I recently moved to Vancouver (yay!) and am trying to get into running since there are so many beautiful places to run. Even when I was in excellent shape (I used to be a swimmer) I really sucked at running. So I downloaded this "couch to 5k" app which is basically a walk-to-run program, and it is great so far! Here's the catch: I am only 2 weeks in and I am already getting painful shin splints.
Last year I "trained" for one of those fun paint 5Ks and I had the same problem. People have told me it is all about shoes so I am going to buy a new pair, but I am skeptical this will completely fix the problem.
Are there any strengthening exercises or stretches I can do to help? As a newbie I definitely don't have good "form" but is there something in particular I should be focusing on?
Shin splints can be painful and could end up sidelining you for an entire running season if you do not get on top of what is causing the issue as soon as possible.
My first piece of advice is you need to get into a physiotherapist or chiropractor and address what possible biomechanical issue could be causing this. It may be as simple as needing a better pair of shoes or tight calves but investing in one session to get the details from a professional as well as exercises you need to do at home will save you from having to deal with the pain long term.
In regards to the stretches and strength exercises you should be doing at home, I am going to recommend 2 very simple, yet very effective stretches and strength exercises for you to do daily. When I was dealing with shin splints a few running seasons ago I would do these exercises before, during and after my runs. If you are consistent with these exercises as well as do what is recommended to you by your chiropractor or physiotherapist you should be pain free within 3 to 6 weeks.
The first exercise is a simple calf stretch. For this exercise you need a half foam roller. In bare feet, place the ball of your foot on top the foam roller with a leg that is slightly bent and step forward, placing your other foot flat on the floor. While stretching you must ensure that your pelvis is level, meaning do not allow your hips to shift to the side of your back foot. You need to contract your core to hold your hips in place. Also, the arches of both of your feet must not collapse so focus on keeping the weight through the ball of your foot as well as along the lateral part of your foot (the outside). Make sure your spine is neutral by engaging your pelvic floor and core muscles, which will pull your pubic bone slightly forward.
The second exercise is an eccentric heal drop. In this exercise you are going to also need to focus on a level pelvis, a high arch and a neutral spine as well. Stand on a stair with the balls of your foot placed on the edge of the stair. Lift your body up into planterflection (coming onto your toes) and then lift one foot off the stair while slowly lowering your body down as low as you can, feeling a gentle stretch at the bottom. I like to do this in a count of 3. Once you have reached the bottom place your other foot back onto the step and come up on two feet. Make sure as you are lowering your body down that are not letting gravity do all the work but rather using your calf muscle to control the movement. Start with 1 set of 10 on each side and work up to 3.
Take a break from your running program for now and stay away from anything ballistic, as well as cycling, until you are pain free. As soon as you are pain free jump right back in where you left off.