This might be your first time running, or a return to running. The less running you've done recently, the more you can expect to improve. However, you're also at a higher risk for injury by doing too much too soon. This is why it is important to start with a good aerobic base.
Beginners shouldn't worry about how many miles to run; they should begin by running for time, not distance.
For starters, purchase a good pair of running shoes designed for your arch and stride type. If you're not sure which type of shoe you need, visit a local running specialty store to get fitted properly. Good socks are as important as good shoes. Look for socks that are seam-free, and ones that manage moisture so you won't get blisters.
Your Pre-Run Routine
Before you start a run, you need a good warm-up routine, which includes dynamic stretching to get the blood flowing. Leave the static stretching for the post-run routine. Dynamic stretching includes walking lunges, butt kicks, high knees and toy soldiers—straight-leg kicks that stretch the hamstrings. Dynamic stretching will increase your flexibility and help prevent injuries by strengthening your muscles and joints. After doing some dynamic stretching, walk briskly for five minutes, then speed up to a comfortable jogging or running pace.
Your First Runs
You can start your aerobic base building by doing a run/walk plan, like the successful Couch to 5K plan. A good first week of running is 20 to 30 minutes total of jogging/running/walking three times a week. Be sure to space your training days throughout the week to give yourself a chance to recover and rest.
Don't worry about how fast you are running. Speed will come later once your aerobic base has improved. Just increase the duration of your runs gradually. It is important that your first runs should be completed at an effort and pace that is easy and comfortable. Most beginners don't know what an easy or comfortable pace should be so they tend to push too hard. A comfortable pace is one you feel confident you can sustain for the duration of your run. It is better to run too slow and finish feeling like you could have gone longer or faster, rather than finishing exhausted. A simple way to determine your pace and effort is to listen to your breathing. If you aren't gasping for air and you can talk while you're running, then your pace is just right.
Don't be afraid to walk. Walking breaks the run into smaller, more doable pieces. These breaks will allow you to run longer and faster. Walking breaks work best if you walk for one to five minutes.
When you finish your first run, don't stop suddenly. Instead, walk for another five minutes to cool down gradually.
Your Post-Run Routine
Recovering after a run is one of the most important aspects of training. Running makes your legs strong, toned and, unfortunately, tight. Every step you take forces those quads, hamstrings, calves and hips to flex and extend over and over to propel you down the road, trail or track.
After many miles, those hardworking muscles and tendons can develop imbalances, scar tissue and tension, slowing you down and paving the way for common overuse injuries like IT Band Syndrome and Achilles tendonitis. The time to deal with running injuries is before they occur. However, most runners wait until the first pinch in their glutes or pain on or around the knee to start researching terms like piriformis or plantar fasciitis.
Stretching not only increases flexibility, but can also be a vital way to avoid injury. Stretch your major muscle groups with focus on the quadriceps, hamstrings, IT band, upper and lower back, groin and hip flexors. Slowly ease your way into each stretch and hold it for 30 to 45 seconds.
Running can also deplete the body's muscle glycogen stores, which is the primary fuel source for running. Replenishing muscle glycogen after a run within 30 minutes is important, and can be as easy as drinking chocolate milk, which is full of carbohydrates and contains protein.
Increase Strength and Speed
Beginning runners that want total body strength should include core workouts in their routine. Core work can also be done on days you do not run. You can have a great core workout without going to a gym or needing any equipment. Focus on body-weight exercises such as push-ups, plank and abs exercises, back extensions and body weight squats.
As a beginner, limit yourself to one hard or speed day each week once you have built up your aerobic base. A 5K race-specific workout can be done once a week. You can start by running 5 to 10 x 1 minute at 5K effort—not pace—with a 2-minute recovery after each 1 minute hard. You can progress each week by increasing the time you run at 5K effort by completing two to five x 2 minutes the second week, two to five x 3 minutes the third week, and so forth.
If you're unsure whether you're running 5K effort, try this simple test: As you're running, ask yourself, "Is this an effort I can maintain for an entire 5K?" Be honest. If the answer is yes, keep up the effort. If it's no, slow down.
Still unsure about proper repetition effort? Here's another guideline guaranteed to keep you within the proper range: Whatever pace you run your repetitions, you should finish your last one feeling as if you could run one or two more. If you're completely exhausted at the end of your repetition session, then you ran too hard. Adjust the next week by decreasing your effort. If you're barely winded, then increase your effort the following week.
Practice Proper Running Form
Running form is unique to the individual, but can be improved upon. Some general form tips:
- Run tall without a pronounced forward lean
- Don't look at your shoes as you run; look toward the horizon
- You can run faster by increasing your stride turnover, not by overreaching with each stride
- On uphills, shorten your stride, and drive more with your arms. Try to maintain an even effort, not pace
- When running downhill, let gravity work for you by leaning slightly forward
When you improve your race times or increase your race distance, you win. You can win even bigger by keeping at it for the long haul.