People are always telling me, “I can’t run” or “I hate to run.” These statements make me sad because the vast majority of the time the person is not only capable of running, but they can learn to enjoy it too. With my beginner group, my goal is to give them the tools to learn to run and love it.
We start with form. Everyone that knows me knows I’m a huge proponent of barefoot running because it is gentle on your body and the fastest way to learn the posture and form that is the way our bodies were designed to run. The best time to learn this form is when you are starting out. There are many great websites out there to fill in all the details and ongoing questions but here are a few to get you started. The running barefoot, Barefoot Runners Society, and the barefoot forum on Runner’s World are great resources. If the idea of running barefoot is just too far out for you, you can achieve the same style through Chi Running, Pose Running, and Evolution Running. However you do it, it is important to learn proper body mechanics and most people are shocked to hear that landing on your heels is bad and that a good distance runner should NOT look like a Gazelle racing across a meadow. Distance running is definitely where Turtles can shine. Take a lesson from those turtles, they don’t bounce down the road!
The next thing I teach is to learn to run SLOW! Running is running. If you always have one foot touching the ground, you are walking. When, for even the briefest of split seconds, you have both feet off the ground you are running. I don’t care if your forward motions amounts to less than 15 minutes per mile, if you leave the ground you are running. Allen Leigh, who is in his 70’s and still an avid runner, started his running career by learning to run in place in his living room before he ever ventured onto the road! Once you learn to run smoothly you can start adding minutes to your running and work on the next goal which is running increasing amounts of time. 30 minutes is a great goal! In that 30 minutes you can take a 1 minute walking break every 5, 10 or 15 minutes or however often you are confortable, but learning to be on your feet for 30 minutes and getting into the habit of doing so 3 or 4 times a week is an important goal.
Running should not hurt! If running even a few steps makes you winded or sore, you need to back up and work on a walking program until this is no longer the case. When you can walk for half an hour, begin adding in a little running just for a minute or even 30 seconds at a time. Keep your pace to a conversational one. You should always have enough breath to talk, if not then take a walking break or slow down. Running at a speed that increases your fitness and makes you a healthier stronger person does not mean keeping pace with the local track star. Whatever pace gives you a good workout is the pace that is best for you. If everyone out there with you is passing you, that is okay, you are passing all the people that are at home in front of the TV! When my friend and I trained for our first half marathon in 2009, we chatted and blabbered through our weekend long runs that started at 5 miles and worked their way up to 10. Most of the time our pace was around 14 minutes per mile (mpm), roughly the same pace as a good brisk walk. This begs the question, “Why bother running if you can walk that fast?” That would kind of depend on your goal. My goal is fitness, and I know that as I get stronger, I will get faster and that I will need to go faster to maintain the heart rate that gives me a good work out. That 14 minute per mile pace evolved into an 11 mpm pace in less than a year.
This takes me to the last thing I ask of my beginners. Sign up for a race. Local 5Ks are a real eye opener for new runners. The first time I ran a 5K was the first time I ran 3 miles without walking. The excitement of racing plus my competitive nature pushed me to a whole new level. The crowd made it fun! Running a race is not really about winning, it is about getting out there, meeting other runners, and having a really good time. You find out really quick that the skinny chick that looks fast may just be a recovering couch potato who barely eats and will have to walk half the distance to finish, and the person carrying a whole lot of extra weight may be an endurance power house that will finish, shower, and change clothes before the last person crosses the line because they have a strong heart and big muscles hiding under that extra weight. Sure, an overweight person has to work harder and so probably won’t win, but my point is that you can’t judge a book by its cover, especially in endurance racing. After my first marathon, I heard someone complaining that a “little old lady” was leading the 4:30 pace group (that means she was in charge of carrying a sign that indicates she will maintain a steady pace and cross the finish line in 4 hours and 30 minutes.) I pointed out that that I regularly get left in the dust by little old ladies and that particular little old lady finished almost a half hour before me without breaking a sweat!
Last, but not least, the issue of weight loss. Most people start running with one major goal: to lose weight. I have to be honest with you, it will take you at least a year to build up enough speed and mileage to burn a really significant amount of calories during your weekly runs. HOWEVER, that is no reason to give up. The best way to do it is to look at running as part of a new lifestyle that incorporates cardio (stationary bike, elliptical, stepmill, rowing machine, aerobics, or walking), weight training, and diet changes along with your running. As you become a stronger runner, more of your time will shift to actually running, but the fastest way to lose weight is to alternate days with running and cardio. If you don’t have a reasonable way to get to the gym, you can always walk on your non-running days. Walking uses different muscles and will still give you a good dose of exercise without the risk of injury that comes with running every day when you are a beginner.
My final thought is for people with Rheumatoid Arthritis or any other disease that slows you down. Nothing is impossible to overcome. You have to take advantage of the good days to make gains and those gains will help you though the bad days. I know runners with cancer, auto-immune diseases, heart problems, and even cerebral palsy. They enjoy their vigor and strength when they can find it and muddle through the weak days knowing there are better ones ahead. We start small with range of motion exercises, water jogging, walking, anything to get moving and keep going. I personally cannot find a middle ground, it is either keep pushing or curl up and die and I am definitely not ready