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Beginning Running

Posted Nov 17 2008 9:07pm 1 Comment
People begin running for a lot of reasons. Many want to lose weight. Some are training for an athletic program. Others have joined the military service of their country and have to pass physical training tests. Some, like me, need to strengthen their body (my feet were starting to hurt, and I was told by a specialist to do what ever I wanted that would strengthen the muscles in my feet).

Beginners have a lot of questions: How do I get started? How fast and how far should I run? How much weight will I lose? Is it safe to run outdoors? Is running on a treadmill as good as running outdoors? What kind of shoes do I need? How much will running cost? How do I find someone to run with? This page will answer some of those questions and will give links for your further study.

Getting Started

Ok, everybody, let's say very loud and in unison: WALK. There, that wasn't so bad, was it! Running and jogging put a lot of stress on our bodies, and if we're not careful, that stress can lead to injury. In contrast, walking puts less stress on our bodies. I learned this many years ago when I had surgery for a hernia. I could not run for six weeks, and I walked for the same amount of time I had been running
(an hour). After six weeks of walking, experiencing no pain or problems of any kind, I ran for the first time. Guess what? My knees hurt. I realized that my running was a lot more stressful than my walking had been. So, learn from my experience and begin your running program by walking.

How Far

Question: How far should I walk or run? As far as you want, as long as you feel great at the end, no fatigue, no abnormal pain, no injuries. For some of you, the distance may be 50 feet. For others the distance may be a mile or more.

How Fast

Question: How fast should I walk or run? Same answer as how far should you walk: As fast as you want, as long as you feel great at the end; no huffing and puffing, no gasping for air, no fatigue, no abnormal pain, no injuries. If you feel like a tortoise, that's ok. The fastest person alive today was once a tortoise.

Walkers and runners usually don't talk about speed. Speed is the distance we travel in a specified time, and that concept has little meaning to runners. Instead of speed, we talk about pace, the time it takes to do a mile or a kilometer. Average walking is a pace of about 20 minutes per mile (referred to as a pace of 20). Typical walkers might have a pace of maybe 15-20. We're all different, and there is no pace that is expected of us. Set your pace by how you feel during and at the end of your walk or run.

Increasing Distance or Speed

Question: When should I increase my distance or speed? When your body tells you it's ready for an increase. Learn to listen to your body. It will tell you when it is tired. It will tell you when it is feeling fine. If, at the end of a walk or run, you're huffing and puffing or you feel tired or fatigued, you're doing too much and need to back off in your pace or distance.

Keep in mind that walking, jogging, running, swimming, biking, any physical movement in fact, put stress on our bodies. If we make big increases in our distance or speed, our bodies will have difficulty adjusting to the new levels, and injury may occur later on. This leads us to the "10% Rule" that is given in the running literature: Keep your increases small, typically 10% or less, and stay at each new level until you feel comfortable with it. The number 10 isn't a magic number. Some people can handle more than 10% increments, while others should have smaller changes.

Heavy/Light Schedule

Question: Should I walk or run the same every day? Sports scientists say it takes 48 hours for our bodies to adjust to heavy applications of stress, such as the stress from a heavy session of walking or running. Since a day only has 24 hours, we need to follow a heavy run with a "rest period" to give us the 48 hours needed for recovery. Some people do this by walking or running 3 or 4 times a week, with rest days in between. Others do this by following a heavy walk or run with a light walk or run. For example, walking 2 miles one day and 1/2 mile to 1 mile the next day. This is known as "heavy/light". When we speak of "heavy" or "light" walks or runs, we're not talking about the effort we expend in doing the walk or run; we're talking about the impact or stress of that exercise on our bodies. Also, notice that the "rest period" is not necessarily a day without running. Many people cross-train on their light days.


Introducing Running into your Walking

Question: I've been walking for quite a while and want to do some running. What do I do? Great question! Basically, you want to increase your pace, and we discussed that above. Increase your pace in small increments by mixing a small amount of running with your walking. Let's say, for example, that you're walking a mile. In the middle of the mile, jog slowly for 300-500 feet. If you feel fine at the end of the jog, continue doing it in subsequent walks. If you feel achy or tired or are huffing and puffing, reduce the distance and/or pace of the jog. Follow the 10% (or less) rule and heavy/light in mixing jogging with your walking.

Referring to my comment that your running should be at the middle of your walk. Our bodies need some light exercise to warm up before they do heavy running or walking, and our bodies need some light exercise to cool down from the heavy workout. Your walking can provide that warm up and cool down. Thus, walk before and after you run.

Treadmill or Streets

Question: Is it ok to use a treadmill, or should I go outside? It all depends on you, what you enjoy, and what you have available. The same comment applies to the use of an exercise bike. I have a friend who uses his exercise bike while watching the morning news on TV. He enjoys that, and that's great! I enjoy going out on the streets and experiencing the new day, watching the birds, ducks in the river, geese flying over, and an occasional Golden Eagle. That's great, too! So, do what you have available, what you can afford, and what you enjoy.

Be aware, though, that if you change from a treadmill to the streets, you may find it harder to use the streets (at first, at least). Streets are uneven and have a harder surface than a treadmill. They are also curved with a crown in the middle and a slope down to the edge. The wind may be blowing. It may be raining or snowing. Dogs may be barking at you. Jerks in cars may yell stupid comments at you. Again, do what you enjoy. If you change to the streets, give yourself some time to adjust to the new environment, and then enjoy it for what it is.

Some runners use the streets during good weather and their treadmill during inclement weather. Most people add inclines of 1% or so to their treadmill to simulate the increased difficulty of the streets.

