Tips for Beginners

A couple of months ago, while perusing the NYCRUNS site, I found out about the Take Your Base 5K.

The added features of a baseball game, barbecue and day at the beach seemed like just the right amount of enticement to get El Profesor to run the race.  I didn’t expect him to, and I wasn’t personally invested in the race one way or the other; but when I mentioned it to him he seemed enthused, so we signed up.

We had about two months to spare before the race, which is way more than enough time for someone who is already pretty active to train for a 5K.

There were weeks when he was committed to training and would run two or three times and then he would lose interest and skip a few weeks, losing the fitness he had just gained.  He also thought that dynamic warm ups looked “silly” and refused to do core work or other strength training that dedicated runners should absolutely do.

He was frustrated when he didn’t make huge gains in training.  He didn’t want to consider run-walking the race.

He may have come out to cheer for me, but he didn’t make it to the start line himself.

If you are thinking about running your first 5K, or even just beginning to run and add running in to your weekly fitness regimen, here are a few tips to get you there:

1.  You will only succeed if you are dedicated

I have said it time and time again about marathon training, but the truth is that it is applicable to all distances.  You will only succeed as a runner if you WANT to.  It cannot be for someone else, or to prove a point or because it is what everyone else around you seems to be doing.  You have to WANT to run.

Those first few runs will suck.  You will not get very far at all.  You will walk far more than you run.  You will get frustrated.  You will get sore.  The only way to get through that is if becoming a runner really matters to you — if you really WANT to run.

2.  Be consistent

You should attempt 3 runs per week at the beginning.  More may be too much stress on your newbie body, and less is probably not enough to build the fitness that you need.

Don’t take off for long stretches of time unless you need to in order to recover from injury or illness.  Taking a week or two off when you are at the beginning of training could lead to a steep drop off in fitness, and you may find yourself starting over when you return.

3.  Warm Up

Warming up is critical.

A proper warm up will loosen up the muscles that you are about to work hard, and will also reduce the risk of injury.

Walking to warm up is inadequate.  You should always begin with a series of dynamic stretches.  Squats, walking lunges, side lunges with a step out are some basic ones that you probably already know how to do.  This resource from Runner’s World will give you a few more to add to your routine.

Avoid static stretches before a workout.  It could result in slower starts and force you to unnecessarily expend greater effort

4. Cool Down

Static stretches should be done after a run.

Kicking up a heel on a park bench is not enough.  Be sure to stretch your calf muscles, hamstrings, quadriceps and low back.  Here are some great recommendations from Runner’s World.

5. Do the Work

There is more to becoming a strong runner than merely running.  Stretching and warming up properly play key roles, but strength is crucial, too.

The most important part of your body to focus on when building strength as a runner is your core.  You can easily add basic core strengthening moves to your routine, such as planks, side planks and bridges.  Begin by holding each for thirty seconds.  As you become stronger, you can increase time or add more challenging modifications.

It is also important to cross train and have other activities in your weekly routine.  If you’re running three times per week, you might try swimming, cycling or ellipticaling another two times each week.

6. Get in Gear

Once you are committed to running, it is important to add a few key items of gear in to your wardrobe.

The most important is a great pair of running shoes.  Spend some time at a local running shop where an employee will examine your gait and help you find the right pair of shoes for you.

The next item is a pair of running shorts with a liner.  It takes some getting used to before going “commando” on a run, but liners tend to be more comfortable for running than layering undergarments under other shorts or pants.  They tend to stay in place better and reduce chafing.  Also, look for shorts with added features, such as a pocket to keep your keys, phone or some fuel as your runs get longer.

Invest in a couple of shirts made of a tech fabric that will pull moisture away from your skin and keep you cool and comfortable while you run.  And ladies, find a supportive sports bra.

At the beginning, it isn’t important to invest in high tech gear like GPS watches, specialized socks or fancy hats.  Start with what you have and build as you need.

7. Set a Goal

Running just for the sake of running may not be enough to keep you engaged, but you don’t need to go so far as to have a race on your calendar.

Your goal could be as basic as making it around your block without stopping. Once you get there, you can reevaluate and set a newer, more challenging goal.

8. Pick an Easy Route

I recommend loop courses to beginner runners.  Loops are great because you are never too far from where you started. They are also a great way to gauge your progress.   At first, you may only make it a quarter of the way around; so once you make it the whole way, you will know exactly how far you’ve come.

I also recommend running on the treadmill for beginner runners.  In the beginning, you will alternate between running and walking.  Running outside is more pleasant, but running on a treadmill can help you build toward something that looks and feels a bit more like a workout.  You can program the treadmill so that you will run for one minute, and walk for two minutes.  Do this and alternate for about twenty minutes.  After a few times, this will begin to feel easy, and then you can switch to running for two minutes and walking for one.  When that feels easy, progress to running for five minutes and walking for two.  By this point, you’re really running and likely covering close to a half mile in those five minutes of running.  You can feel good about that kind of progress.

The other convenience of adding treadmill runs in to your routine, is that you can incorporate your run as part of a larger gym workout.  You might do 10-20 minutes on an exercise bike or rowing machine before moving on to the treadmill and then wrapping up with some core exercises.  When you factor in your dynamic warm up for running and stretches after, that would make a pretty solid 1 hour gym workout.

9. Watch What You Eat

Running does not give the right to eat whatever you want.  Nothing does.

You will be hungry after you run, but grab a quick snack with protein and high quality carbohydrates shortly after your run to help speed recovery and curb your appetite.

If you know that you are going to want to eat heartily after a run, try to time your runs around mealtime and get in a run right before breakfast or dinner.

If you are running short distances, you probably don’t need to eat anything before you run.  Just be sure to hydrate properly.

You also will not have a need for gels, chews or energy bars at this point.  Those are for long runs and they are easy to over-indulge in, too.  So stay away for now.

10.  Keep At It

You’ve come this far, why stop now?  If you have reached the point where you love running, stick with it and find new ways to stay engaged.  For some, that may be trying out new distances, new routes or beating a personal best in a race.  Try packing your gear when you head out of town and run your way through a new city.  There is no better way to explore!



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