First Steps for a Beginning Runner

Written by

Running Woman in Park

The cardinal rule of the new runner is to be patient. Your body needs time to adapt to this new activity you're asking of it. It may be uncomfortable at first, but you'll begin to see results fairly quickly. All the same, it's important to build gradually. Newcomers should follow these three rules

  • Run more slowly than you think you should.
  • Don't run as far as you think you should.
  • Run more often than you think you should.
We know, we know: you're brimming with enthusiasm about your new running career. You're even surfing the Web looking for tips. You probably can't wait to start seeing the results, to start pushing your limits for maximum improvement in the minimum time. Be patient.

Before You Sprint Out the Door...

A standard precaution is that anyone over the age of 35 should have a stress test and a full medical examination before running. Request an electrocardiogram recorded before, during and after exercise. Those under 35 who have risk factors for heart disease should also be tested (this means people with high blood pressure, a history of smoking or a family history of heart disease). You should also consult a doctor before beginning an exercise program if you meet any of the following conditions:

  • You have pains or pressure in the left of midchest area, left neck, shoulder or arm during or immediately after exercise.
  • You often feel faint or have spells of severe dizziness after mild exertion.
  • Your doctor has said that you have bone or joint problems, such as arthritis.
The bottom line is to use common sense and be careful. You don't have to be in perfect shape to start running; that's probably the reason you've picked it up. All the same, get your doctor's go-ahead if you have any doubts about your health.

Ease Into Running

If you start by running too far and?too fast, you'll wind up burned out at best, injured at worst. Possibly both. Take it easy, and give yourself time to learn to love to run. It doesn't happen immediately, and you'll probably experience a few aches and pains starting out. This is natural, and it will pass. It takes your body time to get used to what you're doing. Give it the time it needs. Like so many other things in life, running can be difficult and discouraging if not undertaken properly.

Use the "talk test" to figure out if your pace is appropriate. You should be able to talk comfortably while running; slow it down if you're running out of breath. Don't hesitate to alternate running and walking; if you feel lousy, take a breather and walk for a while. It's not a sign of weakness, just common sense.

The aim is to "train, not strain." If you are already fit from another sport, such as cycling or swimming, it is still important to go a little easier at first than you might want to. It is too easy to push yourself past what your muscles and joints can stand at first.

How much is the right amount? Try our nine-week beginner program to build up to three-mile runs.

The Basics of Good Form

As a beginner, you don't need to get too preoccupied with the finer details of form, but here are some general pointers. Most distance runners land on their heels or midfoot and roll forward to the toe. Running up on the toes, by contrast, tends to be the form of sprinters. You'll find that if you try to run on your toes for too far that your shins will probably start hurting and your calves will get tight. Never fear, it shouldn't take much concentration for you to stick with the heelstrike, since most find it the most natural stride when running at an easy pace. Likewise, when you sprint, you'll likely find yourself up on your toes without even thinking about it. Our bodies typically handle this naturally without much conscious attention.