(Please note – before beginning this or any other exercise plan, please seek the advice from your doctor)
Running is one of the most natural, beneficial and convenient forms of exercise available. It’s relatively cheap, requires very little specialist equipment and can be done virtually anywhere at any time. Running burns calories, strengthens the heart and improve lung capacity whilst reducing the likelihood of suffering from chronic diseases like diabetes, hypertension and coronary heart disease.
Running has many benefits to offer, but making the successful transition from inactivity to regular pavement pounder can be difficult. This article will show you how to go from complete novice to regular runner in an easy, structured and progressive way.
Phase one – Preparation.
“Prior planning prevents a pretty poor performance” as we used to say in the Royal Marines! All this means is that before we go off half cocked, we need to make sure we are ready to begin our new routine and that any possible obstacles are removed. To make the early stages of running training as easy as possible, let’s address these essential points:
The correct footwear is essential for safe and comfortable running. The wrong shoes can make running a nightmare! This doesn’t mean you need to rush out and buy the most expensive shoes you can afford. Expensive doesn’t necessarily mean best. Sure, you can spend £100+ ($200) on a pair of top of the range shoes, but will they really make you a better runner? Probably not! As a novice runner, we don’t need ultra light racing flats, or shoes built for speed, we merely need shoes that offer good cushioning and support. When buying a pair of running shoes, try them on wearing the socks you expect to be running in, jog around the shoe shop to make sure they feel okay, wear them in your home for a day or two to make sure they don’t cause you any discomfort and don’t be afraid to take your unused shoes back to the retailer if they aren’t right for you. It’s also worth noting that running shoes have an expected lifespan of 4-6 months. After this period the cushioning starts to degrade and the support may diminish. Replace your running shoes often to avoid lower limb injuries. When buying running shoes, make sure you get the advice of a professional sales person but be aware they might well be on commission and their recommendations could well be influenced by that fact.
Whatever you are comfortable in will be fine for running, so long as you can vent when you get hot or add layers when you feel cold. For cold weather running, long sleeves and leggings might be useful, as might a hat and gloves. In the heat, a sun hat is vital, and shorts and a t shirt might be more appropriate. If you run at night, it’s worth investing in a high visibility top to avoid becoming a traffic accident statistic and a light rain jacket might be useful for those damp days. Finally make sure your running socks are snug fitting and won’t rub to give you blisters.
It’s worth having an idea of where you are going to run before you head out the door on your first workout. Running on the roads is okay, but would you enjoy running in the countryside more? Is your “home patch” very hilly, and consequently, going to make your early days as a runner harder than necessary? Is your running route relatively free of traffic, well lit at night, avoids passing through any unsafe areas? We want to make your initial foray into running as easy as possible so by eliminating as many potential hazards as possible. Seek out places that will be a pleasure to run in, not ones that make you dread starting!
If you are the sort of person who really likes to buy other odds and ends to enhance your exercise experience, the following might be useful, but are by no means essential: A heart rate monitor to measure how hard you are working, a watch with a timer to measure the duration of your workouts (and ordinary watch will suffice) a GPS to measure how far you have run, an MP3 player to entertain you while you exercise, and a Camel Bag – a drinking system worn on your back ideally suited for people who want to keep their hands free while exercising. There are plenty of other running related products on the market, many of which are touted as essential but remember, some of the world’s best runners come from the most impoverished of countries and often run bare foot so don’t feel you have to buy ever running product available to be a good runner!
Phase two – Setting a schedule.
The UK’s Health and Exercise Advisory board (HEA) recommends performing aerobic exercise 3 times a week for a duration of not less than 20 minutes to make improvements in aerobic fitness. It’s suggested, where possible, that these workouts are performed on non-sequential days e.g. Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
Before we even take our first running step, it’s a good idea to plan when we are going to run. Certainly we need to meet the minimal requirements set down by the HEA if we are expecting to gain benefits from exercise. Look at your schedule and make 3 “running appointments” per week so you know when you are due to workout. Treat these like any other appointment – just like a meeting with a work colleague. Do your very best not to break them, and soon you’ll be on the way to making exercise a life long habit.
Avoid over committing your self in the early stages of your new running endeavour – stick with the 3 sessions of 20 minutes a week initially. This way, you are less likely to miss a session, whereas, even with the best will in the world, those 6 sessions of 45 minutes you planned out will fall by the wayside and your dreams of becoming a runner will be over before they have begun. Once we have established out schedule and feel comfortable with it, we can then add to it.
Phase three – Let’s get started!
