Maybe you saw the New York City Marathon, and you were like, "I will OWN you next year, The Bronx." Maybe you want to get in shape, and running seems doable. Maybe you're just sick of sucking at the mile during the suckitty suckfest that is the Presidential Fitness SuckTest.
Whatever your reason, running's a pretty easy sport to get into.
- It's comparatively cheap. There's no gym membership or props or coaches or DVDs or act-now-and-you-get-the-Pro-Runner-Jr.-a-$299.99-value stuff. If you've got a pair of decent running shoes, you can pretty much get up and go.
- You can do it just about anywhere except for, like, Antarctica or something. Wait—HOLY CATS.
- While there's an obvious emphasis on lower-body training, it actually uses most muscle groups, so you get a decent full-body work out.
- It's one of those things you may start out hating, and then, when you're training the right way, start to like.
- People make a big deal out of it, so it seems like this scary, hard-core thing. (It sooo doesn't have to be.)
- Said elitist people may make you feel like that you're only a runner if you're constantly breaking land-speed records; this is so far from true that it's (...wait for it...) false.
- Your body might not be made for yogging. If you've got horrible knees or ankles, bad respiratory issues, or other physical issues with high-impact cardio, you may want to try something like yoga, spinning or swimming instead.
Ready to forge ahead? Here's how to do it.
1. Get the right shoes.
Fashion sneaks at Payless or Dan's Discount Drunning Dshop don't count. Those may look nice, but they won't be able to prevent injury in the ways that legit running shoes can. Yes, you'll need to go to an actual running specialty store, and yes, it can seem a little intimidating, but be brave! Pick a shop where they can do a video running analysis of your legs and feet—some place like this or this. That way, you can get shoes that'll support your feet correctly, give you the right amount of cushioning/weight, and help correct your running gait if necessary. (A trained shoe-fitter will be able to fill you in on all those details.) Shoes'll probably cost in the $90-$130 range, but they'll last you around 400 miles, so it's worth the investment.
TIP: If you want to try to spend a little less, go to the store, get fit for the right shoes, and make a mental note of the name/model/size of the shoe. Then, internet shopping ahoy, baby.
TIP 2: Also in the "saving money" vein, ask if the store has an earlier generation of your shoe that would still work for your foot; when shoe upgrades come out, stores try to get rid of the old models at a discount, so you may be able to save some cash by getting Slightly-Older Version 2 instead of Brand-New Version 3.
TIP 3: Prepare yourself for the fact that the best trainers may redefine "ugly." It's okay—seriously. No one's looking at your feet when you run—least of all you—and everyone looks like a spazoid out on the track, so really? Ugly is no big. Comfort is king.
Get a buddy and a timer
Truth: running by yourself can get boring. Team up with a buddy who's also a newbie, and make sure one of you has a watch/phone with a timer.
TIP: If you're buddy-free and you've got a smartphone, there are lots of great free apps that can make solo running easier; they'll track your distance and course, give you spoken reminders about when to pick up the pace or slow things down, and upload your deets straight to your Mac or PC. Take a look at this guy.
Don't listen to music
At least, not at first. Do your best to stay in the moment, and try to pay attention to your body and your surroundings. We know—you've got your awesome GET PUMPED song that makes you want to zoom, but put it aside for now. Going headphones-free will get you much more in touch with what feels good and what feels weird, and if you're running outside (i.e. near pedestrian/vehicular traffic), it'll be a lot safer.
Have a snack
Two to three hours before you go, have a small snack that includes a) 8-12 oz. of water and b) some combination of whole grain and protein—for example, a slice of whole wheat toast with some peanut butter. TIP: A bigger snack means you need longer to digest. We'll let you figure out why it might be bad to run soon after having a big, lead-weight meal and lots of sloshy water.
Run for 15-20 minutes at a conversational pace
Here's the biggie: first shot out of the gate? You're going to run for 15-20 minutes with no breaks. Yep—NO BREAKS. Before you freak out, know that you're going to be running at a conversational pace. That means you and your buddy can comfortably chat THE WHOLE TIME without gasping for air or barking out coughs or looking like Prefontaine anything. Just a casual run. No sprinting. And you know what? Even if it seems impossible now? You can totally do it. Go to your starting point, set your timer for 7.5 or 10 minutes, and start talking and running. When it chimes, turn around and come back. And that's it.
TIP: Expect to feel some aches and pains to start. It's natural. HOWEVER: If you're having a cardiac episode, or your pain level shoots above a 4 or 5 on a scale of 1-10, or your face falls off or something, then please, for the love of Mike, use your best judgment, stop, and seek medical help.
The guideline is, for every 20 minutes of running, you want to consume 6-8 oz. of water. But everyone's different, so you may need a little more or less. The important part is to drink before you're thirsty, and to keep that H2O coming.
Never stretch cold muscles (i.e. before running). Always stretch after. When you're done, do a series of stretches like these to aid recovery and help keep you injury-free.
Don't run more than three days a week at first
Right now, shoot for a Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday or Monday/Wednesday Friday routine. Make sure you take at least one day between workouts.
TIP: Shoot for one day a week of strength-training or cross-training on a non-running day. Stuff like weight-training, yoga, cycling, pilates, swimming, and team sports are all great additions to a running regimen. When you mix it up a little, you'll get stronger, which will only help your running.
Increase your mileage slowly
You've got all the time in the world to get good at this, so don't dive in all, "I'm doing a 10K next week!" Increase your milage/time little by little, and never up your milage more than 10% from week to week.
If you get into it, start thinking about gear.
We talked about winter gear here, but for now? Wear something warm and comfortable. No jeans, and nothing GaGa-inspired.
Set a goal
It's a lot more fun to run if you're working towards something, because races? Are the bombdiggity. Loads of people come out to cheer you on, and you get to look all cool and official with your race number on your shirt, and then, when people are all, "What'd you do this weekend?" you can be like, "Oh, nothing, I just RAN AN OFFICIAL RACE. BOOM." Google up a local run club that's putting on a 3-to-4 miler or a 5K (3.1 miles) about six-to-eight weeks weeks out, and start training using a schedule like the one here.
Good luck, future runners of Sparklandia! Let us know how you do!