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How to Start a Running Program

03 January 2018

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Running — some love it; some hate it. One thing is for sure: if you’ve never been a runner, getting started is the hardest part.

If you want to try running for the first time, you probably have a lot of questions. Is there a right and wrong way to run? How do you get over that initial hump of feeling horrible one minute in? Is knee pain normal?

We’re answering all your running questions to help you get on the right track (pun intended). 

Health benefits of running

So why start running in the first place? There are many health benefits when you run regularly. Studies have shown that running can lower your risk of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and some cancers.

Running can also improve mental health by increasing the secretion of endorphins in the brain. This not only lifts mood, but also reduces anxiety and naturally alleviates depression.

Running is well-known for building strength in the cardiovascular and muscular systems. However, running can also increase bone mass, improving bone and joint health.

Of course, injuries can occur in the joints and muscles from running, especially if you start running too much, too fast, too soon. That’s why it’s so important to get started the right way and build up your strength and endurance over time. This will help you improve your endurance, without increasing your risk of injury. Most importantly, starting slow and following a consistent plan will help you develop a love for running that is sustainable and fun.

How to get started with running

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the idea of incorporating running into your routine, remember to start slow. Here are a few expert tips to get started, so you can build up your endurance and love for running over time.

  1. Buy the proper gear – It might seem insignificant, but the proper gear can make a big difference in your form and comfort while running. Make sure to buy good running shoes at a running store where someone who is educated in running shoes can fit you properly. For women, it’s important to have a supportive sports bra to avoid chaffing or discomfort. Finally, breathable running clothes will help you stay cool and dry on runs. Avoid cotton and opt for quick-drying, breathable materials.
  2. Start slow – It’s okay to start slow. If you can’t run, start out walking. You can slowly build up your walking endurance, and then start jogging for small increments of time. It’s important to listen to your body throughout training. Tired muscles and dull soreness can be normal, but sharp pain is a sign of injury. Do not push through pain. This can exacerbate injuries over time. Instead, consult your doctor about how to move forward with your training.
  3. Stick to a schedule – Following a running schedule will help you hit all your running days and make progress each week, while taking rest days when necessary. We’ve included a running schedule in the graphic below, including running intervals, rest days and strength training to make sure you are following a training program that is safe and efficient to hit your goals.  Print out the guide to keep track of your progress.

running guide

Strength training exercises to prevent common running injuries

One common concern among first-time runners is injury – and for good reason. Repetitive impact on the joints can cause stress and pain. The best way to avoid these injuries is to combine your running training with strength and flexibility exercises.

Strength training is important for runners because it strengthens the muscles, ligaments and tendons that support your bones and joints. Therefore, a stronger body is better equipped to handle impact and maintain healthy running form. Important muscle groups to focus on include the core, glutes and calves. It’s also important to include exercises to improve balance and stability in the knees, hips and ankles. Strength training can be done on a non-running day or incorporated into your warm-up or cool-down. Be sure to consult a personal trainer if you are unsure of which exercises to include in your training, or how to perform each exercise with proper form.

Stretching is also important for first-time runners to increase mobility and avoid injury. You should stretch after every run to avoid soreness and tightness in the muscles. A few key areas to stretch out after a run include hip-flexors, the bottoms of your feet and calf muscles.

Nutrition tips for first-time runners

While running is a great healthy habit to implement this new year, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet throughout your training to give you energy and aid in recovery. Don’t overthink it. Eat balanced meals every day that include healthy fats, complex carbohydrates and complete proteins.

Complex carbohydrates include whole wheat, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, fruits and vegetables, beans and lentils. Carbohydrates convert to glucose (blood sugar) in the body and are used as a source of energy, which is important for runners. However, complex carbohydrates also provide vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and fiber, which provide a higher nutritional value than simple carbs.

The best source for a complete proteins is meat, but it’s also possible to create complete proteins by combining incomplete proteins. Read our blog post on eating complete proteins for vegetarians and vegans for more information. It’s important to consume lean protein daily. Good sources of lean protein include chicken, tofu, eggs or fish.  

Finally, it’s important to stay hydrated throughout the day. The recommended amount of water intake for women is a little more than 90 ounces per day. Men should consume close to 125 ounces each day. However, if you are running and sweating, it’s important to listen to your body and hydrate as needed—especially during hot Oklahoma summers!

If your New Year’s resolution is to finally start running, use our training schedule to set yourself up for success. You can also join a running club for support in getting started. A local running club, Red Coyote, offers a Newbie Running Program to help you get running in a no-judgment zone, with the instruction and support you need to be successful.