Becoming a Runner: One Doctor's Lifestyle Makeover

With the Tulsa Run coming up October 27, we asked Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist, Dr. Kyle Zimmerman to share training tips and what it takes to balance life, work and running.  Dr. Zimmerman will be running the 15k this year, but he doesn't just train once a year. The decision to become a runner became a lifestyle makeover for Dr. Zimmerman.


Chances are if you are reading this you may be at some stage of a running career.  Whether it be the contemplation stage, the beginner, the transition, or the experienced; balancing life and running is a constant challenge.  I started running several years ago after counseling a patient on diet and exercise and realizing I was not following my own advice.  Running started as a way to lose weight effectively, and it was for me; I lost about 45 pounds over the period of a little more than a year.  Eventually it grew to be much more. It became a way of life, an addiction of sorts to the endorphin producing hobby that I grew to love and enjoy.               

Whenever I begin training for a race the first step is to pick a race and register. It sounds easy but it forces one to make a commitment.  I then make a running calendar judging the time I have until race day and my goals for mileage each week to ensure I have adequate time to train and reach my race distance mileage.  If you are a beginning runner and the Tulsa Run is your first race then adequate preparation can ensure a successful (finishing and having fun) and enjoyable experience.  For the more experienced runners, integrating new training methods like speed work and intervals into a weekly workout can help in improving personal bests.  Implementing dietary changes can make sure one has adequate energy for training and even result in healthy weight loss.

For me personally, I run in the morning as I have found when I have the most energy, am most motivated and can start off my day positively.  I think the key for anyone is to find the time most conducive to their schedule and stick to it.  I typically run 2-3 days during the week with usually 4-6 miles per day.  I usually reserve my long runs for weekends, as I have found I have less time constraints and will run between 8-20 miles depending on the stage of my training calendar.  I try to mix in speed work and intervals during the week and spend 1-2 days swimming for cross-training.  Cross-training helps avoid burnout and works different muscles. 

I have found that eating several small meals during the day ensures adequate calorie intake to replenish burnt calories and avoid overeating.  Meals high in protein, low in fat and high in soluble fibers are great at restoring burnt stores and maintaining healthy weight.  It is not uncommon during training to actually gain weight due to an increase in basal metabolic energy requirements from good exercise.  I try to drink plenty of water, six 8 ounce glasses at a minimum and avoid artificially sweetened drinks that stimulate appetite.  If one is able to ensure adequate sleep and rest, this also makes for a more productive training schedule, something I still have not found a way to accomplish.

Simple things like stretching and listening to your body will help avoid injury that can sideline you and is often discouraging.  One of the things I try to remind myself daily is to not get caught up in the details, to do the things that work for me and just enjoy the RUN!!