Tackling The Road: Running for Beginners
One of the first things people will learn about me is that I love to run. That's right, I just did use the words 'love' and 'run' in the same sentence. There are people that absolutely detest running and don't quite understand why runners choose this form of cardio. I could go on and on about the reasons why I love to run (in fact I even wrote a post about it, which you can find here) but I won't in this post. Like the title of this post, my main purpose is to provide a beginner's guide in adopting running as a lifestyle.
In the past, I've had some friends genuinely interested in taking up running as a lifestyle change and come to me for advice. First of all, it makes me so happy when my friends seriously give running a try because it's one more aspect we can bond over. Second, it is extremely humbling when people go to me for advice because it shows that they trust my opinion. Before I continue with my guide, I'd like to disclose that I am not a certified Personal Trainer, coach, or licensed Physical Therapist (yet!), I am simply speaking from personal experience! Whether you have been regularly exercising and want to add running to your routine OR if you are totally new to the wonderful world of running, my guide is universal to both situations of the spectrum. Now without further ado, here is my Beginner's Guide to Tackling the World of Running:
Start walking: Yep you got that right! Run walking that is! As tempting as it may seem to go out and start pounding the pavement at full speed for as long as you can, the risk for injury and pain increases with this approach. Instead, adopt a walk/run workout of 2:1. For example, add 1 minute of running to every two minutes of walking. Gradually increase the amount of time you spend running so that it will eventually double the time spent walking. If you are consistent with this method, you will eventually be able to run a mile no problem.
Get fitted for shoes: With the many GPS watches and various running gadgets out in the market, running shoes will forever hold the title for most important. Running in worn out shoes is a huge call for injury, it is best to get fitted at a running specialty store. When shopping for shoes, shop for function and not aesthetic. By this I mean, really pay attention to your feet's needs; Are you flat footed or do you have a high arch? Will you be running on trails or mostly pavement? Are you a pronator or a supinator? These things matter and can serve as a guideline to what types of shoes you purchase. Just because your friend looks really cool in those new Nike Frees does not mean you should run in them too! Happy feet equals a happy run, so don't disrupt the balance! The miles will be comfortable and your body will thank you!
Relax and Run Tall: When I ran cross country in high school, my coach made it a point to teach us how to run properly. Oh yes, there is a proper way to run. I was skeptical at first when he said long distance runners are notorious for having bad running form but that quickly changed when he videotaped me running across the track. My video playback showed my arms crossing at the front of my chest, my shoulders shrugged up towards my ears, and worst of all, the dreaded heel strike. From then on, my coach made us do exercises that you help us change our running form. One exercise we had to do was to sit cross legged on the ground with a relaxed upright posture (shoulders down and relaxed). We had to bend our elbows at 90 degrees and do arm swings for 30 seconds. "Hands relaxed! Feed the bird!" he barked at us. By feeding the bird, he had us imagine that we had an imaginary bird sitting atop our shoulders and to feed it whenever our hands came up. In doing this, you don't expend as as much energy swinging your arms forward as opposed to swing them across your body. Heel striking is bad because it places the shin bone (tibia) in a position to absorb most of the shock and force with each step that makes contact with the ground. This can lead to injuries like shin splints. In order to combat this, we worked on a forward leaning posture will running. By leaning forward you are in a better position to 'catch' yourself from falling by landing on your midfoot. Midfoot striking displaces the force absorption to your calf muscles (gastrocnemius and soleus) instead of the tibia.
Slowly ease into it and warm up properly: Start out small, like running a mile everyday or every other day, depending on your fitness level. If a mile sounds too daunting, run half a mile every other day. Adjust the mileage to what you are comfortable with and capable of. Then each week, slowly add more miles. Learn to warm up the right way! Since I am studying health, exercise, and sport science, I have learned that the correct way to warmup is to do dynamic stretching before your workout/run and static stretching post workout/run. Dynamic stretching involves momentum and active effort used to stretch the muscle; there is no hold position. Examples of this would be leg swings, jumping jacks, butt kickers, high knees, etc. These allow more blood flow to the muscles, warming them up and giving them oxygen. In contrast, static stretching is what is typically thought of as stretching; it is basically a stretch and hold. Static stretching is best done after a run if you are still feeling sore or tight. Static stretching before a workout may potentially make you at risk for injury or even slow you down. Think of your muscles like a rubber band, if you stretch it out before exercise it won't have as much resistance, making it looser.
Maintain a healthy diet and hydrate properly: Clean up your diet by eating more fruits and vegetables! If there is anything I learned this semester in my Exercise Metabolism class, it is that fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans are a wonderful source of complex carbohydrates. Green leafy vegetables are your best bet when it comes to getting enough Vitamin A and E. Limit the amount of processed foods you consume. Try to buy goods around the perimeter of a grocery store the next time you shop; the majority of processed foods are located towards the middle of the store. Instead of soda and/or juice, drink water instead. Since I have a water bottle on me most of the time, I am reminded to stay hydrated. In regards to water and exercise, make sure to drink early and often. If you drink large amounts of water in a short period of time, you increase your chances of getting water poisoning.
Set small, achievable goals: In my experience, setting big goals such as running 35 miles a week can be daunting especially if you are a new runner or an experienced runner coming back from a hiatus. Small, achievable goals like running 10 minutes each day or even running with a friend on a certain day each week are good motivators in staying active each day. When you surpass a goal, you start to create slightly harder ones to work towards. Soon enough you'll be signing up for your first 5K! This is honestly how my dad progressed his fitness journey. When he started running, he couldn't even run a mile without stopping but eventually he ran a little bit each day and was soon racing his first 5k. Then, as his ability to run longer distances got better, he worked up to a 10k, a 10 mile race, a half marathon, and even a full marathon. The great joy (and perhaps curse) of running is that you really get out what you put in.
Be consistent! Stick to a schedule! My current fitness routine has me running on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings before my classes start and strength training on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Write your schedule done on a sheet of paper and hang it on your wall, that way you'll see it and be motivated to workout. Working out with a friend is also helpful in keeping yourself accountable. Also, don't forget to rest as well. With adequate sleep and gradual increase in mileage, you are slowly easing your muscles into the physical stress running adds and allowing them to recover. Over time, as the miles become easier, your muscles get stronger, your lungs get more efficient in gas exchange, allowing you to handle increased mileage, speed, and overall endurance.
Be patient! Whether you are running for weight loss or running to train, it is important that the physical changes you might expect to happen will not occur fast (and especially not overnight). Instead of focusing on a certain number of a scale, focus on how running or just general exercise makes you feel. Don't ever compare your fitness journey to anyone else because everyone is different. There are a lot of factors that go into physical changes and effects of exercise, so be mindful of that.
So that is that is my guide on how to adopt running into your life! Again, I want to reiterate that these tips have come from personal experience and in no way are a substitute for the many running guides that currently exist. In fact, if you want a more in depth guide to running, Runner's World has a great guide, which can be found here. For the runners out there, what else would you add to my guide? What are your tips for taking up running? For the newbies to running, if you have any questions, please ask! Let me know in the comments!