When and How to Start a Running Program

Preparing for short and long runs
Woman stretching before beginning her run

You’ve finally committed to running a 10K this year. Or maybe you’re just aiming to run twice a week for now.

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Whatever your running goal is, it’s best to speak with your doctor first, according to Monica Betchker, PT, DPT, AT. He or she can make sure you’re physically capable of beginning a running program and can help identify potential road blocks.

Here’s how to get started and what you need to know when it comes to running.

Try the walk-run program first

Most people do well with a run-walk program. Start with one minute of running alternating with two minutes of walking for a total of 20 to 30 minutes.Then increase running by 30 seconds each week until you reach 10 minutes of running.

This concept can be adjusted, depending on one’s overall health and fitness level. Even someone who is aerobically fit should start gradually, so your body can adjust to the impact of running.

The run program should not be painful

Plan on working out three to four days per week, but not consecutively. When 10 minutes of running has been achieved and your walking stages are no longer needed, increase the running distance by several minutes each week. Do this until you reach your desired goal or distance.

Your runs do not have to be the same length of time either. Alternate between shorter and longer runs and incorporate cross training to reduce your risk of injury.

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Rest is a crucial element of running

You should take time off from running each week. This will help you avoid injuries and fatigue that can occur with the increasing mileage. You should also take an extra day off if you’re sick, have muscle soreness or are overly tired. And don’t run an extra day because of an unscheduled day off!

Plan on a very easy day or a day off following workouts of greater intensity (like a longer run). If you’re training for a marathon or longer race, your last long run should be about three weeks before the race. Some studies have shown muscle damage following a long run that can last almost three weeks.

Goals and principles of running

Running can be a fun and satisfying way to stay active. If you’re new to it, take it slow, be consistent and don’t worry about what others think.

For experienced runners and those training for longer races, the goal is to peak at certain times of the year (depending upon your race schedule). In order to peak, you need to plan for recovery.

Whether you’re a beginner or veteran, keep these running principles in mind:

  • Rest and recovery are important.
  • The level of training should be increased gradually. Do not increase distance and intensity during the same week.
  • The risk of injury increases most significantly with high intensity workouts — but in order to run faster, you must train faster.
  • Never run hard workouts on consecutive days.
  • Keep a training log to learn what works and what doesn’t work in your running program.

Preparing for your first marathon

Before training for a marathon you should be running for about one year. Most programs build from a base of 20 to 25 miles per week. This type of foundation lowers your risk of injury.

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If you have a good running base, plan on an 18-week training program. Your longest run leading into this schedule should be at least five miles.

The most important aspect of training is the long run. This will train your muscles, heart and lungs to work for progressively longer periods of time.

Gradually increase your long runs with intermittent shorter runs. Pick a day for your long run. You may fill in the mileage for the remainder of each week dependent upon your usual weekly mileage, history of injuries and running experience.

A beginning marathoner should plan to run a total of about 20 to 25 miles during the early weeks of the program and up to 40 miles when the long runs are the greatest distance.

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