Happy spring! Remember back in January when you resolved to get fit in 2013? But then, you know, it was cold out, and gyms are expensive, and you thought maybe you ought to wait until spring to do the fitness thing. Well, we repeat: Happy spring! Now's the time to reap the many benefits of exercise, and you can do so with just a pair of good shoes and a positive outlook--by becoming a runner. But first, you need a plan, and Jenny Hadfield can help.
Hadfield is a running and fitness expert who's authored the books "Running for Mortals" and "Marathoning for Mortals." As the titles indicate, Hadfield understands that most of us don't have Kenyan genes, or the time and energy to commit our entire lives to running. But by starting our runs with baby steps, most of us can find routines that are both healthy and fun. U.S. News asked Hadfield what "off the couch" runners--the newest of newbies--need to know. Her responses have been edited.
What are the very first steps of becoming a runner?
The first step, truly, is to start where you are, rather than from where you want to be. It's the No. 1 mistake, and I made it myself when I first started to run: It's a nice spring day; you're excited; you have your new outfit and shoes, so you try going as far as you can, as fast as you can. And when you finish, you're either crying or not feeling very good. It destroys the flow of the momentum.
If you're coming off the couch, the best thing overweight folks can do is start a walking program. Develop a base of, say, four weeks of walking 30 to 45 minutes three times a week, and build on that. If you're not overweight, but you're getting off the couch, start with a run-walk program. Start with 30 minutes three times a week, every other day.
Your 30-minute workout is like an Oreo cookie in that it begins and ends with a five-minute walking warm-up and cool-down. In the 20 minutes in between, run until you can hear yourself breathe, and then walk until you catch it. This way, you're training by your fitness on that given day and allowing your body to adapt to the impact force. At the end of that first workout, instead of feeling tired and crabby, you'll feel fantastic. When you enjoy running, you'll want to do it again.
What advice do you have specific to new runners looking to lose weight, besides starting with a walking program?
Recognize that if you try and do too much too soon--nutritionally and physically--it can be overwhelming, and that's how a lot of people crash and burn. The more gradually you transition, the more you'll be able to adapt and change your lifestyle.
So, if you start with a running program, work into the nutritional part of it. Try simply tracking what you eat for a couple of weeks. (There are a lot of good logs out there, like FitDay, MyFitnessPal and FitBit.) Most of the time we're in denial about what we're eating, so it's helpful to see just how many calories, and how much fat, protein and carbohydrates, we're consuming. Being aware motivates you to say, "Hey, maybe I won't have ice cream tonight."
Speaking of nutrition, what should we eat before and after runs--whether we're looking to lose weight or not?
If you're running for 30 minutes, you don't really need to eat before. Just make sure you're eating regularly throughout the day. For post-workout, there's a short window of recovery. Within 30 minutes of finishing your run, have a snack that's high in carbohydrates and protein. Think: celery sticks and little bit of peanut butter, or maybe almonds and a piece of fruit.
Do you have any advice for picking out running shoes? With all the brands and fads--like the minimalist shoes--it's sometimes an overwhelming decision.
If you're new to the sport, go to a running specialty store and get fitted. Talk to a staff person, and he or she should watch you run in the shoe, ask what you're going to do in the shoe, look at the shape of your foot and measure your foot. If they don't do that, go to another store.
I don't think the minimalist shoe is a great place to start for people new to running, unless they're willing to start really, really gradually and build up their foot strength. Otherwise, it can cause some calf strain and soreness.
How do you know when you're ready to race?
Give yourself at least two to three months. Once you can either continuously run or run-walk in those 30 minute intervals, you ought to sign on the dotted line for a 5K.
What's the value of racing?
It provides accountability to a goal, which is motivating. Plus, it's exciting. There's a big difference between exercising in general and training for something, because you know you've got to prepare for your D-Day, so it brings purpose to your workouts. And it also shows progress. In your first workout, you may have run a mile and a half in 30 minutes. And now you can do a 5K in 30 or 35 minutes.
Any other general advice for new runners?
Mix up your routine. It's a great motivator to run one day, and then try, say, a Zumba or cycling class. You feel good about coming back to that second run of the week because you're not doing the same darn thing every day. And truly listen to your body as you train. Some people do my Zero to Running program in 10 weeks, but it took me three months to do it when I first started. Listen to your body, and don't push through pain. Also, don't compare yourself to your neighbor, or your husband or wife who runs. Everyone is unique.