With fall just around the corner, we are about to enter one of two yearly golden stretches for running each year. Now is the perfect time to start running and almost anyone can do it. Best of all, it is the best antidote to the COVID-induced feeling of being cooped-up.
When I first started running, a friend recommended a simple approach that I followed and recommended to others, and that I will describe in this article. The goal is running three miles comfortably. That’s it. The key to this approach is not obsessing over speed and listening to your body. Running should challenge you, but not make you uncomfortable. The key here is simple, attainable goals so that you will not be discouraged.
Flight Clearance. A light training program should not be an issue for most healthy people. However, if you have medical conditions that might be impacted by running, check with your doctor before starting the program.
Sneakers. Do yourself a favor and buy running shoes. The two critical variables are cushioning and the rotation of your foot (pronation). Although there are low-cushion sneakers, I would not recommend them for people starting out. Also, if you are a bit on the heavy side, I would recommend more cushioned sneakers. Pronation reflects the fact that some people’s feet roll to the inside (supination) or outside (overpronation). There are sneakers that can compensate for either. If you can’t get to a store, the wear pattern on existing sneakers will show you what kind of pronator you are: https://www.verywellfit.com/walking-shoe-wear-patterns-4020248. Road Runner Sports has a VIP program you can join that gives you up to 90 days to “test drive” and return sneakers.
Clothing. Two words “wick away.” Cotton and running do not mix. You really want to be in synthetic fabrics, including clothing and underwear. As the weather cools, this will become even more important. When you wear layers, you want moisture to pass through the layers and evaporate. If you are going to be running at night, make sure to wear some reflective clothing or a flashing light.
Watch. This program requires the ability to track distance. There are two types of fitness watches—those that track by counting steps and extrapolating distance and those that rely on GPS tracking. The GPS watches are more accurate (and a bit more expensive), but for purposes of this program, the step-tracking watches often are good enough.
If at all possible, avoid starting this program on a treadmill. Part of the mental health benefits of running come with being outdoors and “airing yourself” out. If you are going to run indoors, invest in a good quality treadmill. The lack of stability in some of the less expensive models can be damaging to your legs and feet.
Some people prefer running with no “entertainment.” I prefer to have an audio track. Do what works for you. Be sure to carry your audio device in a carrier. I have passed runners holding them in their hands and inevitably it destroys their running posture (square shoulders, with arms swinging ahead).
The reality is that you will complete a three-mile run before anything you eat will be digested by your body or any water you drink will be absorbed. In terms of what you eat before a run, experiment to see what works. I prefer running short runs on a near empty stomach; others cannot do so. Just make sure to avoid anything heavy.
There are a lot of running studies out there. The problem is they seem to completely change every few years. For example, pre-running stretching was once viewed as mandatory and now some studies indicate that traditional static stretching may be harmful. Rather than read studies, here is an alternative. Try something. If it helps your running, keep doing it. If it does not help or hurts, stop doing it.
The “Program” is a four-phase process that combines running and walking as you build conditioning:
Phase I: Run six half miles at a comfortable pace with one minute of walking between half miles.
Phase II: Run three individual miles at a comfortable pace with one minute of walking between miles
Phase III: Run two segments of 1.5 miles each at a comfortable pace with one minute of walking between segments
Phase IV: Run three miles. (Congratulations!)
You should run at a comfortable pace that challenges you a bit but does not exhaust you. Once you can finish runs in a given “phase” comfortably, you can “graduate” to the next stage. Listen to your body; do not set artificial deadlines for moving on to the next phase.
Initially you should plan on running three times a week and avoid running on consecutive days. As your conditioning improves, you may want to add a fourth run. Running less than three times a week makes it difficult to sustain gains in conditioning.
Run on the flattest surface you can. Initially, the goal is to get you comfortable running—not challenging you.
Pick one or a couple of courses for your runs. You will know when intersections are coming up or uneven pavement, etc. As you get more familiar, you won’t even have to think about these variables.
The best time of day to run is different for every runner. Some people love the early morning slot, others lunchtime and yet others prefer an evening run. Try different times that fit your schedule and see what works best.
When you run, you leave a “wake” of your breath behind you. In all likelihood you will be breathing heavily as well. I have found it pretty much impossible to run with a mask. At this point, I do not believe it is legally required anywhere in the U.S. as long as social distance is maintained. As a result, I believe that as a runner this means everyone else has a “right of way.” If I am passing a slower walker/runner or someone coming from the other direction, I believe that it is a runner’s obligation to create social distance by moving a significant distance to the side. Sometimes this will require moving into the street, into a front yard or even stopping for a brief period of time
Injuries vs. Soreness
Your running is likely to generate some aches and pains. The trick is distinguishing soreness and minor injuries from serious injuries. Any sharp pains should be taken seriously, and if the pain persists into the day after a run, you should consider talking with your doctor. That said, unless you’ve done some serious damage, the doctor is likely to prescribe rest, icing and possibly anti-inflammatory medication. You may want to consider starting that course of treatment on your own and see how you respond, but you need to use some common sense here.
Once you are running three miles at a time comfortably, you have several options:
1. Stay the course: Continue running three miles at a time, three times a week, at roughly the same pace. That is fine and it will help you maintain your conditioning.
2. Add distance: Add additional mileage to your daily run by increasing it to 3.5 miles and then four miles. If you are really ambitious, at that point, you can consider making one of your runs a “long run” but that is the subject for a different article.
3. Add hills: If you want to challenge yourself, but not increase your time commitment, consider switching your running course to include hills. Add them slowly and start with smaller hills so that you do not overstress yourself.
4. Increase speed: Increase your running pace. It is important to do so gradually, a 5-10% increase at a time. Make sure you are comfortable at the new pace, before increasing further.
Hopefully you will find that running enriches your life in many ways. Good luck and happy running!
By Dror Futter