Fitness & Health,  Workouts and Exercises

How To Start a Running Program

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I’m not a runner, but I’d like to be. I’ve ran in the past, even completing a couple of 5K’s, but a broken ankle sidelined me for a bit, and I’ve never gotten back to the level I was at that time. Therefore, I’m not the best person to give running advice. So, I turned to my good friend, Julie McDaniel!

Julie competing in the Arizona Ironman 70.3 Triathlon in 2017

Recruited by Kansas University, Julie participated in the heptathlon, made up of seven events, and the triple jump. In the years after college, she transitioned to distance running. Julie is a past board member of the Twin Cities Marathon and is presently the chair of the Rules and Officiating committee. She is also a board member of Team USA Minnesota, which supports post-collegiate distance runners with Olympic potential. Though she has run four marathons in the past, she now limits her running to half-marathons, as this distance is easier on joints and will allow her to continue running as she ages.

Begin with a Walk/Run program

For anyone just starting to run, or starting a return to run program, Julie recommends a walk/run approach. There are several resources for this, but Julie’s favorites are Hal Higdon or Runner’s World. She suggests you start by first considering the following.

•    Calendar – How many days can you commit to running? Where can you schedule it? Visualize each week and where you can fit running in. Then pick a program that works with your schedule, i.e. 5-week, 7-week

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

Once you have these answers go to one of the above resources, or any other of the multitudes that are online, and find a walk/run program that works for you.

After answering the questions for myself, I feel I can only run three days a week. I also know, however much fun it would be to train with someone, my schedule changes from day to day and I’m better off running solo, at least for a while. Based on this, I’m going to give this 5K in six weeks plan I found on Runners World a try.

Importance of Shoes

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 suggests going to a running store in your local community. By watching you walk and run in the store they can discern whether you pronate or supinate and if there are any other issues you should be aware of when purchasing shoes.

I gave it a try. After an online search for running stores near me, three different ones popped up.

At the first store, I explained that I was trying to get back into running after a few years off and asked if they did assessments. He said they did, but this consisted of him looking at the bottom of my current shoes and telling me that I pronated. Thanking him for his time, I moved on to the next store and again asked for an assessment.

This time the clerk didn’t even look at my shoes. She requested I remove them and then watched as I walked away from her and then toward her. She then asked that I stand first on my left foot and then on my right.

Her assessment is that my left foot pronates in more than my right with a more flexible arch. While the right does pronate in some, it is less than my left foot and my arch is lower. She then brought out three different pairs of shoes for me to try. I ended up buying a pair and was pleasantly surprised to learn I receive a 20% discount for belonging to a gym.

Last Bits of Advice

The last topic I asked Julie about was “the wall” you hear runners refer to. She 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. She said I can’t blame the fatigue I 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 also suggested the following.

  1. Be consistent–  Slowly increase your running to walking ration, 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.

 Whether your goal is to run a 5K or just to run for your own enjoyment and fitness, I hope you’ve found this information useful. In the comments section below, let me know what works for you and how your running program is progressing!

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.


I am a certified personal trainer with a specialty in Women's Fitness through NASM, a writer, and a dreamer.

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