What does it take to be a runner? Short shorts, bright socks, $100 shoes, a GPS watch and personalized playlists? Maybe a dog, water bottles attached to your hips and joining a running gang that meets before sunrise to get mileage in?
Well, in all actuality, being a runner only means putting one foot in front of the other, again and again, until the next thing you know you’ve put together enough continuous steps to run one mile, then two, three and four. It really is that simple.
If you are new to running and not sure where to start, follow these 10 simple steps to make running fun, enjoyable and part of your regular fitness routine.
One, two, lace up your shoes.
One of the great things about running is the only equipment you need is a good pair of running shoes. While there are many different brightly colored pairs of shoes to pick from and running shoe philosophies to adopt, it’s important to not get wrapped up in and overwhelmed by picking the best shoe. When you are just getting started, visit your local running store for a stride assessment. Your community’s running shoe experts can be a great resource for helping get you into a good starter shoe.
As you progress in your run lengths and mileage, you may choose to switch up your shoes or try a new style. The good news is that a pair of shoes only lasts a couple hundred miles anyway, giving you the opportunity to shop around until you find the perfect shoe for you.
Three, four, get yourself out the door.
If you are feeling overwhelmed about incorporating running into your workout routine, the first step is to walk out the door and head down your street for a run around your neighborhood. It’s important to remember that you don’t have to run a marathon to be a runner. New runners make the mistake of heading out for a run that is too far, too intense and too much for their bodies. Warm up your body before heading out on a run and build up your mileage in gradual stages. Run your first mile, next time maybe add one more, but don’t add two or three miles all at once. Take your time building up and enjoy the journey of wherever your running route may take you.
“Don’t try to just go out there and run, run, run,” says Kris Dixon, ISSA-CPT, personal trainer at Fitness Together Auburn. “It’s important to find a schedule where you slowly increase your mileage and you start out at a comfortable level. If your muscles aren’t used to the trauma of running, you risk injuring yourself if you do too much in the beginning.”
Five, six, pick a routine that sticks.
Just because your co-worker or neighbor runs marathons and seems to be running every single day doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for you to hit the pavement every day, too. In fact, solely focusing on running and not including cross training into your workout routine may end up causing more harm than good.
Dixon suggests following a routine that alternates a consistent running schedule with resistance training exercises to not only help you run stronger but also to minimize pains, strains and injuries. Any type of building exercises such as squat or lunge movements can help runners get better control of their legs and build a stronger base; however, Dixon suggests that runners stay away from any type of jumping due to the movement’s increased stress on the knees.
“If you supplement running with resistance training, you will build muscle and strength that can help improve your running results,” Dixon says. “With simple exercises like resistance band abduction and adduction, wall sits and body weight squats, strengthening of the knees can be accomplished and reducing the risk of injury substantially. The runners you see who have the best results are those who cross train.”
Seven, eight, stretch your muscles straight.
Long, lean muscles are a runner’s best friend. When you get caught up with squeezing in extra mileage and cross training exercises into your workout routine, though, maintaining your muscles’ length, flexibility and longevity can quickly fall to the wayside.
Prior to a run, you can warm up your muscles with dynamic moving stretches such as walking quad stretches, leg cradles and straight leg toe touch marches. After a run, static stretches such as runner’s lunge, bird dog and stationary calf stretches are good for cooling down your body and preparing your muscles for the next run.
To help reduce the risk of some of the most common running injuries – plantar fasciitis and Achilles tendon strains – Dixon advises his clients to focus on stretching all of their leg muscles to not only increase flexibility, but also reduce joint pressure. By setting aside a few minutes out of your day to stretch your legs’ main muscle groups – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps and calf muscles – you will set yourself up for being a consistent runner for a longer period of time.
Nine, ten, grab your friends and do it again.
After you have been running for a while, the monotony of clicking off mile after mile can quickly lead to a plateau both mentally and physically. To keep running interesting and fun, mix up your routine by adding a little variety into your routes. Trail running can take you to new, undiscovered territory, a beach run on sand or hilly terrain in the mountains can offer new challenges both mentally and physically, and grabbing a buddy to chat the miles away can be a welcome change to running solo. Pick whatever works for you to keep running enjoyable and rewarding.
“If someone is getting into fitness for the first time, I tell them to focus on getting into a routine of doing something they enjoy,” Dixon says. “Getting yourself into a habit first is the most important thing to establishing a healthy lifestyle. If you don’t enjoy it, you won’t keep doing it.”