Whether you’re new to the running scene or recently fell off the wagon, training to run can be easier than you may think. Sure, if you go at it the way I did when I didn’t know any better (too far, too fast) it won’t be easy, but if you ignore what your head is telling you to do (too much, too soon), and tune into your body, you’ll go from zero to running in no time.
The key to being successful (and continue with a smile on your face) is to set a specific goal, plan a gradual progression and be flexible along the way.
The Goal: 30 minutes. When I coach newbie or returning runners, I have them set a goal to build up to running 30 minutes continuously. Why 30 minutes? Because it’s an easy number to get you motivated to start, it’s not intimidating and it’s just long enough to provide a solid workout.
Next, I have them commit to 30-minute workouts three times per week on alternate days (i.e. M-W-F). Every workout begins with a 5-minute walking warm up and finishes with a 5-minute walking cool down. The good stuff is the middle 20 minutes where they use running and walking intervals to build running fitness. It’s a fun way to get into running because you’re always switching it up and time flies by quickly!
The next step is to set a target date range to reach your goal to run 30 minutes. For some it may be ten weeks, for others it may take a little longer. It depends on your current fitness, health, weight and more. The key is to allow enough time to progress gradually to avoid injury and burnout.
Progression. The number one mistake most new and returning runners make is to run too far and too fast too soon. Running is a high impact, high intensity activity and takes time to adapt to the stress of running. Your body will actually progress faster if you start with sprinkling in seconds of running with minutes of walking and repeat throughout the workout.
For example, rather than trying to run as far as you can or until you’re gasping for air and hating it and have to walk, start by tricking your body into it. Run for 30 seconds, then walk for 3 minutes and repeat that interval for 20 minutes and call it a workout. Repeat this workout at least one to two weeks (3-6 workouts), and then progress to more running (1 minute) while holding the walking interval steady (3 minutes).
Running intervals plant the seed of running and in time allow you to evolve into running farther and faster down the road. The secret is to aim to finish the workout feeling strong rather than wasted and exhausted. Creating the sense of accomplishment workout to workout inspires you to repeat the workout and come back for more. As you repeat the workout, it gets easier and you can add more stress (more running time). Until you reach the tipping point where you are running continuously without wanting or needing a recovery interval. Progress is to the key to making your running regimen stick and it happens in time, with a gradual increase in running, and when you create the sense of accomplishment with every workout.
Ebb and Flow. We are all the same and we are all different. We are similar in that we all need to progress our training over time, however we vary in health and fitness levels, age and running form and skills. When I first started to learn to run, it took me months to build up to 30 minutes of running because I was starting from ground zero and I was 35 pounds overweight. Some of my clients who are fit, but not runners and at an optimal weight have learned in about ten weeks.
My point is to avoid rushing your running program and let your body be your guide along the way. Keep a log to track your progress and take notes after every workout on how you felt along the way. If you notice you’re struggling with a particular progression in running time, go back and repeat the previous run-walk interval one more week and allow your body more time to adapt and get stronger. You may notice you struggle more after being ill, missing a few workouts or during highly stressful times in your life. Let your plan ebb and flow with your life and modify as needed based on how you feel along the way. In many cases, repeating an interval sequence a week longer will make all the difference in how you feel when you progress to the next level.
We all have an optimal running recipe, and the fun part is figuring out what works best for you along the way. Some runners even love the run-walk strategy so much, they stick with it forever.
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Coach Jenny Hadfield
Coach Jenny Hadfield is a published author, writer, coach, public speaker and endurance athlete. To find out more, visit our Meet Our Writers page or visit Coach Jenny’s website.