So you’ve got your shoes laced up and your spiffy new clothes, what’s the next step? Go running of course.
If it’s been a while (or never), I think the best way to start running is to alternate running and walking. Or walking alternated with brisker walking. Guess what? You’re interval training. Pretty cool, isn’t it? Your first outing is going to be a very important one for two reasons: first and foremost because you’re starting on your new fitness regime. Yay you and you’re badass. Second, this is your baseline; every other run (or walk) will be compared to this one.
Why do I love intervals? Because the slower effort allows you to recover in between the harder efforts which allows you to do a longer workout.
You can set a distance, any distance, or time for your workout. Does distance trump time? At this stage not at all. I know the general recommendation is 30 minutes of exercise a day so that’s as good a place as any to start. How often do you alternate your surges? As with all things, that is up to you. You can set your intervals for one minute or 100 metres or 100 yards or base it entirely on your perceived effort. And the best way to gauge effort? Your breathing. You are going to be breathing a bit harder but you should still be able to say a few words. If you’re able to have an entire conversation, then you’re not working hard enough. If you’re huffing and puffing after 10 seconds, slow down your faster pace. It should be a little bit more of an effort than your slower pace, which is your recovery pace.
How long should recovery be? As long as it needs to be. A good guideline is to make your recovery phase at least as long as your faster effort but you may need longer before you’re ready to pick up the pace again. You want to be breathing a little bit harder than normal before you go back to your harder effort. I’d rather you do three faster quality efforts and be able to finish the time than collapse at your front door and never look at your shoes again.
When you’re just starting out, all that matters is that you are consistent with your workouts.
But if you’re having a hard time starting with 30 minutes all at once, break it down to two separate 15 minute workouts a day. Or three 10 minute workouts. You can even sneak this in during the course of your day on top of your workout; power walk up the aisles in the grocery store, or park farther away from the door and do your intervals in the lot. Be creative about adding more exercise to your day.
Also keep your terrain in mind. As much as I love trails, I would suggest that your first few workouts be done on level and even footing and this is even more important if running is new for you. Until your form is established, you want to keep as much consistent as possible so you can focus on you. It’s hard enough putting one foot in front of the other without having to worry about roots and trees jumping out at you and variable footing. If you do decide that you want to hit the trails, keep it to a walk at first so there’s no surprises. Or find well-groomed trails that are covered with woodchips or firm gravel. Just keep in mind that rolling terrain is much more difficult for your muscles, tendons, and ligaments to adjust to. Remember the plan is to avoid injury.
And now the inevitable discussion of form. I’m a big believer in laying the basics right off the bat and establishing correct form (it’s a throw back to my equestrian days). Focus on keeping your footsteps (cadence) quick and light. Your posture stays upright with your head over your shoulders and shoulders over hips. Elbows at roughly 90 degrees and close to your sides with hands relaxed. For your first few workouts, whether you’re running or walking, do a frequent check of your posture. Hmmmmm I had to re-write this paragraph a lot to keep it from being a whole essay. I’ll touch more on form in a later post to clarify why this is all important. Trust me: it is important!
When do you increase your time or distance? Well that it up to you. The conventional wisdom says not to increase more than 10% at a time. You can absolutely keep doing your walk/run intervals, just keep in mind that you either increase distance or speed but NOT both at the same time. Now if you want to prepared training plan, say you want to do a half marathon, there are a ton of free “Couch-to-Half” plans online.
Is every workout going to blow away the one from the day before? Nope. It’s more important to focus on trends not individual workouts. Because when you look back at your first workout a few months down the road, that’s when you really see how far you have truly gone.