One question that I get a lot, now that I’m more open about my running with friends and family, is how I got started. Starting to run seems like such a monumental undertaking to someone who doesn’t run, I know. I’ve already talked about my memories of my first run (Run-iversary) but thought I’d step back and reflect on the nuts and bolts of starting to run, rather than my rather touchy-feely memories of the first day.
*As always, before starting new exercise regimen, be sure to clear it with your physician. These tips are based on my own experience and the resources I cite below for you. I am not a fitness professional.
– Before I first attempted running, I was able to walk for 3 miles without difficulty. It’s important to have a certain level of cardiovascular fitness before you get started, or you’ll get discouraged very quickly at how difficult it seems. Most running plans also include walking with the running intervals, so you need to be able to walk at least 30 minutes in order to get through the workouts.
– Shoes: Every article that you read about starting to run stresses the importance of having well fitted shoes and I agree, if you’re going to keep running, it is important to have the right shoes to make things more comfortable and decrease your risk of injury. That said, I didn’t immediately go out and buy new tennis shoes. For the first few weeks, until I committed in my mind that I was really going to stick with running, I just did my short running intervals in the sneakers I’d used for walking before that. These were athletic shoes and not just casual Keds-type tennis shoes, so they did have decent support and I was walking for the majority of the workouts in the first few weeks anyway. After a few weeks of running my walk:run intervals, I bit the bullet and went into my local running store to get a pair of shoes just for running. I thought they’d look at my 250 pound self and laugh, but they were really very nice and not at all judge-y (or at least not that I could tell). The guy asked what kind of running I did and what my goals were (and I was honest about the fact that I was just starting out and a slow jogger). I stood on a sensor that measured my foot size and arch and then jogged on the treadmill for a minute or so. The jogging on the treadmill intimidated me because I was a little afraid of the treadmill in general and also because my slow jiggly self would be on display! Really, it ended up being just fine. He was so intent on my feet I didn’t feel nearly as silly as I thought I would. We watched the video and talked about pronation/supination. He then walked me through the different types of shoes and gave me several suggestions to try on (and had me run again on the treadmill in each shoe before I decided). I didn’t feel pressured at all and I love my shoes, so I’m glad I got over that intimidation factor of going into the running store!
– Walk/run plan: There are several different plans available online (and free!) to get you started with walk/run intervals, including the Cool Runnings Couch to 5K that I used. Women’s Health, Runners World, Jeff Galloway and lots of others have options. Look around and see what works for you. Some people don’t use a set interval plan at all and instead just jog as far as they can and try to push it a little farther each day. Just be careful not to push too hard! I like the intervals in the Couch to 5K because they were a challenge but also kept me from doing too much and hurting myself. Most plans recommend running workouts 3 days a week, with rest or cross training on the other days, and workouts totaling 20-30 minutes each. Be sure not to increase your total running too quickly (no more than 10% a week is the most commonly cited amount). Be sure to include a walk to warm up and cool down with each workout as well.
The other important thing is to know that you can repeat any workouts you need and go as slow as you need to! I was really intimidated by the first workout where I was supposed to run 20 minutes without a break. I attempted that workout several times before I finally managed to complete it and I only completed when I slowed down to a 15 minute mile pace (4 mph). During this time, I found social support from running blogs and especially the SparkPeople Couch to 5K group really helpful. SparkPeople is where I found the advice to slow down and sure enough, it worked! As a beginner, most experts recommend you should be able to carry on a conversation but not sing while you’re jogging (although I will admit, those first few weeks, there was no way I’d be able to talk, no matter how slow I was going!). Just keep in mind that you don’t have to push too far too fast – you’re more likely to safely achieve your goals if you take it slow and steady.
– Be prepared to be sore in some interesting places! I was completely unprepared for how sore I’d be after that first set of intervals. It didn’t feel like a ton of running, just a few 60 second jogs, and yet I was in pain anytime I had to get up and down from chairs the next day. Going down stairs was torture! Your muscles are going to be doing some new things – be nice to them and stretch out after your run and give yourself a day off afterwards.
– Be sure to give yourself rest days! It can be very tempting to overdo it when you’re starting a running program (or any new physical activity). There’s a dangerous mix of those endorphins you get from running when you thought you’d never be able to plus the urge to keep working and get better. Those things can tempt you to work out more often you should. Starting out, most plans recommend that you run no more than 3 days a week with at least one day of complete rest, if not more. When I first started running, I was running only 2-3 days a week, with two days of rest and other workouts on the other days. I think this a huge part of why I was able to run without significant injury, despite weighing 250 pounds when I started. I was able to continue losing weight despite not running every day, so don’t think you need to run daily if you’re in this for the weight loss either!
Last week, Sunday was my rest day and it was a very active rest day, but fun times with my guys before I have to leave town. It was a gorgeous day, so we visited the zoo and my two year announced from the parking lots “Hi animals, I’m coming!”.
We also got the kite out. We are really not very good at kites. A few minutes after this picture was taken, the string slipped out of my husband’s hands and the kite ended up crashing into the neighbor’s roof!
Rest days are crucial to any running program, to allow your muscles to move in different ways, recover from your running workouts and rebuild strength. None of that means that rest days have to boring, however and now that I’m more active overall, I find that my “rest days” have become a lot more active like this one!
– Set a goal race! Over and over in articles I’ve read about starting to run, they suggest signing up for a 5K or other short local race to give yourself a goal. I thought that was silly, because of course I’ll stick to my plan – I’m all about overhauling my lifestyle, right? That is true, but I forgot to factor in the horrendous winter weather we get in Omaha. Soon, I was down to running only once a week and if I didn’t have a 5K scheduled on New Year’s Day, I may have fallen off the wagon all together! Give yourself plenty of time (and more weeks than your training plan calls for, in case you have to repeat weeks or get off track for a bit) but find a low pressure local fun run to give yourself a deadline and a goal. Even if you don’t run the whole thing (and I didn’t run all of my first 5K), it’s a fun atmosphere and will feel like a little victory lap after all of the training you’ve done!
Don’t be afraid to take the first step if you want to run. If I could do it, anyone could do it!
For further reading:
Runner’s World How to Get Started
Women’s Health Running Tips: How to Get Started
Cool Running Couch-to-5K Plan
Fitness Running 101: A Beginner’s Guide
SparkPeople Couch to 5K group
Jeff Galloway’s Getting Started
Books I’ve found useful:
Runner’s World Complete Book of Women’s Running – Dagny Scott Barrios
Run Like a Mother – Dimity McDowell, Sarah Bowen Shea