Before you pass over this article, as your mind says “duh, I can’t run because [fill in the blank]” just take a moment or two to read a little further and open your mind to some new possibilities. It’s almost the New Year, and what better time for a transformation? Almost anyone can be a runner, even if you’ve never run before or tried it once or twice and it sucked. Try these tips to get started for real this time, without the angst and frustration.
You probably already know that running has so many benefits:
- A stronger heart and lungs
- Weight loss
- No travel time to work out (just walk out your front door – or to the treadmill in the basement gathering dust!)
- Improved bone density – especially important for women over 40
But wait, you say…what about ruining your knees, shin splints, Achilles strains and all those other terrible things about running? And how do I even know where to start?
Running can be intimidating if you have no idea how to get started. I’ve compiled some of the best tips to help you ease into becoming a successful runner – no matter your age, size, gender, weight, or physical condition. [Disclaimer: If you have heart disease or another chronic condition that may preclude you from engaging in physical exercise, please talk to your doctor first before getting started.]
#1 – Get yourself some real running shoes.
Go to an actual running specialty store (Runners Roost, Fleet Feet, Running Central, or better yet, a local independent business) and have them fit you with a high quality shoe in the size and model for your stride type. Nothing will derail your run like a bad-fitting pair of shoes, either in size or structure. Skip the department stores – the name brands (especially the one with the swoosh – you know who I’m talking about) are big on what’s now called “athleisure wear” shoes, which may be tagged as “running shoes” but which have zero support.
Be prepared to lay out some coin for your running shoes. They’ll last longer and you’ll avoid injuries and pain too. To save a little money, you can always look for the prior year’s model of the shoe you like. Also, realize that you should typically buy at least a half to a full size larger running shoe than street shoe. So ditch any vanity about your shoe size and get what will bring you the most success. No one needs to know!
#2 – Set realistic expectations.
Your very first runs might feel really hard – although they should not feel TOO hard (see #3 below). This may challenge your resolve even more than your body. But stick with it, be consistent, and after a few weeks it will get easier and easier and you’ll start to feel like the champion you are. The key is to start SLOW and EASY, and gradually build up your strength and endurance. That will keep the enjoyment level up and the suck factor down.
#3 – Use the run/walk method.
Don’t believe you have to run for 30 minutes straight to be a successful runner. In fact, I encourage new runners to NEVER try to run for 30 minutes straight without walk breaks. Jeff Galloway, the iconic Olympic runner turned run coaching pioneer, started championing his run/walk method over 20 years ago, and now it’s everywhere.
For example: walk for 5 to 10 minutes briskly, then begin a pattern of 30 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of walking, for 20 minutes. Finish by walking comfortably for 5 minutes to cool down. As this starts to feel easier, bump it up to 1 minute of running and 1 minute of walking. Then try 1 minute of running and 30 seconds of walking. Add more time to your run workout little by little as you progress. You get the picture.
Don’t just go all out every time – that’s the quickest way to make you tired, out of breath, and defeated.
#4 – DON’T STRETCH before you run.
Static stretching, where you hold a stretch for 20 to 30 seconds, will not prevent injury and could actually have a negative impact on your run performance. So ignore everyone else you see stretching their quads and hamstrings before they run, and do some dynamic warmup moves instead.
It only takes a few minutes of simple bodyweight movements — like this three-minute sequence — to get your body ready to run. You’ll feel better and be less likely to get injured, because you’ve loosened up your joints and warmed up your muscles so they’re ready to go.
#5 – Don’t run every day.
The surefire way to injury and burnout is to run every single day. Beginners only need 2 or 3 days per week at 30-40 minutes per session (including your dynamic warmup and a cool down). On your non-running days, either rest completely, do some strength training (see #6) or another activity you enjoy.
Just focus on consistency, not mileage or pace. Consistency is the key to success.
#6 – Strength train to improve your running.
Strength training has a myriad of benefits for runners, but is often misunderstood or even ignored. Run-specific strength training focuses on your core (abs, glutes, low back) which is where your running engine and center of gravity resides. A strength training routine twice a week will enhance your flexibility and help to even out the muscle imbalances that can develop when all you do is run. Most exercises can be done with body weight only, in your living room. For some ideas, check out this 7-minute strength training for runners video.
I hope these tips will encourage you to give running a try. The New Year is a great time to set a new goal for your own personal transformation to becoming a runner. Run outdoors whenever possible, and if you have access to a treadmill that’s a great alternative when it’s cold and dark out. Just be consistent and in no time you’ll feel like the champion you are!
Laurie Kelly, CPT, CES, is a Road Runners Clubs of America Certified Run Coach. She is also a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist accredited by the National Academy of Sports Medicine (NASM). Based in Denver, Colorado, Laurie works with clients one-on-one at their location or online, to help them live healthy and active lives, and achieve their unique fitness goals. Contact her here or follow her blog at www.dragonfly-fitness.com.