By Sandra Winters
If you’ve always wanted to start a running program, now is as good a time as any: Running lets you exercise outside while still keeping your distance from other people.
Becoming a runner seems simple—lace up your running shoes, head out the door. But some planning is in order, especially if you’ve never run before or if it’s been years, even decades, since you last ran. Here are some running tips that will take you from tenderfoot to veteran.
Motivate and Equip Yourself
The best way to get going is to make running a habit.
That means deciding when you’ll run—mornings, evenings, whatever works for you—and scheduling those sessions three to five times a week.
It means having a pre-run ritual of some sort, such as listening to music you find inspiring.
And it means finding someone who will hold you accountable. If you can find a virtual running buddy, you’ll have each other’s backs.
One crucial factor is running in the right footwear—just throwing on cracked, dusty sneakers from the back of your closet will almost guarantee a painfully demotivating experience.
Running shoes should secure the heels while leaving some wiggle room in front of the toes. Until you can get yourself to a specialty running store, spend an evening or two carefully researching online options.
“Your running shoes are your running shoes, so don’t wear them just for walking around,” advises personal trainer Carly Pizzani. “And rather than have one pair you run in until they’re trashed, buy two pairs at once and rotate them for each run.”
Lastly, stay safe—don’t forget your mask!
Start Slowly—But Stick with It
If you are an absolute beginner, start with walking…hey, everyone has to begin somewhere. It’s a lot better to start slow and gradually build to jogging and eventually to running than it is to run hard right out of the gate—and being forced to stop by a throbbing body part.
What’s more, “even if you feel amazing while you’re running, you just don’t know how you’ll feel when you get home and your body starts the recovery process,” says Pizzani.
Use the talk test to judge whether or not you are moving at the right pace. Pick a short piece of text you can easily memorize (many people use the Pledge of Allegiance because of its ideal length) and recite it as you move; if you find yourself gasping for breath with each word, slow down.
At some point your body may cry, “STOP!” If it’s more discomfort than pain, try fooling your bod with the “just one more” technique: “I’ll stop at the end of the next block…the next lamppost…the next street sign…” It’s amazing how you can go further than you think you’re capable of. (If you are in real pain, though—just stop. Seriously.)
Before you head out, do some light aerobic activity for five or ten minutes, such as marching in place or taking a spin on your stationary bike; you can add in something like jumping jacks or leg swings if you like. The idea is get your blood moving.
Afterwards, cool off with a slow jog (if you’ve been running) or a slower walk (if you’ve been walking). You should also stretch your calves, hamstrings and quads (the front of the thigh); hold each stretch for up to 30 seconds (don’t bounce). And be sure to drink a glass or two of water, especially if you’ve been sweating.
As you move from walking/jogging into running, learn how to do so with good form. It’s a lot easier to show form than describe it; a YouTube search will bring up dozens of examples.
Run Farther and Faster
To monitor your evolution into a lean, mean running machine, you need to track your progress—not in miles, at least at the beginning, but in terms of time. “You can start with two 20-minute runs, then two 30-minute runs and build up from there,” advises Pizzani.
Once you’ve progressed a bit, you can switch to what’s called the “10% rule”: Don’t add more than 10% of your total mileage per week.
It also helps to start planning your runs in terms of what you want to accomplish, whether that’s learning to run for distance, building speed, running trails, etc. Again, as with form, the internet is your friend; search “running plans for [goal]” to find numerous downloadable options.
If you have a need for speed, Pizzani suggests playing special attention to cadence.
“Next time you’re out on a run, focus some of your time on noticing the pace of your footfalls and trying to speed them up,” she says. “If you become very aware of your cadence, you can even eventually start listening to the rhythm of your feet and have a good idea of what pace you’re running.”
Fuel Yourself by Eating Properly
In terms of your overall diet, stick to such basics as fresh produce, whole grains, lean proteins and healthy fats such as olive oil and avocados. Water and unsweetened green tea should be your go-to beverages.
Some people prefer to run on an empty stomach. But registered dietician Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, doesn’t like that idea.
“Even for short runs, I’d still recommend having a little something—as simple as half a banana with a smear of nut butter—beforehand to help with energy levels and performance,” says Mauney, a runner herself who blogs at FannetasticFood.com. “It doesn’t have to be anything big!”
After you run, Mauney says “it’s important to replenish carbs and protein in particular” in about a 4:1 ratio; this not only restocks your energy stores but helps repair those hardworking muscles as well.† To hit that balance, Mauney suggests a smoothie made with fruit and milk. Almond or sunflower protein powder can support muscle recovery; look for organic, non-GMO choices.
Avoid Common Injuries†
Like other sports, running is all good until something hurts.
“Running is a high-impact sport that can place stress on the body, and with that stress comes some risk,” says personal trainer Jari Love. The top three running injuries include:
Runner’s knee: Known in doctorspeak as patellofemoral pain syndrome, this refers to pain in front of the knee and around the kneecap, or patella, and can have a number of contributing factors, such as misalignment of the kneecap. This injury is often a result of too much, too soon: “Reduce your risk by slowly and gradually increasing the intensity of your training,” says Love. It helps to wear properly fitted shoes and to strengthen your quads.
Shin Splints: This causes pain along the inner edge of the shinbone; worn-out shoes and sudden changes in running routines are often to blame. Ice and rest work best. “They usually heal on their own as the body adapts,” says Love. “But if the problem persists, then some physiotherapy may be needed.”
Plantar fasciitis: The plantar fascia is a band of connective tissue on the bottom of the foot that runs from the heel to the toes; inflammation of this tissue is called plantar fasciitis. Making its presence known with nasty heel pain, fasciitis is a sign that you should cut back on the length and intensity of your runs, and that it may be time to buy new shoes. Rolling your foot over golf balls or chilled water bottles may help, as may stretching out your feet and lower legs after each run.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.