Published by the New York Times
By Tara Parker-Pope
Running is a great way to get fit, feel better and even form new relationships with other runners. Starting a new running habit doesn’t have to be hard — all it takes is a comfortable pair of shoes and a willingness to move a little or a lot, all at your own pace. The Well Guide makes it easy to get started, get inspired and stay on track. Are you ready? Let’s go!
How to Train
Get ready for runner’s high, race-day excitement and a new-found sense of confidence.
FIRST PICK A RACE
The absolute best way to keep yourself running is to find a race, sign up for it, pay for it and put it on your calendar. A fixed race date will help you stay focused, and keep you on a regular running schedule. A beginner can run any race — you just need to allow enough time to train for it. Pick your distance (see below) and use an online race finder like the Runner’s World Race Finder or the Running USA Race Map to help you find the right race for you.
Some people are natural heel-strikers while others tend to lead with their toes. The good news: neither form is inherently better than the other. And you are less likely to become injured if you simply maintain your natural stride. The more you run, the more comfortable that stride will feel and — even better — the more efficient your body will become.
THE RUN-WALK METHOD
The Run-Walk Method is a great way for new runners to get started and for experienced runners to improve their race times. The method was pioneered by one of our favorite coaches — the Olympian Jeff Galloway. Contrary to what you might think, the technique doesn’t mean walking when you’re tired; it means taking brief walk breaks when you’re not. You can pick whatever ratio of walking and running that works for you. Some suggested combinations include:
Taking these breaks makes marathon or half-marathon training less grueling and reduces the risk of injury, Mr. Galloway says, because it gives the muscles regular recovery time during a long run.
Some runners don’t like the walk-break method because they believe a race should be run from start to finish, without stopping. If that’s your goal, go for it!
CHOOSE A TRAINING PLAN
You can find any number of elaborate training plans online, but we believe in keeping it simple. Here is the basic formula for a great training plan.
- Train three days a week
- Run or run/walk 20 to 30 minutes, two days a week
- Take a longer run or run/walk (40 minutes to an hour) on the weekend
- Rest or cross-train on your off days
- Run at a conversational pace
- Consider taking regular walk-breaks
Most new runners start with a 5K — a 3.1-mile race that is typically less intimidating than a longer race. Your local 5K will attract a fun, relaxed group of new runners and walkers, as well as more experienced runners who like to go fast.For this plan, you will run for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, and for longer distances on Sundays. The Sunday runs are listed below. Remember, you can always use the run-walk method instead of running the entire distance. Training Time: 7 weeks
The 10K (6.2 miles) is the classic race distance, and these races tend to attract larger numbers than a 5K. Sometimes they will have music and entertainment at the start and finish lines, and offer prizes to age-group competitors. To train, you’ll need to run at least three days a week, including a long weekend run and some hill running.You will run for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, and for longer distances on Sundays. The Sunday runs are listed below. Remember, you can always use the run-walk method instead of running the entire distance. Training Time: 10 weeks
After the 5K, the second-most popular race is the half-marathon (13.1 miles). Half-marathons are great races for beginners because — like the marathon — you get the thrill of a big race event but you have to go only half the distance. Training for a half-marathon isn’t much different than training for a full one, though. You’ll need to be dedicated to your goal, but crossing that finish line may encourage you to try a full marathon next.You will run for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, and for longer distances on Sundays. The Sunday runs are listed below. If you are using the run-walk method, look in the white boxes for your training plan. Training Time: 17 Weeks
Plenty of beginners choose a marathon (26.2 miles) as their first running event. You’ll need discipline to put in the time required to train for this event. Marathons are huge, fun community events, and there’s nothing like crossing the finish line of your first marathon.You will run for 30 minutes every Tuesday and Thursday, and for longer distances on Sundays. The Sunday runs are listed below. If you are using the run-walk method, look in the white boxes for your training plan. Training Time: 6 months
Pick Your Gear
You don’t really need much to start running. It all starts with the right pair of sneakers.
CHOOSE A SHOE
Ignore shoe sales pitches about pronation or high arches and don’t be swayed by brand names. Instead, try on four or five running shoes, jog around the store and let your feet decide. In a sweeping review of the science on running shoes and injuries, researchers found that the most important feature of a running shoe is (brace yourself) — comfort. That’s it. Choose a shoe that feels good.