Time of Day

Question: What time of day is best for walking or running? It depends on you and your schedule. Some people enjoy exercising in the early morning when it is cooler and the air is fresher and crisper. Others like to do it later in the day. Many people use their lunch period at work. Be careful, though, being out late at night.
There are a lot of weirdoes out there!

Walking or Running Partners

Question: How do I find a walking or running partner? As with most things in life, networking with others is a major key to success. Local running clubs and sports stores might be helpful in finding a running partner.

Losing Weight

Question: I want to lose weight. Will walking or running do that for me?This is discussed in my Losing Weight page.

Follow your brain or emotions?

Question: Should I follow my brain or my emotions in making decisions about my running? That is an important question, because many runners get into trouble by following the wrong one. The answer is both. Huh? You can get into trouble by following the wrong one but you should follow both? Yes, let me explain. Many beginners know (brain) that they should make small increases in their distance and pace, but they are so excited (emotions) about their walking or running that they push themselves to go farther and faster. They should have followed their brain. Conversely, walkers and runners are taught to listen to their body (emotion) and reduce the intensity of their training when their body tells them it needs more rest. So, listen to your brain when you plan your walking or running schedule. And, listen to your emotions, how you feel during and after your walks and runs, and reduce the intensity of your training when your body tells you it needs more rest.

Becoming Addicted to Walking or Running

Many new walkers and runners discover they are becoming addicted to walking or running, and they like that feeling and they like being in charge of their body. I would suggest, however, that becoming addicted to walking or running can be dangerous, because it can cause one to overdo it. I would suggest that we should become addicted to the good feeling of a healthy body, the good feeling of feeling great during and after we run. Running is just one way to have those good feelings. Walking, swimming, biking are also ways of having those good feelings. Become addicted to the result not the "messenger" so to speak.

What do you conquer?

Some people conquer the waves with sailboats or surfboards. Others conquer the wind with hang gliders or paragliders. Many conquer the snow as they ski and snowboard. As a runner or walker, what do you conquer?

The basic reason people walk or run is to go to a distant location and then, in most cases, return to their starting point. These people are conquering distance. Many runners encounter hills during their run. In order to reach the top of each hill, they must overcome the effects of gravity on their body; they must conquer gravity. Many runners experience headwinds as storm fronts move through their area or because they live in areas of high wind. These runners must run against the wind in order to reach their destination; they must conquer wind.

Conquering distance, gravity, or wind puts increased stress on ones body and thus increases the likelihood of injury. It is wise for beginning runners to reduce stress by conquering distance before attempting to run their normal pace against gravity and wind. This means that the beginner should slow down when doing hills or experiencing headwinds. Later, after the person has developed body-strength from running or walking, he/she can learn to do a faster pace on hills and against wind. As with most aspects of running or walking, the person should follow the 10% and heavy/light rules while conquering distance, gravity, or wind. Also, I think it is wise to only subject your body to one cause of stress at a time, and I recommend doing long slow distance first and then later speed to conquer distance. Then do hills to conquer gravity. It is hard to plan to run in headwinds, because the wind may not be there when you want to run against it. So, train against headwinds as you encounter them, first slowing down to reduce stress, and then, as you become stronger, slowly going faster as you run against headwinds.

Baby Steps, Baby Steps

This article, from Dr. Gabe Mirkin, explains why we need to start running (or walking) programs with low-level efforts and slowly work up to more intense training.

Injuries often occur when people start a new exercise program, change to a different sport, or return to exercise after a long break. In the enthusiasm to get started, it is easy to overstress muscles that have not been used before. That's why "background before peaking" is one of the most important principles of training. It takes several weeks or even months to build up strength and endurance for any new sport.

Competitive athletes in all sports use this principle. First they spend many months in background training, working out for long hours, mostly at low intensity, followed by a shorter period of peak training in which they do far less work, but at a much greater intensity. A few months before an important race, they reduce their workload but go as fast and hard as possible two or three times a week.

Start your new exercise program at very low intensity and low volume. Gradually increase your workload for several months before you try to run fast, lift heavy or exercise intensely. If you are just beginning to exercise, go at a relaxed pace until your muscles feel heavy and then stop. For the first several days or weeks you may be able to exercise only for a few minutes at a time. If your muscles feel sore the next day, take the day off.
Increase the amount of time gradually until you can exercise 30 minutes a day at a relaxed pace and not feel sore. You may progress rapidly to the 30-minute goal, or it may take you two, four, six weeks or more. No matter how long it takes, don't get discouraged. Exercising too much or too hard, too soon will set you up for injuries.

A Beginner's Training Program

Most runners want to run reasonable distances, whether it be a few miles or longer distances such as a half or a full marathon. I suggest that a new runner go through two phases of training to become ready to train for longer distances.

Phase 1: Use the suggestions given above to train to run 3 miles three times a week. Combine walking and running as you need to or would like to, and go at a comfortable pace such that you feel fine at the end and aren't huffing and puffing. Make small weekly increases in your distance. A Plan for Beginning Running will take you through the training so you can run 3 miles three times a week.

Phase 2: An Intermediate Plan for Runners will take you through the training to run 24 miles per week (6 3 6 3 6), a reasonable distance for new runners to run and the prerequisite that many plans specify as a starting point for half or full marathon training.

Other resources

Other pages in this site will give you good information about walking and running. I especially recommend the two articles linked in the navigational bar: Coaching Running reviews the basics, such as the 10% rule and heavy/light (important for all runners, not just beginners). Basics of Jogging answers the questions, How fast, How far, How often.

There are many good sites for beginning runners and walkers. The links page of this site has links to some of them. In addition, do an Internet search on two or three keywords, such as running beginning.

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Getting informative health information such as proper nutrition is vital to staying 
healthy while rigorously exercising. If you are looking for medical advice, check out
this medical resource today.
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