By Craig Weyrich, PT, NASM-PES
I am a runner. I started running when I was 13 and it has been my passion ever since. When I finished competing in college, I studied physical therapy so I could help injured runners. Years later, I started coaching middle school cross country and track so I could pass on my love of running. As the popularity of running continues to grow, people frequently ask me for the best way to start running. The physical act of running is a simple one, but successfully starting a running program can be daunting without some guidance. The purpose of this article is to help you, the new runner, hit the road with confidence and maybe develop a love for running along the way. Below, I have outlined some items that I feel are essential for the new runner (or any runner for that matter). I will attempt to keep the list brief to stop myself from droning on, but I welcome questions and comments as I hope to regularly provide advise and content to this forum in the future. So, in no particular order, here we go:
· Be safe. First off, make sure your cardiovascular system is ready to start running. It's a good idea to get a physical and share with your doctor that you are starting a running program to rule out any problems that may make running unsafe for you. This especially applies to the guys as we tend to not get regular check-ups as often as women. Also, be safe when you are on the run. Be aware of your surroundings and run with others, or at least let people know your route and when you expect to be back.
· Have a plan. You are much more likely to be consistent and more successful if you have a plan to follow. It is a lot harder to skip a workout if it is in writing (a commitment to yourself) than if you make it up as you go. There are many good places to get a training plan. Many running stores offer walk to run or couch to 5K groups regularly. Books and websites also offer good beginning programs (runnersworld.com, jeffgalloway.com are good starts). You can also find a personal coach to devise a plan for you, just make sure they are either USATF or RRCA certified. Where ever you get your plan, put it on a calender, check it regularly, and stick to it.
· Get fitted. Go to a quality running specialty store to get fitted for your shoes. Running is a fairly inexpensive sport overall (although it is easy to go overboard!), so don't cheap out on your shoes. A running shoe specialist will ask you questions, check your foot type, and maybe even watch you run on a treadmill to make sure they get you in the right shoe. They are generally passionate about running as well and genuinely want to get you in a pair that will work best for you. The right shoes can help you stay injury-free, don't chance it at a department store to save a few bucks. Also be aware that most shoes are only good for 300-500 miles depending on the model, so keep track and change out your shoes when appropriate. The supportive material inside the shoe can break down long before the outside looks overly worn.
· Start slow. Probably the most common cause of injury I see in new runners comes from progressing too fast. If you are not accustomed to running, it can take a few weeks for your body to adapt. If you do too much too soon, you are setting yourself up for an injury. A good rule of thumb is to increase mileage/running time by 10% per week. This can be tough early on when dealing in such small increments, but it is better to start out slow than to push too hard and be sidelined.
· Have a goal. Make at least one, and make it measurable. I usually encourage my kids to make three: one that is fairly obtainable even if everything isn't perfect, one that is challenging, but can be done with hard work and considerable effort, and one that is possible, but very difficult to accomplish (one that you'd be ecstatic if you got, but won't be disappointed if you don't). I would keep the goals running specific (complete a certain distance, run a certain time, run a certain distance with x number of walking breaks). Although your overall goal may be to lose weight, there are too many other factors involved to hold your running accountable for that goal alone. If you make weight loss a goal, make sure you have other running goals on top of it.
· Keep a journal. Running journals are great tools and can help you keep track of what is working when things are going well and help you figure out the problem when things are not. Keep track of mileage, time spent running, conditions you ran in, how you felt. You can even keep track of what you ate prior to running and what shoes/equipment used. The more detail the easier it is to pick up on patterns. Make sure you include the good and the bad. Training mistakes are going to happen, journals help you learn from them.
· Be Patient. The human body hates change. Running forces changes. You will be uncomfortable, possibly sore. It will be hard at first, but if you stick with it your body will adapt and it will get easier. It takes about three weeks for these adaptations to occur, so stay consistent and it will happen. Have you ever gone to a health club in the 1st week of January? It's packed. By week 3 it usually starts to thin out. People get frustrated that they aren't noticing changes and quit. Convince your body you are in for the long haul and it will reward you with increased strength and stamina, fail to be consistent and the changes will not come and running will stay hard.
· Discomfort is okay, pain is not. As stated in the last paragraph, starting something new (particularly running) can be uncomfortable. Muscle soreness, cramps, and maybe even blisters can be expected, but sharp pains or discomfort that lasts for days is abnormal. Seek medical attention early before it turns into a bigger problem (Accelerated Rehabilitation Centers offer free injury screens at all locations 1-877-97-REHAB). I will also do a series soon on common running injuries to help prevent some of the more common running ailments.
· Don't stop at just running. Supplemental training outside of running can pay huge dividends in injury prevention and performance. Many running injuries can be traced back to weak core muscles or poor mobility. A simple core program a few days a week can go along way towards helping prevent bio-mechanical breakdowns. In future posts I can cover some key exercises to help enhance your running success.
So, there you have it, my list of essentials for starting a running program. It is by no means all-inclusive, and hopefully not too overwhelming. Once again I welcome questions, comments, or suggestions for future topics. I look forward to helping enhance your running experience in the future. Happy running!
Craig Weyrich is a licensed physical therapist and USATF certified coach in Yorkville, Illinois.
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