A couple of friends have asked what one should do to start running, so here is my advice for any of you out there who might like to start:
1. Find a couch to 5K running plan online, even if you don’t intend to run a 5K in the future. These plans advocate starting out slowly with combined walking and running to help the beginner get adjusted to running. So many people go out and try to run a mile the first day they decide to try to run, they can’t do it or they almost kill themselves trying to do it, and they give up shortly afterward. That is not a wise way to begin running.
2. Slow down! Most new runners want to run at an all out effort and then wonder why they don’t get very far. If you want to run distance, you must learn to pace yourself. The best way I found to do that is by buying a Polar heart rate monitor. I could set it to beep when my heart rate got too high, letting me know that I was pushing myself too hard and that I needed to back off. You don’t have to get a heart rate monitor, though, if you’ll just learn to listen to your body. I just found that the heart rate monitor was the easiest way, but I don’t even use it anymore for runs. I have learned what it feels like if I am going too fast.
3. When starting out, it is best to focus on time rather than mileage. Your goal should be 30 minutes of walk/run intervals 3-5 days per week. You should be challenging yourself each week to make the run intervals longer and the walk intervals shorter. A couch to 5K program will stress this.
4. Buy good shoes. The people at Hibbett’s or other sporting goods stores are usually not runners and don’t know crap about running shoes, pronation and supination, arches, how body weight affects the type of shoes you should buy, etc. The best money you will ever spend for running is to go to a specialty running shoe store, such as Fleet Feet in Jackson, and let them watch you walk and run, look at the wear of your old running shoes, etc. These people have been trained to fit runners in the best shoe for them. Also, they provide a risk-free period so that if they aren’t the best shoes for you, you can bring them back. I suffered from shin splints from wearing cheap New Balance trail shoes that I bought from The Shoe Dept. Because I didn’t know any better, I continued to run on them, thinking that shin splints were just a part of running and would go away once my legs got used to it. I could barely walk by the time that I found out differently. I headed on down to Fleet Feet soon after I could properly walk again.
5. Back to the 5K. Running a race can be a little intimidating, but if you have a goal set, it will motivate you to continue running, even when it’s hard and you want to stop. There will come a time when running becomes a great experience that you love and crave, but until then, you need to keep your motivation up. I hated running when I first began, but I was determined to lose weight and become healthier. It took a while to find my love for running. Until you find a love for it, make some goals. No one says that you cannot walk some during a 5K. In fact, lots of people take walk breaks, so don’t let that keep you from trying one. It’s a really fun experience, especially if you can share it with someone.
6. Strength train. Strong muscles equal a strong run. You will get faster if your muscles are stronger. Also, muscles burn more calories (even at rest!) than fat. Strength training can also help prevent injury from poor running form or from weak muscles, such as at the hips and knees. Strengthening your core muscles is an absolute must for runners. Every runner needs a strong back and abs.
7. Once you have built up a base and can run continuously for a mile or two, mix up the types of runs you do. One day per week should be your long run, which is the run of the farthest distance that you can run. Do not increase this distance by more than 10% of your weekly miles each week, though, or you risk injury. For instance, if you run 5 total miles per week, don’t increase your long run distance by more than half a mile for the next week (so if your long run is 2 of the 5 weekly miles, don’t run farther than 2.5 miles the next week for your long run). Another type of run is the tempo run, which is a comfortably hard effort of two to four miles with short recovery periods at a slightly slower pace. It teaches you to run faster by training you to run through the discomfort of reaching your lactate-threshold. I only do tempo runs once a week. Hill repeats also help you become a faster runner by strengthening your leg muscles. About once every two weeks, find a decent sized hill on your route (or bump up the incline on the tm), and after warming up for 10 minutes at an easy pace, run up the hill at a hard effort and run easily down it. Repeat this about 4 times, and then run easy for the rest of your route. The rest of my runs are moderately easy “fun runs,” a little faster than my long run pace, and are used to just build endurance and burn extra calories.
8. Last but not least is nutrition. Do you put garbage into your gas tank? No? Well, you should not do it to your body, then. Your body, after all, is way more precious than your car. You will run stronger and feel better if you work on your nutrition. I’ve also previously blogged about calorie counting, which is a must if you want to learn to eat smaller portions and lose weight. I eat 5 to 6 times a day, but they are small meals. I rarely feel hungry this way. It is best to stay away from fast food and restaurants in general if you are using running as a weight loss tool. I do eat out at restaurants occasionally, but I try to choose my food wisely, I don’t eat everything on my plate, and I only go out to eat every once in a while.
I am definitely not the most knowledgeable about running, and I’m sure I have probably left out some important points or left you with more questions. Read up on running at www.runnersworld.com and www.coolrunning.com These sites are where I learned most of what I know about running. The beginner’s forum at Runner’s World was indispensable help to me when I first started running. There are people on there much more knowledgeable than I am that can answer just about any question you may have.