Beginning Running

People begin running for a lot of reasons. Many want to lose weight. Some are training for an athletic program. Others have joined the military service of their country and have to pass physical training tests. Some, like me, need to strengthen their body (my feet were starting to hurt, and I was told by a specialist to do what ever I wanted that would strengthen the muscles in my feet).

Beginners have a lot of questions: How do I get started? How fast and how far should I run? How much weight will I lose? Is it safe to run outdoors? Is running on a treadmill as good as running outdoors? What kind of shoes do I need? How much will running cost? How do I find someone to run with? This page will answer some of those questions and will give links for your further study.

 

Getting Started

OK, everybody, let's say very loud and in unison: WALK. There, that wasn't so bad, was it! Running and jogging put a lot of stress on our bodies, and if we're not careful, that stress can lead to injury. In contrast, walking puts less stress on our bodies. I learned this many years ago when I had surgery for a hernia. I could not run for six weeks, and I walked for the same amount of time I had been running (an hour). After six weeks of walking, experiencing no pain or problems of any kind, I ran for the first time. Guess what? My knees hurt. I realized that my running was a lot more stressful than my walking had been. So, learn from my experience and begin your running program by walking.

However, don't overstride, because that can lead to shinsplints. Be sure that your feet, when they hit the ground, are behind your knees. It's common for new walkers and runners to take large steps such that their feet hit the ground in front of their knees.

 

How Far

Question: How far should I walk or run? As far as you want, as long as you feel great at the end, no fatigue, no abnormal pain, no injuries. For some of you, the distance may be 50 feet. For others the distance may be a mile or more.

 

How Fast

Question: How fast should I walk or run? Same answer as how far should you walk: As fast as you want, as long as you feel great at the end; no huffing and puffing, no gasping for air, no fatigue, no abnormal pain, no injuries. If you feel like a tortoise, that's OK. The fastest person alive today was once a tortoise. Average walking is a pace of about 20 minutes per mile (referred to as a pace of 20). Typical walkers might have a pace of maybe 15-20. We're all different, and there is no pace that is expected of us. Set your pace by how you feel during and at the end of your walk or run

 

Increasing Distance or Speed

Question: When should I increase my distance or speed? When your body tells you it's ready for an increase. Learn to listen to your body. It will tell you when it is tired. It will tell you when it is feeling fine. If, at the end of a walk or run, you're huffing and puffing or you feel tired or fatigued, you're doing too much and need to slow your pace or decrease your distance. Keep in mind that walking, jogging, running, swimming, biking, any physical movement in fact, put stress on our bodies. If we make big increases in our distance or speed, our bodies will have difficulty adjusting to the new levels, and injury may occur later on.

This leads us to the "10% Rule" that is given in the running literature: Keep your increases small, typically 10% or less, and stay at each new level until you feel comfortable with it. The number 10 isn't a magic number. Some people can handle more than 10% increments, while others should have smaller changes.

 

Heavy/Light Schedule

Question: Should I walk or run the same every day? Sports scientists say it takes 48 hours for our bodies to adjust to heavy applications of stress, such as the stress from a heavy session of walking or running. Since a day only has 24 hours, we need to follow a heavy run with a "rest period" to give us the 48 hours needed for recovery. Some people do this by walking or running 3 or 4 times a week, with rest days in between. Others do this by following a heavy walk or run with a light walk or run. For example, walking 2 miles one day and 1/2 mile to 1 mile the next day. This is known as "heavy/light". When we speak of "heavy" or "light" walks or runs, we're not talking about the effort we expend in doing the walk or run; we're talking about the impact or stress of that exercise on our bodies. Also, notice that the "rest period" is not necessarily a day without running. Many people cross-train on their light days.

 

Introducing Running Into Your Walking

Question: I've been walking for quite a while and want to do some running. What do I do? Great question! Basically, you want to increase your speed, and we discussed that above. Increase your speed in small increments by mixing a small amount of running with your walking. Let's say, for example, that you're walking a mile. In the middle of the mile, jog slowly for 300-500 feet. If you feel fine at the end of the jog, continue doing it in subsequent walks. If you feel achy or tired or are huffing and puffing, reduce the distance and/or speed of the jog. Follow the 10% (or less) rule and heavy/light in mixing jogging with your walking.

Referring to my comment that your running should be at the middle of your walk, our bodies need some light exercise to warm up before they do heavy running or walking, and our bodies need some light exercise to cool down from the heavy workout. Your walking can provide that warm up and cool down. Thus, walk before and after you run.

 

Treadmill or Streets

Question: Is it ok to use a treadmill, or should I go outside? It all depends on you, what you enjoy, and what you have available. The same comment applies to the use of an exercise bike. I have a friend who uses his exercise bike while watching the morning news on TV. He enjoys that, and that's great! I enjoy going out on the streets and experiencing the new day, watching the birds, ducks in the river, geese flying over, and an occasional Golden Eagle. That's great, too! So, do what you have available, what you can afford, and what you enjoy.

