Tips for Beginning Runners
Running has the power to change your life. It will make you fitter, healthier, even happier. Here's all you need to know to get (and stay) on track to a brighter future.By Selene Yeager
From the May 2010 issue of Runner's World
You've seen them effortlessly striding down the street, their sculpted quads shining in the sun. And now you've decided that you, too, want to be a runner. This head-to-heels guide will show you how to get going, keep moving, and make running a lifelong habit. We've even answered your need-to-know questions so you'll feel confident, excited, and ready to hit the road.
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.
"Every able-bodied person can be a runner," says Gordon Bakoulis, a running coach based in New York City. "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," says Christine Hinton, a Road Runners Club of America certified coach in Annapolis, Maryland. "Then alternate with some running, always ending with a walking segment to cool down." (See "Run-Walk This Way," below, for a 10-week schedule.) Aim for running at an easy, conversational pace three days a week, with rest days in between. Over time, work up to running four to five days.
Need to Know
Q By the end of my run I can barely move—why?
A If you're sore before you finish running, your workout session is too long, too fast, or too hard. Ease back down to walking to allow your muscles to heal, says New York City-based exercise physiologist and coach Shelly Florence-Glover of runningcoach.com.
Q Can I still call myself a "runner" if I walk so much?
A "If you're running, no matter how fast or slow, you're a runner," says Andrew Kastor, coach of the official ING New York City Marathon online training program.
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," says Kastor. "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," says Kastor. 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 and for your body to clear out any metabolic waste you created during your efforts," says Kastor.
Two Ways to Warm Up
Spend five to 10 minutes on these simple movements to prepare your body for your run and help prevent injury
WALKING Go at a moderate pace
ACTIVE STRETCHING Side lunges, walking lunges, butt kicks (jog in place, bringing your heel high as though trying to kick your butt), skipping
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, says Glover. "Soft is not necessarily better," she says. "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, paved road the next, and a trail on the weekends."
Need to Know
Q When will I stop feeling so sore?
A If you ease into running, your postrun discomfort shouldn't be debilitating. If it is, return to walking and running. However, don't let a little soreness scare you off. "It's a sign that you're progressing," says Kastor. The ache just shouldn't bleed from one run into the next, he cautions. "Typical soreness should fade as you warm up. If it doesn't, cut your workout short. Do a little cross-training for a couple of days to let that sensation dissipate, so you don't become injured."
Q What should I do if my (fill in the blank) hurts?
A Some minor aches and pains are common, and rest should clear them up. Back off by walking or riding a bike for a few days, ice the area a few times a day, and take anti-inflammatories as needed. If you experience sudden, sharp pain while you're exercising, try walking it out for a few minutes. If the hurt doesn't ease, stop immediately and head home. If discomfort persists, see a podiatrist or orthopedist.
Q When runners run in the road, do they have to use hand signals?
A Not the way cyclists do. For one, you should be running against, not with, the flow of traffic. But don't assume a driver sees you. Stretch out a hand and make eye contact at intersections. If you're at a stop sign or light, it's a good idea to let drivers know which way you're going, especially if you'll be turning in front of them.
Q I often get pebbles in my shoe—it's annoying! How can I keep them out?
A Are the stones sneaking in the back? There may be a gap in your heel. A strategically-placed cosmetic sponge pad can help seal it up. If they're creeping in the sides, lace your shoes snugly, using all the holes. Lastly, if you're ready for another pair, trail-running shoes have a "gusseted" tongue (meaning the seams are sealed to close any gaps), which keeps pebbles and trail debris out of the shoe.
NEVER TOO LATE
Sonya Gregory-Hayes, 50
IF SOMEONE TOLD ME I'd be a runner, I never would have believed them," says Gregory-Hayes. A year ago, she started walking with her husband, who was suffering complications from diabetes. She lost weight and felt better. Inspired, she added some running into her walks. She soon ran a mile. "I was so excited, I was telling strangers on the street!" she says. She kept running until she reached three miles. This past Thanksgiving, she entered her first 5-K. "It was a lot of fun. I didn't walk. I came in around 42 minutes. I'm still on a high from that one." She wants to race again, and she'll never stop running. "I don't have a lot of time for myself," she says. "Running is immediate gratification; it has truly saved me. And as a bonus I need all new clothes! I started as a size 16 and now I'm a 12." She just may wait to splurge on more. "My goal is a size 10, or even an 8."
