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How to Start Running...From Scratch

January 22, 2019

If you've never run before, or taken a very long break (think more than 6 months), it can be very, very intimidating to get started. If you follow the sport in the news, you're surrounded by images of lean, fit athletes who can bust out 5-minute miles or 20-mile long runs with ease. You probably look at these elites and wonder, "Is there room for me in this sport?"



The answer: YES. Yes, yes, yes. One of the BEST things about running is that it has a low barrier for entry. You don't need a high level of talent, fancy equipment, or even a lot of time to get started. In fact, in 2017 60 MILLION Americans participated in some sort of running -- that's nearly 20% of the population (source)!


Of those, about 130,000 are members of USA Track & Field -- the organization that hosts elite races and national championships. By the math, that means 0.2% of runners in the US are likely "elite" or "sub-elite"...and the other 99.8% are hobby joggers, like us!


What I'm saying is: don't be afraid to start. You're in good company. And if you're ready to start your running journey, here's some tips to get you going!


First, before you even worry about running, focus on developing a routine. The most important thing you can do is commit to this new activity! Talk to your spouse/significant other or another supportive family member or friend. Explain your goals, and come up with a plan.


I always recommend starting small. If you haven't been working out for a while, committing to 20 minutes a day, 3-4 days per week is a really realistic goal. When should you do it? Well, that's a very personal decision. Since we all have different personal circumstances, finding an ideal time will look different for each person. Just make sure it's realistic for you and your family!


Ease into it. Evaluate where you are, fitness-wise. If you're currently sedentary (no exercise whatsoever) or don't walk much...then start by walking. Twenty minutes per day, 3-4 days per week. Do that for 2-3 weeks before shifting to running.


When you're ready to run, start slow. Walking will help you establish a routine, and begin prepare your body. However, running is much more stressful on your body than walking. It's important to be cognizant of how quickly you accumulate mileage.


One technique: Aim to transition one or two of your walks to a run each week -- so if you're in the habit of walking M-W-F, run M and walk W-F the first week; run M, walk W, run F the second week; then run M-W-F the third week.


Try run-walk intervals. Did you know that many elite and sub-elite marathoners use a run-walk method to race? The Galloway Method has been used to help runners achieve their goals for decades.


Some people may think, "But I'm walking! That's like quitting!" But these aren't random walk breaks. They are pre-determined time intervals. You are committed to running for a certain number of seconds, and then walking for a certain number of seconds. Physiologically, it gives your body a few seconds to recover, allowing you to maintain you effort longer than if you were running non-stop. Mentally, this is a lot different than "quitting"-- you are in control, after all!


Start by aiming for equal run-walk intervals, such as 30 seconds run/30 seconds walk. If that's comfortable, start adding 15-30 seconds to your total run time (ie 60 seconds run/30 seconds walk) every few days. In a few weeks, you'll feel comfortable running for longer stretches, and may choose to skip the walk intervals all together.


If intervals aren't for you, I encourage you to focus on running for TIME, not for a specific distance or pace. As you get back into running, your pace will likely fluctuate a lot, and will also likely be slower than you're used to. If you commit to running for 10 minutes, that's all you have to do. There's no extra guesswork. It doesn't matter if you cover 0.75 mile or 1.5 miles in that time -- you met your goal of running for 10 minutes.


If you choose this approach, start with a small goal (ie 5-10 minutes of running). Warm up by walking, run, then do a short cool-down walk. Each run, try adding 2-5 minutes of running time. Once you can consistently run about 30 minutes at a time, 3 days a week, you're probably in a good position to refocus on mileage.


Finally, make sure to do some basic strength work outside of running. Even just 5-10 minutes, 3 days a week can make a big difference in your strength and help prevent injury. It doesn't have to be fancy. Try a few rounds of planks and glute bridges for core, three sets of 10 squats and lunges for lower body, and a few sets of push-ups and dips to strengthen your upper body.

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