Beautiful running scenery

Running for Pleasure and Health

After running for competition, exercise and pleasure for more than a decade, there are few things I haven’t heard from non-runners regarding the practice.

From the ubiquitous “You ran four miles?? Without stopping?” to the even more ubiquitous “You’re crazy!” runners hear all kinds of things from those to whom the practice seems foreign.

Yet one of the things people often say that’s less a joke is something along the lines of, “I wish I could do that.”

If you’re one of those people, the good news is you can.

Starting to Run

One of the best things about running is its accessibility. Unlike sports like basketball, soccer, baseball, tennis or football, you don’t need accessories like balls or bats or racquets or even other people to participate – all you need is a good set of legs and the capacity to place one foot in front of the other.

With the ease by which running can be carried out, it is surprising that more people don’t take advantage of its benefits. Not only is running a great way to relieve tension and stress, but it strengthens muscles, sheds unwanted pounds and is one of the best ways to improve your cardiovascular health. And if you run outside, there’s the added benefit of getting yourself out of the house, if only for a few minutes each day.

Sadly, despite the proven benefits of running as a form of exercise, many people get discouraged from the practice early on in their attempt to lead a running lifestyle. While there is a certain amount of sympathy allowable for excuses such as lack of time – dressing for a workout, having to shower after, having to wash your hair, then dry it – one excuse that should never prevent someone from beginning a running regimen is that they just “can’t do it.”

I’ve heard this excuse often since I began running in middle school as a cross-country runner nearly 15 years ago. People hear that I’m a distance runner, express surprise that someone they know actually traverses a distance measured in miles using nothing but their lower body, and then express remorse that they themselves don’t have that kind of time, ambition or ability. Often, these same individuals have at one time or another tried to begin a workout regimen based on running and have simply given up, they say, because it was “too hard,” they just “couldn’t do it.”

The purpose of this article, and others to follow, is to let you know those people are wrong – they can do it – and you can too.

Beginning Running Guidelines

Here are some basic guidelines to follow when beginning a running regimen to help ensure the drive to run will last:

1. Begin slowly. This goes for individual runs and the workout regimen in general. All too often beginning runners who have never run a mile in their life take off like the Flash only to be forced to stop a block from their driveway, completely out of breath and cramping. Nothing discourages a person from running a mile like unbearable pain in the first hundred yards. Take it easy, take it slow. It takes time to build up speed, as well as endurance.

2. Start out running shorter distances. In the same way as patience is required for speed, patience is required for distance. There’s a reason most distance runners don’t start out running marathons – it takes time to build your body’s muscles and the air capacity your lungs require to handle the strain of supporting you over long distances. Start out with shorter distances and work your way up gradually – a half mile once a day a few days this week; then a half mile every day next week, with a mile thrown in for good measure; then a mile every other day the next week, with a two-miler on Saturday; and so on. It may take a while to build up your body’s endurance, but it will grow. And taking your time and avoiding injury is better than the discouragement that can come from injury trying to do too much too soon.

3. Take breaks. It seems like there’s a stigma among runners and non-runners alike with stopping in the middle of a run, but unless you’re in the middle of an Olympic marathon there’s nothing wrong with taking a break to catch your breath now and then. It often surprises me how much energy I have after taking even a modest break for something like tying a shoe. Giving your body a rest when it needs one is natural and nothing to be ashamed of. Many people would be astonished by how much distance they could cover if they mixed a few minutes of brisk walking into their daily running routine.

The preceding pieces of advice are simple, general guidelines which, if adhered to, can make your transition from a less active lifestyle to that of a runner both safer and more enjoyable. Above all else do not get discouraged – if you are patient with pursuing your goal of being a runner, tremendous rewards will follow. As the old saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

And it continues with another, then another, and another…