How to Run

>> Thursday, January 7, 2010

Awww. Embarrassing photo of me! At my first-ever 5k race. In 2003. I still remember my time: 25:30. Since, my fastest has been a 22:30, but I'm hoping to break under 22:00 this summer.

ANYWAY, If you're a regular gym-goer (and even if you aren't), you've likely noticed a longer wait for treadmills, bikes, etc., etc., etc. These are those New Year's resolution people. The ones that will slowly filter out in mid-February when they decide their vigorous regimens just aren't working for them. Why is that? It's because they start too fast, go too frequently, and have unrealistic expectations. I realize I'm generalizing quite a bit, but I used to be one of these folks.

Bottom line: Exercise is hard work. But it can be fun and rewarding if you do it right.

So, how exactly can you beat the quit trend this winter . . . and get in the best shape of your life FOR life? Well, I'll focus on running because I'm a runner. And running is one of the (if not THE ULTIMATE) most efficient calorie-burning workouts out there. I've been able to keep with regular exercise that benefits my body and mind by devoting my practice to the sport of running. Seriously. I don't mean to sound like a cult-leader. It's my favorite hobby (yes, even more than baking!) . . . and obsession. One that gets me out the door even on sub-0 degree days like we've been having recently . . .

First. You need to start with a goal. For me, this was being able to run down the block without getting entirely winded. Once I had mastered that, it was two blocks, three, etc. When you start out with any exercise program . . . too much too soon is a recipe for disaster, injury, and de-motivation. So start small to reap the big rewards later. I like following training programs (of which there are MANY on the web) so that I can keep track of my mileage and cross out key workouts to gain that feeling of accomplishment that's oh-so good.

Here are some of my favorites depending on where you're at with your practice:

  • If you're a total newbie to running, you might want to check out the couch to 5k running schedule. It incorporates both walking and running until you hit the magic spot and can do the whole 3.1 on your own.
  • If you're somewhat active, you might want to try a novice program -- like this Novice 5k Plan from Hal Higdon (I love this man). A step above the couch to 5k, but with few miles so your legs don't get injured.
  • Been there and done that with the 5k distance? Time for you to try a 10k! Congrats! This 1st-time 10K plan (also from Mr. Higdon) is a great start. It assumes you can run about 10 miles per week.
  • Those of you veterans might want to try your first half marathon or marathon. Again, go visit Hal Higdon's site for plans in a variety of difficulties. I followed this one for my first marathon back in November.

Second. You need to pay attention to your body. It's only natural to have some aches and pains when you're starting something new. But you shouldn't power through it just for the sake of getting in a workout. You'll likely do more long-term damage and have problems in the future. My first summer of running was back in 2002. I was moving out of one apartment and into another when I twisted my knee while packing. I had to take an entire month off from running (almost tore a tendon), and it just about killed me!

What to do when injury gets you down?

  • Don't freak out. You will someday be back to your "old" self. Try not to get down, though that may feel impossible. Engage in some of your other favorite hobbies to stay sane.
  • If you can, cross-train. After the marathon, I couldn't run for three weeks due to a tendon injury in my foot. I couldn't even slide on the elliptical! So, I hopped on the bike. And boy did I get a workout! In fact, working those neglected muscles helped tone my thighs . . . an area I'd been trying to tone for years!
  • Seek medical attention. If you aren't feeling better within a few days (as with general aches and pains), go see a doctor. You may have a stress fracture or other more serious problem that needs medical attention. Here's a list of some common running injuries.

Third. Keep up good nutrition. Food becomes fuel in the most serious sense when you're an athlete (or even just play one on TV). What you put into your body dictates what you'll get out in return. My cousin's wife Nicole maintains a sports nutrition blog and recently posted about the merits of nutrition for athletes. So, if you've ever wondered about what protein and carbohydrates do for you on the run, check it out. What's more -- one of my favorite benefits of running is that I can eat tons of awesome foods . . . and burn the calories off quickly . . . and then eat more. It's a glorious cycle.

Fourth. Don't compare yourself to others. Especially these elite athletes pictured above (who can run sub-15 minute 5Ks, woah -- sick!) There isn't much more to write regarding this tip. It's the whole everybody's body is different thing. Everyone's fitness level is different. Pay attention to yourself and your accomplishments, and you'll be on the road to a healthier, happier you!

These are only a few things to think about when starting a running program. I plan to post more -- soon. However, it's lunch, and I actually need to EAT something. (I brought some crackers, avocados, and trail mix cookies . . . among other things!) Anyone out there have a fitness resolution they're working on? Mine's to run another marathon this year. Hopefully in under 4 hours this time. But I'll honestly just be happy to finish again.

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