Start Your Running Journey

Running is a unique sport – a runner may venture out for a solo run around the neighborhood or the track, meet up with a running group or crew to run in a small group setting, or participate in events that bring together hundreds or even thousands of runners. The physical, social, and mental benefits of running are well documented: greater muscular and bone strength, increased cardiovascular endurance, reduced anxiety and depression, and improved mood, among other perks. Who wouldn’t want to join in the fun?

If you are looking to start running, the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) offers advice for getting started.

Luckily, running requires little physical equipment. Begin by gathering the following:

Clothing. Ideally wear moisture-wicking fabrics. (Cotton is not one of those fabrics, but if that’s what you’ve got, rock that old concert t-shirt!)

A comfortable pair of athletic shoes. Start with whatever you have paired with a moisture-wicking sock. (Again, avoid cotton here, but work with what you have!)Check with your local run specialty store to see if they are open.As a small business, they need your support so consider getting into some new running gear.

Somewhere to run. Keeping appropriate social distancing in mind, if outdoor activity is still a possibility in your city or state, try walking out your door for a jaunt to the corner or a loop around the block. Check out the multi-use trail your community has invested in. Head to the park or the mountains to enjoy the trails.Check first to determine if they are open.Clear the pile of junk off the old treadmill in the basement!

A little knowledge.Understand the importance of not going out too hard, too far, too fast if you have not been running regularly in recent weeks or months.

Determination. Cross whatever “finish line” you set for yourself.

Whenever you start a new activity, be it running, basket weaving, closet organizing, homeschooling, or whatever you’re using to fill your time these days, keep the following goal-setting recommendations in mind:

Use your current fitness level as your starting point. If exercise isn’t a regular part of your routine, work your way up to moving your body a few days each week for 15-20 minutes at a time. If you’re used to hitting the gym or going for walks, your starting point will be a little further down the proverbial road.

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Follow the RRCA’s 10 Week Getting Started Plan

Make time for physical activity. If you find yourself working from home and getting used to a new routine, set an alarm on your phone. Add it to your calendar. Whatever you need to do to get out and move at regular intervals during your new schedule.

Start slow. Start short. This most likely means start out with a lot of walking and very little running. Walk around the block, around the neighborhood, or to the grocery store to restock. Get your body used to moving for longer periods of time.The more you walk with short bouts of running, the more your body will start to adapt to the exercise.Your goal right now should be to increase movement without injuring yourself.

Make your goals specific to YOU, not your partner, your neighbor, or that elite runner you saw on Instagram. It might be running a specific distance or length of time without stopping. It might be running a certain number of days each week.

Endurance and speed come with time and effort. Find joy in what you’re doing, keep it fun, and focus on the long game. Remember that old “marathon vs. sprint analogy?” It obviously applies to running!

Pick up the pace. Incorporate running into your walks. Run from here to the next driveway (or lamppost, or tree, or whatever landmark you see out there), walk some more, then run again. Run more and walk less as the weeks go by. Running legend Jeff Galloway popularized the run-walk-run method. Check out his books and website for more information.

Understand Muscle Soreness.When you first start running you may experience some muscle soreness. Don’t worry, this normal, and you may notice more on the second day compared to the first day. This is referred to as DOMS or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. Do not let it discourage you or keep you from continued movement. But do take a recovery day as needed to reduce the chance of injury.

Challenge yourself and others. Even if you can’t run alongside other people, you can still experience the social benefits of running.

Check out apps like Strava, a social network for endurance sports. Use a mapping tool like Map My Run to find local running routes or create your own. If you’ve got a GPS-enabled watch (Apple, Android, or endurance-specific watches from Garmin, Suunto, Coros, Polar, and others) they’ll have built-in training and social features. These apps and others can track your activities, too, recording distance, time, pace, route, and other metrics.

Have a treadmill? Platforms like Zwift and device-specific services like Peloton Tread and NordicTrack’s iFit let you virtually run all over the world, participate in training sessions, and track your progress.

Switch it up. Running is great, but cycling and weight lifting and Zumba-ing are awesome, too. Many gyms and fitness studios are offering free online content, so try a new cross training workout in your living room!Focus on flexibility and core strength, which is an important aspect of injury prevention for runners.

Rest. Include running-free days in your fitness schedule. Get quality sleep. Acquaint yourself with the yoga mat collecting dust in the corner and follow a running-specific stretch video online. Listen to your body – if you’re not up for running today, try again tomorrow!

Train, don’t strain

You do not have to work “all out” to benefit from running. In fact, doing may bring your running to a quick end. Getting in shape is not effortless, but it shouldn’t be exhausting either. Here’s how you can train, not strain:

  • Take the “talk test”. Runners should be able to talk (but not sing or whistle) while running at training pace. When running faster, such as during a race or a speed session, talking should be an effort but you should not totally winded.
  • Walk when needed. Many beginners feel that walking is “giving up”. Not so! Remind them that the key is to keep moving, even if you walk 90% of the time at first. Consistency is much, much more important than intensity.
  • Take water breaks. Especially in the summer, but all year long, it’s vital to stay hydrated before, during and after running workouts.
  • Take a day off when needed. Beginners should NOT run every day. Every other day (three or four runs a week) is plenty. A day off gives muscles a chance to rest, and encourages runners to try other activities to keep their program varied and interesting.
  • Don’t give up.

Avoiding Aches and Pains

When you first start running you may experience some soreness caused by activity of previously underused muscles. Do not worry about this initial soreness; It should not stick around too long. You should expect a little soreness after your first run, which may be worse on the second day post-run than it was on the first. This second-day soreness is referred to as DOMS or Delayed Onset of Muscle Soreness. Do not let that discourage you or keep you from running. Even after you have been running for a while you might have some soreness from running a different route or distance than usual. Muscle soreness is a good thing; pain is not. So how do you know the difference?

Soreness is good pain. It is the feeling of satisfaction after a good run or workout. It is not that feel of crunching joints or sharp pains. If a pain persists or worsens after a few days it might be time to ask yourself a few important questions:

  • Am I trying to go too fast or too far too soon?
  • Have I been running on any unusual or hard surfaces lately (e.g.: concrete sidewalks, slanted sides of roadways, unaccustomed hills or rough uneven paths)?
  • Have I been stretching before and after I run?
  • In what condition are my shoes? Remember that it is important to replace your shoes every 300-500 miles because your shoes will break down. (A good way to keep track of when you need new shoes is to write the date you started wearing them on a mileage log or on the shoes in permanent ink.)
  • Have I been careful to give myself an easy day or two after a hard effort?
  • Have I done anything differently lately?
  • Have I run in a new brand of running shoes?
  • Did I pick up a new sport recently?
  • Have I been under a lot of stress?

If you answer “yes” to one or more of these questions then you should first think about trying to fix the issue yourself.  Be sure you are following the recommendations below to help your body recover from activity.

  • Rehydrate – replenish lost fluids from your run. Weigh before you run and drink enough water to return to same weight pre-run.  If you are running under 60-minutes, you DO NOT need a sugar and salty energy replacement drink.  Water is better for rehydrating if you are exercising 60 minutes or less.
  • Refuel – consume high energy foods such as fruits to restore muscle glycogen within 30 – 60 minutes post run.
  • Relax – post run is the time to relax muscles with gentle stretching and massaging.
  • Refresh – soak feet and legs in cool water after your run.
  • Reward – spend some quiet time off of your feet after running, but avoid consuming excess alcohol. A short walk later in the day promotes circulation and recovery.
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