Want to start running?
The benefits are pretty legit, considering even just 10 minutes of leisurely running per day can help you live longer, found one 2014 Journal of the American College of Cardiology study. (Some research, published in ScienceDirect, actually suggests runners live a full three years longer than non-runners, if you needed extra convincing.) Plus, pounding the pavement also just makes you feel good.
“Almost every time you go out there, you can accomplish something new,” says Carl Leivers, a USA Track & Field Certified Level 2 endurance coach based in Atlanta. Anything from running for an extra minute, to tackling a hill without stopping, or just having a more positive attitude while you’re hoofing it counts — and you can’t beat the high of crossing your first finish line or setting a new PR.
Though running is one of the most accessible forms of exercise out there, becoming a runner can be a little more complicated than just lacing up and putting one foot in front of the other. (Unless you don’t care about burning lungs, aching legs, and shin splints, that is.)
Whether you’ve never run a full kilometre, want to finish your first 5k, or are ready to train for a half-marathon, these training, fueling, and injury-prevention tips will make you a better runner than ever — and yes, even help you enjoy every step.
1. Don’t be afraid to start with walking.
If you’ve never laced up your sneaks for a run before, ease into a consistent cardio routine by walking for about 20 minutes, three times a week, says Colleen M. Brough, director of the Columbia University RunLab.
From there, progress your walks into run-walk interval workouts, Brough recommends. Start with 20 minutes four times a week, then bump the time up to 30 to 35 minutes.
READ MORE: Home Workouts That Will Improve Your Running
“Run-walk intervals help minimize the risk of injury and can make the process of starting out more enjoyable and less daunting,” says Dr. Megan Roche, a running coach for Strava. “Increasing the number and duration of running intervals versus walking intervals is a great way to progress over time.”
If you’re starting out with those 20-minute workouts, for example, alternate between running for 30 seconds and walking for 90 seconds.
As you get more comfortable, alternate between 60 seconds of running and walking — and eventually work your way up to a non-stop run.
2. Use your breath to find your pace.
Sure, you might know how to run, but knowing what kind of pace you can hold is a whole other story.
New runners almost always start running too fast and then burn out, says Brandon T. Vallair, USA Track & Field Certified Level 1 Coach and owner of Run for Speed in Dallas.
Though you might associate the word “running” with speed, give yourself permission to slow it down.
To control your tempo, use the “talk test” and maintain a speed at which you can easily converse or sing, suggests Vallair. If you’re gasping for breath, slow down. If you can belt out the chorus to a Bruno Mars song on your iPod, pick it up a bit.
“The idea is to finish each run wanting to do a little bit more or go a little bit faster,” says Leivers. “It makes it easier to get out there the next time, because you feel like there’s more to accomplish.”
Even if you follow these guidelines, though, know that running will still likely feel a little uncomfortable at first. “Newbie runners should keep in mind that, when they start their run, their whole body has to play catch-up and it can feel pretty bad for the first stretch,” says Brough. “It gets better!”
3. Don’t run every day.
It’s true that practice and repetition are key for fitness success. Each run you do stresses your muscles, bones, joints, and ligaments, forcing them to adapt by growing stronger and more efficient.
You can totally do too much of a good thing, though. Pounding the pavement is high-impact and repetitive, so going overboard can increase your injury risk.
The trick is to find the sweet spot in which you run enough to spark changes but also give your body enough time to recover. “There is a delicate balance, and you have to find the formula that works for you,” says run coach Jennifer Gill.
Start out with three runs per week, Gill recommends. Any less and you may not progress as quickly as you’d like; any more, though, and you may not have time to recover.
Once you’ve logged six weeks of three weekly runs, you can add a fourth running day, says Leivers. This allows you to keep up the consistency without overloading your body.
4. Focus on minutes instead of kays.
How you measure your runs is totally up to you, but thinking in time instead of distance may be less daunting.
