How will I benefit from running?
For starters, it tones muscles in your legs, hips, and abdomen. And, as an aerobic exercise, it builds cardiovascular health by working your heart muscle and improving oxygen supply to your muscles. What’s more, running reduces your risk of heart attack, develops your endurance, relieves stress, and burns calories quickly. Depending on factors including your weight, pace, and how hilly your route is, you’ll burn 500 to as much as 1,000 calories an hour.
How do I get started?
Find routes that you can use year round (you’ll want a well-lit option when the days get short) and that have smooth, relatively soft surfaces, like asphalt or dirt. Variety is the spice of life, and it’ll do the same for your workouts. But if you’re a beginner, you’ll probably be happiest at the local high school’s track — at least until you get to know your limits.
The right shoes are vital to comfort and safety; a pair that fits poorly can cause blistering, soreness, even knee and back trouble. Well-made running shoes have padded, flexible inner soles, a forgiving, breathable material for the upper body, and good traction on the outer sole. Your arch should be well supported (if you have high arches, you may need to buy inserts). Ask a salesperson at a store that specializes in running shoes to help you choose, and be sure to replace your shoes every 400 to 500 miles.
How often and how far should I run?
Three times a week is plenty. Start with a slow pace on easy terrain, and jog for only about 15 minutes. You should be breathing hard but still able to carry on a conversation. If that means you have to stop and walk every so often, fine. Give yourself six to eight weeks to build up to a 30-minute session, and rest at least every other day.
According to the American Running Association, you shouldn’t increase your mileage by more than 10 percent a week. Concentrate on jogging smoothly, and don’t worry about how fast you’re going. Though you may be tempted to run daily once you’re comfortable, give yourself at least two days off each week (all that pounding can lead to shinsplints or stress fractures). Remember that three days a week is all you need to gain and maintain good health, especially if you mix in other exercise (weight training is an excellent complement). You can also experiment with hilly courses or alternate your runs between short routes to build speed and longer ones to increase endurance.
What’s a good running technique?
Warm up first with a brisk walk or slow jog. Drop your shoulders to keep them relaxed, and swing your arms easily at your sides. Your foot should land heel first and roll forward, and then push off with your toes. (If you decide to mix up your pace occasionally, try sprinting on your toes for 15 to 30 seconds.) Cool down afterward by walking for a few minutes and then stretching your ankles, calves, and thighs.
If your route takes you by any streets, run facing traffic. When you reach an intersection, make eye contact with drivers to insure that they see you before crossing. Most running organizations discourage jogging at night. But if that’s your only option, wear light-colored clothing and consider purchasing reflective vests and armbands; a lightweight blinking bicycle light will also make you more visible to drivers. For safety, try to run with a partner and vary your route.
Running puts a great deal of stress on your bones and joints — about three to four times your body weight with every step — so if you have a history of back, joint, or orthopedic problems, check with your doctor before getting started.