(from 7 Weeks to a 10k by Brett Stewart)
Getting Started: Running 101
“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Chinese Proverb
Running is a commitment of time, physical and mental energy, but it's far more important than a simple pastime to pick up. A fitness and running regimen is an investment that you make in yourself, and the potential dividends are many: a healthier, happier life; a sense of accomplishment by reaching your goals; the fortitude that comes from learning from mistakes and fighting through setbacks to keep your goals in sight. There will be many ups and downs during your running career, and you’ll learn valuable lessons from each victory and many more from any failures and stumbles along the way to hit your goals. Some training sessions will feel like a trip to the dentist while others will feel like a day at the spa. To adopt a runner’s mentality means to embrace the good with the bad and keep an open mind to all the things you'll learn along the way. I personally never envisioned becoming a runner. I cherish all the memories I’ve made “on the run” and look forward to the experiences I’ve yet to have.
So, how does one get started and become a runner? It all starts with a simple desire to reach a goal, whether it's to run a marathon, lose weight, feel better, change your life, or even just get off the couch and do something. Harnessing that desire can be a tricky thing– just think of the millions of New Year’s resolutions that fall by the wayside mere minutes or days after they've been made. True aspirations still need to be combined with a plan of action in order to make them a reality, and continued repetition is required to make that action into a routine.
Here are some simple tips and recommendations in order to make a plan and stick with it, to become a runner for the first time or to develop better running habits that can lead to an even more successful and enjoyable running career.
Start small. No one becomes an athlete overnight. It takes time to build up your strength, skill and stamina. Begin by walking and jogging short distances and stick with it. You'll soon be going farther and faster than you ever expected. Give yourself the chance to progress and your body to adapt.
Walk before you run. Walk/jog intervals are a big part of the Prep Program (in 7 Weeks to a 10k) and should absolutely be the path for new runners to build up their strength and stamina before running any continuous amount. The short walking breaks will allow you to catch your breath, hydrate and prepare to execute the next jog with a relaxed stride and proper form.
Go short before you go long. The quickest way for a new runner or one coming back after an injury to get knocked off-track is to try and log too many miles, too fast. It's extremely common to get excited about completing an enjoyable run and immediately try to run significantly farther the next time you head out to train. Think of it like lifting weights: You don’t jump from curling 10-pound dumbbells to suddenly lifting a pair of 35s the next day. It takes time to progressively build up your mileage the same way. Failing to take your time will result in sore joints, shin splints, “dead” legs that have little energy and no spring in them, and delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS). Any of these injuries can knock you off-track for your training, and all are easily avoidable by progressively adding to your mileage in small increments over time. The Prep Program was designed specifically for newcomers to start from scratch and get into running. For semi-experienced runners, a common rule of thumb is to add 10% to your mileage each week, but I like to use a simpler method: Pick one run per week and add a mile to it. Repeat each week until you get to your target distance. Adding mileage doesn’t go on forever!
Below is an example of adding mileage similar to what we’ll see in all the programs. This is also an effective and safe way for experienced runners to increase their endurance and strength (aka “base”) when stepping up to a longer race distance or coming back from off-season or injury. The Prep Program (in 7 Weeks to a 10k) starts with progressive walking and jogging intervals based on time, while the Basic and Advanced programs use progressive distance additions. (Check out “Preparing for the Programs” in 7 Weeks to a 10k for a primer on intervals and progression.)
- Week 1: Monday 3 miles, Wednesday 3 miles, Friday 3 miles = 9
- Week 2: Monday 4 miles, Wednesday 3 miles, Friday 3 miles = 10
- Week 3: Monday 4 miles, Wednesday 4 miles, Friday 3 miles = 11
- Week 4: Monday 4 miles, Wednesday 4 miles, Friday 4 miles = 12
Progressive programs with an incremental gain can work wonders over time. Just try and hold yourself back from jumping into longer distances too quickly.
Go slow before you go fast. Speed, like distance, also takes time to build up to as it's extremely easy to damage muscle tissue that's not yet conditioned for rapid bursts of speed, and the injuries can be quite catastrophic in nature. Severe muscle or tendon pulls and tears can happen in an instant and take weeks, months or years to heal, if they do. Sprinting only takes place in more advanced programs and for finite periods of time.
