Am I too fat to run?

We received a lot of emails about Tameisha's question about shin splits and weight from Episode 15 – Running Further With Julia Jones. Many people were worried that the gist of Julia's answer was: you can't run if you're fat.

This was not the case. Julia wants the whole world to love running as much as she does, and trains hundreds of runners of all shapes, sizes and ages. Her answer on this episode was not a general prescription, it was tailored purely for Tameisha and her circumstances. Here's her question again:

I recently tried the Podrunner Intervals running program, I had to stop because the shin splints got so bad my legs were hurting constantly. I started icing them, elevating them and wrapping them when I did Podrunner intervals.

Well, after I got over my terrible cold and the shin splint pain eased up I started the program again. Shin pain again. I went to the doctor and had x-rays. It's not a stress fracture – just shin splints.

Will this ever go away? My doctor told me don't run for a month. I am overweight and seriously wondering can I lose the weight to make the shin splints go away. Or can I run, then ice my shins daily so that my body gets used to it?

When we receive a question we often ask for further information. In this case Tameisha clarified that when said she was overweight, she specifically was 5'3" and 211 pounds. She was also new to exercise when she started running. I didn't read out this extra detail on air for privacy reasons, but in hindsight perhaps this information would have helped emphasise that Julia's advice was specific to Tameisha's circumstances.

Julia wanted to assure listeners that running can be a sport for anyone, but because of its high impact nature it is extremely important to listen to your body. Read on for her thoughts!




Julia says: I recently was a guest on Two Fit Chicks and a Microphone speaking about running. I am absolutely passionate about running! I’ve been a runner for over twenty years and have participated in many different races throughout the years, including 30 marathons. Running changed my life so much that I began writing about it, studied to become a coach, and since have trained thousands of runners to achieve their own personal running goals. Here in Italy where I live I am well known for starting a women’s running movement over ten years ago by organizing women’s only running clinics throughout the country. They are still thriving and I am so proud to be a part of the Italian women’s running revolution.

Since my interview was broadcast 2FC HQ has received tonnes of mail concerning a letter from Tameisha. Tameisha was having serious problems with shin splints. She was in so much pain that she had x-rays done to make sure that they wasn’t something more serious going on, like a stress fracture. Her doctor advised her not to run for an entire month. In the end of her letter she mentioned that she was overweight and questioned whether she needed to lose weight first.

Now, I want to tell you a little broadcasting secret: Shauna didn’t just pop those questions on me. I knew beforehand what she was going to ask. Since Tameisha wanted some very specific and personal answers, I felt I needed more information. I asked a few more questions and came up with this profile:

  • She had just started running with the Podrunner Intervals running program. (not my programme, darn!)
  • Before starting the running program she had no previous exercise experience, except a little walking.
  • She was 5’3” tall and weighed 211 lbs.
  • She had already stopped and started the running program three times, but could never continue because of the pain.
  • She’d already seen a doctor who not only diagnosed the shin splints but had prescribed total abstinence from running for one full month.

So my quick podcast prescription was for her to do some alternative exercise while she let her Tibialis Anterior Muscle heal (swimming or biking for example). When her pain subsides she could start exercising her feet by doing simply exercises like the “stork” (balancing on one foot at a time) or simply raising her heels up and down. When she returns to running she needs to learn to land mid-foot rather than with her heels.

I think the one comment that hit a chord with many of the listeners was that I recommended that she lose some weight before seriously considering running again. I want to emphasise that I did not say she should lose weight before she could “consider running seriously”.  I talked about serious consideration of the sport.

Running is whatever you define it to be, and nobody (not even me!) should tell you whether you are a runner or not.

That said, when you embark on a running experience, you must know that running is one of THE most traumatic sport activities that you can practice. Injury is not an intentional component of a running program, but the potential is always there.

Part of the process is in identifying causes of your injuries so that you can help prevent them in the future. In Tameisha’s personal case, based on the information she had given me plus a little intuition, I believed that losing some weight would change the biomechanics of her running (her running style) and allow her to move differently, thus avoiding the dreaded shin splints.

A few listeners wrote that they were overweight but ran fine. I’ve trained many runners who had weight to lose. Shauna herself was over 200 pounds when I trained her for the infamous 5km race. The difference between Shauna and Tameisha was that Shauna was a regular exerciser, coming from a few years of regular cardio and weight training sessions. I knew that she still had body fat to lose, but I also knew that a good percentage of her weight was muscle and that her joints could stand the pounding of the pavement. Even so, she did make it to her 5km but not without some injury (a knee in her case).

They say “your mileage may vary” and this is true for your own running. Ultimately, you know whether or not your own body can take running, how much, how fast, how far. Having less body fat to carry around will most definitely change the way you run, but don't need to be in the perfect body fat percentile in order to be a runner. Start from where you are, even if this means running for only thirty seconds at a time.

Thanks for your thoughts Julia.

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