At some point while you have been stuck in the house you may have thought that now would be a great time to finally start a running program. Whether your motivation is to run your first 5k or simply to have a reason to get out of the house more often, it’s always a good time to start. Beginning a new fitness activity like running can be exciting, but it can also be challenging. The thought of running and getting into shape can really drive your motivation but motivation is a tricky thing. When you are motivated it can be very easy to do way too much too soon. It’s incredibly important to start where you are and not where you think you should be.
Now that you are motivated and have made the decision to start running it is important to take that motivation to run and turn it into a habit. There are going to be plenty of times along your journey that you just aren’t going to feel like getting out there and pounding the pavement. Those are the times when it matters the most to keep going. Here are a few ways you can do to help you turn this new and exciting adventure into a habit according to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.
- Create a regular schedule – Make this part of your daily routine. You must create constant cues if you want to be consistent. That can be as simple as running at the same time of day or creating a specific playlist when you go out. By creating these cues, you are building neural pathways in the brain which can lead to habits.
- Create a reward system – This is a specific way of saying “Treat yo self.” Basically, reward yourself with something you enjoy immediately following your run so your brain will begin to associate running with the reward. Just be thoughtful of what that reward is. We don’t want to create bad habits while building healthy ones.
- Build your support system – Have things in place that make you feel good about what you are doing. Run with friends, track your progress daily, or join a run club.
If you are a beginner runner, use this information along with your motivation to get a good idea of how often you should run, how far, and when to increase distance, as well as how to be safe and avoid potential injury.
A slow and steady approach to running is recommended for any person who has never run before or has been sedentary for a long period of time. This will ensure that you don’t let your motivation get the best of you, causing you to do too much too fast which can lead to injury. For your first time out, I would recommend that you start by going for a nice 20-to-30-minute walk and pay attention to how your body feels over the next couple of days. From there you can incorporate some intervals which will allow you to mix in a few minutes of running during your next outing. A good place to start would be to alternate 30 seconds-to-2 minutes of jogging followed by 3-to-4 minutes of walking for a total time of 20-to-30 minutes. You should aim to do this for the entire 20-to-30 minutes you are out but if you start to feel like it is just too much, you can go back to walking and try it again next time. It should get a little easier every time you go out if you stay consistent. Your goal during this time is to thoughtfully and gradually increase the time you spend running and decrease the time spent walking until you can comfortably jog those 20-to-30 minutes.
As this process can be hard on your body if you aren’t already used to running, it is a good idea to run no more than 2 or 3 times per week to allow your body to adapt to the imposed demands. During this time, rest and recovery are just as important to building a solid running foundation as the running itself. Allow yourself at least 24 hours between runs to give your muscles and joints enough time to recover properly. During the first month of running, your most important goal should be to stay focused, stay consistent, and avoid potential injuries.
So, when do you start to increase your runs? Good question. The basic rule for progression in the fitness industry is to use the 10 percent rule. The rule allows you to increase your activity by no more than 10 percent per week. That includes things like distance, intensity, weight, and the duration of your exercise session. An example of this for beginning runners who are running 2-to-3 times per week would be to increase one of your runs by roughly 10 minutes. As a beginner you should not begin the process to increase your runs until you have followed the 2-to-3 runs of 20-to-30 minutes a week for at least a month to ensure that you are maximizing your body’s adaptation to the new stress and reducing the risk of injury.
No matter who you are or what your level is, running isn’t easy. Knowing when to reduce your training or back off completely is something that needs to be constantly evaluate by the runner. As you begin to challenge your abilities and increase your efforts you can expect to experience some aches and pains. These are not things that are to be ignored, they should be monitored. There is a difference between discomfort and pain. It’s up to the runner to learn to tell them apart. If you begin to feel pain in a specific muscle or joint while running, you should stop and walk for a bit or even stop and stretch. If the pain seems to go away during this break, go ahead and return to your run. If the pain continues once to start running again, go ahead and bring your run to an end for the day to avoid making things worse. Take a few days off. During this time be sure to lightly stretch, rest and ice the injured area. If the pain doesn’t seem to go away, it is time to call your doctor to have the injury looked at.
Maybe the most important part of starting any new fitness journey is to be patient. There will be peaks and valleys along the way. Many of the positive physiological changes that are happening to your body won’t be obvious on the road, in the mirror, or on the scales but don’t panic. Trust the process, be aware that it takes time to condition your muscles, ligaments and tendons,’ and above all, believe in yourself.
“It’s not the distance in running you need to conquer, it’s yourself”
Written by: Ryan Vanderweit, MS, CSCS, Warrior Health and Fitness Program Director