I used to run (just a few miles at a time, nothing big) and got out of it when we started a family and got busy. I'd like to get back into it but I'm pretty out of shape and am daunted by it because I'm not in that great a shape anymore. Any tips you can share?
The beauty of running is its simplicity. Unlike swimming, where you have to find a pool, and cycling, where you often have to spend a lot of money and ride time indoors during the winter (note: I am a big fan of both sports), in running all you need is yourself and not much else.
When people ask me for help in taking up running (or, in your case, coming back to running after some time off), I really try to keep it simple--since running is, at its essence, very simple. Just go outside and run. Run as far as you can. Then the next day, run a little farther. Have fun. Breathe in the air. Enjoy the nature all around you. Whether it’s summer or winter, any time outdoors is a gift. Moving over the land is a magical experience.
But I realize that saying “go run and have fun" may not be enough. People want details. Assuming you have seen your doctor and been cleared for a regular exercise regiment (important, especially after taking time off and coming back), here are 10 running tips plus a bonus tip:
- Run in quality shoes designed for your foot type. A car is only as good as its tires. It’s the same with running shoes. Visit a specialty running store that will match you up with the right shoes. It's always ideal to start off in new shoes. If your budget is tight, get whatever running shoes you can. That’s what I did in my early years. A word of caution on running shoes: Never buy a shoe just for its looks; buy according to comfort. Running shoes will last about four to five hundred miles. Keep track of your mileage so you know when to replace them. Always replace your shoes if you start experiencing foot, ankle, knee, hip or back pain.
- Run in socks specifically made for running. Avoid socks that are cotton and instead shoot for socks made from Coolmax fabric, which will help prevent blisters. I've tried almost every brand of sock and know what works for me. Find what works for you.
- Have a positive attitude and be patient. As you get in better shape, you'll find that running feels more natural and is less and less of a struggle. Start gradually. If running is new to you, start off with a five-minute walk, one-minute run/jog routine and add onto your running time as your fitness improves. Above all, be patient.
- Sprinkle in some cross-training. Cycling, swimming and the elliptical trainer are great non-impact cross-training options. When I'm really in a zone and clicking off big miles to prepare for a race, I often don’t have much time to cross-train. Big mistake. Cross-training works different muscles, helps correct and protect against muscle imbalances and gives your legs a break from the impact. Make time for it.
- Drink plenty of water (but not too much). Drink some water before your run (but not too much) and rehydrate with water after your run. Don't force water on yourself; drinking too much water can result in hyponatremia. As a rule of thumb, drink to thirst. Take some water with you if it’s hot. You don’t need sports drinks unless you’re running over ninety minutes and even then you may not need them. Sports drinks are full of sugar. Water is all you need most of the time.
- Run on the softest-possible surfaces, which are gentler on your joints. This is especially important for those who are overweight. If you don't have access to dirt trails or dirt roads, run on asphalt in safe areas.
- If resources allow, run in breathable clothing. Scandinavians have a saying that goes something along the lines of, “there’s no such thing as bad weather; only bad clothing.” Having run in almost all conditions, I agree. What you wear on a run can make all the difference. Wear breathable, moisture-wicking fabrics like Coolmax. Coolmax apparel for running is easy to find and readily available at your specialty running store, online, and at many big-box retailers.
- Work on flexibility. Static stretching (where you hold a position) can be stressful on your muscles when done incorrectly. Before a run, I do some leg swings to activate my hamstrings and hips. I also engage in other dynamic stretches. Stretching between runs is also beneficial. Yoga is a great way to stay limber and protect against injury, but don’t overdo it.
- Work your core. For the runner, strong legs are king, but so is a well-developed core that includes the abs, hips, glutes and back. Planks are great for core and overall strengthening.
- Set manageable, realistic goals. If finishing a marathon is your ultimate goal, start by setting manageable supporting goals that prepare you for 26.2 miles. Focus on a strong effort at a local 5K or maybe even 10K and then work up from there. Rome wasn't built overnight! Look into local running clubs, where you'll benefit from knowledge, experience and camaraderie. Support from others will help you work toward and achieve your goals.
- Bonus: Be safe. If you’re going to run in the dark, please wear a headlamp, reflective gear, and ideally a blinking red light. Also carry identification and a mobile phone. Consider a RoadID bracelet. You can buy the lights and reflective gear at a specialty running or cycling shop.