The 7 Most Important Things for Beginning Runners to Know
Running is a sport that anyone can participate in and reap the benefits of improved cardiovascular health, enhanced self-esteem, and better general wellness. However, when beginning a new running routine there are a number of things that must be kept in mind in order to make the most of one of the world’s most popular activities.
Proper shoes are necessary
Many beginning runners assume that since they are not running far nor fast, they can run in any pair of athletic shoes. This is a poor assumption for a number of reasons. First, proper running shoes1 provide the right type of cushioning and support that your foot requires. If a person is overweight and has poor running biomechanics, this factor is especially important for protecting sensitive muscle, fascia, and joints. Second, proper running shoes will improve the comfort level of your runs, which will keep beginning runners from giving up the sport too soon.
To find the right pair of running shoes2 for your body type, stride, and biomechanics visit your local running store to find out what type of foot strike you have. Runners who land on their forefoot versus heel will find they are most comfortable in different footwear, while shoes for pronation (landing on the inside of the foot) or supination (landing on the outside of the foot) are also available. These considerations are especially important for injury prevention.
It’s okay to walk
Beginner runners often mistakenly believe that in order to start running, they must only run, and never walk. In fact, the opposite is true. In order to develop – and stick with – a running habit, many experts recommend starting with a run-walk-run regimen. One of the largest proponents of this technique is Jeff Galloway, an Olympian who competed in the 10k in the 1972 games.
The run-walk-run method helps beginners gradually build their running endurance safely and effectively while reducing the risk of developing an injury. A typical run-walk-run training program will help the beginning runner complete any distance, from 5k to marathon, by gradually increasing the amount of time spent running and minimizing the amount of time spent walking. This approach is also more mentally manageable than heading out the door for a painful daily run, and decreases the chances of the beginner feeling that running is simply too hard. Sample run-walk-run training plans from Jeff Galloway can be found here.
The definition of runner is fluid
Beginner runners often feel that they cannot call themselves a runner, for a myriad of reasons. These reasons include feeling as though they don’t look like a runner, aren’t as fast as a typical runner, or haven’t participated in the sport long enough. The truth is, if you are able to put one foot in front of the other you can consider yourself a runner.
There is no perfect runner’s body, and beginners should avoid making body-type comparisons among their peers. Other definitions state that a person is not a runner until he or she completes a race, but this definition is also simply not true. There is no mandate for how frequently a runner must run in order to wear the label of runner, or how far or fast. The sooner a beginning runner embraces the label of runner, the easier he or she will be able to find motivation for sticking with the sport.
Heed the 10% rule
A leading cause of injury and mental burn-out for beginner runners is running too much, too soon. Injuries such as shin splints, stress fractures, runner’s knee, and muscle strains can all rear their ugly heads when the 10% rule is not followed. What is the 10% rule? Simply put, beginning runners (and veterans returning from a long break) should not increase their running volume by more than 10% each week.
In addition to overall volume, not ramping up intensity too quickly is another important consideration. While there is no general rule of thumb that is as easy to follow as the 10% rule, beginning runners should avoid increasing the intensity of their workouts until they have developed a sufficient base. Aerobic base building typically requires at least 8 – 12 weeks of running. If you decide to incorporate speed work into your running routine, start with one day per week, not to exceed 15% of your weekly mileage.
Injury prevention starts with self-care
Most runners avoid self care3 until after their first injury, but the key to staying healthy is engaging in the proper activities. For instance, yoga, massage, and strength training are all activities that professional and elite runners engage in to stay healthy despite high-volume training. Even 5 – 10 minutes per day of activities such as recovery yoga, meditation, foam rolling, and core can make a difference in a runner’s proclivity to becoming injured. Every runner will experience some type of ache or pain at some point in his or her career, and the real challenge is catching the injury in time, identifying the cause, and preventing the reoccurrence in the future.
Running is a lifestyle
There are many aspects that go into becoming the best runner one can possibly be. These include sleep, proper hydration, nutrition, recovery, and discipline. Concepts like the “24-hour athlete” are often touted by runners in order to get the most out of the sport. How does each aspect play a role?
Sleep is important for rebuilding muscular damage that is caused by running. During rest the body naturally produces human growth hormone4, which is required for rebuilding the micro-tears in damaged muscle and tissue.
Hydration5 is crucial because the body is primarily composed of water. During exercise, water is lost via sweat and other bodily processes, leaving muscles and joints at risk of injury. Runners should drink enough water and clear liquids throughout the day such that their urine is pale yellow or clear in color.
Proper nutrition is essential for fueling the body. A nutrient dense diet that includes wholesome carbohydrates, lean proteins, and healthy fats is ideal. Runners often fall into the trap of being over-indulgent and fueling with processed foods and excess sugar, simply because they feel they earned the right to indulge after going on a run.
The good news is that lifestyle changes are easy to incorporate once the beginning athlete has been infected with the “running bug.”
Listen to your body
Finally, perhaps the most important thing for a beginner runner to know is that it is important to listen to your body. When you take up this sport you will come face to face with discomfort, especially in the beginning of your training. You need to determine for yourself how your body distinguishes between pain and discomfort, and how to heed that warning.
While taking an unplanned day off from running is never fun, neither is becoming so injured that you are required to take weeks or months off at a time in order to allow your body to heal. The trait that distinguishes good runners from great runners is the ability to listen to one’s body and take an easy day when necessary.
1. The Influence of Midsole Hardness of Running Shoes on Shoes Flex Angle during Running. (2004). Korean Journal of Sport Biomechanics, 14(2), 85-103. doi:10.5103/kjsb.2004.14.2.085 Link
2. Christie, P. D., & Jackson, R. W. (2016). A Case Study Comparing Minimalist Design Running Shoes with Traditional Motion Control Foam Core Running Shoes. Journal of Athletic Enhancement, 05(02). doi:10.4172/2324-9080.1000225 Link
3. Koski, T. (2015). Running as Phenomenological and Bodily Inquiry of the Self. The Phenomenology and the Philosophy of Running, 17-24. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-15597-5_2 Link
4. Parker, D. C., Sassin, J. F., Mace, J. W., Gotlin, R. W., & Rossman, L. G. (1969). Human Growth Hormone Release During Sleep: Electroencephalographic Correlation. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 29(6), 871-874. doi:10.1210/jcem-29-6-871 Link
5. Hue, O., Henri, S., Baillot, M., Sinnapah, S., & Uzel, A. (2014). Thermoregulation, Hydration and Performance over 6 Days of Trail Running in the Tropics. International Journal of Sports Medicine, 35(11), 906-911. doi:10.1055/s-0033-1361186 Link