At first glance, distance running is perhaps the simplest sport to understand and comprehend. There are few rules to learn and you do not need a ball or a glove or a bat, and yet athletes and non-athletes alike always seem confused or lost when the topic of running comes up. After all, running has become popular again and you would not have to drive far from any city to find a 5K race on any given weekend, usually supporting a good cause such as raising money to cure cancer or send shoes to needy African children.
The popularity of these races and the causes that they are associated with means that more and more people are becoming first time runners, heading out the door in their brand new running shoes without any idea of how to train to run a 5K race. Sure there are resources out there as magazines like Runner's World and Running Times allow new runners to become enveloped in running culture, to get tips and advice from experienced coaches and athletes, and to read about the newest running gadgets and apparel, but what about the first time runner? What about the couch potato or ex-basketball player that wants to run a 5K? There are few resources with a true beginners guide to running, so allow me to spend just a few minutes talking about the essentials.
First and foremost, the beginning runner needs to run. My athletes can attest that one of my favorite phrases goes a bit like this: "if you want to get better at shooting free throws, you have to shoot free throws." I say this to imply that the same is true in running; if you want to get better at running, you have to run, and you have to run consistently. It really is that simple. I am not telling you to go out and run all day every day, but you do need to run consistently, whether that is everyday, every other day, or however often you can get out the door. The great thing about running is that the more you run, the more you will be able to run, so your consistency will pay off immediately.
Second, the beginning runner needs to stay active and exercise for at least an hour a day. I will not get too technical or scientific here, but there is substantial research out there that suggests that staying active for 45 minutes or longer has significant benefits for your aerobic system. If you cannot run for 45 minutes straight, then alternate between running and walking until you can run the whole way. If that is still too much for you, then run for awhile and then hop on a bicycle or go for a swim, but do something to keep your heart-rate elevated. This active lifestyle will help you run a 5K because it allows you to improve your cardiovascular system as well as your aerobic capacity, which means that you pump blood and use the oxygen that you inhale more efficiently.
Lastly, the beginning runner needs to have accountability. Too many beginning or aspiring runners get off the couch for a week or two and then decide it is too hard and quit. Do not allow yourself the luxury of quitting, and keep yourself committed by finding a way to stay accountable. There are numerous online running logs and forums that can help, but of course the best way to keep yourself accountable is to start running with a friend, a loved one, or a local track club to ensure that someone else is there to drag you off the couch when you are tired and do not feel like running. Remember, the first tip was consistency and having someone keep us accountable is important for every runner at every level.
Run consistently, stay active for at least an hour a day, and find someone to keep you accountable; these are the first steps to becoming a distance runner. As you train to run a 5K or just to get in shape, remember that following these three simple steps will help you make your goal a reality. Good luck in that 5K and I cannot wait to see you out on the roads!