintain these activities into their later years, have less risk of fracture. This is because running will build bone mass, and can help slow bone loss as we age. Having good muscle strength will improve balance and decrease the risk of falls as we age as well.
Weight loss is also a benefit. When coupled with a healthy, well balanced diet, and avoiding too many treats, regular running will help you lose and/or maintain a healthy weight. We can burn those calories while we run, and also for a short time after exercise. Regular exercise can increase the “afterburn,” which is calories burned after exercise.
Most people think of the physical health benefits, but there are emotional health benefits as well.
Q: Such as?
Emotionally, running can help with anxiety and depression. The “runner’s high” comes when the body releases endocannabinoids, or endorphins, hormones which help you feel good. Studies have shown that regular exercise can help improve sleep quality, mood, and concentration.
Q: What sort of running routine is best for me?
Dr. Gibbons: Do what is right for you. Even a brisk walk can give you the benefits we talked about. When you’re first starting don’t try to run a long distance or at a rapid pace. Start with a brisk walk, and over time, progress to jogging, then running. Break things up as well. Unless you’re training for a marathon, studies have shown that the optimal regimen is between 5 to 19 miles per week at a pace of 6 to 7 miles per hour. Spread this over three or four runs/jogs per week. Even those who are training for races take time off and “cross-train” to allow the body to recover.
Q: How can I avoid injuries?
Dr. Gibbons: Common injuries are stress-related injuries. Prolonged running or running too often can lead to stress fractures, commonly of the feet or ankles, tibia (shin bone) or spine. Muscle strains can also result from too much or improper running. Not allowing recovery periods or running for too long of a period can actually lead to injury to the cardiovascular system. Prolonged exercise can lead to release of free radicals into the blood stream which can bind to cholesterol and actually cause plaque buildup in blood vessels.
Avoid these types of injuries with simple steps: Eat a well-balanced diet. Drink plenty of water, especially while running. Ease into running or jogging, especially when you’re first starting. Make sure your feet are comfortable; get fitted for a good pair of running shoes, and make sure to get new shoes every 300 to 500 miles. Warm up and cool down. Ease into a run with a brisk walk, cool down from a run with a jog or walk. Stretch out after you run.
Most importantly, have fun! Running is a lifelong sport, and can be fun for your entire life.
For further reading
To learn more about running, fitness and healthy eating, see some of what we’ve written on the subject:
What your heart rate is telling you »
Five life lessons from running »
Weekend warrior exercise counts toward longer life »
Are marathons and crossfit good for you and your heart? »
Preventing exercise-related pain »
Providence St. Joseph would like to thank Carol for being a paid partner with us on this important topic.
Providence is pleased to share the stories of great people who have overcome health conditions. As part of our population health program, we want to share insights and stories that help bring awareness to common health conditions. Not all the people featured in our stories are Providence patients.