Whew! I spent so much time sorting through the comments on yesterday's post about the three myths (and one truth!) about running that I missed my own scheduled evening run. Some of the people who responded had questions about how to start or maintain a new running routine. For the basics, I consulted the expert: John "the Penguin" Bingham, who writes a column for Runner's World magazine that is aimed at middle- and back-of-the-pack runners. (He also answers questions in his blog.)
How do you start running? Just, er, start running?
I recommend you begin by walking consistently for a couple of weeks, just to get moving and make regular activity a habit. Then integrate a little bit of running—and I mean a little bit, like 30 to 45 seconds of running every four or five minutes of walking. Gradually, over time, change that. Some people may find they like to do mostly walking with some running, others will end up mostly running and still do some walking, and others will really like running and do that exclusively. But it will take longer than you think [to work up to running]. The people who try to run a 5k after three weeks of running are the ones who get hurt.
Okay, what if you've worked up to a bit of a running habit, but your knees ache afterward?
Pain is never a good thing. It's an indication that you're doing more than your body can handle. If you had a dog that was limping around, you wouldn't make it go run. It's the same with people. We think we have to push through the pain, and that's just crazy. There's the feeling of honest fatigue that comes with effort. And there's also the feeling that indicates the onset of injury. Probably the most difficult thing for us is to distinguish between the two. If you're hurting, do what you'd do for a dog with a sore paw. Rest.
Say you've started running to lose weight and the scale hasn't budged. What gives?
You've got to be patient. You don't get to that weight overnight, and you won't lose it overnight. What happens is that people's expectations are too high, and they often overestimate the number of calories that they're burning. And because of that, many people will find running is not a great weight loss tool. But be patient, kind, and loving with your body. Integrate regular activity with sensible eating.
You've been running for a while and are still huffing and puffing. Does this get any easier?
My response to this question is: Why isn't it easy right off the bat? People have the impression that it has to hurt to be any good. Well, I work with a lot of elites, and you'd be surprised at how easy their workouts are. Keep your effort low, and sustain it for a longer and longer period of time. Only 10 percent of your running should be at a harder effort.
Are some people just not made to be runners?
There are people who are not designed to be fast runners or long-distance runners. You may not have the body or genetics to be a marathoner or to run a 5k in 25 minutes. But maybe you can run a 5k in 45 minutes. You have to adjust your expectations.
And for those who try running and really hate it?
For some people, emotionally, running doesn't get it done. They'd rather bike or swim or be out hiking in nature with a walking stick and a backpack. It's a matter of finding an activity you like to do. If you hate running and are sane, you won't do it.
For more: I talked with John a few years ago when I wrote about overcoming the excuses we all have for not exercising. And earlier this year, I wrote about how to figure out if you're just sore or actually injured, as well as why you may not lose weight when you start an exercise routine.