Her Sport: Run Happy

"I'm going to teach you to run," my brother Doug told me one day. Sure, Doug is one of those natural runners who appear to traverse terrain without ever touching the ground, and, yes, watching him inspired me to give running a try.

But don't I just run?

After some training runs with him, I realized there was indeed more to running than simply putting one foot in front of the other quickly. Doug taught me about good form, efficient stride mechanics and how important it was to relax. But what I really learned was that focusing on these fundamentals not only made me a better runner, it made running more enjoyable.

If you've been meaning to hit the road yourself, start out on the right foot by reviewing the basics. These time-tested tips will help you run better, easier and happier.

Stay in good form. Hold your head level, look about 10 to 20 feet ahead, and keep your chest up, which helps keep your spine aligned and airways open. Avoid rounding your shoulders. Your arms should bend about 90 degrees, swinging easily at your sides, not crossing in front of you. Hold your hands in loose cups rather than tight fists.

Watch your landing. Strike the ground on your heel or midfoot, not the ball of your foot, which places too much stress on the calves. Most runners land on the outside of the heel, rotate inward to the midfoot and toe off from the ball of the foot. Others strike midfoot and then push off with the ball of the foot. Both methods are fine, so go with what feels natural. Just stay off your toes.

Don't over stride. Instead of reaching with your forward foot, push off with your rear leg, and let your front foot land directly under your body. Overextending your forward foot breaks up your gait, causing a slight hesitation as your foot strikes the ground.

Breathe. Inhale and exhale through your mouth, not your nose. Breathing in through your nose and out your mouth may work in yoga class, but it won't give you the wind you need for running. Try to take deep belly breaths. Think of your stomach going in and out with each breath, as well as your chest rising and falling.

Become a human metronome. Find a steady rhythm and you'll be moving with less effort. Listening to music might help you find your pace. Make a playlist of songs with a similar beat and settle into a steady cadence.

Ease into it. Seasoned runners start a run slowly to allow their bodies to adjust to the impact and their heart rates to gradually elevate. Only then do they ramp up to a steady pace. When you start too fast your aerobic system struggles to keep up, leading to the inevitable bonk. Start more gradually and your run will be more enjoyable and, most likely, faster.

Vary the terrain. It may be convenient to run on roads and sidewalks, but these surfaces are hardest on your joints and legs.

Mix it up by getting on the grass or hitting the trails to give your legs a break and avoid injury. If you must run on pavement, stick to the road when safety permits, since concrete is harder than asphalt.

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