Would you like to start running but aren’t sure what’s the best way to get going? Or you started running (maybe training for a marathon) and feel it’s not going too well? The good news is: it’s not hard to incorporate tricks that make running fun and easy. Here’s how.
Set Your Goal…and Hold Yourself Accountable
One of the best ways of getting going is to set a goal—sign up for a run you’d like to do, pay the entry fee, and put it on the calendar. That way you have a goal you’re working for, which will spur you on even on days when you don’t feel like running.
A goal isn’t always enough: you might also need someone to keep you accountable. For example, you can have a buddy (or buddies) join you on runs three times a week, or have them check in with you on days when you’re supposed to go for a run to see that you actually did it. If there’s a few of you, setting up a Facebook group or WhatsApp chat can also work well, given you’re all posting to share your journey of becoming a runner!
If you need a reminder (inspiration) as to why you should exercise, consider that regular cardio can help you reduce the effects of aging—science suggests that people who do cardio regularly are physically ten years younger than those who don’t.
RELATED: 6 Reasons Exercise Reduces Aging
Choose a Training Plan
You need to not only set a goal but also create a training plan for that goal.
As a general rule, running three times a week, with one run being the longer one, is a great training plan. The longer one should eventually be as long as the race you intend to run. The shorter ones should not exceed thirty minutes.
The idea with the long run is that you increase it with 0.5 miles every week. So if you’re starting with just a half-mile run, then the next week you do one mile, the one after a mile and a half, and so forth.
Should you feel that you can’t handle increasing it that much, then don’t. Increase it with 0.3 miles every week instead. Just be sure to do the increase steadily.
On days when you aren’t running, you can try other forms of exercise that you enjoy, be it weight training, dancing, or gardening. Try to get one day’s worth of rest or gentler exercise every week as well.
If you simply don’t have time to run three times a week, then don’t set that as your goal. Work within what you know you can achieve and remember to increase the running mileage every three runs, not every week if you’re training less than three times a week.
You can, of course, also run more than three times per week, but beware that your knees might take a beating—so do your leg squats and other exercises to build muscles that protect your knees. You can always ask a personal trainer or physiotherapist about the muscles you need to build to best protect your body when running.
RELATED: Tips to Start Running
The Run-Walk Method
The run-walk method is what it sounds like: you combine running with walking.
Olympian Jeff Galloway loves this method, and there’s a reason for it. Not only does it lower the chances of injury, it also helps your muscles recover while you’re running. This can be particularly useful for long races, like marathons. And for beginners, it’s a great way of making running less grueling. Even if your end goal is to run a race nonstop from start to finish, this method can help you while training for the race and building up stamina. It can also help improve race times if you do include it in your actual race. (3)
This technique has also been known to help people who suffer from knee problems. Always consult a medical healthcare professional if you do have any particular problems and/or injuries, though.
The point here is not to stop running when you’re tired, but rather to stop before you get tired.
Warming up and Cooling Down
Your body needs to warm up and cool down every time you go running—you can do this easily by walking for five minutes before you start running and then again after you stop running.
Always stretch your legs and feet, including your toes and Achilles tendon before and after you run.
Avoiding Side Stitches
To avoid getting side stitches (cramps in the side—it’s the cramps in your GI muscles) when running, don’t eat too soon before going running. If you get them, try exhaling deeply or bending over and exhaling. You can also slow down. If you get them a lot, simply try keeping a slower pace, walking in between bursts of running, and/or running for shorter periods of time till you build up stamina.
When it’s raining, snowing, or you have a lovely hailstorm coming your way, the thought of going for a run is not always inviting. Sometimes it’s not even safe to run in certain weather conditions. On those days, try going to the gym for a jog, or jog on the spot at home. If that gets too boring, dance around the living room for half an hour. Simply do something that allows you to keep training so that you aren’t constantly finding excuses not to do so.
If you live in a place where the weather is notoriously tricky, getting a treadmill or signing up for the local gym is a great idea.
Also, remember that it’s not only cold weather that can be difficult to run in but also hot weather. If you run in a much higher or lower temperature than you are used to, take it EASY. You might feel fine, but that doesn’t mean your body won’t suddenly decide to give out anyway. There are people who have trained in a certain climate then gone on to do a race in a place with another climate and either collapsed or sadly, have died.
Needless to say: try to find a race in a place with a similar climate to where you are training.
Shoes are important when running; it’s not about the brand name, but about what’s actually comfortable. In the store, don’t just try on the shoes to see if they fit—jog around with them. Try at least five different types to see which ones are the most comfortable.
Running on Clouds
While shoes are important for comfortable running (and can make you feel like you’re jogging on clouds), so is choosing paths and trails that aren’t too hard. Running on cement or rock is much worse for your body than running on sand, grass, or a treadmill. If you live in a city or tend to run on the pavement a lot, try to vary it—either by going to parks where there are jogging trails or by using a treadmill.
