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Beginning Runners: Take it Slow

Posted May 19 2010 7:11am
I was excited when the newest issue of a health/nutrition magazine I get arrived the other day. As I was skimming the table of contents I saw an article about a beginning running program. The tagline pitched a 6-week walk-to-run program. Of course this caught my attention so I quickly flipped to the article. The 6-weeks made me a bit skeptical. So, I read the article.

The article does provide the reader with some good info—you don't have to be in perfect shape to begin a running program; running provides an extra 70% reduction in risk of stroke and diabetes; running can help bust a weight-loss plateau; help maintain bone density, doesn't damage knees; and helps improve mental sharpness. The only problem I have is that the proposed plan, will have some runner wannabes throwing in the towel after the first run or two.
The "grabber" tagline at the beginning of the article reads, "Our 6-week walk-to-run program will have your clocking miles in no time!" Having worked with beginning runners, I'm thinking this may be a bit of an oversell. The tagline bills the program as a "walk-to-run" program, yet, Monday they run, Tuesday they cross-train, Wednesday they run, Thursday they rest, Friday they run, and finally on Saturday they walk before another rest day on Sunday. The other thing that worries me about the plan is that it has new runners running 1.5 miles on the very first day of the plan. Now if you're a seasoned runner, that sounds like nothing, but if you're a newbie to running, that can be quite a task. One of my running clients has the fastest walking pace of anyone I know. I can hardly keep up with her. But when it came to running, she was good for spurts of about 30-60secs at first.

Now to give the article some credit, it does say to take walking breaks as needed during the runs and if you can only run 15-30 seconds at a time to begin with, that's okay. My stance though is why, make it seem like the person is compromising by walking? It kind of reads like, "It's okay if you need to walk." Also, the workout schedule grid just says "Run 1.5 miles." So, for the skimmer who doesn't read the entire article, they're going to be trying to run 1.5 miles on day one of the program and not know it's okay to take walking breaks.

The other thing I find odd is one of the motivation tips it provides. It reads, "It's more efficient (and fun) to track miles instead of minutes." Huh? If you're not up to a mile yet, this will be a little hard to do. Plus you'll either have to be running on a track, go out in your car and figure out mileage or spend $300 on a GPS.

In my opinion, it's best to start with a run/walk method, but forget distance and focus on time. Begin with a cycle of a short achievable running segment that's paired with a longer walking segment. For example, on day one of the plan, you might start with a 5-minute warm-up walk. Then run for 1 minute at a slow steady pace followed by a 4-minute walk at a steady pace. Repeat this 1-minute run/4-minute walk process for 30 minutes (you'll repeat it 5 times). Then wrap up with a 5-minute cool-down walk. Do this for 3-4 times during week one. Then gradually increase the running segments and shorten the walking segments throughout the course of the program. For example, in week two, increase the running segment to 2-minutes (still at a slow steady pace) and decrease the walking segment to 3-minutes. Continue this process over a ten week period. Over the course of the program, work up to running 5 days a week. By the 9th week of the program, you'll be doing just two run/walk rotations that look something like 14-minutes running/1-minute walking before the last week when you'll run the entire 30 minutes covering approximately 3 miles.

One of the biggest reasons new runners give up is trying to do too much too soon. So, choose a plan that you can succeed at. There's no rush. Take your time. Start with those short running segments and build up. Run at a slow to moderate pace. Don't sprint. Don't worry about distance. Once you can run 30-minutes without stopping, then you can begin thinking more about increasing your pace and mileage.
If you're in the Greensboro, NC area, I'll be starting a new beginning running group 10-week program on August 3rd. Email me at if you're interested!
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