Be aware, though, that if you change from a treadmill to the streets, you may find it harder to use the streets (at first, at least). Streets are uneven and have a harder surface than a treadmill. They are also curved with a crown in the middle and a slope down to the edge. The wind may be blowing. It may be raining or snowing. Dogs may be barking at you. Jerks in cars may yell stupid comments at you. Again, do what you enjoy. If you change to the streets, give yourself some time to adjust to the new environment, and then enjoy it for what it is.

Some runners use the streets during good weather and their treadmill during inclement weather. Most people add inclines of 1% or so to their treadmill to simulate the increased difficulty of the streets. While we're talking about treadmills, have a good laugh.


Here is a good link on treadmills.

 

Time of Day

Question: What time of day is best for walking or running? It depends on you and your schedule. Some people enjoy exercising in the early morning when it is
cooler and the air is fresher and crisper. Many people use their lunch period at work. Others like to do it later in the day. Be careful, though, being out late at night. There are a lot of weirdos out there!

 

Walking or Running Partners

Question: How do I find a walking or running partner? As with most things in life, networking with others is a major key to success. Local running clubs and sports stores might be helpful in finding a running partner.

 

Losing Weight

Question: I want to lose weight. Will walking or running do that for me? This is discussed in my Losing Weight page.

 

Follow Your Brain or Emotions?

Question: Should I follow my brain or my emotions in making decisions about my running? That is an important question, because many runners get into trouble by following the wrong one. The answer is both. Huh? You can get into trouble by following the wrong one but you should follow both? Yes, let me explain. Many beginners know (brain) that they should make small increases in their distance and speed, but they are so excited (emotions) about their walking or running that they push themselves to go farther and faster. They should have followed their brain. Conversely, walkers and runners are taught to listen to their body (emotion) and reduce the intensity of their training when their body tells them it needs more rest. So, listen to your brain when you plan your walking or running schedule. And, listen to your emotions, how you feel during and after your walks and runs, and reduce the intensity of your training when your body tells you it needs more rest.

 

Becoming Addicted to Walking or Running

Many new walkers and runners discover they are becoming addicted to walking or running, and they like that feeling and they like being in charge of their body. I would suggest, however, that becoming addicted to walking or running can be dangerous, because it can cause one to overdo it. I would suggest that we should become addicted to the good feeling of a healthy body, the good feeling of feeling great during and after we run. Running is just one way to have those good feelings. Walking, swimming, biking are also ways of having those good feelings. Become addicted to the result not the "messenger" so to speak.

 

What Do You Conquer?

Some people conquer the waves with sailboats or surfboards. Others conquer the wind with hang gliders or para gliders. Many conquer the snow as they ski and snowboard. As a runner or walker, what do you conquer?

The basic reason people walk or run is to go to a distant location and then, in most cases, return to their starting point. These people are conquering distance. Many runners encounter hills during their run. In order to reach the top of each hill, they must overcome the effects of gravity on their body; they must conquer gravity. Many runners experience headwinds as storm fronts move through their area or because they live in areas of high wind. These runners must run against the wind in order to reach their destination; they must conquer wind.

Conquering distance, gravity, or wind puts increased stress on ones body and thus increases the likelihood of injury. It is wise for beginning runners to reduce stress by conquering distance before attempting to run their normal pace against gravity and wind. This means that the beginner should slow down when doing hills or experiencing headwinds. Later, after the person has developed more body-strength from running or walking, he/she can learn to do a faster pace on hills and against wind. As with most aspects of running or walking, the person should follow the 10% and heavy/light rules while conquering distance, gravity, or wind. Also, I think it is wise to only subject your body to one cause of stress at a time, and I recommend doing long slow distance first and then later speed to conquer distance. Then do hills to conquer gravity. It is hard to plan to run in headwinds, because the wind may not be there when you want to run against it. So, train against headwinds as you encounter them, first slowing down to reduce stress, and then, as you become stronger, slowly going faster as you run against headwinds.

 

Baby Steps, Baby Steps

This article, from Dr. Gabe Mirkin, explains why we need to start running (or walking) programs with low-level efforts and slowly work up to more intense training.
Injuries often occur when people start a new exercise program, change to a different sport, or return to exercise after a long break. In the enthusiasm to get started, it is easy to overstress muscles that have not been used before. That's why "background before peaking" is one of the most important principles of training. It takes several weeks or even months to build up strength and endurance for any new sport.
Competitive athletes in all sports use this principle. First they spend many months in background training, working out for long hours, mostly at low intensity, followed by a shorter period of peak training in which they do far less work, but at a much greater intensity. A few months before an important race, they reduce their workload but go as fast and hard as possible two or three times a week.