Blisters are a pain. Literally. And they’re one that can be avoided.
Choose socks, like the shoes, that work for you. Don’t buy multiple pairs of the same brand before you’ve tried them out. You want to find socks that are breathable but snug, so that they don’t rub up and down as you run.
Some socks are made with material that draws moisture away from your feet so as to avoid bacteria building, as it can cause fungus. However, if you are doing shorter runs, this might not be necessary, so long as you wash your feet AND your socks as soon as you get home.
Tip: there are several essential oils that have antifungal and antibacterial properties, particularly aegle and palmarosa, but also patchouli, citronella, and geranium. Many more work for either some strands of bacteria and/or fungi. You can try putting a few drops of each in your regular body lotion and using it on your feet before and after running. You can also make your own foot salve, buy an antifungal foot salve, or blend the oils with some water in a spray bottle and spray, then dry your feet before and after running. (4)
Running in Hilly Areas
Hills are great, as they help build stamina and add some extra challenge to your run. However, you need to adjust your speed to the level of difficulty of the hill so that you don’t overexert yourself.
Running downhill can also be extremely bad for your knees if you do it a lot. If running down hills, try to zigzag to lessen the impact on your knees. It’s fun to run downhill full speed, but it’s less fun for your knees, especially if you do it often, or suddenly do lots of hills when usually you don’t—the body needs time to build up muscle.
If you run on a hot day or do a long run, your body will need to be rehydrated after the run. What’s more, you should make sure you’re well hydrated before and during the run otherwise, you might become dehydrated while running.
Remember that you need to drink one and a half to two times as much as you sweat, as some of what you drink will be lost through urine. Running for two hours, you lose about one liter and therefore have to drink one and a half to two liters to make up for it.
Water alone won’t rehydrate, as you also need electrolytes—especially potassium and sodium—to get rehydrated. Coconut water (and this is the water, not the oil or desiccated coconut) contain both, but in small amounts. Therefore, if you want to rehydrate without the use of sports drinks, try making a smoothie using coconut water, banana, avocado (both banana and avocado contain potassium). and salty peanut butter (salt consists of sodium chloride). For the sake of taste, you can add some cacao.
Dried apricots, prunes, currants, and raisins all contain high levels of potassium and are therefore a great snack for runners. (1)
Another way to rehydrate is by drinking water together with a meal, as the meal will help restore sodium and potassium. Soups and broths that contain vegetables (especially sweet potato, white potatoes, spinach, and/or beets and the leafy part of beets) are also great for this reason. A study published in 1997 suggests that drinking water together with a meal is better for rehydration than drinking sports drinks alone. (2)
Caffeine can lead to excess urination, so when rehydrating, don’t consume too much.
Muscle and Bone—The Eating Plan
If you are running, you exercise your legs, and therefore you build muscle. It’s important that you get enough protein for this. Protein is also important for bone health, as is calcium and vitamin K. Running is actually also great for bone health, as you need high-impact exercise to maintain bone density.
Leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, fish, beef liver, chicken and pork all contain vitamin K.
For calcium, poppy seeds, chia seeds, celery seeds, and sesame seeds are great, making them the perfect addition to smoothies and salads. Wing beans and white beans are also brilliant, as are sardines, canned salmon, dairy, kale, collard greens, and whey protein. Fortified milks, such as fortified almond and oat milk, also contain calcium.
As for protein, nuts, meats, fish, dairy, eggs, beans, lentils, and leafy greens are all great.
If you are unsure you’re getting the nutrients and energy you need, consider creating an eating plan.
You burn an average 100 calories per mile when running, so if your intention isn’t to lose weight, then you need to be sure to increase your food intake in coordination with your running program.
If you wish to use running for weight loss, then you still need to consume the above-mentioned vitamins, minerals, and protein—you just have to do it without increasing your overall calorie intake. One of the best ways of burning fat is long, low-impact cardio sessions.
Consulting a Physician
If you have any injuries, are over forty, suffer from a condition that might be affected by running, or are overweight, consulting a physician before running is always a good idea. Even if you don’t fit any of those categories, regular health check-ups are recommended.
If you feel pain as opposed to normal soreness after running, you should also see a physician. Likewise, if you have a minor ache that simply won’t go away, you need to see someone about it.
Running is a great way to improve cardio and thereby heart health, as well as lose weight and simply stay fit. A good running program usually includes about three runs a week, one of which is a longer one. It’s essential to start at a level that you can handle and slowly increase the mileage. Set your end goal so that you have it in mind when you start training, such as running a marathon or half-marathon.
Choose good shoes and socks to avoid blisters and fungus and be sure to run on surfaces that aren’t too hard.
When running, it’s important to stay hydrated and eat to support your exercise and help you build/maintain bone density and build muscle.
Before you start a running program, do consult with a physician if you suffer from any conditions and/or are out of shape.