Although it may seem positively frightful, distance running is one of the most exhilarating, feel-good exercises a person can do. It’s great for staying healthy and it makes you feel accomplished, not to mention all those elusive endorphins that are released. There’s only one catch: it’s only fun if you’re good at it. Otherwise, it is painful and demoralizing, and you mostly end up wondering why you decided to experiment with this whole running business.
Depressing as that may seem, here is some uplifting news: It isn’t as hard as you think to get in distance shape. I myself am a cross country and track runner. I run for competition and I run for leisure, and it never fails to make me feel amazing. I’m offering some helpful tips on how to get started if you are just not sure how.
This is a guide for those who want to become runners. If you’re looking to become an Olympic champion, I can only help you on the first step. With that in mind:
1. Understand that you aren’t running competitvely. You don’t have to keep a break neck pace or run eighteen miles to feel the effects of running. Don’t ever be discouraged by your progress or your speed. We all might progress at different rates, but I believe we can all become runners if we try.
2. Get the right attire. A good pair of running shoes is a must. Don’t settle for those old tennis shoes that you wear everywhere. Invest some money in some high quality, distance running shoes. Go to any sporting goods store and just tell a sales associate you are looking for a pair of running shoes. They probably know more about running shoes than you do and can help you get a good pair. On a side note, runners are usually told to buy running shoes a half size larger than what they regularly wear. The rest of what you wear is not terribly important, but I do have some pointers. Wear leggings, earmuffs and mittens in the cold. Some people don’t like to run with leggings, but keeping your ears and hands warm will make you feel far more comfortable in colder weather. I for one love to wear leggings, because my body does not function well in the cold. Wear a thick pair of socks, or even two pairs. This is especially important when you are wearing new shoes as your feet may start to blister.
3. Be healthy. Your performance will be far better if you maintain a halfway healthy diet. Don’t be scared by this: I personally eat a ton of junk food, more than I should, and I’m alright. Just make sure to always drink Gatorade or Powerade or other sports drink and at least a healthy snack, if not a meal, immediately after a run. There are hundreds of miniscule tears in your muscles are a strenuous workout, and in the thirty minutes directly afterwards, your body is most thirsty for replenishment so it can start healing naturally. Healthy consumption during this time is extremely beneficial.
Don’t eat within an hour or two of a run; you’ll feel sluggish.
Eat four meals a day, especially when you start to run further distances. Running eats up tons of energy, so your body needs a steady instake of HEALTHY calories to keep it going. Buy some protein bars. Not energy bars: PROTEIN bars. And look into some foods high in fiber. Many good cereals have a lot of fiber in them. Protein and fiber are vital to a runner’s body.
Always eat breakfast. This is true for everyone, but important to runners because morning meals kickstart your metabolism. When you go without breakfast, it messes up your body’s metabolical process for the rest of the day, making your body store more fat and produce less energy from the food you eat later.
Make sure you get enough sleep. Many runners underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep.
5. Stretch well and get warmed up before every run. Do some walking or light jogging to get your blood flowing. This is especially important when it is colder outside. When you feel warm and loose, then you’re ready.
4. Start out small. Obviously, set some goals. I suggest you start out with distance goals, such as “I want to be able to run one mile without stopping.” or “I want to be able to run twenty minutes without stopping.” You don’t ever have to set goals such as “I want to run a mile in under eight minutes” if you don’t want to. Some people might like to do this later on for a challenge, but others won’t feel the need.
5. I suggest starting out with a goal of one mile or twelve minutes for everyone. But here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be full mile/twelve minutes of running. Our bodies can adapt to running certain lengths easier than they can to certain paces. Maybe you can only run a quarter mile right now before you get too winded. Just stop whenever the running becomes to painful and walk. WALK. Do not stop moving. Put your hands on your hips, not your head. Do not bend over. Just keep walking forward until you have recovered enough to run again. Keep alternating between running and walking, doing as much running as you can, until you have done the specified distance or time. Keep doing this until you can run a mile or twelve minutes (or however long you chose) without walking, then set another goal.
6. Try using some kind of music player while you run, like an iPod. Hearing music instead of your own labored breathing is much more pleasant. Just pay attention and don’t get run over.
7. Run with a friend. Training buddies can be extremely beneficial. If you set running dates with another person you will feel much more motivated to actually get out and do it. Also, talking with someone while you run is a great way to distract you from your own fatigue.
8. It would be best to run six times a week, but do it at least three. If you run any less frequently than three times a week, your progress will be very, very slow, if not non-existent.
9. Take a break for a day or two if your body is aching. If it feels like your “bones” are in pain, this is usually a good sign your need to rest, especially if you are older. If your muscles are hurting, make sure you stretch well before AND after runs, and try icing where it hurts. But remember than running is the best way to work out soreness. And you WILL be sore for the first week or so when you run. But if you continue doing it, this will eventually pass. If your knees or ankles hurt, try running on softer ground instead of pavement. It is generally better for you to run on grass anyway, it’s just not always convenient.
10. When you start to get in better shape, possibly look into running in some 5Ks, or maybe even longer. Road races are a fun way to get in better shape, because you tend to push yourself more when there is a competitive atmosphere.
Those are all the tips I have. You’ll soon be on your way to experiencing that mysterious “runner’s high”, that strange time when you feel oddly free and at peace in your own fatigue. Not to mention a sure way to make you feel like you’ve done something with your day. Running is the best way to grow healthier and leaner, and I hope this guide helps to get you started.