This beginners running guide will help get you on your way to building a stronger cardiovascular base, so that you can maintain a healthier lifestyle through a regular running program. Running is one of the best exercises you can do to strengthen your heart, tone body muscles, build bone strength, and maintain/lose weight. But just like anything that yields substantial rewards, it’s not always the easiest thing to do, especially when you’re just starting out and don’t have a clue on where to begin. It’s been a long time since that very first day when I decided to get out there and start running, but to this day I still remember that I went into it knowing that it would take time and I would have to be in it for the long term. I’m glad I made the commitment because I am now enjoying the benefits of a healthier lifestyle. I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’ll share with you a few pointers so that your transition will be as easy and smooth as possible.
The most important thing to remember is to ease into it. Starting off by doing too much, too fast, will result in a lot of pain, injuries, and discouragement. Don’t get impatient, and don’t feel like you have to move forward (i.e. run longer or faster) in your program if you don’t feel up to it. Take your time and make tiny solid improvements along the way.
You can use the beginner’s running program that I started off with. It’s very simple and easy to follow. Now, don’t laugh. On my very first day, I did a five minute session. I kid you not. I didn’t even run per say. My form represented something more like a jog/march/shuffle. But here’s the thing, I got out there and did something. I set a goal, as microscopic as it was. I met that goal and felt great doing it. I rested the next day, and did six minutes of running the following session. I would increase my running time by thirty seconds to two minutes on each following workout, with at least one day of rest in between. I had worked myself up to 30 minutes of running in just under two months time. Ten months later, I ran a marathon. By thinking long term, and making small improvements along the way, you will see that getting fit and healthy is quite easy.
Don’t worry about speed or intensity at this point. It will come as you become more fit. Instead, focus on increasing your time and duration. Here’s a good rule of thumb, known as the talk test: your pace should be comfortable so that you can hold a conversation. Slow down if you’re gasping for air. If you have to walk, then feel free to do so. Don’t feel bad about it either. Your goal is to train your body, not strain it. Be patient. The body needs time to condition itself for the extra stress that running puts on it. As you progress in your program, it will get easier and easier. Your muscles will become more toned. Your bones will become stronger. Your cardiovascular capacity will increase, and you will have more energy.
During this beginners running phase, you don’t have to worry too much about form. The main goal is to get you moving. But there are a couple tips that will make your running easier. Here’s a quick run down. Never slouch, always run tall with your back straight and head up. Relax the shoulders and keep your hands at relatively the same level as your hip bones. Avoid clenching your hands into fists. Instead, imagine you are holding a drumstick between your thumb and index finger and that you are softly hitting a drum in front of your pelvis. Avoid exaggerated arm pumping. Avoid forefoot running. Instead just relax and land with your heel or midfoot first. Don’t trot or bounce. This only results in wasted energy and an increase in injury. Instead, try to glide across the ground with smooth relaxed strides. Remember, to just relax and enjoy the ride. Click here for a detailed guide on proper running form.
Essential to your progress is rest. A beginner should avoid running two or more days in a row. The body needs to heal itself after all the stress it goes through during the run. This break down and rebuilding process is really what’s responsible for increasing strength and endurance. By running too many back to back days, you continuously break down the body without allowing it to recover, resulting in little or no improvement. On your days off, just relax. Do a little stretching, drink plenty of water, and eat well balanced meals to refuel.
To help you get the most out of your beginner’s running program, following these nutrition tips as proper nutrition will play a major role in your progress. Your first priority is to hydrate well. The body needs plenty of water to function normally. We lose a lot of water when we perspire. Drink 8-16 ounces of water 15 minutes before exercise. Drink 4-8 ounces every 15 minutes during exercise. Sipping a little here and there during the day can make a huge difference in the way you feel during your runs. Ideally, you’ll want to take in 8-10 cups of water daily. Always remember that by the time you feel thirsty, your body is already dehydrated and your performance will be sub-par, so keep those intake levels up. Complex carbohydrates are a runner’s best friend because they provide a steady stream of energy. Foods in this group include rice, pasta, breads, cereals, potatoes, and vegetables. Make sure that at least half of each of your meals is complex carbohydrates. Protein is important for maintaining and building muscle. Most Americans don’t have a problem reaching the daily recommended intake of 10-20%, but just make sure that a portion (about 1/4) of your meals includes foods such as meats, legumes, nuts, eggs, or tofu. Get 2-3 servings of low fat dairy to build the bone strength necessary to hold up to the high impact of running. Fats come in handy as last resort reserves, usually when you are running longer distances such as half or full marathons, or when running a grueling race. Limit your fat intake to a modest amount (20-25% of daily calories) and obtain them from healthier sources such as olive oils (or other natural oils) and low fat spreads. Lastly, consider taking a multi-vitamin once daily. Getting all of your essential vitamins will help your body function more efficiently, which will result in better performance.
Running specific gear can greatly enhance the quality of your running experience. I highly recommend that you invest in a good pair of shoes for running. You should know that not all athletic shoes are good for running. Running specific shoes take into account the need for enhanced cushioning and support. Also, not all running shoes are made the same. The kind that are right for you depends on things such as your arch height, body weight, weekly mileage, and personal preferences. Going to a specialty running store can be of a tremendous help in picking the right shoe because they have all the necessary training and equipment to analyze your needs. Alternatively, you can read a full detailed explanation in my article on how to choose running shoes. But here’s a quick run down. The major objective of a running shoe is to provide enough arch support and cushioning to help prevent injuries. The lower your arch is (while standing) the more support you need. People with high arches need a neutral shoe, which offers cushion and flexibility with minimal support. People with average arches need a stability shoe, which offers moderate support. People with low to flat arches need a motion control shoe, which offers the most support. Body weight will also dictate what type of shoe you buy. If you are heavier, you will need a shoe that has more padding. Most times, these are the shoes that are advertised as « top of the line. » They simply have more cushioning technology to take a heavier person’s impact. They also typically cost more, above one hundred dollars usually. Small to medium body frames only require an average pair of running shoes, typically costing between fifty to ninety-five dollars.
Once you start getting into it, invest in some running specific apparel. This will make your beginners running experience so much more comfortable. You will soon find out that cotton is not the best material to go running in. It retains moisture and heat. It’s very uncomfortable, and it makes your body work extra hard to cools itself down. Synthetic fibers, mostly specially engineered polyester, that go by names such as CoolMax, Dri-Fit, and ClimaCool, dry fast so they keep you cooler, dryer, and much more comfortable. Getting a good outfit of moisture wicking shirts, shorts, underwear, socks, and hats won’t cost you much and it will make a whole world of a difference. If you do your running while the sun is down, consider getting apparel with reflective accents so people in cars can see you. Alternatively, you can buy a reflective vest or harness. A headlamp could help you see better at night so you won’t stumble or trip on something.
As a beginning runner, you may encounter some minor aches and pains. These are normal. Apply ice to the affected areas after your runs, and on your days off. Stretch frequently to get rid of lactic acid build up (the stuff that makes you sore), and increase the availability of oxygen and nutrients to the area. If the pain is sharp, take a few days off to see if it goes away. If the problem persists over a long period of time, you may have a more serious injury and you should consult a physical therapist or other qualified health professional that deals with injuries