You've decided you want to start running. Yay! You're psyched! You're motivated! You're clueless. You just — well — run, right? Maybe? Umm..what do you do? Whether you're a complete newbie or you're returning to running after a lengthy hiatus, there are a few running tips that will help you feel confident and prepared as you venture out on your first run. Pay attention, kiddos, and you might just be the next running superstar. Or, at the very least, you'll be the most prepared runner on the block!
Get Your Move On
Once you're dressed and geared up, it's time to take your first steps — literally. So how do you start?
There are some great, free programs you can find online, including the now-famous Couch-to-5K program. This is a simple method where you start out with an easy ratio of running to walking. For example, you run for 30 seconds and walk for 60 seconds. After a week or two, you can start modifying the ratios. You might try 60:60, then 90:60. Eventually, you'll decrease your walk time until you're running for several minutes or even a mile at a time.
It's OK to Walk
Taking a walk break — regularly or just when you need to — is not only normal, but some training plans recommend it. You're still a runner. There is an entire marathon training program based on walk breaks, and people have been known to qualify for the Boston Marathon using it — no joke.
Going the Distance
In addition to walk breaks, it's important to consider how long and how far to go. Some runners use a distance guide. Others run based on time increments. Either is fine, but as a beginner, sometimes time is easier because you don't feel pressured to maintain a certain pace per mile.
Start out by committing to running for 15 minutes; this can include a run/walk combo. If that starts to feel easy, extend another couple of minutes for a week or two. Every couple of weeks add another two to five minutes and see how you feel. But don't get suckered into thinking that faster is better! Your body will rebel (in injuries) if you do too much too fast. If you spent two weeks running 20 minutes every other day, don't suddenly try to run for an hour. You might feel super-proud, but your shins will tell you to go stuff yourself! Slow, small increases are critical.
Feel the Need for Speed
Now that you know how far to go, how do you know how fast to go? While you obviously don't want to start out your very first run at a pace designed to catch your kids before they climb up that non-child-proofed TV stand, you don't want to go too slowly and miss out on the aerobic benefits.
The best rule of thumb is the talk test. Yes, you can do this by yourself; just know you might look a little odd. If you can carry on a conversation with a friend without sucking wind and gasping for breath every third word, you're in the right zone. If you are gasping, you're going too fast. If you can sing along to your favorite boy-band tunes, you can definitely pick up the pace.
The most critical runs aren't the ones where your lungs are burning and your legs are on fire. The most critical runs are the ones where you are in a healthy zone and teaching your body to adapt to this new exercise.
Stay the Course
All this info will get you through maybe your first run or two, but after that, it starts to become work. For work to continue getting done, you have to find ways to stay the course. The mental aspect of running is almost twice as critical as the physical aspect. So, to keep moving forward after you've bought your gear, downloaded your apps, and tested out your singing versus talking skills, try these four tips.
Get a Journal
This can be a running-specific journal, a fitness journal, or a simple 95-cent notebook from the grocery store. The point of the journal is to write down your goals. Write down what you hope to accomplish by running.
Do you want to run a race? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to lower your cholesterol? Do you want to do something that's just for you?
Whatever it is, don't be shy — write it down! Putting your goals into words and setting them free into the world makes them more real. It makes you more apt to do the work and follow through. It gives you accountability when you look at those goals each day and write down what you did to achieve them.
Keep track of your miles or minutes. Write about how you felt. Note any aches and pains or any worries or successes. Over the long term, these might lead to patterns and give you an idea of where to tweak things. For example:
Ran 30 minutes. Walked 20 seconds of every minute.
The weather was hot, and I felt slower.
My left ankle continues to hurt. It's been a week.
I felt strong on that stupid hill heading home — I think I've finally conquered that beast!
Con a Friend into Running with You
See if your friend would be willing to run with you a couple days a week as you get started. Most runners are super folks and love to share their passion with newbies.
Are you new to an area? Look online or in running stores for local running groups. Some locations are more runner-friendly than others, but almost every city and military installation has some sort of group-run activity. Popular groups these days are parent-centered, such as Stroller Strides, Moms Run This Town, and Stroller Warriors.
If you can't find a local group or you're an introvert, try an online group or forum and start posting. Beginning runner pages are great, but you'll be welcomed just about anywhere.
Give Yourself a Reward System
We do it for our kids, why not do it for ourselves? When you meet your weekly mileage goal, treat yourself to ice cream. Pay yourself for every mile and spend it on race souvenirs. Maybe you'll allow yourself to buy one new piece of running clothing each week that you run all the days you wanted. Maybe you'll download a new song off iTunes after each completed run. Maybe you'll binge watch a favorite Netflix show each time you get on the treadmill. Whatever motivates you, plan for it! Dangle it like a carrot, and then reward yourself for the successful hard work you're putting in toward your goals.
Sign Up for a Race
Sign up for lots of races! If you live near a bigger city, check online for local races that look like fun. You don't have to be fast to participate in a race. You just have to show up! Use the race as a target for hitting your training goals, or use the race as a way to stay excited and motivated through your weekly miles.
Races are fun! They're a great way to establish yourself in the local running community, and they give you a huge sense of accomplishment when you cross the finish line. Plus, there's a huge endorphin rush at the end that will guarantee you'll want to sign up for another one and keep the excitement rolling!
Running is a great way to meet people, get in shape, stay in shape, work out with your kids, burn off the crazy (a personal favorite), and feel great about yourself. It really is pretty simple for anyone to start. Start with that first step out the door. Feel ready, confident, and slightly more in the know now that you know the basics. Good luck, runner! You've got this!