Believe it or not, there was a time when I was not a runner. In fact, I hated running. I thought it was painful and not very much fun. I tried running on a couple of different occasions when I was in college and each time got discouraged and quit. I envied those who seemed to have no trouble putting on their shoes, lacing up and running out the door. I envied how free those runners appeared to be. Long distance runners seemed to be almost like mythical beasts. They were beautiful, powerful and graceful. I wanted to be one of them, but I did not know how or where to begin. When I was in my late 20s, I tried running again. This time around, I fell in love with the sport. It certainly was not “easy”, and I did not look beautiful or graceful as a runner, but I enjoyed everything about it. I thrived from the challenge. I enjoyed how it made me feel mentally and physically. Maybe it did not transform me into a long-legged Thoroughbred, but I felt a new sense of strength and power in my body. I also loved the peaceful calm emotional state that I derived from running.
Back when I started running in the late 1990s, there was little information readily available for new runners. There were not a whole lot of internet resources that I could learn from. I did not have access to coaches or training plans. I did not know any runners when I started, but I knew that I wanted to run a marathon. I made every mistake in the book along the way, including running 26 miles the week before the race. Somehow, despite all of the mistakes, I still managed to enjoy my first racing experience.
These days, runners have access to more information to help make sense of where to begin. Running has experienced a second boom of sorts over the last several years. The popularity of racing has increased dramatically over the last few years. I hear frequently from people who are intrigued by the idea of running, but who do not necessarily know where to begin. Many people believe that they cannot run. I used to believe the same thing. Truthfully, running is a relatively simple activity that most people can do with a little guidance and patience. I recently turned to Project Purple coach and elite runner Jane Cullis for some tips for beginning runners.
Q: Coach Jane, what kind of program do you recommend for someone who is looking to start running?
Coach Jane: Start with a walk/run ratio of 1:1. If you can only run for one minute without getting out of breath or tired, then do five sets of one minute running/one minute of walking. Each week, increase the running portion by one minute. Do not run on back-to-back days. Try to run 2-3 times per week. Shorter runs done more frequently will generate greater improvement and less chance of injury than doing longer runs only one per week.
Q: Is there a rule of thumb for building up running distance or time?
Coach Jane: Yes, build your total weekly mileage by no more than 10% per week.
Q: What do you recommend as a way to prevent injury and/or burnout?
Coach Jane: Supplement your running with cross-training activities like strength training and cycling. Regular strength work focusing on the core, glutes, quads and calves will build your running muscles. Cycling is an excellent way to improve your leg strength and cardiovascular endurance simultaneously.
Q: What kinds of equipment do you recommend?
Coach Jane: Make sure you get running shoes that are comfortable and are meant for running. I recommend getting outfitted by a professional at your local running store who can assess your foot strike and gait and recommend the best type of shoe for you.
Consider investing in a Garmin or other GPS device so that you can track your distance and pace as well as total time spent running or run/walking. Not only will you need this to time your runs, but tracking your workouts will allow you to track your long-term progress. Seeing your paces, distances and times improve from week to week will also motivate you to stay on track!
Q: What is the best way to improve one’s running speed?
Coach Jane: Only once you are up to 30 minutes of continuous running three times per week would I start to think about adding in speed work. For beginners, I would give it 3 to 4 months of steady-paced runs before attempting intervals. Increasing your mileage and intensity simultaneously is never a good idea, as it often leads to burnout or injury.
Q: What kinds of things do you recommend to help maintain one’s motivation?
Coach Jane: When you start a running program, it is a great idea to have a goal race to motivate you. Start with a 5k goal that is several months away to give you plenty of time to train for the distance.
Joining a run club or having a running partner is another great way to keep you focused and motivated. There are plenty of beginner run club out there these days where you are likely to find someone who runs a similar pace to you.
Starting a running program can seem like a daunting enterprise, but it does not need to be. Follow Coach Jane’s simple guidelines to build up slowly and prevent injury. Track your progress. Do not do too much too soon. Wear appropriate footwear. Seek out supportive running companions of a similar fitness level and ability to help stay motivated. Set goals, such as completing your first 5k. Finally, challenge yourself but also have fun. Be consistent in your running program and you will soon be a more energetic, stronger and healthier you!
I would like to extend a special “Thank You” to Coach Jane for providing some running tips. All runners who sign up to run with Project Purple have free access to Jane’s coaching expertise. To learn more about Project Purple and how you can run on for our team, please follow this link: