Exercise 101: Build Up To Running Long Distances

Getting started with running can be daunting. You may look at people running marathons with some intimidation silently thinking “I could never do that”. Barring any injuries or health limitations, there is no reason you couldn’t train to reach that level of running yourself. There are some very easy ways to build up to running long distances (5k, marathons, etc.) over a short period of time even if you have never run before. Our bodies are remarkable machines. Our brains are not the only thing about us that possess memories, our muscles do as well. If you used to be a runner or play sports in your youth but haven’t done so in a long while your body will remember. Former athletes in general have an easier time getting back into exercise for this reason. Even if I haven’t run for a long while, years in fact, I can run two miles “off the couch”. Getting back up to five miles may take some time after that point, but my body remembers.

If you haven’t run before or played sports you can teach your body new tricks at any age. The best way to build up to running long distances is to start running:

  • Begin with vigorous walking. Because walking can be just as good as running, you can start getting your body used to moving at a fast pace. Click here to get tips on getting the most out of walking. Just walk 3-4 times a week for the first 2-3 weeks. This will get your heart pumping and ready for more vigorous exercise. Your joints and muscles will be getting ready as well, any physical limitations you’re not aware of should begin to become apparent.
  • Begin a course of walk/run. You can search the internet for various walk/run routines to suit you. Some are based on distance others on time. I prefer to based on distance. The idea is to start of walking and build in running. For example, you can walk for 5 minutes, then run for 1 minute for a total of 60 minutes. The next time you would walk for 5 minutes, run for 2 minutes for 60 minutes. Basically you gradually increase the amount of time you run. Eventually you will find you can run more than you need to walk.
  • Move to run only. After you have built up some endurance start off with running after your warm up. Take walking breaks only if you need to. Run for one mile, then walk for 5 minutes if necessary. It may be difficult at first, but your body adjusts very quickly. Soon you will be up to two miles.

A motivational tool for building up to run long distances is to sign up for a race. Most people generally start off with training for a 5k (3.1 miles). Give yourself about six months of training time. With this amount of time you can build training into your busy schedule. Don’t become discouraged. Some days your body will just fly through the run, other days you’ll feel like you’re running through mud. Be sure to have some good music playing during your run, it may be a good distraction. When I trained to run a marathon (ended up running the half marathon) I would listen to audiobooks.

What about training on a treadmill? I don’t like running on a treadmill. I like to work out in the mornings but if it’s dark I don’t like being out there by myself so I would run on my treadmill at home. I much prefer running outside because it’s more efficient. Though running on the treadmill is great exercise it’s not as efficient for distance training because your weight is partially supported by the treadmill. When you strike the treadmill with your foot you notice a bit of a bounce as it absorbs the shock or impact. The belt moves you forward just a bit. When you’re running outside you are 100% under your own power.  Another reason I don’t like running on a treadmill is it’s boring. I’m not going anywhere and I become mindless to what I’m doing.  If you do all of your training on a treadmill then run the race outside you will find your stamina to be very different. If you like running on the treadmill just mix it up a bit. If you run 3-4 times a week, do at least one of those outside.

The best thing after you run is a quick dip in a cold bath. Sounds horrible especially if you’ve been running outside in the cold, but your body will thank you with less aches and pains. Now, go run!


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