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How to Start Running if You Haven’t Run In A While… Or At All

10 Tips: How to Start Running Today
The Best Ways to Improve

You don't have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great!

With the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic or just life itself, it may have been weeks or months since you’ve run.  

Or perhaps it’s been years – or you’ve never started! Or, you may be returning to running after injury or illness. So here are 10 tips on how to kick start your (re) start!

1. Start with your mindset first: think BIG with your running goals!

What are your true goals, beyond just putting your running shoes on? What motivates you? How do you picture running influencing your overall health and life? 

Perhaps you want to run to get into shape or lose weight – what does that look like to you? 

Maybe you were inspired by how you used to feel when running, or what you’ve heard about it, or by someone who ran the Boston Marathon. That could be you! 

Picture what your personal vision goal looks like – think BIG – inspire yourself. Then, write it down

When you run with a goal in mind, you will be running TO and FOR something. When obstacles inevitably occur, you can look at your BIG goal and STAY MOTIVATED!

2. ...but physically start running - small...

Paradoxically, it’s often best physiologically to start in small steps. Perhaps you used to run miles a day. Or, others make running look so easy that you want to start there even if you haven’t. 

However, after a layoff or when just starting out, it’s good to be conservative. Just trust that you will get to where you want to go – eventually. You will lessen your chance of injury and premature burnout if you start small and build gradually. 

Running is basically jumping from foot to foot, and so the body needs to get adjusted to the forces of impact that occur with each step. This may mean a lot of walking with short running intervals, running on softer surfaces, and limiting how much time you run at first.

It may even mean just completely walking. If you have not been walking at all, try to start walking consistently for 15-30 minutes before you incorporate run intervals to help your body adjust. 

So, starting small might mean walking, or jogging and walking down the block, or for someone else maybe it is running one mile. 

If you are coming back from injury, also pay attention to how the injury is responding. For example, if you sprained your ankle, does it feel stiff afterwards? Is there any pain or swelling? Call your doctor and ask if you are in doubt.

A 10% increase in total mileage per week is often recommended, but everyone differs in what they can handle. Pay attention to how you feel and how fast you are recovering from the workouts you are doing – and build from there.

3. Get social with your runs

Running with other people can be motivating, improve mental health and hold you accountable. Perhaps the weather isn’t ideal, but the thought of five people asking you, “Hey where were you last night,” can be enough to get you out the door. 

When coming back to running or just beginning, most likely most of your runs will be at a pace that I call, “Conversation Pace.” This is an easy pace at which you are able to hold a conversation while running. As part of a running group, these miles can go by faster if you actually have others with whom you can have a conversation. 

No running groups in your area? Think about starting one of your own, or just recruit some friends to get healthier informally. Some also rely on a personal trainer, coach or social media for similar encouragement and support. 

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4. Focus on positivity: your running wins

Let’s look at an example for this one. When running in the pouring rain, there are two ways you can look at the situation. One is to think negatively about the rain, and as a result, skip running altogether or feel miserable the entire time. 

The other is to view it in a positive light: “Just think how much of a badass I’ll feel like when I get done!” 

Sometimes, non-runners look at me like I’m crazy for running in challenging conditions. I just say, “The Marathon won’t pause for me because it’s raining/cold/hot.” 

You can think of all the others who didn’t go the extra mile and get the mental edge that you will have for doing it anyway. No matter the situation, think of what good can come from it, and it will keep you moving!

I also often say, when you do hard things, the rest of your life seems easier. Then, you can add to your collection of wins.

If you go run but cut your run short due to conditions or fatigue, again, focus on your running win. Focusing on what you DID accomplish versus what you didn’t, as this helps keep your mood and motivation high.

5. Just keep running: consistency reaches goals

When obstacles inevitably occur and things get hard, read your Goal Vision that you wrote from Tip #1. 

Because one of the biggest assets any runner can have is consistency

Scheduling in your runs, even if you need to put it on a calendar, helps you stay consistent. It can help to workout in the morning if you are a morning person, or in the evening if you are a night owl. 

However, pick a consistent time and stick with it. Your mind and body will adjust to your new routine better.

Then, when that time comes around, maybe you feel tired, you’re frustrated that you’re not where you were before or feel you should be progressing faster. Keep going anyway. 

If you have a longer run planned but it feels overwhelming, tell yourself you’re just going to go run for five minutes. At worst, you still got a short run in. 

At best, you’ll feel so good once you’ve started that you go on to finish your whole workout. I find this works 98% of the time and can often weed out if you really are not well enough for the task.

