Expect your fitness level to dip some. This "dip" is called the "gain threshold." You start your new program at your current fitness level and, as you put the new demands of running on your body, your fitness level will dip into the gain threshold. You may even feel worse than when you started—sore, tight, tired. That's normal.
It takes about 4 to 6 weeks to pull out of that gain threshold, but when you do, you'll realize that you're feeling fitter and stronger than when you started. The gain threshold is when most new runners quit, especially runners who go at it alone. If you're in a group, you'll begin to see some in the group pull out of the dip and benefit from the newly gained fitness. Actually, just knowing to expect "the dip" can make it easier to cope.
Listen to Your Body
As mentioned above, you're going to experience some aches, pains and fatigue with your new running, but it's important to know the difference between exercise-related muscle soreness and true pain that may be the beginning of an injury.
Listen to your body. Some of what it will be telling you is normal, some may need a little love and care, and some may need immediate medical attention. Use the following 10-Point Pain Scale to help rate what's normal and what's not.
- Mild pain (Rating 1 to 3): The type of pain you feel when you start to exercise, but it usually goes away as you start to warm up and continue running. The pain may be inconsistent and moves around the body, or you feel it bilaterally, which means you feel it in the same joints in both limbs—such as in both knees. Mild pain or discomfort is common for new runners and considered safe to run through. After your run, place ice on any sore areas. A bag of frozen peas works really well.
- Moderate pain (Rating a 4 to 6): Pain at this level is more than mild pain, but it's not enough to cause a limp or alter your stride. Typically a few days of rest, low-impact cross-training and icing, as needed, will help. If it doesn't, go see the doc.
- Severe pain (Rating 7 to 10): Pain at this level requires immediate medical attention. This kind of pain you feel before, during and after the run. It usually starts at the beginning of a run and increases until your stride is altered or you stop. Don't let it get that far.
Hydrate and Fuel
Properly fueling your runs (pre and post) is key to successful running. Running on empty can cause you to feel exhausted shortly into your workout. About 1.5 hours before your run, try to consume 150 to 200 calories of mostly carbs with a little protein. English muffins with a little peanut or almond butter or low-fat yogurt with a little granola are two good examples.
If you're pushed for time, even eating an orange as soon as 30 minutes before your run will help provide the energy needed for your workout. After your run, be sure to get in a 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein within 15 minutes to help provide the energy needed to start the muscle rebuilding process. An 8-ounce serving of low-fat or nonfat chocolate milk has the perfect 4:1 ratio.
Hydration is equally important. Drink 16 to 20 ounces of water about 1.5 hours before your run. Be sure to rehydrate after your runs, too.
Have Realistic Expectations
While running is low tech and, in theory, an "easy" thing to do, be realistic with your expectations. Don't doom yourself by setting unattainable goals like running a half marathon in a month. You may very well run that half marathon in the near future, but take baby steps to begin. Set realistic goals for yourself. Working through a run/walk program building to a 30-minute run over a 12- to 14-week period is realistic.
More: Defining Your Goal
Focus on endurance instead of pace or distance. Once you've reached the point of running 30 minutes straight, then you can begin to focus more on increasing pace and distance. Trust in your training, believe in yourself, and conquer your goals.race.