Running for exercise and competition has exploded in popularity in the past 15 years, but unlike the first running boom of the 1970s, this one is fueled by women.
According to the Road Running Information Center, only 11 percent of all marathon runners in 1980 were women. In 2005, that number was up to 41 percent. Katie Neitz, senior editor at Runner's World, says the magazine's readership is 50.4-percent female.
Whether you're a man or a woman, there's no better time than summer to slip on a pair of running shoes, feel the wind on your face and recapture the freedom you felt as a child, when you raced your friends on the playground at recess.
Although many people run to reduce stress, lose weight or increase fitness, running conveys additional health benefits, according to "Runner's World Complete Book of Beginning Running." Running reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression and breast, colon and ovarian cancers — to name just a few perks.
"It never hurts to get a physical before getting back into running, especially if you're overweight or have a family history of heart attacks, strokes or high cholesterol. Or if you're a smoker," says Dr. Doug Naversen, a Medford dermatologist and lifelong runner who often wins his age division in local races.
During the summer, Naversen recommends, runners should apply a waterproof sunscreen (with an SPF rating of 30) and wear a hat and sunglasses. He also cautions against running in the middle of the day.
Unlike other sports, running requires no fancy or expensive equipment. To get started, all it takes is a pair of good running shoes and, for women, a good sports bra. Two running specialty stores have opened in the Rogue Valley in the past couple of years: Competitive Athletics in Grants Pass and Rogue Valley Runners in Ashland. Both stores are owned by experienced runners, and both offer a video analysis of the customer's running stride to find the most appropriate footwear.
"Our staff knows how to size the shape of the foot, the arch length. We take into account a narrow heel or wide forefoot," says Hal Koerner, as he examines a slow-motion replay of a pair of bare feet on a treadmill. Koerner, owner of Rogue Valley Runners and an accomplished distance runner, points to a display of dozens of models of shoes mounted on a brick wall.
"We can usually narrow it down to three models of shoe," he adds.
There's no single way to run that fits everyone and running too much, too hard, too soon is a sure way to get injured. A technique that has worked for many beginners is to alternate running with walking: run for one minute, walk for one minute, repeat. Soon you'll feel like running longer between your walks, and before long you won't want to walk at all!
When you run, try the talk test: If you have to gasp for air to talk, slow down.
It's helpful, though not necessary, to set goals for yourself. If optimum fitness is your target, consider the recommendation of Dr. Kenneth Cooper in "Aerobics," his ground-breaking 1969 book: Run for 20 to 30 minutes a day, three to five days a week.
As you progress in your running, increase your mileage by no more than 10 percent a week. If you experience pain during or shortly after running, take time off to heal.
"Listen to your body," says Dr. Rick McClure, a podiatrist at Medford Foot and Ankle Clinic, who has treated many local runners. "Runners are guilty of ignoring their bodies. If something begins to hurt, it means something is wrong. If you push through pain, you can set yourself up for overuse injuries that can eventually become serious and impair your running career."
In addition to wearing the proper running shoes, McClure advises a minimum of five minutes of pre-run stretching to help prevent injuries. Post-run stretching also is important and will reduce soreness.
Your First Race
After you've run for a few months, you may want to try joining the hundreds of local runners who compete in road and trail races. For a schedule of upcoming races, visit the Southern Oregon Runners Web site (www.southernoregonsizzlersrunningclub.org). The local running club organizes numerous events.
A good starter distance is the five-kilometer (3.1-mile) race. Before lining up at the starting line, make sure you have run the race distance during a training run. And for your first race, consider just running to finish. Your time will be a starting point to help gauge your future progress.
If you're unsure about running frequently, you can supplement your training with other forms of aerobic exercise. Consider the success of beginning runner Jessica Hamlin. The 37-year-old Medford woman was taking exercise-bike — or "spin" — classes at Superior Athletic Club last winter when her instructor offered a "Prepare for the Pear" course. Together with their spin workouts, class participants ran together once a week to get in shape for Medford's biggest annual race, the 10-mile Pear Blossom in April.
"I first thought I could never do this. But I slowly built up to it and had a great experience," Hamlin says. The class ran four miles the first week and increased its runs by one mile a week until members reached 10. Hamlin, along with about 1,000 other runners, completed the Pear Blossom this year, and she looks forward to doing it again.