How to Start Jogging and Running
By Kristen Brooke Beck
Content Updated on March 12, 2012
I was a fat, out-of-shape kid with asthma, and when I was growing up, I rarely ever ran without ending up in the emergency room soon after due to an asthma attack. I used to watch other kids running, playing tag, and playing sports and always felt envious of them because I was convinced that I would never get to do any of those things.
As I grew up, I watched many of my loved ones die. In 2005, my father died from pancreatic cancer, leaving behind his family and his list of dreams that he wanted to fulfill "someday." I decided that I wasn't going to wait for someday to do the things I wanted to do. I wanted to fulfill all those "I wish I could" dreams now, and one of those included becoming a runner.
I had to start from bottom and work my way up. In my first official running session, I could only go for 10 seconds. 10 SECONDS! That's it! And I wasn't even going very fast. It was more like a trot.
I now run in 5k races (slowly, but I'm improving), and I typically run 10k per week. My slow speed is 5mph (8kmp), which are 12 minute miles. My fastest measured sprint speed has been 8mph (12.8kmp).
My top two running goals right now are 1) run a 5k without a walking break and 2) run a 10k. My "someday" dream is to participate in the Hood to Coast relay race.
I enjoy a good run through muddy hiking trails on rainy days, zoning out on the treadmill while listening to my favorite beat-pounding music, and enjoying the view while jogging through neighborhoods and on country roads.
It's amazing how much it has changed my life. I now have more energy to do more during my days and more confidence to try those things I was once afraid to do. My mental health (e.g. anxiety and depression) improved drastically, and I can think more clearly and handle more stress. Even my asthmatic lungs have become stronger. (I hardly ever need to use my inhaler for 1 mile runs anymore, which amazes me). I've lost weight. I can quickly respond to emergencies and chase runaway basketballs down the street. I can participate in sports and energetic dancing. Plus, I can explore new places on foot that seemed too far to walk before. And I have to admit, there is something very gratifying about passing other runners and walkers, a competitive aspect I didn't think I would have embraced or enjoyed but now love. One of the best parts is that I'm setting a good example of healthy living for my kids.
If you want to start jogging, don't expect to walk out your front door and jog five miles. You have to build up slowly, and it's easier than you think. This is how I did it.
Always See Your Doctor First
A basic physical exam should help you find out if there is any reason why you shouldn't jog. If your doctor feels that jogging isn't for you, s/he can advise you about what exercises are appropriate.
Eat a Healthy Diet
Imagine that your body is like a car. Even if you have the fastest sports car in the world, it won't budge even an inch if it doesn't have fuel. And it can't be just any fuel. Jet fuel is great for jets but not so good in cars. Putting diesel in a gasoline engine doesn't work either. You need to use the right fuel. Your body works in much the same way.
If you fill up on high processed, high fat, high sugar foods or foods filled with hydrogenated oils and corn syrup, then you're filling your body with bad fuel. For those of you who do exactly that, no wonder you have a difficult time getting your body to move.
Stick to fresh, whole, unprocessed foods. Shop for healthy ingredients, not prepackaged meals, and learn to cook some easy, basic, healthy recipes. Drink 100% juice, smoothies, tea (easy on the sugar), and water (add lemon or lime for a little extra flavor, and it's FREE at most restaurants). If you absolutely need to eat prepackaged foods, stock up on the healthy stuff. (My favorites include: Amy's, Annie's, Hain, Health Valley, Walnut Acres, Imagine Foods, Kashi)
Get Good Running Shoes
If you don't have good shoes, expect a painful run. Incorrect shoes can cause foot pain, leg pain, and even back pain and various injuries.
Make sure you get shoes that are specifically designed for running and fit your feet well. (I'm a New Balance and Saucony fan for street shoes because of the excellent fit and their vegan running shoes options. For trail running, Columbia Sportswear trail shoes.) If you are an over-pronator (flat feet) or an under-pronator (high arches), make sure your shoes are designed for this, and even then you might need to buy additional inserts, like arch supports or heel cups. If you have normal feet, don't buy shoes that are designed for over or under-pronators because they can actually cause you harm. The right shoes make a big difference between a miserable run and a good run. Even if you buy your shoes online (which I typically do for the excellent deals), make sure you take a trip to the shoe store and try on a variety of makes and models.
Buy new shoes every 400 miles or when the don't give you the support that they used to. You can still use your old shoes for other things, but don't use them for jogging or running because they might not be able to absorb the impact.
