Guest blog by Dr. Willie Manteris
If you are considering starting running and are a beginner or have been inactive for a good while, some simple tips could help a great deal for your success. First of all, I applaud your decision to run. It is a wonderful exercise/sport/meditation that can be done almost anywhere, anytime, and with a bare minimum of equipment. The benefits of running are many and range everywhere from physical fitness, mental health, emotional well-being, to social interaction, and on and on.
Different fitness levels, goals, and natural abilities will greatly influence your approach to running. But the basic principles are the same for everyone. For that reason, I would suggest starting with a good book that explains the basics of running and gives you an understanding of the fundamentals. Incidentally, I would stay away from running magazines in the beginning because they throw out many different training techniques and ideas with each issue that can confuse a beginner. The basic principles are rather stable.
The next step would be to begin to prepare your body for your new endeavor. Learning stretching techniques for flexibility and some mild weight or strength training geared specifically to running will help prepare your body. A few weeks of these before starting your running, and continuing during your running, will help keep you injury free.
Then you will want to get running shoes that are properly fitted and appropriate for you. It is well worth the extra money to have an experienced professional help you select the type best for you as opposed to buying online or off the shelf somewhere. Running stores are specifically geared for this.
When you are ready to go outside and do your first run (and I always prefer outside in nature whenever possible), the best way to acclimate your body without over-stressing is to start by alternating walk/run. Of course, do your stretches first, then warm up by doing a brisk walk and eventually move into a slow jog. You might start out alternating as little as 20 second intervals each walk and run, and then extend them as your body adjusts. The key here is: be patient! The sedentary lifestyle that most of us lead does not prepare us for this type of exertion. It will take time for your body to regain its natural vigor. And the rewards will be many.
Another point that I would stress at the beginning is to think about proper running form. A smooth, graceful stride with correct foot strike and body posture can make all the difference between building your body up or breaking it down over time and miles. If you watch other runners you will soon see different styles and begin to sense which are efficient and which destructive. Again, an internet search on proper running form can give you this information.
As you progress, your cardiovascular system will most likely improve faster than your musculoskeletal system. Chances are, as your fitness improves, you will soon want to go faster and farther than your body can accommodate. This is where so many running injuries occur. Keep in mind that running performance is a long-term project and is progressive in nature. Done correctly, the common thought for beginners is that they want to go faster and farther. Take your time. You can add intensity and distance later and may amaze yourself at what you can do. But time is the key factor. For long distance running the saying is: learn to run far, then learn to run fast, then learn to run far fast. A rule of thumb is not to increase your milage by more than 10% a week. But it does not have to be competitive. We are not paid professionals after all.
From this simple beginning there are many options available as you progress. Heart rate monitors are very helpful if you want to do some serious training or like to monitor yourself. Proper diet, fuel, fluids, electrolytes, rest, are all factors to consider as you get more advanced. There are a multitude of different training programs available for various goals and styles. One thing I particularly liked was the Swedish form called “fartlek running.” It means “speed play” and basically means running at different speeds for different intervals, as your body tells you. It is the closest thing that I found to the pure joy of running I remembered as a child.
There are, of course, many, many more details to running, but I think it best to keep it simple at this point. I whole-heartedly encourage you to take that first step and try it out. It could mean a substantial boost to your well-being for the rest of your life, and even a longer life for that matter.
Final words of advice: be patient and have fun. It would be very difficult to maintain if it isn’t enjoyable for you. Make it enjoyable, and good luck.
Reminder: Please consult your physician or health professional before engaging in any physical activity and stop if you experience pain or discomfort.
About Dr. Willie Manteris
Dr. Willie Manteris is a retired dentist living outside of Pittsburgh, PA. He began running at 47 years of age and has many marathons, triathlons, and century bike rides under his belt. He will be 72 years old next month and is still running, biking, and weight training while having fun.