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I believe running is one of the best and most enjoyable ways to stay in shape. You can do it almost anywhere, it requires minimum kit, you can train in a 101 different ways so it never gets repetitive; and it’s a great way to challenge yourself for the rest of your life! When you can set goals and achieve them through planning and dedicated training the benefits go way beyond fitness.
However, it’s a sad fact that many people starting a running program give up within one month and never experience the sheer joy of this great activity. The first few weeks for anyone taking up running can be tricky. Get it wrong in the early days and you could be put off. But if you can get it right, it could be the start of a lifelong love affair with running.
My advice to you is to take it slowly. The last thing you want is the unpleasant sensation of burning lungs and aching limbs – this isn’t running it’s mindless torture. In the beginning it should be a gradual progression until you can maintain your form over greater distances. Remember, you are in it for the long run! (Sorry)
Here is a brief checklist for anyone considering taking to the road.
1. Before you start visit your doctor to get a check up.
2. Take a trip to a reputable running store to find the most appropriate running shoe for you. This is worth doing whenever you change you shoes as your style may change and a different shoe may be more beneficial. Modern technology has developed superb light materials for runners that will take the sweat off your body so you barely know you are wearing it. Be sure to cover up in the winter to prevent injury.
3. Get yourself a diary or set up a file on your PC to keep a record of your running. There’s nothing better for motivation than seeing your progress on a graph!
4. You are now ready to get out there and put your new kit (and yourself) to test. Select an area where you feel safe and without any steep gradients - save these for later! Don’t be concerned about speed or distance to start with. For now it’s about developing a style that will prevent injury and promote efficient technique.
5. Your first few runs are about getting to know your level of fitness to determine your training program.
6. If you have not previously been active I suggest you alternate between walking and running. For example, run for 2 minutes and then without stopping, walk for 3-5 minutes. The run for 2 minutes etc. You can use the walk to recover your breath and also to observe that you are not adding unnecessary tension to your frame. Use a heart rate monitor to ensure you keep within a safe rate for your age - the monitor will come with advice about age and heart rates.
7. Aim to do the walking/running routine for about 20 - 25 minutes initially. It is important to take your time when building up the time and distance. You do not want to over-exert yourself in these early stages.
8. Over the next few weeks look to build up the time of your walking/running program and slowly increase the proportion you are running (again don’t be concerned about the distance).
9. Don’t run on consecutive days at this stage, also allow for a rest day from running. If you experience aches or pains take a rest before going out again. If it persists get advice from your doctor or physical therapist.
10. Aim to run around 3 or 4 times a week and vary your runs. Do not let your routine be the same for every run as it can become repetitive and your body will not benefit. Try shorter faster runs and jog in between to recover.
11. Once you can run for 30 - 40 minutes non-stop without exhausting yourself, you may want to look around to join a running club. They will have groups to encourage beginners and coaches at hand for guidance. You may also want to enter a properly organised race to give you a target to aim for.
12. Just one more tip - remember to enjoy it! Don't be afraid to experiment and try new techniques, always keep an open mind.
Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and has studied performance enhancement in sport and running for the last 10 years. His second book Zone Mind, Zone Body was published in 2006. More information about avoiding running injuries and developing your style can be found by clicking running technique.