So you want to be a runner. Good for you. Running is a great way to stay in shape and improve your health. Not to mention have fun and meet new people. There are a lot of reasons for running, but regardless of the reasons you’ve decided to get into it, here are some tips on how to get started.
If you’ve never run before, or if it’s been a long time since you last ran, it’s best to start out easy. Don’t go out to the local bike path and run as hard as you can until you can’t run anymore. That’s a good way to get hurt. The best way to start is to walk. Work up to thirty minutes at a brisk pace. After you’ve gotten the green light from your doctor to start exercising, try to get out three to four times a week.
Once you can walk comfortably at a brisk pace for thirty minutes at a time, add in thirty seconds of slow jogging during your walks. Slowly increase the time you spend running time and decrease the time you spend walking until you can jog at an easy pace for half an hour. Don’t overdo it. Limit yourself to no more than four days a week at first, but don’t undo it either. One or two days a week isn’t enough to increase your fitness.
Your legs may feel sore, but if you have any pain, stop running and check with your doctor. If you ease into it, you shouldn’t experience any injury. And don’t forget to hydrate. Bring along some water and drink frequently. Avoid gulping down your water. It’s better to take a lot of small sips than a few big drinks.
Set Realistic Expectations
Once you’ve started running, you’ll be tempted to compare yourself to other runners. Don’t. If you try to compare your abilities to a runner who has been at it for years, and you’ve just started, you’ll just end up frustrating yourself.
Your best bet is to set simple goals like being able to run three miles without walking—but with no time limit to reach the goal. Signing up for a 5K is good way to keep yourself motivated, but make sure you have enough time to train for it from your current fitness level and set an achievable goal like “Finish the race before they close the course” or “Run across the finish line even if I have to take walk breaks during the race.”
Over time, as your fitness level improves, you can set progressively more challenging goals, as long as each goal is a reasonable step up from the last goal you completed. If you finished your last 5K in 45 minutes, your goal for the next 5K should be 40 minutes, not under 30. If you’ve just finished your longest run ever at five miles, set your next distance goal to five and a half miles.
By setting achievable goals, you’ll increase your enjoyment of running, which means you’re more likely to stick with it.
Join a Running Club
Running clubs are a great source of camaraderie and support. A good running club will have support for new runners as well as the experienced runners. You’ll find that in clubs like that, the experienced runners are more than happy to give tips and advice to newbies.
Many people feel intimidated by the experienced runners in clubs. You shouldn’t though, because most of them will remember what it was like to be a new runner. They may be running fifteen miles at a seven minute pace while you’re running three miles at a fifteen minute pace, but you’re just as much a runner as they are. Most runners are more interested in seeing you succeed than in showing how fast they are or how far they can run.
If you try out a club and it doesn’t work out—either because you don’t mesh with the personalities or they just don’t seem interested in helping new runners—don’t give up. Try another club. Most suburban and urban areas have a plethora of clubs to investigate. If you live in a rural area, without many people, you may not be able to find another club, in which case you may have to settle for an online running club. It may not be as nice as meeting up with your running buddies for a Saturday long run, but an online club can still prove you with the same support.
Get the Proper Gear
Running doesn’t take a lot of gear, but make sure you at least have a good pair of running shoes. Go to your local running store and have them fit you for the right shoes. Running shoes are more complicated than just the right size. A trained running store employee can look at your gait and determine what kind of shoe will best support you as you run. You may spend a few more dollars to buy local than if you buy online, but you’ll be happier with the results. And you’ll be supporting a local business.
While you’re getting your shoes, ask them about a pair of running shorts and some socks. You don’t need anything expensive, but your cutoff jeans and cotton socks won’t do it.
Don’t forget to warmup before you start running. If you go from 0 to 60 on cold muscles, you’ll risk a pulled muscle or worse. A few minutes of dynamic stretching followed by a few minutes of easy walking or jogging is all you need at this stage. Later on, if you get into harder workouts, you’ll want to do longer warmups, but for now, keep it simple.
Avoid static stretching though. At least until your muscles are warmed up. Current thinking is that static stretching cold muscles is more likely to cause injury than no stretching at all.
Don’t Forget to Rest
Your rest days should be sacred. That’s when your body repairs itself from all the damage you do when you workout. If you run three or four days a week, make sure the other days of the week don’t involve any heavy use of your legs. They need time to recover and build muscle.
Some experienced runners like to run every day. That’s not a good strategy for a beginner. Your body has to get used to running before you start putting it though that kind of strain. Even those who run every day have rest days. They rest by doing super easy runs compared to their other runs. Most also will take long breaks after each training cycle to give their bodies a chance to heal. Don’t let yourself be drawn into that type of running until you’re ready for it.
Increasing your speed or distance is not easy. It takes a long time to build from three miles to twenty-six. You should only be doing one long run per week, and you shouldn’t increase that run by more than a mile each week. The best strategy is to increase by a mile per week for a couple of weeks, then take a week off by dropping back a couple of miles before increasing again. It’s a form of rest, and your body will appreciate it.
Similar with speed, you shouldn’t go from a fifteen minute-per-mile pace to a ten minute-per-mile pace in one week. Go a little faster during your weekday runs, then slow down again for your long run. Then the next week you can try taking a few more seconds off your pace. Trying to go too fast too soon will likely result in injury, which will set you back, and possibly discourage you from continuing.
Running is a great past time, and popular among people of all ages and backgrounds. If you’re just getting started, ease into it and you’ll find it to be a rewarding activity. And remember, we were all beginners once. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.