Big Man Running


by Dan Cenidoza, CSCS, RKC, AKC

I'm writing this 5 days after I ran my first 10 miles. I weigh 235lbs and haven't been running years... until recently.

Two weeks ago I went out for a jog for a change of pace in my conditioning workouts. For the better part of a year I hadn't done any kind of cardiovascular exercise except for high repetition kettlebell lifting. The most I've ever run in the past was 3 miles and that was about 6 or 7 years ago. When I was jogging regularly (and by "regularly" I mean a couple times a month) I had a neighborhood route that was exactly 1.5 miles, I had never even attempted that route for more than one lap (the 3 miler I did before was a different route with less hills).

As I was saying, about two weeks ago I went out to pound the pavement again and I ran my old route, 1.5 miles in about 15 minutes. That was typical when I was running [semi] regularly. What wasn't typical was the way I handled the hills and finished with a strong sprint. My performance surprised me! I ran very well considering it was my first time running in years.

The next time out I figured I'd try two laps, and again to my surprise, I ran strong and was barely fatigued matching my previous best. I would have kept going but the chaffing on my thighs made even walking normal impossible. Such is the life of a big man.

By now I am realizing that my kettlebell lifting had prepared my heart and lungs for the stress of running. Looking back it's funny, most people use running for conditioning for sport, but I used kettlebell sport for conditioning for running.

Fast forward another week and I'm on vacation at Ocean City hitting long runs on the beach and throwing up personal record kettlebell workouts everyday. I was feeling really good about my conditioning at this point and was looking forward to seeing just how far I could run. After stopping off at the Nike outlet on the way home and picking up a pair of Free 7.0 running shoes, I pretty much unloaded the car, told the wife I'd be back in a bit and with no warm up I went out on a 10 mile run.

That was the single most amazing athletic achievement of my life!

I was only planning to give the new shoes a test run, 1 lap maybe 2. Instead I ran 6 laps and then around the block a few times for a total of 10 miles! So at 235lbs and with two weeks of specific run training under my belt, I was able to run non-stop for 2 hours and 4 minutes.

The next day I was hurting. I couldn't stand, sit or walk without great pain, but it was all worth it! This run gave me a new perspective on what I am capable of. 2 hours is a long time to reflect on things and the thing I thought most about was running. I thought about how good it feels to be able to run. I thought about how running is like basic athleticism. And probably most of all I pondered about the best way to run.

Distance running is actually very technical, especially when you are moving a lot of weight. It's a lot easier for a smaller person to cover the same distance as someone who is larger and weighs more. So as a big man, it's important to pay attention to the finer points of running. You need to conserve your energy if you plan to go very far. Here's a few things that I have made myself familiar with. Reposted from my blog...

The biggest thing I have come to learn is the importance of proper breathing - diaphragmatic breathing. When you "belly breathe" the air that you take in acts as a cushion or a shock absorber for the rest of your body. This is HUGE for a 235lb man with broad shoulders and a large upper body. If you breathe shallow, like so many people do, if you only take that breath into your chest, you are putting unnecessary strain on your traps and many other smaller muscles in your neck and shoulder area that are now being assigned respiratory tasks, which is not their job. Once you learn to relax these muscles and take air deep into your belly, your entire upper body relaxes and you run smoother and more efficiently. The diaphragm is the muscle that is responsible for respiration - so use it!

Another thing I have become acutely aware of is foot placement - heel to toe. The weight shifts from the heel along the outside of the foot and is then displaced through the toes. If you get this right there is virtually no pounding or jarring of the body; again, you run smoother and more efficiently. I've also found that it helps if you prolong your stride a bit. If you extend your hip fully and allow your foot to push a little bit further behind you, this also seems to help the smoothness in which you run. I wouldn't say that I can run like the wind, but I think this is what people mean when they say that.

One more thing about stride is you need to be aware of is how high you kick your feet up. I recall when my brother and I would go jogging back in the day; any time we would run past girls he would get this noticeable bounce in his step and kick his feet almost high enough to touch his butt. If you're running for distance, you need to conserve as much energy as possible and butt-kicking your way through the neighborhood or around the track is no way to conserve your energy! No wasted movement, no wasted energy!

And perhaps the most obvious thing about running, to me anyway, is head and body positioning. Don't look down and don't bend forward. Stay as upright as possible and keep the head centered and balanced with the neck relaxed. Even though this seems like common sense, I tend to forget it sometimes and it doesn't take long for undue fatigue to set in. Fatigue in the head and neck area literally translates to fatigue in the mind.

The last thing I want to comment on about running is footwear. I picked up a pair of Nike Free 7.0 and ran 10 miles the first time I ever put them on. The right shoes makes a world of difference. These shoes are the closest thing to being bare foot besides those hideous Vibram 5 Fingers foot-glove thingys, and I am a firm believer that the foot was designed to perfection as is (under normal circumstances of course). I recently read a quote that said, "Smart shoes = dumb feet"... I couldn't put it any better than that.

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Update: I have since broken down and purchased a pair of Vibrams (two pairs, acutally) and I must say, regardless of how funny they look these are the best training shoes ever! I lift, run and hike in them and my feet are stronger because of it! That has translated to faster running and higher jumping. All of my run times have decreased and I feel like I have springs for feet. You can read more about my experience wearing VFF's here - Steel Bending, VFF, Yoga and Dan John

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Now before you go out and buy new running shoes and enroll in a marathon (like I so wanted to do), you need to gradually increase your conditioning for running. For big men, you have to be especially aware of the stress you are putting on your knees. As fluid as I thought my running was, tripling my mileage hurt my knees for the better part of a week. Had I not had a trained cardiovascular system, I might not have had as much problem as I did with my knees as my conditioning would have limited how far I could have gone. With a good CV, the repetitive stress on the knees is the weakest link. Either way, trained or not, you'll still need to condition your knees, so start slowly.

It's also a good idea to run on the beach, the grass or even the asphalt, anything but the sidewalk. The sidewalk is unforgiving, whereas the beach, although more difficult (which should be looked at as a plus), will be a little easier on the joints. This is a good way to prepare yourself for the repetitive stress of running.

You need to ask yourself though if you actually need to run. Some individuals are large enough that walking will give them the same benefits as running would a smaller person. For others, it is actually unsafe for them to run. People who are very obese should walk their way to a bodyweight that would permit them to run safely. Increase the challenge of walking by 1) walking faster, 2) going for longer distances, 3) going uphill or 4) walking with weight. Put 20 or 30 pounds in a backpack and go on a hike. Whatever you do, just make sure that build up gradually so you can actually enjoy it! Running is a great activity. Not only is it one of the best exercises a man can do but it's good to get outside and spend some time alone with your thoughts.

Don't look at running as a chore. That's how fat kids look at it. That fat kid has walked his way, jogged his way and ran his way out of that body and out of that mindset. Running is good. Hooray running!