Run with a pal (two or four-legged variety). If you already have a pooch and are a beginner, then you have a training partner. The walk/jog intervals are perfect for giving both you and your dog a boost in your daily routine. The short-distance jogs are a great way to begin to build your cardio and base mileage, and probably won’t completely wear either of you out too quickly. Knowing your doggie needs you to take her out anyway makes it easier to sneak this workout into your normal day, and I’m pretty positive Fido will enjoy it. You’ll both get fitter together and mutually build up your distance between walks. I run with my pooch all the time; check out “What Shelby Taught Me about Pacing” (in 7 Weeks to a 10k).
Humans happen to make pretty darn good running partners too. They usually complain a little more than your dog does, but at least they don’t try and trip you with a leash every so often. Want to get to know someone? Go for a run with them! Running works just like truth serum; after a mile or so complete strangers will tell you just about anything about their life. It must have something to do with all the endorphins swirling around your brain, and you can’t help it. Also, by the end of a good run, you’ll end up being better friends with your running partner too. Why “The Bachelor” uses a dip in a hot tub versus a tempo run to select his rose-worthy suitors is beyond me.
The mere existence of a running partner will usually be enough to get you out of bed on a cold, dim morning to head out for a run so you don’t let them down. Optimally, one of you should be a morning person–that’s a big help! A good running partner will motivate you when you’re sluggish, slow to your pace when you’re not feeling well and stay with you when you need a rest. The key is to make sure you both support each other along the way. The “Golden Rule” applies to runners: Make sure you help out your partner as you’d like them to help you out!
As you and your partner get more experienced as runners, invariably you’ll start to push and challenge each other, but keep this in check. Each training run shouldn’t be required to end with a sprint–unless that’s what you’re both up for. When training back at ESPN with Erik and Mandy, all three of us were so close in our pace that each run we’d have a different “winner.” Head-to-head sprints to the finish are commonplace every time I run with Michael Bennett here in the desert. Two ultra-competitive guys trying to push each other on every single workout can be a fantastic thing!
Run fast, think fast. Studies have shown that physical exercise helps brain cell development and neural connections; researchers are attributing this to increased oxygen and nutrient flow during cardiovascular exercise. In other words, the more you run, the more you strengthen your mind too! The thought process of most runners will fall into three categories:
- Thinking about running while running. This group is usually composed of new runners who haven’t yet learned to relax and let the training run happen. Incidentally, this also happens to be the same group that complains how much running sucks.
- Thinking about absolutely nothing–completely “out of it” while running. I happen to know a few of these types who can literally shut off their brain and just chug through the miles. From my experience, these are the runners who you need to be extremely careful when running with on a busy street as they have a tendency to completely forget about road or sidewalk conditions, car, pedestrian or bike traffic and even dog poo. Like Forrest Gump said: “It happens!”
- Thinking about anything and everything else while running, exploring the meaning of life and the existential nature of beings one minute and then contemplating who gave the paperclip its shape and why Benjamin Franklin would choose a wild turkey for the national bird of the United States. I happen to fall into this category, and find that during a run I'm in the perfect mental space to think about writing, projects, and all sorts of creative endeavors.
Lose weight while running, but don’t run to lose weight. As a coach and trainer, “I want to lose X pounds by Y date” is one of the most common phrases I’ll hear, and while it's a lofty and admirable goal, it's fraught with problems. Running is a great way to lose weight, but it's not the end-all-be-all of fitness, especially for those who are overweight and can’t yet take full advantage of the cardiovascular and metabolic benefits due to the additional force placed on joints and a limited aerobic capacity. Aside from the physical conditioning, weight loss is dependent on proper nutrition and caloric intake. Running will not make you thin if your diet does not support healthy weight loss.
Setting too short of a time frame for losing weight is also snafu that can lead to depression, low self-esteem and even extremely unhealthy methods to drop pounds by using fat-burning pills, diuretics, laxatives or worse. Trying to lose too much, too fast is a sure way to miss your goal.
Now, don’t let me deter you from employing a running regimen to get in shape and lose weight. Running is one of the most efficient ways to burn calories–a whopping 100 or so per mile for a150-pound person at a 9:30-per-mile pace. There’s no doubt you can get stronger, fitter and torch the fat off your body by sticking with a running plan, but combining it with proper nutrition and a full-body exercise regimen will give you the results you're seeking much faster. (Read all about it in “The Programs” in 7 Weeks to a 10k.) The Achilles heel to weight loss for most new runners comes from overestimating the amount of calories they burned while running and taking in too many calories as a result.
