"When people decide to start running, they often ‘go big’ – meaning they run at least an hour a day for five days a week," explains avid runner Lora Johnson.
"Before long, they are burned out and quit running," she says, "[which] is one of the biggest mistakes I see." Instead, Johnson, who has run in eight marathons and documents her running adventures on her blog, Crazy Running Girl, suggests beginners start slow by running 10 to 15 minutes a day and give themselves rest days. "Don’t focus on how far you’re going," she says, "focus on the movement, and the distance will come."
Erica Ziel, a mother of three and founder of Knocked-Up Fitness, recommends that novice runners incorporate run/walk intervals to help increase their cardiovascular endurance faster. For example, walk briskly for two minutes, run for one minute, walk briskly for two minutes (enough to feel your heart rate drop from the one-minute run), then run for one minute (fast enough to really challenge your body) and repeat.
As a new runner, Johnson admits it can be intimidating to find a local running group to join. But she adds that one of the great things about running is that "anyone, no matter your skill level, is welcome."
"Having a support circle will help you learn the ins and outs of the sport," she says, "and give you the extra motivation on those days that are tough to get out the door."
Ziel says to focus on running lightly on your feet and using your butt and abdominals to move you. Avoid bouncing up and down -- rather, feel your body's energy sending you forward.
Warm up with functional movements such as squats, lunges and jumping jacks. Once your body is warmed up, then you can lightly stretch your legs. And don’t forget to stretch your hips, quads, hamstrings and calves really well after your run, not before.
"This is another great way to unload your body, but still get your mileage in," says Jill Murphy, a physical therapist and licensed athletic trainer. She explains that asphalt is softer than cement sidewalks, grass is typically softer than asphalt, and pea gravel and dirt trails are typically softer as well. "Be careful of trail runs with lots of ruts and hills," Murphy warns, "if you are not accustomed to the hills and tend to turn your ankle easily."
"Cross train," says Murphy, "to keep your joints from overuse injuries." Add some biking, rollerblading, swimming, rowing and elliptical work to your routine; anything that doesn't replicate the pounding of running will do. The strength and conditioning specialist says that most running injuries can be avoided "if your core and hip muscles are strong enough to sustain good running mechanics at your spine and lower extremities into the higher-mileage runs and races."
"Finding the proper footwear is one of the most important decisions you will make when you start running," says Claire Wood, senior footwear product line manager for New Balance. "All runners are different, and having the proper shoes sets the foundation."
While running-shoe choices can be overwhelming, Wood says the most important criterion is what type of biomechanical tendency you have as a runner. Biomechanics, she explains, is what your body -- be it hips, knees, ankles or feet -- tends to do upon impact. Woods says the most common biomechanical issue that can be fixed with the proper running shoe is overpronation. A running specialty store can easily help determine this through a gait analysis where they look at your feet and watch you run.
Depending on how much you pronate (when the foot naturally rolls in and the medial arch absorbs the shock), you will be advised to select a shoe for light stability, moderate stability or control stability, which is the maximum level of stability.
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