Some people embrace running barefoot. It doesn't work for me, but some people swear that it's great.
Get the Proper Clothes
If you're not wearing comfortable clothes, your exercise experience is going to be less than fun. There's nothing quite as frustrating as getting two or three miles from your house and discovering that the seams on your shirt chafe and your underwear keeps sliding into wedgie position.
Wear workout clothes
Get some comfortable pants (no jeans obviously) and comfortable shirts that allow your skin to breath and your sweat to evaporate. You don't need fancy designer sportswear. T-shirts, sweat pants (or shorts), yoga pants, etc. will work just fine. However, wearing clothes designed for running has become my favorite jogging attire because they cling to all the right places but aren't too tight, dry quickly, and are extremely comfortable.
Protect your breasts
If you have breasts, you must get a supportive sports bra. Yes, some men may even need support. If you have large breasts, you may even want to wear two bras. I don't need to tell you how uncomfortable it is to have your breasts flapping around, and all that flapping and bouncing can injure breast tissue (ouch!).
Don't get too cold
If it's cold outside, wear a warm hat that covers your ears, gloves or mittens, warm socks, a warm shirt that breathes, and possibly even a scarf or neck gaiter.
Don't get too hot
If it's hot outside, wear loose, light colored clothing that breathe.
Protect Yourself from the Sun
Wear a hat
A baseball hat is a good start but something with a wide brim all the way around is better because it will also protect your ears and the back of your neck. I really love Nike Dri-Fit hats because they have good air flow.
Don't forget your sunscreen. Even on a cloudy day, you'll be exposed to ultraviolet light, and even if you don't burn, UV rays can cause skin damage and skin cancer.
Protect Yourself from Security Problems
Get a friend
Don't jog alone in the dark or in shady places. Have a jogging partner (a big, intimidating dog on a leash counts; little dogs don't).
Don't be predictable
Change your schedule and your route often at irregular intervals to reduce your chance of being stalked or attacked by somebody who was expecting you to jog by at exactly 5:32pm.
Defend yourself & call for help
Carry pepper spray (to fight off dogs and anyone who tries to attack you), a whistle (to get attention; it's louder than a yell), and a cell/mobile phone (to call for help for yourself or for somebody else who needs it). These can easily be stored on an armband or small hip-pack.
Protect Yourself from Accidents
Look and Listen to your environment
Make sure you keep your eyes open and are paying attention to your surroundings. If you use a music player (e.g. MP3 player, CD player), make sure the volume isn't so loud that you can't hear what's going on around you. If you can't listen (or choose not to), be extra aware of your surroundings visually.
Light colored clothing is best if you jog before sunrise or after sundown or even in shady locations like a forest. This will ensure that other people can see you, which is always good for safety (unless you're actually trying to hide from other people). If you are jogging in low light (e.g. dawn, sunset, or night) wear reflective clothing, so drivers can see you. You can buy reflective tape and stick it on normal clothes or wear a reflective safety vest. I really like bright colors, such as orange, during daylight, so drivers can see you easily (white, black, grey, and brown may look good but tend to blend into the background).
Pay attention to vehicles.
Chances are, drivers are not paying attention to you, so avoid getting hit by staying out of their way.
Avoid bad weather
If the weather is just plain old scary outside, run on a treadmill inside. A sprinkle of rain, a light dusting of snow, or a good breeze is fine (it can actually be a nice change of pace that makes your jog a bit more fun), but stay away from the stormy stuff. You don't want to get struck by lightning, washed away in a flash flood, or hit in the head by flying debris.
Protect Yourself from Health Problems
Dehydration and exercising hard can lead to heat exhaustion and even heat stroke, even if it isn't very hot outside. So drink your water, and if you're planning on running long distances or taking up sprinting, try using a sports drink to replace electrolytes. You can even get waist packs with sports bottles to bring with you on your runs. I have found that bringing drinks with me and drinking frequently is very helpful for reducing my asthma symptoms.
Avoid hypothermia and heat stroke
If it's too hot outside, don't run outside; run on a treadmill in an air-conditioned room. If it's too cold outside, don't run outside; run on a treadmill in a heated room.
Don't push yourself too hard
You're starting a jogging routine. You're not training for a marathon (that's a whole different how-to article that I'm not qualified to write...yet). Pushing yourself beyond your limits will only lead to injury. Listen to your body.
