It’s no secret that running can have a positive effect on your stress levels, immune system, and overall health, but how to start running? We asked former collegiate runner and endurance sports editor Marc Lindsay for his beginner tips to get started with a running regimen.
Starting a running program isn’t easy, but the health benefits and relatively low start-up costs make it one of the most beneficial lifestyle choices you can make.
Use this guide to find out exactly how to start running and stick to it.
Get the Right Gear
One of the best things about running is that unlike in other sports, you don’t need a lot of equipment to get started. But, while it might seem like a pair of running shoes is all that you’ll need, there are a few other items that can make your workouts a little more enjoyable and productive.
Here are a few items to consider before you start your running program:
A new pair of shoes
Whether or not you already own an old pair of running shoes or not, if you’re serious about starting a running program you’ll need to invest in a good pair of running specific shoes. Visit a running specialty store where you can run in several different pairs on a treadmill before you decide on a model. Employees may also recommend specific models after watching you run and determining how your foot strikes the ground. The shoe you select should also match your overall fitness level and goals.
Sure, you can run in any old pair of shorts and basic t-shirt. But the truth is the more you run the more you’ll appreciate technical, moisture wicking fabrics made for runners. These clothes are also lightweight, built to keep you cool and dry in warm weather, and won’t irritate the skin. A hat to shield your face from the sun and a sports bra for women should also be on your list.
A heart rate monitor
While training in heart rate zones may be more for intermediate and advanced runners, a heart rate monitor and GPS watch can be a useful tool for beginners, too. In addition to tracking your workout time and mileage, a good heart rate monitor can also give you information, such as calories burned and recommendations on how much time you need in between workouts to recover.
When you start running, there will be plenty of mental hurdles you’ll need to get past as you increase your mileage. Listening to music while you run can help you relax and make the difficulty of a new activity a little easier to deal with. An iPod or other small music player that’s easy to carry and a pair of wireless headphones that won’t get in your way are recommended.
Have a Plan
Having a plan will help you stay consistent and avoid injury as you begin to add running into your weekly routine. Where you’ll run, how often, and how far will all need to be determined beforehand – just remember you can always adjust it depending on how you feel from day to day.
These basic principles are good rules to abide by as you start to incorporate a running exercise plan into your weekly workouts:
1. Start by alternating running and walking, even if it feels easy
The temptation will be to run for as long and far as you can the first time you head out the door. The problem is the more often you do this the more you’ll expose yourself to injury and soreness that could prevent you from running in the days that follow.
Instead, start with a walking routine that includes short amounts of running. Depending on your fitness, your first workouts should look something like this:
- 30 minutes of exercise, alternating three to four minutes of walking with one minute of running.
- Gradually increase your total exercise time and shorten the amount of time you walk in the weeks that follow.
2. Increase your weekly mileage gradually to avoid injury
The primary goal of any good running plan should be to stay injury-free. If you hurt yourself in the first few weeks you start running, the chances that you stick with running are significantly decreased. For this reason, it’s a good idea to start slow and be patient, building your weekly mileage at a rate your body can handle.
Shoot to include your walk/run routine three days per week at first, with two rest days and two days of low impact cross training (stationary bike, elliptical or row machine). Increase your total walking/running mileage by no more than 10 percent each week.
3. Start eating a balanced diet
While you won’t need to go crazy on sports drinks or energy gels at this stage in your training, your body will need plenty of fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins to recover properly. Try to stay away from processed foods and excess sugar or other foods that can cause huge spikes in your blood sugar levels.
Skipping meals or eating an unbalanced diet will make you feel sluggish and make it even harder to get out the door and run. Here is a basic breakdown of where your calories should come from for each meal:
- Half of your calories should come from vegetables, fruits, rice, and lentils – also known as complex carbohydrates.
- Thirty percent of your calories should come from healthy fats such as avocado, olive oil, and nuts.
- Twenty percent of your calories should be lean proteins such as fish, chicken, and eggs.
- Make sure to drink plenty of water and supplement with a well-balanced multi-vitamin.
Set a Goal
Let’s face it – some days are going to be harder than others.
Having a good reason to get up every day and run will help you to stay consistent and push through those difficult days. Whether you want to shed pounds or run a local race, setting achievable goals can provide the day-to-day motivation you need.
If the goal is to lose weight, buy a scale and track exactly how many calories you burn during each run. While the pounds may not start to drop instantly, you’ll eventually begin to see small improvements that will help you stay motivated and continue to work toward your goal.
If the goal is to run a set distance, look into group training runs or a structured running program to help you along. Whether it’s a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, or marathon, signing up for the free Polar Running Program can help you analyze your current training history and use this data to setup a personalized running plan that will help you slowly progress to your goal distance.
To receive the service you’ll need to set up an account with Polar Flow, which is available on the web or as an app on Android and iOS devices.
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Please note that the information provided in the Polar Blog articles cannot replace individual advice from health professionals. Please consult your physician before starting a new fitness program.