 

A Beginner's Training Program

Most runners want to run reasonable distances, whether it be a few miles or longer distances such as a half or a full marathon. I suggest that a new runner go through two phases of training to become ready to train for longer distances.


Phase 1: Use the suggestions given above to train to run 3 miles three times a week. Combine walking and running as you need to or would like to, and go at a comfortable pace such that you feel fine at the end and aren't huffing and puffing. Make small weekly increases in your distance. A Plan for Beginning Running will take you through the training so you can run 3 miles three times a week.


Phase 2: An Intermediate Plan for Runners will take you through the training to run 24 miles per week (6 3 6 3 6), a reasonable distance for new runners to run and the prerequisite that many plans specify as a starting point for half or full marathon training.

 

Other Resources

Other pages in this site will give you good information about walking and running. I especially recommend the two articles linked in the navigational bar: Coaching Running reviews the basics, such as the 10% rule and heavy/light (important for all runners, not just beginners). Basics of Jogging answers the questions, How fast, How far, How often.

There are many good sites for beginning runners and walkers. The links page of this site has links to some of them. In addition, do an Internet search on two or three keywords, such as running beginning.

25 comments:

Anonymous said...

experiment and listen to your body- great advice. the best. because individuals vary too much. thx

sdrawkcabton88 said...

Excellent post! Thanks for the tips.

Anonymous said...

ditto to the previous post - appreciate the info!

Anonymous said...

This site sucks. You dont answer anything. Readers should go to a site that knows what they are talking about, try personalrunningtrainer.com

This site blows monkey chunks!

MountZ said...

This was the first site that I encountered and I find it very informitive. It answers several questions a begining runner should ask but may have not thought of asking.

krg said...

Thanks for the advice; I'll certainly use many of these tips.

There's one point, though, that I think is very confusing and could use improvement. It doesn't make much sense to tell novice runners not to worry about how fast they run because "walkers and runners usually don't talk about speed" but talk about "pace" instead. Speed, you say, is the amount of distance covered in a given time (true). "Pace", on the other hand, is the amount of time it takes to cover a particular distance. This just amounts to the reciprocal of speed, though. So clearly if we quote a given pace, we can always flip it over and think of it as speed.

You then counsel joggers who are interested in adding in some running to their walking programs, saying "you want to increase your pace". This is incorrect. Such people are interested in increasing their average speed, which means decreasing pace. A fast runner has a low pace, by your definition.

Allen said...

Thanks, krg, for finding places where my wording wasn't clear. I think I've fixed them. When you have a minute, read the article and let me know if you still think my wording is confusing.

Runners usually talk about pace rather than speed, because the larger numbers used in changes in pace (time/distance) are easier to comprehend and work with than the smaller numbers in changes in speed (distance/time).

It is common to refer to a faster pace or a slower pace, even though they are referring to a faster speed and a slower speed. As you pointed out, it is confusing to talk about increasing or decreasing pace, and I searched the article for the word "pace" to be sure I was talking about a faster or slower pace but not a larger or smaller pace.

Mary said...

I've just started running, and my biggest problem is that perhaps a quarter of the way around the track my legs begin to feel incredibly heavy and I have to stop running and walk instead. My muscles don't hurt and I'm not out of breath, but it's like my body is signaling I can't pick up my legs any more. Perhaps this is cause I'm new to running and it'll pass after some weeks. Any suggestions?

Allen said...

Hi Mary,

Your body is indeed signaling that your legs can't take any more stress. You are to be complimented for picking up on that signal. It's good that you aren't huffing and puffing. This means that your body can handle the distance and pace that you're using. So, your immediate goal is to strengthen your legs. Your legs will get stronger as you continue to run. Be sure that you stretch after you run and perhaps before, too.

Jeff Galloway, a former world-class runner and now trainer, gives the following suggestion (I'm using his suggestion and it really works). Run for 30 seconds (for me that is 45 left-foot steps) and walk for 30 seconds (for me, 33 left-foot steps). Keep alternating the two until you finish your run. The idea behind this is that before your legs reach the point where they give out, you stop and walk to rest your legs. Some people will run for a minute and then walk for a minute. You might experiment to find the ratio of running and walking that works for you, e.g. run for 30 seconds, walk for a minute, etc.

Walking is a natural and valid part of running, so don't be embarrassed that you mix walking with your running.

NinaLaZina said...

Good advice. I have been walking in my garden and I'm really enjoying it - have a long garden! Don't enjoy the running as much - but each to their own.

Tom said...

Yes it does get a bit disheartening when questions are not answered on blogs. -Regards-Tom

Anonymous said...

