Running Classes Reduce Injury and Increase Enjoyment

What could be a simpler or more natural physical activity than running? Unlike tennis, golf or many other sports, runners just need to buy good shoes, find a nice park or path, and off they go. In fact, in this country alone, about 11 million adults are committed runners, devoted to their regular pursuit of toning their body and calming their mind. But unfortunately running has a surprisingly high rate of injuries, with around 65% of runners injuring themselves each year. The desire to run injury-free is one of the main reasons that an increasing number of America’s runners are doing something they’d not have imagined—signing up for running classes.

HE RAN THE FIRST RUNNING CLASSES

Bob Glover is founder and director of the New York Road Runners’ (NYRR) Running Class program and coauthor with his wife Shelly of several books including The Runner’s Handbook (Penguin). Although running classes started popping up all over the country in the last few years, Glover says his classes were the first—he’s been teaching them since 1978. Over the nearly 30 years since then, he has taught a multitude of running groups from beginners to elite race marathoners. We spoke recently about what running classes can teach current runners, not to mention newbies who want to hit the road.

Glover says that one of the most important functions of running classes is to teach people how to train wisely, a focus that is especially evident in classes for beginning runners. The reason this is so important is that many—maybe even most—people have no idea how to pace themselves and, in a gung-ho spirit, end up overtraining. The mind, heart and lungs may be willing, says Glover, but an hour pounding the road can stress the musculoskeletal system. A more gradual introduction is better in that it allows the body to get used to the stress running places on various systems, explains Glover, who has beginners run at least three times per week, in class once or twice a week and then with “homework” sessions of carefully prescribed runs on their own. After warming up with walking they alternate running and walking for 20 minutes, gradually building up to 20 minutes non-stop by the end of the 10-week program. Training correctly gets runners fitter, faster. Less apt to injure themselves, they are therefore more likely to be successful, he says.

The second benefit of classes for new runners is one found in every kind of class, at every level—other people. Running can be a solitary pursuit, which is what many love most about it. Classes, however, can provide a balancing opportunity to meet and train with others who are at similar levels and like-minded in their enthusiasm for, and commitment to, running. People enjoy making new friends…being in a group is more fun and the sense of competition it provides often improves their running, says Glover.

FINESSE YOUR FORM

To beginners, coaches teach proper form in order to start them out correctly. Sometimes it’s a greater challenge to work with experienced runners, correcting flaws in their form that may be deeply entrenched and take a while to overcome. Glover says that the form problem he sees most often is an improper gait caused by running on the toes. This kind of running style can lead to several physical problems with the Achilles tendon and other tendons in the foot, along with painful shin splints. The other form error Glover sees frequently is when people carry their arms too high while running. Holding your hands higher than your waist as you run puts a strain on the upper back muscles, he says, which causes back pain and reduces running efficiency. Experienced runners can also improve their speed and efficiency with such techniques as interval training, varying distances and mastering the challenges of hill running.

As an example of running programs, the NYRR’s running classes are made up of 10-week sessions throughout the year, with classes once or twice a week that last about one and one-half hours. Many people have taken lessons for 15 or 20 years, says Glover, adding that they find lessons offer satisfaction similar to being on a team or taking a regular yoga class. Other people drop in to polish their running skills, taking a few lessons now and then as a way to keep the sport fresh and set new challenges for themselves. Size of classes can vary from a few to many, depending on the skill level of the group and their running pace. Running with lots of people at the same pace helps you push yourself for a really good workout, says Glover—which is a point that the many race runners and marathoners who compete regularly around the country can attest to.

If you are interested in joining a running class, Glover suggests checking around with other runners, local running stores and running clubs for recommendations. An ideal coach is one who is flexible, motivational and who designs workouts appropriate for your age and level. Additionally, there are a number of running camps around the country where you can go for a week, train in classes and run around lakes or in the mountains. Glover notes that these can be valuable for enhancing your running prowess—and are a whole lot of fun. Running Times magazine has a long list of camps you can choose from for your next vacation.