Running and swimming are two of the best exercises to improve physical conditioning. But unlike swimming, you can run pretty much anywhere. Moreover, you can run in any weather or season; if you don’t want to pay for it, a gym membership isn’t necessary either.
Becoming a runner is easier said than done. Just about anyone can include running in their routine but doing it right versus winging it will lead to different results. There are some things to consider before learning how to become a runner.
- Easing Into It – The Basics of Getting Started
- How Often to Train
- Setting Goals
- Get Some Running Gear
- Performance Monitoring Gear
- Proper Nutrition Will Help You Be a Better Runner
- Hydration Is a Crucial Part of Your Nutrition
- Habits Worth Kicking to the Curb
- How to Prevent Injuries
- Stay Motivated
- It’s Time to Get Started
Easing Into It – The Basics of Getting Started
Many people will tell you how to hold your head and shoulders, how to swing your arms, and how to step. But if you don’t have running experience, it’s best to ease into it. Then, you can still start running, whether you favor leading with your toes or heel or your arms move too much.
Like any other exercise, it’s best to take things slow. You’re actually more prone to injuries if you try to move too differently from your natural stride.
But how exactly do you ease into running? Should you do it in short bursts? Is it better to run at a slower pace for greater distances?
This will depend on the type of runner you want to be. For example, Sprinters and marathoners have very different training regimens. However, when you’re just starting out, the run-walk method developed by Jeff Galloway is one of the best ways to get accustomed to running.
The run-walk method revolves around a simple concept. You combine running and walking in the same training session. Unfortunately, when most people try this, they tend to walk or power walk when they’re too tired to run.
This method proposes something different. You start running, but don’t push yourself to exhaustion. Instead, slow down and start walking while you still have plenty of energy to run.
An example would be running for 30 seconds and walking for 1 or 2 minutes before you start running again. Then, as you build endurance, you can run more minutes before slowing down to a walking pace and even shorten the walking duration.
In the long run, the run-walk training method will be best suited for marathon runners or even half-marathon runners. However, other programs will help you develop speed over short distances if you want to switch to sprinting.
The run-walk method can help beginners, and intermediate runners of all types get a feel for running. It’s not a training program that overwhelms the body, and it slowly builds endurance while minimizing the chances of being injured.
In addition, the change of pace allows the muscles to recover, which can help you go longer distances.
How Often to Train
Some people jog every day to get in their cardio workouts. While this does offer many benefits, you’re trying to be a runner, not a jogger.
As a runner, your legs need time to recover, especially if you plan on participating in races. But, just as bodybuilders don’t train every muscle group daily, neither should you.
Training three to four days per week is enough if you focus specifically on running. At first, you’ll only run as much as you can. But as you build your endurance, you should aim to get anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes per session. You can stretch that to 40 minutes or longer if you want to train with the run-walk method.
You should rest your legs on your off days. But, of course, this doesn’t mean you can’t do other training for your upper body.
Maybe you don’t have specific goals and simply want to make running a more significant part of your training routine. If that’s the case, make sure you ease into it, learn to control your body and breathing and get comfortable with the running motion.
But what if you want to be an amateur or professional runner? In this case, it’s best to set some goals. For example, you can set a goal to compete in your area’s next 5K race. Maybe you want to join the track team next year. The goal can be anything you want, from losing weight to improving your endurance to winning races.
Whatever the goal, give yourself a deadline you can work with. When you have a clear objective, you can find the best training method to help you reach it.
You don’t necessarily need a goal, but it can help fuel your desire to get better and make it easier to stick to your training, especially when you feel beat and have no desire to leave the couch.
Get Some Running Gear
Finding the right shoes can be overwhelming if you spend too much time looking at pictures and listening to advertising pitches.
While it’s true that not all running shoes are created equal, you don’t have to spend a fortune to start running. Try on some shoes and choose the ones that feel the most comfortable. Not everyone has the same feet or running style, so not all recommendations from others will be right for you. You want comfortable shoes, so you won’t get sore feet, blisters, or even trip and fall.
