Christian Lising is a family physician, so he should have known better.
He used to drink four sodas a day -- two Dr Peppers and two root beers, "on top of my caramel macchiato," he says, and his consumption became so prodigious the nurse in his office bought him a small fridge to hold it all.
Lising finally kicked his habit and lost 10 pounds. Four years ago, at age 40, he took up running. "I always tell my patients: If I can run, anyone can run," he said. "I never thought running would be anything I'd do, and I used to laugh at people who did. But it's a good way to get outside and do something for my health."
The Brea, Calif.-based doctor has now run five half-marathons and is into the trail thing. But like many runners, Lising had his joy dampened by injury. In early September, he was nursing a sore right knee when he was shocked out of his sleep one night. His eight-year-old daughter had awakened from a bad dream and was screaming. Lising bolted out of bed and twisted the knee, tearing the meniscus.
Lising's experience shows the enigma of running: It's invigorating, and for some hard-core runners, absolutely necessary. But one wrong move -- a stumble into an unseen pothole, poor technique, the wrong shoe choice or just plain overexertion -- can bring an injury that could turn you off running for a long time, maybe forever.
For runners who have been away from the sport, here are some tips to consider before that first lap.
Take it slow
"The biggest problem is, runners try to do too much too fast," says Gennady Kolodenker, an Irvine, Calif.-based podiatrist who treats many athletes, from elite to weekend warriors. "If somebody wants to start running for exercise, you really don't need to do it more than 20-30 minutes a day, two to three times a week. If they enjoy running, then they can build up the miles."
Kolodenker says it's more important to stretch after a run than before, "though a good warm-up is important." Walk for 10 minutes, then work your way up to a slow jog.
Don't just run
Personal trainer Greg O'Bryan says runners often neglect other muscle groups that are important. For instance, they usually have pretty strong quads, but hamstrings get left out.
"Runners have a tendency to have muscle imbalance, and they end up getting hamstring or knee injuries, all the way down to the ankle," said O'Bryan, who is based in Tustin, Calif. "If you can incorporate some sort of cross-training into your running, it keeps you fresher, and you don't have as much pounding on the legs."
Runners should also do some biking or swimming, as well as strength training, O'Bryan says. Hip-extension exercises and leg curls, performed while lying on one's back with the heels on a stability ball to fire the hip muscles, will strengthen the core as well as the abdominal muscles.
"If you can work on those areas, that's where your foundation comes from," he said. "I like to think of it as a bicycle wheel. If the hub isn't strong, the spokes are gonna be weak. But if the hub, the centre of your body, is strong, everything else is gonna be a lot stronger."
Kolodenker recommends stretching for about 20 minutes after a run. Runner's World columnist Susan Paul agrees with Kolodenker that stretching is more effective after a run, or at least after a warm-up, when muscles are relaxed and "more pliable." Target the major muscle groups used for running: the quads, hamstrings, calves, hip flexors, glutes and lower back.
Stretching is more important for older runners, who tend to have less muscle mass and less-elastic skin than young people.
Pick the right shoe
There's a correct shoe for every individual. The type of running you want to do -- whether you're training for a marathon or just going out on short jaunts -- can enter into one of the most important decisions you'll make. Factors such as whether you have narrow feet or a high, low or no arch will narrow down the best selection.
Do you overly pronate? This is when the ankles roll inward by at least 15 per cent, a result of low or flat arches. This causes the big toe to do too much of the work on the push-off, and can lead to long-term injuries. Under-pronation happens when the ankles roll outward too much, transferring the impact to the outer foot. These conditions are normal, but they'll control what shoe is best for you.
No matter your gait, a knowledgeable salesperson will be able to determine whether you need a motion-control shoe (often the best choice for severe over-pronators), a neutral-cushioned shoe (which can help supinators) or stability shoe (which has moderate arch support and is often best for runners with normal arches, which is most of us).
Exercise your feet
Kolodenker recommends stretching muscles in the feet to prevent common pain flare-ups, including inflammation in the plantar fascia (the band of tissue running from the heel to the ball of the foot), and the Achilles tendons. Roll a golf ball or tennis ball back and forth under the foot to stretch the plantar fascia and other muscles. Also, pick small objects up with your toes, or scrunch them on a towel. Do three sets of 20. For the Achilles, stand with hands pressed against a wall and keep the back leg straight, foot on the ground (see the stretching videos at www.OCPodiatry.com ).
Another way to strengthen the tiny muscles in the feet is to work a "minimalist" shoe into your training routine. They have a thinner heel and less interior cushioning than traditional shoes, and allow the runner to feel more of the road. Making the transition to minimalism should be done slowly, however, and the shoes should be worn only for short runs at first.
Set a goal... or just go
Whether you're training for a race or just running for exercise, going on a group run is a great way to stay safe, meet other people and get tips.
"You can be a perfectly happy, successful runner without running a marathon," said Sherri Ellerby, 48, the president of South Coast Roadrunners, based in Irvine. She teaches, but still finds time to take part in the group's three runs each week.
What about Lising, the Brea family physician? Did that leap out of bed make him another casualty in the great runners' fight against injuries? Hardly. He's been rehabbing on a stationary bike, and is back to light jogging. He can still feel a little click in his right knee, but he planned to run the Surf City Half Marathon on Feb. 3, followed by the Tough Mudder in Temecula, Calif., a week later.
"I'm not running for anything more than to just go out and do it, prove to myself I can still do it," Lising said.
-- Orange County Register