Starting to run

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Running with friends.

Running is a great form of exercise, and these guidelines will provide you with the core information to help you to begin running.

1 Why run?

There are many ways of getting fitter, so why choose running? Running is a simple and cheap sport, requiring nothing more than a pair of shoes and the open road. There are also some other advantages to running over cycling as a form of aerobic exercise. As with any exercise there are mental and emotional advantages in addition to the physical benefits. However, I believe that running provides additional scope for relaxation and meditation. It may not seem like it when you first start to run, but as you improve you will reach a point where you can run will less effort and feel like you can run forever. At that point you can find 'Stillness in Motion', where you can relax and think freely.

2 Checking with your doctor

An annual medical checkup is an important part of maintaining your health. For many medical problems, early detection can dramatically improve the outcome and it's wise to have your doctor's approval before starting any training program. However, there is another, more subtle reason for getting an annual checkup. Being healthy, both physically and mentally, has a lot to do with being in control of your life, rather than believing that you are at the mercy of luck or fate. The difference between having control and being subject to external forces is called '[Locus of Control]'. Having an annual medical is an aspect of taking control of your life.

3 Beginners Plan

I recommend you follow the Beginner's Running Plan. This plan gradually takes you from walking 2 miles in 30 minutes to being able to run for 30 minutes continuously.

4 How Often to Run?

I generally recommend running at most 3-4 days per week, which gives your body chance to recover and grow stronger. Running more frequently increases your Training Monotony level, which reduces your rate of improvement. If you want to train more frequently, I'd suggest High Intensity Interval Training (see below). You can run less than 3 days a week, but try to build that up over time, as turning your exercise into a habit helps with Motivation. If you fit your run into your regular routine, you don't have to think about if you'll run or when. Instead it becomes an automatic part of your life. Habits, good and bad, are powerful.

5 Running Form

Main article: Running Form

While there is some controversy over the best running form, there are several components that are generally considered worth adopting.

  • Cadence. The number of steps you take per minute is a key aspect of running form. A good Cadence will reduce impact, effort and Overstriding .
  • Forward Lean. A simple way of learning to run is to stand still, then gradually lean forward until you have to start running to prevent falling over. This will naturally put your weight over the front part of your foot, rather than landing on your heels. This forward lean should come from your whole body leaning forward rather than bending at the waist.
  • Arm Position. Your Arm Position should be high, with your hands near the bottom of pectoral Muscle. The movement of your arms acts as a counterbalance to your running motion and you don't need to drive with your arms. Instead they should move naturally and freely.
  • Run Tall. You should run with a relaxed, but straight back. Avoid hunching over.
  • Avoid Overstriding. Don't try to stretch forward with your legs to lengthen your stride, but have your feet land roughly under your hips. A good cadence will naturally help with this.
  • Foot Strike. Don't worry too much about how your foot lands; just do what comes naturally. The only caveat is if you have problems with your calf and you're running on the balls of your feet without your heel touching the ground. In that situation you may want to modify your form slightly to allow your heel to land and take your weight during the stance phase of running.

6 Running and Obesity

Running creates stresses that are proportional to your weight. If you are too heavy then running may put more stress on your lower body than it can cope with, causing an injury. I suspect that being able to walk 2 miles in 30 minutes will be indicative of a body that can begin to run, but I could be wrong. If you are significantly overweight, you may be better off focusing on walking and Weight Loss before you start running. Including a little High Intensity Interval Training may be effective in improving weight loss.

7 Running with Others

Starting to run with someone else can make a big difference to your Motivation. However, remember that their level of fitness and their rate of progress might be quite different to yours. Try to find a group of people with similar goals and who are supportive. Online communities can also provide motivation and support.

8 Starting to Run If You're Already Fit

What if you are not a runner, but quite fit? I would suggest that you start with the run/walk approach anyway. Your fitness should allow you to progress up the scale to 30 minutes of running quite quickly, while reducing the risk of injury.

9 High Intensity Interval Training

Main article: High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is short bursts of high intensity exercise separated by periods of recovery. If you are just starting to run and want to speed up your improvement or want to lose weight, then HIIT may help. For beginners, HIIT should be performed on a stationary exercise bike rather than running. Do a Warmup and then do repeats of 30 seconds of high intensity followed by about 4 minutes of easy cycling. Start off with the high intensity being comfortably hard and work up over a number of sessions to an all-out intensity. Likewise start off with 2-3 repeats and build up over time to 4-6 repeats. I would recommend running 3-4 times per week with 1-3 HIIT sessions per week interspersed with the running.

10 Breathing

Main article: Breathing

When you first start to run, your fitness may be low enough that your easy running pace is anaerobic. This will mean that you can't run for long without feeling like you can't breathe enough and your lungs "burn". Don't worry about this, but use the run/walk approach to improve your fitness. Take a walking break if you feel unable to breathe enough, and over time your fitness will improve. You will notice as your fitness improves that your breathing become easier, reaching the point where you can talk in brief bursts of words, then to the point where you can chat normally. The key advice on breathing is don't force or attempt to modify your breathing, but do what comes naturally.

11 Massage

Main article: Massage

Massage can help keep your muscles functioning well and feeling good. While a professional massage is great, it's an expensive option to have frequently. I've found that a few minutes a day with The Stick can work wonders, as can time on the Foam Roller. Both are reasonably cheap and remarkably effective.

12 Shoes

Main article: Shoes

The choice of running shoe is rather less important for someone beginning to run than you might expect. You can choose to run barefoot, a practice which is gathering wider support. If you do choose to wear shoes, it's important that they fit well and are comfortable. Many running shoes tend to be a little small for the forefoot and toes, and are not shaped like your foot, so make sure your toes have room to move.

13 Pain When Running

While running can involve some discomfort at first, it should not be painful. If you have pain in your feet, legs, knees, hips, etc., then something is wrong. The simplest approach is to get an experienced runner to look at your Running Form and see if they can spot the problem.