If it hurts, don't do it
If it hurts to jog, you're not ready to jog. Take up walking. Move up to speed walking. Then try jogging again. If it hurts to jog 5 minutes but you do just fine if you jog for 2 minutes, then feel free to just jog for 2 minutes and slowly add time to your jog as long as it feels comfortable. Something is better than nothing. Listen to your body.
In cold weather, wear a scarf over your mouth (especially if you have asthma)
By breathing through a scarf, you're warming up the air and adding moisture to it before it enters your lungs. This will reduce lung pain and asthma associated with hard breathing in cold weather.
If you have asthma, bring your inhaler!
I have asthma, and on my first jog, I didn't bring my inhaler. "I won't need it. I'll be fine," I said. Stupid idea! Exercise induced asthma can be triggered by exercise that pushes your lungs to work harder than they're used to. (The good news is that gradually building up your lungs with exercise can help reduce the number of exercise induced asthma attacks you have.) But even if you don't have exercise induced asthma, you never know when you'll be faced with allergens, smoke, toxic chemicals from some idiot burning plastic in their barbeque (I hate those people), and so forth. So bring your inhaler!
If you have diabetes or hypoglycemia, bring glucose tablets!
Jogging, and other forms of exercise, can cause drops in blood sugar as muscle use up the sugar for energy. Low blood sugar can leave you shaky, weak, confused, irritable, and tired. It can even lead to unconsciousness. If you start to have symptoms of low blood sugar, use your glucose tablets.
Strengthen Your Muscles
Yes, even joggers, runners, and sprinters need to strength train. Strong muscles are necessary to reduce and avoid injury. If you're knees, ankles, hips, or back begins to hurt when you jog, it may be because your muscles aren't strong enough. Strengthen them by doing squats, lunges, balancing exercises on one leg, abdominal crunches, back crunches, and anything else that will strengthen your torso and lower body. Meanwhile, upper body strength training can help reduce back, shoulder, and neck pain associated with bad posture while running.
Choose Your Jogging Location
Always run on a flat surface when you're starting out. Running downhill is easier but can cause knee pain and injuries (I learned this the hard way). Running uphill will tire you out so quickly that you'll feel like you aren't making any progress. You can incorporate hill training later, but even then you need to be extra careful about the amount of downhill running that you do, and remember to slow down when you go up hill to reduce strain and exhaustion.
Start Your Jogging Workout
You need to be able to walk before you can jog. If you can't walk for at least 30 minutes, don't bother trying to jog. Get your walking stamina up first.
Don't worry if your first jogging sessions are only 10 to 15 minutes long and are mostly walking. What's important is that you build on the jogging endurance you already have. If you never jog, then you have little or no jogging endurance, so any jogging (even if its only a few seconds) is an improvement.
Warm Up Those Muscles
Walk for at least 2 to 5 minutes (5 minutes is best). This is like the switch that tells your body, "We're going to exercise now." This will help your body start supplying extra blood to those muscles, tendons, ligaments, bones, arteries, veins, and capillaries involved with jogging. This is very important because it will help you prevent injuries.
Try a Slow Jog Using Good Jogging Postures and Movements
Pick up the pace and start jogging. It may feel awkward at first, but it will eventually feel more natural. There are entire books about the proper jogging technique, but really you just need to move in a way that feels comfortable for you. While doing that, though, pay attention to your posture and how your body is moving. To reduce your chances of developing injuries, try to keep a few of the following things in mind:
- Stand proud! This is not a time to slouch like a slop, shrink like a pansy flower, or curl up like a bullied victim. You are a strong, courageous person doing something to improve your life. Stand tall and proud like your warrior ancestors.
- Keep your arms relaxed and bent, allowing them to swing naturally, but don't let them cross the front of your body, and don't clench your fists. RELAX!
- How you land on your foot matters. Most runners and various experts suggest landing on your mid-foot (I do this), but I know some people who insist on landing on their heels. If you land on your heels or mid-foot, let your foot roll forward, and push off with the ball of your foot. Unless there is a medical reason to do so, generally avoid prancing or trotting on your toes (you are not a pony).
- Don't drag your feet, but also don't lift your legs up too high. You want to move forward, not upward. (Remember, you're not a pony. No prancing.)
- Avoid bending forward. Stand tall with your head up. If you feel yourself leaning forward, as if you're forcing yourself to move forward, you may be pushing yourself too hard, so slow down.
