Read an Excerpt
of Many Miles
A Surefire Plan to Keep You Running
All running programs for beginners are the same: They move you from walking, which anyone can do, to running, which anyone can do if they have the determination. The difference between walking and running isn't speed or biomechanics. It's determination.
If you have the determination to stick with the following program, you'll soon be a runner. Trust me. It won't be long before you learn that I'm right.
The beginning of your life as a runner just might be the most exciting time in your entire running career. Of course, you won't necessarily realize that at the time. It may take months or years before you can look back and see what you've achieved. But rest assuredyou will.
Getting started ... first steps ... the beginning of a great adventure. In many ways, beginning to run is a declaration of personal independence. A statement that says, "In a world that confronts me with mechanical convenience and idle luxury at virtually every turn, I have decided, nonetheless, to improve my physical fitness."
Later, of course, you realize that running offers so much more than a flatter stomach, more muscle tone, and a longer and more energetic life. For most of us, body and soul both tune in to this stimulating activity we call running. Running strengthens the body while it soothes the soul.
So what are you waiting for? The sooner you get started,the better.
Walk before You Run
More than a few training programsespecially the New Year'sresolution varietyare doomed almost before they start. Why? Because the schedules are overly ambitious and complex. Or, in direct contrast, they are completely lacking in a goal.
The first step for an exercise program (after you get a medical exam) is to ask yourself, what's realistic for me? Think "simple." Think "goal." Think "long term."
Unless you are coming from a strong (and recent) background in another physically demanding sport (such as cycling, martial arts, tennis, basketball, soccer, or cross-country skiing), don't jump right into a running program. Instead, begin with a run/walk program. An excellent goal for a run/walk program is four workouts per week, with each one lasting 20 to 30 minutes.
"If you're just beginning a fitness program, the best way to start is with walking," says Budd Coates, health promotions manager at Rodale Press in Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and four-time Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. "Continuous walking will slowly prepare your legs for running and will also help you develop a consistent daily routine." Dozens of other programs begin the same way.
Coates recommends that a person with absolutely no running background get started with eight straight days of walking: first, four days of 20 minutes, then four days of 30 minutes. (For more information, see "Ease into This Running Program" on page 6.)
After that initial break-in period, introduce 2 minutes of running, alternating with 4 minutes of walking. Do this five times for a total of 30 minutes per workout. The runs should be slow jogs, not the kind of sprints that you did back in your teens when you played high school sports.
"The biggest mistake that beginning runners make is they tend to think in mile increments1 mile, 2 miles, 3 miles," says Coates. "Most of them aren't ready for that. They need to think in minutes of running, not miles.
"The other major mistake is that beginners try to run too fast," adds Coates. "They get completely out of breath, their leg muscles scream, and, naturally, running isn't fun under those circumstances. So they get discouraged and quit. Instead, they need to begin at a pace that is about the same as a fast walk."
The talk test is a simple way to judge your pace. Aim to run at a comfortable pace that lets you talk with a training partner. Don't go any faster. Comfort is far more important than speed.
After 10 weeks Coates's program brings the beginning runner to a complete 30-minute run, without walking. Once you can comfortably run 30 minutes without stopping, then you can think in terms of miles per week. A reasonable goal is 9 to 14 miles, with three days of running and four days of rest, some of which might include some alternative exercise such as swimming, cycling, or strength training.
The Best Places to Run
One of the first questions that beginners ask is, where should I begin my running? It's probably not best to start on the street right outside your door, though certainly many runners do, if for no other reason than convenience.
If you can, start on a well-maintained track at your local school or a path in a public park. Grass can be good, too, but make certain the field is cut close and even. A treadmill at the local health club can also supply a smooth beginning.
Running on a smooth, soft surface is the key, so even if you're relegated to the roads, try to run on the silt along the road's edge. Avoid roads with a steep camber to them; these can throw off your foot-plant, leading to sore muscles and injuries. Whenever possible, choose blacktop roads over concrete (concrete is harder), and always run against oncoming traffic. This makes you more visible to the driver (especially if you're wearing light or reflective clothing) and allows you to spot threatening situations before they develop.
Sidewalks may offer better safety from traffic, but concrete's hardness can provoke shinsplints and other aches and pains common to the beginning runner. Also, sidewalks often force you to run up and down the edges at intersectionsnot a great way to develop your running rhythm.
Although admittedly not always the most exciting locale, the track has its advantages, especially for the beginner. First, it's flat and soft. You can also judge exactly how far you have been running and at what pace. This constant feedback helps you progress with minimal risk and also makes it easy to chart your progress.
When you're running on the track, it makes good sense to run in the outer lanes and occasionallyperhaps every two or three lapsswitch direction. Running on the tighter inside lanes and in the same direction can put unnecessary wear and tear on joints and tendons, especially if you're not accustomed to running the turns. Also, if there are advanced runners conducting timed sessions on the track, it's considered proper etiquette to leave the inside lanes open for them.
Eventually, you will encounter hills. You won't consider them a friend at first, but they can actually help you improve your fitness. Physically, running hills builds muscular and cardiovascular strength. Mentally, hills add a challenging touch to an advanced workout and therefore can be a good weapon against boredom. But both uphills and downhills add entirely new and taxing elements to your running program.
Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter once referred to hills as speedwork in disguise. Treat hills as such; you'll probably be ready to run a hilly course about the same time you might be ready to attempt an introductory pace/speed session on the track. Therefore, avoid hills in the very early stages of your training program and introduce them in very small doses (and sizes) after you have logged more than a month of flat running at a comfortable pace.
If you do eventually add hills to a program as you advance beyond the beginner stage, start with some slight rollers; save the mountains for the future. Be particularly careful to avoid pounding on the descents. As with flat running, hills that feature grass and soft paths are preferable to hard surfaces.
Regardless of where you walk and run, do some light stretching before you begin the workout. Stretching reduces muscle tightness and allows for a more comfortable stride action.
The Next Level: Racing
The late running philosopher George Sheehan, M.D., once noted that the only difference between a jogger and a runner was an entry blank. There's much truth to that statement. Most local races contain a number of runners who are lined up primarily to finish the course, even if just slightly faster than they might run the same route during a typical training jaunt.
The point is, if you're curious about racingand you sense improved fitness in your training runstry it. It's natural to feel anxiety over where you might place or how fast you will (or won't) run, but recognize such thoughts as the self-imposed barriers that they are.
What's the best way to start? Look for a local, relatively low-key race. For example, sometimes a competitive racea 10-Kis accompanied by a 2-mile fun run. Start with the fun run. In a year's time you might well progress to the longer, more-challenging race, but the 2-mile distance is perfect for testing the waters.
Also, pick a flat course and shoot for a day that's likely to feature pleasant weather conditionsparticularly low heat and humidity. Convince a training partner to do the race with you to share support and the experience. Women may want to try one of the growing numbers of women's-only races such as the "Race for the Cure" series that promotes breast cancer awareness.
In your first race, be careful, above all else, not to start too fast. The excitement and adrenaline that you feel will tend to make you run faster than your accustomed pace, but you won't notice it. At least, not at first. Then, after a half-mile or so, you might realize that you're gasping for breath and your legs are beginning to feel like anchors. To avoid this, concentrate on total relaxation at the start and during the early going. Breathe comfortably, settle into a moderate pace, and enjoy yourself.
There's an old running maxim that holds for everyone from beginners to Olympic champs: If you start too slow, you can always pick it up later; but if you start too fast, your goose is cooked. It takes most runners several races to find their perfect pacea pace that spreads out their reserves equally over the full distance.
Watch Out for the Bug
With the possible exception of the very beginning of your running program, the next most dangerous time for a novice runner is just after that first raceespecially if the initial racing experience is a successful and enjoyable debut.
The danger, of course, comes from being bitten by the racing bug. The temptation for some runners is suddenly to race every weekend, but this multiplies the possibility of injury or burnout.
Along the same lines, beware of "marathon fever." Some novice racers run a couple of local 5-K events and, flush with excitement, jump right into training for a mega-marathon, such as New York City or Los Angeles. Resist the temptation. The marathon has been around since the ancient Greeks. It will still be there when your running has progressed to the point that your first marathon experience can be an enjoyable run. It doesn't do you any good to enter a marathon that reduces you to a survival crawl punctuated by self-doubt and tagged with the postscript "I'm never running one of these things again!"
Instead, prepare for the transition to marathoning with a gradual introduction of weekly or biweekly long runs. A long run, by definition, is what's long for you in relation to your present level of training. For runners training for their first marathon, the long run might start in the 10- or 12-mile range and gradually progress over several months to distances approaching 20 miles.
Also, some race experience at the 10-mile, 20-K, and half-marathon distances can serve as dress rehearsals for the big one. Both the long runs and the race distances between 10-K and 26.2 miles will prepare you mentally and physically for the marathon challenge.
You don't have to finish a marathon, however, to be a runner. There are lots of great runners who never run 26.2 miles. A runner is someone who runs; it's that simpleand that grand. Be that someone. Be yourself. Be your own runner, whether the challenge is four times around the junior high school track or qualifying and running in the Boston Marathon.
The key to success with a running program for beginners is to start slow and stay slow. Speed kills. Don't even think about it. Patience rewards, so stick with it, stick with it, stick with it.
A few years ago I taught a running program for beginners in which I told my students over and over again that they should run as slowly as possible. "Don't breathe hard," I said. "Stay comfortable. Don't worry about how you look and don't worry about how fast anyone else in the class is running. Just go slow."
A couple of people in the class seemed to be struggling, so I asked if they were sure that they were running slowly enough. "No problem," they gasped. "This is real comfortable."
I knew they were pushing too hard, but that's a hard thing to tell someone, so I asked if I could take their pulses. After only 10 seconds of counting their pulses, I was able to inform them that they were running at about the same effort level as an Olympic champion. One of them was running at a pulse rate of 170 beats per minute. (Most beginning runners should be between 120 and 140, depending on many variables, including age.)
Armed with an objective measure, I was able to convince my students to relax and slow down. They did, they stuck with the program, and eight weeks later they graduated from the class.
You'll graduate, too, to whatever goals you seek, so long as you concentrate on slow and steady. Remember the tortoise and the hare? You want to be a tortoise.
Excerpted from Runner's World Complete Book of Running by . Copyright © 1997 by Rodale Press, Inc.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.