KEEP MOVING Watch Your Form
Running is a natural movement, so good running form should feel natural, says Bakoulis. "Some of the best runners in the world have terrible form!" she says. "But that's not to say that you shouldn't strive to start out with good posture habits."
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 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," says Kastor. 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, says Kastor. "You want to feel springy, like you're popping off the ground." Shorten your stride so your feet land directly underneath your body. 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," says Glover. Once you're running consistently, you can add days until you're running five days a week or more. 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
Need to Know
Q Will everyone be able to tell by looking at me that I'm a beginner?
A Only if you broadcast it by looking around, apologizing, and announcing that you're really not a runner yet. Seriously, everyone has his or her own style and many longtime runners have "bad form."
Q I run so slow, it's more like a shuffle. Is that bad?
A "Shuffling is not bad," says Bakoulis. "It's efficient to not use extra energy, and lifting your knees high is not moving you forward. Some of the best runners shuffle." The only danger is tripping. Watch for that.
Q Some days, my legs say yes, but my head says no—what should I do?
A Give yourself 10 minutes to warm up, suggests Kastor. "A good warm up helps you let go of stress and allows the chemical changes to happen in your brain that change your mental state from no to yes," he says. "That's why those first few steps are often the hardest. Your mental state hasn't warmed up to the run yet."
Q I missed a couple of runs in a row and now I feel like I'm back at square one—it's so discouraging!
A It is frustrating, but the good news is, you don't go backward that quickly. "Just pick up where you are in your running plan and keep moving forward," says Hinton. "If you miss more than a few runs, just repeat the planned week from the beginning." If you're feeling rusty from a few missed sessions, dial back your pace (or take more walk breaks) and keep going. You'll be back on track in no time.
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 one free at traininglog.runnersworld.com/logs.
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," says sports and exercise psychologist Costas Karageorghis, Ph.D., C.Psychol, of West London's Brunel University. Just be sure to keep the volume low so you're aware of your surroundings.
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.
Need to Know
Q Will other runners be annoyed if I fall behind on group runs?
A Only if you do it time and time again, while shouting out for everyone to hold up because you don't know where you're going. "Everyone has been a beginner at some point," says Kastor. "You're bound to have a day where you fall behind, and that's okay." Experienced runners are encouraging and happy to slow down on a run here and there to help you out and keep you in the sport, he says. The key for the long term is finding a group that includes runners who run your pace.
Q I don't know what my pace is—how do I figure that out?
A To figure out your "regular" running pace, time yourself running comfortably for one mile. Measure out a mile by driving one, measuring the distance online (mapmyrun.com), or going to a local high school track and running four times around. Your resulting time on the track will be slightly faster than your per-mile pace because the track is measured in meters not miles, and is slightly shorter. Plus, tracks are flat and springy, which means you'll always run faster on them compared with when you're on the road. You can also use online pace calculators to determine what your pace should be for longer distances. Just plug in your pace and target distance. Find one at runners world.com/cda/trainingcalculator.
RUNNING IT OFF
Kristi Lane, 34
EIGHT YEARS AGO, Lane stepped on the scale and saw a number that astonished her: 313 pounds, which hung on her 5'4" frame. "I knew I had to do something," she says. Her son was an active toddler, and Lane couldn't keep up with him. She began walking on a treadmill at her company gym, and after a few months, she lost 20 pounds. Then she got pregnant again. "I fell off the wagon," she says, "but not for long." She started walking on the path behind her office. "At some point I realized I was walking as fast as I could. So I'd pick a tree up ahead and jog to that." Soon she was walk/running three to four days a week. Just under a year later, she'd lost 80 more pounds. "Once I started running, the pounds just melted off," says Lane, who wants to lose another 50. "Now I sleep better and have tons of energy. I just keep going. I crave running. If I don't do it, I get cranky. I'm a real runner now."