How to Get Started as a Runner
Posted by Katie Ostoich on April 17, 2012 at 11:41 AM
Maybe you’re motivated after yesterday’s Marathon Monday in Boston. Maybe you’ve seen “that girl” effortlessly striding down the street, her abs looking toned as she shows off her sports bra and shorts combo. And now you've decided that you, too, want to be a runner. Running has the power to change your life. It will make you fitter, healthier, even happier. This head-to-heels guide will show you how to get going, keep moving, and make running a lifelong habit – even if you’re never brave enough to rock the sports bra.
I love running. I like to clear my head, rock out to my music (yes, sometimes I sing and dance…I know people probably laugh, whatevs) and get happy. Simply lacing up my sneakers and hitting the pavement makes me feel free. But I’m not going to lie, it’s hard. It’s hard to start the habit and stay motivated once you’ve started. And if you begin the wrong way like I did (too much, too fast) you could be in for injury or burnout. Here's all you need to know to get (and stay) on track to a brighter future.
GET GOING: Walk—A Lot
It's here, in the beginning, where many new runners stumble. You think, Today, I'm going to start running! and out the door you go with the best of intentions—but maybe not the best preparation. Four minutes later your legs, lungs, and even your insides hurt. Don't despair. Whether you're fresh off the couch or coming from another sport, running takes time to break into.
I promise, every able-bodied person can be a runner. Just start slowly and build up gradually. Most coaches agree that the best way to become a runner is with a run-walk program. Begin by adding small segments of running into your walk. Start with four to five minutes of walking, then alternate with some running, always ending with a walking segment to cool down. Aim for running at an easy, conversational pace three days a week, with rest days in between. Over time, you can add more days if it works for your body.
Run-Walk This Way: Start and finish each workout with five minutes of walking. Then, alternate the following run/walk ratios for 30 minutes.
1: Two minutes running/four minutes walking
2: Three minutes running/three minutes walking
3: Four minutes running/two minutes walking
4: Five minutes running/three minutes walking
5: Seven minutes running/three minutes walking
6: Eight minutes running/two minutes walking
7: Nine minutes running/one minute walking
8: Thirteen minutes running/two minutes walking
9: Fourteen minutes running/one minute walking
10: Run the whole time!
GET GOING: Warm Up Well
Treat yourself like a runner—from day one. That means taking time to properly warm up and cool down. A good warmup makes it much easier to get going and keep going -- it's much more than just boosting blood flow to your muscles. Your neuromuscular system, which involves your brain telling your muscles how to contract, gets up to speed. Your body starts churning out fat-burning enzymes, which help your aerobic system work more efficiently. Synovial fluid warms up, which helps lubricate your joints. Too many beginners skip this step without realizing how much easier it makes the whole workout feel. Cooling down, while less critical, allows your body to gradually adjust from running back to a resting state. Just a few minutes of walking is all you need to let your heart rate return to normal. I like to pick a song on my playlist and use that as my cool down!
GET GOING: Vary Your Running Surface
Runners often have strong opinions about where to run. The best solution for you as a new runner may be to simply mix it up. Soft is not necessarily better. Both treadmills and dirt may seem 'softer' and therefore safer, but they have their issues. A treadmill belt has a slight shimmy when the belt impacts the bed that can contribute to shin issues. Dirt and trails can be uneven and have holes and ruts. Keep it varied; maybe sidewalk one day, a local track the next, and a trail on the weekends. This inadvertently will help you avoid losing your motivation…always changing up your scenery keeps you from getting bored!
KEEP MOVING: Watch Your Form
Running is a natural movement, so good running form should feel natural. Here's what to aim for:
Head: Keep it up—your eyes should be looking ahead. Keep your chin up and back, not dropped toward your chest or jutting out in front of you.
Shoulders: One word: relaxed. Many runners tense their shoulders so they creep toward their ears. This causes fatigue and slows you down. Shake out your arms once every ten minutes or so and keep your shoulders low and loose.
Arms: Your legs do what your arms tell them to do, so you want your arm swing to drive your legs forward in a nice straight line. That means swinging your arms forward and back, not across your body. Keep your elbows bent about 90 degrees and cup your hands into loose fists with fingers lightly touching your palms.
Torso: Run "tall," so your back is comfortably straight. Avoid leaning forward from the waist.
Hips: Pointed straight ahead and upright, not tilted forward or back.
Legs and Feet: Your feet should feel quick and light. You want to feel springy, like you're popping off the ground. Shorten your stride so your feet land directly underneath your body and you’re not aggressively striking the ground with your heels. Land on your heel to midfoot and push off through the ball of your foot.
KEEP MOVING: Take It Easy
It's easy to overdo it on the days you feel good, or when you're running with a faster friend. But doing too much too soon is a classic rookie mistake that can lead to injury and burnout. When you're first starting out, your goal should just be to have fun and run every other day. Once you're running consistently, you can add days until you're running five days a week or more – if it works for you. I know I am at risk for injury if I run more than 3 times a week, but I have friends who can do 5 days easily. Listen to your body. Increase your time/distance by no more than 10 percent from week to week.
The 10% Rule
Add just enough time (or distance) to improve your fitness, and stay injury-free
THIS WEEK if you ran: 90 minutes
NEXT WEEK run: 99 minutes
THIS WEEK if you ran: 120 minutes
NEXT WEEK run: 132 minutes
THIS WEEK if you ran: 150 minutes
NEXT WEEK run: 165 minutes
KEEP MOVING: Seek Inspiration
In the end, running should be fun; and even veteran runners use outside assistance to keep the fun factor high. Here's how to stay inspired.
A simple journal offers insight into how far you've come, what's working, what's not, and keeps you on track to meet your goals. Some items to consider recording: type of run (duration/miles/special workout); effort level; food and drink consumed before, during, and after; weather; and how you felt. You can find free journals online or if you have an iPhone, you can use the Nike+ GPS app to track everything instantly.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends having an exercise partner because it improves the odds that you'll stick with working out. Here's why: Your run flies by when you're talking with a friend, and knowing a partner is waiting for you is great motivation to leave the comfort of your chair.
If you've ever taken an aerobics class, you know the powerful effect music can have on performance. Certain types of music can help lower the perception of fatigue and enhance feelings of vigor and excitement. I love making new playlists to inspire me on the road. Just be sure to keep the volume low so you're aware of your surroundings and if you run in the dark, use only one earbud.
Look the Part
The beauty of running is in its simplicity. All you need is a good pair of shoes. Go to a specialty running store where trained professionals will evaluate your feet, watch you run, recommend the right shoes, and then let you go out for a test drive. You'll leave with a comfortable pair of shoes that will have you running pain-and injury-free. And treating yourself to some cute new clothes at Lululemon is a good reward for meeting a training goal!
Any other runners out there? Please share your tips for getting started (or staying motivated) as a runner in the comments!