Transitioning from athlete to runner

By: Rebekah Hibbert

The transition from being a full time athlete in high school or college to being a former athlete to trying your best to remain active is a hard one.

You go from daily, and let’s be honest sometimes forced exercise, to trying to motivate yourself with a new activity. This means you run your own ‘practice schedule’ and there is no getting in trouble for missed practices or workouts.

Luckily, athletes tend to be self-motivated individuals so it usually isn’t the desire to work out that you need but rather help in finding the right direction. One of the most common workout routines former athletes pick up is running. This is due in part because most sports involve running, it is fairly inexpensive to do, and there are plenty of races to keep your competitive fire burning.

But, I am guessing like most athletes who haven’t lost any of their competitive edge, you need some guidance on how you begin to run more often, steadily increase mileage while learning how to avoid pushing yourself too hard and incurring injury. Of course, it is also nice to be able to enjoy the activity you’re doing, unlike all those wind sprints your coach made your team run at the end of practice.

Here are a few tips to get you started in the right direction:

Shoes:  Go to the experts and do it before you begin. This is where you need to be ready to spend extra money so the correct choice is made the first time. Find a specialty running store and schedule a shoe fitting. Shoes can make all the difference in injury prevention and they need to be fitted not only to your foot type (low arch, high arch) but also work in conjunction with your running gait. Unfortunately, trying to pick the best shoe by yourself isn’t easy and can set you up for injury sooner rather than later.

Find the right training program for you: Like anything else you do, one size does not fit all. It is important to steadily build up your miles, take rest days, and be consistent in your training. Remember, where you start and your progressions are all based on your current fitness level and your ultimate goals. Take some time to research different kinds of programs and tailor them as needed to you.

Find a partner: Yes, athletes can motivate themselves but everyone needs an extra push every now and then. That is why finding someone to run with can make all the difference. The amount of times you meet doesn’t matter, what matters is that you hold each other accountable. Also keep in mind all the great running groups around the city will provide LOTS of people to hold you accountable. Having a more seasoned running partner or group allows you to learn from their experiences as they share training, injury prevention and nutritional advice. This advice will definitely come in handy as you explore what works best for you and your body.

Running maintenance that includes a dynamic warm up, foam roll, and ice cup massage: Your warm up should be about 5-10 minutes long and it should be dynamic. Examples of dynamic exercises include: carioca, high knees, defensive slides, etc. You can also include static stretches (example: standing quadriceps stretch) as needed for tight areas of your body.  Foam rolling, especially hamstrings, quadriceps, glutes, and low back before or after runs can help keep those large muscle groups loose and working efficiently. An ice cup massage (instructions here:  http://www.webmd.com/pain-management/tc/ice-massage-topic-overview) can become the best friend of any sore areas on your body including, calf, shins, quadriceps, and hamstrings. It can be more than just placing a bag of ice on those areas as you receive the benefits of a massage as well.

Strengthening: This is one of the things that experienced runners leave off their weekly work outs and without it you are opening yourself up to more injuries. Just as with any other sport, strengthening exercises help decrease your overall rate of injury but also help make you a stronger, faster, and more effective runner.

A basic runner’s strengthening program should include core work (think planks and hip work on stability ball), squats, lunges, upper body lifting (rows, pushups, shoulder press, etc.) and plyometrics (example: box jumps). So, yes, a runner needs to strengthen their entire body in order to reach their optimum level of performance.

Keeping a healthy lifestyle after you are done with organized sports can be difficult, but committing to any exercise routine you find enjoyable will make being compliant easy. And who knows you may even begin to love running; something a lot of us never thought could be possible when it was a non voluntary activity during our athletic endeavors.