While most runners focus on shoes, socks can be important too. Blisters from bunched-up socks are painful and could sideline you for days. You want a breathable, snug sock that’s not suffocating. Some running socks are made from a sweat-wicking material that draws moisture away from your feet, preventing bacteria from accumulating between your toes which inevitably leads to foot odor.
Look for a sock without thick (or any) seams and decide if you want a no-show sock or one that covers the back of your ankle where shoes sometimes rub. Try socks on in the store, and pick one or two that you like. Test them out to see how they perform when you run and sweat before investing in multiple pairs.
CHOOSE YOUR PLAYLIST
Running should feel like a reward. If you’re a runner who likes the quiet and solitude of running, then pick a bucolic path and go run. But many people like a combination of upbeat music or short podcasts or books on tape to accompany them on the run. My personal favorites to train with are books by comedians, who often read their own audio books and leave me laughing so much I forget the pains of running.
Every runner needs a timing device to help manage his or her training. Whether you choose a standard watch, a high-tech GPS watch or your iPhone doesn’t really matter. Just pick the timing device that works for you.
Whether they began running to get into shape, to fulfill a lifelong dream or simply to have a good time, most runners share this belief: Nothing feels better than crossing the finish line.
When I run, I do not look toward winning at all, but I try to just complete the race. But usually I try to race the last two-tenths of a mile to show I’m still in good shape.”—Sab Koide, who did not begin running until the age of 56, when his wife entered him and his two sons in a community marathon
Sab Koide, who did not begin running until the age of 56, when his wife entered him and his two sons in a community marathon.
Fuel Your Body
What you put in your body is just as important as what you wear when you start running. Consider food as part of your gear.
WHAT TO EAT
Make a fist. That’s about the size of what you need to eat before and after you run. So, think appetizer, not meal. It should also include carbs with some protein, says Leslie Bonci, director of sports nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and a certified specialist in sports dietetics. The traditional peanut butter sandwich is a great option as a workout snack. Eat half of the sandwich one hour before your run and half soon after. Low-fat chocolate milk works very well, too. Try some of these recipes for some healthy workout fuel.
WHEN TO EAT
One of the biggest mistakes that new runners make is to not eat at all before exercise, so you don’t have any fuel to keep you going, says Ms. Bonci. Plan to eat one hour before your run to boost energy without upsetting your stomach.
When you’ve finished running, eat within 15 minutes of stopping — it helps the body re-synthesize muscle glycogen and recover more quickly. It may also help prevent or reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness.
Your workout snack shouldn’t replace a meal. Keep your routine of breakfast, lunch and dinner and add in the pre- and post-exercise snack. That means eating at least five times a day. “When people are physically active, anything under three meals a day is not going to be enough,” says Ms. Bonci.
Quench your thirst, but don’t overdo it.
Hydration is a big concern for new runners, but it shouldn’t be. The best tip for staying hydrated during a run is: Drink when you are thirsty. You can carry a regular-size water bottle in one hand when you run or you can plan a route around a few water fountains.
Electrolytes are water-soluble nutrients, like sodium, that can leave the body through sweating. So-called sports drinks can replace these electrolytes in the body. However, the length of your workout should be the guide for what you drink, says Dr. Jordan Metzl, a marathoner and sports medicine doctor at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York. If you run for less than an hour, water is just fine. After running for an hour, your body begins to need those nutrients, so a few sips of a sports drink can help you maintain your energy levels. But as with all things, a little bit of a sports drink can go a long way. These drinks often contain sugar, which your body doesn’t need if you are otherwise eating a healthy diet. They can also get pretty pricey. So, while sports drinks serve a purpose among elite athletes and those who exercise for long periods, for those who exercise at a moderate intensity for an hour or less, water is probably the better choice.
TOO MUCH WATER
You can drink too much. So, don’t gulp down bottles of water before a run, thinking it will prevent you from getting thirsty. Drinking excessive amounts of fluid will not prevent you from cramping or prevent heat-related illnesses. Those ailments generally stem from simply pushing yourself too hard. Overhydration can be a more serious issue than dehydration anyway. So, drink when you need to, and don’t overdo it.
Running to Lose Weight?
Running is a great way to stay healthy, but it’s not always a successful weight loss method. Here are a few tips to help you trim down as you tone up.