Here’s a little cheat sheet to give you an idea what your calorie burn is really like so you can think twice before “treating yourself” to a celebratory doughnut after your workout.
- Calories burned running 1 hour (10:00 pace, 150-pound male): ~700
- Calories burned walking 1 hour (19:00 pace, 150-pound male): ~230
- Calories burned while sitting on couch 1 hour (150-pound male): ~100
The last one may throw you for a loop. You would've burned about 100 calories by sitting on your butt and letting your body’s systems do their thing. Your BMR, or Basal Metabolic Rate, is essentially the amount of calories your body would burn if you stayed in bed all day long, and it’s probably higher than you think. I was personally astonished to learn that mine was over 1600, and then used it as a tool to calculate the number of calories I should take in per day to maintain my weight and support my bodily functions based on my physical activity.
BMR = 655 + (4.35 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) – (4.7 x age in years)
BMR = 66 + (6.23 x weight in pounds) + (12.7 x height in inches) – (6.8 x age in years)
For example, I'm 5’9”, 155 pounds and 42 years of age; my BMR is 1622.35.
Caloric Intake (Harris Benedict Formula)
Based on your daily level of activity, multiply your BMR by the factor in the table below to get the number of calories you should consume in a day to maintain your weight and proper bodily functions.
- Sedentary, little or no exercise: BMR x 1.2
- Light exercise or sports 1-3 days per week: BMR x 1.375
- Moderate exercise or sports 3-5 days per week: BMR x 1.55
- Hard exercise or sports 6-7 days per week: BMR x 1.725
- Very hard exercise, amateur to professional athlete: BMR x 1.9
With a BMR of 1622.35 and a multiplier of 1.725 during hard training, my caloric intake should be around 2800 calories per day.
If you're planning to use this BMR and caloric guidelines to lose weight, don’t go overboard. Reducing your intake by 500 calories a day is a substantial amount and a good guideline to go by for healthy weight loss when combined with light to moderate exercise. If you plan on upping the intensity, keep your calories right around the calculated number above and you should lose weight effectively as well. Learn more about losing weight while training on “Dropping Weight to Begin Running” in the Prep Program in 7 Weeks to a 10k.
Run for someone else. Running for a charity or in honor of someone who can no longer run for themselves is a way to tap into a whole other well of strength in order to keep going. If your mantra becomes “I won’t quit on Pat Tillman,” then it may be much easier to train for Pat’s Run while also raising money for the Tillman Foundation. I'm proud to be a member of Team Tillman, and the process of raising funds while training for one of Arizona’s biggest marathons kept me motivated. During my training for Ironman in 2009, I covered my bike with names of friends and family who had fought cancer and enlisted the help of others to help me reach my financial goal to donate to The Prostate Cancer Foundation. During any low times during training or the race when I thought about quitting or even dropping out due to a flat tire (it happens!), I remembered each one of those courageous individuals and it was a no-brainer to tough it out till the end.
Through progressive training, the incremental improvements you make over time will add up to very significant gains. My first race was 3.1 miles, my last race was over 50, but it doesn’t happen overnight. I’ll show you in “The Programs” in 7 Weeks to a 10k how to make every workout count and build on the last effort to make you faster, fitter and stronger. Through repetition over time, you'll continue to build your endurance and progress even farther as a runner. The sky’s the limit, but you’ll need to put in some time and hard work before you can go “swinging on a star.”
Come back alive–run safely. Running isn’t all that dangerous. Compared to any other physical sport, the incidents that result in serious injury are minimal, but unless you’re confined to running only on a treadmill, there are dangerous environmental and situational factors that need to be kept in mind. Most importantly, use common sense when running and avoid potentially unsafe conditions and situations; whenever possible, run with a friend and always carry a cell phone when you're out alone.
(from 7 Weeks to a 10k by Brett Stewart)
About the Author
Brett Stewart is the author of 7 Weeks to a 10k and several other fitness-related books including Ultimate Obstacle Race Training, 7 Weeks to Getting Ripped, Medicine Ball Workouts, and more. A certified personal trainer, triathlete and ultramarathoner, Brett brings his passion for fitness and competition to his writing and training to deliver workouts for anyone of any size, age or fitness ability to change their life.
Formerly an overweight smoker who couldn’t walk up a flight of stairs without being winded, Stewart reclaimed his life and developed the fitness that allowed him to become an Ironman finisher, ultra athlete and fitness trainer, model and author. Learn more about Brett’s transformation, his books and apps at 7weekstofitness.com