How to Start Running

Are Programs Like “Couch-to-5K” a Good Way for Someone to Start Running?

Sometimes, the hardest part about running is just getting out the door! There are many different strategies and programs that exist to help achieve your running goals. The “Couch-to-5K” program can be a safe and effective tool to assist you in getting over that first hurdle. (Don’t worry-there usually aren’t any actual hurdles in a typical 5K!) Like any form of exercise, it is important to discuss the initiation of any exercise plan with your doctor. Choosing a running program can keep a person motivated and help them achieve amazing health benefits. The best part about running is that you get out of it what you put in. No matter what method is chosen, it is most important to be reminded that consistency is the key to success.

How Important Are Shoes, What Shoes Are Good For a Beginner, and How Does a Beginning Runner Figure Out What Works Best for Them?

Running shoes are important for protection and injury prevention. However, choosing the right shoe can often seem difficult and overly complicated. The running shoe industry is inundated with marketing tools that at times, may promote a product or technological development that is unnecessary. For the beginner, a first step would be to establish your foot type. Are you flat-footed? Do you have high foot arch? These questions will help narrow down the shoe you need based on the amount of “motion control” in order to encourage a safe and effective running form. A reputable running shoe store can often be the best place to start. A store representative should allow you to try on the shoe and take a few strides. Learn from the experienced feedback that a store representative should be able to give you. Share your running experience, goals, and injury history. This will help tailor the right fit for you.

What Are Some Good Goals For Someone Who Has Never Run Before?

Running goals should be dependent on level of experience. If you have never completed a 5K (3.1 miles) or 10K (6.2 miles) race, your goal should not include signing up for next month’s marathon (26.2 miles). Similarly, for someone who has never endeavored in this form of exercise, it is unwise to sign-up for your local 5K without taking some appropriate first steps. For someone who has never participated in running activity, it is generally recommended to seek expert medical opinion regarding your physical readiness and risk stratification. A great place to start is with your primary care provider. Once cleared to participate, a great goal for the beginning runner can include “run 1 mile without stopping”, “run 3 days a week for 1 year”, or “complete my local 5K race”.

How Long Does it Take to Prepare for a 5K?

The level of preparedness depends on your goal. An elite level athlete will often have several months of “base training” before tailoring workouts 1-2 months before a target 5K race. If the goal is to finish (a great goal for anyone) a reasonable amount of time would be equivalent to the amount it takes to build your stamina to be able to complete the 3.1 mile feat. A good principle to follow as you increase your training is to follow the “10% rule”. Do not increase your weekly mileage or intensity by more than 10% per week. Doing so could lead to unnecessary injuries. If you have never ran a 5k and your goal is to be able to run the whole way without stopping, try the run-walk training plans as popularized by Jeff Galloway. Soon enough, you will feel comfortable skipping the walking part and pacing yourself to run the distance. For the beginning runner looking to complete their 1st 5K, two months should be a reasonable amount of time.

How Does Diet Affect Runners?

This can be a broad topic. To reduce injury, diet is a very important component to be consistent with. Meb Keflezighi (An American Olympic medalist and Boston marathon winner) made three points when asked about the importance of a healthy diet:

  1. Fuels your training but doesn’t interfere with it.
  2. Keeps you healthy.
  3. Helps maintain a good running weight.

These principles are fairly easy to follow. We will often see an endurance athlete in our clinic for a stress fracture (injury caused by an imbalance of bone loading and bone restoration) and find out that they are skipping breakfast. Classic mistake! The running athlete needs to keep up caloric demand to avoid injuries that occur when the impact of running cannot be withstood by the bone (ex: stress fractures). This is a classic example highlighting the importance of fueling your body. Another important aspect to keep in mind is the quality of food, not just the quantity. As you can imagine, too much unhealthy food can have a negative impact on the runner as well. Did you know that the busiest food line at the Olympic Villages is McDonald’s? That is so puzzling! Nevertheless, an important part of your diet leading up to race day is to consume foods that are familiar to your digestive system. This will help you avoid any unnecessary “pit stops” during your race. Also, keep in mind that running a lot does not mean you can eat whatever you want. Possibly due to this misconception, the amount of runners with significant heart disease is an increasing trend in the past years. Even though your goal may be to run well, it is far more important to live long and healthy.

What Are Some Common Injuries Seen in Early Runners, Which Ones Can be Fought Through and Which Ones Need to be Seen by a Physician, and How Do You Know What You Can Run on Instead of Something You Should Rest?

The beginning runner will often make the rookie mistakes. Classically, early running injuries can often be chalked up to simple training errors such as “running too much, too soon and too fast.” Some common running injuries include posterior tibial tendinitis, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, achilles tendinitis and patellofemoral syndrome. To some level, all of these injuries may relate back to an imbalance in the stress/rest cycle. While there are many other variables, such has a biomechanical subtlety that may lead to these frequent overuse injuries, a runner may often face an injury with no great explanation of actual cause.

When you sense an injury or are trying to fight through some unusual pain, there are a few guidelines that can help guide a runner to know when to modify and when to seek medical attention. Tendon pain or many soft tissue injuries tend to “warm up” in the initial segments of a workout. This may start to worsen in the later stages of a run and will often be worse the next day. The key is to recognize unusual pain and try to modify potential training errors before the soft tissue problem worsens to the point of debility. If there is a certain goal the runner is working towards and is not wanting to curtail running, it is reasonable to permit running for most soft tissue overuse injuries with a few general rules. A runner may train and race with soft tissue overuse injury as long as pain is kept to a mild level, it does not worsen significantly during the workout, and there is no change in gait or your normal running form. Conversely, more serious overuse injuries, such as stress fractures and compartment syndrome, behave with progressive symptoms. This is pain that exists during the beginning of the workout and worsens the farther you go. This pattern should be recognized soon and should be examined by a sports medicine professional. The beginning runner may have difficulty recognizing what is “unusual pain” or something that could be more serious. Pay close attention to your body, developing symptoms, or increasing levels of pain — please seek medical attention anytime you are unsure.