Running isn't for everyone, but it's one of the best exercises you can do for your heart, your body and to burn extra calories. It's also one of the more accessible activities - all you really need is a good pair of shoes and a place to run...no fancy equipment, special skills. But, even though it's accessible, it isn't always easy starting a running program. It takes time to build up the endurance to run for even a short period of time, even if you've been walking, cycling or doing other activities. Don't give up! There's a way to become a runner without killing yourself if you're patient and follow these easy steps. Before you get started, visit your doctor and get the okay to start a running program.
Step One: Get Geared Up
The most important piece of equipment you'll need is a quality pair of running shoes. Your best bet is to visit a specialty running store (like Fleet Feet). If you have an old pair of running or walking shoes, take them with you. The sales folks in running stores are experts and can often look at the wear pattern on your old shoes to help them pick the right shoe for you. Wear or bring the socks you plan on wearing while you run and test the shoes out by running or walking around the store. Plan on spending anywhere from $70 to $100 for a good pair of shoes.
What you wear when running comes down to comfort. A simple pair of shorts and a tee shirt will work fine. Most runners opt for running shorts, which generally have a split leg, built-in underwear and a nifty key pocket. It's a good idea to buy clothes that wick sweat away from the body.
Step Two: Set Your Goals
First, figure out where you'll run. If you're going outside, try to find roads made of dirt or asphalt rather than concrete, which is hard on the body. Remember to wear reflective clothing when running at night and to run towards traffic so you don't get nailed by a car. If you go to a gym, the treadmill offers a cushy surface to run on while protecting you from the elements.
Second, realize you'll spend more time walking than running your first time out.
- Start with a brisk 10-minute walk to warm up
- Move into an easy jog for as long as you can, shooting for about 30-60 seconds.
- Slow down to a walk for about 2-5 minutes to let your body recover.
- Repeat that, alternating jogging and walking for 10-20 minutes, depending on your fitness level and how you feel.
- Each week, increase the amount you run by about 10%, while also decreasing the amount of time you run.
- Gradually work your way up to 30 minutes of continuous running about 3 times a week.
- Focus on a pace that allows you to hold a conversation. If you can't breathe, slow down or take more walk breaks. Don't be a slave to your stopwatch.
If you're following your program consistently (i.e., at least three days a week), you should be running continuously for 20 to 30 minutes by the fourth week. When you start out, you should be focused on time not intensity. Once you can run continuously for 30 minutes or so, you can start going faster.
Step Three: Dealing With...
Side stitches are fairly common when you start running. No one knows why they occur, but there are some things you can do to minimize them.
- Wait 2 to 4 hours after a large meal before running, since running too soon can cause stomach cramps and side stitches.
- Strengthen your abs and back. Side stitches can also be caused by weak stomach muscles and your abs do a lot of work to keep your body in position while you're running.Doing consistent ab and lower back exercises will help strengthen your torso and reduce those stitches.
- Stop and walk. It may help to hold your hands up in the air as you take deep breaths. Sometimes pressing into the cramp and massaging it can help, too.
Shin splints are another distressing side effect of running, particularly if you're a newbie or if you've increase your mileage or intensity. To avoid them:
- Ease into your running workouts - The walk/run plan is one of the best ways to condition your legs to get used to running without overdoing it
- Crosstrain with other activities - Using your body in a different way can trigger your muscles in a different way so you're not putting the same stress on your body day after day.
- Check your shoes - You should probably replace your shoes every 300 or 400 miles. When you buy a new pair, mark it on your calendar and set a reminder for when to buy a new pair.
If you do get shin splints, follow the RICE (rest, ice, compression, elevation) method of treatment immediately after your run and reduce your mileage and/or change your running surface if it's a chronic problem.
Running is a great way to get in shape, burn lots of calories, make your heart healthy and increase bone density. Be consistent and you'll be training for your first race in no time!