Running has the power to change your life. It will make you fitter, healthier and happier. Here's ten tips to help you get (and stay) on track to a brighter future.
1. Start by walking
Whether you're fresh off the couch or coming from another sport, running takes time to break into. "Every able-bodied person can be a runner," says Gordon Bakoulis, a running coach and author of Cross-Training (£12.99, Simon and Schuster). "Just start slowly and build up gradually."
Most coaches agree that the best way to become a runner is with a run-walk programme: begin by adding small segments of running to your regular walk. "Start with four to five minutes of walking," says running coach Christine Hinton (therunningcoach.com). "Then alternate with some running, always ending with a walking segment to cool down."
2. Use our run/walk schedule
Here's our 10-week run/walk schedule. Aim to run at a pace where you can easily hold a conversation - and do it three days a week, with rest days in between. Over time, you can work up to running four to five days.
Start and finish each workout with five minutes of walking. Then, alternate the following run/walk ratios for 30 minutes:
Week 1: Two minutes running/four minutes walking
Week 2: Three minutes running/three minutes walking
Week 3: Four minutes running/two minutes walking
Week 4: Five minutes running/three minutes walking
Week 5: Seven minutes running/three minutes walking
Week 6: Eight minutes running/two minutes walking
Week 7: Nine minutes running/one minute walking
Week 8: Thirteen minutes running/two minutes walking
Week 9: Fourteen minutes running/one minute walking
Week 10: Run the whole time
3. Walk if it hurts
If you're sore before the end of your run, then the workout session is too long, too fast or too hard. Ease to a walk to allow your muscles time to heal, says exercise physiologist and coach Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover (runningcoach.com).
4. Feel like a runner
"If you're running, no matter how much or how slow, you're a runner," says Andrew Kastor, coach of the ING New York City Marathon online training programme.
5. Warm-up properly
Treat yourself like a runner - from day one. That means taking time to properly warm up and cool down. "A good warm-up makes it much easier to get going and keep going," says Kastor. "And it's much more than just boosting blood flow to your muscles."
Your neuromuscular system, which involves your brain telling your muscles how to contract, gets up to speed. Then, your body starts churning out fat-burning enzymes, which help your aerobic system work more efficiently. Also, synovial fluid (the lubricant in your joints) warms up, helping your body to move easily. "Too many beginners skip this step without realising how much more effortless it makes the whole workout feel," says Kastor.
6. Then cool down after running
Cooling down, while less critical than warming up, allows your body to gradually adjust from running to a resting state. "Just a few minutes of walking is all you need to let your heart rate return to normal and for your body to clear out any metabolic waste created during your efforts," says Kastor.
7. Don't worry if you ache a little
If you ease into running, your post-run discomfort shouldn't be debilitating. If it is, return to walking and running. However, don't let a little soreness or achiness scare you off.
"It's just a sign that you're progressing," says Kastor. However, the ache shouldn't last from one run to the next, he cautions: "Typical soreness should fade as you warm up. If it doesn't, cut your workout short. Do a little cross-training for a couple of days to let that sensation dissipate, so you don't become injured."
8. Take notice of sharp pain
Some minor aches and pains are common, and rest should clear them up. Back off by walking or riding a bike for a few days, ice the area a few times a day and take anti-inflammatories as needed. If you experience sudden, sharp pain while you're exercising, try walking it out for a few minutes. If the pain doesn't ease, stop immediately and head home. If the discomfort persists, see a podiatrist or an orthopaedist.
9. Simple warm-ups
Spend five to 10 minutes on these simple movements to prepare your body for your run and help prevent injury
Walking: Simply walk at a moderate pace to get your body going.
Active Stretching: Do stationary side lunges, walking lunges, some skipping, and heel flicks (jog on the spot, bringing your heel high as though you're trying to kick your bum).
10. Mix up your running terrain
Runners often have strong opinions about where to run. The best solution for you as a new runner may be to simply mix it up, says Glover. "Soft surfaces are not necessarily better," she says.
"Treadmills and dirt may seem 'softer' and therefore safer, but they have their issues. A treadmill gives a slight shimmy when the belt impacts the base, which can contribute to shin problems. Dirt and trails can be uneven and have dangerous holes and ruts. Keep it varied: maybe hit the pavement one day, a Tarmacked road the next, and a country trail at the weekend."
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