Always though, check in with yourself before each workout. If you are feverishly ill or feeling injured, it may be best to take a day off. Run for the long-term and you will succeed!

6. Change up your running workouts

A key concept in running is to vary the “FIT” principle of your workouts – Frequency, Intensity, and Time. Try to avoid increasing too many of these at once. 

For example, if you start out with 2 or 3 days a week, perhaps next week increase either the number of days you run, or run a similar number of days for more minutes or distance. 

Intensity increases tend to cause the most stress on the body and can lead to injury, especially for new runners, so add with caution and avoid sudden, large spikes of changes in your routine.

Also, changing these variables of your run workouts can keep your runs from feeling “routine” and you will also feel mentally refreshed.

7. Incorporate variety: change your running surface

One thing you may not think about in your running workouts is to run on a variety of surfaces. Surely, if you are training for better performance in road running or a road race, you’d want a majority of your running to be on roads. 

However, running on concrete can be hard on the body, especially when returning or starting out.

A trail can be a softer option. I do most of my recovery runs on trails even just in general training, which definitely helps me run up to 128 miles per week in training. This option is also favored by such athletes like Olympic runner Meb Keflezighi, to keep the total impact less on the body.

Other less impactful options include treadmills or a rubberized track. One advantage to these two options is that you can exclude steep inclines if you are just getting adjusted.

This can also be useful when trying to avoid irritating one of the many injuries that can be worsened by hills.

If you are recovering from injury, many physical therapy clinics have a supported treadmill such as the Alter-G, in which runners run on a treadmill supported by a “bubble” that counteracts gravity to variably counter some of the weighted impact to the joints. Elite athletes such as Dathan Ritzenhein have used the anti-gravity treadmill a training tool.

Another option is to run in the deep end of a pool wearing a floatation belt, which utilizes the same muscles as running. Yet, water has up to 12 times the resistance of running through air. I also include this option to more safely handle adding more weekly mileage. 

A final option is to cross train using a lower impact exercise such as an elliptical or bike.

8. Tie in recovery with your running workouts

Skipping or not planning recovery days is a common mistake amongst newer and experienced runners alike. The more hard-core, the better, right? 

But recovery days are how the body actually gets stronger from hard workouts. As well, a workout on paper might not look that difficult compared to what you used to do, or you may not even mentally want to admit that it is. 

But you must realistically go from the level of conditioning you have today. And as you come back or start running, the individual workouts may not feel that hard. However, it is often the accumulated stress and fatigue that can build up if proper recovery is not taken. 

Take days off, or easy days, along with the harder and/or longer days. You’ll get stronger and build endurance faster, and your body will thank you!

9. Have the right nutrition for running

Nutritional needs change when a person starts running. Increased calories are needed as miles increase. 

If weight loss is your goal, it is ok to do a limited amount of running with the same diet to enable weight loss. But, be careful that the deficit doesn’t get too much. Continuing to eat the same amount as the miles pile on can lead to poor performance, lowered recovery and healing, as well as nutritional deficiencies. It can even stall out weight loss in some.

For some runners, exercise surpasses appetite. But for others, it can increase hunger. Others mentally over-justify excess calories because they feel they ran hard, so “earned” another slice of pizza or pie. In this case it can lead to weight gain, or mood swings caused by excess sugar or processed foods. 

It’s the old saying, “You can’t outrun a bad diet!”

There’s even a term, “Rungry”, which refers to the cravings and resulting excess calories a runner can take in especially after long runs. A general rule of thumb is that runners burn 100 calories per mile on “average”, however, this can vary from person to person.

And remember, if you see the scale going up, this doesn’t always equal fat gain. Runners store extra carbohydrate and water in their muscles to power through workouts. Regular body composition checks or meeting with a dietitian or health coach can tell you more accurately what changes are occurring.

You may ask, “What should I eat for running?” An overall healthy diet in the right proportions will sustain you as you are starting or re-starting running.

10. Add in other changes that help you build up your running

One you begin establishing your running routine, what other changes can you make to keep going and optimize your performance? 

Looking at factors outside of your running, such as getting quality sleep, improving nutritional intake, lowering external stress and adding in strength work can all be beneficial, and help you recover faster, focus better and have better training.

I combine professional running and holistic health coaching to make the big picture work for you. Feel free to check the latest running programs, the start to run group, or if weight loss is also your goal, check out The Running and Weight Loss Breakthrough Method.

And remember – if you put Life into your Running, your performance will really soar! 

Run With Life! -Coach Amie

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