Editor's note: The author has been a runner for over 24 years, has run 5 marathons, and has basically run enough miles to circle the globe.
This article is for those of you who have been living a sedentary life, and want to get active. Maybe you are a couch potato and are worried about your health as you get older; maybe you work in an office and want to be more active. If you have been contemplating taking up running, or jogging, to get in shape, this article is for you.
There is an old saying “you have to walk before you can run”. This is very true for folks who want to start running for exercise; your first two weeks should be nothing but walking. You don’t need to walk with your arms flailing about like a power walker gone amok; you just need to walk with a purpose. Tighten your butt and your stomach muscles, and walk for one or two miles at a pace that pushes you, but doesn’t over exert you. Your leg muscles will experience some soreness the next day, but it should not be so bad as to keep you from wanting to walk again in a day or two.
After at least two weeks of walking, your legs should now be ready to handle light jogging. Start by jogging slowly over the same one or two mile course you have been walking the last couple of weeks. You should not be concerned with your speed or how fast you can run the course; the idea is to get cardiovascular exercise, not to try out for the Olympics. Try to find a pace that you can maintain for the whole course without stopping or over exerting yourself. You will notice that your speed will quickly increase over time as your body adjusts.
Now some tips that all runners should know and follow:
1) Do NOT run or jog on concrete surfaces, or sidewalks. Running is a high impact exercise, which means that every time your foot hits the ground it sends a jolt up your foot, leg, and hip. Concrete is very hard and has no give to it; it is preferable to run on asphalt. I always get weird looks from people when I tell them this, but it is true. If you take a hammer and strike concrete what happens? It will chip or shatter. If you hit asphalt with a hammer what happens? It goes “thunk”. That is because asphalt is much softer than concrete, especially on warm days. If you insist on running on concrete you may be looking at having a knee or hip replacement in a few years.
2) Run only with running shoes, not cross trainers. You don’t need one hundred dollar Air Nikes, but you should have a light weight running shoe. This will save you from developing very painful shin splints. When your shoes wear out replace them, or you will have the same problem.
3) If you run along the side of a road ALWAYS run facing traffic.
4) If you run at night always wear a reflective shirt or vest. Most running shoes have reflective strips on them, but that is not always enough to guarantee visibility.
5) Keep plenty of liniment handy. It will take months for your legs to get used to the pounding, and a good liniment (I prefer Flex-All 454) is invaluable.
6) Some runners like to stretch before running, but I never stretch. Most people do not know how to properly stretch, and will hurt themselves more by stretching than not. I prefer to have a half mile warm up walk before my run to get blood circulating and to loosen up joints and tendons. I also recommend a half mile cool down walk after my run to bring the heart rate back to normal in a gradual way. Locating your running course about a half mile from your home will help you accomplish both of these walks.
7) Bring a water bottle with you. I normally do not drink while running unless I am going long distances, but it sure is nice to have on your cool down walk home. I recommend that you throw a bottle of water in the freezer the night before, and stash it before your run, you will have ice cold water for your cool down walk.
8) Do not over exert yourself. If for any reason your heart rate is too high, or you become winded, start walking until your heart rate comes down to where you feel comfortable to run again.
Running is great exercise, and is also a lot of fun. Bring a radio with you or an i-pod if you wish, it can help you keep a pace and help take your mind off the exertion.
Have fun, and get in shape!