If you have been itching to start running for better health, for that lean, sexy body, or just to experience the runner’s high phenomenon, but have some reservations whether or not running may be for you or not, the following tips can help ease the fear and help motivate the true inner athlete in you!
These recommendations on considerations and tips to begin running are suggested by the American Council on Exercise, American College of Sports Medicine, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Runner’s World Magazine.
Always check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise regimen if you are severely overweight, have not exercised in a long time and/or have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or another chronic condition, or if you are pregnant.
Running shoes should be comfortable and conforming to your feet for both arch support and toe box room. There are so many types of athletic shoes out there, and it can be daunting to try to narrow down your search for the perfect one that will help you finish your first marathon race. The key to running shoes is trial and error. If you have wide feet, a narrow shoe may pinch your toes or cause painful blisters. The perfect shoes and socks should leave your feet pain free after your runs, so pay attention to what is happening during and after your training. Shopping at a reputable running or sporting goods store with a knowledgeable sales staff is best, for, they can help you with shoe fittings and answer any questions you may have.
Do a gradual, slow-paced jog (slower than your normal pace) for at least 5 to 10 minutes to warm up your muscles. Warming up helps direct blood flow to the working muscles, tendons, ligaments, and joints involved in running. Skipping this important step is like stretching a rubber band apart with two hands; it could lead to injury, muscle soreness, and muscle tears. Also, avoid high-intensity activities without a proper warm-up.The post-workout cool-down at least 5 to 10 minutes is just as important as the warm-up and helps redirect blood flow to central circulation. Exercise causes your veins to temporarily dilate, so stopping immediately after a run lets blood pool in the legs. This is why some people get dizzy or perhaps even faint when they abruptly stop a strenuous activity. Slowing down to a walk or a slow jog helps circulate your blood until your veins shrink back to normal.
Consistency is the golden key for most things in life. Remember it takes most people at least 30 days to form a habit. If you really want running to be a part of your life, you have to make the commitment to be consistent in your training. Run two, three, or four days a week, and don't worry too much about how far or how long you run. You want to get used to being active for several days each week. Committed runners will see their bodies transform, will feel their pace increase, will recognize their runs becoming easier, will develop the joy and love for running, but most people see these types of results through regular participation in a running program, not by a once-every-other-weekend run around the block. First, run for the "health" of it, and the fitness benefits will follow.
Don't get the weekend warrior syndrome and try to run a marathon on your first workout. Too much too soon sets you up for soreness, injury or burnout, all of which can discourage you from sticking with your program. At least for the first 2 to 3 weeks, train every other day to allow a rest period between runs. You can do a run/walk at first until you build up your endurance.
When you are warming up, or a beginner runner, breathing should be comfortable and rhythmic. Try not to fight your breathing and listen to your body. Try to stay at a pace that does not make you run out of breath. New runners think it's not "real" running unless you're gasping for breath. Not true. If you can't talk, slow down. Part of a good running technique is the art of being able to control your breath, just like swimming. If you're gasping for air, (and not engaging in speed work or running anaerobically for interval training), you may be running too fast for your current fitness level.
Probably one of the most important aspects of exercising in general, not just for running, is being well hydrated. Sipping small amounts of water throughout the day, prior, during and after your runs will help you run better and prevent muscle cramping and cotton mouth. How much to drink will depend on the amount of water you lose in sweat and how long you exercise, which is different for everyone. After your runs, be sure to replenish the lost reserves by drink enough water to quench your thirst.
Run with your spouse, friend, or even your dog - at least from time to time. Having someone that will hold you accountable in the morning, after work or on weekends is very motivating. Your running partner can make long runs feel shorter and fun! Once you have established a running habit, you might be interested in joining a running club. This will give you a chance to meet other new, advanced or expert runners. You can glean tips on your running form, speed, training for competition, or whatever technical questions you might have. It's also a great social atmosphere for meeting healthy, like-minded people.
The best time to stretch is after you exercise or at a different time than an exercise session, not right before. Stay flexible by putting your joints through a gentle range of motion and stretch for at least 10 minutes after your runs. This can be part of your cooldown routine. Stretching allows oxygen and blood to access the muscles that have been activated by running, and begin the healing process, so the risk for injury and aches the following day will be minimized.
Use your mantra when boredom sets in or when you just cannot seem to continue being motivated during a run. Perhaps use it before your run if you don't feel like heading out. Say it to yourself, and repeat the motivating mantra-like word or phrase. During super long runs, I would repeat the ABC’s or count from 1 to 100 until I find an energizing song that I could run to on my iPod. Another phrase I used during really tough runs was “I am strong,” and it really worked.
Carbohydrates are an endurance athlete's best friend. The right types of foods are equally important to your training regimen. Carbohydrates, especially, help maintain blood glucose and liver and muscle glycogen stores. Make sure you are consuming quality complex carbohydrates such as oatmeal in the morning, trail mix for snacks, fruits, and vegetables, whole grains and pasta to fuel your body through your workouts. Aim for lean and high-quality protein as well! Egg whites, legumes, lean meats, and nut butter and whey protein shakes are great sources.
Resources: RunnersWorld.com, CompleteRunning.com, Active.com, CDC.gov