If you’ve just started running or are thinking about running, here are some tips to get you started – and keep you going
Seeing athletes crush a road race or just spotting runners glide through your local park might be enough to motivate you to head out on the road yourself. Or if you’re just looking for a way to be more active or lose weight, then you’ll find running is a solid option for moving more. But no matter why you want to start running, it’s time to lace up and enjoy every step.
- Just start
You can spend all week/month/year thinking about it and browsing the web for tips and plans, or you can just get out there regularly. “The biggest thing when you first start out is establishing the habit—getting used to being on your feet,” says Matthew Meyer, a certified trainer and running coach.
Forget about hitting a certain pace (turn that watch around!), ditch the idea of reaching a certain distance, and instead just set a time goal. Meyer says a good beginner running target is to get outside or on a treadmill for 20 minutes, three days a week. Eventually, aim to build up to four days, and then you can bump 20 minutes to 25 and so on.
- Embrace the run-walk method
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, everything hurts, and you feel like you are dying. 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 running coach Gordon Bakoulis. “Just start slowly and build up gradually.” Most coaches agree that the best way to become a runner is with a run-walk program.
With that 20-minute target in mind, focus on a few minutes of running, followed by a period of walking. Meyer suggests aiming to run for three minutes and walking for one minute – continue to alternate until you reach the time goal, always ending with a walking segment to cool down.
A warm-up and cool-down will also help you ease in and out of a run. Start with a few reverse lunges on each leg, followed by squats, side lunges, butt kicks, and high knees, and a few minutes of walking before your run. After, take a few minutes to walk slowly, then foam roll your legs (the quads, hamstrings, and calves are good places to work on) or stretch.
- Consider proper technique
Treat yourself like a runner – from day one. That means taking time to properly warm up and cool down. “A good warm-up makes it much easier to get going and keep going,” says Andrew Kastor, former coach of the official New York City Marathon online training program. “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 realising how much easier it makes the whole workout feel,” Kastor says. 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,” Kastor adds.
Even (and especially) in the early stages of running, you also want to think about form. Meyer has a few simple questions he tells his clients to ask themselves on the road: Am I forward leaning through the chest? Are my arms swinging? Is my core engaged? Are my knees driving? Are my heels nice and high? “Really focus on picking up your heels behind you, especially if you’re feeling tired, and your legs are feeling heavy to take your mind off the run for a little,” he says.
- Explore new places
An easy way to keep your motivation up on the run? Finding a new area to discover, Meyer says. “I remember when I first started running, I would seek out interesting parks or places I hadn’t been before,” he says. “You want to get moving, but you also want to be in a beautiful place to get to know and spend time exploring.”
It even helps to explore different running surfaces. Runners often have strong opinions about where to run, but the best solution for you as a new runner may be to simply mix it up, says exercise physiologist Shelly Florence-Glover. The options include: new roads, park paths, urban greenways, dirt trails, your local track, that huge neighbourhood hill, the gym treadmill, and more.
“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.”
- Progress slowly
When you feel comfortable running 20 to 30 minutes at an easy pace (when your exertion level drops below 6, and you feel confident in taking it up a notch), then it’s time to increase the challenge. Your next step is to either extend your total workout time or the number of runs each week. But choose just one option at a time, Meyer says. For instance, you could aim to go for 30 minutes instead of 20. Or run four times a week instead of three. A very important rule of thumb: Increase your total weekly time or distance by no more than 10 percent from week to week. For example: If this week you ran 90 minutes total, you’ll run 99 next week. Or if you ran 10 kilometres total this week, you’ll run 11 total next week.
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 [a few times per week],” says Glover. Once you’re running consistently, you can add days until you’re running five days a week or more.
- Don’t get discouraged
A few things to think about when you start to feel like you just want to stop: For starters, really focus on why you decided to start running. “Whenever I’m in the middle of a really hard workout, I remember, ‘You chose this, and you really love this,’” says Meyer. “Even when it gets hard, there’s a reason you got out in the first place.”
Before you start your next run, Meyer recommends deciding what you want to get out of it to keep your focus. Do you want to get outside and enjoy it? Do you want to end smiling and feeling good? Do you want to get mentally or physically stronger? Do you just want to sweat a little? Whatever it is, point it out and use it as your motivation to just keep going.
Also, don’t dwell on one bad run, because everyone has them. Yes, even the pros. “Running is more of a collection of work—day by day you work for it—and it’s at the end that you see everything. So just focus on showing up a little bit every day. Some days you’ll feel amazing; some days you’ll feel terrible,” Meyer says. “Success is not determined by one day, but by all of them put together.”
In the end, running should be fun; and even veteran runners use outside assistance to keep the fun factor high.
Looking for more inspiration? Read more here, where there are also some tools to keep you inspired.
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