I realize that with the start of a fresh new year comes the potential for hamstring injury. Why? Because people decide they will take up running.
Here's what I did to prevent injury and exhaustion, both of which usually lead to giving up this potentially life-changing form of exercise. First of all, let me state that I went about it the wrong way for years. I was also in my twenties and recovered much quicker than I do now in my forties. When I began running again, I knew I had to be smarter.
It was spring, maybe April or May. I walked to warm up my muscles. Music pumping through my ears helped me stay motivated because let's face it, walking is boring. Okay, maybe the first few times you see nature at it's best, birds singing from trees, squirrels dashing up tree trunks. If you go at night, there may be a few houses with lights on, and the inhabitants have left their drapes open, exposing the beauty of their homes. All of that is interesting the first few times. But then it becomes blah, same old same old. So music can be helpful.
Next, I jogged...which is different from running because it's more like bouncing. Jogging is slower than running. The heart doesn't pump as fast, the lungs can get used to exertion little by little. I jogged about an eighth of a mile. That's pretty much when both my legs and lungs gave out. So I walked the rest of the way...an estimated total of 2 miles.
Two days later, I did it again. And a few days after that, I repeated this. Finally, I felt ready to jog a little further. This slow progression prepared me for my final goal: to run 3 miles straight by the end of summer.
I slipped into running mode and ran, then walked, ran, then walked. Eventually, I was able to run 1 1/2 miles straight, then walk the last 1 1/2 miles. By end of summer, I had stretched it to three miles. When winter kicked in, I stopped running. Sure, some people love ice crystals in their throats and slipping across patches of ice. Not for me. So the next spring? I had to start all. Over. Again.
Man, that sucked.
Exercising regularly at the gym changed that irritating pattern. This year I ran 4 miles by April. Of course, if you've been loyal to my blog you know I had Achilles heel pain by fall, so I took it easy. But yesterday I ran those 4 miles again, no problem.
Moral of the story? If you aren't running, but you want to do so, get on a regular exercise program at the gym or at home. You might be able to start off your first run surpassing that 1/8 of a mile mark. But don't overdo it! Other things to consider if you're running in neighborhoods:
1) Bring a phone in case of emergency...unusual shortness of breath, pain in left arm, anything that may be a symptom of a heart attack.
2) Avoid dogs. Even when there is an Invisible Fence. If someone is walking their dog on the sidewalk in front of you, move across the street until you've passed them. Same goes for a barking or watchful dog in a yard. Avoidance is the best policy.
3) If you are a beginner or intermediate runner, stretch halfway through your run. Your legs will thank you later.
4) If you feel exhausted, walk. You can always run again later. Take care of yourself.
5) You might want to bring a water bottle in hot weather in order to stay hydrated.
6) Don't run in thunderstorms. Even if you don't get hit by lightning, you will worry about it.
7) ALWAYS stretch after a run for at least five minutes.
8) Don't reward yourself afterward with a giant hot fudge sundae unless you have normal cholesterol and are trying to gain weight.