Another important consideration is to get yourself socks made for running. Your everyday socks might not be breathable enough. Running socks should be moisture-wicking, well-aerated, and snug but not tight. This combination of features will prevent bacteria from accumulating and keep your skin healthy and blister-free.
Same as with your shoes, it’s best to try out a few types of socks before finding the right pair for you.
It’s important to discuss the entertainment factor. You’ll often see people running with their headphones on. Hearing the hustle and bustle might not be ideal if you’re exercising in the city. You may be tempted to listen to music to avoid the noise. But once you get better at running and enjoy it, you’ll develop enough focus to not let your surroundings bother you.
Even if you don’t have the luxury of running on a track or in more secluded areas, you might want to try running without music blasting in your ears. You never know when a car, bike, or someone might run into you if you’re unaware of your surroundings.
This is especially important when running alone. It’s been suggested that even if you do want to listen to music, only use one earbud, so you’ll stay safer by hearing if someone is about to ambush you.
Performance Monitoring Gear
People have been running to exercise for decades without GPS watches, heart rate monitors, timers, and other fancy devices. None of these items are mandatory for you to start running; progress in speed and endurance when you’re learning how to become a runner.
With that in mind, they are helpful. For example, a timer can tell you how you’re doing compared to previous runs. GPS can help you plan routes, navigate the area when lost, and give you a breakdown of your running history.
Heart rate monitors, such as those on fitness bracelets, can also tell you if you’re pushing yourself too hard or not. Modern performance monitoring equipment provides valuable information and could help you progress faster. It’s just not required to become a runner.
Remember that controlling and monitoring every aspect of your training down to the tiniest detail can make the activity less enjoyable. You have to find running fun to become a runner.
Proper Nutrition Will Help You Be a Better Runner
Too many people focus only on the physical aspect of running. They want to research the training methods, gear, local routes, the best treadmills, etc. But often, people forget that nutrition is key to being a better runner. In fact, it’s vital to muscle recovery, without which you wouldn’t progress in your training and may even have to pause it for an injury.
When it comes to nutrition, do your research on what to eat and when to eat. For example, you might be tempted to run on an empty stomach. This is especially common among people using running workouts to lose weight. But running is a full-body workout. It won’t be efficient unless your body has enough fuel to sustain your training.
The best time to eat is about one hour before running. You don’t have to eat an entire meal, but you should still grab a balanced snack with protein and carbs. While you might be tempted to drop carbs to lose weight faster, carbs give you energy. You’ll be fine if you don’t go overboard and stick to healthy carbohydrates.
You’ll need to replenish your body after the workout. Grabbing a bite within 15 to 20 minutes after your run is an excellent way to resynthesize glycogen and improve your muscle recovery. In addition, this should help minimize your downtime by reducing muscle soreness.
To be a runner, you should be ready for a long-term commitment to a healthier lifestyle and proper nutrition. It’s essential to understand that even though you’re trying to get fit, lean, and improve your running ability, you can’t eat like the average person.
You’ll have to introduce pre-and-post-workout meals between breakfast, lunch, and dinner. These could be healthy snacks that fuel your body enough to let you run for 30 minutes or more at varying intensity levels.
If you’re not an experienced runner, you’ll notice that you’ll start to burn calories quickly once you start training. However, you’ll burn them at a rate your metabolism isn’t used to. This means you should take extra care of your nutrition and eating habits.
Overeating is one of the biggest pitfalls for runners. Running takes a lot out of you, and you might feel depleted no matter how much you eat or snack. That’s another reason to ease into running and start with shorter workouts to build up your endurance.
Hydration Is a Crucial Part of Your Nutrition
Now that the food aspect is out of the way, it’s vital to talk about water. Hydration is a huge concern whether you’re a beginner runner or an athlete.
Naturally, you’ll want to drink plenty of water every day. But due to the intensity of running workouts, you’ll have to drink more on your running days.
Bring a water bottle with you and take a few sips when thirsty. Although you might not feel like a few sips is enough, drinking too much and running on a full stomach is impractical.
