How to start running: The Basics

A few days ago, a lovely person in my life asked me for advice on how to start running. He’s in his early 40s and concerned about staying healthy and keeping some not so good family genes at bay. I love writing about running and exercise, and thought I would share my reply here.

I am not a physiotherapist, a personal trainer or medical doctor (talk to them for more advice). I’m just someone who started running nearly twenty years ago and who couldn’t run for more than 10 minutes without needing a break at the start. Since then I have successfully completed two half marathons (in pretty good time, I might add), and several shorter races. I’m not fast, but I’m steady.

Here we go:

1. Slow down: Most people who start out running try to run too fast and get winded/feel sick quickly. So first off, don’t run as fast as you can, but run at a comfortable slow pace. If you do this, you will be able to complete a nice 30 minute run without feeling crappy. You should be able to carry on a conversation while running, if you can’t, you are running too fast.

2. Adopt the Walk/Run approach: Run for 10 minutes, then walk for 1 full minute, then run for 10 etc. If that’s too hard at the start, do 8 min/2 minute ratio. By the way, people who do this often are just as fast as people who just run the whole time. I sometimes still do this if I’m wanting to pace myself. I once ran a half marathon the whole way and two women who did the run/walk thing arrived at the finish line at the same time as me. Once you are running regularly, you can get all fancy and do other things (hills, tempo runs, etc.) but for starters, simple is best

3. Pick a route you like and stick to it: You can time a route ahead of time with your car (making sure it’s a loop, of course) and then you don’t have to worry about that aspect of your run. You can also bike somewhere and then run there, if you don’t love your neighbourhood. If in doubt, just start running, look at your watch and turn around after 15 minutes for a 30 minute run. Contact your local gyms/running club, they often have some pre-measured routes they can recommend.

4. Keep boredom at bay: Run with someone else or listen to the radio/music. Personally, I don’t like running with other people (I spend so much time with others because of my work, this is precious alone time) but many people love it. It’s also a great way to stay motivated. Some people like listening to music and when I do that, I do run faster, but I enjoy listening to podcasts, books on tape and radio shows. I really look forward to my runs now that I do this plus, I catch up on life. I can get lost in the radio interviews and time just flies by.

5. Get proper running gear: good shoes, comfortable outdoor gear (a light running jacket, winter pants, mid season pants, hat, gloves, neck warmer). Be prepared to spend around $300-$350 to get started (approximately $170 for shoes, about $70 for a running jacket and $85 for pants, approximately, oh and a really good bra, if you’re a woman). If that feels like a lot to spend, think of all the gym memberships you never used…Also, other than the shoes, this stuff can last a really long time. I have been running in the same clothes for about 10 years and in fact use them for downwhill and cross country skiing and skating and all sorts of other winter sports. I change shoes on a regular basis (about three times a year), based on mileage and blisters.

Always underdress for running as you will get hot! I run all year round and I love winter running, provided I’m well dressed for it. In the coldest months, I will wear long johns under my running pants, but most of the time I’m toasty warm after ten minutes providing I am wearing a wind-proof shell.

6. Consider joining a “learn to run” group. The Running Room (and, I’m sure, other smaller running stores) have a beginner and intermediate program to teach people to run. It’s a great way to learn and keep the motivation going. Many people prefer running with others and tend to push themselves more that way.

7. Sign up for a race: A great way to stay motivated is to sign up for a race down the road. It doesn’t matter if you take hours to finish the actual race, it’s great to have a goal to work towards. For example (and it doesn’t have to be such a long distance) when I signed up for a half marathon I then went online and found a 12 week training program to follow. It was a great motivator. There are lots of 10 km races out there which is a good distance to run. In Kingston, we have a great fun run called “Beat Beethoven” every Spring, which is a fundraiser for our local symphony. It’s a 4 and 8km run – great ways to start. (One year, I took two 6 year old boys on the 4km run, and ended up carrying one on my back and having the other one hold on to my t-shirt, pulling him on rollerblades. Boy, did I ever get a workout that year.)

8. When to run? Identify a time where you can realistically run on a regular basis (lunch is fine, end of the day, whatever). Note that I didn’t say “your favourite time of the day to run” because that is not always realistic. right? For example, I love to run at 830am, but that’s not realistic for most people who work.

Now that I am not training for any long distance race, I run at least four times a week, normally for an hour each time. My favourite time of the day to run is 830 am on weekdays when the kids have been sent off to school and 730am on weekends before the madness in our house begins (groceries, driving kids to soccer, etc). When I worked full time 9-5, I would get up at 530am to run. Yes, it was hard but it was so worth it. Before I had kids, I used to run at 5pm right after work. Basically, whatever works with your schedule is the right time of the day to do it.

9. Staying motivated: some people really do well with tangible measures of success. My partner won’t ride a bike if he can’t track his distances and time, he loves to try and beat his own time (maybe a male thing?) so getting a running app on your iphone can be a great idea.

10. A few more thoughts: cross-training is also a great idea for those of us with ageing joints – consider going to a spinning class (one of the hardest and funnest exercise I’ve ever done). Spinning is available at all gyms and you can often just go and try it out without being a member. Hot yoga is also phenomenal and really challenging. Swimming or running in water with a special belt that is normally available at all swimming pools for aquafit. It may feel funny at first, but running in water is a great way to cross-train and stay injury free.

Ok how’s that for starters? Any questions? Running is a great thing do to, but when you start, you may feel pretty rough, and you may feel bored. Take it slow and don’t hesitate to walk briskly instead of running. Eventually, it can become your best form of stress release.

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