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Absolute beginner running


From hateful first mile to NYC marathon. / Photo: J. Booth

The Jersey City Running Fitness Examiner regularly features information for experienced runners. What about those who have interest in running but no accumulated mileage? Following is the first installment of an occasional series on the needs, questions, and anxieties of the newbie runner.

A true beginner story.
Runners have used this space in the past to share their stories. Here's one that began 21 years, seven marathons, and more than 50,000 miles ago: I got the crazy idea as a college undergraduate to join the women's crew team. The required ability to run one mile non-stop was a task at which I'd failed miserably multiple times. I had more excess pounds and pessimism than I did running endurance but I dragged myself to the track every morning. Over the course of one month, I progressed from one quarter mile lap to the four loops that equalled one mile. It took walking breaks, consistent warming up and stretching to calm my shin splints, and stubbornness to achieve that goal. But what a feeling when I completed the mile and the crew coach slapped me on the back in congratulations. The memory of accomplishing what I thought impossible is what gets, and keeps, me on the road more than two decades later.

The first steps toward your first steps.
Among the many guides for the beginning runner, Fitness magazine's Running 101: A Beginner's Guide provides thoughtful answers and guidance to frequently asked questions such as "How fast should I run?" and "What do I need?" Below are additional get-started tips for absolute beginners.

1. If you have the interest, you've taken the first step. Whether you're motivated by weight loss, raising money for a cause or crossing the finish of a local race, the desire to start a running program is important: You've got to want it to do it.
2. Be realistic. What you can accomplish on your first outings depends on factors such as your existing fitness level. At my peak, I ran 90 miles per week and two marathons a year; but at my start, I couldn't carry my freshman 15 for more than three minutes. You may not complete your first mile your first day -- but you'll be out there again, going just a little further each time.
3. Consult your doctor. Make sure your body is ready for strenuous activity. This is particularly important if you're inactive, smoke or have any existing medical conditions.
4. Go shoe shopping. Running is done in running shoes. Period. The average runner takes about 1,500 steps per mile: your feet won't care about cute shoes and your body will not be happy if you wear non-running shoes for your outings. Invest in a good pair of shoes meant for your body type and running needs.
5. Invest in quality running gear. Clothes made specifically for running and of performance fibers will keep you comfortable, e.g., cool and dry in summer, warm without bulk in winter, and free of chafing from ill-placed seams. Look beyond the usual brands and consider the well-made and priced-right gear offered at retailers such as JC Penney (their Xersion label rates high) and Target.
6. Morning or evening? Indoors or outdoors? The answers to these questions are completely individual; however, choose a routine that ensures consistency. If you're not a morning person, that's likely not the time you'd be inspired to run. Similarly, if running in place indoors makes you feel like a hamster, do your miles outside. The details of when or where you run are less important than just doing it.
7. How often? How fast? How far? Your schedule will play a large role in determining how many times per week you can run. Three times per week (with non-running, recovery days in between) is a good start. Increasing endurance to establish a strong running base is more important when you begin than speed or distance. If you've never run before, make your first goal one non-stop, half-mile. After that, increase it to one full mile and so on.

Just do it.
Here's the big secret: A runner runs. You have the interest, the resources, and many miles ahead. Hit the road and enjoy the journey.

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