Getting geared up: the beginner’s guide
First things first, the shoes
Sure, anyone can run barefoot, but if you’re going to try and take it seriously don’t even think about heading out with nothing on, or with a pair of regular tennis shoes, sneakers or cross-trainers. There’s a reason running shoes have a whole section of their own at the sports shops. They’re designed to give you the best benefit possible.
As simple as the mechanics of running are, it is a ‘traumatic’ activity for certain parts of the body. The action of the exercise creates specific kinds of forces on the body. A good pair of running shoes is designed to absorb and minimise those kinds of forces. Many will tell you that a good pair of shoes will be the most important investment you’ll make as a new runner. They’re right. A good pair is worth the spend.
A good fit is also very important. Part of the impact of running includes blisters, bruised toenails and shin splints, which won’t be encouraging for you to want to continue the activity. Try on a pair, walk around, run around. It’s important your feel comfortable.
You’ll need to also keep in mind that one pair won’t last a lifetime. Running shoes have a lifespan. A pair may still look to be in good condition, but shock absorption diminishes and as a runner, you will begin to feel it.
One step at a time
The best way to start is gradually. You’re not competing with Usain Bolt in the 100-metre dash. You certainly won’t achieve a level of improved fitness or weight loss goals in a hurry either. If you’re going to start running for a specific goal, especially weight loss, ensure that you understand it’s going to require a level of commitment. Results shouldn’t be quick or drastic in the short-term.
Too much, too soon can also lead to injury. One of the worst things you can do is start running, get injured and then stop exercising altogether.
Before you begin any new fitness regime, and especially if you are a man over 45, a woman over 50 or have health concerns, it is a good idea to consult your family physician (GP – general practitioner). A check-up to assess your overall health before making a change to your routine that will have an impact on your body is a good thing. Know your life digits – your blood pressure, BMI (body mass index), cholesterol and blood sugar levels. These will be impacted in some capacity by any out-of-the ordinary fitness activity you begin doing. Your doctor can also help you understand how to ‘listen to your body’ and process any changes which may be red flags.
A good way to get going is to alternate between short bursts of light jogging and walking. Try walking for 5 minutes (warm up) and then jogging for two minutes. When this becomes less strenuous, steadily increase the amount of time you spend running until you’re able to jog / run for 20 minutes at a time. Once you’re able to achieve that, you can start increasing your running distances. If you are trying to increase your fitness levels but have been sedentary for some time, start by walking only and gradually build from there.
Be careful. An increase of 30 seconds or even 1 minute at a time may not seem like much, but it can be. Be realistic about the amount you gradually increase by. Listen to your body. Alternating between running and walking allows the body, overall, to adapt to the new stress on the joints and muscles. Every second is felt by your body’s ability to adjust.
Steady progression is key. Your cardiovascular system needs to adapt and a gradual increase in activity will help it improve easily this way. Your cardiovascular system will certainly adapt more easily than your musculoskeletal system. People generally stop running because of injury, not because their heart didn’t seem able to adapt to the increased activity.
Getting started is the most difficult part. Often the first few weeks are when you’ll experience the most difficulty in getting out the front door. You can take comfort in the fact that before long you’ll start to feel the difference as you get stronger. Before you know it, you’ll be feeling so good, you’ll look forward to your runs.
Inside or outside?
You may find yourself asking the question, “Should I run on a treadmill or outside?” The simple answer… you’ll get a great cardiovascular workout either way, so it really is just about personal preference.
The added benefits of a treadmill are that you’re never far from home (which can make for more comfortable exercise if you’re working your way back from an injury) and you’re less likely to feel intimidated about being out in a public space where people can see you. Bad weather isn’t a factor and won’t hamper your plans. You can also adjust the treadmill to a lower-impact which equates to running on grass.
A treadmill, quite simply, doesn’t simulate the outdoors. Fresh air, sunlight (vitamin D), great scenery and a newfound sense of adventure are some of the most appealing things about running outdoors. If safety is a concern, local communities around the globe have gatherings in safe environments regularly enough that you could join and still meet your weight loss goals. The extra motivation will also give you a boost. Little beats the outdoors, but you won’t lose out on your goals by using a treadmill.
How to keep that feel-good feeling
Once you’re running a little more comfortably, these tips will help you feel good during your runs:
- Ensure that you can pass the ‘talk test’: If your pace is comfortable (ensuring that you won’t burn out too quickly), you should still be able to talk conversationally. If you’re breathless, you’re pushing yourself too much.
- Count time, not kilometres or miles: As a beginner, it is better to focus on the time you are able to run than how far (distance) and at what pace. Set your goals in minutes rather than kilometres or miles.
- Stay hydrated: Your body will lose water. You will sweat. You will need to ensure that you stay sufficiently hydrated, especially during the warmer months of the year. Carry water with you or know exactly where you will be able to get safe drinking water along your route (if outdoors). Don’t forget to drink water after your run too.
- Strength-training: This is key to building muscle and bone-density. If you are to start running successfully, your muscles and bones, which take the biggest amount of strain during a run, will need extra protection against injury. A 20-minute workout a few times a week is all you need.
- Save stretching for last: Stretching doesn’t necessarily warm up your muscles before you run. In fact, stretching cold muscles increases your risk for injury. Warm up with a little walking for a few minutes. Save your stretching for after your run, when muscles are warm. A good stretch can help prevent muscle ache and stiffness later on.
- Stick with it: Stay consistent with when and how often you run during the week. Keep a logbook or journal. This will help you plan your runs and for how long you will run. The added bonus is that it can help your level of commitment too and ensure that you stick to your goals. If you’re tracking your weight loss goals as well, these logged entries will most certainly be motivating for you too.