Back to Fitness: Start Now to Be Fit for the Women’s Four Miler

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By John Andersen

The 2014 Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler will take place August 30. Starting at Foxfield, 3,500 women will head out scenic Garth Road. All proceeds go to the U.Va. Cancer Center’s Breast Care Program. It’s a great cause, and the proceeds stay local.

For many women, running these four miles is like a walk in the park. They are “runners,” and they do the race to support the cause. But for many, walking—let alone running—four miles seems barely possible.

This is the other success story of the Women’s Four Miler. As summer rolls around, many women look ahead to the four-miler as a chance to change their fitness and their life.

Those of us blessed to have gotten out of the womb without any birth defects were made miraculously perfect for a life of physical activity. It’s simply who we are as humans. You have to marvel at the mastery of the human design: an incredible brain, an amazingly adaptable intestinal tract, capable of adapting to a huge variety of diets, and a body that was designed to move.

Without a doubt, our bodies were made to walk and run long distances. Our feet and arches, our Achilles tendons, our glutes, and our spine are a few specific structures that serve to help us travel.

What has become lost in our comfortable, easy 21st century lives is the necessity of exercise and outdoor activity. These things are now optional and often thought of as something that “exercise nuts” do. Not that long ago, everybody could walk four miles. You had to. Nowadays you only have to walk from your house to your car and many days that is the true limit of our physical activity.

Physical activity is absolutely essential for our minds and bodies to be “right.” “Exercise nuts” are actually on to something. They may not be able to articulate it, or perhaps even realize it, but there is something innately satisfying about moving. It is simply who we are and how we are made. When we stop moving, our mind and body start breaking down.

Most of us were fortunate enough to start out perfect, but when we examine ourselves now, many do not see or feel that. We are overweight, out of shape, depressed, and tired. An entire lifetime of circumstances has led us to our current state. The thought of your body being designed to move may seem absurd.

But your body was made perfect, and you can return to that state. It’s not going to be easy, and there will be some setbacks along the way, but you’re only limited by your own mind and your determination to change in your life.

Every summer, the Women’s Four Miler offers thousands of women a focus, a goal, support and encouragement.

If you are out of shape (and a woman!), I strongly encourage you to register and train for the Women’s Four Miler. Look at the race with a slightly different view. Instead of the four-mile race being the goal, let it be a great event on your way to a lifestyle of fitness. The race is a celebration; the training changes you and it doesn’t have to be hard or complicated.

So I humbly offer my brief, practical guide to training for the Women’s Four Miler:

• Commit to giving yourself one hour, four times a week, to exercise. You are worth it and you are not too busy. “Being too busy” is simply an excuse. Schedule it and commit to it.

• If you are out of shape and have never run seriously before, don’t start out running! Running puts a lot of force on your legs and your legs need to adapt to that. You should be able to walk three miles comfortably and regularly before you start running. This is probably the number one reason many women get injured when training for the four miler. Running will come. Remember, running the four miler is not the goal. Showing up healthy and completing the four miler is. Nothing derails a fitness plan like a stress fracture or tendinitis injury. Give your body time to catch up.

• Once you are walking three miles regularly, add in some running, but only in short spurts. “Run-walk” is a great way to train for a race. Don’t let your heart rate get too high or your breathing strained. Stay at a conversational pace always.

• Listen to your body. If you are experiencing foot or leg pain, decrease your activity level. Ideally, talk to an experienced runner ASAP to get an idea if your issue is simply “growing pains” or the early signs of an injury.

• Get fitted for some good shoes and learn about running form. Running is a natural movement, but the majority of runners start out with some inefficient biomechanics that put excessive stress on their legs and make running harder.

• Improve your diet. I hate to say it, but training to run four miles is not going to cause you to lose substantial weight. But, it will make you healthier, so take the momentum and make some healthy diet changes to lose that weight. In particular, cut out ALL sugars and really limit simple carbs like bread and pasta. They go straight to fat stores.

• Make a change now and commit to it until you start to feel a change. Enjoy your body and marvel in its abilities. Stay positive and find some friends to go on this journey with you. You are definitely worth it.