It could be you want to lose weight. Or your exercise routine has grown stale and you want to jump-start things with a new activity. Maybe you're returning to the sport after several years.
Whatever your reason for wanting to start running, you're far from alone. An increasing number of people are lacing up their running shoes and pounding pavement or taking to the trails. Races in particular are attracting an ever-growing number of participants, according to the 2011 National Runner Survey conducted by Running USA. (Consider the half-marathon race: since 2003, this distance has been the fastest growing road race in the United States, and for five consecutive years (2006-10), the number of 13.1 mile finishers in the U.S. has grown by 10 percent or more each year. Moreover, since 2000, the number of half-marathon finishers in this country has nearly tripled -- 482,000 to 1,385,000, according to Running USA.)
But let's back up for a minute. You might be thinking, half-marathon? 13.1 miles? I could never do that! Actually, yes, you likely can. But let's start with the basics first. Here's what you need to know to get started running:
Tell yourself you CAN be a runner. I've heard it so many times from friends and family: "I can't run." Or, "My body wasn't made to run." OK, so it is wise to check with your doctor to be sure running is alright to take up, particularly if you have specific health concerns or issues. But I'd wager that most people can indeed become runners - if they'd just allow themselves to believe they can. Like many people, I came to running later in life - in my 30s - and initially wasn't convinced it would ever be a sport I'd enjoy all that much. The fact that it's become one of my life's passions still amazes people I've known for a long time and knew me before I became a marathoner. I'm so glad I pushed beyond my preconceived notions about the sport - I'll feel too winded and I'll have those side aches like I did in high school gym class - and gave it a try.
Invest in a couple key clothing pieces. One of the best things about this sport is that really all you need is a good pair of running shoes. I recommend shopping at your local running store, where you can get help finding the right shoe for your foot and form. You can find quality shorts and t-shirts/tanks at discount retailers like Target for more affordable prices. Look for clothing made of wicking material so you stay cool and dry.
Go nice and easy to start. Don't worry about your pace or distance. We're all different, we're all at different fitness levels, so listen to your body and run what feels good to you. This may mean jogging easily for a block or two before walking for a few minutes. Try going a bit further each time. I remember doing this run-walk method for a couple of weeks before reaching the point where I could run non-stop for about 30 minutes. I then built up to 40 minutes, then 45 minutes...Be sure to stretch afterward (and before if you want to loosen up, though recent research has debated whether pre-run stretching is essential). Do what feels right for your body-and keep doing it. Experts also advise never increasing your mileage more than 10 percent from one week to the next. While I'm not a certified trainer, from experience I'd say starting with 3-4 times of running per week is best. See how your body feels for a couple of weeks before adding additional days.
Find a running partner or group. If you need some encouragement to stick with it, a running buddy can help. Knowing someone else is meeting up with you for a run will help you not only get up out of a warm bed, but also make the run feel like it's going by faster (this can be a very good feeling when you're just starting out and trying to find your running groove.) I've gotten to know so many new people through running - there's just something about running together that allows for some amazing conversation that you may not normally experience when you're not exercising. Not sure where to find fellow runners? Check your local running store for beginning runners' groups. Your local track club or city running group likely offers weekly group runs, too. I've met running friends through a local fitness center - we struck up a conversation about running while side by side on the ellipticals - while friends of mine have found their running partners just by talking with someone at their kids' school or in their neighborhood.
Finally, don't forget to pat yourself on the back for getting out there and running (and maybe treat yourself to a new running outfit). Be proud that you carved out time in your day to take care of your health. I do believe that the more you do it, the easier it feels - it becomes a habit. And as the National Running Suvey results revealed, running provides plenty of positives, including staying in shape, staying healthy, relieving stress and, yes, having fun.
Published On: July 14, 2011