This form of exercise is one of the most basic of all. No matter what your fitness level or body type, with the right preparation, you too can be a runner. This is our beginners guide to running.
If you’ve never been a runner, you may be thinking, “why?” You’ll no doubt have heard of the runner’s high, the weight loss, the cardiovascular boost. But maybe you feel nauseated after a jogging a few blocks and your knees hurt just thinking about it. Don’t fret, anyone can run. The OptiMYz guide will give you the basics to get you started.
“I choose to run because I want to feel positive,” says Meagan MacLeod, 33-year-old Head of School at Class Afloat—a high school on a tall ship. She’s been running since elementary school, but classifies herself as a “recreational runner.” Her runs are her time to daydream and take a break from work. When not on the high seas, she’ll often sneak a run in on her lunch hour. “I get more done on the days when I run,” she says.
MacLeod travels all over the world for work and running has become her way to get acquainted with new places. She’s run to Table Mountain in South Africa and Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro. She and a workmate will don a light backpack and head out into a city, stopping along the way to see sights and talk to locals. “If I was running to get in shape, maybe I wouldn’t like it,” she says.
For many of today’s runners, it’s about the experience, not the competition. “Running has become participatory,” says Stacy Chesnutt, director of Sole Sisters, a women’s-only race in Dartmouth, NS. The focus has moved away from a race time you “should” make to just getting out there.
In the 1970s, “You weren’t considered a runner unless you ran a marathon in under three hours,” says Chesnutt. But in 1994, Oprah ran a marathon and showed the world—especially women—that running wasn’t just for the elite. Today races are everywhere; there is almost certainly a 5K race in your area.
“I’m only going to run as long as it feels good in my body,” says MacLeod. There’s a difference between feeling uncomfortable because she’s working her muscles and breathing hard and when a run isn’t feeling “good.” She calls it “sludging”—running through sludge. That just means it’s time to change tack: Slow down, change direction, walk for a bit. “People feel you have to be running fast to be running,” she says. You don’t. “Run until it feels good.”
Want to try?
Running will teach you discipline—mental and physical. In order to avoid injury, you do need to run consistently. About three to four times per week will keep your body in shape and allow tiny micro adjustments to happen in your body, says Chesnutt.
Cross training will also help with injury prevention, overall fitness, recovery and boredom. On days where you’re not running, try swimming, biking, yoga or Pilates to spread the fitness love to every corner of your body.
WARNING: Injury ahead
Or not. The Internet is rife with conflicting information about how to prevent injury while running. Given that nearly everyone has at least tried the sport and that it is notorious for leading to various kinds of injury, rest assured there is much opinion-based writing floating around online.
Dr. Reed Ferber is Assistant Professor in the Faculties of Kinesiology and Nursing at the University of Calgary and director of the Running Injury Clinic. He and his team spent over 10 years developing 3D Gait Analysis, a world-class system that accurately analyzes the biomechanics of how a person runs or walks—the only system of its kind. It is used to prevent and treat injuries as well as improve athletic performance. Ferber debunks the top three running myths.
Running Myth 1: You need special shoes
“Pronation” is the natural action of the foot rolling from side to side as it adapts to uneven surfaces. It became a bad word in the 80s when the “anti-pronantion” shoe came on the market. Directed at novice runners, these shoes restrict the foot’s natural range of motion. But, according to Ferber, research shows they aren’t that good for you. “Your foot needs to pronate,” he says.
Shoes are part of the puzzle to be sure, he says, but the most important factor in choosing a shoe for running should be comfort. 85% runners just need to be in a neutral cushioning shoe, which lets the foot do whatever it wants but limits the impact between foot and the road.
Running Myth 2: You must have good running form
How you run now is the most efficient way your body can run, says Ferber. Even if it looks odd, you should not work on adopting a “form” that feels alien. “If you try to change something about your form, it’s metabolically taxing on your system and could cause injury,” Ferber says.
He notes the Canadian Olympic sprinter Andre De Grasse who runs with one arm close to his side and one wildly swinging out to the side. This is the result of an old rugby injury. His gait reflects the state of his body as a whole. “Get muscles stronger and more flexible,” Ferber says, “and your stride will naturally change.”
Running Myth 3: Staying injury-free is impossible
Basic biomechanics: When your foot strikes the ground, you absorb force; then you have to generate force to continue. When running, you spend most, if not all, of your time on one foot, so you need good balance. The hip abductors (your primary balancing muscle) and calves (the second) are the two main muscles you need to focus on in order to run safely. “If those muscles are weak, all the other muscles need to compensate,” Ferber says. Focus on strengthening these muscles over all others when you’re getting started.
Eating nutritious whole foods in general is part of any fitness routine. The better the fuel you put in you body, the better you will be able to perform. If running is part of a weight-loss program, being mindful of your nutrition is even more important. Some new runners actually experience weight gain as they compensate for calories burned.
What you eat before and after your run is important for maximizing your results. You don’t want to get hungry out on the trail, but neither do you want to be too full to run. If as a new runner you aren’t pushing yourself as hard, you may not even need a snack; a glass of water will do. Fuelling up will become necessary as your training gets harder. Eating a carb- and protein-rich snack after a run, or any extended amount of exercise, helps your muscles recover and keeps them from getting extra sore.
Try these in addition to your regular meals:
(60-90 mins before)
– Half a peanut butter sandwich
– 1 cup berries with ½ cup cottage cheese
– A baked sweet potato
(30 mins before)
– Half a banana
– A few cashews
Post-run (within 15-30 minutes) /SUBHED
– The other half of your peanut butter sandwich
– A protein shake
– Natural yogurt and fruit
Staying hydrated throughout the week will help your body run smoothly, flush out toxins and raise your energy levels. Use an app like iHydrate or Waterlogged to keep you on track. Remember, coffee and tea are dehydrating even though they technically contain water. Having a base level of hydration will make running more pleasant and you won’t need to carry a pesky water bottle around.
Couch to 5K
As a new runner, you’re aiming to build consistency with your training. You can work on speed and distance once you’ve built up your base and integrated running into your life.
The OptiMYz training schedule uses the run/walk method of training. The idea is to commit to running on a schedule, not to go all-out one day and be crippled for a week. Integrating walking into your routine gives your body a break from impact as it adapts to running and reduces the chance of injury. Even ultra-marathoners (24-30 hour runs) use this method of training.
The schedule is organized in phases. You can use this as a weekly calendar and follow along day-by-day. If you feel that a phase was particularly hard, just repeat it.
Make sure you could carry on a casual conversation as you run. No need to sprint here.
Before every run: Warm up with a brisk five-minute walk or some dynamic stretching.
Static stretching—when you hold a single stretch position—can leave you less powerful and prone to injury during a run. Opt instead for dynamic stretches—where you move through a range of motion—such as squats, butt kicks, walking lunges, etc.
A note on benchmarking
Moving your body is good for it. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you to run a 5K, what matters is that you do it. The typical time for a 5K is about 30 minutes or less, but as Chesnutt says, “It’s about finish lines, not finish times.”
Sudden, sharp pains that occur just below the ribs and can take your breath away are called stitches. Their exact cause is unknown but there are a number of actions you can take if a “side sticker” hits. Luckily, these cramps become less frequent as you become a more seasoned runner.
– Leave enough time to digest your snack before your run.
– Take the time to warm up and keep to a lighter pace as you get started.
– Don’t forget to breath: In through the nose, out through the mouth.
– Strengthen your core with ab exercises.
– Take some deep, controlled breaths.
– Do some side stretches.
– Slow down.
More Inspiration! Check out this article on the right foods for runners!