Nutrition & Fitness
How to Run: The Complete Guide to Cultivating a Habit of Exercise
You’ve never run a mile in your life, but you’ve always heard about the benefits. You’d love to start but you also know that running, like other forms of exercise, has specific rules that can be the difference between sore muscles and a feel-good day.
When I first started running, my first sessions left me aching for days. I also made some small but consequential mistakes that ended up increasing my mile-time and setting me back.
In this guide, I’m going to give you practical tips that you can use even if you’ve never laced a pair of running shoes. If you already run, you’ll also find great tips here to improve your times and help you enjoy the exercise even more.
How to choose the right gear
Many people get hung up on their running gear and they use it as an excuse for why they can’t start. Truth is, you can run in pretty much anything as long as it’s comfortable. All you really need to start are a pair of comfortable shoes, some pants (not jeans) and a shirt.
I often advise you don’t get caught up on gear until you’ve developed a habit. That makes it less likely for you to procrastinate.
When you do develop the habit, go for clothes that are made of nylon, polyester, or similar materials. These are comfortable and water repellant. With socks, you want something that’s anatomically designed. That means they already have contours for your heels and toes.
I don’t recommend you use just any pair of sneakers for running. The pair you use must be comfortable, light, and have a strong but flexible sole. You may have to try a few pairs to find what suits you best.
Brands like Underarmour and Nike have fantastic products for running. They cost more than unbranded running gear, but they are worth it.
Your first few runs
Once you have comfortable clothing, you’re ready to go on your first run. Here are three things I wish I knew before stepping out during my first run. Keep them in mind for the best result.
I always recommend aiming for 1 short mile the first few times you run. That way, you’re not too tired or sore to function the next day. It’s easy to want to go the distance, but running can be hard if it’s not a habit.
Your heart rate goes up, breathing becomes rapid, and your things ache afterward. I speak from experience. But after a few sessions, your body adjusts and you find your running pace. You can then go from there.
I use Runkeeper to track my run times, routes and calories burned. One thing I also love about the app is that it lets you share details of your run after you’re done on social media. It’s a bit like a badge of honor that you can show off for a job well done. Runkeeper is available on Android and iOS.
Choose your path wisely
You can run along a trail, a path, the road, or on a treadmill. Trail running is my jam because I can be alone, think, and enjoy some cool scenery. Unfortunately, the trails aren’t always level, and avoiding injury can be tricky especially when you’re just starting.
I often recommend running by the road or on a treadmill for beginners. The ground is level and comfortable, and there’s one less thing to worry about. Running along level surfaces is also easier on your calf muscles.
How to enjoy your runs
More than a form of exercise, running is good fun. Here are some of my favorite tips for enjoying every single run.
Find a banging playlist
Everyone has a different taste in music, and it takes a while to find what works for you. I love to listen to artists like Nicki Minaj, Kendrick, or Future while running. But that’s just me.
If you don’t know where to start, Spotify has amazing running playlists. Many of them are even sorted by the intensity of your run which gives you that extra mental boost. I also sometimes listen to podcasts and audiobooks while running.
Try to run for the fun of it
By this, I mean take it easy and slow. Setting a new Personal Record every other run feels great but it’s not very enjoyable, or practical for that matter. My favorite runs are the ones where I just maintain a comfortable pace and take walk breaks as often as possible. I highly recommend you do the same.
Switch up your route
Don’t be afraid to explore new routes during your runs. Run through a park or another neighborhood to add some excitement to your exercise. It also gives you new sights to see, which are always nice.
Instead of doing a circuit that ends up at home, try a destination run. Finish at your favorite coffee shop or bookstore and buy something. But bring your phone along so you can request a ride back home.
How to get the best times
We’ve talked about how to go slow and enjoy your run. Now, let’s talk about kicking things into high gear because beating your record actually feels amazing!
I know this sounds obvious - and it is. But I’m not talking about sprinting throughout the run. That would be impossible. Instead, start with a quick burst of speed and slow down to your regular pace. This will help you feel what it’s like to pick up the pace and move at a higher speed.
Do this several times during your run to get accustomed to the speed. Combined with the other tips in this section, you can really improve your mile time and maintain a higher speed more consistently.
Run for more miles
If you want to improve your mile-time, one of the best strategies is to increase your total running distance. That way, you have enough endurance to go faster within the mile.
When you start running, you’ll quickly learn that consistency is one of your best friends. The faster your body adapts - your resting heart rate will steadily drop as your body becomes more efficient with oxygen consumption.
Practice breath control
Breath control is one thing that separates pros from amateur runners. It can help you go longer without needing a walking break and also help you take shorter breaks.
It’s all about breathing slower than you feel like you need to. Slowing down your breathing is a little difficult at first, but eventually, you get better. I find that it helps to take a deep breath through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. The farther you run, the more you have to keep this in mind.
Cross-training is doing other forms of cardio besides running. Cross-training helps to strengthen muscles that you don’t usually use during running, like your upper body. It also helps to maintain or even improve your cardiovascular fitness.
I love to jump rope during cross-training days because it really engages my calf muscles, which are very important for running. You can also try activities like swimming, or using a rowing machine.
How to prevent injury while running
We’ve already covered some of these tips in other sections, but it helps to reiterate them.
Wear proper-fitting shoes
If your running shoes are too tight, your run will suck; there’s no other way to put it on. Your feet will hurt, you risk twisting your ankle, and your mile-time will plummet. Find some great fitting shoes and socks to prevent friction and blisters.
Run along level surfaces
When you first start running, always choose a path with flat, level surfaces. This could be a treadmill, the roadside, or even a park. Avoid trails or dirt roads to reduce the risk of twisting your ankle. If you happen to get injured without your phone, getting help will be very difficult.
Build your muscles
Strength training protects your muscles because the stronger they are, the less likely they are to break down. It also increases your muscular endurance, tone, and even bone density. You don’t necessarily have to train for hypertrophy because the heavier you are, the slower you’ll run. Take it from someone who’s addicted to weights and weighs 200 pounds.
Stretch before each run
Doing stretches and warm-up exercises before each run will help your body prepare for the exercise. It gets your blood flowing, your heart rate goes up, and you get excited. Stretching also reduces the chances of muscle cramps, and I can tell you that those aren’t fun. At all.
Running is fun!
For many people, running isn’t just about exercise. It also gives you a chance to challenge yourself, and it grants you a sense of accomplishment when you finally hit your target. I highly recommend it as a sport, a pastime, and a hobby.
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