A woman I once married is fond of saying that the only reason she can see for running is to escape someone big who is chasing you. While I disagree, I do know that for the non-runner, the prospect of beginning a running regimen is usually unpleasant. People usually start running not because they expect to enjoy it, but because they want to lose weight, or get in shape, or please a significant other, or support a charity. However, starting to run need not be painful or unpleasant. By setting short- and intermediate-term goals, a person can not only start running, but in fact learn to appreciate it.
Planning for the Short Term
A beginning runner should not begin by making plans for a marathon. While that is an admirable long-term goal, going from running zero miles per month to 26.2 miles in one race requires time and dedication. Without goals set between nothing and marathons, a beginner will find it hard to keep going. As such, the first goal should be to simply go out and run two or three times in a week. The distance itself is not important; a run around the block, or a lap around the local college track, may be more than you have run before (or since your skinny high school days), so it is a valid starting point. You can increase time and distance later. For now, get out and run.
When you are running, it is important to teach yourself to breathe deeply. Pulling oxygen into your lungs and letting your body distribute it to your muscles helps stave off cramps and strains. As a beginner, try to focus on the breathing more than the stride. Develop a pattern, such as breathing in for two steps and out for two steps. Further, a simple way to determine whether you are breathing deeply enough is to place your hand over your stomach. If you feel your stomach expanding as you breathe in, you are doing a good job. If the breath is all up in the chest area, focus on bringing each breath in deeper.
Listen to Your Body
When you are running for reasons other than high-level competition, the phrase “no pain, no gain” should never carry meaning for you. A beginning runner needs to learn to appreciate the warning signals the body provides. If your leg cramps up, slow down – or even walk for a bit. Give yourself time to recover. While
some discomfort will come, you will learn to distinguish between extending your limits and hurting yourself. In the meantime, walk or jog off cramps, and stretch tight muscles. If you hear a pop coming from your ankle, stop and figure out how to get to a doctor. If your foot throbs afterward, back off the regimen for a little while until you find out what is wrong. Trying to run through a minor injury will make it become a major injury, and will curtail your efforts.
One message your body will give is to stretch before and after you run. Stretching beforehand helps loosen your muscles. Before your first run, you will be
surprised just how tight they feel. Whether you are running a mile or a block, you need to give your body a chance.
Even more important is stretching afterward. After you put your muscles through the stress of exercise, stretching helps them recover faster, and gives you a
better chance of being able to get out of bed in the morning.
Regimen, Not Routine
Above all, try to keep your running interesting. Running around the same block may be fine for a while, but eventually it will bore you. Try extending your runs as you get into better shape, and try looking to different venues: parks, interesting neighborhoods, or anything else. If you are working on a treadmill, vary the speeds, and work out to music or television, at least until you are ready to explore the outside world. Think of running as a licit affair; keep it spicy, and it will hold your interest longer – without the nasty side effects of losing a loved one or gaining a communicable disease.
For a non-runner, getting started is hard, but continuing is even harder. By easing into your running regimen and keeping things fresh, you can learn to keep going, and eventually even enjoy running. Eventually, you may find yourself entering road races, if only for the cool t-shirts and the mass of opposite-sex runners wearing very short running shorts. If you keep going, you may even end up wearing them yourself. Before that, though, simply get off the couch and get out there.