If you’re considering taking up running for the first time, or making a comeback after a long break, we have some tips for starting a training program.
Your body will need time to adapt. Not just your fitness level, but your muscles, joints, and all the connective tissue in your feet. Running creates stresses that different from what you encounter in day-to-day life and in other sports. If you jump in with too much ambition, running will likely feel much harder than it needs to. And you’ll risk getting injured.
We recommend starting with two training sessions per week. And they should be mostly walking.
In the beginning, go on brisk walks, and introduce short bursts of running. Don’t think about speed. The idea is to find a comfortable pace that you’d like to be able to sustain for long durations. But in the beginning, you’ll only sustain it for a couple of minutes. Try starting with a workout like this:
- 5-10 minute walk, to warm up
- 2 minute easy run
- 3 minute walk (repeat the run-walk cycle three times)
- 5 minute walk, to cool down
Do this workout twice during your first week, with at least two days rest in between.
Then next week increase the running to 3 minutes, and the week after that to 4 minutes.
After the first 2 or 3 weeks, increase the frequencies of your runs to 3 times a week.
After 4 weeks, start reducing the length of the walking periods as you increase the length of the running periods.
After 8-12 weeks, you may find you can easily run for 15 to 30 minutes, with no break at all.
Congratulations! You transitioned to being a runner.
During your first few months, your goal should be to adapt your body to running, and to develop good form. You’ll have an easier time if you’re not simultaneously trying to train for speed. Ideally, pick a pace that allows you talk in complete sentences. This should be around 70–75% your maximum heart rate. In the future, you’ll probably reserve this kind of pace for warming up, or for very long runs. For now, just settle into it.
Running is a technique sport, and it’s likely that even if you have plenty of experience, you can improve your form. Small improvements in your stride can make you more efficient, and can reduce the repetitive stresses on your body.
Here are some basic tips:
- It’s generally better to take shorter, faster strides than longer, slower ones. Shorter strides will make you bounce less and waste less energy. Shorter strides will encourage you to land with your feet directly under your hips, which is most efficient. When your feet land out in front of you, your heal puts on the brakes slightly with each step.
- Make small adjustments to your stride for smoothness and reduced bouncing. Sometimes you can get feedback from watching your shadow or your reflection in windows.
Some runners land on the balls of their feet, some land on their heels, and others land on the mid-foot (which really means landing on the balls of the feet, but with the heels much closer to the ground).
There is quite a bit of dogma surrounding this, with some coaches declaring one-size-fits-all correct answers. The actual research shows that there are plenty of elite runners in each camp.
Here are a few thoughts. Landing on the heels is most natural for people who grew up wearing well-cushioned shoes. It’s also slightly more efficient than the other methods. However, it puts the greatest stresses on the shins and knees and hips. You lose the benefit of the shock-absorbing powers of your calf muscles.
Landing on your forefoot is most natural for people who grew up running barefoot or wearing minimalist shoes. It’s required for any runners who currently prefer to run in minimalist shoes. It greatly reduces stresses on shins, knees, and hips, but increases stresses on the feet.
Landing on your mid-foot is really just a variation on forefoot running.
If you change your landing habit, do so gradually-start with by running with your new landing for just a couple of minutes during a longer run. Gradually increase the time over the next few weeks, and see how it feels.
Pay particular attention to fit. Shoes should be form-fitting, but loose enough that your feet have room to swell a bit-which they will, especially on long runs in warmer weather. It’s imperative that your toes have wiggle room. Beware of any rubbing. What feels like a mild annoyance in the shoe store could turn into a screaming blister 5 miles down the road.
Also pay attention to the basic shoe type. Running shoes can be described as motion control, cushioning, or neutral. Motion control shoes offer extra stability and support for runners whose feet overpronate (collapse inward while landing). Overpronators often have flat feet with very flexible arches, and are at risk of ankle, knee, and hip problems. Motion control shoes help correct the exaggerate motion these runners’ feet.
Cushioning shoes offer less support and more shock absorption. They’re favored by runners who tend to under-pronate, and who have high, rigid arches.
Neutral shoes are right in the middle, with average cushioning and average support and stability. Neutral shoes work for runners with neutral feet. They are also often favored by runners who prefer to correct foot problems with aftermarket insoles, or prescription orthotics.
Finally, look at the intended purpose of the shoe. If you’re just starting out, you’ll probably be well served by an all-purpose trainer rather than a super-lightweight racing shoe. A solid workhorse training shoe will be more durable and give you many more miles of comfort and support.
Which is to say, make sure you drink enough water. As the weeks progress and your runs get longer, it will become more essential that you have access to water during your runs. If your route doesn’t pass park water fountains, consider a hand flask or a hydration vest.
This is purely optional, but many runners enjoy the company and motivation of running buddies. Just make sure you’re all at a comparable level, so that no one is forced to run at a too-fast pace.
Be sure to listen to your body. Don’t push through any joint or foot pain. Your ambition may be rewarded by crutches! And let yourself progress slowly, so you don’t burn out. Keeping it fun is the best way to stay motivated.