Starting a Running Program - Part II - November 2004
(NOTE: This is the second of a four-part series of articles for the beginning runner. I originally wrote the articles in 1996 for a now defunct monthly publication.)
START WITH A CHECK-UP
Making the decision to begin a running program is the toughest. Quitting is the easy part. But before embarking on such a life-changing activity as running, it is advisable to see a physician for a check-up. It is a good idea to see a doctor to be certain that your body is up to the challenge.
An even better reason to see a physician is to establish your “starting point” that is to find out your fitness level. After six months to one year after beginning your running program, go back to the physician for a follow-up check-up to find out how much your fitness level has hopefully improved.
As I stated in last month’s article, there are no short cuts or easy ways to running. To guarantee a successful start to your running program, being consistent is the key. Once you have been given the okay from your doctor to begin running, the next task is to get a good, comfortable pair of running shoes.
The nice thing about running is that it does not require a whole lot of equipment, but a good pair of running shoes is important. Tennis or bowling shoes will not do. Nor will the old pair of Chuck Taylor All-Star high tops in the back of your closet. A good pair of sport-specific (running) shoes will ensure a safe, stable run. Worn or inadequate footwear will result in anything from blisters to more sever problems.
In buying a good running shoe, don’t take out a small loan to purchase high-tech, high-priced footwear, particularly if you’re running less than twenty miles a week. First, find something that is comfortable for YOU. A good selection of running shoes can be found in the $50-range. One tip is to find a shoe that’s on sale, but be certain that you can return or exchange if you later discover the shoe doesn’t quite fit. Wear the shoes for a day or two before embarking in them on your first run. This way you are less likely to develop blisters or other foot discomforts.
Finally, unlike dress or casual shoes, running shoes have a much shorter life expectancy. It’s a good rule of thumb to purchase a new pair of running shoes every 500 miles run. This is a preventive measure to eliminate possible injuries or common running ailments. For the beginner, this will average about two pairs of running shoes per year.
Running apparel can be expensive or inexpensive as you allow. Just be certain to dress comfortably according to the weather conditions. Overdressing, particularly during warm weather, can be risky. Take into consideration the 20-degree rule; whatever the outdoor temperature, add 20 degrees and that’s how warm it will feel once you’ve begun your run.
Just like a child learning to walk, the novice runner should begin in similar fashion. Start easy. Run steady for as long as you can until you have to stop. Then walk until you feel like you can run again. You should do a combination of running and walking for 20 minutes on your first effort. When finished, walk another five minutes and end with some light stretching.
Repeat the effort on Day 2. If you feel a little sore, start by walking, then run. Try to run a little longer even if it’s just one minute more than the previous day. Within the first week, your short-term goal should be to run a mile easily without walking.
Be certain your running is considerably faster than your walking pace. Your stride and leg turnover will be greater than your walking stride. Some folks run or jog so slowly they cover more vertical than horizontal area because they have no stride or fast-leg turnover. If you’re “bouncing” or “shuffling” too much, walking will be better for you and your joints.
On Day 3, take an active rest day by walking for 20 minutes. Resume your running-walking efforts on Day 4. Take off completely on Day 5. Come back on Day 6 to see how long you can run preferably a mile before having to walk. Rest again on Day 7.
Repeat the first week, but work at running longer and extend each workout session by five minutes. Try to substitute one of the complete rest days by walking. During your third week, cut out as much walking as possible while adding another five minutes to your workout time. By your fourth week, your goal should be to run continuously for 20 to 25 minutes and walking for five more minutes afterwards.
To begin your running program, a good, safe place to run is a local running track in your community. You won’t have to worry about dodging cars or being chased by neighborhood pets. Most high school tracks are 400meters per lap, so four times around is roughly a mile. The track will give you the most accurate measure of the distance you will run-walk. Should you use a local track, one bit of track etiquette if someone much faster than you is working out, stay in the outside lanes so as not to interfere with their workout.
Stick with your first four weeks of workouts on the track until you are comfortable enough to venture from your home. Give yourself plenty of variety and also vary your running pace. Some days run steady, other days throw in some faster bursts now and then. The different scenery and paces will offer you plenty of variety to keep you from getting bored. If venturing off to unfamiliar places, run with a partner to ensure a safe and enjoyable run.
To conclude, consistency in your training will be the key to how successful your running program will develop. Remember to set realistic running goals. These, in turn, can be parlayed into a new and healthy lifestyle that will offer you plenty of lifelong benefits.
Should you run long enough to experience “runner’s high” or surpass your goals, maybe you might be interested in the rewarding side of competitive running. I’ll address that in my next installment.