I went for a run for the first time yesterday (after walking for months). I started off walking, then running and repeated this pattern, ending with walking. Each step while running, not walking, hurt my knees. Additionally, my knees continue to hurt today (day after) when standing after sitting.

Does anyone have suggestions on what might be causing the knee pain? I'm trying to decide if I should keep running, meaning it's just beginer's pain, or if I should see a doctor to avoid a major injury

Allen said...

Knee problems are common among runners. Here page from running.about.com that discusses Runner's Knee. Also, check out the links on that page.

Be sure you stretch every day for your knees, hips, ITband. The left sidebar gives links to all of my pages. The 11th link is to a page of pictures of the stretches I do. When you stretch, be very gentle so you don't cause more damage.

Don't do any more running until you can do so without pain. When you do start running again, only run for a short distance and then go back to walking. You said that walking didn't hurt your knees but running did. So, confine your running to a very short distance, but only do that if you can do it without pain.

If your knees continue hurting when you don't do any running, I would suggest a visit to your doctor.

Another possibility is your shoes. Be sure you have good running shoes. There are three kinds of shoes (neutral, correction, motion control) and you want to be sure you have the correct type. If you get new shoes, get them from a running store where the clerk will watch you walk and analyze your gait. Stay away from the mall-type shoe stores.

Allen said...

Walking for a couple of minutes and then running for a few seconds is a good way to slowly mix running with your walking. Repeat a few times, as long as you don't experience any pain. Stop running as soon as pain reappears.

gr8 friend said...

I started running 10 months back.....at first I was just curious to see if I can indeed take a jog ( I am 39 now and played volleyball , table tennis and swam quite a lot but intermittently all these years . This is the first time I have started walking + jogging consistently -reason being I am taking a long sabbatical from work :). I stared initially with 1 km of walk and after 10 days started running 500-600 metres -the overall exercise being of 10-15 mins duration ......slowly I was committed to higher lap length and had a combination of 2km walk + 2 km jog .......as of now my combination is 2 km walk followed by 3-4 kms jog ......though i have never experienced breathlessness till date , I felt a little tiredness in the legs after say 2 kms of jog , but I usually did continue the whole distance 99% of the time and till date no injuries faced.....it has been 10 months now ....question is though I am comfortable with the body , some people say that the knees will breakdown in 5-10 years ...is it true for all joggers ....for me at least I intend to run till my 60's ...

Allen said...

I'm 76 and have been running for 39 years with no knee problems. The secret, I think, it to do stretches to strengthen ones hips and knees, and to consider pain a sign that something is wrong such that you don't try to run through pain. Also, follow the 10% rule and the heavy/light rule. And, when your legs feel tired, stop running and walk the rest of the way. Tired legs are a sign that you're giving your legs a lot of stress, and they need you to reduce the stress.

TJB said...

Thank you for nice tips! it really helped

Peter said...

Great post about beginning running!

I've started a few months ago and have been using www.starting-to-run.com

Really got great advises and will run my first half marathon in 3 weeks time!

Allen said...

You've done well, Peter, hopefully without injury or serious pain. Congratulations!

Anonymous said...

Hi, really complete guide, really liked it for beginners.

I've also use www.fromthecouchto5k.com, very good resources!

Time for my marathon training now!

Carroll

Melissa said...

Hello Allen,

Thanks for the informative and encouraging website! I've been frustrated that after four weeks of mixing walking and jogging I still can't pass the talk test while jogging for anything longer than a minute or two. I'm a healthy 26 year old woman, I should be easily able to run a mile by now, right? Yeah, right. It's probably going to be a few more months. Thanks for the encouragement and training advice for people like me who are trying to get over that hump between walking and jogging.

Allen said...

Hi Melissa,

Thanks for visiting my site! You've been walking for 26 years, and you shouldn't expect 4 weeks of walking and jogging to overcome that 26 years. Your body is slow to respond, but it will! Continue mixing walking and jogging, and increase the jogging by small amounts not to exceed 10% each week. Your body will respond!

johnmckay113 said...

I just hope that you dont lose your style because you are definitely one of the coolest bloggers out there. Please keep it up because the internet needs someone like you spreading the word.

Margarat F said...

I just started exercising after a knee injury. I'm currently using a manual treadmill like this - stamina inmotion 2 and it's a good change from just sitting on the couch watching tv. Planning to take it easy for awhile.

When do you suggest is the best time to walk to minimize injury?

Allen said...

Margarat,

Run or walk at the time of day when you have sufficient energy for exercise. When I was younger, I could run in the evenings. I remember the time I spent all day working in my yard and then went for a 15-mile run after dark. I can't do that anymore. Now, I need to run in the morning or at mid-day at the latest. Come evening and I'm too tired.

As Doc Sheehan said, run or walk such that you feel great at the end.