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By Lida Johnson

At the end of the Modesto, CA Marathon. Still smiling.

I was brainstorming article topics with a friend, and she suggested “Running for Beginners.” I love this topic! What’s great about beginner runners is they gain confidence quickly. I know what “running” means to me, but that seems to differ often from what I hear: I’m not fast enough. I’m not designed to run. I can’t run a mile, how can I run? I’m too old to run. I’m not the right build to run. You name it; I’ve probably heard it.

I had never looked up the definition of running, so just for kicks, I did just that. The definition of “running” – the action of movement of a runner. Well, that didn’t tell me much, so then I looked at the definition of “runner” – a person who runs, especially in a specified way. Hmm, what exactly is a specified way? What comes to mind is Phoebe’s special running technique from the sitcom Friends. Does anybody remember what that looks like? Click here to check it out. Anyhow, I digress.

Next, I looked up the definition of “run” – verb – to move at a speed faster than a walk, never having both or all the feet on the ground at the same time. “Run” – noun – a journey accomplished or route taken by a vehicle, aircraft, or boat, and I’ll add human, especially on a regular basis. The verb “to run” is perfect! Or at least I think so. Have you let the perception of what it means to run get in the way of actually doing it.

Before I get into some training aspects of a beginner runner, let’s quickly highlight why you might like to start to run: it can be done right from your front door, it doesn’t have to take a lot of time, there are no gym costs, you can do it with friends, it lifts your mood, you can do it year-round with the proper clothing, it builds strength, there’s not required equipment, it’s a good cardio workout, it’s not complicated. However, I would suggest that you invest in a pair if you don’t have running-specific shoes. Improper shoes can cause shin splints, unnecessary muscle soreness, or something more severe like strains and sprains.

Let’s talk running now.

  • Set a goal. I would set a goal 10-12 weeks from when you start. It can be a race, any distance you want to pick, or perhaps a number of days and how long to run. For example, you can sign up for a 5k, or you can say that by week 12, I will run three times a week and increase my running time to 45 minutes. The goal can be lofty or conservative. My goal for September was to run 3 miles every day. I was a Run Motivator this year for the 2020 Running Start Program, and my runners’ goal was to run one lap around the track without stopping. She did it and then set a new goal of 1 and a half times around the track…she killed that goal too. A critical component of setting a goal is to tell others! Invite them to support and join you in your goal. Running with friends is the best!
  • Set a benchmark. This is often overlooked because you think it’s not helpful, but trust me, you’ll want to do this in the beginning and then again every 4-6 weeks to see how much progress you have made. For example, if you set a benchmark of 1 lap around the track and it takes you 4 minutes, great! After a month of training, retest. You will likely go faster than that 4 minutes, which will encourage you to keep at it. Where ever you do your benchmark, it should be at the same every time you retest! I always like the track for benchmarks and speed work. It’s measurable, and you can see how far you need to keep, which seems to help most runners.
  • Start off slowly. This is really important, especially if you have not run before or are coming off an injury. I would start with two, maybe three times a week, and see how your body feels. And seriously, depending on what kind of shape you are in, I would start with 10-15 minutes and then assess: are you achy, stiff, or do you feel great after you run? If you’re not feeling so great, cut back and let your body adjust. If you are feeling good and want to increase, go for it. The rule of thumb is not to increase more than 10% a week. This 10% can be time or distance. A slow run is the talking zone. You should be able to converse with someone.
  • Diversify your run – Speedwork. Regardless of where you are starting, you can always do speedwork. It just might mean that you are walking a little faster. Remember that it will be a small portion of the run when you do speed work, while recovery is the bigger part. For example, as a new runner, I would do 20-30 second pickups and then recover for up to 2 minutes. Keep in mind that, however long you do your interval for, it needs to be hard! You should not be able to talk during speedwork. I’ve talked a lot about a track. I think running the track is boring, but it’s great when there is more than one of you out there. It’s a great environment to support each other while being at different levels. You’re never very far from each other.
  • Diversify your run – Strength work. Get out and walk, trot, jog, run some hills. I won’t lie to you. Running hills is pretty awful, but the benefits are amazing. I would not recommend a lot of hill repeats, probably no more than five, but start at one to two. And pick a variety of hills – short and steep, longer and less steep. Do them all. Variety is good for you mentally as well as the challenge you will be getting physically. If you are only running twice a week, skip this one.
  • Diversify your run – long run. Ah, this is my favorite because I always try and do this with my “Running Tribe.” I like to call this “time on your feet.” Do not worry about your pace for this, not in the beginning anyway. Just get out there and run. The effort is low. You should be able to talk the entire time. It’s a zone-one or zone-two run, which, believe it or not, is really difficult for many runners to do. They usually go too fast on these slower days. You make a lot of your running gains while you take it easy on these longer, slower runs. Over time, you should notice that you can run further or that perhaps you are covering the same loop in a shorter period.
  • Be aware of your form. (see picture below). This is a little hard sometimes without someone watching you. Don’t overstride as that’s like putting the brakes on with each step. A cue of overstriding will be that you land on your heel too far in front of you. Over time, overstriding will slow you down and be a cause of possible injury. You will have a forward lean, but it should not start at the waist. It actually starts from the ankles. Also, swing your arms in front of you. Many runners swing their arms across their bodies.
  • Have FUN! I bet you didn’t think I would make that a priority. You’re thinking, “How can I have fun while I’m running?” It can happen. Run with someone. Find a running group (although that might be a little hard these days). Engage your family. Have your kids ride their bike alongside you. Find your running Tribe. Also, smile while you are running. Say Hi to people as you cross paths. Enjoy your time out there.

To summarize. It doesn’t matter how big or small you are, fit or not fit, everyone can embark on a running journey. It’s easy to leave your front door or make it a destination. Be kind to yourself when you first start, but get out there and have some fun.

Lida Johnson, Owner, Head-to-Toe Coaching, where I help people be their Best Self. Certified Personal Trainer. Certified Nutritionist. Behavior Change Specialist. Certified Group Fitness Instructor. Lifetime Learner. www.facebook.com/groups/headtotoecoaching. Or HeadToToeCoaching@gmail.com. Or feel free to call me at 203.260.2880 to see how I can help you.