AVOID RUNNER’S WEIGHT GAIN
Running burns calories, which means your body will be hungry and you may begin eating more than usual. The result for many new runners, surprisingly, is weight gain rather than weight loss. To avoid that, try working out for 30 minutes instead of 60. The shorter workout will still get you in shape, burn some calories and help you get ready for race day — but it won’t leave you starving for more food.
COUNT YOUR CALORIE BURN
One mile of running burns about 100 calories, but that doesn’t mean you’ll lose a pound for every 35 miles you log. Running more will make you hungrier and likely to eat more. The level of intensity or running up a hill will increase the amount of calories you burn. Your body will be tired so you may sleep a little more. All of this will affect weight loss. If you eat a balanced diet and try to maintain your calorie intake as you run, you may also lose weight as you become more fit.
The worst part of running is the pain that comes along with your new routine. Don’t let cramps, side stitches or pain keep you off the road.
You don’t have to waste your time sitting on the curb touching your toes or pulling your legs backward to stretch your thigh muscles. While there has been recent evidence that static stretching — holding a stretch for a period of time — can prevent acute muscle injuries like tears or strains, such types of injuries are uncommon in runners. In fact, holding a stretch too long can even make your muscles less powerful.
Instead, you could try dynamic stretching, which warms your muscles through repeated movements. For runners, an ideal warm-up might include squats, lunges and “form drills” like kicking your buttocks with your heels. While some professional (and amateur) runners swear by these pre-run warm ups, there are no studies that show that dynamic stretching prevents injury.
The bottom line? If you don’t have time to stretch or warm up before you run, don’t worry about it. If you like the way stretching feels before a run, go for it. Just don’t hold your stretches. Keep your muscles in motion to prevent straining them before you hit the road.
1. Kick one leg straight out in front of you, with your toes flexed toward the sky.
2. Reach your opposite arm to the upturned toes.
3. Drop the leg.
4. Repeat with opposite limbs
Continue the sequence for at least six or seven repetitions.
Nothing can ruin a good run like a side stitch. Runners who regularly slouch their backs are more likely to experience those spasm-like cramps in their abdomen. When you feel a stitch coming on, take a deep breath to arch your back and try to run more upright.
While side stitches are generally felt above the hip, sometimes they can be felt all the way up to the shoulder. However, if the pain persists for more than a few minutes after you slow down, especially if it’s on the left side of your body, it could be a sign of a heart attack. So be cautious and see a doctor.
1. If you develop a side stitch as you run,slow down.
2. Take deep, controlled breaths. Allow your lungs to fill with air and stretch your body upright.
3. Wait until the pain subsides to resume your normal speed.
4. To prevent side stitches, think about your posture as you run. Keep your back tall and your breathing under control.
Cramps during exercise could be a result of over-excited nerve endings, probably as a result of fatigue. Studies of triathletes and ultramarathon runners have found that those who cramp during a race tend to be racers who bolt from the start, setting an early pace that is much faster than their normal training speed, inviting fatigue. They also often have a history of the condition, suggesting that once a muscle cramps, it is primed to repeat the spasms.
Luckily, treatment is simple. “Stretch the affected muscle,” said Kevin Miller, an exercise scientist at Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant. Stretching seems to quickly calm the manic, misfiring nervous system connections in the muscle.
Some athletes swear by a swallow or two of pickle juice, which is known to alleviate cramps.
The most common running injuries involve the feet. The repetitive banging of your heels and toes on the pavement can cause some real aches and pains. Many runners take pride in the blisters, calluses and bruises — not to mention the loss of a toenail or two — that inevitably occur after logging mile after mile of their runs. Unfortunately, besides getting comfortable shoes and some top-notch socks (see the Gear section), there isn’t much one can do to avoid those types of injuries.
The good news is that the pain of one of the most common foot injuries — plantar fasciitis — can be alleviated with a simple stretching routine.
1. Find a step or sturdy box and a small towel.
2. Stand barefoot on the affected leg with the ball of your foot on the step or box. Your heel will extend over the edge. Roll a small towel and place it beneath your toes.
3. Your unaffected leg should hang loosely down, bent at the knee.
4. Raise your heel slowly for three seconds and hold it for two seconds. Lower your heel slowly for three seconds and hold it for two seconds.Repeat the sequence 8-12 times, every other day. Once you can do 12 repetitions easily, wear a backpack filled with books to add weight and make the exercise more challenging.