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Want to start running? Don't be afraid!

Monday, August 01, 2011

I was the kid in high school that took 15-20 minutes to finish the mile run. I couldn't even run for one minute without becoming entirely breathless. The gradual nature of the Couch to 5k ( www.coolrunning.com/engi
) program appealed to me, even though I had and still have no plans to participate in a 5k. I just wanted to learn how to run!

This morning, I just finished Week 6 and 25 minutes of continuous running. Here are some words of advice if you're thinking about starting C25K from beginner status. I'm no professional... these are just my observations from personal experience.

1. Knees and ankles. There is a lot of fear-mongering out there on the internet about how running ruins your joints. This notion is outdated and not backed by research. More recent studies have looked at people who have been running for many years, and their peers who don't run at all. They found no trend that suggests runners have weaker joints. If you're like me, you might feel some pain in your knees and/or ankles in the first week or two. Just remember to stay loose. Shake it out and keep going. You should notice that this pain goes away over the next few runs as your muscles strengthen enough to support your new activity.

2. Running garb. In my fifth week of running, I noticed some muscle pain between my shoulder blades which wasn't there before. I eventually narrowed it down to the new racerback running bras that I had just purchased. I had them adjusted much too tightly. Make comfort a priority so that wardrobe discomfort won't distract you during runs. Also, if you have sensitive feet, go to a running store and have them professionally fit you with a pair of quality sneakers. They'll check your gait and everything.

3. Relax. Don't tense up. Keep your arms loose and low. Don't cross them in front of your body as you run. I've learned and experienced that this can cause pain. It can be hard to forget to relax after running for a while, but shake it out during walk breaks between intervals.

4. Breathe! Learning how to control my breathing during runs has been INVALUABLE! During the 5-minute warm up, I'll start by taking deep breaths to open up my lungs. Right before I start running, I'll get into a steady rhythm of short in-out breathing and hold the rhythm when the run begins. I like to breath mostly through my mouth when running, but figure out what works for you.

5. Fuel. In the beginning, meal timing didn't seem to make much of a difference for shorter running times. A couple days ago, I decided to run after work. It had been about 5 hours after my last meal (which was a really small one). Even though a few days prior I had done a 20-minute continuous run with no problem, I found myself struggling with two 10-minute intervals with a 3 minute walk in between. Before today's run, I had a small snack of about 100-150 calories. It made a big difference in my energy level. Again, pay close attention to your body and listen to what it tells you. Some people can't run after eating and some people can't run without eating.

6. Apps. I use "Get Running," an app for the iPhone. It helps me keep track of my runs and will give me polite reminders when it's time to start/stop running and progress updates during longer runs. There are several 5k apps to choose from... some free, some not.

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