Running is the first exercise human beings ever did, other than perhaps swinging through the trees. You’ve heard of the Paleo Diet? Well, running is the Paleo workout!
Running is great exercise, offers a tremendous variety of workout types for all abilities and levels of athlete. If you’re looking to improve your cardio fitness or lose weight or build muscle tone, running can do all that for you. It’s also a good way to get out and see the world, whether it’s the streets of your own neighborhood or the hidden trails of nearby parks. Combine the endorphin high of running with a beautiful place and you’ll also do yourself a lot of emotional good.
All you need to run for exercise is a good pair of shoes. Remember that shoes are cheap, but your feet aren’t, so take care of them. You may meet people who run barefoot or in minimal shoes with very thin soles, and they’ll tell you how much they love it, but don’t try that sort of thing unless you are already an expert with lots of experience running. Suddenly changing the shoes you wear or the way you run is an easy way to get hurt. There are dozens of types of shoes out there, and it’s easy to get baffled by all the variety. If you’re confused, talk to an expert at the shoe store. But all you really need is something basic with decent padding in the soles to protect against the repeated impact of running.
Once you’ve got a good pair of shoes, it’s time to hit the road. If you haven’t run before, or haven’t put in many miles recently, it’s important to start slowly and run shorter distances to get your body used to it. Even if you ran a marathon years ago, or were on the track team in your youth, don’t go out on your first day and run 10 miles, because you probably won’t be able to get out of bed the next day.
There are a great variety of types of running workouts, and alternating between them not only prevents you from getting bored (which is a leading cause of quitting any exercise program) but can also be a good way to meet your fitness goals.
Old school “LSD” workouts – the abbreviation for “long slow distance” – are excellent for building up your basic fitness level. You don’t try to go fast at all. Instead, you go slowly, maybe around a 10-minute-mile pace, and you just go a long way. Your strides during this sort of workout are relatively short, so you don’t have high impact on your joints at every step.
Start out with short distances – just a few miles at first – and take a day off between them until your body gets used to running. Three miles is a respectable workout and should take you about half an hour at that 10-minute-mile pace. After a week or two, if you’re feeling good, you can increase the distance to five miles or more. Eventually, as an experienced runner, you may just head out, pick some object on the distant horizon, a tree at the top of a far away hill, say, and run out to it and back, taking as long as it takes.
Some runners like to use a treadmill, and this does provide a uniform running surface plus exact statistics and measurements of how fast and far you’ve gone, how many calories you’ve burned, and so on. But though treadmills are useful, they don’t provide you with much scenery and, unlike running out in the world, you can stop the treadmill and get off any time. If you’ve run out to that tree on the hilltop four miles from home, well, you have to run the four miles back! You can’t just stop your workout halfway through.
For variety of experience and training, add in other kinds of running workouts. Hills are excellent workouts for your quads and glutes as well as overall aerobic fitness. An easy way to incorporate them, depending on where you live, is to do your long distance runs in an area with some hills. Periodic hills along the course will give you a good interval workout – you work extra hard on the slopes and then recover in between.
A much harder workout is running hill repeats. For this type of training, you start at the bottom of a hill, run to the top, jog or walk slowly back down, and repeat as many times as necessary. You don’t have to sprint, unless you’re training at an elite level, but you should be breathing hard when you get to the top. No hills nearby? Stuck in the office? Stairways are an excellent substitute for hills, and nearly every office building has them. Sprint up the stairs, jog or walk back down, and repeat. In half an hour, you can get in a fantastic cardio and leg strength workout, and still have time to take a shower or eat before your lunch break is over.
Speaking of sprinting, another type of interval training is speed work. A good way to get started with speed workouts is simply to add them into your long distance running. As you run those five slow miles, vary your pace. If you’re in the city, run one block quickly and the next block slowly to recover. Out in the countryside on a rural road or trail you can set a timer on your watch to beep every few minutes and remind you to pick up your pace for an interval. Or you can create a music playlist that alternates slow songs and fast ones, and vary your pace accordingly. As your fitness level increases, you can run those intervals faster, or make them longer, or both.
Pure sprint workouts, whether on a track or on hills or stairs, are an elite type of training. A good rule of thumb is to rest for five times as long as you sprint. So if you sprint at maximum effort for 30 seconds, make sure to rest for 2 minutes 30 seconds. Sprint workouts, if done correctly, are extremely hard on your body and shouldn’t be repeated more than once a week. This type of training increases your aerobic and anaerobic fitness. Anaerobic training is when you’re working so hard you’re gasping for breath and can’t keep it up indefinitely. Don’t overdo it, but it can be a good type of training to add into your routine for variety.
Other types of track workouts include running a variety of distances from short to medium to long, which forces you to adjust your speed and exertion level. Ladder workouts are popular – you start with a short sprint, say 50 or 100 meters, then rest and recover before running 200 meters, then 400, then 800. Some runners then work their way back down the ladder from 800 back to 50 meters. Ladder workouts can also be done on hills or stairs – vary the distance you run up the hill or the number of flights of stairs.
Another way to motivate yourself to run is to set goals by entering local races. Don’t start with a marathon as your first objective! Twenty-six miles is a long, long way and is hard on your body. Even experienced athletes train seriously and for a long time to prepare for a run of such length. Want to run a marathon? Great. Train for it. Start with a 5K or 10K. Try a half marathon – most marathon events also offer a half marathon option.
You’ll find that running a race, even a non-competitive event, is a very different psychological experience than going out for a jog. For one thing, you’ll be in a crowd of runners, at least at the start, although on longer races you often find yourself alone at times. Even during a short 5K or 10K race you’re likely to go through several different emotional states. During an endurance race like a marathon, where you’ll be running for many hours, expect to have a lot of ups and downs.
By setting goals and working to achieve them, and by starting slowly and varying your workouts, you can have a great experience running. You will get fit and lose weight and enjoy yourself at the same time.