Running is a great way to enjoy summer, explore where you live and get fit at the same time.
Starting to run is as easy as walking out your front door and putting one foot in front of the other.
“All you really need is a pair of shoes and time,” said Rich Harshbarger, CEO of the organization Running USA. “You don’t need country club membership or expensive equipment like bikes or skis.”
The benefits of running go far beyond a “runner’s high.” Studies find that runners tend to live longer, and have fewer strokes and heart problems. Other research links running to better memory and the creation of new brain cells in adults.
Perhaps that’s why the number of Americans who run nearly doubled in the past 25 years — to about 40 million runners today, according to the National Sporting Goods Association.
Here are a few tips if you want to join the pack:
The first step
If you’ve never exercised before or you have health issues, consult a physician before starting to run. Go slow and short distances at first, building up your endurance and miles over time.
Don’t worry if you can’t run to the end of your street, says Vishal Patel, training program director for the 2,700 member-strong Dallas Running Club. Set that as your goal or count mailboxes, going a little farther each week, he suggests.
“Don’t bite off more than you can chew; take it in small bites,” said Lori McGee Koch, head running coach for Chicago Endurance Sports. “You’re more likely to like it and stay with it.”
While there’s no right or wrong way to run, runners should strive for good posture, arms bent at a 90-degree angle to the body and feet striking the ground at midfoot, McGee Koch said.
Many first-time runners combine walking and running, gradually increasing the time spent running. Olympic runner Jeff Galloway created one such run-walk method to control muscle and joint fatigue, build endurance and reduce the risk of injury.
New runners can try three minutes of running alternating with two minutes of walking for 15 to 20 minutes. Another regimen is four minutes of running and one minute of walking for 15 to 20 minutes.
Perhaps, the most important gear is a good pair of running shoes. The many choices can be confusing, but a specialty running store can help you figure out which shoe provides the right support and cushioning for your foot.
Each Friday, Run N Fun in St. Paul, Minn., offers free foot and gait analysis to customers who are filmed running on a treadmill.
“If they’re in the wrong shoe and get hurt right away, it’s discouraging,” said Perry Bach, owner of Run N Fun. “If you’re comfortable and cozy, you’ll run more.”
The average pair of running shoes costs around $120, but you can find them for less. No matter where you buy shoes or what you pay, make sure they flex under the ball of the foot, Bach advised.
Solo or social
Some people love running solo, and some want the camaraderie and support of running with others.
Joining a running club is a good way to find people with similar interests, gain tips and explore an area. Clubs and specialty running stores usually host weekly runs for free or a few bucks.
The Road Runners Club of America (www.rrca.org) and Meetup.com (www.meetup.com/topics/running/) list running groups. The website www.joggingbuddy.com and the mobile app Buddyup for Sports can help you find a running partner.
“If you’re training with someone, you’re more likely to stay with it,” Harshbarger said.
Picking a fun race to run can keep you motivated and on the training track.
New runners typically start with a 5K (3.1 miles) race. Experts say it can take first-time runners eight to 12 weeks to train for their first 5K, depending on their level of fitness.
Selina Torres of Chicago started running in mid-February and finished her first 5K race in April.
“I just wanted to challenge myself with something new,” she said. The key for her was training with a running group of about 20 people.
“Everybody was so nice and so supportive,” Torres, 37, said. “At the start, you’re nervous, and then it becomes really enjoyable. You also starting forming friendships, and you look forward to going.”
“It’s extremely important to follow a training schedule because consistency is the No. 1 thing leading to success,” McGee Koch said “It’s easy to say, ‘I’m going to skip that run today’ if it’s not part of a long-term program.”
You’ll find free training programs, such as those from running guru Hal Higdon, on the Internet.
Final words of advice from Patel: “Just start, and get out there.”
5 tips to start running
•Start slowly, adding distance and speed as you go.
•Buy a good pair of running shoes.
•Find a running buddy, or join a training group.
•Eat and sleep well, and drink plenty of water.
•Listen to your body.
Sheryl Jean is a longtime runner and a freelance writer in Northern California.
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