After all, setting out to run for 30 minutes gives you more wiggle room to have a bad day or take it slow than vowing to run 5 kays.
“In general, I like people who are just getting into running to run by duration of time as opposed to distance, unless they are training for a specific racing goal,” Roche says. “I find focusing on duration helps with consistency and avoids a focus on pace.”
After all, you want to keep getting back out there, not feel discouraged or overworked. Forgetting about distance means you can focus on feeling good throughout your run.
5. Progress smartly and safely.
If you have your eyes set on a race (especially a half-marathon or longer), you’ll (of course!) need to dial up your distance. However, it’s key to do so slowly.
First, designate just one run each week as your long run, says Leivers. While you can add a mile or two to that run over time, keep the rest of your runs the same.
Leivers’s number-one rule: Increase your total weekly distance every other week by no more than the number of days per week you run. For instance, if you run three days a week, you can increase your distance by five kays every other week.
And number two: Keep your long run to no more than half your weekly total distance to prevent overdoing it during any single outing. So, if you run 16 kays a week, that long run should be 8 kays or less.
6. Mix up your runs.
Once you can run for about 30 minutes straight, you can start adding intervals — which will help you improve your overall pace by switching up the stimulus on your body — to your routine, says Brough.
Plus, “switching up workouts is a great way to keep the fun rolling,” says Roche.
Two ways to try intervals:
- Hill strides: Run uphill for 20 to 30 seconds, then jog downhill or on flat road until recovered.
- Speed intervals: Alternate between one minute at about 75-percent effort and one minute of easy jogging.
- Sprint intervals: Alternate between one minute of all-out sprinting and five minutes of easy jogging.
You can also use checkpoints (like mailboxes, trees, or houses) as interval endpoints to keep outdoor runs interesting, Roche says.
7. When in doubt, find a training plan.
If you’re starting to run with the ultimate goal of completing a race, the right training plan will help you get there.
Totally new to the running thing? Try a couch-to-5K plan.
“It feels mentally good to have a plan and a goal — and it’ll help you build volume appropriately,” says Roche. “You’ll be less likely to have to interrupt your running routine or training because of an injury.”
Once you’ve found a plan that suits your goals, adapt it to your daily life, Roche says. If you have a big commitment one week and won’t be able to run, for example, adjust the next week’s schedule to accommodate.
8. Gear up to go the distance.
If there’s one piece of equipment you need to successfully become a runner, it’s a pair of comfortable running shoes.
“Running shoe preference is something that varies widely across individuals — a shoe that may work well for one runner may cause issues in another,” Roche says. To find your perfect pair, check out a local run shop to try out a few pairs of running shoes and see what feels best on your feet.
Though it’s important to find a pair of shoes suited to your foot mechanics, comfort is still top priority, adds Brough.
From there, consider stocking up on some moisture-wicking tops (skip anything cotton), says Brough.
If you want to record your stats or run routes, a fitness tracker can help you get into the nitty gritty of your new hobby.
9. Call in the accountability buddies.
One surefire way to keep up with your running workouts — and an easy way to make them more enjoyable and more social — is to join a running group, or at least find a running pal (but not in lockdown).
You don’t always have to meet with these accountability buddies in person, either. Online platforms and running apps — including Strava, Nike Run Club, and MapMyRun — offer virtual support groups to cheer you on and motivate you to get moving and log those miles.
10. Remember why you’re out there.
Runners hit the road (or tread) for all sorts of reasons — some for fitness and health, others for mindfulness, to be social, or for the competition, shows a survey done by Strava.
To keep your love of running alive, remember what made you want to pound the pavement in the first place. “As your running experience grows, running will mean different things to you, and you will transition through being different runners,” says Brough.
Whether your motivation is to finish a 5k, escape work stress, or catch up with a friend, “enjoyment comes from finding your why, and going for it,” Brough says. Define yours, then get out there!
This article was originally published on www.womenshealthmag.com