Running for Exercise: Tips to Get Started
Some people hate running. Getting started can be a painful experience if you try to do too much too soon. I’ve been running off and on for about 35 years and going from my off periods to my on periods takes some effort and determination. I’m not a racer, but I have run in a few races and I’m not particularly fast, that takes some natural talent, physique and determination. The health benefits don’t necessarily come from training to be a fast runner. They come from training to be a long distance slow runner. This is the kind of training or exercise that will build your cardio-vascular system and burn the calories to shed poundage. So how do you get started?
Set a goal, ask yourself why do I want to do this. Do you want to just be in better health? Do you want the natural boost in energy that regular exercise can provide? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to prepare for a race? Do you want an activity that will get you outside? Do you want to run to improve your fitness for some other activity?
I’ve had each of these goals at one time or another. Sometimes I would sign up for a race that looks attractive at the end of the summer and start training in the spring. No I am committed to follow through, especially if I sign up with friends. One time I got tired of the belly I was carrying around with me. I dropped from 205 lbs. in February to 167 lbs. in August. I like to canoe and camp in wilderness areas during my vacation time. Being fit enough to carry the canoe and packs easily make that time much more enjoyable.
Figure out a way to measure your progress towards that goal. Body weight is probably the easiest measurement. Try to notice subtle changes in your energy level or even your attitude. Running can release bio-chemical substances called Endorphins which can bring on feelings of euphoria. The improved cardio-vascular system will improve the blood circulation to all parts of your body which should increase your energy level. Chart your progress, whether it’s in pounds or miles or minutes, looking at improvements and accomplishments can be motivating in itself.
A good pair of shoes is essential. If you go to a reputable sporting goods store or better yet, a running store, you should get some good advice on shoe selection. They should fit well, be comfortable and provide adequate cushion for your intended use. Be prepared to answer questions about approximate weight, how often and how far you will run and how much you want to spend. You should be able to find a good pair of shoes in the $60 to $100 range.
If you have never run before, then start by walking. Walking can be better exercise for some anyway, the only problem is that it takes so much more time to equal the same amount of energy (calories burned) that you would running. Start with a distance you are comfortable with then increase it until you can walk for over an hour. This not only strengthens your legs and improves your cardio, it also conditions your feet to avoid soreness and blisters. Once you can walk for this long you can mix in short runs. For example, walk the distance between 4 or more telephone poles then run the distance between two. You get the idea.
Run outside. Treadmills are boring and don’t require the effort that running outside requires. Sure you can “simulate” a hill with an incline, but terrain, road surface, wind and overall alertness expend more energy. In addition, running 15 minutes outside would feel like 30 minutes on a treadmill. Select a route that is interesting, a park trail, a country road, a quiet subdivision, along a lake. Try to avoid vehicle traffic as much as you can, it will be more enjoyable and safe. If running alone on an isolated trial concerns you, then bring a friend or your dog, or have a family member ride a bike along with you.
Listening to music while you run makes the time go faster and seems to boost your energy. If you intend to run for a certain length of time, you can “push it” by saying to yourself, “one more song”. I found that press in ear buds don’t stay in, so I use the ones the one that have clips that hang on your ears. I tuck the wires under my shirt and pull the buds through the neck opening. The MP3 player can go in a pocket or be safety pinned to your pants. You should take care to be visually alert for approaching traffic and other potential hazards while you are running if music can distract you.
When you start, start slow. It may feel like you could walk just as fast as you are running. That is OK, you are trying to find your pace. Eventually you will speed up. Try not to push off too vigorously on each step and try not to pound your heels into the ground as your foot moves forward. It should be more like lifting your foot behind and placing it flat on the ground in front, almost like shuffling. Let yourself relax as you move, dangle your arms, rotate your head a bit to get that relaxed feeling. Focus on your breathing. If you find yourself starting to gasp for breath you are running too fast. It’s your body trying to get more oxygen into your blood to remove the lactic acid build up caused by burning fuel during muscle exertion. It will take while to find your pace, don’t be discouraged if you end up with burning muscles and a sore lungs from breathing too rapidly, the first few times.
Running companions are great. Not only do they provide motivation on those “wah, wah, I don’t feel like it days” but they can make the run seem shorter. You should be able to have a conversation while you run. Doing so will indicate that you are not running too fast and you are controlling your breathing just about right. They can provide an extra sense of security, and extra set of eyes to spot the car that is about to run a stop sign, or a dog lurking in the bushes.
Adding miles or distance or running days
Once you become accustomed to running a certain distance, there becomes sort of a mental barrier making it difficult to exceed that distance. Try to increase your distance slightly each week. I usually have one long run, one short run and one medium distance run per week. I add to my long distance run, then, when it is sufficiently long, I replace my middle distance run with what was my long distance run. I found when I was younger that I could run 6 days a week but I needed one day to recover. Now that I’m older I find that 3 days a week is about right. Some say that you need to run every day, but I have successfully trained for a 10 mile race by running only 3 days a week, granted those 3 days built up to a point where I ran a 5, 8 and 10 mile run during the week. You will probably tend to plateau and run the same distance a few weeks in a row, especially as your weekly mileage increases. That is fine, just keep at it.
Run if you feel like it, you want to make it fun, something you want to do, not something you dread. You will find eventually after establishing a routine, that if you don’t run, you will miss it. Don’t feel bad about taking a day or two off, it could be your body subconsciously telling you to ease up. In the beginning if you find yourself making too many excuses not to run, try to dress in running clothes as soon as you get up in the morning or when you come home from work. Once you have your running clothes on, might as well go!
Overtraining or listening to your body
Beware of pushing yourself too hard. Listen to your body. Pain that is muscle pain and eventually goes away is good (and even feels good sometimes). Pain that is sharp and persistent is something to watch out for. It could be joint or bone problems and you probably need to stop for a while or at least ease up. The old adage of playing through the pain can lead to injury and spending lots of time on the couch eating popcorn and watching your favorite TV shows. It’s good to push yourself sometimes, from that can come some good results, but you have to know when you can push and when you should ease up. So if you are just starting give yourself some time to figure this out.