What is the Best Way to Use a Beginning Running Plan?

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Answered by: Bill, An Expert in the Running for Newbies Category
A coach once jokingly defined a runner as someone who has paid an entry fee for a race. Others have tried to define a runner as someone who can cover a certain distance at a certain speed. Still others define a runner based on how long he/she can run without stopping.

I've always felt that if you are moving forward and both feet are simultaneously off the ground, you are a runner.

We all have the potential to be runners since we used to do it as children. But we are adults now and we want to be more serious about it. Maybe we want to run as part of a fitness regimen or weight-loss program. Such an undertaking requires a little more dedication than we had when we were kids.

If you've never embarked on a formal running program, it's safe to say you are a beginner. So what is an appropriate goal for you? This is one of those questions that can only be answered by, "It depends."

A beginning runner at age twenty is going to have a vastly different capability than a beginning runner at age sixty. At the same time a beginning runner with a normal body mass index (BMI) will have great advantages over a beginner who falls into the obese column on the BMI chart.

Appropriate expectations for these various individuals will be very dissimilar.

The only way to come up with an appropriate goal for a beginning runner is to first see where they are at the moment. This will require some testing.

But first, here's the usual disclaimer. Before you undertake a fitness or exercise program, check with your physician as to your general health and ability to exercise without suffering injury.

We'll assume that you have appropriate equipment regarding shoes and clothing. We'll also assume that you have access to a treadmill, track, and/or GPS equipment that will allow you to measure your speed and distance with reasonable accuracy.

Before you actually start running you will want to do a five-minute warm-up. Just take a rather brisk walk to get yourself loose and your blood circulating. Also, current thought for this kind of easy running is that stretching is not a good idea. Improper stretching can just lead to injury so leave that to the elite runners.

I have actually read the work of a highly regarded coach who said that when you are new to running, just take it easy and only run for a half hour or so. I don't know about you, but when I first tried running in my early thirties, I could not come close to running for a half hour. If you look in the literature or online for running plans for beginners, you'll not find many that are inappropriate for most of us. They are usually too aggressive.

So what do we do? Well, let's take the attitude that we are going to run slow at first. In the beginning it should be about the length of time that you run and not your speed. If you like statistics as I do, go ahead and keep track of you speed and distance as you train. It can make it more interesting.

But keep it slow. A good rule of thumb is to not run so fast that you cannot carry on a conversation with someone running beside you. You want to find that speed where you still get both feet off the ground, but move slowly enough to be conversational. For me, the speed of this slow running comes out to about 4.0 to 4.2 mph. But it will likely be different for you.

Instead of measuring a distance, you might count your steps until you lose your wind. Count each time your left foot hits the ground and make a note of how you do. For instance, maybe now you go eighty steps before you begin panting to where you can't talk easily.

It's also important that your running form be good. But we'll leave that discussion for another time.

For our goal setting we are going to use a popular beginning running plan called the Couch-to-5K Running Plan. You can find it here:


The goal of this plan is to get you to where you can run a 5K (3.1 miles) in nine weeks. The plan also implies that you will cover the 5K in thirty minutes. It's pretty aggressive after the first two weeks. But we can still work with it. We can use it for setting our goals. We're not out to run a 5K in thirty minutes nine weeks from now. What we are interested in is steady improvement in our ability to run slowly for longer periods of time. We are building a training base to which we can add speed later.

As you progress through our beginning running plan, you will most likely come to a level that you will be unable to complete on time. Instead of beating you head against a wall, use an interpolation for an intermediate goal in the plan.

For instance, let's say that you are starting the third week. In the second week you had to jog for ninety seconds. But now you have to jog for three minutes. That's twice as long. If you have trouble going from the ninety seconds to the three minutes, try going two minutes for that week. Once you accomplish that, increase the jogging time to two and a half minutes for a week. In other words find that intermediate goal to bridge the gap until you can work your way up to the goal of the plan.

So, there you have it. What an appropriate running goal is for you depends on your age and fitness level now. Test yourself and use the running plan I suggested to get the training effect going and experience gradual improvement. You might keep your eyes open for a 5K or a "fun run" in your area. Then you can put your entry fee down and be a runner in the eyes of that coach. Good luck.

Gotta run.

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