What about sports drinks? Athletes drink them all the time and advertise them in every gym. Sports drinks are helpful, but they’re not mandatory for you to start running.
Sports drinks contain electrolytes, which are nutrients your body loses through sweat. Unless you’re pushing yourself well beyond your limits, drinking plain water is enough to maintain your energy levels.
If you join a marathon, sports drinks are necessary to help you perform and avoid dehydration. However, sports drinks shouldn’t be your go-to when training because they often contain sugar. Nevertheless, a few sips here and there when your running sessions start exceeding the hour mark, or if you’re running at a higher incline (like Heartbreak Hill in the Boston Marathon), can be beneficial yet still not mandatory.
Habits Worth Kicking to the Curb
If you’re an avid smoker, running won’t be an easy activity to pick up. First, your breathing must be on point to have enough stamina to run. Furthermore, smoking affects your arteries, and poor circulation isn’t something you want when you start running.
While alcohol does plenty of damage, it’s not as bad as smoking. But remember this. Grabbing a beer after your run if you’re feeling scorched is a hard no. It can feel relaxing and replenishing, but it will actually dehydrate you more.
Alcohol consumption before, during, or after runs can make your muscles feel warm and mask the pain. Unfortunately, this can make you forget about maintaining proper nutrition habits and post-run stretches and ruin your recovery.
How to Prevent Injuries
It may seem that running is such a natural activity for people that it’s impossible to get injured. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. To help prevent injuries, run in your normal stride, wear comfortable outfits, stay hydrated, and eat healthy food at the recommended intervals. These are great habits to develop when you’re learning how to become a runner—but they won’t be enough to prevent all injuries.
It will take some time to figure out what type of running suits you best. For instance, running on a treadmill might be the best idea if you have weaker joints, perhaps chronic pain, or are older. Treadmills come with shock absorption systems in the running belt that eases some of the strain running puts on your joints. You can still get a great workout, but with the benefit of not putting your joints through unnecessary pressure.
One way to prevent injuries is to figure out the best running surface for you and stick to it whenever possible. Running on asphalt is taxing on your ankles and knees. You might think dirt or grass is better, but that can be even worse if you run on uneven terrain. Like those made from recycled tires, a track made for running is a good choice.
Another way to reduce the risk of injuries is to prepare for your run. Any physical activity requires a bit of preparation or warm-up. This is to get your muscles and tendons ready to work intensely.
Learning to stretch will be one of the most important aspects of becoming a runner. Both static and dynamic stretching sessions will help you perform better while running and prevent injuries. Squats, lunges, and even jumping jacks can loosen up your body. Of course, you don’t have to overdo it, but if you can spare a couple of minutes before and after your run, it’s better to do it than not.
If you don’t progress fast enough, you feel tired often, or you don’t have the will to power through the pain, being a runner will be immensely challenging. It takes lots of hard work and dedication to become a better runner and make your running workouts more beneficial for your physical health.
You’ll find that motivation will be one of your biggest obstacles. Everyone can feel like they hit a wall or are not up to the task once in a while, and it’s easy to make excuses. But if you don’t stick to a routine, you risk falling into unhealthy habits. For example, you might skip too many runs, making things even harder when you finally get back into training.
Find ways to keep yourself motivated. Of course, having clear, attainable goals is one way to do it. But you can also look for running partners. There’s a lot of value in having someone who can push you and hold you accountable. Plus, it could make the time more enjoyable.
You can also try exploring new trails to reduce the monotony. Finally, you can give yourself tests once in a while, slowly increasing the difficulty and tracking your progression.
And if all else fails, find something that will make running more fun for you. If you can include something in your running sessions that makes them more enjoyable, do it. (As long as you’re not thinking about unhealthy habits.)
It’s Time to Get Started
There are nuances you need to understand and accept before you can become an accomplished runner. And if you’re a complete beginner, get to a point where you’re fit enough to include running in your training routine. With that in mind, the first obstacle is getting started.
Take that first step and try it out. Then, use the tips in this article and start creating a new running experience. The more you do it—and do it right—the better you’ll be at it, and the more beneficial it will be for your body and mind.