Home Exercise 101 Runtober: Running Tips for Big Girls

Runtober: Running Tips for Big Girls

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Last week, I had the pleasure to attend a special set of sessions hosted by Runners World Magazine to help celebrate their subsequent festival and collection of races they were hosting that weekend. We had the privilege of meeting Runners World’s Editor in Chief, Bart Yasso, as well as many of their editors – including the editor of Zelle, their new women’s running site – and many of the authors of the books that Runners World has published over the years. (More on that later.)

But, as I sat in on one of the sessions, I got the bright idea – what if I brought Run-tober back? It’d been a while since I’d gone in on running tips and guidance, but I’d covered so much, what would be left? (Not to imply that my original posts were so exhaustive, but to imply that your girl might be out of ideas!) So, I tweeted: “If I did one more week of Runtober, what would you want to see?”

The very first tweet I received? “Running Tips for Big Girls!”

And, lucky for you, I was sitting in on Golden Harper, the founder and creator of dynamic shoe brand Altra Running, who gave some great insight into tips for runners to make the experience a bit more pleasant… but I wanted to be specific, so I asked Harper outright: “Many people come to running for the purposes of weight loss, and initially are largely overweight. Do these tips change for them, or are there extra insights they need to consider when getting into running?”

Here’s what Golden shared with us:

1) You are not a gazelle. Think quick and short. Quick and short. Short, quick steps – less like a gazelle, more like… say, Super Mario Brothers 3 – will help prevent that pounding of the pavement feeling that comes with running. Doing less leaping in your stride when you run makes a difference in how your joints feel post-run. And we like to protect our joints, right?

2) Run quieter. Remember, once upon a time, when I talked about the “herd of elephants” sounds that you hear when some people run? It’s often because people are leaping high and slamming back into the ground, often with a completely flat foot or because they’re landing right on their heels. When you land like that, it’s often like sending a shock wave throughout your body, except that shock wave is absorbed at every joint. Your ankles, your knees, and your hips are all taking a beating whenever your running form is poor, and it makes it hard to run consistently sans injury.

Thinking about running quieter forces you to do what it takes to reduce the amount of sound you make when you’re on the move – that means bending your knees when you run (which will be easier with those short and quick steps) as well as leaning forward more instead of leaning back.

3) Shoes – chances are high you’re wearing the wrong shoes. If you are wearing the size that you wear normally as your running shoe, chances are high your shoe’s too small. If your toenails are turning black and falling off, chances are high your shoes are too small. Blisters, corns, and otherwise unsavory maladies? Shoes. Too. Small.

This is of particular concern to my overweight friends because your feet are so much more likely to be wider than what the average shoe is able to accommodate. Having ill-sized shoes can affect how you run – because now, you’re not running in the way that best supports your body, you’re running in the way that best accommodates the shoes you’re wearing.

I’ve run in too-small shoes, before – I’ve changed my stride to avoid my toenails bumping up against the toe box of the shoe. I’ve run in shoes with more padding at the heel than the mid-foot, so I’ve shifted my stride so that I landed on my heel instead of the middle of my foot (and that only lasted a day). I’ve even run in shoes that were so tight at the heel that they destroyed the backs of my feet and left them raw regardless of how I could’ve altered my run. Going a size up is sometimes your best bet.

Here’s a quick test I learned: Take your shoe. Put it on. Stand up in it. With your foot flat on the floor, point your toes up to the sky. Bend down, and place your thumb – sideways – between the top of the toe box and your big toe (not all toes, just your big one!). If your thumb can’t fit in that space, your shoes are too small.

You may simply have to go up a half-size or, in some cases a full size. If you’re one of those people whose feet are two different sizes – don’t feel bad, mine are a full size apart – then focus on the largest foot only. And, if you are someone with larger feet – sizes 10, 11, or 12 – and you’re at the end of the range for what your particular brand of choice accommodate, then don’t fear! You have three options:

a) Even if your particular sporting goods/fitness/running shoe store (and you should look for local specialized running stores first) doesn’t carry larger sizes, if you ask a manager, they’ll often be able to order the size you need and you’d simply pick it up from them once it arrives. This is particularly ideal when we’re talking about buying a shoe on a discount or a deal or during a sale. Every store may not participate, but it’s important to always ask.