Let Your Body Decide When to Start and Stop
Don't be surprised if you can jog for only a minute (or in my first jogging session 10 seconds). Stop jogging before you start huffing and puffing or feeling like you're pushing yourself too hard. This is because you are trying to introduce your body to jogging. (You can push yourself later when you decide to start training for races.) You don't want to push it too far too fast, and you especially don't want to create an exhausting experience that's going to make you dread jogging in the future. When you feel like stopping, just bring down the pace and start walking again.
Catch Your Breath
Walk only long enough to catch your breath and rebuild your energy. This could take 30 seconds to 30 minutes depending on your fitness level. (I was in the 30 minute category when I first started, but now I recover after only a few minutes.)
Slow Jog Again
When you're ready (and if there is time left in your workout), start jogging again. Jog until just before you feel worn out. Again, it may be only 30 seconds, but it's an improvement.
Walk slowly for at least 5 minutes to slow your heart rate. This will also tell your body that it no longer needs to supply extra blood to those body parts involved in jogging. Instead it will redirect that blood back to the internal organs. You may want to consider increasing the length of your cool down if you have muscle soreness or asthma. Some people say that cooling down reduces muscle soreness during the next couple of days. Some people with asthma say that longer cool downs help reduce their post-exercise asthma attacks.
Thoroughly stretch out your muscles for at least 30 seconds. Stretching less than 30 seconds doesn't increase your flexibility sufficiently. Stretching more than 30 seconds doesn't do much to improve your flexibility (but it does feel good). The repeated contractions of the jogging will tighten your muscles and tendons. You must stretch them back out. If you don't stretch, over time you will become very stiff, and this could lead to injury. Plus, a post-workout stretch is a great way to have a moment of meditation and relaxation.
You Did It! Now Rest
After any workout, no matter what type of exercise or sport you do, you need to rest your muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones. The workout shocks your your body parts, and actually causes microscopic injuries. The rest period is when your body builds up its strength and endurance by repairing those injuries. If you don't allow yourself the necessary rest time, you'll actually see your performance worsen rather than improve, a process called overtraining, and you'll be putting yourself at risk for painful injuries.
When you first start your routine, you may need to wait 2 to 3 days before your body is ready to try again. If you're still sore after 3 days (whether that soreness be in your legs or lungs), you may need to rest longer, but consider seeing your physician to make sure that you don't have significant injuries (e.g. pulled muscles, torn ligaments, etc.). You can spend those days doing other activities (like swimming, biking, or dancing) or just go walking instead of jogging.
Get Some Sleep
Sleep is very important during the rest period because that is when your body does lots of tissue repair. Different people need different amounts of sleep. One way to figure out how much sleep you need is to go to bed, pay attention to what time you feel yourself starting to drift off, and let yourself wake up naturally, without an alarm clock. Then calculate how many hours you slept; that's likely the number of hours of uninterrupted sleep you need every night to be at your optimum level of health. (For me, it's 8-9 hours. For my husband it's 7 hours.) So instead of trying to run your sleep schedule by your alarm clock, try calculating when you need to go to bed, so you'll wake up automatically when you need to. You'll also probably find yourself feeling much more refreshed throughout the day. If you have problems sleeping, see your physician, psychologist, and/or even a sleep clinic to help you solve those problems.
With proper rest between workouts, you'll start noticing faster progress.
Other Things to Remember
The best time to do intense strength training is after a short aerobic workout.
You may want to follow your low-intensity jog and stretch with some weight lifting because the jog warms up your muscles and prepares them for the training. However, we're not talking about lifting weights right after you finish a grueling run. They key is to have a short, light aerobic workout, such as a short, slow jog.
Jogging and walking outdoors is much more fun than using a treadmill.
Treadmills are good for exercising while watching television. They're great for exercising when you just can't go outside for one reason or another. They're also great for training yourself to run at a steady speed, programming hill patterns, and measuring intervals. They're wonderful for zoning out because you don't have to worry about obstacles. (I try to get on a treadmill at least once per week for all these reasons.) However, they do get boring. When you exercise outdoors, you can say hi to your neighbors, look at landscaping and home design (to get ideas for your own place), pet the neighborhood dogs (the friendly ones), go up and down hills, jump in puddles, admire the landscape, feel the wind and rain on your face, etc. It's just more entertaining, so it stimulates your brain as well as your body. If you use a treadmill, get pumped up by listening to motivating music, and don't forget to get outside once in awhile.
Sources: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/public/sleep/healthysleepfs.pdf, http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/imagepages/19390.htm, http://www.lung.ca/diseases-maladies/asthma-asthme/exercise-exercice/index_e.php, http://www.cdc.gov/DIABETES/faq/exercise.htm,
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