How to Start a Running Program
Starting a running program may seem like an intimidating task, but it’s actually not that difficult. The steps needed to both start and maintain a running program can be handled with relative ease, even if you aren’t the most physically active person. With the tips mentioned here and a bit of will power, you will quickly discover the physical and mental health benefits of running.
Set a Goal for Yourself
As a beginner runner, it’s really important that you set goals for yourself. These goals can range from general fitness improvement, to undertaking a more specific endeavor:
- Want to improve your overall endurance? Work towards slowly (but steadily) increasing the distance you run. For example, start with running a mile, then in two weeks’ time move up to a mile and a half.
- Thought about running a 5k? Find a race in your area that’s a few months away and sign up for it. This will give you a clear-cut training schedule so you know exactly how long you have to prepare.
- Just looking to get in better shape? Set out to run an average of 10 miles per week within six months.
Don’t think that you have to set out to break any land-speed records right away. The important thing in setting goals is that they are realistic and achievable, and that they constantly motivate you to keep going.
What Inspires You to Run?
Finding your motivation or inspiration for running is one of the first steps in both setting and achieving your goals. Perhaps your inspiration comes from the health benefits of running — including improved endurance, increased cardiovascular health, and weight management. Or maybe it’s because you have simply always wanted to cross the finish line at a marathon one day.
Whatever the reason, finding an on-going source of motivation will go a very long way in helping you establish a solid running routine.
Talk to Your Doctor
When starting any new exercise program for the first time, be it one based on running or any other activity, it’s a good idea to receive physical clearance from your family physician. This is for your own health and safety, especially if you are overweight, have a cardiac condition, are a diabetic or suffer from any other serious medical condition.
Also, the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine (AAPSM) recommends that beginner runners pay a visit to a podiatrist before starting a running program. A podiatrist will examine your feet and check for any potential problems, discuss proper conditioning, prescribe orthotic devices (if applicable) and recommend the appropriate type of running shoes based on the size and shape of your feet. The AAPSM also recommends regular check-ups every year.
Getting Your Running Gear
All in all, running is a very inexpensive exercise activity. It doesn’t require a lot of fancy equipment, nor a huge financial investment on your part. However, it is a good idea to invest a bit of extra money in the equipment you do need.
It Starts with the Shoes
The most important piece of equipment you are going to need as a runner is a good pair of running shoes. A reliable pair of running shoes will help you both prevent injuries and run with comfort. Also, it is of the utmost importance that your running shoes fit properly and provide your feet with adequate support, depending on your level of pronation.
Running shoes come in a wide variety of both shapes and styles, designed to fit runners of all skill levels: Some are designed to provide extra stability, or cushioning; others, specifically for children; others still for people who run specifically on a track. If you’re curious about what type is best for you, do some research online. You can also check out iSport's guide on Buying Running Shoes.
Additional Running Accessories
If you plan on visiting a podiatrist or a sport medicine physician, bring your running shoes along. Both of these professionals can help you determine if the shoes you have are an appropriate fit for you.
Again, aside from a good pair of shoes, you don’t need a ton of gear to be a successful runner. However, here are some items you may want to consider investing in to make your life as a runner easier:
- Water bottle
- MP3 player
- ID holder
- Reflective gear
- Lace locks
- Running applications on your smartphone
- Waterproof sunscreen
It is also important that you dress comfortably when you run. You may want to consider investing in performance fabrics. These types of material will help you stay comfortable, and are available for use in a wide variety of climates as you embark on your running journey.
Focus on Your Running Technique
Getting the right gear won’t do much good if you don’t know how to use it correctly. Learning about proper running technique and form is extremely important to your success as a beginner runner. When you’re first starting out, here are some technique tips to keep in mind:
- Learn what makes a good running technique: Maintaining good posture will definitely help make running easier. Keep your arms at waist level, with your hands and shoulders relaxed (not tensed up). Also, avoid pumping your arms across your chest.
- Find your stride: To avoid stress on your legs, try not to bounce, and land softly with each step you take. Along that same line, research suggests that a toe-heel strike — as opposed to heel-toe — is more efficient as you run, especially for longer distances. A toe-heel strike can help to reduce stress on your knees and ankles.
- Remember to breathe: Though it may sound like common sense, keeping your breathing steady is important. Focus on breathing naturally; many runners recommend inhaling through the nose, expanding the lungs fully and exhaling through a wide-opened mouth. This can help your body expel more carbon dioxide and heat with minimal effort.
Dealing with the Aches & Pains
There are 26 bones, 33 joints, 112 ligaments and an entire network of tendons, blood vessels and nerves in your feet that work together to allow you to run. With each step you take, these systems work together and allow you to exert a force that is three to four times your body weight — and it all goes through your feet.
Like any other form of physical activity, running can be accompanied by plenty of aches and pains. Regardless of how long you’ve been running, it’s not uncommon to feel tired and sore — especially (and not surprisingly) in your legs.
Sore legs are one of the most common ailments you are likely to experience as a beginner runner. To help prevent sore legs, it is best to get yourself into a regular running routine; running every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday will allow your body to get accustomed to frequent running exercise. However, if the pain makes running too uncomfortable, take a break for a few days. Keep in mind that overuse injuries are the number one type of injuries seen in runners, and they can sideline you for weeks or months if you are not careful.
Overall, it is important to listen to your body. There is a big difference between feeling tired and experiencing an injury. If pain persists for more than a few days, visit with your family physician or a sports medicine doctor.
Remember to Warm Up & Stretch
To avoid overuse injuries, it is important to warm up and stretch before each and every run. When you are starting out as a runner, always walk or lightly jog for a few minutes to help warm up your muscles. Be sure to stretch each of the muscles groups used in running — focus on your calves, ankles, feet, hamstrings, and hip flexor muscles. Hold each stretch for 15-20 seconds.
One Step at a Time
Running is an activity that individuals of all ages can enjoy. Whether you run slow, fast, or somewhere in between, the important part is that you have decided to lead an active and healthy lifestyle. With the right gear and technique, you can be well on your way to enjoying running for many, many years to come. It’s true: You can have fun and run at the same time.