So you’ve decided to go for a jog. Congrats! You’ve just taken your first step as a runner.
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Whether you’re a neighborhood huffer-and-puffer or a world-class marathoner, the journey starts with that simple commitment to put one foot in front of the other over and over and over again.
Now let’s talk about what comes next and get you up to speed with a little Running 101.
What gear do you need to start running?
Running isn’t exactly an equipment-heavy activity, but there is one item that’s essential: a good pair of running shoes. (It has been that way since the start, too. Just check out those winged sandals worn by Hermes.)
Investing in running shoes is an investment in your health. The wrong pair of shoes for your foot type could route you down the injury trail, leading to shin splints, blisters and a host of aches and pains.
There are three basic types of running shoes: cushion, stability/neutral and motion control. Read more to learn what physical therapist Michele Dierkes, PT, DPT, ATC, recommends when looking over the many shoe options.
Many running stores also can offer evaluations as to which shoe might work best for you. If you’re looking for more input, consider getting a gait analysis done. This simple test by a physical therapist or exercise physiologist can help evaluate your running mechanics to select the best shoe.
Put some thought into making your choice of shoes: Odds are, they’ll be on your feet for upwards of 400 miles.
How to run your best in any weather
The ideal temperature for running is around 50 F – warm enough to keep blood flowing to your muscles but cool enough so that you don’t overheat and melt into a sweaty puddle on the sidewalk.
So there will be many days and times that are absolutely perfect to pound out a few miles. Of course, there also will be days that aren’t exactly optimal where you’ll be forced to weather the weather.
Tips for running in the heat
It’s not all fun in the sun. Sizzling temperatures can put dangerous stress on your body if you’re outside running (or doing any physical activity, for that matter). Overdoing it in those conditions can lead to heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
So some precautions are in order, says exercise physiologist Katie Lawton, MEd. She suggests:
- Running during the cooler hours on the day, such as around sunrise or just before sunset. (Out of the two, morning typically offers lower temperatures.)
- Wearing loose-fitting, light-colored clothes made from moisture-wicking fabric.
- Find shaded routes, such as park trails, and try to avoid heat-absorbing pavement.
- Slowing down your pace.
- Hydrating before, during and after your workout.
Tips for running in the cold
Dashing through the snow isn’t just for a one-horse open sleigh. No matter how cold or snowy it gets, many runners will keep heading outside to leave a trail of footprints on neighborhood sidewalks.
- Dress in layers, which will help keep you warm for those first frosty steps. Outer layers can come off as your body temperature rises with activity. Always wear a hat and gloves, too.
- Wear brightly colored or reflective clothing, as shorter days during winter increases your odds of running in the dark.
- Stretch inside before your run to get your blood flowing to your muscles.
- Watch for ice. If you’re running in really rough conditions, consider using special grips or cleats with your running shoes.
- Remember to hydrate to replenish fluids lost through sweat. (And, yes, you’re still sweating even though it is cold.)
How about just staying inside?
If you look out the window and decide that there is NO WAY you’re heading out to run, there’s always a treadmill. You’re not going to go far, but you’ll definitely be able to get your workout in without any worry about the weather.
Runners ask a lot from their bodies given the physical demands of putting in miles. At mealtime, it’s time to pay your body back.
A diet that’s high in carbohydrates is key for runners to provide the energy to keep those legs moving, says dietitian Kate Patton, Med, RD, CSSD, LD. Carbs fuel your body with glycogen, which is essentially fuel stored in your muscles.
Patton says runners should look to get between 50% and 70% of their calories from carbs. Healthy choices include:
- Whole grains.
- Starchy vegetables.
Make sure protein is on the menu, too, to build and maintain muscle strength. Proper hydration also is key. Learn more about a runner’s diet and recommendations.
Training smart to avoid injury
Know this as you start a running program: It’s in your DNA. Humans started running around 2 million years ago and haven’t slowed down. You are built to be a runner.
That being said, you’re also not a machine. Bodies break down with wear and tear. Training smart is the key to training healthy and avoiding injury if you’re a runner, says exercise physiologist Christopher Travers, MS.
Travers offers a half-dozen suggestions for avoiding the injury bug. The first involves selecting the right shoe, as mentioned previously. Other tips include:
- Keep your body flexible through stretching and activities such as yoga.
- Incorporate strength training into your routine.
- Listen to your body and resting or adjusting workouts when fatigue hits.
- Build your strength and stamina gradually.
- Talk to a doctor before starting your training.
Ready to race?
Fitness doesn’t have a finish line. Races certainly do, though.
Millions of runners a year search out race finish lines. The most popular race is the 5K, a 3.1-mile trek that is ideal for beginners as well as experienced runners determined to chip precious seconds off their fastest time.
Looking for a bigger challenge? Consider a 10K (6.2 miles). Or maybe set your sights on a half marathon (13.1 miles) or a full marathon (26.2 miles). There are even ultra races for those who want to run distances usually reserved for car travel.
Whatever the distance, it’s best to hit the starting line prepared. How do you do that? Lawton, the exercise physiologist, offers these tips and others:
- Make sleep a priority to be well-rested and ready to go.
- Dedicate yourself to a training schedule and keep track of your workouts. Many apps and fitness trackers can assist.
- Set a time goal for your race, as well as a backup goal.
When it comes to the actual race, focus on setting a pace that’s right for you. Stay upbeat, relax and enjoy the experience, too. View the race as a celebration of your hard work and miles of training.
And if your race includes a finish line beer tent, feel free to raise a glass of brew once you’ve properly rehydrated. You’ve earned it.