b) Even if some stores are unable to place an order especially for you, you can often find the larger sizes online at the brand’s individual website or at the store’s flagship if you live in a major city. Not only are you more likely to find the sizes you need there, but you’re also likely to score a discount because you signed up for the brand’s newsletter!

c) Go into the men’s sizes. Men’s sizes go up to almost a size 16 in women’s, and with a little bit of math you can find exactly what you’re going for. I wear a size 10 and an 11, but to convert a women’s size to a men’s, you’d need to subtract 1.5 from the size. So, if I were looking for a women’s size 10 in a men’s shoe, I’d be looking for a size 8.5; a men’s size 9.5 if I were looking for a women’s 11 in a men’s shoe. Sometimes, I need an 11.5 – a size 10 in men’s – and every blue moon, it makes sense to snag a size 12 – usually during times of the year where it feels like my feet are melting and flattening out.

4) Your feet shouldn’t be one in front of the other when you run – in fact, if your feet are even remotely close to crossing one another’s path, something’s wrong.

Sit down in a chair. Make sure your toes are pointing straight ahead. Now, stand up. This is how wide-apart, ideally, your feet should be, and how they should land while you run. If, say, you have to run with your legs a bit wider because you might have a little extra lovin’ around the inner thigh, it’s okay – as long as you’re tilting forward at the ankles when you move, you should be fine.

And, a few of my extra tips:

5) Running shorts – spandex at the waist, loose and free-flowing at the bottom – are ideal because they don’t move when you run the way spandex-based tights might. That being said, there are a thousand reasons why one might prefer spandex tights, and I understand. Consider investing in running tights that have a drawstring, that way there’s something else holding those bad boys up there. Also worth considering, American Apparel sells suspenders.

I’m just saying.

Oh, and for inner-thigh rub? BodyGlide. Great for your nipples during long runs, too. (Yes, that’s a thing, and the longer your distances, the more mindful you should be of it.)

6) Sports bras? Two suggestions: Under Armour’s Armour Bra, and Enell. Hands down. That should cover everything from 30A to 50I. Go and getchu a piece!

Update: Check out The Ultimate Guide to Ta-Ta Protection, your very thorough guide to the world of sports bras!

7) Self-consciousness shouldn’t matter, but it does. I totally get it – you don’t want to show too much skin while you’re out because you might feel embarrassed by it… but let’s keep it 100: if you are uncomfortable, you are ten times less likely to continue, and what thousands of us already know is that the fewer the pieces of fabric, the better you feel while you’re out there. The fewer things sticking to your flesh, the fewer items you have aggravating the hell out of you when you’re out there. And, while I’m known for rocking a big ol’ $10 hoodie and a pair of running tights, I’m also good for shedding layers as I get through my runs. Don’t let self-consciousness keep you uncomfortable. You eventually have to tap into your inner “F- It, Girl!” and just go.

8) Dealing with scumbags on the road will just have to happen. Even if it’s never happened before, you should prepare yourself anyway. Someone will always say something off-putting or insulting that will make you uncomfortable. Whether it’s something hateful about your size, or something suggestive about what a harasser would want to do to you, the best advice I could give, truly, is to not let it phase you. It’s not about you – it’s rarely even about them – but it is about America’s cultural system that high-fives people for being nasty to others… and we can’t be surprised when people choose to take advantage of it. We can only pity them for choosing wrong.

What did I leave out? What questions do you have? Spill it!

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B November 7, 2014 - 7:45 AM

Hi Erika,

Great article with recommendations! And I like that you don’t focus on a particular brand of show, and just on giving some advice.

I’d say also that my fellow runners, who might be a little flat-footed – go into a spcialized running store if you can. Look for shoes that offer arch support. They’ll make the running a bit more tolerable.

For sports bras for bigger busted ladies, I’d also recommend the Panache moulded cup sports bra. I use this presently, and I really like it. It keeps the bouncing to a minimum.

Christina December 1, 2014 - 12:01 PM

Awesome post!

Ayanna December 16, 2015 - 4:25 AM

Thanks…this is right on time….plan to start running tomorrow slowly but surely….Thanks for what you do in terms of the blog…it help keep thing in perspective.

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