Running for 20 minutes can be a daunting prospect for a novice runner, whose last experience of running was doing laps of a football field in the rain while at school! Because of this, we are going to break down our 20 minute minimum session time into running and walking. Our aim, over the next few weeks is to run more and walk less until we reach a 20 minute total of running time with no walking. Once we can run for 20 minutes in a single session, we’ll start to increase the length of our runs, run faster or more often. We’ll cover running progressions a moment…
Before we head out the door and start hitting the pavement, we are going to spend a few minutes getting our bodies ready for the exercise to follow. Chances are, your body is about to go from a dead stop (having been sat in a car or at a desk, or even laid in bed for an extended period) to exercising so we need make the transition from non exercising to exercising gradual. This will enhance your running experience by making the first few minutes of your run less stressful, may prevent injuries and helps get your mind ready for exercise as well as your body.
Because running is essentially a whole body exercise, it’s well worth spending a few minutes warming up all the major joints…the ankles, knees and hips. One of the best ways to do this is by performing some step ups at the foot of your stairs. After a couple of minutes of step ups, you should feel a little warmer and your breathing and heart rate should be elevated. Next we need to gently stretch out the muscles of the lower body, especially he hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles. If you are unsure of what stretches to perform, do a search on the internet or seek advice from a fitness professional. Spend a 10-20 seconds on each muscle group in the lower body before heading out the door. We’re now ready to head out the door…!
Our first few sessions are going to begin with walking rather than running. Walking will contribute to the warm up and overall workout but will also act as a recovery when we get tired from running. When walking make sure you stride out purposely with your head held high, shoulders held down and back and arms relaxed, swinging freely. Drive your heels into the floor and push off your toes, walking briskly. You should feel slightly out of breath, having to breathe through your mouth rather than your nose and you may even begin to sweat lightly. For many exercisers, this “power walking” will provide workout enough in the early stages of our new fitness regime. If this is the case for you, keep with the walking 3 times a week for 20 minutes per session until you feel ready to attempt running. I suggest heading away from your start point for 10 minutes, then returning along the same route for your first few sessions until you have an idea of how much distance you can cover in the allotted 20 minutes.
If, after a few minutes of walking, you feel comfortable I want you to break into a run. When running, concentrate on a heel/toe action, light foot falls and keeping the upper body relaxed as well as a regular breathing rhythm. Don’t set off at a sprint, but a comfortable run which you can maintain for at least 1-2 minutes. After you have run for 1-2 minutes (more or less depending on your individual fitness level) slow back down into your power walk. You should aim to stride out as you did before and do your best to maintain the good walking technique we used a few moments earlier.
Repeat this walk/run/walk sequence until you have been exercising for 20 minutes. The intervals of running and walking are completely intuitive – run or walk for as long as feels comfortable. If you are feeling tired walk more, and if you are feeling okay run more. Remember we are only just starting out and we have plenty of time to increase your speed and/or duration.
Once you have completed your 20 minute session (well done by the way!) have a gentle stretch to try and minimise any post exercise muscle soreness. Mildly sore muscles are to be expected after performing a new exercise routine – at least in the early stages. Don’t worry if your muscles feel a little bit sore for a day or two after your workouts…you haven’t done anything wrong. It’s merely your body saying it has done a bit more work than usual.
Now the first workout is completed, we have a bench mark to compare all subsequent sessions to. The aim of the next few weeks or months is to walk less and run more, until we are able to run for 20 minutes without having to take any walking breaks. YOU are in charge of how you progress your workout. You can use a stop watch and time your run/walk intervals and add a few seconds of running while walking a few seconds less, or you can use lamp posts as indicators of distance travelled…it’s really up to you. However you decide to monitor your progress, it is essential that your regularly increase the time spent running and minimize the time spent walking, working towards our initial goal of running for 20 minutes straight. Once you are able to complete 20 minutes of running without having to take a walking break, stay at this level of activity for 1-2 weeks and really get used to performing that amount of exercise.
Once we have consolidated our progress and have regularly run for 20 minutes, 3 times a week for 1-2 weeks, you should be ready to push on to new levels of fitness. There are a number of options that can utilized to make your workouts more demanding and you can use one or more of these as you see fit.
Option 1 – run more often. (e.g. 4 times a week)
Option 2 – run further (e.g. for 25 minutes)
Option 3 – run faster (e.g. run the same route but aim to do it quicker)
As a general rule, it is suggested that we never increase the duration of any single run, or our weekly mileage total by more than 10% at a time. This means if you are running for 20 minutes; don’t suddenly increase the duration of your next run to 30 minutes, but to 22 minutes and so on. Increasing mileage/duration in jumps greater than 10% can lead to overuse injuries. Also it’s a good idea to restrict running to no more than 4-5 times a week and make sure you have 1-2 days free from physical activity. The body is a wondrous thing, but does need time to repair itself from the rigours of regular exercise.
The finish line.
It might well take weeks or even months to go from the initial walk/run/walk programme to running for 20 minutes plus without stopping…but once you manage it you’ll feel an amazing sense of achievement and satisfaction.
And, once you have a basic level of running fitness, why not consider joining a friendly running club or entering a fun run? You might have lofty aspirations of running a marathon one day, or merely running to stay fit, slim and healthy. No matter what you choose to achieve with your running, continue to enjoy your running for a very long time to come.