How To Start a Running Program

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Running is one of the easiest and most convenient cardio workouts. To start a running program all you really need is a good pair of tennis shoes. In good weather, you can head outside whether at home or on vacation. If the weather is bad, or you prefer a climate-controlled environment, a treadmill at home or the gym is another option. But few people, particularly after years of being sedentary, can simply head out the door for a three-mile or 30-minute run.

Julie McDaniel, a past board member of the Twin Cities Marathon and present board member of Team USA Minnesota, which supports post-collegiate distance runners with Olympic potential, shares these tips to get your own running program started.

Start With a Walk/Run Program

For anyone just starting to run, or starting a return-to-run program, Julie recommends a walk/run approach. Walking first gives your muscles and bones time to adapt and strengthen. There are several resources for this, but Julie’s favorites are Hal Higdon or Runner’s World. She suggests you start by first considering your calendar.

How many days can you commit? What days of the week can you schedule it? Visualize each week and where you can fit running in. Then pick a program that works with your schedule and your present fitness level. Whether your goal is to run a 5K or a set amount of time each outing, building up to it is key to avoid injury and setbacks.


Are you self-motivated? Or do you need support? If the latter, find a buddy to run with, or a local runner’s club. These organizations have beginner groups. You may find a combination of self and supported fit your style.

Perhaps all you need is accountability. If so, tell friends and family and others in your social network your plans to start a running program and keep them posted on your progress.

Take time to write down your reasons for wanting to start running. Weight loss? Improve cardiovascular health? Lower cholesterol or blood pressure? Whatever your reasons, write them down and remind yourself of them when your motivation is lagging.

Importance of Good Running Shoes

Shoes are an important part of any running program.

Shoes make a big difference in comfort and resistance to injury. Some runners tend to either pronate – their feet lean in and weight is placed on the inside of their foot, or supinate- their feet turn out and the weight is on the outside.

Your tendency will dictate the type of shoe that will support you best. Julie recommends going to a running store in your local community. Unlike large chain sporting goods stores, running stores focus only on running and have staff educated in customer needs. By watching you walk and run in the store they can discern whether you pronate or supinate, or if there are any other issues you should be aware of when purchasing shoes. At many running stores you can receive a discount if you belong to a gym so be sure to ask if that is offered.

Forming Habits to Start a Running Program

You may have heard runners refer to “the wall”. Julie said this is generally for long distances but is when the runner has used up all their glycogen stores and is now pulling resources from their lean muscle. You can’t blame the fatigue you may feel at a quarter-mile on this!  Julie did offer this though:

“When you first start a running program it’s not going to feel good for a while. You have to get through the initial discomfort (not pain!). After two to three weeks you will begin to experience the good feelings that come from running. Even now, after over 40 years of running, the first 5 minutes never feel good!” ~ Julie McDaniel

She offers the following advice as you start your running program.

  1. Be consistent–  Slowly increase your running to walking ratio, staying at the pace recommended by the program you’ve chosen. For example, don’t do a 3-minute run, 1-minute walk one day, skip a scheduled day, and then try to jump to a 10-minute run the next.
  2. Rest– Don’t run every day. On the off days do strength training, using lighter weights on the lower body, or a low-impact activity such as biking or swimming.
  3. Improving time/distance– As you progress through the program, include hill workouts and interval training (run at a faster pace, then slower).
  4. Stretching – One of the most common causes of injury is lack of flexibility. Prior to running perform dynamic stretches. Examples of these are lunges, skaters, and squats. After your run, do static stretches, holding the stretch for about thirty seconds. Select static stretches that work your big muscles like your calves, hamstrings, and quadriceps.
  5. Apps – A few Julie recommends are Map My Run and Under Armour Record. Both have free versions. By journaling your runs and how you feel on them using an app you’ll have a record of your progress.

You should always consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program. The information contained in this article is for informational purposes only. By engaging in any exercise program, including running, you do so at your own risk, assuming all liability.

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